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Why Christians Ought to Be Royalists

In Christ and Culture on March 8, 2017 at 7:15 am

Last week my school received a visit from the Honourable Judith Guichon, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The lieutenant governor the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in BC.  The visit followed the expected protocols–teachers dressed formally; Her Honour was accompanied by an Aide-de-Camp in full RCMP dress uniform; she entered the assembly in a processional and various other formalities were followed; we sang the national anthem and “God Save the Queen.”

There is a quiet conversation going on in Canada about the point of it all.  Like most issues in Canada, we take it seriously enough to talk about it, but not so seriously that we heap derision on those with whom we disagree.  But still, some people question the role of the Royal Family in Canada–and in England for that matter.

The Royal Family has an important role.  Never mind the good that they do through the Royal visits and causes they for which they advocate.  Even if you take all these significant contributions off the table, they play a significant role just by being royal.

One of the reasons we might question the role of royalty is because we have this idea that “all men are created equal”–that equality is a desired end–and that, therefore, democracy is some how the best sort of government.  Royalty and democracy don’t go together.

Winston Churchill said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  For Democracy to work people would need to be good and wise, and they are neither.   The reason democracy is better than all other forms of government is because it takes the fact of human depravity and decentralizes it.

C. S. Lewis comments on our cultural captivation with equality.

I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent.

According to Lewis, the notion of equality is a necessity to mitigate the power of evil in a fallen world.  Equality came after the Fall to counter the desires of evil men to oppress and exploit each other.

[T]he function of equality is purely protective. It is medicine, not food. By treating human persons (in judicious defiance of observed facts) as if they were all the same kind of thing [like widgets], we avoid innumerable evils.  But it is not on this we were meant to live. It is idle to say that mean are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense – if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining – then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls, then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would not have been divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love. It may be that He loves all equally – He certainly loved us all to death. . . . If there is equality, it is in His love, not us.

In Western cultures we accept as normative the virtues of equality and of democracy.  The “you are no better than I am” sentiment results a reluctance to submit to legitimate authorities–the boss, the coach, government, parents.   This sort of thing seeps into the Western Church as well.  There might be a hesitance to submit to the church leadership.  Some denominations are made up of autonomous congregations.  These conditions are not part of God’s creational design.

As Canadians we have a connection to the Royals that the Americans do not.  Americans have their Declaration of Independence which tells them that “All men are created equal.”  It just ain’t so.  As Canadians we have an advantage over our American brothers and sisters in that we have a powerful symbol to remind us who we really are.

The benefit of the Royal Family and the aristocratic class is that they ground us in reality.  They are not just a symbol of a faded empire, but of a Creational truth that we are not, in fact, created equal.  They remind us of the Biblical truth that our value is not is our sameness, but in Christ’s love for us.  But there is some value in our “inequality,” in our uniqueness, as we serve as different (unequal) parts of The Body (Romans 12).

Perhaps the main reason why people argue that the Royals are irrelevant is out of a misplaced allegiance to equality.  Perhaps not, but as we watch “Downton Abbey” or “The Crown” or the various visits, appearances and events featuring the Royals, it might be a beneficial, even spiritual, discipline to reflect on what all the pomp and circumstance might signify, and how it might bring us toward the truth of who we are in the Kingdom.

Big Questions and Deep Questions

In Christian Education on January 29, 2017 at 8:15 pm

Here is the studio version of a speech I made at an educational event, Learning Revolution.

Big Questions from Abbotsford Christian School on Vimeo.

In this inspiring “RevIt Up” talk, Trent DeJong describes one way in which a Learning Revolution may come about if educators would consider “deep questions” with their students. With examples from his own experience and a clever sense of humour, Trent is sure to make you think about how we can authentically engage the next generation of students.

 

Why I teach 1984.

In Books, Movies and Television on January 28, 2017 at 6:54 pm

I feel vindicated.

I have been asked countless times, “Do you still teach that?  I read it when I was in school.”  This past week George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, topped Amazon’s bestseller list.  There is so much that recommends it.  One of the reasons everyone should read Nineteen Eighty-Four is that it is a relevant warning.  It is so masterfully articulated that the terms Orwellian, Big Brother and double-think evoke and almost visceral response in those who’ve read it.  Consequently, these terms are powerful weapons against the abuse of power.

This week, Kellyanne Conway was accused of double-think when she used the phrase “alternative facts” in defence of President Trump’s press secretary’s assertion that 500 000 is greater than 1.8 million.

One of the reasons I am so committed to teaching Nineteen Eighty-Four every year, is to explore with students the necessary conditions that make double-think possible.  These conditions are, apparently, present in our “post truth” culture right now–as is evidenced by the phrase, “alternative fact.”

What are these conditions?

[Spoiler Alert]

One of the main ones is articulated by O’Brian in Part 3 of the novel.  O’Brian’s task is to “cure” Winston from his mistaken view of reality.  Winston’s error?  A belief in objective reality.  In a very early session, Winston objects to O’Brian’s assertion that “we, The Party, control . . . all memories.”  Winston challenges, “It is outside oneself.  How can you control memory?”  Winston is appealing to the existence of an external reality.  O’Brian counters,

But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external.  Reality exists in the human mind and no where else.  Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes . . . only in the mind of the Party.  . . .  Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is the truth.”

(Sound familiar?)

Winston has a hard time understanding this; he argues that the Party doesn’t control the climate or gravity.  O’Brian’s response:

We control matter, because we control the mind.  Reality is inside the skull. . . .  There is nothing we could not do.  Invisibility, levitation–anything.  I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wished to.  . . .   You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature.  We make the laws of Nature.

O’Brian is simply saying that reality or truth isn’t a thing in itself, it is defined by human minds.   Consequently, if one controls human minds, then one controls reality.

For this conclusion to be true, O’Brian’s first premise must be true.  Is reality defined by human minds or is Winston right, does reality or truth exist outside the skull?

Human beings have always believed that reality or truth exist outside the human–the Ancient Greeks called it the kosmos, Taoists and Buddhists think of it as a transcendent truth, the Jews and Muslims understand it to be in a transcendent God, Christians find it in the person of Jesus Christ  (this is another majority view held by all religions).

Recently, within the last 150 years or so, something changed in our culture–in the West.  We broke with the rest of humanity and began to consider the possibility that the universe might be made up of just material.  This meant that there is no God or gods or transcendent truth.  Objective reality had not place to live but in matter.

All this has lead to a different way of talking about truth.  Truth and fact used to mean different things.  You used to be able to call all sorts of things true, not just things like,

  • water is made up of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom
  • the Battle of Hastings was in 1066
  • 2+2=4

but sentiments could also fall under the heading of “truth”:

  • the waterfall is sublime
  • the Parthenon is beautiful
  • courage is better than cowardice

In a world of only matter, truth is reduced to fact.  The rest of what used to be truth has to find a different place to live–it did.  It took up residence in individual human minds.  The truths in the second list are now “just” opinions–or are said to be merely subjective.

We’ve been going along quite happily so far with our separation of fact and opinion, but it couldn’t last.  As Orwell warned, without an external objective reality, rational facts will eventually go the way of rational sentiments.  If the truth is in the mind, then the, so called, facts have no more chance than did true sentiments.  This is how O’Brian can state with confidence that 2+2=5 if Big Brother says it does.

This is what happened this past week on Meet The Press.  It was officially declared by a representative of the President of the United States of America that 500 000 was greater than 1.8 million.

When we separated the mind from the world outside the mind, the first casualty was the loss of true sentiments, but it was only a matter of time till the facts themselves fell victim to the denial of objective reality.

The only way to get back to reality is to recover the pre-modern idea of objective truth. Objective truth, not only links reason to reality, but grounds sentiment as well. This is expressed in The Abolition of Man, where C. S. Lewis argues that emotions are not “in themselves contrary to reason” (19).   Some sentiments are reasonable or unreasonable only as they conform, or fail to conform, to something else–to some external standard.  He said that “a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective can only lead to ruin” for it “has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship” (“Poison” 80-81).

It is appropriate to be alarmed by the “double-speak” coming from the White House this past week, but we oughtn’t be surprised–Orwell warned us in Nineteen Eighty-Four that this was coming.  It has apparently arrived.