Friday, December 25, 2015

Behold the face of God: Christmas and the scandal of particularity

In a debate with John Lennox several years ago, in which Lennox emphasizes the historical evidence for Christianity, Richard Dawkins scornfully gives us a textbook example of what Christian theologians call the scandal of particularity.

Dawkins is offended by the localism of Christianity and by the way that the evidences of Christianity tie in with its localism.

From the transcript of closing remarks, written out here: (I have silently altered some punctuation and capitalization.)

John Lennox:
I would remind you that the world Richard Dawkins wishes to bring us to is no paradise except for the few. It denies the existence of good and evil. It even denies justice. But ladies and gentlemen, our hearts cry out for justice. And centuries ago, the apostle Paul spoke to the philosophers of Athens and pointed out that there would be a day on which God would judge the world by the man that he had appointed, Jesus Christ, and that he’d given assurance to all people by raising him from the dead. And the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a miracle, something supernatural, for me constitutes the central evidence upon which I base my faith, not only that atheism is a delusion, but that justice is real and our sense of morality does not mock us.

Richard Dawkins:
Yes, well that concluding bit rather gives the game away, doesn’t it? All that stuff about science and physics, and the complications of physics and things, what it really comes down to is the resurrection of Jesus. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the sophisticated scientist which we hear part of the time from John Lennox – and it’s impressive and we are interested in the argument about multiverses and things, and then having produced some sort of a case for a deistic god perhaps, some god that the great physicist who adjusted the laws and constants of the universe – that’s all very grand and wonderful, and then suddenly we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earth-bound, it’s so unworthy of the universe.
Watch Dawkins saying this on Youtube here. You can hear the scorn in his voice.

If anything "gives the game away," it is Dawkins's derisive and purely subjective rejection of anything other than (in his words) a "deistic god perhaps."

There is no argument there. It just offends Dawkins's taste that God should reveal himself through a miracle, at a particular place and time, within a particular cultural context, to a particular people. To Dawkins, such divine condescension, in order to reveal particular doctrines and to save mankind, is "unworthy of the universe." (Whatever, precisely, it means for something to be unworthy of the universe.)

Thanks be to God, the true God, we do not worship Dawkins's Universe. We worship the personal God, the God who said, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt have I called my son." We worship a God who has always had a chosen people and who has deigned to speak to man at sundry times and in diverse manners, and in these last days has spoken unto us through His Son.

His Son, whom he sent down from heaven, and who was made man for us and for our salvation.

For man could not have been saved in any other way. The deistic god about whom Dawkins will grudgingly hear tell is not a God who saves. He is a god who won't interfere once things are set going. He is a god who lets man go his own way.

But we are sinners, and we need a Savior. And so the true God did not abhor the womb of a virgin. Notice that whoever wrote the Te Deum already understood the Richard Dawkinses of the world very well, hundreds of years ago. Those of us who take our Christianity for granted at times might wonder, "Why even bring that up? Why would Jesus abhor the womb of the virgin?"

Because it was "so unworthy of the universe." Because it was so petty, so local, so earth-bound. That the Eternal Son, the one who made all things, who, yes, set the constants of the universe, the Great Physicist, the Eternal God who is above and beyond all things, should come down from heaven and be Incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and be made man.

Richard Dawkins looks at that and says, "Ewww, yuck." He will not bow his stiff neck to worship a God like that, a God who would do that, a God who would come down. He cannot even do so when the whole point made by Lennox was that it is precisely such a God who gives us evidence that He exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Yet should not the scientific mind be interested in truth, and in evidence of the truth?

It is not only because we needed a Savior that Jesus came. It is also because we needed to know more about God. God had already revealed himself in a number of those local ways that so offend Dawkins--by choosing the Jews, by signs and wonders throughout the Old Testament. But mankind needed to know more. We needed to know that He is Triune, that He loves us as individuals, that He wants us to be united with Him forever. We needed to know that He is our Father--not just the heavenly Father of a chosen group (which God had already revealed), but of us as individuals.

And so, the Gospel of John tells us, though "No man hath seen God at any time," nonetheless "the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."

Moses could not look upon the face of God, and so God hid him in the hollow of the rock while He passed by and showed Moses His glory indirectly.

But God wanted to show us His face. And the only way to do that, to show the face of God to man, was to come down into the creation and to have a face--a real face, a literal face that could be seen and touched.

So God was born as a Jewish baby in a petty, local venue, and the face of the God who redeems was revealed to man.

Today, let us not stumble at that stumbling stone. Let us not be offended by the scandal of particularity. Let us come and adore the One in whom alone we behold the face of God.

O that birth forever blessed,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bear the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Way of the Wandering Star at W4

In the next day I hope to put up some Christmas thoughts of my own. After all, this evening is only the beginning of the Christmas season. But in the meanwhile, nothing I can say individually is as good as what my editor, Paul Cella, has posted at What's Wrong With the World--a Christmas sermon from 1951 by his maternal grandfather. It is based on the following couplet from G. K. Chesterton:

To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and are....

A merry, holy, and blessed Christmas to all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A brief note on "do Muslims and Christians worship the same God"

I almost put this on my Facebook wall but decided it fits here better:

It is important to recognize the difference between the way that the "newer" religion looks at its concept of God and the way that the "older" religion looks at the "newer" religion's concept of God. Just as it is understandable that a Jew who has not converted to Christianity believes that the Christian and he do not worship the same God, and this does follow from his premises, so it is with Christianity and Islam. The Muslim, whose religion changes the concept of God in important ways from that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, claims that there is an essential continuity, but the Christian, as long as he remains a Christian and not a Muslim, should reject this.

In the same way, the Christian insists that the Trinity is not a change in the concept of God and is consistent with Judaism, but unless a Jewish person converts, he believes this to be false. As soon as a modern Jew decides that the Trinity is not that big of a deal as compared to his previous concept of God, he to some extent has accepted Christian ideas. This fundamental asymmetry between the way of viewing the question from the perspective of older and newer religion must be understood and maintained.

That is why, recognizing the important innovations in Islam, we as Christians should hold that we and Muslims do not worship the same God. That Muslims say that we do is not the determining factor, because we aren't Muslims.

No theories in philosophy of language get around the need to decide how important the differences are between the Muslim and Christian concept of God. And if they are sufficiently crucial, then we should not say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Update: Some have tried to make an analogy to cases of what is called "opacity of reference." For example, Clark Kent and Superman are the same person even though Clark Kent's co-workers don't know this. The morning star and the evening star are the same heavenly body, and this is true even if someone thinks that they are different. But this analogy, if anything, tells us that the Christian definitely should disbelieve that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, though Christians can believe that the God of Abraham is the same God that he (the Christian) worships. In the latter case, Christians believe (though modern, non-messianic Jews deny) that the same Being caused the origins of Judaism--the promises to Abraham, the Exodus, etc.--and the origins of Christianity--the resurrection of Jesus, etc. In that sense, the Christian says that the God of Abraham is the same entity as the God we worship, just as the morning star really is the evening star. But no Christian should believe that the God whom Jesus represented is the same entity who caused the origins of Islam! On the contrary, we as Christians should emphatically deny this. That point alone puts paid to any attempted analogies of the problem to that of the morning star and the evening star. It also distinguishes what the Christian claims about the relationship of Christianity to Judaism from what the Christian believes about the relationship of Christianity to Islam. The point is not that only a Trinitarian can be in some sense worshiping the true God. Abraham was not a Trinitarian but was worshiping the true God. But Abraham, we believe, really was in touch with the true God. The true God really was the source of Abraham's revelations. The true God was not the source of Mohammad's.

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Bright Appears the Morning Star

I was moved to reflect this past Sunday how incredibly fortunate I am to attend a church that uses an older hymnal. My continuing Anglican church uses the 1940 hymnal. No tuneless "praise songs," no ear-splitting performances. No modernized words. It's a gift.

Advent has some great hymns, many of which were unknown to me in my Baptist upbringing. This is one place where the Anglican tradition has hymns to teach to the Baptists, though hymn-teaching so often goes the other way.

One of my greatest favorites in this category is "How Bright Appears the Morning Star," the translation of Wie Shön Leuchtet der Morgenstern, by Philip Nicolai, but best known in its harmonization by J.S. Bach.

Here are the words:

How bright appears the Morning Star,
with mercy beaming from afar;
the host of heaven rejoices.
O Righteous Branch, O Jesse’s Rod,
thou Son of Man and Son of God!
We too will lift our voices:
Jesus, Jesus, holy, holy, yet most lowly,
draw thou near us; great Emmanuel, come and hear us.

Though circled by the hosts on high,
he deigned to cast a pitying eye
upon his helpless creature.
The whole creation’s head and Lord,
by highest seraphim adored,
assumed our very nature;
Jesus, grant us, through thy merit, to inherit
thy salvation. Hear, O hear our supplication.

Rejoice, ye heavens, thou earth, reply;
with praise, ye sinners, fill the sky
for this, his incarnation.
Incarnate God, put forth thy power;
ride on, ride on, great Conqueror,
till all know thy salvation.
Amen, amen! Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise be given, evermore by earth and heaven.

Here is my earlier post on it. I want to say again what I said there: I defy anyone to be gloomy while belting out, "Incarnate God, put forth thy power. Ride on, ride on great Conqueror, till all know thy salvation."

In the years since 2009 I still have not found a high-quality choral version of this on-line. Someone needs to get together a really good choir and put out a collection of Anglican hymns. But here is a nice organ version:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Giving content to complementarianism without giving in to the creeps [updated]

I recently learned of the existence of this video concerning complementarianism. As I said here, while it is pretty clear that Mary Kassian (the woman in red in the video) is trying to water down complementarianism, and while the very title of the post in which she embeds it ("Kissing Traditionalism Goodbye") makes it clear that she is trying to make complementarianism more like feminism, the video itself could be a lot worse. You'd have to be a pretty bitter anti-evangelical with a (probably manospherian) chip on your shoulder to classify this video with what I was discussing in the post itself--namely, a pamphlet by Focus on the Family that took a pretty morally neutral stance towards RU486 abortion.

On the other hand, I do find the video and Kassian's approach interesting and unfortunate, because I do see (e.g., reading my friends' comments on Facebook) an attempt in evangelical circles to take complementarianism regarding men and women and put it into some kind of box: We don't ordain women, and we agree that women and men ought to be different in the areas of reproduction and sexual intercourse (so we're against the homosexual agenda and the gender-bending agenda), but beyond that...meh. Who knows? This was most strikingly exemplified by a Facebook friend who acted completely clueless when I stated what seemed absolutely obvious--that if you think men and women are importantly different you should think that having women beat each other up as a spectator sport is especially disgusting and unnatural, even more so than having men beat each other up as a spectator sport. Oh, no, why should "women's mixed martial arts" be unfeminine in any way, shape, or form? To call such an approach "complementarianism" (e.g., because the person doesn't support women's ordination) is pretty absurd, in my opinion.

On the other hand, the question of giving concrete content to complementarianism in the world outside the church and the bedroom is not going to be cut and dried. It would be overly rigid to say, "Men and women are different. Therefore, their roles should be different. Therefore, the husband should not be getting up with a baby in the night and should not be changing diapers." Even John Piper's recent apparent implication that women in secular positions should never be in authority over men seemed too strong, as it would rule out a female college professor with male students in any field. On the other hand, his statement that a woman should not be a drill sergeant seems obviously correct.

The problem that I see with the video of Mary Kassian and Nancy de Vos [Correction: De Moss--see Anonymous's comment below] being interviewed on the subject of complementarianism is that they were too disinclined to give any principles with concrete implications at all. For example, here would be a few ideas that I suspect Mary Kassian, in particular, would be uncomfortable with:

--Although there are exceptions, and families should not insist on starving rather than having the mother work if this ideal cannot be maintained, as a general rule the ideal in a family is that the mother is able to be at home with her children and that the father is the breadwinner.

--Women have a special connection to children as a result of their being constructed by God to bear and nurture children.

--Women should not cancel their own femininity by entering distinctively, physically masculine fields such as the military and being cops on the beat.

--Women should be physically protected, especially when they are pregnant. Therefore, women in physically demanding areas such as sports need to rethink how this is consonant with their femininity when they get married and are or might be pregnant. In short, no pregnant racehorse jockeys.

--If a woman is in a position of authority over a man, especially a man of her own approximate age, she should recognize that this situation carries unique difficulties precisely because she is female and he is male. This does not necessarily render such situations unacceptable, but it does mean that the woman in question needs to think about how to carry out her administrative duties while retaining her femininity. In particular, she should be careful not to try to overcome any sense of insecurity in the position by being deliberately harsh and unfeminine, by using bad language, ridicule, or other "employee management tactics" that she perceives as "masculine." Needless to say, these tactics are also inappropriate for male authority figures, but there are particular temptations for women to use them, just as there are particular temptations for men to use them, and the use of them by a woman to a man creates unique tensions in the workplace.

These are the types of statements and advice that, it seems to me, we need to be willing to go out on a limb and give both to women and to men. After all, if men don't hear that there is anything particularly un-ideal about two-career families, why should they even try to shoulder the burden of supporting a family? But I didn't hear anything like this from de Vos and/or Kassian in the interview, though de Vos [DeMoss] was sounding more "traditional" than Kassian, who provocatively heads her post "Kissing Traditionalism Goodbye." In the interview, Kassian implied that ditching all differences between men and women is extreme, unbiblical, and wrong, but she was quite evidently unwilling to make any statements like those above that would imply that men and women should take on concretely different roles in society, even to some extent. Indeed, her repeated (cliched, silly) dismissive allusions to "June Cleaver" made it pretty clear that she was trying to get away from all of that.

I suspect, though they do not say so, that these complementarians may be wary of seeming to give aid and comfort to groups such as Vision Forum and ATI (Bill Gothard's group). The male heads of both of these organizations have been credibly accused of abusing their positions to obtain romantic and some degree of sexual gratification from much younger women whom they were employing. Moreover, the organizations teach an extreme form of patriarchalism, including theses such as that unmarried women should not have careers outside the home but should live with their parents indefinitely, that women should not go to college, and the like.

The fact is, unfortunately, that there are creepy hyper-patriarchalists out there in the Christian world, and it's understandable that complementarians want to distance themselves from them.

But it doesn't follow that complementarianism has virtually no concrete content, beyond an extremely generic idea that "God made male and female," opposition to the homosexual agenda, and a refusal to accept women's ordination.

One problem with such a vague complementarianism is that young people have absolutely no idea how to live out complementary male and female roles. And I really mean no idea. The very idea that the man ought to ask the woman out on a date rather than vice versa is considered positively revolutionary. And that he should offer to pay? Shocking.

Talk of how complementary male-female interaction is "like a dance" (as in the video) is nice and poetic, and I don't really mean to scorn it, but in real life terms young people don't just intuit what that means when the rubber meets the road. They are watching aggressively feminist movies all the time full of women who beat up men. How in the world are they supposed to know what that "dance" looks like? Maybe if they were lucky enough to have parents who modeled it, they will know. Otherwise, it has to be taught, and that means talking about questions like, "Should women be in the military?" "Are there special problems about women and men working together in an office environment, and how can Christians deal with them?"

It ought to be possible, and it is possible, to give sensible complementarian answers to these questions without endorsing the likes of Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips, or their extreme ideas.

I think, in fact, that when the young interviewer asked Nancy de Vos [DeMoss] and Mary Kassian, "What does that look like?" concerning complementarianism, she was thinking perhaps they would give answers like what I listed above. I don't know if she would have liked those answers, but I suspect she was trying to elicit something a little bit more definite than what they gave. I can't help thinking (based on her way of talking) that Nancy de Vos [DeMoss] thinks people already know what male-female complementarity looks like in society and that her job is just to reassure women that this doesn't mean that they are oppressed. If I'm right about that, she needs to discover that millennials often don't know. Mary Kassian, I'm guessing, wouldn't agree with most or perhaps with any of the statements I made above and really does want complementarianism to amount in practice to men and women doing nearly all the same things in society but doing them with a somewhat different oeuvre. In my opinion, that is inherently unstable. A complementarianism watered down that much, a complementarianism that is allergic to saying, "Women shouldn't be warriors. Women shouldn't be beat cops. Women shouldn't be beating each other up" eventually has so little to show in the way of real differences it is willing to state between men and women that it has little defense against full-bore egalitarianism.

If we don't want the world to divide up between the feminists and the creepy hyper-patriarchalists, we need to articulate a reasonable, but more definite, complementarianism. I consider the CBMW to be rather well-placed to do so. But in that case, I think they need someone other than Mary Kassian to do the job.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Anti-Israel Derangement Syndrome

In an earlier post I wrote, concerning Israel, "So my fundamental sense of fair play is moved to note these things and take the side that I think is most aligned with truth and accuracy."

There is something eerily fascinating about the sheer amount of irrational venom directed at the nation of Israel for even existing as a nation. Once you notice the venom, it's hard to stop noticing it. It's a bit like the virulent anti-white racism that is excused or even directly encouraged by the leftists in America and Europe. Once you notice it, you can't un-see it. And it's so manifestly unfair and weird that it's interesting, in its own bizarre way.

The most recent incident of this type concerns an Israel-hating retired Jewish academic (British), who refused to answer a child's questions about, of all things, the domestication of the horse. Nor did she merely hit the delete key on the inquiry e-mail. She wrote back a spiteful little note saying that she would answer the questions only when there is "justice for Palestinians in Palestine." Why would she do such a thing? Because she (the retired professor) is part of a Boycott Israel group and thinks refusing to answer questions about horses from an Israeli 13-year-old is a part of her boycott commitment. Really. I'm not making this up. You can't make it up. In fact, in this story Dr. Marsha Levine doubles down and defends her actions, proudly telling the UK Telegraph that she would answer similar questions from a child from another country.

Dr Levine, who completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge's Department of Archaeology before taking up research posts at Columbia University and Syracuse University in New York, told The Telegraph that if a school student from a different country had got in touch with her to ask about horses, she would have responded differently.
“Kids have questions, I usually answer their questions,” she said. “But I have agreed to BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel], and I do want to see justice for Palestine.
“In Israel the majority of Israelis support the policies of the government which abuses the rights of Palestinians, so the fact is I don’t want to help Israelis, and if you don't start with children where do you start?
“And she is not that young anyway, her English is pretty good. If people don’t stand up for justice, the world is going to come to an end.”
Yes, folks, you read that right. Dr. Marsha Levine is doing her small part to prevent the end of the world by refusing to answer an Israeli child about archaeology and the history of the domestic horse. Makes sense to me! What a hero!

I have never heard of such a mean, petty, spiteful, unprofessional action by an individual professor in relation to a person asking academic questions from any other country, ever. Not even South Africa in the heyday of that boycott movement. Knowing leftists, I suppose it's possible that it happened if and when some unwitting South African schoolgirl with a Dutch name wrote to a lefty professor in, say, 1990. There was no Internet then (to speak of) to shame a professor who did such a thing, so we might not have heard of it. But my guess is that politics has hardened since then and has more greatly overwhelmed such outdated notions as professionalism and courtesy. After all, if Levine wanted to pontificate against Israel, why couldn't she have done that in addition to answering questions about the domestication of the horse? My guess (though it's only a guess) is that this would have been the response of a leftist professor thirty years ago. Yes, that would be silly, pompous, and even somewhat unprofessional, injecting an unrelated political sermon into a discussion about one's academic specialty. But it would not be blatantly mean-spirited.

I note, too, the creepiness of Levine's emphasis on the age of Shachar Rabinovitch, her young correspondent: "She is not that young anyway."

Hmmm, is it just me, or is there something rather chilling about that? It is thus that people speak who are justifying much darker actions than a snarky e-mail. Let's not forget that "Palestinian" terrorists will sometimes justify killing Israeli civilians on the grounds that, given Israel's requirement of civil or military service for all young adults, there are no real Israeli civilians over a certain age. Levine is making a judgement of responsibility--what Christians sometimes call a judgement that the child has reached the "age of accountability" when she is capable of sin. The sin in question, here, is the sin of being a non-self-hating Israeli. Shachar is, apparently, considered old enough by Levine that she must either repudiate her country or be held to share in its corporate guilt. Am I saying that Levine thinks Shachar deserves to die in a terrorist attack if she doesn't share Levine's politics? Not quite. But I am saying that people exactly like Levine are often extremely quick to make excuses for "Palestinian" terror attacks, and I am also saying that Levine's haste to try to impute some kind of guilt or responsibility to Shachar, and her desire to emphasize the allegedly widespread wrong-thought among Israelis, bodes ill for her ability to condemn acts of terrorism wholeheartedly.

When people are just plain mean-spirited and vindictive toward the innocent, one starts to wonder why. When one starts to wonder why, one starts to see all kinds of facts about the poisonous nature of certain ideologies. When it comes to Israel hatred, Dr. Levine is an opportunity to gain wisdom about both the nasty fruit and the nasty root of that ideology.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Exchange on doctors killing jihadis and Himmler

Over at Triablogue I'm having an interesting back-and-forth with Steve Hays, who has proposed that it would be moral for doctors actively to kill jihadis who are injured and to harvest their organs to help their victims. He also appears to think that it would be moral for a fireman who knows that Himmler will grow up to commit genocide to refrain deliberately from rescuing Himmler from a fire as a young child in order to prevent his later evil actions.

That is the general context of the debate. It's gone through several posts. Links, starting with Steve's post to which I responded and going in order from there, are here, here, here, and here. I think that's all of them. Readers may want to follow along. That's been much of my blogging time lately.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

To my readers at Extra Thoughts, a happy Thanksgiving. My Thanksgiving post in full is up at What's Wrong With the World. It incorporates and expands on two earlier posts originally published here.

Te Deum
We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting.
To Thee all Angels cry aloud: the Heavens and all the powers therein.
To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy: Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy Glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise Thee.
The godly fellowship of the Prophets praise Thee.
The noble army of Martyrs praise Thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee;
The Father of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true, and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost: the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man: Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.
When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save Thy people: and bless Thine heritage.
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify Thee; and we worship Thy Name, ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let Thy mercy be upon us: as our trust is in Thee.
O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Excuse me, I'm having trouble finding this nonsense in my Bible"

Tomorrow or late tonight I will be putting up a Thanksgiving post at What's Wrong With the World, and I will link that from here as well. But just before that, I wanted to put this amusing meme out there. I was reminded of it by this post  at Calvinistic Cartoons that mentioned women's ordination--a subject on which I share Eddie Eddings's opinion. (Disclaimer: I'm not a Calvinist even though I link Calvinistic Cartoons.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Does dissing home schooling make you shallow?

My title is deliberately provocative, of course. It was prompted by this silly little list, "12 Signs You Were Definitely Home Schooled" (as opposed to being indefinitely home schooled?), which happened to pop up in my Facebook feed when a friend-of-a-friend shared it with a friend. (It is thus that Facebook, while killing blogging in several obvious senses, is also a friend to bloggers by giving them material.) 

The post is by Tiffanie Brunson, who is social media coordinator for the e-zine Relevant, in which her post appears. I infer that she was home schooled and is now critical of her upbringing. She also appears to think she is a humor writer, but in actuality the list just comes across as childish.

What struck me most about the list was its emphasis on ephemeral values such as being with-it and stylish. It seems that, having missed the opportunity (at the age of thirteen) to be a pathetic thirteen-year-old yearning to be "in" and look "cool" with the other kids at school, this critic of home schooling tries to live out that essential phase of life in her twenties.


8. You Idolized Your Cool Cousins Who Went to Public School
It didn’t matter if they were Mathletes, AV club nerds or captain of the football team, if your cousins went to public school, they were the coolest. Maybe you even had cousins who got to wear one-piece swimsuits in public and listened to secular radio stations. You could have hung posters of them in your room and felt fine about it.
Tiffanie tells us at the outset that these are "12 things every home schooler experienced," though she later inconsistently (#2) says that "of course" that particular one (lots of siblings--is that a bad thing anyway?) was "not a home schooling requirement." The title, on the other hand, says that these are signs that you were definitely home schooled, which seems to imply a sufficient condition. The "every home schooler experienced" sentence seems to imply a necessary condition. Does she mean that all of these are sufficient and necessary conditions of being home schooled? The latter is certainly false, as several of them do not apply to quite a few home schoolers of my acquaintance. And of course, these are also not sufficient conditions, since it's entirely possible to have, e.g., lots of siblings without being home schooled. But never mind. One can't expect someone trying hard to be a humor writer to be logical.

As to #8, it's pretty foreign to me.

Moving on, the emphasis upon not very important things that other people get to do that "we poor home schoolers" didn't get to do gets stronger:

9. You Had No Idea What Yearbook Superlatives Were
Hardcore homeschoolers didn’t get yearbooks and didn’t have a graduating class to superlative-ize. They had to rely heavily on scrapbooking and home videos to capture sweet memories. Let’s be honest though, most of us would probably rather just forget.
I myself went to school (Christian school, but a bricks and mortar school), and I'm not entirely sure what she means by "yearbook superlatives." I edited my senior year school yearbook, which nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. (This was in the 80's, when you had to use black India ink to cover any part of the page you weren't filling with pictures if you did a collage.) So people wrote nice things or funny things in each other's yearbooks. That was cool, especially if it was a guy one had a crush on. But it wasn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

12. Your Fashion Sense Was a Bit Off
Denim frocks, scrunchies and similar things were cool when Bonnie Hunt wore them in the early ’90s, but they definitely were not cool when worn by 13-17 year-olds in 2006. And the list of things you weren't allowed to wear was likely too long to recount. A personal favorite: Graphic tees. Most homeschool moms were in agreement with the “no shirts with anything remotely questionable on it” policy. And it didn’t even have to be offensive.
Since I don't know what Tiffanie's mom considered "remotely questionable," I can't render an opinion on whether her graphic t-shirt bans were reasonable or not. But...the paragraph sounds pretty pathetic. The repeated use of the word "cool," for example. Actually, most of the home schooled teens growing up around me look quite normal, fashion-wise, though "normal" doesn't mean "immodest." So for the young ladies, especially, they and their parents have to do a certain amount of looking and perhaps spend some extra money to get around our current culture's determination that women dress like prostitutes.

Then there's this one:

10. You Never Experienced Prom
Since homeschoolers weren’t allowed to dance, proms were a definite no-go. But it wouldn’t be a weird subculture without creating a super lame alternative. Thus, you had prom-like gatherings where kids would dress up, get corralled into some sort of community or convention center and enjoy sugar-free fruit punch and salisbury steak. It was a little like going to dinner at your grandparents’ house, but with more taffeta and pocket squares and less fun.
Gosh, that's hilarious. Only it is, in fact, false. My local home school organization holds a prom, with dancing, each year, and has done so for enough years that I'm pretty sure Tiffanie's generation was included. I find it hard to imagine we are the only ones. Southwest Michigan isn't exactly the Hipness Center of the home schooling world.

But, again, I have to wonder if it really matters all that much anyway. Is prom this super-important rite of passage? Secular school proms are often...highly problematic, to put it mildly. I'm thinking here of getting drunk, sex-simulating dancing which any chaperones on hand have to be "meanies" and stop, and actual sex afterwards. Like a high school yearbook, prom is one of those things that a person's life can easily be complete without.

In fact, the "you never experienced prom" complaint, like "you didn't have a high school yearbook" strengthens the overall feeling that Tiffanie is taking trivial things and treating them as at least somewhat important--part of making sure a young person can make a successful transition into real life. But in all seriousness, how many people are helped in their future by having gone to prom, or hindered by not having had a high school yearbook? Or, setting aside career issues, is it really deeply personally enriching to have a high school yearbook? I suppose it might be in given cases. But by the same token, if it's personal enrichment we are talking about, there is no reason to think that relationships with siblings or other home schooled young people, or the activities carried out in those contexts (such as the co-op activities that Tiffanie sneers at in a different number), are not enriching.

This column, light-hearted as it is meant to sound, has a strangely culturally blinkered undercurrent: If you didn't have these specific activities, clothes, rites of passage, etc., you were deprived. And the specific ones in question just happen to be those common in secular American life. Isn't that a little narrow-minded? Yet ironically, the idea is supposed to be that it is the home schoolers who were narrow-minded if they didn't participate in all the "cool" stuff.

Every way of life has its pros and cons, and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I doubt that Tiffanie would write a similarly snarky column about South American tribesmen or Amish who don't have prom or high school yearbooks and don't dress in the latest, most popular American fashions. And she might have had some much, much worse experiences if she had not been home schooled, especially if she had been public schooled. Getting an STD at the age of 17 makes salisbury steak and taffeta look pretty good by comparison.

The idea behind her criticisms appears to be that there can be no such thing as a legitimate sub-culture that is different in part from the larger culture around. If you are part of an entirely different culture from 21st-century America, that may be okay, depending on specifics. But if you happen actually to live in 21st century America (or, presumably, Europe), and you aren't actually Amish, then you have to get "with it" or your kids will be deprived through not being cool in their teens and twenties. (Where the Mennonites fall on Tiffanie's child-depriving scale of coolness, I'm not sure.) Being in the world but not of it apparently doesn't extend to not going to a high school prom night.

At this point, as new generations grow up, there is a proliferation of "I wouldn't have done it that way" blogs and groups concerning home schooling as well as for other conservative countercultural movements. Some make good and important points. The antics of Bill Gothard of the ATI movement certainly needed to be exposed. I myself have said that the Christian "courtship" culture has come at a very bad time and that Christian parents need instead to be reclaiming a smart notion of dating, including casual dating. Even Tiffanie has one point worth considering:
Homeschoolers are awkward because they are, surprisingly, overconfident. Because most of our days are spent in our homes with our families, we just assume that whatever is OK to do at home is also OK everywhere else. Most of us learn the hard way that this is not the case.
I think she's right about that as a rough generalization, at least for some, and we home schooling parents do well to bear it in mind as a danger and try to counteract it.

But too often, the useful points get mixed up with a lot of shallow nonsense or worse.

What both parents and young people need to be thinking about is the intersection of eternal values and earthly practicalities. That is (no surprise) extremely difficult. In what ways might being un-cool become being unemployable or unmarriageable? Are those things that can be changed, or do they represent ways in which the world is demanding something wrong, and we must stick to our principles? Obviously, this will vary with specifics. At what point do decisions about just staying out of this or that cultural phenomenon (be it proms or Facebook or Twitter) stymie opportunities for friendships and future career to such an extent that our children end up helpless or problematically isolated? Have we made being countercultural an end in itself, to our harm and/or that of our children?

These are serious matters, matters with which every responsible Christian parent wrestles, whether home schooling or not. For my part, I hope and pray that my children grow up to be fully committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and also able to evaluate maturely whatever mistakes I have made. I'm afraid, though, that Tiffanie Brunson's approach does not match that mature, considered evaluation.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The apologetic value of the fall and the tension with theistic evolution of man

I have long thought that there is an argument to be made for the Judeo-Christian teaching of the fall of man quite independent of more direct arguments (such as for the resurrection of Jesus) for Christianity as a whole.

Look at what we know of human beings--man, the "glory, jest, and riddle of the world." Man is (pace those who say bonobos can talk) the only creature on earth able to use natural language, the only creature able to use abstract reasoning. Not only does man have unique abilities, man also has a unique capacity both for good and evil. Some human beings give their entire lives to altruistic endeavors, while others give their entire lives to figuring out how to torment and harm others. The former way of living one's life seems to most of us like a call to our "higher selves," while the latter seems to us twisted, not the way it ought to be, a perversion of human nature.

Where did this being come from, so different from all the other animals? And how does it come about that we have this notion of what human beings should be doing and should be like, that some people seem to fulfill (or come close to fulfilling) this ideal, while in so many ways we also fall short of this ideal?

The traditional Judeo-Christian explanation of these facts is that man was originally made in the image of God. He was specially made and is truly different from all the animals. Moreover, man was made good. Man was made with a human nature that was originally turned or oriented toward God. But there was a catastrophe at a real, historical time, and man fell, and now every human being (with perhaps only one exception--Jesus Christ--or if you are a Catholic the two exceptions of Jesus and his mother Mary) is born with a sin nature. A sin nature, at a minimum, is an innate bent or inclination to sin.

This set of historical claims does quite a good job explaining the data I brought up to begin with. Why does man seem so different from animals? On the traditional Judeo-Christian view, because he is different, and is so intrinsically, and was made so. Why does man have a yearning towards good? Because he was made originally for God and still retains the natural light and the image of God. Why does man inevitably commit evil? Because man fell and now has a sin nature. Why is there such a strong feeling that "it shouldn't be that way"? Because it was not originally meant to be that way, and because man realizes, deep down, that he was not made for evil and destruction.

It is much more difficult to explain these facts if we assume the Judeo-Christian account to be false.

To some extent, then, I think it can be justly said that the "glory, jest, and riddle" argument confirms the Judeo-Christian story of the history of mankind.

But if one accepts full-scale theistic evolution for mankind, one undermines this apologetic point. What I mean by "full-scale" theistic evolution for mankind is that one accepts that, to all appearances, mankind evolved by natural processes from non-human animals, with at least the appearance of full physical evolution. At most, the "full-scale" theistic evolutionist may allow some kind of invisible, indetectable "ensoulment" to have occurred, but for the most part the full-scale TE accepts the Darwinian's emphasis upon continuity between man and animals. I discussed some of this here.

It is highly debatable that the full-scale TE can make any forceful use of the "glory, jest, and riddle" argument I have outlined. For one thing, the whole doctrine of the fall is lessened. As I discussed here, the TE view is that there was never a time when man as a race was immortal. Physical death was a part of not only animal but (given full biological continuity) human fate from the outset. Indeed the very notion of mankind is blurred on the full-scale TE view, giving serious problems to the meaning of the imago dei itself. John H. Walton believes that mankind always killed and committed other acts which we would call "sin" now but that they were not accounted as sin prior to God's "choosing" Adam, because previous hominids were not regarded as accountable.

Insofar as such a view has a place for any sort of "fall" at all, it cannot be a sharp cataclysm followed by a radical change in human nature. It therefore becomes extremely difficult for such a view to make explanatory use of the claim that man was "originally not intended to be this way," that man was made good by God from the outset, and that the evil that man now does is a result of a severe, negative change in what mankind innately is like.

Sometimes those attracted to TE will say that they accept it (not being experts in science, etc.) for apologetic reasons, in order to avoid or remove obstacles to reaching secularists who take the full Darwinian story as gospel.

But such accommodation, ironically, cuts off the TE from using important apologetic resources. The most obvious of these are the resources provided by the empirical, scientific evidence for the intelligent design of nature, since one who is trying to accept as much Darwinian biology as possible must also accept the idea that any activity of God in the realm of biological design is indectable. My argument here is that the attempt to accept TE for apologetic reasons also cuts one off from the apologetic argument from the nature of man (both good and evil) and from the shock and wrongness of evil.

It is not in general a good idea to pursue strategy at the expense of pursuing truth. Often enough, one succeeds at neither. The "strategic" acceptance of theistic evolution is a notable case in point.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

On France

What's Wrong With the World has a post up about the ISIS attacks in France, and I would not for a moment want to detract from that. In fact, it exemplifies the response I am calling for in this post--namely, manly outrage and concrete suggestions as opposed to sentiment for its own sake.

The present post takes its point of departure from this rather depressing piece at National Review by Daniel Pipes. Pipes points out that a pattern has been repeated in the face of numerous terrorist attacks--namely, the leadership runs left while the voters run right. Says Pipes:

[W]hen it comes to the Establishment — politicians, the police, the press, and the professors — the unrelenting violence has a contrary effect. Those charged with interpreting the attacks live in a bubble of public denial (what they say privately is another matter) in which they feel compelled to pretend that Islam has no role in the violence, out of concern that to recognize it would cause even more problems. These professionals bald-facedly feign belief in a mysterious “violent extremist” virus that seems to afflict only Muslims, prompting them to engage in random acts of barbaric violence. Of the many preposterous statements by politicians, my all-time favorite is what Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, said about the Charlie Hebdo jihadis: “They’re about as Muslim as I am.”
This defiance of common sense has survived each atrocity, and I predict that it will also outlast the Paris massacre. Only a truly massive loss of life, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, would force the professionals to back off their deeply ingrained pattern of denying an Islamic component in the spate of attacks.
More surprising yet, the professionals respond to the public’s move to the right by themselves moving to the left, encouraging more immigration from the Middle East, instituting more “hate speech” codes to suppress criticism of Islam, and providing more patronage to Islamists. This pattern affects not just Establishment figures of the Left but more strikingly also of the Right (such as Angela Merkel of Germany); only Eastern European leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban permit themselves to speak honestly about the real problems.  
(Interestingly, and in passing, Pipes links to a carefully documented post on the health problems being brought into Germany with the many "migrants," an issue that a leftist commentator recently scoffed at when I mentioned it. Dang those xenophobic facts!)

With decent evidence now indicating that at least one of the Paris terrorists came in through Greece posing as a refugee, I was just wondering how Angela Merkel was sleeping these last couple of nights. According to Pipes' evaluation, though, she is not racked with any thoughts of the "My God, what have I done?" variety but instead is planning to tell her people that the beatings will continue until morale improves. A suicidal approach indeed.

I'm afraid that Pipes is right. And, if my experience with Americans has any relevance to European attitudes, his pessimistic predictions--namely, that our leaders will learn very little from what has happened--may have their source in confusion among the voters as well.

As I've been taking a bit of the temperature on Facebook, I've noticed that there are those who are "in support of France," even doing that thing with the profile photo and the French flag that Facebook is encouraging, but remain highly ambivalent (at a minimum) about any negative take on Muslim immigration, including the current wave of alleged refugees which apparently included at least one terrorist. It was, in fact, almost inevitable that this would happen. We shouldn't even be surprised that it was predicted. The Greek migration minister said on Sept. 9 that it would be "foolish to believe that there are no jihadists among the refugees that cross into Europe."

But there is a huge amount of sentiment, and I'm afraid not only among the elites and leaders, against exercising common sense in the area of immigration. Part of the problem is that we hear "refugees" and assume, "Okay, this is a crisis, this is an emergency, all checks and prudence have to go to the wall, because we have to help people in danger." It's a generous impulse, but a wrong-headed one. To say, outright, "We do not have to welcome large numbers of immigrants from radically different cultures whom we have not had time to check for either jihadist ties, real identity, or health problems, and that our economy may not be able to support, and this is true even though taking basic steps of prudence will probably mean that some innocent people die one way or another" sounds harsh but is simply true.

What must be recognized is that the West does no good to the world at large by committing suicide through an excess of generosity and sentiment. Where will the refugees of thirty years from now, any of them, even a small number, turn to if Europe has become part of a Caliphate? How much can the U.S. help others or act as a beacon of freedom if its already weakened economy and infrastructure are further strained by bringing in numbers of people with problems we do not have the resources to handle? And as we turn into more of a police state in response to the terrorist threats we have fecklessly welcomed in, how much do we remain an exemplar of freedom to the nations and a place of safety for others to come to? And, finally, face this: The government of Germany, or the U.S., or France, has more of a duty to protect its own citizens from terrorist attacks than it has to welcome the destitute and oppressed from other countries. That's just a fact. There are concentric circles of duty, though it is politically incorrect to say so.

To his credit, Governor Snyder of Michigan has rescinded his previous eagerness to relocate a bunch of Syrian immigrants into his state. He said explicitly that his recent decision was made in light of the Paris attacks. Good for him. He's governor of Michigan, not of Syria.

What we need in response to these attacks is not sentiment but rather manliness. By manliness I do not mean hatefulness and cruelty, such as will come from the alt-right against whom I have been writing lately. I do mean the kind of concrete suggestions made in the W4 post--stop Muslim immigration (and especially stop the madness of these recent unrestricted waves) and take military action against ISIS. Also, recognize the blazingly obvious connection between Islam and Jihad and take this into account in public policy--something too many on both sides of the aisle seem unwilling to do.

It may be too late for Europe, though I hope not. It may be that even if the most allegedly "xenophobic" measures are taken concerning future immigrants, many more such terrorist attacks will be carried out, though I hope not. But one thing we can be sure of: If Europe and the United States do not wake up and start taking measures that represent bare common sense in these areas, things will get much, much worse. Pointing out that inconvenient fact is what "standing with France" should mean, even if it isn't what the President of France wants. I do feel anguish for the victims and their families. But more, I feel outrage that this was allowed to happen and outrage at the evil of man that brought it about directly. It is in that sense that I "stand with France." Not in the sense merely that I have warm and sad feelings. Not in the candle-lighting sense, but in the sense of a call for clear eyes and active hands. Let us be up and doing, and may God defend the right.

A collect to be offered in time of war and tumults:
O Almighty God, the supreme Governor of all things, whose power no creature is able to resist, to whom it belongeth justly to punish sinners, and to be merciful to those who truly repent; Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech thee, from the hands of our enemies; that we, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore from all perils, to glorify thee, who art the only giver of all victory; through the merits of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The pity of it all

I have a new post up at What's Wrong With the World. Its theme is why Matt Walsh is a healthy corrective to some bad trends in our Western thinking.

Toward the end of the post I start talking about the positive aspects of what Walsh writes and about how he is not just a corrective to wussiness but also a corrective to mere bitterness and destructiveness.

I wanted to say more about that temptation here, where I have full moderation turned on, because I think it is something some conservatives need to hear.

There is a reaction going on right now against wussy conservatism. I get that. I get not liking wussy conservatism. I'm not a wussy conservative myself. But the reaction (sometimes known as "neoreaction") is dark, disturbing, and often outright vile. We get, for example, the implication that if young women get raped by Muslims and the young women were so-called "SJWs," we shouldn't worry too much about it, because they are our political enemies and wouldn't thank us for our concern. We get a similar implication about anybody assassinated by Vladimir Putin: If he was probably somebody "we" don't care about, then "shrug" about his being assassinated.

Then there was the utter vileness directed at David French for having the gall to tackle the Alt-Right and for the additional crime of having adopted an African child.

On and on goes the drumbeat in those circles--"SJWs always lie" "SJWs are traitors," "We shouldn't care what happens to SJWs" and so forth.

I'm perfectly happy to use the word "evil" where it fits. I'm willing to say that the left supports grave evil.

But when it comes to the point that we are implying that the rape and murder of those on the political left is no biggie because they are "SJWs" and "traitors," that is destruction, not conservatism.

It is also stupid and immature. If you live in the real world and know real people, you begin to get a sense of the pity of it all. What I mean by that is that most real people who support evil policies fall somewhere on a continuum of muddled-ness, and that muddled-ness itself is a cause for pity and sadness. Yes, the saying that the line between evil and good runs through the middle of each human heart gets overused and (in a sense) isn't entirely true. When people were shoving Jews into gas chambers and when the abortionist literally rips off the head of the unborn child, this isn't some kind of generic evil that is "the same for everybody."

All true. But back up a level. Back up to the people who shut their ears to the Holocaust or who even accepted and parroted Nazi talking points. And on our side of the Atlantic and in our own time, ponder for a minute those who parrot pro-abortion or pro-gay talking points.

My point is that people are to some degree brainwashed from the time that they are young. The schools are a huge source of this brainwashing, as are TV shows, the mainstream media, and employers. It is self-propagating, too. Brainwashed people go on to brainwash others. This does not make them free of responsibility, but it does mitigate their acceptance of evil ideology. It should all the more mitigate it when the people we're talking about are not themselves the ardent persecutors--not the people bringing the lawsuit but merely the people making dumb, intensely annoying, muddle-headed comments about how maybe the baker should have been nicer and baked the cake after all, for example. It should make those of us who see reality more clearly have somewhat of a "There but for the grace of God go I" feeling. Here's a friend or relative whom you like, care about, or have family loyalty to, and suddenly he's going on about how maybe gay "marriage" isn't so bad, because after all it's only civil marriage, and we shouldn't try to "impose Christian morals" on non-Christians in the secular world--some nonsense like that. Or a friend is rattling off a talking point about how abortion is a "difficult choice" and he doesn't want to tell a woman "what to do with her body."

Is it disappointing? For sure, especially if you expected that the person would be able to think more clearly than that. Is it even infuriating? Definitely, especially if you try calmly debating and feel like you're getting nowhere.

But on one day or another, I challenge you, you need to be overwhelmed for a moment by the pity of it all. All the hearts, all the minds, all the souls gone astray. All the people led into darkness and confusion by the Spirit of the Age. It's part of the tragedy of human history.

Once you have felt that, once you have seen that, once you have grown to that point, you should never, ever fall for cheap shots about how it doesn't matter if someone gets shot, killed, or raped, because he (or she) was just an "SJW." You should never cooperate with fantasies about getting into a literal shooting war with the left.

Do I believe in the culture wars? Yes, indeed. I consider myself a proud culture warrior. One of the reasons I don't give up on speaking the truth and fighting the rearguard in Christian circles is because I have a strong sense of how error spreads like a disease through the institutions and the churches. We must never give up on the culture wars, and it literally doesn't matter to that "never give up" advice if we are losing. Indeed, we should fight the harder if we are losing, for the sake of our own souls and the souls of our children.

But "culture war" doesn't mean literally not caring about or even kind of liking the picture of the people on the other side getting killed. "Culture war" doesn't mean increasingly hating anybody on your own side of the issues who seems more squeamish than you are about calling a spade a grub hoe. (Frustration, yes. Hatred and vitriolic contempt, no.) "Culture war" doesn't mean having no sense of degrees of guilt, or mitigation, or ignorance. Culture war doesn't mean having no love whatsoever for anybody at all except for some extremely narrow group one has designated as those who "get it." "Culture war" may mean using language that the left, and the wussy right, calls "demonizing"--language like "evil" and "baby killer." But it doesn't mean demonizing in the sense that you talk so much about "SJWs" and "traitors" that eventually you don't care about murder and mayhem as long as you can convince yourself that the victims were (probably, mostly) people who disagree with you! That is appalling. That is not what conservatism stands for or ever should stand for.

This is why I actually consider Walsh, in a sense, a moderate. Before anyone dissolves in laughter, here's what I mean by that: Walsh is outspoken to the point of brashness, he pulls no punches, but he is not representative of the truly nasty "alternative right" (or "identity right" or "manosphere" or "race-realist right") that is unfortunately arising among us. He doesn't seem to be pandering to them, either, as Ann Coulter is. In fact, he almost seems blissfully unaware of their existence (lucky man).

"Be angry and sin not" is much easier said than done. In a culture war in which we are increasingly the less powerful side, it is an indispensable skill. Somehow we have to keep our righteous anger both glowing and untarnished. We have to have a combination of dash, energy, courage, and chivalry. We have to fight hard and never give up, but never fight dirty. We have to hate evil with a passion but not hate people--not even wicked people.

"Be angry and sin not" is one of those things we cannot afford to get wrong, so we have to keep trying until we get it right. In that struggle, some groups are our enemies just as much as, if not more than, the left.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Sunday quotes on writing: Elizabeth Goudge

Writing a book is much the same as any other kind of creative work, painting or carpentry or embroidery or having a baby, an act compounded of love, imagination and physical labor.
Elizabeth Goudge The Joy of the Snow (autobiography), p. 31

Do we put ourselves in our books? Speaking for myself I do not put the woman I am into them but after I had been writing for years I noticed the regular appearance in story after story of a tall graceful woman, well-balanced, intelligent, calm, capable and tactful. She is never flustered, forgetful, frightened, irritable or nervy. She does not drop bricks, say the opposite of what she means, let saucepans boil over or smash her best teapot. She is all I long to be and all I never will be. She is in complete reverse a portrait of myself.
The Joy of the Snow, p. 34

I started writing in childhood, my first novel was published when I was thirty-two. I was forty-five before I found myself a best-seller on the strength of one book only. I think the reason for this is that writing is more a matter of practice than anyone realises. Words to a writer are the same as bricks to a builder. It is necessary to learn about their size and shape and how to put them in place.
The Joy of the Snow, pp. 34-35

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

So impossibly hard to be a wise saint

[B]ecause in the realms both of vision and morality he was in the kindergarten, his effort at self-expression was comparable to a child's scribblings with colored chalk on brown paper.
"The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." That was the artist's problem as well as the man's. Progress in evil was quick and easy; Apollyon was not a chap who hid himself and he gave every assistance in his power. The growth in goodness was so slow, at times so flat, so dull, and like the White Queen one had to run so fast to stay where one was, let alone progress; and there were few men who dared to say they had found God. It was easy to be a clever sinner, for the race to an earthly visible goal was short to run, so impossibly hard to be a wise saint, with the goal set at so vast a distance from this world and clouded with such uncertainty. Patience with the apparent hopelessness of spiritual growth was the man's task, patience with the breaking chalks and the smudgy drawing the artist's. And for both the grim struggle of faith.

From Elizabeth Goudge, The Rosemary Tree 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A pro-abortion canard

If you've spent much time at all arguing with those who are pro-abortion, you've doubtless heard this canard: "Scientists think some huge percentage of embryos naturally fail to implant--at least 50%. You pro-lifers don't worry as much about those but only about procured abortions. Your lack of energy expended upon attempts to protect embryos from natural implantation failure shows that you don't really believe that the embryo is human from conception. You just want to control women."

There are so many things wrong with this that it's hard to pick one. Just one is the fact that the pro-abort making this argument is talking vaguely. What precisely does he think we should be doing to "show that we care" about natural implantation failure? One's being pro-life hardly commits one to the (usually left-wing) politicization of natural death, disease, and disaster. It is normally the leftist who wants everyone to show that they care about x disease by calling for more government funding for research on x. It isn't a sign that I don't think women with breasts are human beings (!) if I don't constantly carry on and yell loudly that "we" must "do more" to try to "stop breast cancer."

The pro-abort who makes this argument also shows no awareness of how difficult it is to know what to do about natural implantation failure. Given that most of the time we don't even know when, much less why, it occurs, preventing or stopping it is incredibly difficult, as fertility doctors will tell you. In fact, if one believes that IVF is morally wrong, one would probably have reason to oppose much of the research that is done to try to figure out what causes implantation failure, since the best way to test various methods to prevent it is in an IVF context where researchers know there was an embryo in the first place. In this case, IVF embryos cannot simply be created and treated as cannon fodder for the alleged greater good of trying to find a solution to the implantation failure of other embryos. Using persons as means rather than ends, ethics, etc., etc.

So this is a pure head-fake, pure vague talking with no cash value. We're supposed to "worry about" a particular class of natural deaths in order to prove that we really believe that those who die in those cases are really human.

And then there's the question of whether we really know that such a high percentage of embryos naturally fail to implant. Very likely some do, but the inferences that bolster the statistical claim are always indirect and by no means decisive.

The bottom line is that we don't generally have to show that we believe that the members of some identifiable group are human persons by a particular amount of worry or fuss over disease and natural death that afflicts that group. How many of even the most PC liberals feel that they have to put in a daily or monthly quota of time worrying about deaths from sickle cell anemia to prove that they really believe blacks are human persons, or about deaths from Tay Sachs to prove that they really believe Ashkenazi Jews are human persons?

It makes no sense whatsoever to say that an attempt to protect members of a group from targeted, direct killing must be bolstered by equal (as measured by whom?) amounts of "worry" about natural deaths within that group, on pain of having one's belief in the humanness of the victims challenged. Even the word "protect" makes far more sense when applied to stopping deliberate killing than when applied to trying to solve some problem of disease or natural death.

So here's an analogy to use next time this nonsense comes up:

Suppose that someone wanted to make it legal to chop the heads off of unwanted five-year-olds in the U.S. Let's say for some reason they would put an upper limit of five hundred on the number of unwanted five-year-olds who could be executed--first-come, first-serve basis for applications made by the mothers. It would be an obvious red herring for that person to say, "You don't really believe that five-year-olds are human persons, because there are five-year-olds in Africa dying of malaria, a lot more of them than would be killed by people who took advantage of this legal policy we want to enact, but you aren't putting as much energy into fighting childhood malaria deaths in Africa as you are putting into fighting our attempt to legalize beheading some unwanted five-year-olds in America." Naturally we don't want kids to die of malaria in Africa. But there is a limited amount one can do to protect children from malaria (a disease borne by mosquitoes), whereas it is completely straightforward to lock people in prison (or execute people) who chop off children's heads. And it's deeply evil for government policies to put in place the principle that five-year-olds are non-persons who can be killed at will. It's just plain stupid to measure our belief that five-year-olds are truly human persons by the amount of energy we put into worrying about malaria deaths as compared to the amount of energy we put into trying to stop policies that legalize murder.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Blogging about Israel

Quite some time ago a comment showed up for moderation, which I did not moderate. It was creepy in a variety of ways. But one thing that it contained was the question, "Why do you blog so much about Israel?" Well, I had to wonder if that particular reader had a problem with his vision, since all of my posts under the "Israel" label were even by that time rather old. Yes, there are quite a few of them, but my blogging interests had already moved to other topics by that time, as blogging interests have a way of doing, sometimes randomly. But it nonetheless really bugged this commentator that I would have so many pro-Israel posts. No doubt he wanted to do some kind of psychoanalysis on me. Both the creepy left and the creepy right tend towards psychoanalysis of their opponents. It's one way of avoiding replying to content.

I get a lot of my news about Israel from this interesting (yes, far-right) blog by Carl in Jerusalem. I find the news so often so depressing that I don't read Carl as much as I used to. Plus, he does more on Twitter now, and I don't follow Twitter. But it's still useful to keep up.

Here's the thing: What both the anti-Israel left and the anti-Israel right don't realize is that it's possible to be pro-Israel, or even to the right of pro-Israel (that is to say, annoyed with Israel's leaders when they don't defend their people enough or when they enter into the zombie-like fake "peace process") without romanticizing. I am not under the illusion, for example, that I would "fit in" in Israel or that the bulk of Israelis are "my kind of people." For example, I am well aware of the fact that the country has a socialist economy and that its government contains many anti-religious, left-wing secularists. That creates an internal dynamic to Israeli politics that is all too familiar to me as an American conservative. Just as many people in power in America would hate me as a scary "religious conservative," so would many people in power in Israel. But that doesn't mean that the Haredi or "ultra-conservatives" would be my dear buddies, either, even though I often agree with their perspective on their internal politics and on the realities of "Palestinian" terrorism and other topics. See, I believe that Christians should be free to evangelize, yes, even in Israel where doing so is "insensitive," not to mention illegal. The nicer ultra-orthodox would use the power of law to suppress such evangelism. The less nice would try to stone Christian missionaries if they carried out, e.g., street preaching.

I also realize that Israel has very liberal abortion laws and an out-of-control Supreme Court. And they foolishly have no death penalty (again, the result of being founded by a bunch of earnest, secular socialists), which means that they have all these warehoused terrorists sitting around in prison who should have been fertilizing the ground long ago. When misguided leaders later want to trade scores of evil terrorists for a kidnapped soldier, why, there the evil terrorists are, waiting to be traded! Which provides a perverse incentive for more evil terrorists to kidnap more Israeli soldiers. It's enough to make any sensible conservative want to tear out his hair.

But the reader who follows such matters will have noticed by now that even these complaints are not the usual complaints against Israel, whether from the anti-Israel American right or the anti-Israel American left. I didn't say that they love to kill "Palestinian" children. I didn't say that they are wicked colonial occupiers. I didn't say that the so-called "settlements" are an offense against justice and right. I didn't say that Israel "stole" the land.

That's because I think that all of those things are false. So I have ended up being hard-line pro-Israel not because I have no criticisms. Nor is my reasoning that "God gave them the land, so we have to support them." I never make such religious, premillenial Christian arguments myself. Nor do I look at Israel through a romantic haze. Rather, I think that for all its faults Israel is a good regional ally for the U.S. (though it has often been badly treated by the U.S.), shares important political perspectives and goals, and that it is madness to try to turn any more of that sliver of the Middle East back over to murderous Arabs. Indeed, if anything could have shown that, the disastrous case study of the Gaza strip should have done so for all the world to see. That the world doesn't see means that the world is deaf and blind and would, in fact, prefer that the entire nation of Israel commit hari kari in the name of crazily abstract principles combined with a false historical narrative. And again and again the lies and falsehoods come up, combined with suppression of facts. For example, how much do most Americans know about rock attacks by "Palestinians," sometimes "teens," that kill ordinary Israeli Jews just trying to drive down the road and go about their business? Not much, I'll warrant. So my fundamental sense of fair play is moved to note these things and take the side that I think is most aligned with truth and accuracy. I have realized which group wants to get on with the business of living normal lives and taking care of themselves and which group(s) want nothing but destruction, not even desiring to rule themselves in a constructive, peaceful fashion. Once one has really noticed that, it's difficult to have any sympathy anymore for the "Palestinian" cause.

At the same time, I am often weary. Who wouldn't be, even looking at the situation from a distance? It's hard to deal with what is in essence an intractable socio-political situation. The "Palestinians" have no reasonable plan. They want Israel destroyed "from the river to the sea." Most Israelis would love to work out some form of peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, but that isn't what their neighbors want. So the situation has to go on indefinitely. Our American rulers consistently pressure Israel to harm its own people, overlook even rocket attacks on its borders, and engage in foolish negotiations. Indeed, Republican Presidents have been some of the worst offenders. George W. Bush arguably did more harm to his Israeli ally than Barack Obama, because he was allegedly Israel's friend, so there was a motive to let Condoleeza Rice micromanage such internal matters as how many building permits were written for East Jerusalem. Which is crazy. At least with Obama they know they are dealing with an enemy. But the spectacle of the Middle East is rarely an edifying one, and after a while I feel as though (as with many topics) I have said all that there is to be said, which is why I rarely blog about Israel nowadays.

My attention was partly drawn to the subject again by the recent flareups of rocket attacks and terrorist attacks and also by someone's posting (apparently with approval) this silly story on Facebook about a babyish, potty-mouthed "Palestinian American" academic, specializing in victimology, who is trying to make a killing in the grievance market because he wasn't given an enviable job. His hiring was shot down when his virulent, f-bomb-filled rants against Israel on Twitter were brought to light. Poor baby. The sympathetic post is notably coy about his "controversial" tweets. The AAUP, which is of course completely on his side, nonetheless does include some of them in an appendix  here. Needless to say, they make it clear why he wasn't considered a good candidate for a full-time job teaching the young in the world of higher education. Not that his "work" is any better.

Oh, in happier news, oil has been discovered on the Golan Heights on the Israeli side. Good thing it wasn't given back to Syria in an act of mindless, unilateral niceness. As Carl in Jerusalem muses, one wonders if there is also oil on the Syrian side. But they'd have to stop shooting to find out.

So that's what it means for me to blog about Israel. And now I'll probably go back to not doing so for awhile, because the subject depresses me. But when I do, that's where I will be coming from.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Embrace the cross

It has been much, much too long since we had a music post.

It is my longstanding contention that we Protestants need to beef up our theology of suffering. There is nothing distinctively "Catholic" about holding that suffering is of value in the Christian life, even of transcendent importance. The Apostle Paul teaches it over and over--"If we die with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." "Buried with him by baptism into death. Raised in his likeness to walk in newness of life." Jesus teaches it. "Take up your cross and follow me." James and Peter teach it. It's everywhere in the New Testament. God has a special use for suffering in the life of the Christian.

Here is what I wrote recently to a correspondent:

Anything we suffer, however small and for that matter however emotionally complicated, is meaningful and can be used by God for our sanctification and to His glory if we accept it as from His hand and offer it back to Him to use for others.

It was shortly after writing that that I happened to hear this song on the radio and subsequently found Steve Green's performance of it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

All conspiracy theories great and small

In this post I'm going to talk about something I don't usually discuss--namely, conspiracy theories including the set of theories surrounding what is known as the "manosphere." If you, dear Reader, don't know what the latter is about, please, please feel free to skip this post. Really. You are probably better off not knowing. If, on the other hand, some un-dear reader reads this who is sympathetic to that vile, creepy, insane approach to the world, I'm not setting out to convince you, so you are also invited to skip this post. (And I have full moderation turned on and usually delete comments from manospherians, because I think they have been mind-poisoned, and I refuse to be drawn into their world even far enough to debate them.)

It may therefore be asked why I'm publishing this at all. Good question. Partly because I wrote it up in private correspondence for someone who asked what in the world leads people to be drawn into those ideas, and then it occurred to me that it was in essence a blog post. But partly also because I do think that in general we conservatives have our own dangers of being led into the darker recesses of the blogosphere, and I want to continue to issue a warning. I've issued such warnings before. Such darker recesses also include anti-semitism, Holocaust denial, and 9/11 conspiracy theories. (A couple of these attract a strange mix of extremists on the Right and on the Left, which is an odd sociological phenomenon in itself.) David French issues an important similar warning here.

The other thing I want to bring up, which you can read by itself if you scroll to the last few paragraphs, is the fact that we occasionally become like that which we try to answer. Hence, one finds missionaries "going native," to use a politically incorrect phrase. I once heard of some missionaries to Muslims who ended up keeping Ramadan and whose women started wearing hijab. There is no doubt in my mind that the Muslims thought they were converting the missionaries rather than vice versa. In Internet discussion, something similar happens when one becomes fascinated with trying to reach a particular interest group and starts casting one's arguments in terms that will be congenial to that interest group. When the target group in question hold really, really messed-up ideas, this effect is highly problematic, which is why it can be a bad idea to try to change the minds of kooks. Insensibly, one starts to accept (or at least appear to accept) ideas that are, say, a 5 out of ten on the craziness scale because one is trying to talk people out of ideas that are at 10. That's not a good thing. So some readers may be interested in that rhetorical problem and want to discuss it even if they are uninterested in the particular example. Jesus mythicism would be another area where the problem could come up.

So, with all that introduction, here is an edited version of the mini-essay I wrote originally for some friends.

People are attracted to the manosphere because of roughly the same types of causes that attract some people to hard-line feminism or to wild conspiracy theories such as anti-semitism. That is to say, people see real problems and injustices in the world, and this purports to be a Theory of Everything that explains and unifies all that they see, giving them the True Explanation behind it all.

Human beings are hard-wired to prefer theories that explain a lot over theories that explain piecemeal. In science, and especially in physics, this can be a good thing, driving mankind to seek explanations that do well both at what the old explanations did but that go farther still. It's right to desire explanations that cope with a wide variety of evidence. Conspiracy theories are the pathological manifestation of this hard-wiring in humans. They bring that drive for simplicity in theory-making to the complexities of human society. The conspiracy theorist then succumbs to the temptation to flatten out the complexities of the real world and of the evidence to fit the theory. The conspiracy theorist is chasing the high of feeling that he has explained it all and has achieved true enlightenment.

Ironically, the very claims made for the Red Pill ought to raise warning flags. But on the contrary. Those inclined in that direction don't seem to say, "This sounds like it tries to explain too much, too simply; therefore, it's probably a lot of baloney." Instead, they are exhilarated by the promises.

Confirmation bias then locks in the new convert. Just as the convinced, man-hating feminist "sees" only beaten wives, and "sees" only men who "deserve what they get," the manospherian "sees" only mistreated men and women who "brought it on themselves" when a man dumps them, uses p*rn, cheats, etc. These biased ways of interpreting the evidence are reinforced by hanging around people who have the same blind spots. And of course the bias is reinforced by the fact that there are real instances of what one is seeing. There are real beaten wives. There are real frivolously dumped husbands.

Social feedback is a huge factor, which is why the Internet has been the breeding ground for explosions in conspiracy theories, from the manosphere to Jesus mythicism. Once a person hangs out at these sites, he insensibly starts to talk like the people he is "with" electronically, to respond to their statements in ways intended to convince or sit well with them, and to accept their shibboleths. If everybody around you is saying, "Women rather than men are the cause of widespread frivolous divorce in America," then it comes to seem like it's probably true. One doesn't bother to ask on what this generalization is based. (See here and following.)

I've seen this social feedback at a [particular blog], where [a blogger] is sometimes trying to woo the so-called "Christian" manosphere rather than (the healthier attitude) not caring tuppence what such creepily messed-up people think. This attempt to reach out to them has, in my opinion, influenced the blogger. He has repeatedly stated, for example, that women usually get to decide whether men marry them or not, which is a very dubious thesis.

So even the second-level of association with conspiracy theorists tends to warp the one who associates. If I spent a lot of time trying to reach out to Jesus mythers or anti-semites or Holocaust deniers, using arguments that they would find persuasive, it would warp my own writing and perhaps even my own view of reality. 

This is an interesting and difficult point, because well-intentioned people often do feel that they need to know about and answer even the craziest theories and ideas, and in the blogosphere this can lead you literally anywhere. The point goes beyond the concern that one gives dignity to an idea by responding to it, though that is related. It goes beyond the concern that one has to walk a fine line between, "I am responding to x" and "X is an empirically and/or morally respectable idea," where one might wish to do the former but not imply the latter. The point here, beyond either of those, is that one may imply concretely false ideas about the topic at issue in the course of trying to reach out to people in a particular camp. In answering Jesus mythers, for example, one might want merely to say that even a liberal New Testament scholar like Bart Ehrman thinks they are crazy. That's a legitimate point. But when one gets into the nitty-gritty of the arguments, what if one ends up conceding some particular point that Ehrman makes, such as his repeated implication that the gospels are extremely unreliable as to the details of Jesus' life? Of course it is true to say that, even if the gospels are extremely unreliable about those details, they could still constitute strong evidence that Jesus existed. But one would want to be careful not to start actually believing or imply to one's audience that the gospels are unreliable or even that it doesn't matter globally whether they are reliable or unreliable. The more "out there" one's intended audience is, I suggest, the more of a danger there will be that one will concede too much ground in the course of trying to reach that audience.

Besides problems with arguments, there is simply the effect of spending time in the company of those who hold crazy ideas and regarding those people as friends or intellectual equals. If one does that, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember that their ideas are utterly crazy, that they have jumped the shark, that you should completely reject their warped perspective. One gets insensibly drawn in to at least some extent: "Well, so-and-so goes too far, but it really does seem like the Jews control our government." "Outright Jesus mythicism is too extreme, but all my atheist friends keep talking about the fictional developments in the character of Jesus in the gospels, so maybe there's something to that." "Some of these guys go too far, and I'm not into that immoral Game stuff, but I think women really do cause a lot more trouble in human relationships than men. I mean, look at all these anecdotes my friends at such-and-such a site are bringing up. Terrible stories!"

While there is no simple answer to this problem, no simple algorithm for deciding when to answer something and when to ignore it, I would say that one should beware of conspiracy theories, including the ones I have listed, to such an extent that one seriously considers not trying to get into the nitty-gritty of answering them. Beyond that, one should beware of them to such an extent that one should not deliberately develop a relationship with people at sites or in groups that promote such theories. If your favorite uncle turns out to be a rampaging misogynist, that's a different matter. He was already your favorite uncle, and you now have to negotiate that relationship. But don't deliberately cultivate close relationships with people or sites that promote misogyny (or 9/11 truther ideas, or Jesus mythicism, or...)

Bad company corrupts good manners, and we all have a stake in not corrupting good manners.