Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Taliban Analogy #FAIL

Via Ross, a New Yorker article of surpassing ignorance:

Tehrik-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, is a closely held, profit-making enterprise organized on religious principles. One of its principles, announced as public policy in July, 2012, is that children should not be inoculated against polio, because the vaccines violate God’s law. So sincere are the Taliban’s religious beliefs that its followers have assassinated scores of public-health workers who have attempted to administer polio vaccines in areas under Taliban control or influence.

If the Pakistani Taliban, aided by clever lawyers, organized a closely held American corporation, and professed to run it on religious principles, might its employees be deprived of insurance coverage to inoculate their children against polio? And would the Supreme Court, by the five-to-four decision issued on Monday in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, endorse such a move?

Let us count the ways . . .

Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government must meet a two-pronged test before it can “substantially burden” the free-exercise rights of American citizens:  it must (1) demonstrate a “compelling government interest” and (2) impose the “least restrictive means” available to pursue that interest. 

Whatever the importance of birth control to individuals, the interest of the government in preventing pregnancy doesn’t strike me as especially compelling.  (My reading of Hobby Lobby is that the Court expressed similar skepticism without reaching a judgment, and went on to rule on test #2.  But others have read it differently.)  In contrast, preventing pandemics is the very definition of a compelling government interest, and I have no doubt the Court would recognize that.

Which brings us to least restrictive means. Google confirms my recollection:  the government already, and for my entire life if not the lives of my parents, provides free vaccines in public health clinics.  So it already has in place a less restrictive means of providing vaccines than forcing employers to pay for them.

Ironically, if the New Yorker really wanted to use vaccinations to make a case against RFRA, it would attack the exemptions given on religious grounds to individuals from the otherwise mandatory (for public school enrollment) schedule.  (I’m personally in favor of such exemptions.  While I do not share the skepticism of, for instance, Vox Day, I have yet to see a compelling cost-benefit analysis that quantifies the interest of the public in the vaccination of any particular individual against his wishes.)  But that, of course, would undermine the New Yorker’s attempted point, that people preserving their religious freedom in the conduct of their businesses is somehow uniquely troublesome.

As a further irony, the New Yorker inadvertently makes a compelling argument against Muslim immigration. Religious accommodation becomes progressively more difficult the more society’s demographics stray from its Protestant-and-Protestant-inflected-Catholicism-with-a-sprinkling-of-Jewish core.  If that sounds too ethnocentric, let me cast it more generally:  diversity+proximity=war+tyranny.  What happens when FGM comes to America?  Will the government show a compelling interest?  Will it even want to?  I’d answer “yes” and “I sure hope so” to these questions, but I have difficulty articulating a rationale that doesn’t start with you sick raghead bastards.  Far easier to keep such people out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Compassion and its Enemies

West Point dropout Blake Page, backed by Mikey Weinstein and his, um, donor base, has been hurling some big accusations kinda short on specifics. But this part jumped out:

[Page] began as a chemical engineering major but switched to management. He said he has been a good student, though he had some problems in his second year after his father committed suicide.

This detail about his father's suicide is context that should have been in the opening paragraph, not buried in the middle of the article. Speaking for myself, I don't really have much interest in "proselytizing", i.e., telling people about Jesus. I admire those who do, but I don't personally care about other people enough to go to the trouble, and I don't consider myself a sufficiently compelling representative of my faith to expect anyone to listen to me if I did.*

On the other hand, if you come to me in pain**, this is what I have to offer. Don't expect non-sectarian answers to Life's Big Questions. There aren't any. Tell me to go away, and I will; like I said, I've got better (or more fun, anyway) things to do. But it is absurd to come to me for help and then accuse me of violating your rights when I give it.

Cadet Page went through a rough time, sufficiently rough that it put the demands of a ChemE degree beyond his reach. I don't actually know the extent to which he sought out the counseling of his academy instructors. I do know that those instructors, knowing his pain and seeing its effects on his performance, would have considered it their job to offer it. Weinstein's agenda notwithstanding, this is not in and of itself against law or policy. When Page himself becomes an officer -- and I fully expect he will return to the army, given the current constellation of forces -- he will be able to tell any who will listen about the healing power of Science. And, we, of course, will be equally free to tell him to go away.

* No, this isn't an invitation to point out my spiritual or theological shortcomings. I already know about those.

** If you aren't in my immediate family, please don't do this. Yes, I will be there for you. No, I won't want to.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I have a religion . . .

. . . and this isn’t it.

Elements of Integrity First include:

Discipline and Self-control [3/7]:

Religious toleration [3/3]: Military professionals must remember religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not shape, criticize, or encourage subordinates’ religious leanings or beliefs.

Elements of Service Before Self include:

Faith in the System [1/3]: Airmen trust their superiors exercise good judgment and humanity in their leadership decisions, just as all officers hope to engender trust in themselves and their leadership by making ethical, moral, and necessary decisions. As a default, we trust decisions are made after careful deliberation and consideration; we honor the system because we honor the men and women who make decisions within the system.

I can’t help but note with some bitter irony that, after being reminded that I can’t speak up on behalf of my own religion, that I must have faith in people whose word I wouldn’t accept for the spelling of their own names, let alone anything important.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Religion and its Malcontents

Bret Stephens (via Mangan) writes:

As with religion, [global warming enthusiasm] is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term "climate change" when thermometers don't oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other "deniers."

And more in like vein.  This is, of course, a riff on Michael Crighton’s famous “Environmentalism as Religion” speech in which he blames the AGW hoax (among others) on the religious impulse.

As I have written before, I believe this to be misleading.  It is precisely at the point where people stop believing in the God of the Bible that they became susceptible to all manner of nonsense in an effort to fill the religion-shaped hole in their psyches.  Stephens, et. al are correct to criticize religious approaches to what should be empirical questions, but it never seems to occur to them that the continued effort at undermining true devotional religion is actually exacerbating the problem.

This reminds me how, post-1991, atheists, when confronted with Soviet brutality, claimed that Russian communism was actually a religious movement, official statements to the contrary.  (They never seemed to realize this before 1991.)

Similarly, Calvinism has become the go-to whipping boy at Ferdinand’s site on any number of issues as the writers blame if for all that is wrong with the world.  Never mind that no observant Calvinist, then or now, actually believes or advocates anything Ferd is attacking; it’s Calvin’s fault anyway because . . . well, I’m not sure, but something about how anything that Ferd doesn’t like is logically consistent with Calvinism by Ferd’s reckoning, and that’s enough.

Yet another example:  I’m pretty sure that any reasonable observer would agree that Christianity, especially the fundamental variety, stands foursquare against drunken orgies.  Yet, when those orgies turn out badly, sure enough we can find people who blame them on Christianity anyway.

Φ’s First Law:  Anything bad is going to be blamed on Christianity and Christians, notwithstanding any amount of actual Christian opposition to the bad thing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Skin in the Game

Missionaries in southeast Africa write:

On Tuesday Rosa, who had just lost her home and everything she owned (except her plates and pots that were rescued from the fire), came to the meeting to pay her [microfinance] loan amount with burnt coins that she scavenged out of the ashes. . . . Our Ukhalira group gave a money gift to help her.  I’ve encouraged the believers in the group to show God’s love to Rosa. I was encouraged today as I heard that Rosa was refusing to follow traditional ways and her cousin’s demands to hire a man to have sex with Rosa to cleanse away the curse of the fire.

Um . . . yeah. I'm going to go out on a limb here and hypothesize that whoever put forward the notion that curses could be cleansed with retail sex, he was an interested party. Just sayin' . . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What's a Fundamentalist?

The Inductivist points to Add Health study that measures the difference in property crime rates between religious fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. The results are as I would have expected, but what grabbed my attention was the way fundamentalism was measured:

White Add Health respondents (sample size = 3,489) were asked, "Do you agree or disagree that the sacred scriptures of your religion are the word of God and are completely without any mistakes?"

This is a far better question than the one the GSS asks for similar purposes: going from memory, "Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God and should be taken literally word for word?" Now, any educated Christian knows perfectly well that the Bible contains an abundance of allegory, metaphor, and analogy, none of which was intended to be taken literally; that's what those words are for. So they pick option two: "the Bible is the inspired word of God that should not be taken literally word for word." Which fuels Half Sigma's assertions that "religious" people are less intelligent. That said, and as Inductivist points out, there may be other evidence for the claim. But the GSS question is a poor way to measure it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

From the Archive: Infiltration of the Chaplaincy

From May 13, 2005 Washington Post:

DENVER, May 12 -- An Air Force chaplain who complained that evangelical Christians were trying to "subvert the system" by winning converts among cadets at the Air Force Academy was removed from administrative duties last week, just as the Pentagon began an in-depth study of alleged religious intolerance among cadets and commanders at the school.

"They fired me," said Capt. MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran minister who was removed as executive officer of the chaplain unit on May 4. "They said I should be angry about these outside groups who reported on the strident evangelicalism at the academy. The problem is, I agreed with those reports."

I did a bit of googling on Chaplain Morton at the time.  Turns out she had a paper trail.  Read the abstract of her paper submitted to the 30th Annual Conference of the Association for Moral Education (reproduced below) last year.

II. “Corruptive Interpretations of Institutional Culture Change; the Moral Consequences of Pervasive Christian Fundamentalism.”

Authors: Christopher J. Luedtke, United States Air Force Academy

Chaplain MeLinda Morton, United States Air Force Academy

Abstract: Religious belief systems and practices comprise morally forceful elements within a determinative cultural nexus. Nominally secular institutions, seeking to change institutional culture, must address the attendant power dynamic and articulated moral focus apparent within constitutive religious milieu. This paper examines contemporary articulations of American Christian Fundamentalism in an attempt to determine the potential change response of a cultural nexus inclusive of leaders and members espousing the moral grounding and religious perspective of Christian Fundamentalists. Particular to this consideration is the Fundamentalist moral response to gender integration within contemporary, federally funded, military undergraduate educational institutions.

But who is Chris Luedtke?  An instructor at USAFA sent me this tidbit:

Several Christian teachers here used to take out a "Christmas Card" ad in a December issue of the base paper.  We'd put in something along the lines of  "We believe Jesus is the reason for the season.  If you'd like to know more, feel free to contact one of us."

Suddenly this Luedtke guy started showing up at the CLM meetings (Christian Leadership Ministries) and told us he was just there "to monitor."  Along with him came the new chaplain, Whittaker I think his name was.  They ended up harassing us out of running the ad anymore.  They did their part to stop "Pervasive Christian Fundamentalism."

He’s still in, by the way.

Delenda Est Carthago:  connecting the dots since 2004.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Modes of Religion

In the movie Traitor,  Don Cheadle plays a Sudanese-American Muslim working deep cover to penetrate an Islamic terrorist network.  

Since I’m recommending the movie, I don’t want to give away too many plot points.  But the movie nicely illuminates several analytical points I want to make about religious psychology.

Religion – any religion, really, but especially Islam in our present historical moment – exists in at least two psychological modes.  On the one hand, there is “true” religion, or elite religion as I have referred to it in earlier posts.  This is religion at its purest theological essence.  My own religious tradition, orthodox Presbyterian, excels (and is recognized to excel) at addressing the central tenets of Christianity:  “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man”, in the words of the Westminster catechism.  On the other, there is religion as an expression of ethno-cultural nationalism, less an ethical code or spiritual insight than a component of in-group loyalty.  It is this second mode at which Islam as practiced especially among expats (and perhaps among Russian Orthodox) succeeds wildly and at which American Protestantism fails.  Indeed, one reading of the New Testament is that Christianity was in its essence a reaction against the extent to which Judaism had become little more than a shibboleth, elevating circumcision and other symbolic gestures of loyalty to the ethnic Jewish community above true righteousness.  (Arguably, it is in this mode that Judaism persists to this day.)*

It is in this context that I want to recall the John Updike novel Terrorist, about a half-Arab young man in New Jersey who falls in with a radical cleric and volunteers to become a suicide bomber.  The novel was criticized for presenting an inauthentic portrait of an actual terrorist as far as its central character was concerned, which is true – but I think that’s the point Updike was making by showing the tension between Islam as a theology (as represented by the young man) and Islam as an expression of ethnic nationalism (as represented by his confederates).  Ultimately, the elite nature of the young man’s faith is precisely what makes him back away from executing his plans.**

Similarly in the movie Traitor.  Cheadle is far more of a devout Muslim in the elite sense than the Arabic terrorists he his trying to stop, who are motivated by anger at the “crimes” of Westerners against their people (the precise nature of which are never elaborated).  This particular aspect is perhaps overplayed, and I was especially disappointed that the Christian FBI agent (Guy Pierce) is only shown in religious observance at the point of duress.  Why is it that Hollywood is willing to portray devotion to an alien religion in a positive light but feels the need to mute that devotion when the subject is a Christian?

That said, the movie is about as right-wing as a terrorism movie of  this caliber could hope to be.  There isn’t a treacherous white Christian who turns out to be the real bad guy (although the movie makes a couple of feints in this direction).  “Racial profiling” gets handled far more lightly than we would expect, and indeed, the movie explicitly shows the danger posed by immigration since the terrorist network infiltrates the U.S. on student visas.  Although the ethnic origins of these terrorists look far more ambiguous than is likely in the real world, they and their moles inside American intelligence are for the most part obviously Arabic or African.

The movie may not break any artistic ground, but it squarely hits what it aims at.  It invests the audience in the characters, creates plenty of suspense and just enough action, and keeps us guessing throughout.  So, two thumbs up.

* Just to clarify:  as an ethno-nationalist myself, I tend to see the absence of in-group solidarity in American Christianity as a shortcoming, and am almost uniformly disappointed with the church’s haphazard and incoherent forays into politics and policy.

** Also just to clarify:  it is not the business of American policy, and surely beyond its competence, to attempt to cleave “true” Islam from “nationalist” Islam.  In point of fact, nationalist Islam has become such the dominant mode that our endless appeals (a la Gen Petraeus) to an allegedly “authentic” non-terrorist version is surely beside the point.  Perhaps because I can identify with Islam’s nationalist aspirations that I can recognize how dangerous it is when allowed to flourish on our shores.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter Spring Spheres

From the Seattle News:

A sophomore at a local private high school thinks an effort to make Easter politically correct is ridiculous.

Jessica, 16, told KIRO Radio's Dori Monson Show that a week before spring break, the students commit to a week-long community service project. She decided to volunteer in a third grade class at a public school, which she would like to remain nameless.

"At the end of the week I had an idea to fill little plastic eggs with treats and jelly beans and other candy, but I was kind of unsure how the teacher would feel about that," Jessica said.

"I went to the teacher to get her approval and she wanted to ask the administration to see if it was okay," Jessica explained. "She said that I could do it as long as I called this treat 'spring spheres.' I couldn't call them Easter eggs."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Clueless Evangelicals

. . . because sometimes you have to throw a flag on your own team.

RBC Ministries publishes a daily devotion guide called Our Daily Bread that is popular among evangelicals.  I was introduced to it in high school myself and have used it off and on for some 27 years, more consistently so since I’ve had children with whom we have daily scripture reading.

In its commentary on Romans 5, the January 7, 2011 devotion began:

I read these words on a young woman’s personal Web site: “I just want to be loved—and he has to be amazing!”

Isn’t that what we all want—to be loved, to feel cared for by someone? And so much the better if he or she is amazing!

The one who fits that description most fully is Jesus Christ. In a display of unprecedented love, He left His Father in heaven and came to earth as the baby we celebrate at Christmas . . . .

and on in like vein.

Where to start?

Truth be told, I don’t have daily devotions to have every tick of my social critique reinforced.  And it may be that I have eaten too much of the tree of knowledge for my own good.

But.

Really?  Are you seriously telling me that you read this expression of the culture’s license to unbridled female hypergamy and the only reaction you could muster is, “oh, look, what a cool metaphor for Jesus!”  Because if that’s the extent of your cultural engagement, if “don’t fornicate” is truly the limit of your moral imagination, then frankly, you will have deserved your own irrelevancy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Religion and Condoms

Another liberal propaganda set-piece falls to the numbers:

Let's assess that argument that religious teens who have sex will be less likely to use a condom because they have not been taught to act rationally with respect to sex.

The Add Health Study asked teens: 1) if they have ever had sex; and 2) if so, did they ever use a condom? A sample of 516 youths admitted to sexual intercourse.  Here are the percentages who have used a condom by importance of religion to self:

Percent of those who've had sex who have used a condom

Very important 58.1
Fairly important 62.8
Fairly unimportant 64.6
Unimportant 64.7

The probability of condom use falls a little with greater religiosity, but none of the differences is statistically significant.   

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Christian Dating Advice Industry

Making the rounds is this article from Christianity Today:  “The Good Christian Girl: A Fable”, by Gina R. Dalfonzo.  The fable provides a useful summary of the varied and often conflicting advice that “Christian Dating” experts give to young people:  show interest – let the guy take initiative; don’t be too picky – don’t compromise your standards; etc.

I think the writers and speakers should start by being candid:  life is hard.  And to paraphrase John Wayne, life is exponentially harder if you’re fat, or ugly, or stupid, or – for men – short, or poor, or aspergery, or worst of all inexperienced.  None of the options such people face will likely be good; no amount of macro-level strategizing is going to make selling a low SMV especially easy.

I would push back against this comment though:

I have this suspicion that men think that if they see a woman and think she’s attractive, the woman somehow automatically knows and it counts toward her inner mental count of male interest.  For many women, however, short of a definitive action such as being asked for her number or out on a date, the woman will never know.

Okay, but I can’t personally conjure, even in hindsight, some unexploited trove of females to whom I was attracted who would have looked favorably on my romantic attention.  It’s true that I didn’t ask girls out absent a reasonable expectation of an affirmative response; it is also true that I have no actual evidence my threshold for that expectation was other than where it should have been.

On a related note, an otherwise sound article by Mark Regnerus has this:

Evangelicals make much of avoiding being unequally yoked, but the fact that there are far more spiritually mature young women out there than men makes this bit of advice difficult to follow. No congregational program or men’s retreat in the Rocky Mountains will solve this. If she decides to marry, one in three women has no choice but to marry down in terms of Christian maturity.

One in three?  Really?  Defined how?  More importantly, measured how?  Because absent rigor, “spiritual maturity” can become an empty vessel into which women pour whatever alpha qualities they expect but don’t think they’re getting, providing a socially acceptable basis on which to run down the single men in their Sunday School class.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Older Son’s Burden

To recap:

11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
      "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[a]'

22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " [Emphases added.]

This parable has two parts.  In the first, it tells the story of the younger son’s fall and redemption; in the second, of the older son’s unforgiving attitude.  Regarding the second aspect, there are several real-world parallels to the brothers’ relationship.  We find here the attitude of the Pharisees towards the “sinners and tax collectors”.  We see the attitude of the Jews towards the pagan Gentiles that would soon flock to God’s worship.  And we are warned against an ever-present danger to the church in our own time.

The Meme

Obviously, although the parable cogently states the older brother’s grievance, there is much to criticize.  First, his sense of entitlement – “‘All these years I’ve slaved for you’” – ignores the need we all have for God’s grace.  Second, his hardness of heart – “refused to go in” – leaves no room for restoration.

But there is a meme about this parable that has crept its way into a couple of sermons I have heard over the years that I believe to be not just erroneous, but dangerously misleading.  The meme calls attention to the highlighted passages above contrasting Jesus’ narrative description of the younger son’s life of sin with the older son’s characterization of it.  This is alleged to say something bad about the older brother:  he makes an unwarranted assumption, and/or he betrays an envious attitude of his brother’s erstwhile un-chastity.

I dissent. 

The Problem

Regarding the first point, the assumption looks unwarranted only by ignoring the implausibility of the contrary assumption – that the younger brother went off to the big city for “wild living” that didn’t involve women of easy virtue.  Um . . . where’s the fun in that?  Speaking for myself, I don’t think I have to actually aspire to a life of dissipation in order to admit that, were I to lead such a life, I would certainly hope that it involved the attention of, if not professionals exactly, then dedicated amateurs.  What would be the point otherwise?

This brings us to the second allegation:  the charge of envy.  This is trickier; to wax Clintonian, it depends on the definition. Nothing in the narrative prevents the older brother from following the younger to the big city, but he doesn’t; instead, he chooses to remain loyal to his father.  Allowing that human motivation is complex, this is the choice we all make when we resist temptation.  We could give in to temptation, and certainly when the sin is un-chastity,  there are few external impediments preventing us.  But to the extent we are moral agents, when we instead choose the way of righteousness, it becomes difficult to lay against us the charge of really wanting to do otherwise.

To the extent that the narrative contrast in the parable has a point, it may be this:  that the older son was fully aware of the trade-off he had made.  The older son is saying, “hey, junior there had a grand ole’ time up there in the big city, while I’ve loyally slaved away.”  That this doesn’t imply what the older son thinks it does, doesn’t make it false; on the contrary, it is factually true:  the older son did choose  what in the near run was the harder path.  Yes, in the long run this worked out well – “‘everything I have is yours’” -- but that he, and we, give up treasures on earth in favor of treasures in heaven doesn’t mean that the earthly treasures don’t really exist.  Let’s face it:  if sin wasn’t fun, this conversation wouldn’t be necessary.

We are often assured that the wages of sin are paid in this life, that the way of immorality ends in earthly misery.  Often this is true.  The book of Proverbs certainly encourages us to think so, as does Jesus’ parable:  the younger son, after all, returns home broke and starved.  Likewise, it is easy to draw a straight line between sexual immorality and various unpleasantness like STDs and unwanted pregnancy.  But two quick points.  First, as morally satisfying as this aspect of the story is, it’s not especially reliable.  Many people don’t so much repent of their sin as simply outgrow it, with no noticeable ill effects.  Second, the benefits of righteousness are usually realized collectively.  The reason God told the Israelites that murder, theft, and adultery were crimes was because they undermine the social trust so necessary to a collective project such as conquering Canaan and building a nation.  It would be impossible for the soldiers on the front lines to fight bravely if they had to worry about what the rear guard was doing with their wives and property.  But the Israelites didn’t need a story about how the apparent ability of one person to lie, steal, or adulterate his way to advantage was somehow a product of false-consciousness.

It can be argued that God’s grace make all earthly pleasures pale by comparison.  I would agree that the closer we draw to God, the less the emotional salience of the trade-offs we make to get there.  But stated categorically, the argument reminds me of the Tiger Woods episode on South Park:  everybody (the men anyway) pretending to be shocked, shocked, that Tiger had sex with a string of beautiful women.  Come off it!  It doesn’t compromise the moral judgment to say there’s no mystery to what motivated him.  It’s not envy to say that, yeah, we get it.

The Danger

This is no mere theological arcanum.  I am convinced that the meme described blinds us to the way this parable often plays out in real life.  To illustrate, let’s . . . tweak it a bit.

In Jesus’ version, the younger son comes home destitute.  I suppose one can analogize the “money” that his father gave him that he no longer has, but let’s suppose that money is just money.  Now let’s suppose the younger son comes home not destitute.  Let’s suppose that, in spite (or because) of his “wild living”, he now has a fortune that rivals or exceeds his brother’s.

Or, even more on point, let suppose the younger son comes home, maybe with money, maybe without it, but after reintegrating himself in the family he . . . steals his older brother’s girlfriend.  It’s not hard to see why.  Even if we accept his repentance at face value, the younger brother carries with him an aura of worldliness.  While admitting that the causality runs both ways, we can see that the younger brother is now experienced in, as Roissy would put it, the “dark arts”.  Maybe his intentions are now strictly honorable, maybe they aren’t, but the point is that the younger brother has directly parlayed his misadventures into attractiveness to women.  And suddenly, all the nose-to-the-grindstone young men who were regarded as perfectly adequate now seem hopelessly provincial.

I’m not making this up.  It is precisely the attendant social confidence that leads an otherwise decent man like Trumwill to abandon the ethic of chastity and eagerly anticipate the conquests of his own (future) sons.  I even had a female youth director at church (a relatively liberal, PCUSA church) say without shame that she hoped her future husband was sexually experienced.

Alas, this preference is not limited to liberals.  Granted, no conservative woman would state it that baldly, but . . . ye shall know them by their fruits.  A few years ago, I read a feminist blogger who, commenting on a young female chastity advocate, said something along the lines of:  “well, just make sure you marry a virgin.”  She intended this as a taunt, of course, but the remark succeeded in highlighting, if not hypocrisy exactly, then at least an incongruity between what female chastity advocates claim for themselves and the mate choices they make.  I challenged Spearhead blogger Hestia on this point last year and discovered that even conservative Christianity confers on its adherents little immunity to the rationalization hamster.

Likewise, the response to this from the Christian community at large is disappointing.  I have blogged before about my experience  at a large, urban, relatively conservative church, hearing twenty-something women complain about how the men in our circle were so . . . uninteresting, and then listening to church leaders say, basically, “yeah!”

Which brings us back to the meme.  It bodes ill for the church’s ability to apprehend the perverse incentives it is perpetuating.  It says, alternately, “shame on you for noticing!” and “none of this should matter.”  But that’s too pat.  Men have wanted women since Adam noticed he didn’t have one.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” i.e. a competent portion of the good things of this life, including the opportunity to find a mate.  I don’t want to exaggerate the extent of the church’s responsibility here, but young men aren’t (generally) stupid.  If they notice that the path to getting married routinely take them through promiscuous behavior, I promise you that we will get more promiscuous behavior.  This is injurious not only to social morality but also to the church’s ability to retain the loyalty of its young people.

No Easy Answers

Solving this problem will be hard.  On the one hand, the church has turned the doctrine of forgiveness into an inability to enforce social disability, let alone social ostracism, in any kind of sustained way.  On the other, it has no language with which to hold women accountable for their preference for social confidence and charm.  In isolation, each of these appears defensible.  But the church does itself no favors by refusing to acknowledge that their combination is poisonous. 

UPDATE: Lest I seem out-of-touch, I want to say that Ferdinand already posted at length on this topic.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Perfect Storm of Nasty

Over at HitCoffee, Sheila asked me:

If you were in fact around very religious people in high school and college … then it’s religious women who gave you so much trouble. Perhaps you shouldn’t blame secular society for their shallow traits.

Arguably, I have no basis by which to make a comparison.  I have no experience with the dating world in “secular society” the way she means it.  I only went to bars and clubs in the company of women I took with me, never expecting to meet women there.  The nature of my work is such that it creates a predominately when not exclusively male environment, so there were seldom any women around with whom I might strike up a relationship.  And . . . well, frankly, I don’t really know in what other venues “secular” people meet potential romantic partners.

But that said, I don’t have any experience with rural or small-town Baptist or Fundamentalist churches either, at least not in my twenties.  As I explained to Sheila, most of my church-going experience was in large, urban, mainline denominations who drew their members from middle and upper-middle class, college-educated backgrounds.

Christian young women from such backgrounds share many of the same values as their non-Christian counterparts.  They are busy establishing themselves in interesting careers.  Unless they live in New York or DC, their earnings provide them with economic independence.  They are largely free from any economic, social, or family pressure to get married early, so they think of marriage in, as Megan McArdle put it, “self-actualizing” rather than “prosaic” terms.

However, they are still subject to the Seventh Commandment:  broadly, no sex outside of marriage.  Now, I know for a fact that this rule is not universally followed, not even close.  But I can say with moderate confidence that such fornicating in which Christian women do indulge is not “casual”; rather, it is with men that they think or hope will marry them eventually.  But whatever the flexibility in a Christian woman’s definition of chastity, the effect is the same:  their approach to relations with men are heavily front-loaded with high expectations, expectations that in practice can be quite difficult to meet.

While I am wary of generalizing about secular society, I think it would be safe to say that non-Christian women do not have this problem.  Sheila, for example, has written that she once cast a fairly wide net in her associations with men.  It should come as little surprise that I do not approve of her, um, “relaxed” attitude towards sex:  for example, it carried the potential for heavy downside to herself and significant externality for the rest of us, and I am guessing that her “husband-to-partner” ratio is pretty low.  But I am prepared to admit the possibility that it made her and women like her pretty fun people to be around.

Likewise, I am also prepared to admit the possibility that the mix of “Christian” and “Secular” values that characterized the ethos of the women among whom I sought a mate combined to create a perfect storm of nasty:  careerist women in no hurry to compromise, “settle”, or train on the one hand, and on the other wary of having anything more than a nodding acquaintance with men who didn’t instantly meet their criteria for an ideal husband.

Again, I don’t have the background to assert this hypothesis dogmatically, but I wanted to throw it out for consideration.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Conversion vs. Re-affiliation

Here is a tidbit that may surprise many of you, given what I have heretofore revealed about myself:  for the past 2+ years, ever since we moved from the Mountain West to the Upper Mid-West, we have been attending a Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod congregation.  Last week, we formally became members.

When we first moved here, we visited about six different churches, some of them several times.  For the first year, we divided our attendance between a small PCA congregation about 15 minutes away, and the smaller LCMS church only two blocks from our house.  But in then end, we decided to attend the LCMS church full time.

Why?

  • Proximity.  Our community is very walk-able, and walking to church is really nice.  The SWPLs are on to something here.
  • Format.  Our Sunday school class, taught by the pastor, was in a sit-in-a-circle, Bible-study format rather than a platform lecture format.  And while I can’t really claim to prefer one to the other, the Bible-study format makes it easier to meet people and build relationships.  Which brings me to:
  • Friendliness.  While the PCA church wasn’t un-friendly, we were never able to turn our attendance there into any extra-church play-dates or get-togethers.  While the church did have some mid-week Bible studies that might have generated more social opportunities, my recollection is that most of these were men-only or women-only rather than for families with children.
  • Involvement.  While the PCA church probably would have provided ministry opportunities, that doesn’t have the same draw as being recruited to (in my case) join the LCMS choir, which is really what put them over the top.  Not only is the LCMS church small, most (but not all) of its members are old, and they are eager for the elevated involvement of the following generation (or two).  The PCA, in contrast, never gave much indication that they needed us one way or the other.

These aren’t the only reasons. Truth be told, these events seriously undermined my institutional loyalty to the PCA.  It may not seem like a big deal – in and of itself, it isn’t – but the issue itself and the way it was handled brought into sharp relief a number of things that had been bothering me.  First, many PCA congregations seem to be drifting away from their theological moorings.  Locally, I had observed this in several minor ways, and while I originally written them off as anomalies, they now look like a pattern.  Nationally, the drift shows up in, for instance, the PCA’s initial support (since retracted) for amnesty.  And second, I began to wonder how well I was fitting in socially. This hadn't much bothered me before, especially since I had nothing to compare it to, but the LCMS church just felt warmer to us than the PCA did.

It could be argued that we abandoned one denomination over small political differences to join one with which we have large theological differences. The LCMS has something called the Book of Concord, which appears to play the same role in Lutheran theology as the Westminster Confession plays in Presbyterian theology. Although most of that theology is almost identical, the Lutherans and Calvinists hold subtle yet strenously debated differences in their understanding of the Lord's Supper. I will not bore you with those differences here, except to say that they were considered a Very Big Deal back in the day.

Yet, for my part, I couldn't invest those differences with enough importance to prevent me from participating in the Lord's Supper in good conscience. And when I explained to the him the Calvinist view, our pastor responded that it was "close enough" for membership purposes.

But I hope the LCMS doesn't become too heterodox in its membership standards. Their willingness to hold to their traditions, even when I disagree with them, is still one of the things I like about them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

McNaughton Art

This is probably an old controversy (he says as he watches his RSS backlog approach 500), but I recently received an email pointing me to the work of Jon McNaughton, who has posted YouTube commentary explaining his purposes.

Jon McNaughton is, evidently, a Mormon, and his views on religion and politics are boring and conventional. Still, though, the painting is worth a look.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The True Meaning of Tolerance

From the Washington Times:

Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director whose about-face on abortion prompted her to resign her job, says she's gotten flack for her decision from an unexpected quarter: her own church.

Now she is facing a different kind of music at her parish, St. Francis Episcopal in nearby College Station, the home of Texas A&M University.

Whereas clergy and parishioners welcomed her as a Planned Parenthood employee, now they are buttonholing her after Sunday services.

"Now that I have taken this stand, some of the people there are not accepting of that," she told The Washington Times. "People have told me they disagree with my choice. One of the things I've been told is that as Episcopalians, we embrace our differences and disagreements. While I agree with that, I am not sure I can go to a place where I don't feel I am welcome."

The U.S. Episcopal Church has one of the most liberal stances on abortion of any mainline Protestant denomination and is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), which supports legalized abortion.

A former longtime RCRC board member, the Rev. Katherine H. Ragsdale, is the newly installed dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, a seminary in Cambridge, Mass. She is famous for making a 2007 sermon in which she termed abortion as a "blessing."

[Abby Johnson and her husband] made St. Francis their home. They were confirmed Episcopalians, and their daughter, now 3, was baptized there. A photo on the front page of the church's Web site, stfrancisonline.org, shows her seated at the right end of the front row, holding a girl dressed in pink. Her husband, dressed in an orange shirt, is to her right.

"Chief among our values," says a statement below the photo, "are service, tolerance and understanding of the people and events that God has put into our lives."

Now the Johnsons are "reconsidering" their membership. Another Planned Parenthood staffer who was a member of St. Francis has not attended since Mrs. Johnson made her new views public a month ago.

"I know Planned Parenthood told her to not have any contact with me nor attend the same church," she said.

Rochelle Tafolla, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southeast Texas, said the employee had chosen freely not to attend St. Francis because she was concerned about encountering Mrs. Johnson.

Nothing here should surprise us. When the polical Left uses words like "tolerance", "free speech", and "democracy", it is in favor of these things only to the extent that they advance it's agenda. But once it achieves power, it can be as intolerant and authoritarian as the most avid reactionary.

I apologize for the light posting. I have been uncharacteristically buried in work, and can't promise when I will have sufficient free time to resume regular posting. Your best bet is to add me to your RSS reader (how does this work?) or google reader (which loads all the blogs you "follow" on blogger). That way, when I have new content, you'll get it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Prime reviews Christian Rock

While the discussing the emotional power of the lyrics, Prime writes:

[T]here is no doubt that the men involved in the creation of Christian Rock are of a different caliber. They are generally married—in a traditional way, that is, they aren’t likely to be beta-ized. They live their message, and they do not hold back from reaching out to their fans, whether personally or spiritually.

Making money, getting high, and pulling poon are often the priorities of your typical rock musician. And I’m not saying that these things are quintessentially evil, but you have to tip your hat to the guys who could be doing all these things on a regular basis, but instead forgo these ‘sins’ for a life of confident, creative expression in traditional morals and religiosity, or sometimes, not so traditional religiosity.

It's validating to know there are guys like this. I can't really claim it for myself -- marriage was a really good deal for me in the sense that the trade-offs Prime mentions were highly speculative in my case. So I don't really know if I would have had the conviction to resist the temptation of a different life had it actually been offered to me.

But while I pray for the success of their marriages, and hope their personal lives do not become the embarassment that those of my generation's Christian rockers' (Amy Grant, Sandi Patti) did in their day, I also hope nobody invests their own personal faith in them. Given the number of acts that Prime lists, and given the scale of temptation involved, its a statistical certainty that some of these relationships will go sideways.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The NAE does NOT speak for me!

Dear Congressman []:

I am a registered voter in [] and a member in good standing of a local congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), an affiliate of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Recently, it was brought to my attention that the governing board of the NAE had approved a resolution calling for the amnesty of aliens illegally present in the United States, and that Leith Anderson, NAE President, had appeared before a congressional committee on behalf of "immigration reform". In so doing, the leadership of the NAE and of its affiliates have betrayed the nearly 17% of their fellow Americans who are presently unemployed in the current recession.

I am writing to state unequivocally that, irrespective of my membership in an affiliated church, the NAE does NOT represent my views on the subject of immigration. On the contrary, as I have written you many times before, I believe in effective border security by all necessary means and the dramatic reduction of ALL immigration, both legal and illegal. This is the considered opinion of not only myself, but of the vast majority of rank-and-file church members with whom I have spoken on this issue.

It is unfortunate that the leadership of so many fine religious denominations have been captured by a cabal willing to put the interests of law breakers ahead of their own countrymen. But until the rank-and-file are able to undo their work, do not be deceived by the words of the NAE. They do not reflect the beliefs of the voters in your district.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Respectfully,

Φ