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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.

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

Germany’s Bid to Keep Israel off the UN Security Council

March 21 2018

The Jewish state has never held a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. For the first 50 years of its existence, it was denied membership in any of the UN’s regional groups, which control candidacies for these rotating seats. Then it was finally admitted to the Western European and Others Group, which promptly agreed to wait another twenty years before approving Jerusalem for a Security Council candidacy. Now, Benny Avni notes, Germany is poised to block action:

As a good-faith gesture, the Western European and Others Group promised Israel that it and Belgium would run uncontested for the two open 2019-20 [Security Council] seats. Then, in 2016, Germany announced it would also run—even though it already served as a council member [multiple times, including] as recently as 2011-12. . . . [U]nless Belgium yields, Israel’s hopes for UN respect seem doomed for now—and maybe for the foreseeable future.

Why? Diplomats have been telling me Israel violates too many Security Council resolutions to be a member—as in the one passed during the last weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency, which marked Jewish holy sites as occupied Palestinian territory. But is building a porch in [the West Bank town of] Ma’ale Adumim really such a huge threat to world peace?

How about, then, a report released last week by UN experts on the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions? It found Germany violated a council ban on sparkling wines, exporting $151,840 worth of bubbly and other luxury goods to Kim Jong Un’s cronies. Or how about, as the Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal reports, German companies exporting to Iran banned materials that were later used in chemical attacks in Syria?

Never mind. Germany (and Belgium) will surely benefit from the UN’s habit of magnifying Israel’s violations beyond all proportion. Thus, Israel’s petition to join the most prestigious UN club will likely be rejected, thanks to a late entry by a shameless [and] cynical German power play against the Jewish state.

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More about: Germany, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-German relations, United Nations