Sunday, April 24, 2016

Infinitely costly

A few weeks ago, on Passion Sunday, it came to me in a flash that all of God's generosity, his gift of the "blessings of this life," is infinitely costly. It seemed to me somehow that even the beauty of a sunrise or the goodness of food comes to me through the death of Jesus Christ. Although God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, nonetheless there seems to be a sense in which these natural blessings have had to be "bought back" for us by the death of Christ. Hence, while in one sense it costs God nothing to pour out the rain upon the just and the unjust, to give us every good gift and every perfect gift, because God is the creator of all these good things, yet in another sense, due to the sin of mankind and the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, we now enjoy these things only as a gift for which Jesus had to give everything. So it is not only the forgiveness of our sins--the "means of grace and the hope of glory"--that we have through the blood of Christ, but literally everything. Every good thing. 

Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made rich. (II Corinthians 8:9)

In a more analytical state of mind, I asked myself to justify this apparent insight. I am still not sure that I have gotten to the bottom of it, and it's probably the sort of thing one can never get to the bottom of. However, I think I have gotten this far: If Jesus had not died, mankind could not have been redeemed. If men are not redeemed, they ultimately lose everything--that is, in the long run. The damned in hell no longer experience the goodness of God at all as goodness, only as fire and judgement. No light, no beauty of nature, no cups of cold water, no kindness of friends. C.S. Lewis hypothesized that in a sense the damnation of the damned works retroactively to take away from them (in a sense) the goodness that they enjoyed on earth. It is not as though they can stay themselves, in hell, upon the memories of better times and beauties, as people in this world who are going through trials and persecution can do. So therefore, it seems, in order for me to appreciate and truly have the blessings of this life, in the long run (which is to say, in eternity) I must be reconciled to God. And I can be reconciled to God only through the death of Christ. Perhaps this is what underlies the sense that even the goodness of a cup of cold water, as finally affirmed in the ultimate beatitude of a human being, comes to him through the death of Christ.

But why, one might ask, is it not enough to think of Christ's death as giving us the forgiveness of sins? Why all this other jiggery-pokery trying to relate the death of Christ to cups of cold water and beautiful sunsets?

My best shot at an answer is just this: We ourselves don't really understand well enough the significance of sin, especially our own. We compartmentalize it. We say, "Yes, I did that sin, but that was a long time ago, and it's over now, and I don't have to think about it anymore." Don't misunderstand me: The Bible encourages us to confess our sins and then to stop beating ourselves up over them. But there is a shallower idea that sin is this isolated thing, that it has no cosmic repercussions. Yet the very doctrine of the fall of man falsifies that idea. The sin in the Garden of Eden caused human physical death. That's a pretty cosmic repercussion. It changed the very relationship of man to nature, so that man now has to fear the beasts rather than having dominion over them. St. Paul says that the whole creation groans and travails in pain waiting for our redemption. So Scripture supports a very cosmic view of the effects of sin. What I'm reaching for here is a connection between our own, personal sin and our "losing" the natural goods. If there is such a connection, then we might be able to see the theological effects of the death of Christ as in some sense standing outside of time (though of course Christ's death occurred at a particular point in space and time) and being one of the means by which the blessings and beauties come to us. God makes all things, today, because he makes all things new, in the end. And he makes all things new only because Jesus died. No cross, no redemption.

Of course, no doubt much of this is muddled, because whenever one deals with such matters of time and eternity one is bound to be somewhat muddled. But I don't think it's completely muddled. The beauty of the spring outside my window right now cost Jesus his life.

That could be a sad reflection, but somehow, it isn't. It gives new meaning to the gratitude we should have toward Our Lord. His love is infinite, and he gives us all things. Through his poverty we are made rich.

He that spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The courage of Ken Miller

I am not up to expressing eloquently how much Pastor Ken Miller should humble us, his fellow Christians. Here is his first update from federal prison. He is there for helping a woman and her little girl to escape the country when the little girl was going to be turned over, full custody, to an unrelated lesbian who used to be in a sexual relationship with the girl's repentant mother. The U.S. federal government has pursued him and finally has him in federal prison for two years. He is in the deepest sense a prisoner of conscience. I would go so far as to call him a political prisoner in the U.S.

His gentleness and holiness through this ordeal are deeply moving.

By the way, there is a "donate" button at the site for helping Pastor Miller's church to support his large family while he is in prison. Consider clicking on it.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Abortion and punishing women

Consider the following scenarios:

--A man kills his wife in a hunting “accident.” The police are convinced that it was deliberate but know that they will not be able to prove mens rea, so they don’t even consider prosecuting.

--A thirteen-year-old girl cold-bloodedly poisons her grandfather and two other people in her house for “being mean” to her. She keeps a diary bragging about how clever she is. She is prosecuted but will never face the death penalty, because her state does not have the death penalty for minors as young as she is.

--A young man forcibly rapes his girlfriend, who had willingly gone to his apartment for dinner but had no intention of having sex with him and gave him no indication that she was willing. In her mental turmoil afterwards, she foolishly waits to report the rape until two weeks later, when the bruising on her wrists and arms has disappeared, so the evidence is he-said, she-said, and no prosecution is possible because due process will protect her rapist.

--A mafia hit-man meticulously plans an assassination, but his gun jams at the last minute. Due to the circumstances, he doesn’t have time to fix it and drops that particular assassination attempt. The police get evidence of the attempt but can try him only for, at most, attempted murder, even though his guilt is identical to that of a successful hit-man. He was “saved” from actually committing the murder only by a morally lucky accident.

--A woman commits a heinous murder, but the police gather the evidence (for some reason) by way of a blatantly warrantless search, so it is inadmissible in court, and she goes free.

--A man urges his wife to kill someone against whom he has a grudge, believing that a jury will go easier on her because she is a woman. She eventually complies and is duly tried, convicted, and punished. He can be tried only for incitement or as an accessory and cannot be subject to the death penalty, though the whole idea was his.

--A young woman kills her five-year-old child and pretends that it was done by someone else. She is tried and acquitted and afterwards goes on a talk show bragging about how she committed the murder and got away with it. She can now never be convicted of that murder because a retrial would violate double jeopardy.

What do all of these cases have in common? They are all similar in that someone gets away with doing something evil that, it seems natural to think, the law ought to punish. Or someone gets a lesser legal penalty in a situation where, logically, it seems that his guilt is equal to that of someone who gets a greater penalty. In each case, however, there is a completely explicable legal reason for the lesser punishment or even the impossibility of prosecution altogether (as in the rape case). I would argue moreover that in each case the legal reason is a good legal reason and that abandoning the legal principle involved--allowing young minors to get the death penalty, prosecuting men for rape in cases where the evidence is scanty, abandoning the prohibition on double jeopardy--would be a bad idea. Yes, that means that some guilty escape, but our common law legal tradition has always held, rightly in my view, that the law should err, when it must err, on the side of false negatives rather than false positives. Also, the legal tradition of the west has been (again, rightly) that invasive legal or police procedures that are likely to harm the innocent should be eschewed, even if this allows some of the guilty to get away. That is why our Constitution emphasizes the rights of the accused. That is why mens rea is such an important legal principle. That is why the fourth amendment principle of no unreasonable search and seizure makes it impossible to use illegally obtained evidence, even if irrefutable evidence of a heinous crime, in court.

One might say that all of this means that the law is not perfectly logical, if we require for “perfectly logical” that the law should always track moral guilt and mete out to every man his just deserts, letting none get away without their just deserts, at least for publicly accessible crimes (like murder and rape) that would in the general legal run of things be legitimately punishable by law. That is, in fact, not how law works in many cases, and not even just because of prosecutorial discretion. Nor would it really make sense to say that “ideally” the law would always do so, if the only way for such alleged ideals to come about would be to abandon principles like no double jeopardy, the fourth amendment, the requirement to prove mens rea, the requirement for conviction beyond reasonable doubt, and so forth. These, in fact, are parts of an extremely carefully balanced legal set-up, and we shouldn’t even be aiming to abolish them incrementally.

Notice that all of this introduces an ambiguity on a word like “should” as in the following statements: “Morally cognizant thirteen-year-olds who cold-bloodedly commit murder should be punished equally with adults.” “All men who commit rape should be punished.”

In one sense, one could say that such statements are true. They may even seem uncontroversially true. That is, in the sense of “just deserts.” The thirteen-year-old poisoner deserves to die. The rapist who didn’t get reported in time deserves to be punished. But in another sense it is quite arguable that such statements are false. That is, in the sense that “should” refers to how we are obligated to attempt to structure the legal system. We are not obligated to attempt to structure our legal system so that all cold-blooded, thirteen-year-old murderers are punished equally with adults or so that we insure that all rapists are punished without exception. There can be countervailing considerations (such as the danger of punishing the innocent or those who are not fully morally responsible for their acts) that would make it imprudent and hence actually wrong deliberately to structure a legal system with that goal.

All of this brings me to the question of punishing women who procure abortion. This question has arisen recently apropos of the candidacy of a completely insincere and disgusting candidate who means nothing and whose words should not be allowed to cause reasonable people to go running to their computers to have a big debate, as though he really had made some meaningful and sincere pronouncement.

However, I suppose the question is interesting enough in itself, and some of those who just love to accuse pro-lifers of being inconsistent (on the left and on the right) have taken it as their opportunity to make extreme claims.

In general, what these claims (“You’re an inconsistent pro-lifer if you don’t aim to have women punished for procuring abortions”) have in common is a failure to recognize this: Even in a situation where abortion was treated, as far as the abortionist is concerned, as first-degree murder (with the death penalty in relevant states), all of the general messiness of law in the real world would apply to the situation and in particular to the woman involved. Nobody except foolish feminists thinks that the requirement in law for evidence beyond reasonable doubt in cases of rape means that “we don’t really think women are human beings.” Nobody except a fool thinks that we don’t think human beings are human beings because we apply the principle of double jeopardy to a bragging murderer who has been acquitted. Nobody thinks that the victims of the plotting thirteen-year-old “must not really be believed to be human” if the law fails to punish the thirteen-year-old as harshly as an adult. And so on through a million places where law makes distinctions, yes, even distinctions that tend to favor describable groups of people, such as those who incite someone else to murder rather than committing it, those of a younger age, those whose crimes are committed in cases where intent or state of knowledge is difficult to prove, etc. In none of these cases is the humanity of the victim being impugned. Rather, the general idea is that the common good is not served by always trying to give every wrongdoer his just deserts. Again, this is not only a matter of prosecutorial discretion. Sometimes these matters are set up in statutory law ahead of time.

A legal situation with harsh penalties for abortionists and zero penalties for the procuring woman would be just another such rough-cut distinction made by law, based on considerations like the difficulty of proving the woman’s state of knowledge or intent, information about the prevalence of mitigating pressure and even coercion on the woman, the widespread deception practiced upon pregnant women, the fact that the woman is not confronted with the humanity of the victim in the same way that the abortionist is, and so forth. (Abortion is unique in that the victim is physically hidden, and can remain hidden, from one of the people who is complicit in the victim’s destruction.) All of these could well make it both impractical and imprudent for the law to get involved in trying to exact legal penalties upon the woman. Moreover, the pro-life goal that every child should be recognized as a human victim and protected in law would be accomplished by harsh penalties for the abortionist as a murderer, who sees the humanity of the child in the very act of killing. And, just as the reality and humanity of the victims is not denied in any of the above scenarios where someone who is morally guilty doesn’t get his just deserts, so it would be here. Such a legal set-up does not deny the humanity of the unborn child but is based on the intrinsically messy nature of the real world in which law operates and on the difficulty of the necessary task of proving mens rea.

Perhaps the tweaked and slightly more “perfect” legal situation would be one in which the woman could in theory be charged as an accessory before the fact but in which the law expressly provided for what is known as an “affirmative defense” which would block the prosecution. Such affirmative defenses could include lack of knowledge, having been lied to about the nature of the unborn child within her, or outside pressure from other people urging her to have the abortion. Often when a law expressly allows a fairly broad affirmative defense, prosecutors don’t even bother to prosecute that person at all. It would also be possible to offer complete immunity from prosecution in return for testimony against the abortionist. However, in some utterly blatant cases of heartlessness and knowledge on the part of the woman, where this can be proven, prosecution as an accessory would still be possible in theory. Certainly nothing I have said here means that it would be per se unjust for the law ever to punish any woman to any extent for procuring an abortion. Indeed, legal punishment might be well-deserved in some cases.

But even this latter scenario is not one that I think pro-lifers should pursue, for prudential reasons. I do not consider that it is necessary to our cause, and I think that treating it as a goal of our cause merely creates additional and unnecessary odium. Our goal should be the prosecution of the abortionist with, in that prosecution, the full recognition of the humanity of the unborn child. That is a far-away enough goal that we shouldn’t have much energy left over for grousing about how allegedly stupid and inconsistent our fellow pro-lifers are for not loudly pursuing the prosecution of the mother. Again, statements like, “The woman should be punished” or “The woman shouldn’t be punished” are ambiguous concerning what sort of “should” is in view--whether referring to what a person might deserve or to what policies ought to be pursued.

I don’t use the catch phrase that the “woman is always the second victim in an abortion,” because I think it is too sweeping and sometimes untrue, perhaps even more often untrue than one would like, in charity, to believe. I don’t like catch phrases anyway and avoid them whenever possible.

Sometimes, however, it is true that the woman is to some extent or other a second victim, and the new misogyny that has become prevalent in some unpleasant corners of the “right” is ideally placed to blind people to just how widespread such situations are--situations of coercion, pressure, lying, etc.

There are indeed heartless women who have abortions; there are also deceived and pressured women who have abortions. It’s not a failure to “really believe” in the humanity of the unborn child or even in the general moral agency of women to sketch out, as a legal goal, going after the abortionist instead. And contrary to the impression you might get, what I’ve said here is not unique. It is not the case that all pro-lifers are out there saying that it would be wrong per se under any circumstances for a woman to be punished at all in law. Scott Klusendorf, for instance (about as mainstream pro-life as it gets) emphasizes the prudential issues and the issue of mens rea in a public Facebook post.

Doug Wilson emphasizes similar issues.

However disappointing this conclusion might be to those who want to find and crow over “wimpy, feminist conservatives letting women off the hook” around every corner, the approach to policy that I am recommending in this post is the type of thing that is common and legitimate in the western legal tradition and in political action and is entirely compatible with full recognition of the humanity of the unborn child.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

"Political Correctness"

The followers (many of them very unpleasant indeed) of a certain political candidate (who should be a joke but unfortunately isn't) whose name rhymes with Ronald Thump have a ridiculous tendency to use the phrase "political correctness" and its cognates for what the rest of us call "being a normal person," "not using vile profanity," "not being an immature, insulting jerk," etc.

There is a great irony in this given the way that the phrase "political correctness" first came to be widely used in American discourse. I am old enough to remember when that phrase was new.  I was in graduate school at the time. As the term was intended to be used, its meaning was rather specific. It did not refer in general to refraining from doing something that could offend someone. Rather, it referred specifically to the relatively new sets of rules that were being put in place by the left that went beyond mere good manners and that were specifically designed to serve as a kind of hat-tip to left-wing political norms. Hence, as the phrase was first used, nobody would have said that it was political correctness to be told that one should not use the n-word for black people. However, it was political correctness to be subjected to ever-changing terminology that one was told one had to use for black people. E.g. This year you must say "African-American," and so forth.

It would never have been called political correctness to refrain from using a crude or lewd word to describe a woman. But it was political correctness to be told that one had to avoid using the generic "man" or "he."

And so forth. The whole point was that we who used the new phrase "political correctness" to describe what we wouldn't submit to were calling out the people making the demands. We were telling them that we were onto them. They were pretending that all of this was "mere politeness," and "not being unnecessarily offensive," but we knew full-well that these demands were actually nothing of the kind. They were rather a demand for a specific political loyalty oath to ideologies that we didn't want to be constantly tipping our hats to. This particularly came up in the area of the pronoun "he." I remember being incredulous and scornful at being told that I should change my entire use of pronouns because suddenly all the women in my writing or speaking audience would be "needlessly offended" if I used the generic "he." It was patently obvious that the eradication of generic "man" and "he" were attempts to insinuate feminism into all discourse whatsoever. "The scientist...he or she," so that we couldn't talk about science without notifying our readers or hearers that women can be scientists just as well as men, that there should be just as many female scientists as male scientists, and so forth. It was ridiculous.

Even when the term broadened (and I resisted and still resist this broadening) in usage to refer in addition to norms put in place from the right of the political spectrum, it still referred to an attempt at or a demand for political signaling through language use or behavior. So, for example, if one said that on the right it would be "politically incorrect" to use the term "anti-abortion" and that one was supposed to use the term "pro-life," the point was still that on that end of the political spectrum one was being asked to signal allegiance to the pro-life cause by using a more positive term.

The phrase never, ever, ever referred simply to all societal norms as such. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the Thumpites' use of it in that way, and rejection of it as such, is something quite neologistic, though perhaps this has been (unbeknownst to me) fermenting on the alt-right for several years. But in society at large that was not originally the intent of the phrase. Indeed, the fact that the phrase was usually used as a tacit criticism of such arm-twisting meant that it did not refer simply to refraining from being a foul-mouthed jerk.

Again: Those who were demanding political signaling (hence demanding political correctness) were the ones who tried to characterize their own demands as merely those of common politeness, but the whole point of using the phrase "political correctness" was supposed to be that one saw through this and that one was therefore capable of making distinctions between real demands of common politeness, real requirements that one refrain from actions that are understandably wrong and offensive, and the faux demands of politeness made by political correctness.

Ironically, the Thumpites themselves in glorifying crudity and rudeness as such and contemptuously rejecting all objections to pure nastiness on the grounds that "we don't accept political correctness" are eliding that distinction as much as the leftists who gave us political correctness in the first place! The leftists told us that being politically correct (using all their careful terms, never suggesting anything that differed from their ideology, etc.) was "just politeness." The tom-fool Thumpites agree and yell at the top of their lungs, "We hate good, mature behavior!" and then proceed to prove it with disgusting behavior.

All of this just reminds us that Ronald Thump is not a conservative at all but rather a bubble-bound rich liberal foisting a left-wing caricature of conservatism, including bare hatefulness and nastiness, on the country, pretending that he exemplifies it. The sickening thing is that some people who think of themselves as conservative are falling for it and emulating him.

That, of course, has been said before, multiple times (often by Matt Walsh, who is very good on this subject). But I thought it would be useful to rehearse the history of the phrase "political correctness" in American discourse to show how it fits into the pattern.

Don't fall for it. Political correctness isn't "the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group." That definition is far too broad, and though it includes actual political correctness, it could also include normal behavior, since genuinely wicked and offensive behaviors and speech would be forbidden by it. If I say that you should not advocate killing all people with Down Syndrome, that would be "political correctness" on this overbroad definition, yet obviously you shouldn't advocate killing all people with Down Syndrome, because it's an evil thing to advocate, and parents and friends of people with Down Syndrome would be right to be angered and offended by such a proposal. If one says that you shouldn't use vile, anti-semitic epithets, that would be "political correctness" on this overbroad definition. And so forth.

Political correctness is the demand for political signaling in speech and behavior on legitimately controverted points and issues. It is intrinsically unreasonable and Orwellian. The demand for normal, human, grown-up behavior is not.