Sunday, January 27, 2013

Conservatism and caring for the little guy

Hunter Baker makes a good point here, describing a woman he saw at Hardee's:

With great concentration and methodical effort, she scratched away the silver coating on the numbers.  Occasionally, she punctuated her practice with long, ragged ugly coughing noises.
Those lottery tickets she must have spent at least $20 dollars on (more than for the flip flops on her feet) came from the state of Tennessee.  I thought about how she is addicted to gambling thanks to the active assistance of her government.  I also thought about how addicted the rest of us have become to the revenue.
If you want to understand social conservatives, thinking about the woman in Hardee’s scratching away at lottery tickets is a good way to start.  We want to encourage the things in life that help a person grow strong:  faith, work, education, character, duty, and family.  We want to work against the things that seem to shrivel up a soul such as perpetual dependence, reliance on games of chance rather than personal industry, an inability to connect consequences to choices, and the loss of the kind of strong family ties that prepare a person for life in a hard world.
At a minimum, we don’t want to support a government which invites the poor to sacrifice what little they have for a mirage.  We have lost that argument everywhere.  And more’s the pity.
As we Protestant conservatives view with great dismay what seems to us the hair-tearing foolishness of a new generation of young, "emergent" evangelicals spouting the platitudes of the left and getting their priorities all messed up, either abandoning or downplaying the pro-life movement, voting Democrat, and embracing left-wing economics, we need to think of something that cannot be said too often: What the left wants is not what is best for the poor, the weak, the little guy. In fact, we can sometimes even go farther: The left does not want what is best for the poor and the weak. Viz. the Obama administration's willingness to shut down Catholic hospitals, Catholic charities, and anyone else who won't toe the line on his HHS mandate. Viz. the Obama administration's cutting off the Catholic bishops' funding for anti-trafficking, because they wouldn't refer for abortions. Viz. the left's shut-down of adoption agencies that won't place children with homosexual couples. The list goes on and on.

And there is more: The actual economic policies advocated by the left mean fewer jobs, higher prices, and small businesses pushed out by high regulatory costs, all of which is very bad for the people who need jobs the most. We're seeing this right now with the economic burden of Obamacare, but that's only one example. The actual environmental policies advocated by the left are radically anti-human and will result in grave economic harm both to our own country and, even more, to developing countries. I have just been reading a book I hope to write more about later, Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin. In it he chronicles case after case after case of leftist policies that have harmed the poorest of the poor in Third-World countries, from coercive population control to crackdowns forcing Third-World countries to eschew the advantages of more nutritious modified grains.

When our young people are growing up we Christians and conservatives often teach them biblical principles, and that is very good. But we also need to teach them economic principles. We need to teach them that there is no free lunch. We need to have them read books like Zubrin's and like Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed. We need to talk through with them the ways that policies that sound oh-so-kind to "make things free" or "force employers to pay more" or "give health insurance to everyone" actually harm the people they are meant to help. We need to expose to them the viciously anti-human underside of the environmental movement, as well as its empirical fecklessness.

We also need to show them how the undermining of marriage and fatherhood have been disastrous for the poor in our own country and how further promotion of sexual promiscuity and anti-family perversion will only do more harm, how a recovery of conservative values is the only hope for the poor themselves.

It is these kinds of conversations and teachings that will inoculate them against muddle-headed thinking that pits "care for the poor" and "care for the earth," allegedly embodied by the policies of the left, against social conservative issues like abortion and homosexuality which are the concern of the right. Unfortunately, I'm beginning to realize that too many youth pastors and other pastors even in relatively conservative evangelical theological circles are promoting such thinking, no doubt in all sincerity, but to the great detriment of the church itself. For if our young people get their consciences all tied up in knots feeling that they must choose between caring for the born poor and caring for the unborn and for marriage, I'm very much afraid that they will choose the former and functionally abandon the latter, eventually abandoning it altogether and simply becoming social liberals as well. After all, the born poor can be made so very picturesque.

But it's all a completely false dichotomy, and the poor will be the ones most harmed of all by the policies of the left. I'm not sure how young you have to get hold of 'em to prevent them from falling for these confusions, but start as young as you can and teach all of this explicitly.

Update: I just saw this linked from Drudge. In Louisiana, state regulators force retail stores to mark up the price of milk to 6% above the store's invoice costs. Let that sink in a minute. The state regulators came down on a store that was selling milk on a special every week for $2.99 per gallon. Note that this is even above and beyond state price supports to farmers, which are already economically problematic. But this is a further regulation on the price charged to the customer. Retail stores aren't allowed to sell at cost or to take a loss. The regulators give a convoluted reason to the effect that perhaps if one retailer sold at or below cost he could undersell his competitors, drive them out of business, and then raise his own prices. So really, folks, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, this requirement that the retailer make a 6% profit is a way of keeping down profits. By this reasoning, state regulators should do this with all goods as a competition-promotion move. To keep down prices we have to keep up prices. Rrrright. I was saying something about not helping the poor...Sure, this is just one small thing. But it's just one of a million boneheaded things where "government knows best," and the little guy is the one who gets hurt. It was such a perfect illustration that I had to include it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When he's right, he's Wright

I have posted my thoughts apropos of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday at What's Wrong With the World.

By way of posting something different and independent here, I'm falling back, as once before, on stealing quotations from one of the most eminently quotable bloggers currently writing (that I know of)--lawyer and science fiction author John C. Wright. (I've never read any of his science fiction and am not generally interested in sci-fi, so don't take this as an endorsement of his fiction.) Wright is quirky as all git-out, but when he's right, he's Wright. He is working singlehandedly to revive the art of invective in American discourse, and since the people against whom he's inveighing so often deserve it, and since he does it so well, one can only cheer.

I don't always read Wright, but when I do, I'm usually glad to have done so. He got a little too...focused during election season, but now that that's over he can get back to a broader range of topics. In this treatise he does mention abortion, which he rightly loathes, but only by way of illustration. Speaking of our leftist opponents, he says,
Hating motherhood, they hate children. Go to an abortion mill and see. Listen to their absurd overpopulation fears, now in a day when we suffer underpopulation. Hear how they talk as if childbirth is punishment. Look at how they try to sexualize children as quickly as possible and keep grown men infants as long as possible.
But I give that particular quotation only because of the connection with Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Wright's lengthy essay, which you almost certainly won't have time to read all at one go, is full of things that are much more biting than that, as well as being extremely funny.

Wright starts off discussing the hysterical reactions to some compliments a sports announcer paid to a beauty queen, and from there he manages to work in everything else in the world and the kitchen sink. He contrasts the silly, PC objections to the compliments with a truly chivalrous and old-fashioned objection, thus:
The point being made here is not that Mr Musburger overstepped the bounds of gentlemanly propriety, and exposed a young woman to embarrassment by too fulsome a compliment broadcast too publicly.
I would respect, and even salute, any man man enough to have uttered that criticism in public. Gentleman do not express lust over the wives and sweethearts of other gentlemen, but may only express respectful admiration. This is because a true man, a man of nobility expressing the best of masculine character, is a paragon of self control, and a wary guardian of the virtue and the sensitive character of the weaker sex.
No doubt my last sentence sounds like a parody to you, does it not, dear reader? If so, you can understand why the objection to Mr Musburger’s comments were not criticized in these terms. My sentence comes from a chivalrous and indeed a Catholic worldview, which affirms both the greater strength and dominion and therefore the greater humility and duty placed on the male sex. For Christian gentlemen, men lead and rule, and leaders are servants who give all they have, body and soul, even unto death, like a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. (We Christians are also much sexier in every way than the wimpy agnostics and their sad barbarian machismo, and our women are fertile, nubile, feminine, and cute, and make better mates and mothers and human beings than the neurotic unisex tramps from your world, heathen losers. Deal with it.)

(Did you manage to finish that passage without laughing? I didn't. I laugh every time I read it.) He continues,

In this case, I will forgo my usual polite habits, so I will not be referring to Mr Waldron by the name Mr Waldron, because he did not call Miss Webb by the name Miss Webb. He merely called her ‘Webb.’ I merely call him ‘creature.’
Let us now turn to what the creature Waldron’s comment is. What it is, is illogical.
The logical error involved is irrelevance. The words here are strung together to form an emotion impressionistic mood, like a blurry cloud of passion, without sharp edges, definition, or necessity.
For example, the first sentence asserts that Mr Musburger’s comment that quarterbacks often attract an attractive girlfriend is said to be “not puzzling” in something identified as the “beer-wings-and-women culture” of college football.
What is the point of this particular string of terms?
Why, for example, are fans of football (some of whom, or so I am told, are indeed women) not described as a culture of “athletics, statistics, and team spirit” or something else related to the sport?
Why mention beer and wings, as opposed to, say, hot peanuts and hotdogs and crackerjacks and Coca Cola, which fans (or so I am told) also consume at games?
No, the rhetorical point here is merely to sneer at the crude and loutish tastes of the hoi polloi.


Now, I have as much respect for teetotalers, vegetarians, and celibates as can be, and indeed, I have considerably more respect for asceticism and self-discipline than does the culture, if it may be called that, surrounding me. So one would think me to be in sympathy with the creature Walloon or whatever his name is.
But no, for the thought, if it can be called that, the creature continues with is that Mr Musburger’s comment that a stalwart quarterback will often attract an attractive girlfriend is “troubling” on the grounds that “there is a culture of domestic violence and sexual assault in football.”
As an attorney, I am always delighted when the prosecution makes a vague rather than a specific claim, because it can be summarily dismissed by the defense. The claim is this case is not that Mr Musburger was aiding and abetting any acts of wifebeating and sexual assault, but merely that the average for such crimes is higher among someone or something associated with the National Football League than the national average.
The creature Waldron does not say specifically that NFL players or fans or sportsannouncers or owners have higher rates of conviction for wifebeating and rape than the national average: he merely makes a windy assertion that there is a nebulous something he calls a “culture” which, it is implied without being said, somehow applauds or enables such violent crimes.
The statement is a lie, and an outrageous lie, and, in a civilized nation or age, a football fan would challenge the creature to a duel with sword or pistol, as a warning to others to mind their words before they slander gentlemen of good character.
Now, I do not know if the statement is literally false. It may indeed be that, taken as a group, any random selection of healthy young men will have a higher incidence of violent crimes, including rape, than the national average, on the grounds that the national average includes old ladies who rarely beat their wives and never commit rape.
You see why I like this guy?
But please note that no cause and effect chain is posited by the creature, not even alleged, between the idea that jocks win the hearts of maidens fair and the idea that various horrid crimes mentioned here are permissible. The lack of logic is beyond astonishing, and well in the area of being transcendental and unearthly: it is almost like a Zen koan.
This is the accusation: If you compliment a women, you are a rapist. If you think girls find athletes attractive, you are a rapist. If you wish to attract the eye of the opposite sex with your virility at sports or your self discipline to excel at a sport, you are a rapist. If you drink beer, you are a rapist. If you eat fried chicken wings, you are a rapist. If you are a man, you are a rapist.
Obviously, no one in his right mind believes this accusation nor utters it expecting to be believed. That is why it is not uttered, only implied.
That is why the language used by the creature is both so gassy and vague and yet so pointed and accusatory. Someone, it is not clear who, is being accused of a crime beyond misdemeanor, beyond felony, beyond enormity, beyond abomination, and yet it is not clear what this crime is.
Is the crime the fact that Mr Musburger taught and encouraged AJ McCarron that quarterbacking gives one the right to rape beauty queens? That possessing a beauty queen as an unwilling harem slave was part of the wages offered by the Illuminati to successful quarterbacks?
But, on the one hand, Mr Musburger did not say anything remotely like that, and, on the other hand, the Illuminati do not exist, having been destroyed by the UFO people who live in energy pyramids beneath the Bermuda Triangle.
Okay, so sometimes he gets a little carried away, but still...It's great stuff.

Wright goes on to say, in all seriousness, that the reason PC-ists write such gaseous and illogical gibberish is that they are, in fact, engaging in a kind of liturgical worship of the Nothing. And he postulates a shrewd conjecture, noting  the piece of leftist song liturgy "Imagine," that they hope that by eliminating all distinctions between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong, they can bring about Utopia. They believe, he says, that the absence of conviction means the presence of harmony.

He relates this nihilism to the utterly upside-down values and priorities of modern leftists, of which he offers us examples, including this one,
I have been in a conversation with a man who objected to my using the word “Chinaman” to refer to the people ruled by Mao, but was nonchalant, even innocently puzzled like a wide-eyed kitten, that I or anyone would think there was anything wrong with Mao’s genocide of countless Chinamen. (For the record, his numbers far exceed Stalin’s.) The first was a matter worth shrieking like a steam whistle about, whereas the second was a meaningless historical oddity having nothing in particular to do with the advantages or disadvantages of totalitarian socialism.
There is much more, and he winds up with this peroration:
They hate reason. They hate, hate, hate the truth and regard claims to know to truth to be violent lies. Talk to them and see.
Why hate such delightful and salutary things, things man cannot live without? It is because God is the source and summit of reason, truth, virtue, and beauty. And they would rather die than think, would rather go to hell.
They hate masculinity. This is because God is masculine. They hate superiority and inferiority. This is because God is superior and we are inferior. They hate fatherhood because they hate the Father.
Hating fatherhood, they hate femininity. What else can the sweet and nurturing nature of the female be for them, aside from a Yellow Star of oppression?
Hating motherhood, they hate children. Go to an abortion mill and see. Listen to their absurd overpopulation fears, now in a day when we suffer underpopulation. Hear how they talk as if childbirth is punishment. Look at how they try to sexualize children as quickly as possible and keep grown men infants as long as possible.
They hate man, the idea of man. Look at how they rally to the rights of animals, all the while proclaiming man is nothing but an animal.
Do not be deceived, dear readers. The Leftist hate us with a deep and abiding hatred. They hate everything about us, from sunshine to pretty girls to brave boys to solid gold to warm firearms to truth, beauty, and virtue. Everything good, they call evil, and everything evil they call good.
They even hate calling a beautiful woman a beauty.
But it is not because they are evil, or illogical, or insane, or unwise. It is because they have lost their way. They have gouged out their eyes, and complain the noon is dark. They have locked themselves in a cage and thrown away the only key. They are lonely for divine love, and homesick for heavenly wonders.
The shepherd of heaven is seeking to for them with more craft and stealth and subtlety than you or I can imagine. Choirs of angels more numberless than the stars themselves, and older, will peal songs to shake the orbs of heaven when even the least of these lost is found.
Let us praise God that He placed such sublime examples of beauty and virtue in our midst as the Daughters of Eve, knowing we have done nothing to merit such an inexpressible gift.
When the lost fret over beauty queens, let us rejoice. Even to look at such loveliness is a reason for gratitude and a cause for devout reflection on the goodness of the world we Sons of Adam have marred. 

It sure would be fun to be able to write like that. But it's also fun to quote it. If you don't have time to read the whole Wright post, enjoy the plums above.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Steven Curtis Chapman "I Will Be Here"

In this post last year I embedded a 4Shared link to "I Will Be Here" by Steven Curtis Chapman. Unfortunately, 4Shared has now become subscription only, so you can't listen to that link unless you have a 4Shared account. You can find the song all over Youtube, but usually in a newer arrangement. I have a preference for the older musical arrangement, so here it is:

Chapman has said that he wrote the song in response to the shock of his own parents' divorce (which occurred after Steven was married), as a reaffirmation to his wife of the promise he had made to her at their wedding. Christian music buffs also know that Chapman's wife Mary Beth lives with clinical depression, a biographical fact that gives the lyrics even more poignancy, as does the tragedy they suffered later in the accidental death of their adopted daughter.

Chapman's expression of absolute commitment and love is the answer both to the unnatural distortions being currently foisted upon us as "love" by liberalism and also to marital cynicism, whether of the left or of the right. Anyone who has grown or has made himself, through ideology, so hard-hearted, so opposed to chivalry and to true, manly commitment and love for one's wife, that he can listen to that song and think and feel only that the speaker is setting himself up to be a "beta," a "white knight," a sucker to be hurt by some woman, has lost something deeply important. And any ideology that encourages and fosters such a loss is a deeply wicked ideology to which we should give no quarter, regardless of whether its proponents, like a stopped clock, occasionally make a true statement. This is as true for allegedly "conservative" misogyny as it is for man-hating feminism. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (And if you are a modern misogynist or wish to tell me that I need to take such people and their ideas more seriously, don't bother trying to comment.)

Meanwhile, for all you normal and happily oblivious readers who have no idea what that last paragraph was about, just enjoy the song. It's a wonderful song. It's always been a popular wedding song, of course. May many more brides and grooms shed the tears of joy and awe at the gift God has given them that the song rightly inspires.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Blessed Epiphany!

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead: through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thou hast made us for thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.

Holy Jesus! every day
keep us in the narrow way;
and, when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed souls at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

I have, by the way, very little idea how the Magi knew what the star meant. In the novel Ben-Hur they receive extensive additional revelation, but we are in fact not told how they knew that the king of the Jews was born merely from the fact of seeing a new star in the heavens. Nor do we know exactly what the star was nor what it meant for them to follow it or for it to "rest over the place where the young child was." (Paul Maier has some interesting discussion of possible heavenly phenomena here.)

Certainly the Magi fit beautifully into the pattern of Hebrews 11. They believed in what was unseen based on the little that was actually seen. And because of that more was manifested to them.

A blessed feast of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

(See also here and here.)

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Love God with your will

Jesus said,
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven....Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.... (Matt. 7:21,24)
Here Jesus enters into a rabbinic dispute of the day: Which is more important--to hear the Torah, the Law, or to do it? Remarkably, Jesus applies this question to his own words. He puts his own sayings on a par with the will of the Father and, tacitly, with the Torah itself. That estimate of oneself and of the status of one's words and commands was not standard rabbinic practice! This is just one of those passages that utterly blows away the many pseudo-historical pictures of Jesus foisted upon us by faddish "scholarship"--Jesus the (merely) great teacher, Jesus the (mere) man, Jesus whose omniscience was so radically emptied that he was gradually discovering himself and his nature and mission throughout his ministry on earth. That is not Jesus as the Scriptures show him to us. Rather, Jesus knows quite well who he is and what he is here for, and Jesus speaks with a quiet authority that drops like a bombshell into the lives of his hearers. Hence "the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."

The first and great commandment, we are reliably told, is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."

But what does it mean to love God? There are, no doubt, some saintly souls to whom the love of God comes naturally, who find themselves spontaneously filled with love for God in their private and public worship, and who never suffer from the sneaking worry that they are just ginning up their own emotions. I am not among those. To me, God is not vivid. He is a spirit, and I have little idea of what it will be like to have the beatific vision, to "see him as he is" to "know even as also I am known." The solution to that, in Christian theology, is supposed to be the Incarnation: "No man hath seen God at any time," but "the only begotten Son...he hath declared him."

Very well, then, what does it mean to love Jesus? I recently heard a song, new to me, called "The Stranger of Galilee." I have to admit, it didn't resonate. It says, "And I felt I could love him forever,/So gracious and tender was He." Hmmm, really? Read the Gospels. Go ahead; read them. Is your first response to Jesus there to "feel that you could love him forever"? Would that have been your initial reaction had you known him in person? If so, you're a better man than I am, so to speak. I might have been curious about him, fascinated, disturbed, but also, I suspect, annoyed. Just who does this man think he is? Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels is incredibly compelling but not a fuzzy bunny you want to stroke. You take him or leave him as he is, with eternal consequences. Your opinion of his graciousness and tenderness is neither asked nor required.

So if one's ability truly to love God and truly to desire God, to want God above all things, in the sense of experiencing a psychologically and emotionally sensible desire for ultimate union with God the Father or with Jesus Christ, is the measure of a soul's health, I'm in trouble. Of course, that's hardly a reductio of the position that desiring God is the ultimate measure of spiritual health. Probably most of us are, to one extent or another, at most times in our lives, spiritually "in trouble." But the concern here is that there is little one can do about it and that God would not demand something and then sit back and not give us the capacity to fulfill those demands. If the wise writings of C.S. Lewis have taught me one thing (and they have taught me many) it is that it is spiritual folly to try to make oneself feel certain things because one thinks that is what one ought to feel.

This is where the will comes in. Can we not say that to try to unite one's will with God's will is to love God? To ask, sincerely, that "thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," and to commit oneself to doing, to the best of one's ability, what is required of oneself to that end, is to respond to Jesus' words: "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock." It may be beyond my scope to desire God in the abstract, but I can desire in the concrete that nothing in myself should stand in the way of God's glory and the fulfillment of God's will on earth, that I should, rather, be a tool used to that end.

And it seems to me, though I speak under correction, that at that point "he'll take care of the rest."

Blog housekeeping--Backing up

It's only taken me about 5 1/2 years, but I finally found out how to back up this blog. An on-line friend, Michael Bauman, had the URL for one of his blogs nabbed (somehow) by cybersquatters and was looking for a way to get his content back. The fact that this could happen to him spooked me to a salutary degree, and I did some googling and found that it is possible to back up a Blogger blog such as this one fairly easily using some space on one's own hard drive and the "export" function. Settings ---> Other ---> Export blog. The content is saved in .xml format for  easy import into a new blog. Fortunately, despite the cyber-bandits, Dr. Bauman was able to grab his content in this way and move it over to his other, untouched blog, "The Right Word." 

I'm sure anyone who reads this has known for a long time how to back up a Blogger blog. (Wordpress has a similarly easy function, I hear, though it doesn't grab uploaded images.) Just in case you haven't done this for a free personal blog: Take my word for it; it's extremely easy, takes about a minute, can be repeated as needed, and will provide extra security against various mishaps.