Friday, June 17, 2016

Kierkegaard on the importance of universal love for neighbor-- to fulfill the command and to actually love friends and family effectively

If anyone asks, “Who is my neighbor?” then Christ’s reply to the Pharisee, who asked this same question, contains the only answer, for in answer to this question Christ turned everything around. Christ says: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The Pharisee answers correctly, “The one who showed mercy to him” (Lk. 10:36). This means that by doing your duty you easily discover who your neighbor is. The Pharisee’s answer is contained in Christ’s question. He towards whom I have a duty is my neighbor, and when I fulfill my duty, I prove that I am a neighbor...Choosing a lover, finding a friend, yes that is a long, hard job, but your neighbor is easy to recognize, easy to find – if you yourself will only recognize your duty and be a neighbor.

I love that last sentence! The paragraph is too strong on "duty" for my tastes, but I like the point that being a "neighbor" is proved by showing mercy / being neighborly.

The poet and Christ explain things in opposite ways. The poet idolizes feelings and since he has only romantic love in mind, believes that to command love is the greatest foolishness and the most preposterous kind of talk: Love and friendship contain no ethical task. Love and friendship are good fortune, the highest good fortune...For the poet, the highest task in life is to be properly grateful for one’s good fortune. But one’s task can never be an obligation to find the beloved or to find this friend...

Christianity, however, dethrones feeling and good fortune and replaces them with the shall. The point at issue between the poet and Christ may be stated precisely in this way: romantic love and friendship are preferential, the passion of preference; Christian love, however, is self-renunciation’s love and therefore trusts in the you shall. According to Christ, our neighbor is our equal. Our neighbor is not the beloved, for whom you have passionate preference, nor your friend, whom you prefer. Nor is your neighbor, if you are well educated, the learned person with whom you have cultural affinity – for with your neighbor you have before God the equality of humanity... your beloved faithfully and tenderly, but let love to your neighbor be the sanctifier in your covenant of union with God. Love your friend honestly and devotedly, but let love to your neighbor be what you learn from each other in the intimacy of friendship with God! Moreover, the person who does not see that his wife is first his neighbor, and only then his wife, never comes to truly love his neighbor, no matter how many people he loves...
In this sense love is blind. Perfection in the object has nothing to do with perfection in love. Precisely because one’s neighbor has none of the excellencies which the beloved, a friend, or an admired one may have...

Therefore he who in truth loves, loves his neighbor. And he who in truth loves his neighbor loves also his enemy. This is obvious; for the distinction of friend or enemy is a distinction in the object of love, but the object of love to your neighbor is always without distinction...

Kierkegaard distinguishes between different sorts of love, arguing that love of neighbor is primary and should be universal-- even loving one's wife as a neighbor first. And by implication, if one does not generally love one's neighbor, then love for a spouse-- without that-- will be distorted, likely to be temporary, etc. In sum, "love your beloved faithfully and tenderly, but let love to your neighbor be the sanctifier in your covenant of union with God."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando: "act of terror" (6/12) or "mass shooting"?

I thought this article was interesting: Will we end up labeling Orlando's tragedy (primarily) as an act of terror or a mass shooting? Among other things, seeing it as an act of terror, the author suggests we call the event 6/12.

We won't know what motivated the terrorist/murderer for a while-- if ever. The event seems strongly connected to terrorism, but he claimed allegiances to terrorist groups that opposed each other. It seems anti-gay, but the terrorist/murderer may have been active in a gay lifestyle. (See also: the guy from Jeffersonville who traveled to LA, apparently with similar goals.) 

In any case, what we call it matters. And jumping to the usual (dogmatic?) conclusions that many of us hold-- whether an emphasis on Muslims, gun control, mental illness, or gun-free zones-- is tempting but not helpful, when the evidence is far from complete and the bodies have not even been buried. If I've contributed to the FB rush to judgment and ideologize this time, mea culpa.

More broadly,
these matters are complex, including (at least) guns, gun control, mental illness, and "Islamism". As such, efforts to reduce this topic to one variable-- or even to, out-of-hand, eliminate one of these four-- is a sign of ignorance and/or ideology. Unfortunately, we see a lot of that sort of "thinking" from Obama, Clinton, Trump, and FB "debates".

Still, on gun control-- in practice vs. in theory and wishful thinking-- the questions must include: What have we done and why isn't it working well (enough)? What could get passed and enforced that would increase safety? Mere platitudes and hand-waving should be left to the Flying Spaghetti Monsterites.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Florence King on defending others' rights

"When they came for the smokers, I kept silent because I don't smoke. When they came for the meat eaters, I kept silent because I'm a vegetarian. When they came for the gun owners, I kept silent because I'm a pacifist. When they came for the drivers, I kept silent because I'm a bicyclist. They never did come for me. I'm still here because there's nobody left in the secret police except sissies with rickets." -- Florence King

Kierkegaard on the obvious response to God's love letter

Soren Kierkegaard on the Bible as God’s love letter—and the obvious response to accepting God’s grace and embracing His words to us:

“My listener, how highly do you value God’s Word?  Imagine a lover who has received a letter from his beloved. I assume that God's Word is just as precious to you as this letter is to a lover. I assume that you read and think you ought to read God’s Word in the same way the lover reads this letter…Let us assume that this letter contained not only an expression of affection, but also a wish, something the beloved wanted her lover to do. It was, let us assume, much that was required of him—so much so that any third party would have good reason to think twice about it. But the lover, ah, he is off at once to fulfill his beloved’s wish…If there are obscure passages but also clearly expressed wishes, he would say, ‘I must immediately comply with the wish—then I will see about the obscure parts’.”

And then this on “studying” the Bible: “Being alone with God's Word is a dangerous matter. Of course you can always find ways to defend yourself against it. Take the Bible, lock your door - but then get out ten dictionaries and twenty-five commentaries. Then you can read it just as calmly and coolly as you read newspaper advertising.”

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Kierkegaard on following Jesus

"If someone wanted to be his follower, [Jesus] said to that person something like this, 'Venture a decisive act; then you can begin, then you will know.'

...Once you have ventured the decisive act, you are at odds with the life of this world. You come into collision with it, and because of this you will gradually be brought into such tension that you will then be able to become certain of what Christ taught. You will begin to understand that you cannot endure this world without having recourse to Christ. What else can one expect from following the truth?"

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"America's goober policy is totally nuts."

James Bovard in the WSJ on...

-Obama pounding Haiti with this recent action. (It'd be less damaging to send some more of his drones in there.)
-With the most recent farm bill, which dramatically increased subsidies for peanut farmers, Congress and Obama engaged in more of that smooth and creamy, bipartisan, crony capitalism.

One might expect this sort of thing from the GOP. But why do Dems love crony capitalism and hate the poor so much?! Is it ignorance or corruption?

the pay gap for higher-educated women

There are many frustrating aspects of the popular/political version of the (gender) "pay gap" discussion:

In particular, it takes a complex social phenomenon and ignores all of the variables, before confidently drawing ignorant and inflammatory inferences.

But it also distracts from smaller, interesting aspects of the question that *are* real and might deserve some market or policy attention.

For example, this WSJ article discusses the flip in the pay gap between education levels for women. In 1980, women with college degrees were closest to men (ignoring all other variables) with less than HS further away. Now, it's reversed.

As a specific example, researchers found that men and women earned the same immediately after earning MBAs from the U. of Chicago. But ten years later, women only earned 57% (*far worse* than the average 'pay gap')! The primary cause: "Women became mothers, interrupted their careers and eschewed lengthy hours that generated higher paychecks." Claudia Goldin: "These particular occupations are not very forgiving of taking time off and raising kids."

There's also an interesting literature on differences in willingness/ability to bargain by gender I suspect that's part of the mystery here, but the article does not discuss it.

Democratic opposition to Obama's plan to close Guantanamo

Democratic opposition to Obama's plan to close Guantanamo

as reminded by Reason in June 2016

tax rates vs. tax revenues vs. collected tax revenues

How do you decrease the gap between taxes and taxes collected

Well, here are some things that don't help:
-giving the IRS the ACA to enforce
-an unnecessarily complicated tax code
-higher marginal tax rates that encourage tax evasion (as well as tax avoidance and less work)

Through its actions, the Left gives the impression that it wants to pose on raising money from the wealthy, while actually getting less money from them. 

One of my favorite questions from the 1980s for Lefties: Would you rather have higher tax *rates on* the wealthy or higher tax *revenues from* the wealthy? The reactions were always fun and fascinating.

Friday, May 27, 2016

one article on Hillary enabling Bill, five more on her email server problems (in the last 24 hours), and Jill Stein's interview in Rolling Stone

Rich Lowry on the nastiness of Hillary enabling and attacking the women accusing Bill. 

Hillary Clinton’s self-image as a feminist champion has always been at odds with her political partnership with a serial womanizer whose electoral career has depended on discrediting and smearing the women with whom he’s had dalliances...Perhaps you think Hillary had no choice but to stand by her man, or she made the correct calculation that...justified waging political war against a few inconvenient women. Even so, there is no doubt Hillary compromised herself, by the standards of feminism 20 years ago, and even more by the standards of today.

Jonah Goldberg on her more insidious flaws-- most notably, through all of the lying. 
The State Department's inspector general released a report this week concluding that Hillary Clinton is a breathtakingly brazen and consistent liar...By setting up a secret email server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., without proper authorization from any legal or security official, Clinton displayed a cavalier disregard for national security and an outrageous desire to hide her doings from Freedom of Information Act requests, government archivists, Congress, the press and, ultimately, the American people.

Over a year ago, Clinton held a press conference at the United Nations intended to put the whole controversy to rest. Nearly every significant statement she made was a lie. And we've known it for a year. For instance, she said, "I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material." We know that's untrue....Another major lie: that she did this out of "convenience" because she didn't want to carry two devices...More lies. Not only did she carry several devices, but the IG report makes it clear that this stealth rig took a lot of planning and effort. She told staffers, "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."...if Clinton did nothing wrong, she also would have talked to the inspector general, like every other relevant secretary of state did. And she would have happily told her team to cooperate with the IG to clear the air. They all refused.

Just in the last 24 hours on Hillary's lies, here's Chris Cilizza, a non-partisan (or even lean-left observer), conservative Megan McArdle, and liberal MSNBC. Finally, here's Dick Morris-- albeit, often an axe-grinder-- with a blurb on Bill Clinton's assistant having access to the server (with no security clearance). 

Finally, here's a real feminist-- even if her policy RX's are a mess: an interview with Jill Stein in Rolling Stone

Monday, May 23, 2016

Russell Moore's "Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel"

I haven't had a ton of interaction with Russell Moore: a handful of essays on public policy and adoption. He's always seemed somewhere between reasonable and really solid. But apparently, he's been pushing some unfortunate buttons in this "Year of Trump", so maybe I would judge his work differently. 

(For example, Moore has seemed stronger to me than Al Mohler on potentially-unorthodox Christian literature and a Christian worldview of politics and public policy. On literature, see his reviews of The Shack and esp. Joel Osteen vs. Rob Bell.) On politics, Mohler seems to have moved a good bit-- as evidence in this blog post and from his interaction with Cal Thomas in April at SBTS. Then again, I don't have enough data on either of them to get too excited.) 

Anyway, I read Onward as a resource for a forthcoming journal article. I enjoyed the book-- from little blurbs to bigger points-- and will outline some of that below. 

The American Civil Religion
Moore is really strong "the American civil religion". I don't know how such things can be measured. But it seems clear that a good chunk of American Christianity-- say, in the 1950s-- was "civil religion rather than biblical Christianity. Among other things, as I've pointed out for a long time: the parents of the 1950s gave us the children of the 1960s, so they could not have been too impressive spiritually. 

And so Moore observes: "That's why one could speak of 'God and country' with great reception...but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned 'Christ and Him crucified." (6) Or as I usually put it, try making reference to "the Triune God" rather than just "God" or "god". Alternatively, the civil religion's vision was not "to be about Christ and Kingdom, just God and country." (12)

I thought Moore was helpful on the "Christian nation" / majority vs. minority idea: Ironically, "The temptation is to pretend to be a majority, even if one is not...a profoundly Darwinian way of viewing the a frightened animal puffing out its chest in order to seem larger and fiercer..." (29) And then some balance: "If we see ourselves as only a minority, we will be tempted to isolation. If we see ourselves only as a kingdom, we will be tempted toward triumphalism. We are, instead, a church. We are a minority with a message and a mission." (35)

Moore plays with one of my pet peeves: the ridiculous confusion about II Chronicles 7:14-- as if that refers to America as a country rather than "the Church" or perhaps "the American church" in some contexts. But then Moore goes a hilarious and ironic step further, in comparing this line of thinking to the prosperity gospel! This is "precisely what the prosperity gospel preachers do" along the lines of invoking Deuteronomy's physical/material blessings if we obey (75-76)

Moore rips "non-sectarian prayer" as "the state establishment of various forms of Unitarianism" (148); "A Christless civil religion of ceremonial Deism freezes the witness of the church into something useless at best, pagan at worst. Government-run doxology cannot regenerate a soul, or resurrect a corpse." (150a)

The good news, given recent cultural changes: "The Bible Belt marrying parson who weds whosoever will show up and rent his church; his day is over. The gelatin-spined neighborhood pastor who hitches the cohabiting couple and hopes to see them at church when their children are old enough for Sunday School; his time is up...laissez-faire wedding policies and the nominalism that foes with them are done for, and good riddance to them. For too long, we've acted as though the officers of the Christ's church were Justices of the Peace." (179)

The Kingdom is "Now and Not Yet"
Moore is also strong in talking about eternal life beginning now, for the believer-- and the "now and not yet" of God's Kingdom. I picked up these themes (and "God can only bless you where you're at"), most forcefully, from Dallas Willard. 

Moore says he "cringes when I hear Christians talk about the lists of things they want to do before they die" (52). Instead, "my sojourn in this interval is shaping and preparing me for what is ultimate, so I cannot shirk off the person I am becoming by the habits I am learning." (54) Again, we must be careful with the tension here. If not, we risk one of two errors. First, we can be "too near" (now) and, as a result, "fall for utopianism" and coercive means of reaching presumed-godly ends. Second, we can be "too distant" (not yet) and end up with "prophecy chart fixations or cultural apathy or failed attempts to withdraw from society" (58).

Moore makes a number of other, nice points: 
-He describes another Rapture as nominal Christians vanishing from churches (24).

-He quotes Buechner on "Jesus saves" as far more painful-- "cringingly, painfully personal"-- than "Christ saves", with its "objective, theological ring" (68).

-"She probably didn't think of herself as a proponent of white supremacy. The point is that she didn't think at all." (113) Man, how often do we see that line in action: people who are blind through idolatry and contentedness with good intentions!

-"Sanctity of Human Life Sunday" ought to be as unnecessary as a "Reality of Gravity Sunday". Some day! (115)

-In comparing Romans 13 to Revelation 13-- and the move from the "minister of God's wrath" to the Beast: "The Beast oversteps its bounds, sets itself up as a god, and seeks to regulate worship through threat of violence..." (143)

-A really nice point on how "legislating morality" on marriage can cause trouble. In a word, an "almost-Gospel" promotes "a divorce culture": "Nominal Christianity incentivizes divorce by, for example, giving social pressure to early marriage without an accompanying accountability to the church for the keeping of the vows. The ideal of Christian marriage without a strong community of discipleship and discipline is a dangerous combination." (172)

-Moore discusses persecution, but also the Christian propensity for anger against culture, in some circles. He compares it to the correlation of bumper stickers with "road rage": a "temptation for our public become an ecclesial version of a bumper sticker, identifying who we are and expressing outrage at the culture around us." (187-188)

-On tattoos and the evolution of culture, churches, and new forms of church leadership: "Tattoos don't mean what they used to." (213) "He might have tattoos, yes, but they aren't of Che Guevara. they're of Hebrew passages of Deuteronomy." (21)

-Moore makes the most compelling case I've seen against cremation (61-62). He says it's a matter of conscience, but that it paints "a false picture of the body. Burial signifies a Christian hope, that the deceased is 'sleeping' and thus, will be 'waked' at the coming of the Lord. Cremation signifies a perspective found in Buddhism and other religions, that the body is consumed into nothingness...'Can't I be resurrected from an urn as easily as I can from a casket?' they ask. Of course. That's not the point. God can resurrect me if my body is eaten by alligators but I wouldn't dispose of Aunt Gladys that way..." (I wonder if this connects to Haidt's research at all?!) Moore also cites the women who (properly?) cared for Jesus' body pre-burial. And he points to the ancient Egyptians as an extreme in making "the body ultimate". 

on frameworks for understanding American foreign policy since the late 19th century

From Andrew Bacevich in Harpers...

Bacevich opens with a nice summary of his thesis: "Republicans and Democrats disagree today on many issues, but they are united in their resolve that the United States must remain the world’s greatest military power...In its most benign form, the consensus finds expression in extravagant and unremitting displays of affection for those who wear the uniform. Considerably less benign is a pronounced enthusiasm for putting our soldiers to work “keeping America safe”...more or less permanently engaged in hostilities abroad, even as presidents from both parties take turns reiterating the nation’s enduring commitment to peace."
Sure, there are critics, but they're on the fringes. So, as usual, "this November, voters will choose between rival species of hawks". In terms of "national security" policy, "the outcome of the general election has already been decided...the status quo will prevail, largely unexamined and almost entirely intact..."
Bacevich blames historians for popular blindness in these matters. And he describes the American "meta-narrative" that includes major doses of isolationism and appeasement, but with our periodic and righteous activity resulting in the U.S. as the last and best superpower remaining on the stage. As Bacevich notes, "Whatever the defects of current U.S. policy, isolationism and appeasement do not number among them." With a military presence in more than 150 countries, the claim does not hold any water.  
Bacevich continues by noting that most of the public can't even imagine policy alternatives. In this, one is reminded of our country's massive excursions into K-12, Social Security, and health care/insurance. Few people can imagine provision through alternative means-- and believe that moving somewhat on the public/private spectrum is tantamount to government leaving the field. Ahh, the isolationists and the anarchists! Who would build the roads? Who would police the world? 
Instead, Bacevich encourages a different narrative with four episodes: 
1.) a "Hundred Years’ War for the Hemisphere", starting in 1898; 
2.) a "War for Pacific Dominion", also beginning in 1898, fading in the 1970s, and perhaps reviving again today; 
3.) a "War for the West", joined by the U.S. in 1917 and continuing until the Fall of the USSR in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and 
4.) a "War for the Greater Middle East", started in the post-World War I land grab of the preceding "war", but joined by the U.S. in the late 1970s and continuing unabated.

A lot of good nuggets as he develops his case. But in particular, on #2, Bacevich added some knowledge to my understanding of China, Japan, and the U.S. pre-WWII. It now makes more sense why Japan would attack us, given or interventions in episodes with Japan and China in the 1930s. 

His conclusion: "Among other things, the narrative demonstrates that the bugaboos of isolationism and appeasement are pure inventions...Since 1898, apart from taking an occasional breather, the United States has shown a strong and consistent preference for activism over restraint and for projecting power abroad rather than husbanding it for self-defense..."