Month: December 2014

Guest hosting the Mike Church show Monday and Tuesday

Tune in tomorrow and Tuesday morning to Sirius XM Patriot from 6-9 AM, I’ll be hosting the Mike Church Show. Many thanks to Mike and Paul for the opportunity. Still finalizing the lineup of guests, but a few I’ve confirmed are CEI/Real Clear Radio Hour’s Bill Frezza on Uber and New Zealand’s economy, Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell talking about the year in media, and Aaron Houston on the state of DC pot legalization.

Are human difference and equal dignity opposed?

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig digs up this Will Saletan piece from 2007 on “liberal creationism” and l’affaire Watson, and comments:

What’s curious to me is that in this new age of scientism, Christian ‘superstition’ — our ethics, our value commitments, our axiomatic beliefs about the value of human life and dignity — is again becoming the hallmark of our ridiculousness. None of this is to say that evil hasn’t ever been done in the name of God, of course it has, but that isn’t what’s being lampooned here. Rather, the Christian commitment to the equal dignity of all people is conflated with piggish ignorance of science, which is synonymous with progress. …

The trick for Christians of this era will be to push back on the new scientism — on the truism that some people are just worth less, say, in market terms — while living in a world that identifies a total commitment to human dignity as a ridiculous superstition.

My first thought reading that sentence was, if people really are valued differently in the market — if they’re valued at all — is it not a little ridiculous to insist on the infinite worth of every human being? But so what?

I find this debate immensely frustrating because of all the point-scoring. You’ve got progressives like Saletan trolling secular liberals about the limits of their belief in evolution, and tradcons using it to say progressive assumptions about the world are informed by eugenics. Also it’s hard to separate from the history of white supremacy and American race relations in general. But let’s pretend we can for a minute.

In the years since Saletan wrote that, evidence has continued to build in favor of the idea that the story of human evolution is much more complicated, and in some cases much quicker, than we ever thought. I’m thinking of Neanderthal/Denisovian DNA being found among Asian and European populations; Harpending and Cochran on the Amish getting more Amish even in a couple of hundred years, or the cold-weather gene in Tibetans. I don’t find this scary or problematic at all, I think it’s beautiful. But whatever you think about it it’s getting difficult to ignore. I suspect this also means the guardians of political correctness will fight all the harder against the James Watsons of the world. That said, it makes about as much sense to say a person of African descent is stupider as saying a German is descended from cavemen.

I suppose there’s a case to be made for the “we don’t want to know” side; that this is a Pandora’s Box that society wisely leaves closed, and any conflation of ethics and science can only be a dilution of the former that leads to bad places. I’m sympathetic to that idea, but the robust alternative to Saletan’s “subtler account of creation and human dignity” (which, for the record, I don’t agree with), cannot be insisting that every human being everywhere in the world is exactly five-and-a-half feet tall, or an equivalent claim about intelligence. Think of it this way; say you have a perfect calculator that can measure all of a person’s qualities and give you a number of their worth in market terms. Say you can shrink that person and make him stupider, like playing an RPG backwards. Their value in the market would go down, but their value to God is unchanged. Earning less than your calculator number would be unfortunate or even unjust, and I suppose it could even be unjust that one’s number is not higher. But it makes no sense to take issue with the calculator itself, since it’s just a tool, and it certainly doesn’t bestow value, let alone infinite value.

Moreover, it’s important to ask whether insisting that human difference — which is to say, inequality — and equal dignity are opposed makes it more difficult to argue for equal dignity, especially as the evidence in favor of human difference seems to be growing. Two people can have unequal capacities but equal dignity. Scientism isn’t just the belief that evolution exists, it’s a whole complex of ideas that reduces people to instrumentalities. One could even say the vastness of human difference is further proof of the Christian idea that we are estranged from one another, and that trying to ameliorate that estrangement through policy, eugenic or otherwise, is usurping a role that properly belongs to God.

I also wonder if there’s an interesting natural law argument in the fact that progressive eugenicists were all about birth control as a means to breed “better” people, but the people who use it today are mostly the kind they would have wanted having babies. Is that to say modern America is dysgenic? I don’t know, but I doubt it will lead to good consequences. Is it scientistic to worry?

An airing of grievances

Here’s my first post for Front Porch Republic. Happy Festivus!

As I’m sitting in an office on K Street, emptied for Christmas, wondering how to introduce myself to you all, it occurs to me that I owe you an explanation. It sounds like a bad joke, that a editor at a DC political website would want anything to do with a website dedicated to place and peace.

There was a big story out last week, by James Carden and Jacob Heilbrunn about my city paper, and how its editorial page is America’s biggest “megaphone for unrepentant warrior intellectuals.” That’s got something to do with it.

When the ivory tower replaces the throne of God

It’s hard to get through the day without a good bout of consciousness-raising or thirty. You’d have to be an anarcho-primitivist hermit to miss any newspaper, television news program or social network mention of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, or Eric Garner. We’ve heard their names and know their stories.These men of color have changed the way some see police, their own neighbors, and the criminal justice system as a whole. Protests continue to be held around the country; sometimes violent, but generally peaceful. Now, well-meaning whites have armed themselves not with guns, but with hashtags, flooding the #CrimingWhileWhite Twitter feed with righteous confessionals intended to illustrate the disparity between the way whites and blacks are treated by police.

Will these protests, rallies, boycotts or Twitter confessions effect real change at every level of our criminal justice system to the satisfaction of activists? I don’t think anyone can claim to know for sure.

But one thing is certain: Nothing is perfect. These well-crafted and well-intentioned tweets are being hailed as privilege-checking by some and denounced as flaunting white privilege by others. (What a legitimate role for white bodies in civil rights activism, if it exists, would look like is beyond the scope of this essay.) Still, some popular symbols of solidarity expressed range from donning a hoodie and skittles in honor of Trayvon Martin to the (apocryphal) “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” stance in honor of Michael Brown.

Others have taken this opportunity to reflect on other areas of life supposedly affected by current social unrest. The most interesting, to me, is religion. Not surprisingly, Christianity is a major target. Secular piety compels me to throw in a line here like “and I don’t blame them for blaming Christianity one bit, it’s totally reasonable to doubt your faith in light of things like this.” But I will not, because it simply is not true. This is not insensitive or closed-minded, as many would like you to believe.

Fellow Christians, do not allow others to convince you that you should reject your beliefs because they may differ from the worldview of those calling your beliefs into question. We could just as well respond that it is time for those people to reconsider their conception of our beliefs. These agitators’ prejudices are likewise in need of reflection.

Barbra Sostaita, a Masters Student at Yale Divinity School, Young Voices Advocate and Former Students For Liberty Campus Coordinator offers this lamentation on the failure of a grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown in self-defense: “As I look around me, I directed my grief to the paintings and statues of Jesus displayed prominently in the room. Where is your justice, My God? You call yourself the Prince of Peace but the blood of my brother cries out to me from the ground and you are astoundingly silent.”

What I find so bothersome about this is not the outright sacrilege of one of the 7 sentences uttered by our Savior in his final hour on earth, it is rather that Barbara has equated her own conception of justice with that of the will of God.

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Leave the 24 hour Christmas music cycle alone

The season of joy is here. And while many of the same troubles that have beleaguered mankind since antiquity (wars, famine, suffering) are still afflicting much of the globe, Christmas continues unabated. Department stores are decked out in green and red. Multi-colored lights decorate houses in middle class neighborhoods. Makeshift Christmas tree shops have sprung up in vacant parking lots. Children are excitedly begging their parents for the latest and greatest gizmo. Brightness is all around.

In present-day America, the Christmas season is known for another tradition: 24-hour holiday music playing on local radio stations. Like many staples of life, the continual playing of festive tunes is met with a fair amount of derision. There are a few reasons for this. The digital revolution is slowly making FM radio obsolete. These days almost everyone opts for their own music rather than the pre-set choices on corporate airwaves. Not only that, but growing secularism and rampant consumerism have eaten away at the real meaning of Christmas. Luke 2:8-14 seems quaint compared to the new Xbox, or whatever video game system is poisoning young minds these days.

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Sacred Harp 62: ‘Parting Hand’

Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent! Tonight is the longest night ever.

My Christian friends, in bonds of love,
Whose hearts in sweetest union join,
Your friendship’s like a drawing band,
Yet we must take the parting hand.
Your company’s sweet, your union dear,
Your words delightful to my ear;
Yet when I see that we must part
You draw like cords around my heart.

How sweet the hours have passed away
Since we have met to sing and pray;
How loath we are to leave the place
Where Jesus shows His smiling face.
Oh could I stay with friends so kind,
How would it cheer my drooping mind!
But duty makes me understand
That we must take the parting hand.

And since it is God’s holy will,
We must be parted for a while,
In sweet submission, all as one,
We’ll say, our Father’s will be done.
My youthful friends, in Christian ties,
Who seek for mansions in the skies,
Fight on, we’ll gain that happy shore,
Where parting will be known no more.

How oft I’ve seen your flowing tears,
And heard you tell your hopes and fears!
Your hearts with love were seen to flame,
Which makes me hope we’ll meet again.
Ye mourning souls, lift up your eyes
To glorious mansions in the skies;
Oh trust His grace — in Canaan’s land
We’ll no more take the parting hand.

And now, my friends, both old and young,
I hope in Christ you’ll still go on;
And if on earth we meet no more,
Oh may we meet on Canaan’s shore.
I hope you’ll all remember me
If on earth no more I see;
An int’rest in your prayers I crave,
That we meet beyond the grave.

Oh glorious day! Oh blessed hope!
My soul leaps forward at the thought
When, on that happy, happy land,
We’ll no more take the parting hand.
But with our blessed holy Lord
We’ll shout and sing with one accord,
And there we’ll all with Jesus dwell,
So, loving Christians, fare you well.

And a bonus: