A Liberal Protestant Looks for the Roots of America’s Spiritual Crisis

March 6 2018

In her recent collection of essays What Are We Doing Here?, the Calvinist novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson explores the spiritual condition of the modern U.S. and asks what can be learned from its Puritan forebears. Micah Meadowcroft finds much to praise in the volume, but argues that Robinson seems unable to grasp the implications of her own insights:

I find Robinson’s apologia for [the 14th-century English theologian] John Wycliffe and [the 17th-century English revolutionary] Oliver Cromwell, the Puritans and Great Awakenings, and the literati and radicals of the 19th century to be familiar and comforting. But I also find Robinson’s apparent conclusions perplexing. Materialist science and cultural atheism, forgetting God and in doing so forgetting what a piece of work is man, surely is, [as Robinson believes], sufficient explanation for nearly all this mess around us now. But shouldn’t we ask how that happened? . . . For Robinson, what does responding to our current situation demand?

Most concretely, [she claims], it demands more funding and support for America’s public universities, apparently. They are indeed great treasures of our more learned past, when the liberal arts—an education fit for free men—were extended to farmers. They and the private institutions founded throughout the colonial period and first half of the 19th century are the best of that thicket of democratic institutions we call Tocquevillian. “In the West,” [Robinson writes], “it was theology and its consequences that built these great institutions, and the ebbing away of theology that has made them seem to many to be anomalies, anachronisms, and burdens as well.”

Seemingly unsure whom to blame for these schools’ transformation from their religious and popular origins into the ideological certification systems they are today, Robinson tells for them a story of shortsighted, Benthamite lawmakers sacking these cities of learning, and gives no notice to the [sometime perverse] incentives created by federal funding and oversight or to the sources of the atheism and relativism she decries. This typifies the weakness of many of her essays collected here; there is a complicated past and a complicated present, [yet] the relationship between the two [seems to Robinson to be] so simple as not to require speculation or explanation.

Read more at Washington Free Beacon

More about: American Religion, Protestantism, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, University

The Danger of Hollow Fixes to the Iran Deal

March 20 2018

In January, the Trump administration announced a 120-day deadline for the so-called “E3”—Britain, France, and Germany—to agree to solutions for certain specific flaws in the 2015 agreement to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Omri Ceren explains why it’s necessary to get these fixes right:

[Already in October], the administration made clear that it considered the deal fatally flawed for at least three reasons: a weak inspections regime in which the UN’s nuclear watchdog can’t access Iranian military facilities, an unacceptable arrangement whereby the U.S. had to give up its most powerful sanctions against ballistic missiles even as Iran was allowed to develop ballistic missiles, and the fact that the deal’s eventual expiration dates mean Iran will legally be allowed to get within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear weapon. . . .

A team of American negotiators has been working on getting the E3 to agree to a range of fixes, and is testing whether there is overlap between the maximum that the Europeans can give and the minimum that President Trump will accept. The Europeans in turn are testing the Iranians to gauge their reactions and will likely not accept any fixes that would cause Iran to bolt.

The negotiations are problematic. The New York Times reported that, as far as the Europeans are concerned, the exercise requires convincing Trump they’ve “changed the deal without actually changing it.” Public reports about the inspection fix suggest that the Europeans are loath to go beyond urging the International Atomic Energy Commission to request inspections, which the agency may be too intimidated to do. The ballistic-missile fix is shaping up to be a political disaster, with the Europeans refusing to incorporate anything but long-range missiles in the deal. That would leave us with inadequate tools to counter Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could be used to wipe Israel, the Saudis, and U.S. regional bases off the map. . . .

There is a [significant] risk the Trump administration may be pushed to accept the hollow fixes acceptable to the Europeans. Fixing the deal in this way would be the worst of all worlds. It would functionally enshrine the deal under a Republican administration. Iran would be open for business, and this time there would be certainty that a future president will not act to reverse the inevitable gold rush. Just as no deal would have been better than a bad deal, so no fix would be better than a bad fix.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Europe, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy