Friday, July 22, 2016

Seriously? A vote has no expressive content?

As the bullying gears up all over the country to whip people in line to vote for D.T., I am struck yet again by something that strikes me every four years: There are people out there who will (metaphorically speaking) look you in the eye and tell you that a vote is a purely pragmatic move and has zero semantic content.

I find it difficult to believe that, but I'm forced to believe it every four years, because I'm confronted by such people. Surely it should be obvious by the sheer meaning of the phrase "to vote for _____ for ____" that doing so is, at least among other things, a semantic act that carries the meaning, "I desire so-and-so to have the position of _____" and "So-and-so is at least minimally qualified for the position of ______." It needn't mean that you can't think of anybody better for that position. It needn't mean that you agree with so-and-so on everything. It needn't mean that he's perfect. But it should not even require discussion to say that at a minimum your vote says that you want him to have that position and that you think he's minimally qualified for it.

People apparently want to deny this self-evident truth because they want to justify voting for someone that they realize they couldn't justify voting for if they admitted it. They want to be able to say that some candidate really is completely dreadful and awful but that we should vote for him anyway for some consequential reason. Now, I'm not saying that consequences have no place in voting. They could lead you, for example, to vote for a candidate whom you weren't exactly thrilled with because you believed that he would do more good than harm in the position. But at the end of the day, if you literally think that someone would be a disgrace to that political office, that he is unqualified for it, and that he is a wicked person, you shouldn't vote for him for that position.

When we pretend (and it really is a pretense) that a vote has no semantic content whatsoever, that it is simply playing a move in a consequential game, we harden our hearts to endorse evil people. We do it by lying to ourselves that a vote is in no sense, however minimal, an endorsement.

Quite frankly, I believe that people psych themselves into this because they work themselves up to believe that the United States Presidency is so important that you are morally obligated always to vote for one of the two "viable" candidates for the office. Hence they are faced with what feels like a moral dilemma: They feel that they're morally obligated to vote for A or B, yet they know that both A and B are unqualified for the job and are wicked. So they convince themselves that there must be a "lesser evil" between A and B (why think that?) that we can tell which is the lesser evil (why think that?) and that one is obligated to vote for that lesser evil as a sheer game-theoretic move without semantic content. In this way they resolve that feeling of a moral dilemma.

But conscience will have her revenge. This is why so often those who do this are so angry, bitter, and bullying toward anyone who doesn't do as they do. J. Budziszewski wrote about this in The Revenge of Conscience. When you do something that you feel morally uncomfortable about, you end up trying to get other people to join you in doing it so you will feel less uncomfortable about it. You get defensive and angry. The conscience doesn't just lie down like a lamb when you suppress it. It rouses up and becomes a kind of raging false conscience, driving you to drive others into a frenzy of support for what you have done. We see this in women who have had abortions and who then write bragging pieces about them or who join pro-abortion organizations to make abortion more widely available. And we see it here. The proposition that a vote has literally zero semantic content endorsing the candidate is so manifestly false that it is a constant irritant to the person who has relied on it as a premise to get himself out of what felt like a moral dilemma. For many, this results in striking out at others who have come to a different decision and who aren't doing what he is doing.

I submit that this is a reductio of the proposition that you are always morally obligated to vote for one of the two viable candidates for the Presidency. Or always obligated to vote at all, if it comes to that. Since there is, obviously, at least minimal semantic content to a vote, a situation could arise in which you would be doing wrong to express that content concerning any candidate, and then you shouldn't vote. It's really just that simple. Don't turn your mind into a pretzel forcing yourself to think otherwise.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Reticence of the Evangelists at W4

I have a new post up at What's Wrong With the World on an argument for the veracity of the gospels from the reticence of the evangelists. Feel free to comment in either place.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

One more bit of incoherence in the "trans" agenda

The claims by "trans" activists are so blatantly postmodern, so riddled with incoherence, that most of the time I don't bother even to try to point out the incoherences. There was a good article in, I believe, National Review that did so a couple of months ago, but unfortunately I didn't save the link. If one of my readers happens to find it, let me know. I think it may have been by Maggie Gallagher.

Here's one bit of the incoherence that came up in a thread at W4 where a commentator was asking about the best arguments (??) of the trans activists. Short version: There aren't any. Anyway, this commentator suggested that, while it seems far-fetched to say that gender identity can be constructed based solely on a person's subjective feelings, maybe it isn't so far-fetched to say that someone "is" a particular "gender" based on "social role," which might differ from biology. At least, so I understood him to suggest as one of the "best" representations of the trans position.

But as I point out in the comment here, that does not make any sense, because society never spontaneously assigns a person a "social role" that is utterly in conflict with his unambiguous biological sex. Setting aside extremely rare cases of true biological disorders in which a mistake is made at birth because the child biologically (externally) appears to be the opposite biological sex from his genetic sex, no one just "gets" a "social role" of being a man when he is biologically a woman. No biological woman just "gets" a "social role" of being a man. It doesn't happen. Something has to kick off the process in society. The person has to complain of "gender dysphoria," and get "treatment" that includes making other people use new pronouns, or parents or psychologists have to get signals that they take to mean that, in the mysterious trans meaning, the person "really is" the opposite gender from his biological sex, and then that small coterie of people starts trying to impose this new understanding on everybody else. But they aren't society. Prior to being told that Bobby is now a girl, society was just going on its merry way treating Bobby as a boy. Bobby doesn't have a "social role" of being a girl until society is forced to start calling him "she" under threat of punishment and so forth or until society is fooled by extreme (and immoral) medical procedures and drugs foisted upon Bobby so that society (or those members of it who didn't know Bobby before) falsely believe that Bobby (who now goes by "Sarah") is biologically female. If Bobby/Sarah succeeds in passing himself off as a woman, at that point "society" may assign him a female role, but that's only because of a successful deception concerning biology, not because he originally "was" a woman in the sense of having "woman" as a societal role. He didn't. That's why he had to "transition."

So there is no hope for the trans agenda in logic from a mantra like, "Gender identity is socially constructed," because that provides no rationale for society's giving a person a social role that he didn't originally have in the first place and because society, left to itself, will spontaneously assign a biologically unambiguous person a social role (whatever it may be in that society) that agrees with his biology to begin with. One could just as well tell the trans activist who mouths this "argument," "Fine, then, I guess Bobby isn't really a girl, because look at all the people who have been calling him 'he' all this time. He has the socially constructed role of a boy, so that means he's a boy. Case closed."

The trans activist has to insist upon a process of redefining a person as "really" being something other than what he biologically is without the support, initially, of either biology or social role.

None of this, of course, will stop activists (and their dupes) from talking sagely as if a phrase like, "Gender identity is socially constructed" supports their agenda. But logically, it doesn't.

Tony, my blog colleague at W4, comments here pointing some of this out as well.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Evangelism, individualism, conversion, and cradle Christianity

Over at W4 I reported on the insane, repressive new laws just passed against "missionary activity" in Russia. Here's another article on them. I'm appalled but not surprised at the number of people who defend such laws.

This arises in part because some (most?) of the "paleoconservative" persuasion are in general Russophiles and are under some strange delusion that Russia represents "conservatism" in a recognizable sense. One thing that feeds this delusion is the fact that Russian law does not celebrate sodomy as does American law (driven by lawless American Supreme Court decisions), yet another counterexample to the dubious maxim, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." The paleos prefer to keep the maxim and bite the bullet on the counterevidence. Their syllogism is "What Russian law does is conservative. Russian law represses missionary activity from non-Orthodox people. Therefore, repressing missionary activity from non-Orthodox people is conservative." The first premise, of course, is the bad apple.

But there's something else going on here as well, which came out the last time such issues were discussed at W4, many years ago. Lurking in the minds of some of those from what one might call mainline denominations is, frankly, a distaste for energetic evangelistic work and conversion. In that old thread, it was openly stated that evangelism should be aimed only at "heads of households." I guess that means if you aren't a head of a household, you're outta luck.

In the strongest possible terms, let me say this: Nothing could be further from the Great Commission and the teaching and action of both our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles.

When Jesus called his disciples, he called them as individuals, not heads of households. He called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, not Zebedee. St. John, who lived to write in the late 1st century, was likely a "man" under Jewish law, but that isn't saying much. He must have been very young during Jesus' ministry and was certainly not the head of any household. Jesus' teaching is, if possible, even more emphatic and striking on such points than his action. He said that if you love your father and mother more than him you are unworthy of him. (Matthew 10:37) He taught that he came not to bring peace in families but a sword. (Matthew 10:35-36) He even used the hyperbolic language of "hating" father and mother. (Luke 14:26) He answered sharply when a man suggested coming and being his disciple only after first carrying out some burial duties toward his father. (Matthew 8:21)

However, precisely, one interprets each of these passages, they cumulatively pull strongly in the direction of individual discipleship, in the absence of familial unity and even in opposition to it. That includes individual discipleship even by those who are not patriarchal heads, as witness the repeated, explicit references by Jesus to being willing to pull away from and offend one's father and mother in order to follow him.

An example of this sort of thing in our own time would be Rifqa Bary, who became a Christian from a Muslim background at age sixteen and subsequently ran away from her parents at the age of 17 when she believed her life was in danger because of her conversion.

We have one example in the Philippian jailer where Paul apparently did evangelize the head of a household, and his entire household subsequently professed faith in Jesus. But in general, Paul just preached. So did Peter on the day of Pentecost. We have no evidence whatsoever that individuals were turned away if they weren't "heads of households." On the contrary, we have quite a few examples where women, specifically, became Christians without any mention of their husbands' conversion, and Paul even addresses specifically in the epistles the problem of believers who have unbelieving spouses. Peter makes it clear (I Peter 3:1) that this could include wives with unbelieving husbands. In that culture, individual conversion of wives against the preferences of their husbands is, again, strongly in contrast to any idea of converting people only in family groups through their heads-of-household.

Ad hoc and untenable principles such as "only evangelize heads of households" are, I will say bluntly, developed by partisans of sclerotic, mainline denominations who are afraid of or annoyed by competition from more vital, energetic groups with a strong emphasis upon individual belief and conversion. Unable to keep as much hold of their own nominal members-from-the-cradle as they would like because of poor catechesis, boredom, and population drift, they support draconian laws giving their own denominations a monopoly in particular countries. Then they support these laws by faux, anti-individualistic, anti-evangelistic principles.

Some American conservatives unfamiliar with this dynamic or psychologically uncomfortable with evangelism and witnessing (because they seem bourgeois or silly) may be tempted to go along with this for the additional reason that we are all (justifiably) freaked out by the aggressive proselytizing of the left against our children. But note: That proselytizing is most frightening in the setting of a public school where the force of truancy laws, combined with difficulties or fear of home schooling and the expense of Christian schooling, creates a captive audience. (Related, on how this works in Ontario, see here.) But the answer to state brainwashing of children isn't for the state to make it illegal for non-state actors to "direct" their messages toward minors or for the state to make this illegal except in the case of some state-favored religion. Indeed, one could argue that the problem with secularist brainwashing of children in public schools is precisely the establishment of a state "church"--namely, aggressive secular leftism. I don't want the state to outlaw Camp Quest, the secularist summer camp. I just don't send my kids there. And if some Christian parent is foolhardy enough to do so, that's on his head.

I'm all in favor of raising one's children to be Christians from the cradle. And I'm all in favor of being a protective parent, sheltering children, and even thinking very hard about what college to pay for them to go to when they are adults. But there is a great gulf fixed between a love of raising one's children in one's own worldview and a demand that the government outlaw the propagation of other worldviews, even other Christian denominations, simply as such. Some Christians demand that we buy into a kind of ecumenism that says that everybody who is a nominal member of some Christian denomination or other is going to heaven and that the only kind of evangelism that is right is one that doesn't "compete" with other Christian denominations. Well, Jesus says that there will be many who will say, "Lord, Lord" who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That presumably includes Catholics, Orthodox, Baptist, Adventist, and all kinds of denominations. If you want to be ecumenical, try considering this possibility: Maybe some person who has been a cradle X, where X is your own denomination, has no relationship with Jesus Christ, isn't really a believer, is purely a cultural "Christian," and is going to hell. And maybe if that person is evangelized (aka "stolen") by that scruffy denomination Y that Russia wants to outlaw, he'll actually go to heaven instead. And yes, if I happen to prefer Y to X, it would be smart for me to consider that it could go the other way. But frankly, I know no Seventh-Day Adventists or Baptists who are looking to have their denomination established as a state religion and to outlaw "proselytizing" by Catholics, Orthodox, or other "stuffier" and more liturgical churches. This despite the fact that the less ecumenical among them actually do think people are likely to go to hell if they belong to those denominations! But even given that, they are willing just to witness and let the Holy Spirit do the work from there, as they see it. It's an example their more high-brow brethren would do well to follow, despite the presence of theological narrow-mindedness.

Moreover, we Christians want to start thinking very soberly about what is wrong with us when we start uttering the word "proselytizing" in tones of contempt. Or when we're standing up and cheering that the Russians are doing the same. That's a bad, bad move. Here are a couple of posts I wrote years ago about the concern that Americans are starting to demonize "proselytizing." The Great Commission is all about "proselytizing." Demonizing witnessing is the road to cutting off our own missionary efforts from soul-saving, turning them into mere humanitarian aid, at most. The Bible, and Christianity, are all about converts. They always have been. There is nothing infra dig about trying to make converts who weren't just comfortable "Christians from the cradle." Jesus told us to do it, in fact. So if you feel funny about Christian denominations that witness, maybe you should get over it and ask yourself why your denomination isn't doing more of it.

I realize that it's a problem for some conservatives, but Christianity has always been pretty individualistic. Sure, the leftists have twisted this emphasis, but they didn't invent it. No, that doesn't mean Christians should "go it alone," but a convert will become a member of the community of believers as an individual, and he may have to leave father and mother behind to do so. Moreover, those who have been Christians from their childhood actually face special dangers, of complacency, lukewarmness, and lack of zeal for spreading the gospel. It's therefore particularly ironic to see members of mainline denominations that suffer greatly from such problems trying to suppress other denominations. It's a little bit like public school lobbyists trying to outlaw home schooling. We shouldn't make a special virtue out of non-evangelism. There is no virtue in it. If the Russian Orthodox are concerned about the Baptists and Adventists (or for that matter the real heretics like Jehovah's Witnesses), I suggest they engage in vigorous debate against their tenets and present programs that will keep their own "sheep" within their fold while at the same time showing ardent concern for the individual catechesis of their own "sheep." Hey, for that matter they might try some straightforward counterevangelism directed at members of the other religious organizations. That rather than trying to use the state to enforce a monopoly. Somehow, I'm afraid that is unlikely to happen. But if you are open to reason on these things, I suggest to you that it should.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Inflammatory language, perversions, and the church

This new push to downplay pedophilia was shared with appropriate outrage on Facebook lately.

What I want to point out here is the danger that this sort of talk poses specifically to those, including Christians, who have leaned in the wrong way on the act-orientation distinction concerning homosexuality. It is entirely possible that we will be asked, to be consistent, to apply the act-orientation distinction in the same way to pedophilia, and I'm afraid that some won't know how to reply and will be sitting ducks for what is, in effect, a partial normalization and, at a minimum, a desensitization.

Many Christians have been so concerned about the charge of homophobia and so eager to show love toward homosexual individuals that they have applied the act-orientation distinction in a confused way. I'm not saying that there is no such distinction nor that it is never relevant to bring up. But I think the contexts in which it makes a big difference to our actions are fewer and narrower than some may think. If you are a pastor or priest advising someone in private on whether he's sinning, then it is relevant and appropriate to tell him that having temptations and inclinations toward homosexuality is not in and of itself a sin, as though he sins just by breathing in and out. At the same time, there is a delicate matter even there concerning fantasies, entertaining thoughts, self-identity, and so forth, so it's still not cut and dried. The homosexual, even the Christian, who goes around loudly proclaiming his problem and demanding that everybody must accept him and complaining about how he's not sufficiently accepted is, most likely, sinning in thought with some frequency. So a non-naive pastor counseling such a person shouldn't just keep telling him over and over again that his orientation isn't a sin. But, okay, the act-orientation distinction is relevant there.

It's not nearly so obviously relevant to issues of discrimination, and especially not if the person is "out." There are all sorts of issues of discretion, morale, normalization, and so forth that are created by an "out" homosexual, especially one with a chip on his shoulder, especially in a business or non-profit that aims for a high moral tone. And there are direct practical issues in a residential context, such as a college, camp, retreat, and traveling. Who even can be the appropriate roommate, with all the loss of privacy that entails, of a person with same-sex attraction disorder? So already when Christians (and, I'm sorry to say, the catechism of the Catholic Church) go on about how baaad discrimination is on the basis of sexual orientation, they are doing a disservice to clarity of thought.

But there's even more. Here are two false implications of an overuse and misguided use of the act-orientation distinction that will come back to haunt us as the push for "understanding" pedophilia starts to ramp up:

1) The false implication that all sins are equal. No, they are not. Scripture never teaches that all sins are equally bad, it teaches the contrary, and common sense teaches us that all sins are not equally destructive in a social context. Hence, the temptation to all sins is not an equal problem. The fact that a man is tempted to a sexual perversion ought to create more complexities in which jobs he can hold, how to arrange for his accommodations when he travels, and in many other areas, than the fact that a man is tempted to gluttony. That's just how it is. But saying that "the orientation isn't sinful, and we're all sinners and tempted to sin in many different ways" glosses over these practical and moral facts.

2) The false implication that disgust is an inappropriate feeling for normal people to have in response to finding out about a "mere" orientation. The idea seems to be that if the "mere" orientation isn't a sin, we shouldn't feel disgusted when we learn about it, because that is "phobic" and unloving. Baloney. Pedophilia is an obvious counterexample, and we're going to have big problems if we continue on this path that says we're not supposed to feel, act, or convey disgust about anything as long as it's "just" an orientation.

It's a tragedy that there are people who have same-sex attraction disorder and who are upset and don't want it. For that matter, it's a worse tragedy, in a different way, that there are homosexuals who are proud of their orientation and their acts. But what even those who resist and don't act are tempted toward, what they are oriented toward, is a perversion. It was a mistake for Christians to stop saying that. I think we said to ourselves, "What possible value could there be in using inflammatory language such as 'pervert'? That just looks unloving. We don't want to look like those Westboro Baptist types" (always a useful comparison for getting as much compliance and apology as possible from Christians). "It's just a pointless insult." Well, no. To say that someone is a sexual pervert by orientation, even if he does not act on it, is to retain the knowledge of the unnaturalness of what he is inclined toward. It is to remind ourselves and those to whom we speak that his temptation is not merely contrary to God's law but also contrary to nature, and that this matters. But errors #1 and #2 tell us that we aren't supposed to know this, that we are supposed to elide it. So much of our language becomes conciliatory and deliberately erases all references to disordered affections and perversion: "The LGBT community," "God loves gay people very much," and the like.

These two errors are going to turn on us when it comes to pedophilia. Because frankly, if #1 and #2 are true, then why not try to eradicate disgust from our thought and language concerning people who "merely" have a pedophile orientation? If it is a settled doctrine that all sins are equal, then "all" presumably means "all" without exception, so this one should be included. If disgust is generally a wrong feeling to have concerning any "mere" orientation, then that's it. The principle is set.

If we should try as hard as we can not to "discriminate" on the basis of a "mere" orientation, then presumably we should try as hard as we can to accommodate even an "out" pedophile in as many activities as possible, even if we have to restrict him, for safety reasons, from some activities involving children. Anything like broader avoidance on the part of, say, people with children would be cruel, right? Notice that in the interview linked above the woman "researcher" is very uncomfortable when the interviewer suggests that he should in general try to keep his children away from pedophiles. She never agrees with him on this principle. Instead she turns the question to "child pedophiles," with the obvious implication that keeping such children away from other children would be wrong, so "we" have to find some other way to deal with them. In the Salon article last year garnering sympathy for non-offending pedophiles, the author explicitly states that there are pedophiles he would "trust with" his own children, if he had any.

Moreover, if there is no shame in being "out" about one's inclinations to sexual perversions, because then one can "get help" and because then we as Christians have a chance to show our love and kindness, then why should "coming out" as a pedophile be TMI when coming out as "gay" isn't TMI? The whole idea about discretion and not telling the whole world about your sexual perversions has been abandoned wholesale in the Christian community, even among conservative Christians, with the support groups for homosexuals and the praise for coming out. How are we ever going to reclaim the notion of discretion and the condemnation of TMI, how are we ever going to affirm again that there could be something good about being "in the closet," at least as far as the general community is concerned? We've pretty much tossed those ideas out, and we'll just have to say that "it's different this time" when it comes to some new perversion for which our compassion and support are being urged. To be consistent, I think we will need to back up and say that, after all, it isn't such a great thing for homosexuals to be coming out either, that we don't all need to know about that, and that if you really recognize that what you are experiencing is a desire contrary both to the law of God and to the law of nature, you will understand (except in unusual situations) that you need to exercise discretion and discuss this only with specific people who need to know. And voluntarily exclude yourself from activities inappropriate to you given your problem. Once these principles are established again in our minds, and once we as social conservatives and Christians don't feel ashamed of ourselves for having such principles, we can think more clearly about how to apply them in various situations and to other perversions.

We will also be in a position to recognize the extremely fine line between encouraging people to be "out" about something and abandoning opposition to it. This has come up again and again and again in "support groups" for homosexuals in churches and Christian colleges. Repeatedly the deliberate eradication of shame in being out, the hugging and kissing and support, the frantic urge to assure everyone that we are not phobic, and the formation of open groups explicitly oriented (pun intended) to something so vague as the "support" of people with certain perversions, have resulted in the erosion of opposition to the acts, just as these practices have involved a deliberate erasure of disgust at the outset. After all, how bad can it really be if everybody is telling you all the time that they have this problem? How bad can it be if we are all urged not to discriminate on the basis of someone's having this problem (as long as he doesn't "act on it")? How bad can it really be if the main message we are hearing is that we as Christians need to be kinder, more accepting, less ostracizing, more supportive, and so forth?

Once we admit that it was a mistake to have "support groups" connected with Christian organizations and churches, a mistake to encourage general coming out, a mistake to abandon the "inflammatory" language of disorder and perversion, and a mistake to try so hard to be upbeat and sentimental as part of being loving, we will be able to apply those lessons learned to worse things.

Sometimes you can't go forward without going back. The church's treatment of perversion is one such area.

The dousing of the natural light

In case there are any readers who follow Extra Thoughts but not What's Wrong With the World, my relatively recent post at W4 about a lot of the bad stuff happening these days and a common thread running through it seems to have resonated with some people, so check it out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Webinar on Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts

I will be speaking this Saturday at a free webinar on undesigned coincidences in the gospels and Acts, hosted by Online Apologetics Academy run by Jonathan McLatchie. I'm told the webinar can handle up to 100 participants at a time, plus it will be recorded for future listening. It starts at 3 p.m. eastern time on Zoom, which is very easy to use. (Speaking as a technophobe who just used it yesterday, I can say that it's easy.) Your computer will download a little software for Zoom, and you will choose a user name, and you can then enter the webinar. Here is the information with a link to Zoom. Don't be confused if you're in the U.S. by the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time given at the top of the entry for me. That's actually UK time!

I'll be speaking for between 40 minutes and an hour and then taking questions for an hour or two from participants.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sentiment vs. Sainthood

The aftermath of the recent jihad murders in Orlando, like the aftermath of every other mass shooting (and for that matter every celebrity death) has been marked by a vast tide of undirected emotion and sentiment. In addition to the inevitable debates (over gun control, for example), the world of social media is awash in calls to one another to pray for Orlando and expressions of emotion over the shooting.

There are worse things than soppy sentimentalism. Cruelty and hard-heartedness, for example. But I want to be one voice stating that sentiment for the sake of sentiment has its drawbacks and that American culture is in grave danger of thinking just the opposite--namely, that sentiment for the sake of sentiment is inherently virtuous.

It's possible that part of the confusion arises from the fact that sentimentalism can be a counterfeit of saintliness. Here's what I mean: We know that Jesus took upon himself all the sins and sorrows of the world. Catholics, in particular, have a theological idea of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. Protestants, too, often talk about bearing one another's burdens, which is fully biblical. One imagines the old monk or nun, or the prayer warrior, praying quietly and earnestly, for hours, for strangers, for the sins of the world, for evil-doers and victims, his prayers ranging over all the world, suffering with those people, offering up prayers for "all sorts and conditions of men." It is a legitimately attractive picture.

I think that people, Christians in particular, may have the false idea that, by calling upon their friends to "Pray for _____[fill in location of most recent tragedy]," and also by encouraging in themselves a lot of emotion about whatever tragedy is big in the news cycle right now, they are imitating that saint. The idea is to be selfless, to go beyond one's own concerns, to enter into the sufferings of others, yes, even others whom one doesn't know.

But in my opinion this is an illusion. Here are some thoughts on the distinction between sentimentalism and sainthood:

1) Sainthood is self-effacing. Sentimentalism is dramatic, public, and self-indulgent. The saint who prays in his cell doesn't tell the whole world that he's praying or what he's praying for. He doesn't advertise on his Facebook status that he broke down in tears while going about his daily task when the thought of _______ came to him. He doesn't pressure other people to join any prayer bandwagon. He just quietly gets on with it.

2) Sainthood is precise. Sentimentalism is vague. A saint knows exactly what he's praying for. He isn't "sending good thoughts." He doesn't send prayers (or thoughts) to a city. (Because we actually send prayers to God. Or, if you're a Catholic or high Anglican, to God via the saints. But not to places.) A saint prays for specific, holy things. Those things might include comfort or salvation for large numbers of people, even people whose names he doesn't know. But a saint's prayers cannot be captured by slogans. How many people out there saying, "Pray for Orlando" have little or no idea what, precisely, they are supposed to be asking for, and for whom? It's a catch-phrase, meant to express a feeling of solidarity.

3) Saints never willfully drum up emotion as an end in itself, in themselves or others. Sentimentalists make a habit of it.

4) Saints have their own priorities in prayer. Sentimentalists are at the beck and call of the news cycle. That's not to say a saint would never pray about something that is big in the news cycle. Maybe he would. If so, it would be as part of a disciplined prayer life with other priorities at least equal in importance. But maybe he wouldn't. Maybe instead that day he would be praying for a child dying of cancer, for Christians being tortured for their faith, for a man struggling with doubts, for children being raised in spiritual darkness, for women (or even a particular woman) being tempted to abortion, or for any of the infinite number of other matters of eternal importance.

A sentimentalist, in contrast, weeps when social media says, "Weep!" and prays when social media says, "Pray!" It's difficult to believe that, in so doing, he is obeying the Spirit of the Lord.

One might ask what harm is done by national sentimentalism. At least it draws people together. It springs from good intentions, from a natural desire to be kind and to care about others. To be sure, there are worse harms. But I think there is enough harm that it is worth speaking out about. Here are just a few of the harms:

--National sentimentalism is closely tied to virtue signaling, bandwagoning, and social bullying. I'm on a Facebook group consisting of professing Christians. One member posted to the group a day or two after the shooting complaining angrily that there had been no "statement" posted to that particular group about the shooting. Several people quickly assured him that they had expressed the proper sentiments on their personal pages. Nobody told him to go jump in the lake. Even I didn't, because I didn't need the drama in my life, and it wasn't worth my time. But the reason that kind of bullying gets off the ground is because of the sentimentalist assumption that everybody has to say somethingeverywhere. Everybody has to express a certain feeling. The whole nation is in mourning, don't you know, and we all have to make our gesture of joining in, and if you don't, you're a bad person. This is simply not a healthy state of affairs.

I want to emphasize that I think this sort of interpersonal pressure to say something is a bad thing regardless of how sympathetic the victims are. I think this about the Sandy Hook massacre, too, or the Paris massacre. I'm making no statement just here about homosexuality. What I am saying is that sentimentalism makes people ripe to be manipulated into talking in a certain way because that's what everybody else is doing, and that is bad in and of itself.

--Nationwide sentimentalism makes it difficult to be cool-headed in judging proposed policies. Note that I'm not talking, here, about which proposed policies. I mean this generalization to apply to any proposed policies. Policy should be discussed and enacted with cool heads, not in a rush of national emotion.

--Nationwide sentimentalism encourages people to force themselves to feel certain emotions. This is always bad. I cannot think of a single exception to the rule: Never try to force yourself to feel an emotion. Emotion is not inherently virtuous and should not be forced. By treating emotion as equivalent to virtue, sentimentalism tells people in the imperative mood to feel an emotion. This is not good for either the mind or the heart.

--National sentimentalism can make it harder to see the pain and suffering of those immediately around us whose sufferings aren't national news. We each only have so much time and emotional energy, and so much time spent in prayer. We need to spend it deliberately and wisely.

I won't go so far as to say, "Don't pray for Orlando!" Of course not. But if you do pray, pray for people, not for an abstract city. Pray for definite, holy things. Pray as part of a well-rounded prayer life and relationship with God. Don't gin up emotions. Don't tell everybody on Facebook about your feelings or about how intensely you are praying. Don't tell other people that they have to pray for Orlando. Maybe they have something else at least as urgent that they are called upon to pray for instead. And don't, for goodness' sake, pray just because someone says, "Pray for Orlando!"

Cross-posted