in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes
his own self-interest as he sees it... which for the majority translates as 'Bread and Circuses'."
In Roman times, free Bread and Circuses entertained the masses. I hope you find your time
here both entertaining and informative.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
To rectify this error, I begin by posting a short excerpt from C.S. Lewis. Lewis not only demonstrates an incredible style, but his incisiveness and skill at apologetics impress upon this author the crudeness of my own attempts at such writing. This work remains copyrighted, and I reproduce this excerpt here in the hope that upon considering it, some readers will be encouraged to delve further into Lewis' body of work. As the recent feature film will I am sure prove, Lewis is all too often grossly underestimated as being nothing more than the sum of his fiction writing such as The Chronicles of Narnia. His most powerful work will always be his masterful use of reason and the English language to tell what is essentially the story of a self-described one time "reluctant convert" from atheism.
Lewis' defense of the Faith has rarely been equaled and never surpassed. Why stive to reproduce his efforts when the original will always retain it's incredible power? Enjoy.
From "The Problem of Pain."
"Love can forbear,and Love can forgive . . . but Love can never be reconciled to an unlovely object. . . . He can never therefore be reconciled to your sin, because sin itself is incapable of being altered; but He may be reconciled to your person, because that may be restored." Traherne. Centuries of Meditation, II, 30.
Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.
On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgement must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.
On the other hand, if God's moral judgement differs from ours so that our "black" may be His "white," we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say "God is good," while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say "God is we know not what." And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) "good we shall obey, if at all, only through fear--and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity--when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraced, our idea of good is worth simply nothing--may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship.
The escape from this dilemma depends on observing what happens, in human relations, when the man of inferior moral standards enters the society of those who are better and wiser than he and graduatlly learns to accept their standards--a process which, as it happens, I can describe fairly accurately, since I have undergone it. When I came first to the University I was as nearly without a moral conscience as a boy could be. Some faint distaste for cruelty and for meanness about money was my utmost reach--of chastity, truthfulness, and self-sacrifice I thought as a baboon thinks of classical music. By the mercy of God I fell among a set of young men (none of them, by the way, Christians) who were sufficiently close to me in intellect and imagination to secure immediate intimacy, but who knew, and tried to obey, the moral law. Thus their judgement of good and evil was very different from mine. Now what happens in such a case is not in the least like being asked to treat as "white" what was hitherto called black. The new moral judgements never enter the mind as mere reversals (though they do reverse them) of previous judgements but as "lords that are certainly expected." You can have no doubt in which direction you are moving: they are more like good than the little shreds of good you already had, but are, in a sense, continuous with them. But the great test is that the recognition of the new standards is accompanied with the sense of shame and guilt: one is conscious of having blundered into society that one is unfit for. It is in the light of such experiences that we must consider the goodness of God. Beyond all doubt, His idea of "goodness" differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact, be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call "better." The Divine "goodness" differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child's first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning.
This doctine is presupposed in Scripture. Christ calls men to repent--a call which would be meaningless if God's standard were sheerly different from that which they already knew and failed to pracitise. He appeals to our existing moral judgement--"Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" 1 GOd in the Old Testament expostulates with men on the basis of their own conceptions of gratitude, fidelity, and fair play: and puts Himself, as it were, at the bar before His own creatures--"What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?"2
AFter these preliminaries it will, I hope, be safe to suggest that some conceptions of the Divine goodness which tend to dominate our thought, though seldom expressed in so many words, are open to criticism.
By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness--the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, no so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven--a senile benovelence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all." Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don't, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.
I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, "a lord of terrible aspect." There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like a contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object--we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished.3 It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lvoers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it often appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, more inexorable sense.
Note 1: Luke xii, 57.
Note 2: Jer. ii, 5.
Note 3: Heb. xii, 8.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Every once in a while I think I’m lying
Take it to the bank; I believe every word I say
Then again this is when you start your prying
But there’s a thought it could be true
But this just isn’t how I imagined it would be
With these random people just asking the most personal things
And to think that somehow I could always come clean
And you shake your head just like you know what I mean
You’re a Christian tell the sinner to find repentance it’s your last chance
You believer where’s your patience?
Answer questions put on faces
What about God?
For you and for me, what about God?
All have fallen short.
(To see if it’s right or wrong to listen to this song, I don’t want you too)
(To see if you’re okay with all the words I say; it can’t be this way)
Somehow, someone is more equal than others
Depending on the words we choose to say
A glance at her too long tonight
But everything I am saying is right in your ears
We are all the sisters and the brothers
Until we find we don’t believe the same
Gary is getting drunk to forget Sarah
Sarah is stealing money from her parents
Aaron is lying straight to Jon about Megan and the things that went on
Jessica is a gossip, Laura is a slut
Derrick hits Bridget and Ben deals drugs
Seth spends all his money gambling
Joey stopped praying
It is all the same thing
We are all the same people
With sinning hearts that makes us equal
Here is my hand, not words said desperately
It is not our job to make anyone believe
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Harry had it right. Men and women can’t just be friends; sex always gets in the way. And if it doesn’t, there’s sure to be some busybody to come along and make sure it does. Why is it that “faith based conservatives” treat their own young people as purely sexual beings? We object to the oversexualization of our popular culture, and yet we succumb to it in dealing with young people. Something there about mixed messages?
I'm thinking in particular of a new rule created at a so-called Christian coffeeshop, which has been imposed on patrons of said shop, that says that people hanging out there can't go out and walk around town, after 7:30, unless the group consists of at least 2 girls and one guy. Apparently you need at least one guy so that the helpless girls don't get mugged, and at least two girls to protect each other from their guy protector??
My problem with this rule has less to do with it per se, it's stupid, so what. I don't even object as strenuously to the fact that someone thinks they can impose such things on independent people over which they have no control. I do however have a major philosophical problem with the flawed reasoning behind it which betrays a deeper problem among the church. Using this particular instance to reason to the general, I will try to counter this argument as generally put forth.
These small bundles of raging hormones can’t even be trusted to go out for a walk on their own around a small town, because the urges of lust will overcome one or the other (or both) of them, and next thing we know, the Seventh Commandment is lying shattered on the sidewalk.
Now this is offensive to me, as it should be to all morally upright guys. For one, such a concept requires the belief that as guys, we view all women as potential sexual conquests. Secondly, it postulates that a good friendship will necessarily lead to physical involvement. Finally, it puts forward the slanderous dual pronged argument that even good kids are either: “guys who are potential rapists, and would assault a woman no matter place or time, even in public,” or “sweet church girls who are yet very likely to be lying manipulative creatures who seek nothing better than to ruin the lives of their guy friends by making a false accusation.” This baseless argument is devoid of reason and should and must be refuted, so that prying, backbiting, slanderous busybodies in the church can no longer hide behind their assumed false front of giving strong Scriptural advice.
Now, there is some merit to a standard if it is formulated such that “couples should not spend time alone in sexually tempting environments,” i.e.: sitting on the guys’ bed in his apartment with no one around. It could also say that a couple who were committed to abstinence who have already had problems with premarital physicality can and should draw further limits on their interactions alone in order to avoid compromising situations. These are wise iterations of the Scriptural command to flee temptation. However, these pernicious people often go much further in the restrictions they place on others.
This false standard is often couched in the “Well, we wouldn’t want someone to accuse someone of something they didn’t do.” Let me respond: First of all, most intelligent guys are better judges of character than to associate with people who are likely to make such damaging false accusations.
Second, considering the social stigma associated with rape and the abysmally low statistics of reported versus non-reported sexual assaults, the false rape allegation is already much less common than TV would have us believe. When they do occur, they most often occur between people who actually have engaged in physical intimacy, whether a jilted lover getting back at an ex, or a girl who has become pregnant who wishes to conceal her consensual sexual activity from her parents. Sexual assault cases are very much based on forensic evidence, and if two people haven’t engaged in sexual activity, the forensic evidence to support such a baseless accusation is simply not there.
Oh, and stop using “what other people will think,” as a cover to force what you think on others. This is the same reasoning used by people who argue against interracial relationships because of how “society will treat you.” Face it, you are the very society that you are warning us against, and if you stopped being so close-minded and hypocritical, the very problems you pretend to caringly confront us about would cease to be problems. Just exactly when did I ask your advice? Handle your own life, let me deal with mine.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
"In looking at the diversity of the Scripture itself as well as its contents and form, one can hardly imagine that the Bible has anything to do with the present narrow theological sloganeering aspects of evangelical Christianity. It seems to me that if the Bible had been written along the lines of what much of evangelical Christianity represents today, instead of being the full comprehensive wonderful Book of diversity, beauty, knowledge, truth, wisdom, it would be a three page pamphlet printed on pink paper (because pink sells), possibly with a scratch and sniff section on the back to stimulate some spiritual experience while reading it. In contrast, the real Bible, the Word of GOd, is solid, human, verifiable, divine indeed." - Franky Shaeffer
Monday, November 28, 2005
One of my favorite philosophers is Friederich Nietzsche. Not in spite of his statement that ‘God is dead and we have killed him,” but because of it. However, many Christians are afraid of reading and seriously thinking about the thorny issues presented in a philosopher who is not so easy to refute with the Sunday School answers with which the modern church has equipped us to engage our culture. No longer should Christians be afraid to dialogue on scary topics that aren’t easy to defeat. These issues require more attention, not less, since themes of post-modernism, existentialism and nihilism pervade the worldview of our age. The church is stuck in a modernistic system, and unless it adapts it will become irrelevant. We must continue to be able to fight for absolute truth against any wind of philosophy that affects our world.
Unlike most logic based philosophers who deny any higher power, Nietzsche actually is internally coherent. Any philosophy which creates a system of morality must rely on the existence and mandate of a higher power. Unlike Mill’s Utilitarianism, which creates an artificial basis for morality that denies such a power and yet seeks to arrive at the same conclusions without it, Nietzsche fully realizes the consequences of denying god. He presents no sham reasons for morality in an essentially moral vacuum, instead he embraces that amorality. This honesty is what makes him so appealing to younger people in our world, and scares the rank and file of a church ill equipped to discourse on tough issues. Nietzche clearly and poignantly portrays a life spent denying any higher power from which stems all morality. As literature and philosophy are a primary way by which humanity can participate in the human experience without specifically living it, Nietzche presents a great deal of understanding for the Christian in how and what a life without God will be.
I would propose that every philosophically minded Christian who wants to remain relevant in our culture should undertake a survey of Nietzshe’s writings and theory. Coupled with a strong defense of absolute truth, such as C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, this will give the believer new insight into how to interact with our society, maintain cultural relevancy, and still defend the absolute truth and the Absolute Truth from which it and all our systems of morality, extend.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Cindy Sheehan Arrested in Protest Outside White House.
I'm sorry Cindy, but if you're looking for provocative ways to protest an unjust war, you'll have to think very hard before you can come up with something new. Getting arrested for sitting on a sidewalk will not make you a martyr. Unless you can find a way to top this:
you'll just be imitating the great protests of the 1960s. Better luck next time. Perhaps the anti-war advocates are waiting for the price of gas to go down before they try self-immolation.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
The Complete Collection of Rudyard Kipling's Poems
You must read The Betrothed, The Virginity, Gunga Din, The Grave of the Hundred Head, If, and just for fun, The Female of the Species.
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
- The Young British Soldier -
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
For the student of ancient or of military histories, this book is especially recommended. Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield, is the self-described Epic Novel of the battle of Thermopylae, where Leonidas and several thousand Greeks held off the two million man Persian invasion, and in doing so, guaranteed themselves a place in immortality. The book has the realistic feel of works like Black Hawk Down, as it includes details of Spartan life and military training. It definately breathes life into historical accounts of the battle, allowing the reader to come much closer in spirit to the Lakedaimonians (Spartans).
One word of caution: This is a book which takes a realistic look at the brutality of ancient warfare. As such, don't expect the characters to speak for polite company whilst hacking each other apart. As do many of the "rough men stand ready to do violence on [our] behalf" as George Orwell supposedly said, these rough men of Greece speak rudely when appropriate. Add to that the brutal violence of Greek warfare, and this is a book not for all audiences. But for someone who wants to get closer to the Battle for the Hot Gates, I can think of no better text.
Monday, September 19, 2005
I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them!
Seeing as I haven't posted much recently, I went digging through old writings and came up with this. The news it is based on is old, but the underlying theme is timeless. The original news stories can be found here:
"O Daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed..."
"While surfing the usual news sites one day earlier last week, CNN, Drudge, Ananova, etc, I noticed an intriguing article. I began following the story as it developed, and felt compelled to respond.
"See, apparently there has been an outbreak on HIV/Aids in the adult film industry in
"Now the first reaction of many Christians probably ran something like this.
"'Well, it’s about time. The Almighty is punishing them for their wicked commerce. Isn’t it great that He’s found a way to shutdown porn when all our political efforts have failed. Besides, we all know that God invented AIDs to punish immorality...'
"In fact, an article on crosswalk.com showcased the situation, quoting a group called Morality in Media saying that such an outbreak was inevitable. The article went on to catalogue the fight conservative Christians have been waging against the adult film industry.
"Upon considering such things, I’m sure evangelical Christians were immediately filled with a sense of satisfaction, a sense of victory, of self-righteous “I-told-you-so”s. An almost psalmist sense of glee at the destruction of the evildoer.
"And we’d be dead wrong.
"Upon further reflection, I realized just how un-Christian those thoughts were. Here we have two people, who have just received a death sentence, and are (presumably) facing the fear of death without knowing the saving grace of Christ. Christ sees no distinction between sinners, Saul the Pharisee is no cleaner than Lara Roxx, porn star.
"Instead, we should take this opportunity to pray for those who are affected by this terrible event. Pray that God would use this to call them from their sinful lifestyles and bring them to Him. Remember that God’s grace covers a multitude of sins, and that there is none righteous, not even one. They are just as (un)deserving of Christ’s grace, and yet just as infinitely loved by the Father. If I’m wrong, then let him without sin throw the first stone."
Thursday, July 07, 2005
"I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.
"You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.
"You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.
"Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal."I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength." -- Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
"The whole idea of government is this: If enough people get together and act in concer, they can take something and not pay for it. And here, in small-town New Hampshire, in this veritable world's capital of probity, we were about to commit just such a theft. If we could collect sufficient votes in favor of special town meetings about sewers, we could make a golf course and condominium complex disappear for free. We were going to use our suffrage to steal a fellow citizen's property rights. We weren't even going to take the manly risk of holding him up at gunpoint.
"Not that there's anything wrong with our limiting growth. If we Blatherboro residents don't want a golf course and condominium complex, we can go buy that land and not build them. Of course, to buy the land, we'd have to borrow money from the bank, and to pay the bank loan, we'd have to do something profitable with the land, something like... build a golf course and condominium complex. Well, at least that would be constructive. We would be adding something--if only gold--to the sum of civilizations accomplishments. Better to build a golf course right though the middle of Redwood National Park and condominiums on top of the Lincoln Memorial than to sit in council gorging on the liberties of others, gobbling their material substance, eating freedom...
"Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kinds of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every goverment is a parliament of whores.
"The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us." -- P.J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores
Editor's Comment: And to the no-growth "conservatives" in Loudoun County, that's all I have to say about that.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Jon Stewart: Welcome Back, my guest tonight, a reporter from the Washington Post and the author of an article in the June 27th issue of the New Yorker called “God and Country.” Please welcome to the program Hanna Rosin.
Nice to see you, come and sit down.
Let’s get to it, the article is “God and Country,” tell me what you did for the article.
Hanna Rosin: So I spent about three months at a place called Patrick Henry College which is a college in Virginia which is supposed to be like a Harvard for Homeschoolers. It’s a school designed for Conservative homeschooled Christian kids and its supposed to train them for “careers of influence” is how they put it, and that mostly means politics. So it hooks them up with internships in Washington, they work in Congress, a lot of them work in the White House and you know…
JS: Now I imagine it would be very difficult for them to gain access to administration like this, are they able to do that?
HR: Oh yeah its extremely difficult, they get a very hostile treatment from the Bush administration and Karl Rove particularly, so yeah.
JS: Very tough.
HR: Very difficult, yeah, yeah.
JS: Now this is, uh, the school’s been in existence for how long?
HR: Five years
JS: And how many kids go to the school?
HR: Three Hundred?
JS: Are you asking me? Cause I’ll say…
HR: Yes, Three hundred, yes, three hundred.
HR: 5,000, no, six million.
JS: I don’t know any of this.
HR: Three hundred, Three hundred.
JS: Now you spent time there, you would think that in an age where many people believe that this administration, is moving things far to the right that the country has gone more conservative, an article like this would be opening Pandora’s Box, the worst of our fears realized.
JS: They seem like nice kids. It actually, it it humanized them in many ways. And I, I, I thought I would like my homeschool to compete athletically against their homeschool.
HR: Well, I mean they are human, they are.
JS: But that’s something that I don’t…
Do you think we have more misconceptions I, I mean us who live in the non-homeschooled evangelical world, about them, or that they have about us and say NY with our gay pride parades?
HR: Right, I was going to say that there are definitely some of them who think of NY as you know, one big gay pride parade.
JS: And by the way, there are parts of NY…
HR: That are one big guy pride parade.
JS: That are one big guy pride… Constant.
HR: And then there are others who might think of New York as one big sort of coven maybe, of Satanists. And then there are others who would at least think of New York as you know, not Christian, which is an insult. And then there are others who would dig it, you know, go to the clubs.
HR: Take it in, be curious.
But what do we think? I mean, we have just as many, right? So we think they’re a bunch of little glassy-eyed Ralph Reedy freaks.
JS: Right, right, automatons, right.
HR: With the Jesus dashboard, the Jesus on the dashboard.
JS: Right, right, right. The Stepford People.
HR: Right, the Stepford People.
JS: And yet not that at all.
HR: Combed and blonde and all that.
JS: A complex…
I believe that there should be, ahh, a melding, that this should be rather than like a draft, that for a year these people have to go and be together. I think you would find it to be enlightening for both sides.
HR: Oh you mean they should have a recon…
Like the Israelis and the Palestinians. There should be places where they go…
JS: Oh yeah, that has worked out great.
HR: Get together then. Yeah. Where would they live then, like where would you put them? Like what neighborhood in New York would you have this?
JS: Meatpacking district. It’s very trendy. But don’t you believe that, after spending time with them, are you uh, encouraged by their humanity or are you frightened by their cloistered nature?
HR: Hmm, I’m not going to…
That is a good question. I mean everybody reads the story and they say “Oh that’s scary,” certain people read the story and they say “Oh I think that’s scary.” It’s hard to spend a lot of time with people and come away thinking its scary. So maybe I would say…
JS: That’s exactly the point though.
HR: Yeah, I mean they need a reality check. I would say so they live in this cloistered world then they’ll go out and work in politics and so things may change, right, it’s hard to keep your pure perfect world and live in the world. So it makes it worse.
JS: But what, what college kid doesn’t need a reality check, I, I mean how many college kids, even when I went to college and I got out and I couldn’t show up at work at noon and go “but I was high.” Like you couldn’t go, you know what I mean, who doesn’t need a reality check when you get out of college?
HR: Right, right, right. That’s a good point, that’s a good point, that’s a good point.
JS: Are you, did you do you feel like you broke through the wall that they would put up for somebody knowing that you’re going to write an article for the “New Yorker.”
JS: Do you feel like you were able to bring them…
HR: With some kids, I would say the women more than the men because you know male figu… Its not so easy to hang out with the men, like women aren’t allowed in men’s dorms and men aren’t allowed in women’s dorms and so there’s all sorts of rules about that so you can’t hang late at night with the guys, so it’s a little harder with the guys, but with the women, sure. I mean it’s a problem for the women, this whole setup because they’re training them to be really ambitious and really political, but then in the end they’re supposed to quit and raise their kids so it doesn’t work so well for them. So with the women you can see the dilemmas, not so much with the men.
JS: And they’re the ones that would express that uh, more more openly to you?
JS: So you don’t think, it’s not automatons they’re they’re, uh.
HR: Definitely not. I would not say that they were automatons, although some of ‘em, some of ‘em.
HR: No, some of them are “on message,” right? You don’t think of a kid, you don’t think of people who are 19 years old as being “on message”…
JS : That’s true.
HR: And I would definitely say that you meet some kids and they’re just super on message and its weird.
JS: And do you think that when they go..
HR: Because we didn’t have a message when we were 19.
JS: Right, but when they go off message, their worldview collapses and they just weep slowly and…?
HR: And crumble and weep over the Jesus on the dashboard, right. Exactly. Yeah, right.
JS: See, so there is hope.
HR: There is hope.
JS: Well, it’s a fascinating article, I’m gonna go down there and throw like a crazy kegger.
HR: You know they love you? Seriously, that was the one surprise for me as I would be there late at night and they’d be watching on their computer screens. I’m not just saying this.
They’d be watching…
JS: Our Show??
I swear, it’s true. I swear on my dashboard it’s true, it’s true.
JS: (Stares into camera, surprised)
Read “God and Country” on NewYorker.com. Hanna Rosin. Thank you for being here.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Does Have A Constitutional or A "Declaration of America " Soul? Independence
By Thomas G. West. Posted
What were the original principles of the American Constitution? Are those principles true?
Many historians and political scientists write about the first question. Scholars are never shy about telling us what happened in the dead-and-gone eighteenth century. But few of them think it is even worth discussing whether the Founders' principles are true. For example, in a review of my book Vindicating the Founders, historian Joseph Ellis accuses me of having committed "sins of presentism." My error, as he cleverly puts it, is believing "that ideas are like migratory birds that can take off in the eighteenth century and land intact in our time." Ellis does not even try to refute the Founders' principles or their arguments, summarized in my book, regarding property rights, women's rights, and welfare policy. For him, it is enough simply to dismiss my endorsement of their arguments and ideas as "bizarre."1
But what if some ideas — I mean true ones — really are like migratory birds that can land intact in any century? What if the principles of the founding are as true today as they were two centuries ago? In other words, why does Joseph Ellis, and the whole chorus of the academic establishment, assume that the principles of the founding are not true today?
Students and admirers of Leo Strauss are among the few political scientists who write seriously about whether the Founders' principles are true. Strauss made this possible by convincing them that political philosophy in the classical sense is possible, that human reason may be capable of discovering the truth about the good society. Anyone who approaches the Founders from this perspective is likely to be open to their way of thinking, which took for granted that reason can figure out the principles of justice by observing and reflecting on the human condition.
Strauss argued that the principles of classical political philosophers like Plato and Aristotle remain the standard for us today. When his students approach the founding, therefore, they tend to judge it against the standard of the classics. This immunizes them against becoming mindless cheerleaders who uncritically celebrate the founding. It also prevents them from arrogantly assuming that just because we happen to live in the twenty-first century, we are wiser than the supposedly less-enlightened past.
Harry Jaffa and Harvey Mansfield are two of the ablest among those whose study of
Who is right,
At a conference on modern freedom in
There are two main obstacles to the understanding of the Jaffa-Mansfield disagreement.
First, in some circles
In contrast to
I admire both men.
But I also admire
Leo Strauss once called for "unhesitating loyalty to a decent constitutionalism and even to the cause of constitutionalism."5
The Case for
The Hobbesian idea, which, according to
That is what
Constitution as Remedy for Natural Rights
Far from despairing over this gloomy picture,
I paraphrase: The Constitution was written to secure the natural rights named in the Declaration. But once written, it took on a life of its own, independent of the doctrine that gave rise to it. The Constitution, and no longer the principle that "all men are created equal," now became our regime, our arche or principle, our authoritative beginning that shapes and forms us and makes us what we are. We now understand ourselves (or once did),
The Case for
Even if we admit that there is some tiny number of men who are sufficiently godlike that they could be trusted with absolute power without consent, it would still not establish a politically relevant claim. For,
Plato's Republic is imaginary precisely because, according to Plato himself, philosophers do not wish to rule, and anyone wishing to rule is not a philosopher. Anyone who asserts a right to rule on the basis of his claim to wisdom is accordingly condemned in advance as a charlatan by philosophy itself. . . . Philosopher-kings are not possible, and genuine philosophers will always prefer a regime of equality under the law.19
Jaffa is saying that the classical argument for government without consent is refuted by the classics themselves, leaving us with the conclusion that the esoteric teaching, as it were, of the classics is that all men are created equal! This paradoxical claim should not perhaps come as a surprise. For
So far the argument for equality is that humans, however rational they may be, are also passionate. But the other side of this argument is equally important: however passionate humans may be, they are also rational. According to
Christianity as Problem
The problem in question is well understood by
Christianity as (Part of the) Solution
We have seen how Christianity — the Founders would say Christianity wrongly understood — created a political problem unanticipated by Aristotle, and how social compact theory responds to that problem. But
Locke's theological project, far from being animated by "hostility to religion," as
Locke's teaching, which was embraced by almost all the leading politicians and preachers in the founding era, interpreted both revelation and reason as supporting the rights of mankind, religious toleration, government by consent, and the moral virtues of courage, moderation, justice, and honesty. Far from being excluded from political life, revelation as interpreted by Locke is an indispensable part of Lockean politics.
Morality, Religion, and the Exercise of Rights
Lockean politics, according to
It is true, for the good reasons we have already noted, that Lockean politics does not aim as high as Aristotelian. But
If the Founders really believed that government has a duty to avert its gaze from the way rights are exercised, it would be wrong for government to ban homosexual marriage, or the right to have sex with one's mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter. But Locke says that adultery, sodomy, and incest are called sins because "they cross the main intention of nature, which willeth the increase of mankind, and the continuation of the species in the highest perfection," which requires procreation and stable heterosexual marriages.39 The Founders agreed.
Locke and the Founders say government may and should support religion, although it may not use coercion against those who fail to agree with the government's preferred religion. Liberals say government may not promote religion in any way.
Locke says (and the Founders agreed), "no doctrines adverse and contrary to human society, or to the good morals that are necessary to the preservation of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate." James Wilson, a leading member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, wrote,
[Nuisances are] crimes and offenses which attack several of those natural rights [of individuals. They are] a collection of personal injuries, which annoy the citizens generally and indiscriminately . . . [such] that public peace, and order, and tranquillity, and safety require them to be punished or abated. . . . To keep hogs in any city or market town is a common nuisance. Disorderly houses are public nuisances. . . . Indecency, public and grossly scandalous, may well be considered as a species of common nuisance. . . . Profaneness and blasphemy are offences, punished by fine and by imprisonment.40
Liberals today say all opinions must be tolerated (except perhaps conservative opinions that create a hostile environment in the workplace, or the opinions of rich people who spend "too much" money publishing their views of candidates for elections).
Morality and religion are indispensable conditions of freedom, as well as of human happiness, as founding era documents repeatedly proclaim.The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, for example, famously said, "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."41
But when Locke says, in the Letter on Toleration, that "the care, therefore, of every man's soul belongs to himself," he does not mean that the care of the soul is a matter of indifference. Locke's point is the exact opposite. "Obedience is owed first to God, then to the laws," he writes. Precisely because "those eternal things" are supremely important, everyone "ought to place all his care" in "investigating and performing" the things necessary for the salvation of the soul. Therefore "no one can so far abandon the care of his own eternal salvation as to embrace under necessity a worship or faith prescribed by someone else."
Is the Constitution Alone Sufficient to Produce a "Constitutional Culture"?
The social compact principles of Locke and the Founders are quite robust in their moral implications, as the above quotations indicate and as the Founders' own words and deeds confirm.44 Yet
Locke, the Founders, and Mansfield all agree on the need for a "constitutional culture" to sustain the Constitution. In Federalist 49,
In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln insisted that the fundamental institution of the Constitution was free elections. He pointed out that the South, by seceding, was trying to overturn an election of a president of whom they did not approve. But the South was deaf to Lincoln's pleas, because they felt that they could no longer live as fellow citizens with people who condemned their core institution of slavery as evil. Lincoln was able to rally Northern opinion to the cause of liberty and save the Constitution by relentlessly recalling the principles of the Declaration that gave life to the Constitution. Without those principles, why should anyone have cared about whether or not an election was overturned, especially if that was the price of avoiding bloodshed? Why would anyone have cared about whether slavery was extended or not? Without
Tocqueville's Democracy in America is an impressive book, but on this central theme of American political history it is grossly deficient. Tocqueville never mentions the Declaration of Independence anywhere in his two volumes. He never discusses the social compact theory of the founding. Whether that is because he did not understand it, or because he chose not to talk about it, does not matter. Tocqueville equated democracy in
I remember vividly the first time I ever heard Tocqueville criticized by a teacher I respected. I was a brand new graduate student sitting in Harry Jaffa's office in
Aristotle and the Prepolitical Beginnings of Politics
The perspective from which
Now it is true, as
Robert Kraynak, a student of Mansfield, argues that Mansfield's approach to politics "is properly called prudential — an approach which seeks the best possible means for attaining perfection of the soul in a world that is inherently imperfect because it is marred by fallible and sinful human nature."
Although I respect Kraynak's conscientious attempt to assimilate
The Equality Doctrine: Both True and Useful
I began with a discussion of why
Modern liberalism, as John Dewey and its other originators conceived it, is the enemy of individual rights in the Founders' sense. Dewey goes so far as to say that in the context of the twentieth century, the Founders' understanding of rights is evil. Dewey also disparages the importance of government by consent of the governed. Elections really do not matter for Dewey. Democracy is not about elections and consent, nor is it about securing the right to liberty. It is rather "that form of social organization, extending to all the areas and ways of living, in which the powers of individuals shall . . . be fed, sustained, and directed" by government.56 Liberalism therefore prefers government by supposedly neutral, supposedly scientific "experts" largely insulated from the interference of public opinion and elected officials.57 Liberals have long seen the Constitution, as it was originally understood, as their enemy; thus their indifference or hostility to "original intent."
Believers in the Founders' idea of equality, on the other hand, are the strongest supporters of the Constitution. Clarence Thomas is the Supreme Court justice who is most faithful to the text and spirit of the Constitution. The reason is that Justice Thomas, uniquely among those now on the Court, sees an intimate connection between the principles of the Declaration, which are the principles of individual liberty, and the text of the Constitution. In other words, Thomas respects the Constitution not just because it is a law, not just because it was adopted by the majority, but because it is good. As Thomas explained in a 2001 lecture at
When I was at EEOC [the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in the 1980s], rather than have speechwriters, . . . I had political theorists around me. And we would debate every day the political theory underlying the . . . founding of our country. . . . So we would think these things through-most of them happen to be Straussians-and read. . . . But what we were trying to do is think through what protects individual liberty most, and that began the interest [in federalism and the Constitution].58
Liberals like Dewey understood perfectly that a people attached to the natural rights of the founding will also be a people respectful of the limited government established in the Constitution. If the Founders' principles are rejected, and if the text of the Constitution is understood apart from those principles, then fidelity to the original meaning of the Constitution becomes a matter of indifference. The Constitution can then be used as an empty vessel into which the new, more advanced liberal view of justice can be poured. Liberals call this the "living" Constitution.59 What they mean is that the Constitution as it was actually written is dead.
The problem of slavery,
The presence of slavery in the Constitution of 1787 appears to give liberals strong ground from which to reject the Constitution's original meaning as a guide to the present. Al Gore suggested in the campaign of 2000 that George Bush's "original intent" justices would be pro-slavery. Gore knew that this is literally false, but in a larger sense, Gore, like most liberals, believes that the original Constitution, as a product of a racist, sexist, elitist, and homophobic time and place, deserves to have no moral authority in today's
Bush had no answer to Gore's accusation, but
When demagogues relentlessly attack the Constitution, appeals to the constitutional text and its forms are not enough. The liberal critique of the principles of the Constitution must be answered by a theoretical defense of those principles. The principles of the Constitution must be shown to be just, for, as
As my final witness in favor of
In The Spirit of Liberalism, published almost twenty-five years ago,
I conclude that
Those who are disgusted with the prevailing relativism and historicism that dominate academic discourse today can find in this magnificent debate a reliable guide back to the principles of the founding and the Constitution — principles rarely understood, often attacked by those who benefit from them the most, often incompetently defended by their well-wishing friends, and still perhaps the last best hope for rational liberty in our time or any other time.
1 Joseph J. Ellis, "Who Owns the Eighteenth Century?" William and Mary Quarterly 57 (2000): 417-21. West, Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997). (Return)
8 Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power (New York: Free Press, 1989), 185, 195. (Return)
9 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. and ed. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (
15 Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy? (New York: Free Press, 1959), 49-50, and Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 248-51. There is reason to believe that some of Strauss's apparently moralistic denunciations of Locke were deliberate exaggerations. See West, "
18 Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), 69; statement of the town of Malden, Massachusetts, 27 May 1776, quoted in New Birth, 122. (Return)
23 The Federalist Papers, ed.
37 Thomas G. West, "Vindicating John Locke: How a Seventeenth-Century 'Liberal' Was Really a 'Social Conservative,'" Witherspoon Lecture, Family Research Council,
40 Locke, Epistola de Tolerantia: A Letter on Toleration, ed. Raymond Klibansky, trans. J.W. Gough (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 131. I have modified the translation here and elsewhere. Works of James Wilson, ed. Robert McCloskey (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 2:670-71. (Return)
54 Robert P. Kraynak, "The Care of Souls in a Constitutional Democracy: Some Lessons from Harvey Mansfield and Alexander Solzhenitsyn," in Educating the Prince: Essays in Honor of Harvey Mansfield, ed. Mark Blitz and William Kristol (
57 Dewey, "The Future of Liberalism," Journal of Philosophy 22 (1935): 225-30, repr. in Howard Zinn, ed., New Deal Thought (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1966), 31. Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action (orig. pub. 1935; repr.
58 Woodrow Wilson, "The Study of Administration," 1886, in Papers of Woodrow Wilson, ed. Arthur S. Link (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 5:363, 368-70; James M. Landis, The Administrative Process (orig. pub. 1938; repr.
60 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, in the final debate before the Super Tuesday primary election, said: "I would look for justices of the Supreme Court who understand that our Constitution is a living and breathing document, that it was intended by our Founders to be interpreted in the light of the constantly evolving experience of the American people." Quoted in Cal Thomas, "Constitution Evolution," NandoTimes.com,
* Originally presented at a Roundtable on Harvey C. Mansfield, sponsored by The Claremont Institute, at the American Political Science Association annual meeting,
I thank those who read earlier drafts and made suggestions, most of which were adopted: Larry Arnn, Edward Erler, Christopher Flannery, Matthew Franck, John Grant, Thomas Karako, Thomas Krannawitter, Steven Lenzner, Kevin Portteus, and Michael West. (Return)