The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What Word Would You Use?

What word would you use to describe a government that loudly proclaims its belief in and commitment to “democracy” but governs with contempt for the institution of Parliament and the idea that it, that is the government in the sense of the Cabinet of executive ministers, is accountable to Parliament for all of its actions and displays this same contempt regardless of whether it commands a majority or a small plurality in the House of Commons?   


What if that same government, while constantly evoking the “common good” when demanding total submission and obedience to every rule, regulation, and restriction it imposes even if these blatantly violate, and not in any way that could objectively be called reasonable or minimal, the most basic of the rights and freedoms that are supposed to be protected by constitutional law, conspicuously governs in a way that rewards those who tend to vote for it and punishes those who tend to vote against it?  


Let us say, for example, that a Liberal government on the one hand got itself embroiled in a huge corruption scandal for putting pressure on its Justice Minister to interfere in an ongoing prosecution on behalf of a large corporate donor to the Liberal Party located in the home province of the Prime Minister, and on the other hand did everything in its power to sabotage the energy industry of the province(s) least likely to elect Liberals to Parliament.      Let us add that this same Liberal government in the name of combatting the gun violence that is primarily a problem in urban areas that vote Liberal or NDP, introduced a new gun ban that was completely useless for that purpose in that urban gun violence is almost entirely committed with already illegal handguns, but, like most previous Liberal gun legislation, primarily affected rural gun owners who tend not to vote Liberal or NDP.    Let us also add that this Liberal government keeps targeting parts of the population – like pickup truck owners and prairie grain farmers – who traditionally vote against the Liberals with its tax policies.


In other words it displays utter disregard for that grand traditional principle of Parliament that it is the duty of those who hold executive office in government to serve all Canadians – this is what the common good is supposed to mean and what it was traditionally understood to mean – rather than favouring their own supporters, and especially not punishing those who voted against them.   Note that hindering the government from giving in to the temptation to do the latter is a major part of the role of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and of the reason why Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is an official standing in Parliament and not just a label for the runner-up in the last Dominion election.


Suppose that the same government was led by a Prime Minister who refuses to take action when protests conducted in the name of causes that he and his followers support such as the various causes associated with the Green movement or those of the so-called anti-racist – in reality anti-white would be a more accurate description – movement disrupt commerce, movement, and the everyday lives of numerous Canadians or even break out into violence and other destructive criminal behaviour.    Suppose that this same Prime Minister likes to lecture the governments of other countries on the need to allow peaceful protest and to listen to people who disagree with them.   Then suppose that this same Prime Minister, when faced with a protest against his government’s policies and actions and how they have infringed upon Canadians’ basic rights and freedoms and adversely affected the lives and livelihoods of the protesters and countless others, even though the protest is far more deserving of the adjective “peaceful” than any of those that the Prime Minister supports, instead of listening to them hides himself away and like a tantrum-throwing three year old hurls every nasty name he can think of against them, before bringing out the biggest tool available to the government, one designed for use against terrorism and never before used in its current form, essentially putting the country under martial law, in order to crack down hard on the protesters.    While all of this is still expanding upon our initial and primary question it is worth adding a second question here of whether, when this Prime Minister sets up an inquiry into his own just mentioned actions, we can expect this to be impartial and its results credible.


Now suppose that immediately after the events described in the previous paragraph the same Prime Minister goes on a foreign tour in which he lectures other leaders about the dangers of a rise in “authoritarianism”.   In his usage, “authoritarian” appears to describe leaders and movements he doesn’t like, whereas “democratic” appears to mean little more than leaders and movements he does like, and the purpose of the lectures would seem to be to encourage the governments of the world to join him in an attempt to recklessly escalate a volatile situation in a volatile part of the world that the Americans had foolishly been fomenting for years into something much worse.   Meanwhile, while condemning “authoritarianism” – again, meaning little more than those whose politics he disagrees with – his own governance displays many of the characteristics of totalitarianism.


The distinction between “authoritarianism” and “totalitarianism” was made by Jeane Kirkpatrick, who would soon thereafter serve as American ambassador to the UN during the Reagan administration, in an article entitled “Dictatorships and Double Standards” that appeared in the flagship journal of American neo-conservatism, Commentary, in November of 1979 and was later expanded into a book that came out in 1982.   While the Kirkpatrick Doctrine is vulnerable to many of the same objections that could be made against American neo-conservatism in general, the distinction is not without merit.    The basic distinction is that an “authoritarian” government claims a monopoly on political power in the country it governs, but a “totalitarian” government claims a monopoly on every aspect of the country – political, economic, social, cultural – and the lives of those it governs.    Consequently, an authoritarian government, while bossier and far less tolerant of dissent than Western liberal democracies are – or like to think they are at any rate – does not attempt to dictate the every thought of those they govern, like a totalitarian regime.   People living under an authoritarian government were thought to be far less free than people living in a liberal democracy but far more free than people living in a totalitarian police state.   Programming the public to think a certain way about everything, spying on everyone’s every move, basically everything out of George Orwell’s 1984, these are the hallmarks of totalitarianism.   The term first caught on as a convenient way of describing the characteristics shared by both the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union and the Fascist and National Socialist regimes in Italy and Germany.


Totalitarian governments like to rely upon fear to keep their populations under control.   Related to this, one of their favourite tactics to use against dissenters is scapegoating.   Scapegoating is when they point to an identifiable group of dissenters – it works best if the group is small and unpopular – and blames this group for whatever ills are afflicting the population, with these ills often being in reality the fault of the government, and tell the public that “they” are to blame, that these “spoilers” are the reason the regime’s grand and glorious programs aren’t working out as planned.   By doing this the totalitarian regime is able to identify its own enemies in the public mind as “enemies of the people” and turn the public’s fear against them.


Let us now return to the Liberal Prime Minister we had been discussing.   Let us imagine that this individual won the first term of his premiership in a Dominion election in which he accused his Conservative predecessor of employing the “politics of fear and division”.  The implication was that it was fear of ethnic and racial diversity and immigration that he was accusing the previous government of in which case the accusation was entirely groundless as that government was similar to his own on such matters.  The public did have good reason to think of the previous Conservative Prime Minister as engaging in the politics of fear in that he had exploited the fear of terrorism to pass a bill making it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to spy on Canadians.   The Liberal leader, however, had been the only other party leader in Parliament to support this bill.   Perhaps his talk about the “politics of fear and division” was just an empty smokescreen.  


When it came to his own premiership, however, “the politics of fear and division” could be said to be its feature characteristic.   As one of the new “woke” breed of progressives, he has stoked the fear of such things as racism – racism on the part of whites, he doesn’t care about explicit and even violent racial hatred directed against whites by other people – sexism, homophobia, and more recently transphobia – in order to turn Canadians who have the “correct” opinions on such matters, i.e., those approved by the media and academic left, against Canadians who do not.   When the media generated an unnecessary panic over the spread of a new coronavirus he exploited the situation to get out from under the constraints of Parliamentary accountability which ordinarily would be enhanced by his having been reduced to minority status in the last Dominion election only a few months prior.   He made use of this new situation to spend like a drunken sailor, paying Canadians to stay home for months, so the provincial governments and their public health officers could follow the advice of the Dominion public health officer, which was to implement the experimental procedure of trying to control the spread of the virus by keeping everybody apart.   When this didn’t work, he scapegoated those who objected to the unprecedented curtailing of all our basic rights and freedoms.    Then, when the new mRNA injections were available, he, flip-flopping completely on his original stated position that they would be available to those who wanted them but nobody would be compelled to take them, jumped on board the idea of returning to most Canadians most of their rights and freedoms, converted by the whole process into permissions and privileges, while locking those who had refused the injection – or the required number of injections – out of the new re-opened society in a way that resembles nothing so much as the whole “show me your papers” trope from depictions of Cold War era totalitarian regimes.   His scapegoating of those who refused the injection – those, remember, who are distinguished from other Canadians only by the fact that they were not willing to give the government their unthinking, blind, trust and allow themselves to be injected with a never-before-used-on-humans substance that had not completed its clinical trials merely because the government said it was safe and was heavily pressuring them into taking it – was in language that we would normally associate with how the Bolsheviks talked about the kulaks, or the Nazis about the Jews.   Accusing them of all sorts of “isms” that had nothing to do with the issue, he suggested that we should be asking ourselves as a society whether we should be tolerating them in our midst.   Bizarre as may be to compare something said about the ultra-individualist Ayn Rand to this collectivist creep, his comment nevertheless brings to mind something Whittaker Chambers said in his famous review of Atlas Shrugged in the December, 1957 issue of National Review: “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber-go!’”


Now suppose this Prime Minister also conspicuously displays another totalitarian characteristic – the urge to control what everyone else thinks.   Indeed, let us further stipulate that this trait was evident in his leadership of his own party before he even became Prime Minister.    Declaring by fiat that the debate about abortion was settled and over – a rather strange way of describing a status quo that exists merely because Parliament narrowly failed in the Mulroney premiership to follow the Supreme Court’s recommendation that it pass new abortion laws to replace those it was striking down and no subsequent government has had the gumption to do anything about despite the fact that there is overwhelming public support for neither the status quo nor the status quo ante – he forbade pro-life members of his own party from voting their conscience on the issue, and refused to sign the nomination papers of any future candidates that did not agree with him on the matter.   It is less surprising, therefore, that a leader who places strict limits on what members of his own party are allowed to think on a controversial issue like this, as Prime Minister would treat the country in the same way.


When it comes to Canadians, this not-so-hypothetical Prime Minister is single-mindedly obsessed with controlling both the information that they are allowed to access and the ideas they are allowed to share with others.    When his then-Finance Minister, who shortly thereafter would be forced to resign in disgrace to save the Prime Minister’s skin in a scandal in which both of their families were involved, announced a government bailout of privately owned newspapers, television stations, and other pre-internet media of communication, he declared that this was “to protect the vital role that independent news media play in our democracy and in our communities”.   Predictably, however, it had almost the opposite effect of this.   The newspapers, television stations, etc. that took this money – the vast majority of them – began echoing the same point of view expressed on the CBC overnight and thus could hardly be said to be “independent news media” at all anymore.   The Crown broadcaster itself, which had long been shamefully slanted towards the progressive left and the Liberal party, abandoned even the pretense of the impartiality that Canadians ought to be able to expect from a public, tax-funded, news company and began presenting a narrower range of perspectives on a broader number of issues, one that was coterminous with the spectrum of views the Prime Minister considered “acceptable”.    Yes, this Prime Minister has actually distinguished certain Canadians from others on the grounds that their views were “unacceptable”.    Unsatisfied, however, with over 90% of the Canadian media, public and nominally private, echoing his own point of view, the Prime Minister has taken a hostile, combative attitude towards the few media outlets that present an alternative perspective, thus displaying his true attitude towards “independent news media”.


The independent news media that resist conforming to the Prime Minister’s party line are primarily those that operate on the internet.    Before the last Parliament was dissolved the government had introduced a bill that would give the CRTC the same kind of regulatory control over the internet that it already has over radio and television.   Although they pitched this as a means of making streaming services and social media abide by the same Canadian content rules as traditional broadcasting media, it was clearly worded in such a way as to give the CRTC the power to censor online opinions which the government has deemed to be “unacceptable”.   The main target of this, and the government’s more overt attempts at licensing independent media, seems obviously to be the handful of online news companies that have a perspective independent of and often hostile to the Prime Minister’s own.   The government also failed to assuage the concerns of those who feared that the government was trying to tell individual Canadians what they could and could not say when using social media.   Although they insisted that they were not trying to regulate user generated content, they kept removing safeguards against this very thing.   They had also tabled a bill that would re-introduce something similar to Section 13.   Section 13 was the provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act that allowed those who belonged to groups protected against discrimination – although the Act is worded in such a way as to suggest that it protects everybody against discrimination on the basis of their race, sex, etc., it has been generally interpreted by the courts as protecting certain groups that are “vulnerable” rather than others, i.e., blacks but not whites, women but not men, etc. – to charge others with discrimination on the basis of words they had communicated over the telephone or over the internet.   It was so loosely worded that virtually anything negative said about someone from a protected group would fall under the umbrella and so a conviction was pretty much guaranteed.   Parliament repealed it after the public became aware of how bad it was.   The proposed replacement would be even worse in that it would allow for a court order to be taken out against someone before he had even said anything.    Both of these bills were re-introduced after the government won re-election.   The new versions are worse than the ones that failed to become law in the last session of Parliament.


As if all that were not thought control enough, among many other non-budget related items included in this year’s federal budget – the turning of budget bills into omnibus bills ought to have been banned decades ago, it is far too easy a way for government to smuggle things into law that would not withstand Parliamentary scrutiny and debate if introduced separately on their own merits – was a provision that would criminalize publicly expressing an opinion that disagrees with that of the Prime Minister about historical events of eighty years ago.   To be more precise it will criminalize the denial, condoning, and diminishing of the Holocaust.  Germany, France, and a number of other European countries had introduced similar laws decades ago but this was a very bad example to follow.  (1)  It is not government’s place to tell people what they can and cannot think or say about historical events.   When they attempt to do so they merely set up their understanding and interpretation of the historical event as a dogma in a new state religion.   The very expression “Holocaust denial” illustrates the point.  (2)  When someone denies that a historical event took place this may, depending upon the evidence for the event, call into question his intelligence, but “Charge of the Light Brigade Denial” is an expression that would not carry the moral undertones that “Holocaust denial” does.   This tells us that to those who are obsessed with condemning the latter it involves the denial of an essential tenet of faith.     Yet it is an essential tenet of neither any orthodox form of Christianity nor Islam.   Nor is it an essential tenet of Judaism in any traditional understanding of that religion.   This was a point that the late academic rabbi Dr. Jacob Neusner frequently made when bemoaning the fact that for many American Jews remembering the Holocaust had replaced remembering Moses, the Exodus and the Sinaitic Covenant at the core of their identity.  (3)  If it is not an essential tenet of any of these religions, it is not an essential tenet of any traditional religion.    Surely members of all traditional religions, the tenets of faith of none of which are similarly protected against denial by law, ought to object to such protection being extended to a new state faith and by the party, none the less, which in Canada has been most historically identified with the American doctrine of “separation of church and state”.   (4) I hope that you note the irony – those who think that the appropriate way of responding to “Holocaust denial” is to pass laws of this sort which essentially boils down to telling people with a view they find loathsome “shut up, shut up, or I’ll make you shut up” by doing so make themselves far more closely resemble the Nazi dictator, at least as he is depicted in Hollywood films, than do those they are attempting to silence. (5)


This Prime Minister has a habit of condemning opinions that differ from his as “denial”, thus making his own opinion out to be an essential tenet of faith.   With regards to both the climate and the pandemic, for example, he speaks of those he disagrees with as “science deniers”.   Ironically, of course, since it is the very nature of science not to speak dogmatically – to be scientific at all, a theory must be open to being questioned and tested – “science denier” is an epithet that is only meaningful as it rebounds upon the one who uses it.   More to the point, however, when the same Prime Minister justifies his attempts to squash the few remaining independent Canadian media sources that do not dance to his tune and bring the online platforms where Canadians express their thoughts and speak their minds under government regulatory control on the grounds that the spread of “misinformation” and “disinformation” – information, that is, with which he disagrees and of which he disapproves – online causes “harm”, can there be any doubt that having outright banned one form of “denial”, he is moving in the direction of similarly suppressing all of these “denials” he hates.   He does all of this in the name of liberal democracy, although it looks more and more like totalitarianism every day.


As an old-fashioned Tory, of course, who believes in time-proven institutions like the monarchy and Parliament and distrusts abstract ideals like liberalism and democracy, this does not seem as contradictory to me as it would to a neo-conservative, since I see the seeds of totalitarianism in both liberalism and democracy.    In the Prime Minister in question and his sycophantic Cabinet these seeds are rapidly coming to a full bloom.


So again, I ask, what word best describes such a Prime Minister and such a Cabinet in which such an appalling combination of self-righteousness, arrogance, hypocrisy, disrespect for the constraints of Parliamentary tradition and constitutional law, and totalitarian impulse can be found?


A new one might be needed to really do the matter justice.


(1)   It might surprise some to learn that such a law was not already on the books in Canada.   The trials of Ernst Zündel and James Keegstra in the 1980s are among the most famous legal cases involving “Holocaust denial” in history and both took place here in Canada.   In both cases, however, the complaints were based on laws that did not speak about “Holocaust denial” specifically.   In Zündel’s case, for example, the law was Section 181 of the Criminal Code which prohibited the deliberate spread of false news.   He was charged twice under this law, and convicted twice.   The first conviction was thrown out on a technicality, but after the second conviction the Supreme Court struck the law down on appeal as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  

(2)   Both words in the expression contribute to this.   Holocaust is ultimately derived from ὁλόκαυστος, the Greek word for “burnt offering”.

(3)   Dr. Neusner argued that the Holocaust was filling a vacuum created by the abandonment of Jewish traditions, beliefs, and practices on the part of many American Jews.    Indeed, he was talking about this decades before the fact became obvious in polls like the 2013 Pew Research Poll in which “remembering the Holocaust” was identified as the main essential to being Jewish by most of the Jewish American respondents.   He spoke of the theology developing around the historical event as the “Holocaust myth”, which, had he not passed away six years ago, could have rendered him susceptible to prosecution as a Holocaust denier on visits to Canada under the proposed law, although he was using “myth” in an academic sense that has nothing to do with the truth or falseness of the story in question.

(4)   I do not believe in the doctrine of “separation of church and state” in either its Anabaptist or its American form.   On one of the last occasions I spoke with my late friend the Reverend Canon Kenneth Gunn-Walberg, he spoke critically of “conservative” support for “religious liberty”, noting that support for clerical reserves for the orthodox, established, Church was the more authentic Tory position.   I agreed, of course, although I might have pointed out that one of the earliest tracts advocating broad religious liberty, not in the form of Church-State separation but that of tolerance of a wide spectrum of opinion (within the limits of the Apostles’ Creed) within the Church and peaceful co-existence with heterodox sects, was penned by none other than the great Carolinian Divine, the Right Reverend Dr. Jeremy Taylor, who based his arguments upon the demands of the highest of the Christian theological virtues.   That having been said, the American doctrine that has historically been associated mostly with the Liberal Party in Canada (the NDP’s predecessor was a “Social Gospel” party, founded and led by a former Methodist minister J. S. Woodsworth, and while the NDP has moved about as far away from Christianity as possible, its first and most famous leader was a Baptist minister, Tommy Douglas, with other prominent NDP MPs including United Church ministers such as Stanley Knowles and Bill Blaikie), which Liberals in the past have frequently mistaken as part of Canada’s tradition, while theoretically unsound, is much to be preferred to the establishment of left-wing dogma as a new state creed to which no public dissent is tolerated.    This is but one of several examples of older liberal – classical liberal – ideas which, while objectionable from the standpoint of a sounder perspective, are nevertheless preferable to what the newer kind of “liberal” is offering.

(5)  The government is pointing to claims that anti-Semitism is on the rise as its justification for doing this.    Almost 70 Christian church buildings were burned or otherwise vandalized last summer, but I see no action being taken to curb the Christophobia behind this largest single spree of hate crimes in Canada’s history, nor would I expect it from a government that seemed to be doing everything it could to throw fuel on the fire of that hatred.   Nevertheless, suppose we cede for the sake of argument the claim that anti-Semitism is the largest growing hate problem in Canada. Even if we also ceded that outlawing the expression of opinions was capable of justification, a concession I am by no means willing to make, this would be an extremely poor justification for this kind of law.  Similar laws have not prevented a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the European countries that passed them.   I suspect that you will find that the countries which passed such absurd laws are also the countries which have experienced the largest growth in anti-Semitism in the years since the laws were passed.   This is because the sort of progressive mindset that thinks banning “Holocaust denial” is a good thing to do rather than an insane, draconian, attack on freedom of speech that involves persecuting a tiny minority for holding an unpopular opinion, is also the same mindset that thinks bringing in immigrants from all over the world without any sort of screening for cultural compatibility – that would be “racist” to these dolts – is sound policy, and consequently, with floods of immigrants coming in from countries with either a deep-seated cultural animus against the Jews or perhaps just a more recent animosity based upon Middle Eastern conflicts of recent decades, finds its cases of anti-Semitic incidents exploding.   Rather than placing the blame squarely where it belongs, on the latter idiotic policy, they pass the former draconian law in order to scapegoat a tiny minority for the consequences of their own stupidity.    The government expects to get away with this because most people will think something to the effect of “This law will only affect neo-Nazis and who cares, they have it coming.”    That is stupidity at its worst.   Laws that the public accepts on the grounds that they only affect such-and-such a despised group never end up only affecting the group in question.   In this instance, I have already demonstrated (vide supra, footnote 3) how the most respected academic rabbi of the Twentieth Century could have run afoul of this law.   He was hardly a neo-Nazi.   Nor is Dr. Norman Finkelstein, the American academic and pro-Palestinian activist who has been accused of “Holocaust denial” although his book The Holocaust Industry makes no revisionist claims about the historical event but rather talks about people whom he sees as exploiting the event (both of his parents had been interred in the Nazi camps, incidentally, his mother in Majdanek, his father in Auschwitz).   It is unlikely that Noam Chomsky’s famous protégé would be prosecuted under the new law should he visit Canada but not out of the realm of possibility.    Almost a decade ago, at a Canadian conservative blog I witnessed a well-known progressive activist and blogger pedantically lecture the others present on the difference between “concentration camps” and “death camps” and how the latter were only on Polish soil.   That is a distinction that is made in every serious and mainstream history class and textbook that deals with the subject but he was accused of “Holocaust denial” for this.   The people making the accusation were not generally ill-informed people and perhaps made the accusation tongue-in-cheek because this man was a noted supporter of banning “hate speech”, but the point is that if something that is part of the mainstream narrative can be confused with “Holocaust denial”, a law against the latter, even if were justifiable to make such a law against those it is intended to be used against which it is not,  makes possible the prosecution of a lot of people who have not committed “Holocaust denial” in the conventional meaning of the phrase.   Ironically, had the United States passed such a law in the 1950s or even 1960s, and had it not been struck down immediately for violating their First Amendment, even if only actual “Holocaust deniers” in the conventional sense of the word were rounded up, if all of them were arrested there would have been more Jews than white supremacists arrested.   At that time, “Holocaust denial”, and World War II revisionism in general of which it is a subset, was most widespread among libertarians for the simple reason that these arch anti-statists recognized that the military expansion the United States underwent in World War II, and which continued after the war because of the Cold War, was a massive expansion of the American central state and therefore a threat to the liberty of American citizens.   Therefore the claims of the American government during that conflict were suspect to them.   There were far more libertarians than Nazi sympathizers, then as now, and a large percentage of libertarians were and are Jewish. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Most Powerful and Meaningful Event in all of History

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested event of history.   There are numerous examples of individuals who set out to debunk Christianity but ended up as believers when confronted by the overwhelming evidence for the Resurrection.  Arguably St. Paul was the first of these, although the manner in which he set about the debunking as well as that in which he was confronted by the evidence are not exactly typical of all the others who come to mind.   It is attested by the Empty Tomb, the numerous eyewitnesses, and the transformed lives of those who like Saul of Tarsus encountered the Risen Christ and were never the same again.   Jesus, from the beginning of His earthly ministry when He cryptically alluded to it by saying that He would rebuild the Temple in three days in response to those who confronted Him after the first cleansing of the Temple in the second chapter of St. John's Gospel to His referring the Pharisees to the "sign of Jonah" much later in His ministry, pointed to the Resurrection as the only sign that those who demanded one of Him - Who had been performing miracles all around them - would receive.   He knew how well attested it would be and based the credibility of all of His claims upon it.

It is an event that the New Testament attributes to each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.   When He said that He would rebuild the Temple in three days, of course, Jesus claimed it as His Own work, as He did on a later occasion where He said He had the power both to lay down His life and take it up again (Jn. 10:18).    In the sermons recorded in the Book of Acts the Resurrection is usually attributed to God the Father.   In the epistles the Holy Spirit is often said to be the Agent in the Resurrection.    All of these are true and this demonstrates the involvement of all Three Persons in this event.  This was also true of the original Creation of the world.   This is unlikely to be a coincidence.   In numerous passages Jesus is called the first fruits of the General Resurrection.   Since the latter event is connected with the aspect of Redemption in which the whole world is recreated anew the active involvement of the Three Persons in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is parallel to their active involvement in Creation.

This is far from being the only meaning ascribed to the Resurrection in the New Testament.   In addition to being the most attested event in history, it is the most meaning-packed event in the Bible.

In St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, for example, the first reference to the Resurrection is in his summary of the Gospel in his summation.    In this the Resurrection declares Jesus to be "the Son of God with power" (v. 1:4).   This does not mean that the Resurrection made Jesus the Son of God as some versions of the Adoptionist heresy taught.   Jesus has always been the Son of God, eternally the Son of the Father, as is quite clear in the language used about the Father and Son throughout St. John's Gospel.   What St. Paul was saying corresponds to what Jesus was saying in pointing to the Resurrection as the sign confirming His authority and claims.   It declares Him to be the Son of God with power - it is the visible, incontrovertible, evidence.

A few chapters later in the same epistle, in another brief summary of the Gospel, St. Paul tells us of something else the Resurrection declares - our justification.    This comes at the end of the fourth chapter, a chapter begins with St. Paul borrowing the same terminology and same Old Testament examples that St. James the Just employed in the second chapter of his epistle, generally accepted as the first of the New Testament writings, to make the point that faith cannot produce practical righteousness on its own without works.   Asserting that he was in no way contradicting St. James (Rom. 4:2), St. Paul explains that the justification that he has been discussing, that which is by grace - God's favour freely given rather than earned (vv. 4-5) - on the basis of the redemption and propitiation of Christ on the Cross (3:24-25), and which establishes us in a right standing before God, is not like Jacobean practical righteousness - it is something God has accomplished and given to us, that we are to believe and trust in.   The chapter concludes with this summary of the Gospel: 

Now it was not written for his [Abraham's] sake alone, that it [righteousness] was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (4:23-25)

Here, as later in the tenth chapter of the epistle, St. Paul gives the Resurrection the full force of the entire Gospel message.    Faith is believing on Him that raised up Jesus, as in the tenth chapter it is believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.    In the final verse in the passage we see why the Resurrection can encapsulate the entire Gospel in this way.   Jesus was delivered for our offences, that is to say, it was because of our sins that He went to the Cross and died.   For, in this verse, means "because of" and that is true of the second "for" as well.   Jesus was raised for - because of - our Resurrection.   Had the work not been finished as Jesus declared it to be at His death - had our sin not been paid for in its entirety - the Resurrection could not have occurred.  The Resurrection, therefore, is the proof and declaration of our justification having been completely accomplished by Jesus at the Cross, just as it is the proof and declaration that He is the Eternal Son of God.

Shortly after this, St. Paul provides yet another meaning for the Resurrection.    In explaining why being at peace with God because of His freely given grace does not mean that we are permitted to sin, he discusses the meaning of baptism, the rite in which one formally joins the Christian faith community, the Church.   Being baptized into Jesus Christ means being baptized into His Death (6:3).   This  means that Christ's Death is our own death and as it was to take away our sin that He died we are to reckon ourselves to be dead to sin on account of it.   However, St. Paul immediately adds, if we are joined to Jesus in His Death, we are also joined to Him in His Resurrection.   While one implication of this, which St. Paul expounds upon at length in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, is that we shall all be raised bodily like Christ, in the sixth chapter of Romans another implication of our union with Christ in Resurrection is explored, namely that it is  Christ's Resurrection life that we are to live out by faith as our New Life in Christ.

This is merely a sample of what the New Testament says about the Resurrection and is not intended to be exhaustive, not even of the epistle to the Romans.

What other event in all of Scripture is so packed with powerful significance?

Happy Easter!

He is Risen Indeed!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Descent

 I do not have a very high view of modern language liturgies.   In part this is because I object in general to the project of modernizing the liturgy.  It is one thing to translate the liturgy into the common tongue from another language altogether as was done in the Reformation.   It is another thing altogether to produce a new liturgy in the same language.     If the language had changed so much that it had become essentially a different language this might be warranted.   It is not warranted, in my opinion, just because the language of the liturgy sounds somewhat old-fashioned.   The English that Thomas Cranmer et al. used in the Book of Common Prayer is not that different from the English we speak today.   It is not the Old English of Beowulf.   It is not even the Middle English of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.   It is, like the English of Shakespeare and the Authorized Bible, a slightly archaic form of our own English.   It might require some explanation, but modernization is not called for and does more harm than good.   I also have particular objections to specific examples of modernized liturgy and it is one of these that I wish to address today.

In the modernized English of the Book of Alternative Services we find in the translation of the Apostles' Creed the following line:

He descended to the dead.

I cringe every time I hear this recited.    

This translation fills the space  where the Book of Common Prayer has the translation:

He descended into hell.

The modern language translation is bad for a number of reasons.   One of these is that it strips these words of any meaning.   Preceding them, in the modern as well as the traditional translation, is the affirmation of Jesus' Crucifixion, Death, and Burial.  There is nothing in the words "He descended to the dead" that was not already affirmed in affirming His Death and Burial.  

The Latin text of the Apostles' Creed - I find the Reverend Dr. John Baron's arguments in The Greek Origin of the Apostles' Creed persuasive but since the Apostles' Creed has not been used in the Eastern Church since ancient times the Latin is the definitive text - reads "Descendit ad inferos".   Inferos is a form of  inferus, an adjective that means "low".   The comparative degree of this adjective - literally "lower" - has become our "inferior" in English.   It is being used substantively, that is to say, with the force of a noun, in the text of the Creed.   It is true, as defenders of the modern rendering are quick to point out that the masculine plural is used here indicating persons rather than a place. The flaw in their reasoning is that the colloquial connotations of this expression in the original tongue are quite different from those of "the dead" in English.    Discendit ad inferos was understood as meaning going down to the souls of the dead in their own place, i.e, the underworld, the place called Sheol in Hebrew and Hades in Greek.   Hell is the word for this place in English although it has also come to denote the place the New Testament calls the Lake of Fire and - in the Greek - Gehenna, the place that the Book of Revelation describes Hell being thrown into itself at the Last Judgement.    "Descended to the dead" is not ordinarily understood this way in English and, indeed, it is not an ordinary expression at all in contemporary English.    Someone hearing it for the first time in English would probably understand it in the sense of "went to the grave".   That is the result of centuries of rationalist, scientistic, demystification eroding our worldview into a materialistic one.   This meaning is covered by "buried" and is not the meaning of the phrase thus translated.    For this reason, "descended to the dead" is more literal but less accurate than "descended into hell".

Finally and most importantly the translation "He descended to the dead" is a concession to unbelief.    I don't mean just liberal unbelief in Hell in either its Hades (original) or its Gehenna  (relatively more recent) sense.    There is also an unbelief on the part of many Protestants who would consider themselves conservative theologically in a doctrine that the Church has affirmed since the days of the Church Fathers.   The Eastern and Western Churches understood its significance slightly differently but both affirmed it.    It would never have occurred to the Church Fathers to regard it as anything other than a part of the Gospel itself.    That is the doctrine that Jesus Christ, after His Death on the Cross, descended into Hell in the sense of the underworld.   Exactly what He did there is explained differently by different traditions in the Church but the consensus was that this was not the final stage of His Humiliation but the first of His Exaltation.   He entered the realm of death as a Triumphant Conqueror and set the spirits of the faithful free.   

The "conservative" theologians who don't accept this maintain that they cannot find it in the Bible.   it is there, however, and in plain sight.    You don't get a lengthy commentary on its significance, but that is true of several other truths as well.

The Descent into Hell - or Harrowing of Hell to give it the traditional name that stresses the conquering aspect of it - was taught by St. Peter.   I do not mean the controversial passages in the second and third chapters of his first epistle although I think these are best understood the traditional way.   I mean the very first Gospel sermon that he preached under the power of the Holy Ghost on the first Whitsunday.   In this sermon St. Peter stresses how the prophecies of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, His Death and Resurrection, and even the events taking place at that very moment on Pentecost.   When he gets to the Resurrection he declares:

Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.  For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.   Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.   Men and brethre, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.   Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne: He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.   (Acts 2:24-31)

If the Resurrection is the fulfilment of David's prophecy that God would not leave Christ's soul in Hell that means that it was from Hell that He took Christ's soul in reuniting it with His uncorrupted flesh.    Thus St. Peter tied the Descent into Hell - Sheol/Hades - with the Resurrection, in a different way than how Patristic and Medieval writers and artists did to be sure, but one that complements rather than contradicts it.   

The Descent into Hell comes from St. Peter's first Gospel sermon - and the sixteenth Psalm that is his text here.    He preached it as part of the Gospel itself.   No wonder it found its way into the Apostles' Creed.   We ought not to remove it by changing it into more ambiguous language.

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Cross is Where Law and Gospel Meet


The cross is universally recognized as the main symbol of Christianity.    This seems strange to some since the cross was the instrument by which Jesus Christ was put to death.   The New Testament itself makes it a symbol of the Christian religion however.  St. Paul writing to the Galatians said “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal 6:14).   Indeed, the association was made by Jesus Christ Himself.  When He asked His closest disciples first, Who men said that He was, then second, Who they, that is His disciples themselves said He was, He received St. Peter's confession "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matt. 16:16)  Praising this response as having been revealed by the Father, He then began to explain to His disciples that His being the Christ meant that He would go to Jerusalem, be put to death on the Cross - a particularly cruel form of execution ordinarily reserved for the worst of criminals - and would rise again from the dead on the third day.  (Matt. 16:21)   He then told them that if they wanted to be His disciples they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him.  (Matt. 16:24)    Taking up the cross was not a reference to wearing a cross as a piece of jewelry.   It was a reference to the condemned criminal being forced to carry the crossbeam to the execution site, as He Himself was forced to do (with Simon of Cyrene being forced to help Him).  (1)



In a book that was quite popular when I began my theological education, John F. MacArthur Jr. used Jesus' call to take up the cross to hopelessly confuse Law and Gospel.    The book received the endorsements of all sorts of evangelical celebrities and even contained an introduction by an orthodox Anglican priest, the late J. I. Packer, who definitely ought to have known better.  (2)   While I am more reluctant to speak negatively about MacArthur after his behaviour of the last two years – the Solzhenitsyns and Niemollers and Wurmbrands who stood up admirably against the Satanic public health totalitarianism usually came from among the heretics and schismatics whereas the leadership, even that which is ostensibly orthodox, of Apostolic Churches behaved abominably - the confusion of Law and Gospel is deadly error, which is particularly obnoxious when it is tied in to a theology of the cross.   It is in the Cross of Jesus Christ, which bears the shape of the meeting of two paths, that Law and Gospel meet, and it is because of the Cross that they must never be confused.



Law and Gospel, when juxtaposed and contrasted, refer to the two Covenants, the Old Covenant God established with Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai and the New Covenant He established with believers in Jesus Christ - both individually and collectively as the Church - through Christ's Death on the Cross and Resurrection.   The Law Covenant takes its name from the Books of Moses in which the terms of the Covenant are set out.   The Gospel Covenant takes its name from the Christian kerygma - the message of Good News that we proclaim to the world about how God has sent the Promised Redeemer, His Son Jesus Christ, how He has accomplished the salvation of the world through His Death on the Cross, and how He rose again victorious over death.     The emphasis in the contrast is on the opposite principles by which the two Covenants operate.   The principle upon which the Law operates is exactly what its name would indicate.   God commands and requires obedience, men obey and are rewarded and they disobey and are punished.   It is summed up in the words "do and live" (Rom. 10:5, Gal. 3:12).   The principle upon which the Gospel operates is that of grace - God's favour, freely given in Christ.   The Gospel tells us that God’s grace has been given to us in Christ, we receive it by faith, by believing the Gospel.  It is summed up in the last thing Jesus Christ said on the Cross before committing His Spirit to the Father – “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).



St. Paul explains the contrast between the two principles this way:



For what saith the scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.   But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.  (Rom. 4:3-5)



Later in the same epistle he declares the mutual exclusivity of the two principles.   In talking about the “remnant according to the election of grace”, i.e., ethnic Israelites who believe in Jesus he says:



And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.  But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Rom. 11:6)



St. John expresses the contrast at the beginning of his Gospel:



For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  (Jn. 1:17)



The mutual exclusivity of the principles of Law and Gospel does not mean that there was no grace in the Old Covenant or that there is no law in the New.   The Tabernacle/Temple, with its daily sacrifices, and especially the Day of Atonement was all about the forgiveness of sins and reconciling the offender to God which is only accomplished through grace.   These did not accomplish the removal of sin, but they pointed forward as St. Paul explains in his epistle to the Hebrews, to the One Sacrifice of Christ at the heart of the Gospel which did.   Jesus, after the Last Supper in which He instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist declaring the Cup to be the “New testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Lk. 22:20), gave to His disciples a New Commandment “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (Jn. 13:34), a Commandment both similar and different to the Two Greatest Commandments in which He declared the whole of the Law to be summed up.   What the mutual exclusivity does mean is that the Law and the Gospel have their own ends to accomplish, that neither can accomplish the ends of the other, and that it is disastrous to try and accomplish the end of the Gospel by means of the Law.   When the Law is used for its own end rather than that of the Gospel the two complement each other.


While the Law forbids sin and requires righteousness it is incapable of producing the righteousness it requires (Rom. 7).    This is not the end for which the Law was given.   In contrasting the glory of the Law with the greater glory of the Gospel St. Paul described it as the “ministration of death, written and engraven in stones” and the “ministration of condemnation” (II Cor. 3:7, 9).   This is the end for which the Law was given.   It was given to condemn.   As a Covenant, the Law was made with a specific people for a specific time.   Its message, however, is for all people in all times, and that message is to the effect of “this is the righteousness God requires, you do not measure up, you are a sinner, you are condemned”.   The condemnation in the Law’s message for us is not a maybe condemnation – “you might be condemned if you don’t shape up”.   It is a certain condemnation, a judgement that is already past, a sentence hanging over all of our heads.



The Gospel tells us that God, out of His Own love and mercy, has done everything that needs to be done to rescue us from this condemnation.   He has given us His Only-Begotten Son as the Saviour He promised back when our first parents fell into sin (Gen. 3:15)   That Saviour, Who was without sin (Heb. 4:15, I Pet. 2:22) took our sins upon Himself when He was nailed to the Cross (I Pet. 2:24) and by His Suffering and Death, a work of perfect redemption (Rom 3:24, I Pet. 1:18-19) and propitiation, i.e., turning away of wrath (Rom. 3:25, I Jn. 2:2) He obtained for us the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21, Rom. 3:21-22, 26).   That the work of salvation is complete and nothing more needs to be added to it was proclaimed by Christ as He died (3) and by His Resurrection (4).   This is God’s free gift to us (Rom 3:24, 6:23, Eph. 2:8) proclaimed in the Gospel to all who believe.    Believing is not something we do to add to or complete what Jesus has done.   Faith merely receives what is brought to us through the proclamation of the Gospel.   (5)   The salvation proclaimed in the Gospel is as certain as the condemnation proclaimed in the Law.



When Law and Gospel are used for their own distinct purposes these messages complement each other.   God, through the message of certain condemnation contained in the Law, works repentance – brokenness, humility and contrition – in our hearts, preparing them for the message of certain salvation proclaimed in the Gospel by removing the impediment to faith that is our own self-righteous delusion that we can earn God’s favour.   Through the Gospel, when it is received in faith, God works love in the hearts of believers (1 Jn. 5:19), which love is the source of the only human works that are in any way acceptable to God.



When Law and Gospel are mixed the certainty of both messages is compromised.   The Law, adulterated in this way, ceases to be the message of certain condemnation to the sinner.   The Gospel, similarly adulterated, ceases to be the message of certain salvation to the believer.   Both become the same message in which both condemnation and salvation are uncertain.  



It was by going to the Cross that Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the Law.   It was by fulfilling the demands of the Law at the Cross that Jesus gave us the Gospel.    It is in the Cross that Law and Gospel meet each other and we should not try to force them to meet anywhere else.   The call to discipleship illustrates the point very well.



Contrary to the way it is explained in the typical sermon, i.e., your “cross” being some non-specific burden that is particular to yourself, Jesus’ original hearers would have understood the call to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him quite literally as a call to follow Him to their deaths.   Since it was made in the context of predicting His Own Death and Resurrection an obvious opportunity to do just this was provided along with the call.



At the Last Supper Jesus told His Apostles that they would be scattered like sheep and that St. Peter in particular would deny Him three times.   St. Peter vehemently vowed that though he were to die with Jesus, he would never deny Him.   All the others joined in and said the same thing.   Of course, things turned out exactly as Jesus predicted.   The Apostles scattered after the arrest at Gethsemane, St. Peter followed Him to Caiaphas’ palace, where he denied knowing Jesus three times before the cock crow signaled the dawn.   None of the disciples were crucified with Him that day.  


That is not where the story ends, however.    Jesus went to the Cross Himself.   He completed the work of salvation for the Apostles and for the rest of the world.   He died – and then He rose again.   The Cross led to the Empty Tomb.   The Empty Tomb led to the Ascension from the Mount of Olives.   The Ascension led to the sending of the Holy Spirit on Whitsunday.   At Whitsunday St. Peter proclaimed Christ to the multitude and three thousand were converted.   Later, after healing the man lame from birth, he proclaimed Christ to the crowd at Solomon’s Porch in the Temple.   He and St. John were arrested and brought before the priests and the Sanhedrin who ordered them not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name and they answered that they “cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts. 4:20).   Arrested again and miraculously delivered from prison, the Apostles were brought again before the Sanhedrin where St. Peter with the others declared “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).   Much later, St. Peter was indeed crucified as a martyr for Christ, as Jesus Himself predicted when after His Resurrection He forgave and restored him (Jn. 21:18-19).  



It was the Cross that made the difference.   Up to that point, the call to discipleship operated on the principle of Law which cannot produce that which it demands.   Then Jesus fulfilled the Law at the Cross and ushered in the Gospel.   Under the Gospel, discipleship operated on an entirely different basis, the basis of grace and liberty and the power of the Holy Spirit, and what was demanded under Law was produced under the Gospel.



Had a certain evangelical celebrity from Sun Valley, California understood this he would have written a very different book indeed.


The Law and the Gospel meet in the Cross.   Don't try to bring them together anywhere else.





(1)       The multiple references to the carrying of the transom, both in Jesus' call to discipleship and in the Gospel accounts of His and Simon's being made to do so, demonstrates that the  familiar T/t - shaped complex cross was the Cross of the Crucifixion and not the crux simplex or "torture stake".   All the earliest writers who make any allusion to the kind of cross used indicate that it was the T-shape.  Claims to the contrary arise from the delusions of hyper-Protestants like the nineteenth century Rev. Alexander Hislop who start from the premise that the Catholic - not just papal, but actually Catholic, held by all Churches everywhere since the most ancient times - understanding of everything is wrong.  In Hislop's case he thought that everything Catholic was not just wrong but a fraud designed to pass off Babylonian paganism as Christianity.  He saw the T in the familiar cross shape as a reference to Tammuz, the Sumerian/Babylonian deity with some similarities to the Adonis of Greco-Roman mythology after whom the Babylonians named a summer month which name was borrowed by the Jews for their tenth civil month/fourth religious month in the Babylonian Captivity and remains the name of that month in the Jewish calendar to his day.   Hislop, on the basis of no evidence other than his own conjecture and imagination, identified the mythological Tammuz with the son and supposed reincarnation of the Nimrod mentioned in Genesis as an early king of what became Babylon.   All of this deserves to be mocked as the risible nonsense that it is.

(2)       The same year (1989) that this book, The Gospel According to Jesus, was published, MacArthur was defending his "Incarnational Sonship" doctrine before the Independent Fundamental Churches of America.   Incarnational Sonship is a gross heresy.   By denying the Eternal Sonship affirmed in the Nicene Creed and deriving Christ's Sonship from the Incarnation it implicitly teaches Sabellianism by confusing the Persons of the Father and Holy Spirit, the Latter being the Agent in the Incarnation.   MacArthur has since recanted this view.

(3)       “It is finished” also has the sense of “paid in full”.

(4)       “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).   The parallel structure of the verse indicates the second “for” has the same sense as the first.

(5)       Proclaiming the Gospel is something done both by individual believers and by the Church collectively.   With regards to the Church it is a more formal Ministry than it is with the individual believer.   Proclaiming the Gospel is part of the Ministry of the Word which includes preaching in the sense of giving a sermon, teaching if that is distinguished from preaching, and even just the reading of the Scriptures.   The Ministry of Sacrament is another form of proclaiming the Gospel.    Unlike the Ministry of the Word, which involves Law as well and is the Ministry where the danger of confusing or mixing the two must especially be guarded against, the Ministry of Sacrament is pure Gospel.   In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the physical elements of water, bread, and wine become vessels through which the Word of the Gospel is conveyed tangibly.   The Absolution is another form of proclaiming the Gospel although it is a bit of a stretch to maintain that it is also another Sacrament as our Lutheran friends do seeing as there is not really a physical element comparable to water, bread, or wine.   It is part of the Ministry of the Keys, the Gospel Key that is the counterpart to the Discipline/Excommunication which is the Law Key, and as such belongs to the Apostolic Government of the Church.   Those who have inherited the errors of the Puritans, and specifically the Puritan error of associating the priestly office with the Law and the prophetic office with the Gospel - it is obviously the other way around, the prophetic office being all about rebuking people for sin, the priestly office being all about provision for forgiveness of sin – would regard the sacerdotal assertions in this footnote as legalistic.   Ironically, these also generally follow the Puritans in advising people to look to their own works for evidence of their election, which is another way of telling people to put their faith in their own works.   With regards to individual believers, proclaiming the Gospel is less of a formal Ministry and consists of verbal communication – although the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (amusingly fact checkers assert he didn’t say it even though what they really mean is that no evidence exists from his own time that he said it which hardly constitutes proof of the negative assertion – they would be on firmer ground if they could find an alternative attribution) “Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words” bears keeping in mind.   So does the similarly themed poem that includes the lines “The Gospel is written a chapter a day/In the deeds that you do and the words that you say/Men read what you write whether faithless or true/Say what is the Gospel according to you?”