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.