Gene Veith

Woke Education Too Much Even for San Francisco

The San Francisco school board recall should send a message to Democrats that far left progressivism does not sell well even to rank and file Democrats. The election should also send a message to the educational establishment, that “woke” education has gone way too far and that its crusade for hyper-purity is alienating even liberal parents, whose overriding concern is that their children get a good education.

Across the nation, parents are rising up against public schools for their COVID policies and for replacing education with left wing indoctrination.  Now even parents in San Francisco, one of the most liberal cities in the country, have had enough, voting overwhelmingly to recall the leadership of the school board.

San Francisco voters recalled school board president Gabriela López, vice president Faauuga Moliga and commissioner Alison Collins.  And it wasn’t even close.  More than 70% of the voters cast their ballot to cast the school board leadership out of office.  (Specifically, the results were 79% against Collins, 75% against López, and 72% against Moliga.)

Since San Francisco is overwhelmingly Democratic and progressive, that 70% must consist largely of Democrats and progressives who believe the educational establishment has been harming their children.
These officers of the school board resisted holding in-person classes in the name of COVID long after other jurisdictions accepted that children were at little risk compared to the harm they were receiving from not being allowed to go to school.  The president of the school board defended the school closures by saying, “They are learning more about their families and their culture spending more time with each other. They’re just having different learning experiences than the ones we currently measure.

Without classes being held, the board spent its time by renaming 44 schools.  Schools named for George Washington were renamed because the father of our country owned slaves.  Also cancelled was Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves, since Indian wars happened on his watch.

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Wars and Rumors of War

China and Russia, once rivals, have made formal alliances with each other.  Not only that, both countries have made formal alliances with Iran, drawing the explosive Middle East into the global political alignments.  In fact, these three countries are already being called “a new Axis.” 

World Wars often come as a surprise to the people who get dragged into them.
World War I came about when the Austrian arch-duke was assassinated by a Serbian radical.  Austria, which had a mutual defense treaty with Germany, went to war with Serbia, but Serbia had a mutual defense treaty with Russia, which had a mutual defense treaty with France and England.  Factor in these country’s world-spanning colonies, with the American ocean liner the Lusitania wandering into the crossfire, and the result was a world war that no one really intended or expected, but which would kill some 15 million people.

World War II was more intentional, but while Americans were concerned about Germany’s invasion of Poland and Japan’s invasion of China, those conflicts seemed far away.  Though the U.S. government sent much material support to Great Britain and slapped economic sanctions on Japan, few Americans expected the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor, or, shortly afterwards, for Germany to declare war on us.  Some 60 million died in that war, which came, literally and figuratively, “out of the blue,” while Americans were preoccupied with other things.

Having been reading about those wars lately, I’m feeling nervous about what is happening today as we Americans are preoccupied with other things.
Russia has been massing some 100,000 troops plus logistics to support them in what looks like an impending invasion of Ukraine.  In response, President Biden is sending 3,000 American soldiers to Poland and Romania, which border Ukraine.
What would be the consequence if those Americans are fired upon?  What if Russia moves on the Baltic Republics, also the home of a large Russian minority with grievances?  They are members of NATO, in which an attack on one member nation is considered an attack on them all.  If the Russians move on Estonia, all of the European members and the United States would be obliged by treaty to go to war with Russia.  Most of the NATO nations have little military capabilities these days, trusting the United States to carry the weight, so any war with Russia would be mostly on us.  (Read this for the possible consequences on Europe of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.)

The global dimension is also worrisome.  China is a far more dangerous military opponent than Russia.  China’s threats against our ally Taiwan keep intensifying.  Its much-expanded navy, its cutting-edge military technology, and its saber-rattling incursions of intimidation into the waters of other Asian countries should alarm us.  The Chinese ambassador has explicitly threatened “military conflict” with the U.S. if Taiwan continues its claims of independence.

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“Anti-racism” vs. Opposing Racism

“Anti-racism” intentionally perpetuates discrimination–against the white “race,” in favor of the black “race”–even though doing so brings back judging people on racial grounds and keeps alive discrimination on that basis.

Most people agree that hating, mistreating, or discriminating against people because of their race is morally wrong.  But some progressives are trying to co-opt the moral consensus against racism to serve their own ideology, and, in doing so, are distorting it beyond recognition.
So says Ryan Bangert in a piece he has written for RealClearReligion entitled Racism is Wrong, But ‘Anti-Racism’ Does Not Belong in Schools.
Schools disingenuously deny that they teach “Critical Race Theory,” insisting that what they are really teaching is “anti-racism.”  “The problem is that ‘anti-racism’ is a linguistic trick,” says Bangert. “Instead of condemning all forms of racism, it seeks to combat one form of racism with another. By doing so, it only perpetuates racial division and strife, harming everyone.”  He then cites two different understandings:
In 2007, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts authored an opinion in a case that addressed the legality of plans used by two public school districts to assign students to specific schools. Both schools employed racial quotas to make the assignments. In striking down the quotas, Roberts memorably stated, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Contrast that to another memorable line, this time from author Ibram X. Kendi. In his 2019 book “How to Be an Antiracist,” Kendi, a well-known scholar and proponent of anti-racism ideology, opined, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
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Finland Explicitly Puts the Bible on Trial

Joy Pullman of the Federalist has been covering the case and the trial.  She reports that the hearing on Monday took a strange twist.  Instead of focusing on the two defendants, who could be sentenced to a fine of 10,000 euros and two years in prison, the prosecutors, in effect, put on trial the Bible itself.  From her article, Finnish Government Puts Christianity On Trial, Calls The Bible “Hate Speech”.

On Monday the trial began in Finland for Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Member of Parliament Dr. Päivi Räsänen, charged with hate crimes for teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality.
I have blogged about these two Christians and the charges against them  (here,  here, here, and here).  Way back in 2004, long before Finland legalized same sex marriage in 2017, Dr. Räsänen, a medical doctor and former Minister of the Interior, wrote a 24-page booklet on the Bible’s teachings about sexuality, including a section on homosexuality.  Bishop Pohjola’s church, now in fellowship with the LCMS, published it.  Dr. Räsänen was also charged for tweeting a Bible verse in response to the liberal state church being a sponsor of an LGBTQ parade and for participating in a 2019 debate on the subject.  Three years ago, over a decade and a half after the publication of the booklet, the two were charged for inciting hatred against homosexuals.  Finally, their case has been brought to trial.

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“The Great Resignation” Continues

It seems that many Americans have lost the work ethic that we used to be famous for.  Americans have also lost the doctrine of vocation, which gives work of all kinds meaning, value, and spiritual significance.

Last year we blogged about what was being called “The Great Resignation,” the phenomenon of people quitting their jobs and not returning to the workplace.  Much of that was a response to the COVID epidemic, with the lockdowns giving people a taste for not going to work and the government relief payments (including unemployment benefit supplements that paid many workers more for doing nothing than they were earning on their jobs) making that, at least for awhile, financially possible.
But now, most of those who voluntarily left the workplace back then still have not come back.  The workplace participation numbers are essentially the same as they were back in August of 2020.  This, even though pay has shot up, as companies are growing desperate for workers.  The labor shortage is throwing off the economy, but it also bodes ill for those who are cultivating idleness and for the culture as a whole.
So says an article by By Mene Ukueberuwa in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall) entitled The Underside of the ‘Great Resignation’.
In 2000, the labor force participation rate–which includes everyone in the population, including the retired and unable to work– reached a high mark of 67%.  Today, it is 61.9%, a drop of 5%, the same that it was last August.  Among men in their prime working age, from 25 to 54, only 88.2% work.  In 1961, the percentage was 96.9%.  Put another way, among men between 25 and 54,  the proportion of those who do not work for a living is 1 out of 8.
For women of the prime working age, the high point in 2000 was 77.3%, dropping to 75% today.  The overall percentages are lower, since women often opt out of the workplace to have children and to take care of them, but the decline is also lower compared to men.
The work rate today is lower than it was during the Great Depression.  Thirty years ago, according to the article, Americans had a 10% higher work rate than the European Union, but today Americans have fallen “a couple of points” behind the supposedly easy-going Europeans.
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The “Social Trinity” vs. Nicene Christianity

The social Trinity explains how some theologians–both liberal and evangelical–can say that God punishing His Son for our sins amounts to cosmic “child abuse.”  They do not grasp the implications of the Incarnation, that the Father and the Son are one substance, so that in Jesus, God is taking the sins of the world into Himself and atoning for them with His own death for our salvation.

What God do you worship?  For Christians, the object of their faith is the one God in Three Persons, the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
After being downplayed or denied in mainline liberal theology, the Trinity is back in vogue in those circles.  But not in the sense of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, which teach, for instance, that the Son is “of one substance with the Father.”
The Church Fathers explained the Trinity in terms of “being,” with the related concepts of “essence” and “natures.”  But modernist philosophy, particularly the existentialism that has greatly influenced modernist theology, has gotten away from those concepts, which has led to the relativism and subjectivism of postmodern thought.
So contemporary theologians have redefined the Trinity in terms of  “community.”  In the “social Trinity,” the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are separate persons who come together to form a community.  And we are to do the same.  And since the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–conceived mainly in a tritheistic manner–are equal to each other, we should have the same equality in our families, churches, and nations.  This provides a theological basis for the current focus in Mainline Protestantism on feminism, race, LGBTQ issues, etc.
Now it isn’t surprising that liberal theologians would take a traditional Christian doctrine, turn it inside out, and make it support some contemporary preoccupation.  That’s what liberal theologians do.  That’s what liberal theology is.
But now some evangelical, ostensibly conservative theologians are also replacing the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated by the early church in the creeds with the social Trinity.
Matthew Barrett, professor at Midwest Baptist Seminary, writes about this whole phenomenon in an article for Christianity Today entitled Evangelicals Have Made The Trinity a Means to an End. It’s Time to Change That, with the deck “For 2,000 years, church leaders held to the same Trinitarian doctrine. How did we lose our way?”  (The article is behind a paywall, though you might get a limited number of free articles.)

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Burnout and Vocation

A caution, though, is in order.  Economic vocations can easily change, and sometimes people in one line of work, which they find frustrating, can be called to another line of work.  Some vocations, though, such as the family callings and the calling of the Gospel, are permanent.

Dealing with the COVID epidemic has been taking a toll on nurses and other health care professionals.  The overtime shifts, the staffing shortages, the triage of patients, the grief at losing so many, exasperation with the healthcare establishment, and firings due to the vaccine mandate are leaving frontline medical workers frustrated, exhausted, and emotionally drained.

It has gotten so bad that two-thirds of America’s nurses say that the COVID epidemic has made them consider leaving their profession.

So reports The Wall Street Journal in an article on burnout among nurses that turns into a reflection on vocation. Rachel Feintzeig has written the feature story When You’re Burned Out at Your Job, But It’s Also Your Calling , with the deck “Overworked nurses are considering less intense and remote jobs due to Covid-19, but stepping away is hard when you’ve dedicated your life to caring for others.”
The term “calling,” along with the Latinate form “vocation,” of course, has become commonplace even in secular circles.  But it derives from the Christian doctrine of vocation, a preoccupation of my recent writing (see  the links below) and of this blog.

Though the Wall Street Journal doesn’t discuss “calling” in terms of the One who calls us to love and serve our neighbors in all of our stations in life into which He has brought us, it raises some important issues that are worth thinking through theologically.

The problem of burning out in one’s calling is not, of course, limited to nurses.  Nor is vocation limited to our economic callings, what we do to make a living.  We also have callings in our families (as spouses, parents, and children), in the church (as pastors, other church workers, and laypeople), and in the state (as citizens, officials, voters, etc.).  We can burnout in our work and we can burn out in those vocations, as well.
In the course of her discussion of the plight of nurses, Feintzeig says,
In recent months, as I’ve written about burnout, I’ve heard from overwhelmed teachers and social workers who say they too struggle with toxic bosses and unsustainable workloads, but wrestle with the guilt of abandoning people they pledged to help.
The question they face: How to leave a job that feels like a calling?
“When you do really feel called to your profession it becomes intertwined with your identity,” says Delaney Barsamian, a 31-year-old in the Bay Area who left her emergency-room nursing role last year for a remote job helping patients make end-of-life plans. “It was almost like a breakup. I was in love with emergency medicine.”

Of course, all callings have as their purpose, in different ways, to help people.  And the constellation of our multiple callings, given to us uniquely and personally, constitutes our identity.  So frustrations with our callings and leaving our callings can be traumatic.  The article gives a useful term for why that can happen:

“Nurses are so angry,” she says. “I’m seeing and hearing this incredible sense of malaise and hopelessness.”
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Defining Being “Spiritual”

My sense is that some people especially yearn for that, and, not finding it in their churches, search for it elsewhere.  We would do well to recover Christian spirituality.  (Towards that end, read John Kleinig’s Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today.) If we do, we might attract some of those who are “spiritual but not religious” by showing them how those two categories, when pursued in truth, actually go together.

We often hear, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.”  We also hear about the “spirituality” of various religions.  But what’s the difference?  And what do people mean by “spirituality”?
Psychology Today takes up this question in an article by Saul Levine, former psychiatry professor (UC-San Diego), entitledAre You Religious or Spiritual? Both or Neither?

He says that religious “refers to a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, an omniscient and omnipotent God who somehow introduced humans to this planet.”  Being spiritual, though, refers to a psychological or experiential state:

Spirituality is different from religion. While it can involve the worship of God, it has more to do with sensory states involving mysticism and awe, beyond the physical self, society, or the world. Spirituality is said to encompass the ineffable (words can’t describe), the noetic (psychic enlightenment), and the metaphysical.
For many people, he says, this kind of feeling is connected to religion, to their devotion to God.  Other people, though, can find this kind of transcendent experience by other means.
Spiritual enlightenment and feeling “at one with the universe,” can be achieved through contemplation and serenity on the one hand and via intense experiences on the other. These can involve evocative group activities, challenging physical accomplishments, profound music, romantic experiences, awe-inspiring art, magical scenic vistas, intense prayer, psychedelic drugs, and other sources which can induce transformative mind-altering states.

Dr. Levine does not minimize the importance of religion.  He affirms both religion and spirituality, saying that human beings have a profound need for meaning and for what he calls the Four B’s:  being, belonging, believing, and benevolence.

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Post-Christian Christianity

In my book Post-Christian, I explore and critique post-Christian culture, but I also have a chapter entitled “Post-Christian Christianity.”   In that chapter, I discuss this phenomenon in much more detail and argue that one of the main reasons for the secularism of the broader society is that our churches have become so secularized.  This is especially evident in what happened in Western Europe in countries dominated by a single state church.  As I say in the book, “If a culture’s religious institutions become secularized—and, indeed, begin preaching and teaching a secularist worldview—then of course secularism will reign, having no opposition or alternative.”

We Christians are apt to worry about the secularization of the culture.  But what about the secularization of the church?  What if we are seeing not only the rise of a post-Christian society, but the emergence of a post-Christian church?

Of course, a church that goes beyond Christianity is no longer a church in any Biblical sense, the kind that confesses Christ like Peter did, to which Jesus promises that “the gates of hell”–let alone cultural trends–“shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

But even God’s church of the Old Testament–with its priests, Temple, sacrifices, and Law–grew apostate, to the point of erecting pagan idols in the Temple and practicing child sacrifice, leading to its Babylonian captivity, though a remnant always remained.  So we shouldn’t be too surprised if the New Testament church endures something similar, though, again, a faithful remnant will always remain.
Ex-Southern Baptist evangelical theologian Russell Moore has written a provocative article for Christianity Today entitled  The Capitol Attack Signaled a Post-Christian Church, Not Merely a Post-Christian Culture.
He excoriates the Christians involved in the January 6, 2021, attacks on the Capitol building and on evangelicals’ continued commitment to right wing politics and their adulation of the morally and spiritually flawed Donald Trump.  In his telling, many ostensible evangelicals have replaced Jesus with a false Messiah.  He says,

Such is the sign not of a post-Christian culture but of a post-Christian Christianity, not of a secularizing society but of a paganizing church.

The January 6 riot was the shameful act of a relatively small number of protesters shamefully whipped up into a frenzy, but it fell far short of being a revolution.  And there is nothing wrong with Christians supporting a politician who, though not one of their own, advances their interests, specifically the defense of the unborn.

But while I disagree with much of Moore’s context and his reasons for making the statement, I am haunted by the statement itself.  The problem with secularism is not just with the culture “out there.”  Secularism has infected the church as a whole.  There really is a “post-Christian Christianity” and a “paganizing church.”
This began with the liberal theology of the mainline Protestant churches, which have also been influencing contemporary Catholicism.
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How Parents Make Their Children Religious (or Not)

If transmitting the faith is part of the vocation of parents, this also means that God Himself is at work in and through what the parents do.  It may not seem like the children are receptive and they may well rebel against what their parents have taught them, but, in the long run, what God does by means of parents will have its effect.

The most important factor in whether or not children hold on to their faith and go to church when they are older is their parents.  That does not always hold true, of course, but in general, if the parents are religious, their children eventually will be also.  And vice, versa.  Again, with exceptions, if the parents are not religious and do not go to church much, neither will their children.

The researchers have written about their findings in Christianity Today in an article entitled Parents Set the Pace for Their Adult Children’s Religious Life with the deck “‘Handing Down the Faith’ shows a vast majority of Americans don’t choose their religious beliefs. They inherit them.”  Here is an excerpt:
Parents define for their children the role that religious faith and practice ought to play in life, whether important or not, which most children roughly adopt. Parents set a “glass ceiling” of religious commitment above which their children rarely rise. Parental religious investment and involvement is in almost all cases the necessary and even sometimes sufficient condition for children’s religious investment and involvement.
This parental primacy in religious transmission is significant because, even though most parents do realize it when they think about it, their crucial role often runs in the background of their busy lives; it is not a conscious, daily, strategic matter. Furthermore, many children do not recognize the power that their parents have in shaping their religious lives but instead view themselves as autonomous information processors making independent, self-directing decisions. Widespread cultural scripts also consistently say that the influence of parents over their children recedes starting with the onset of puberty, while the influence of peers, music, and social media takes over.

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