A few years ago, I blogged a short consideration of Halloween. This is a topic that I’ve found myself continually returning to over the years, and so I finally laid out a longer historical survey of the holiday. You can find that posted over at TCI here. The essay is somewhat lengthy, but I think it has some popular and even pastoral value.
My last post really should have been called “What are men and women, and how do you know?” I emphasized that second question, only scratching the surface of the first. I’ll try to say more about that one now. Also one commentator suggested that I read some books on the distinction between sexuality and gender. Presumably I wouldn’t be so outrageously backwards if I did so. Herein I have to make a confession. I have read “some books.” I’ve also read some other ones. It’s just that I have this old-souled conviction that the best way to understand humanity is through the study of the humanities. I’ll explain.
In our modern day, the assumption seems to be that “social sciences” are more reliable, because they are “science” after all. They rely on statistics, and we all know that statics are the way to go. In fact, at the political science conference I go to, it’s about 70% statistics. (I go to the theory panels, but you knew that.) And it’s not that statistics are nothing. It’s just that they are inherently democratic, and I don’t believe that wisdom is. I believe in external and objective truth, something which we can all pursue and be relatively persuaded of through reason, patience, and charity. We don’t determine such wisdom by amassing testimonials from eye-witnesses though. We identify self-evident truths and indubitable realities, which stand outside us all, and then we deduce and we induce. Science will be very helpful along the way, but science will only do some of the work. It will not do all of the work. It cannot do all of the work. This is because it is necessarily limited. It observes and sometimes predicts. It does not really interpret or “understand.” Science can tell no stories. In fact, science itself rests upon a foundation which is pre-scientific, a set of assumptions about the nature of reality and knowledge, and these assumptions cannot actually be “tested” in the scientific manner without falling into a vicious circle. I probably should have told you that some of those books I read were philosophy books. Continue reading
As I’ve written about sexual identity and the natural differences between men and women, several questions have come up in different venues all asking the same thing: Where are you getting your concepts of gender roles? There are a lot of complicated ways to answer this question, and there are a lot of flat-out wrong ways to answer this question. I’ll try to keep it as simple (and right) as I can, but it will still take some ins and outs.
I believe that men and women have distinct roles and functions in life because I believe that sex matters. Men are men. They do not choose to be men. There is not some internal asexual self waiting to be freed. The same is true for women. This is both physical and psychological. It is a matter of body and soul.
Now all of this is derived from my own understanding of God and His design, but also from the nature of things. This can get us into the “complicated” very quickly, and so I’ll start by giving us some easy analogies. Imagine yourself in something of a desert island situation. You’ve got leaves, trees, sand, dirt, rocks, animals, etc. Then you stumble upon a fully-crafted ax. You can tell it is different from the other items because of its composition and the clear evidence of design. You run your thumb across the blade and cut yourself. This thing is meant for cutting. It might work for other jobs, but obviously cutting is the primary one. Continue reading
I’m not sure what it takes for something to qualify as having “gone viral,” but my latest post on feminism and women in combat is hinting in that direction. It isn’t that it got so many hits all at once, but (more interestingly) it is getting very diverse traffic, some friendly and some not so much. And so instead of leaving well enough alone, I figured I should be like the Apostle Paul and not let a small-scale riot be an opportunity wasted. For those who were confused, bothered, or enraged, let me say that while yes, I do believe some very radical and outrageous stuff and wish to persuade you all of it as well, I probably don’t quite mean what you think.
For starters, I don’t condemn or even blame women living in our society who have sought to go be their own persons and do what they believe. I think they are wrong, of course (as are also most of the men), but they’re doing exactly what you would expect, given our culture’s values and the basic framework of our society and economy. Frankly, it wouldn’t make any sense if they weren’t trying to make it to the top. To quote Mrs. Sayers again, women are human. Continue reading
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Feminists are, as their name implies, opposed to anything feminine.” We are now seeing this come to its most poignant fulfillment, as “women’s equality” has reached the point of the US government putting them in full military combat roles. Many conservative Christians are outraged, but this shouldn’t be seen as anything new. Women have already been in mostly non-combat positions in the military, and women firefighters and policepersons are commonplace. Women are taught from the earliest ages that they should do anything that they desire, no matter the perceived restrictions. We could trace this development back much further, of course, as it goes back at least to the middle of the 19th century. We are simply at the logical end of all of that. The women’s movement would say that they are finally winning “the war on women,” but I would suggest that the sides have been misnamed. It is true that there is a war against women. It’s just that the feminists are the ones waging it, and they’ve nearly won. Continue reading
So I do a bit of writing on politics, law, and religion. I was even fortunate enough to have one article published by an academic journal last year. This isn’t my primary vocation, but it’s a solid second calling. It’s more than a mere hobby. And the further I’ve gotten into this field, the more convinced I am that Christians really don’t know how to think about law and politics. There are very large segments of the Christian population who have severed themselves completely from Christian jurisprudence, namely the far-Left progressives and the Libertarians. These folks can certainly be true Christians. They are just very mistaken about how that relates to politics. The majority of “Evangelicals” find themselves in the middle of the GOP spectrum, some reluctantly and some happily. And a few other well-intentioned Christians stick with the “moderate” and “independent” labels. Hardly any of them, however, are terribly confident as to whether this is actually a consistent Biblical outlook, and those that are “very confident” are also often very mistaken.
Now let me quickly add that I don’t think I’ve got it all quite figured out either. There are a number of contemporary political issues of which I am not totally sure what the best approach is. But one thing I have managed to do over the last few years it to get a comfortable grasp of the guiding principles of traditional Christian legal thought. Notice that I said principles. Principles are different than positive commands and prohibitions. They go back to basic concepts and founding themes and ideas. Principles can often take different expressions depending on the rest of the context. Still, basic morality never changes.
One of the perennial questions is always regarding what role religion should even play in politics. Continue reading
The 2012 movie version of Les Miserables reminds me of the reception of Mumford & Sons’ latest album. Throngs of adoring fans, having awaited the releases for some time, made both huge commercial successes, both were then widely panned by critics for being too earnest (and thus unbelievable), and both were sorta Christian. The differences are important too. Whereas Babel generated a surprisingly hostile review from a significant number of critics, Les Miserables is holding out at a respectable 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards. Another key difference, from my point of view at least, is that I mostly didn’t like Mumford’s new album (really liked the first one, but am now a little worn out by the monotony), but I absolutely loved Les Miserables. I came very close to feeling those dreaded emotions after watching it, and you can ask around, that’s not a common occurrence for me.
Now, I’ve read a lot of criticisms of Les Miserables. The New Yorker, somewhat predictably, turned their collective noses up at it. Anthony Lane did his usual cynical routine, and David Denby, usually the good cop, was even worse, saying that, “It’s terrible; it’s dreadful. Overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive.” Oh well. At least Adam Gopnik liked it. I’m not too bothered by The New Yorker. It’s a publication for people who think of themselves as intellectuals, which is a distinct group, actually, from mere intellectuals.
More relevant to my circles, and more directly challenging towards my own sentiments, are those critiques coming from Christian viewers. I’ve seen the basic concern that Victor Hugo was himself not a Christian, along with other criticisms about the too-heavy emotions of the movie, the perils of Romanticism, and the overshadowing of any true message of grace by a sort of Enlightenment humanism. Here I was thinking that I’d seen a profound presentation of the impossibility of law, but perhaps I’d been mistaken. What are we to think of these observations? Continue reading
So there definitely is a culture war. It doesn’t take much reading through academic literature and the press to see that discussions of reason and revelation, faith and science, social freedoms, public morality, and sexual identity all attract attention and all cut to the deepest convictions and principles of American society. And it doesn’t take long to see that America is unsettled on those convictions and principles. The problem is that this culture war is often pretty mixed up, with participants shooting themselves in the foot as often as anything else.
They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is true. People learn a couple of talking points and a few intellectual formulas, and suddenly they think they have profound weaponry for social regeneration. One example is a billboard on Interstate 55 here in Jackson. It’s advertising a school which, I’m told, actually does do a good job at placing students into colleges and preparing them for high-paying jobs. Still, the sign’s faux intellectualism is unnerving. It advertises that the school will “Teach you how to think, not what to think.” Now that certainly sounds pious. This school, unique among all others, will avoid brainwashing its students with socio-political bias and will instead impart to them a view-from-nowhere objectivity that will allow these students to discover the best world and life for each of them, as they freely realize it on their own, with no intrusion from the principalities and powers.
Obviously that’s ridiculous. Continue reading
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
I prepared this sermon on Philippians 4:4-7 on Thursday, and I put the finishing touches on it early Friday morning. I then went out to work in my yard, only to return to my computer and see the news of the Connecticut elementary school shooting. I had been planning on addressing the problem of blue Christmases and the loneliness that modern man can feel, then offering up a happy message. The sermon was to be joyful and positive throughout, a nice message for the Holiday season. Now I look like a fool. Continue reading
When I heard that Sufjan Stevens had a new Christmas album, the obvious question was “Why?” It was just 2008 when he put out Songs for Christmas, a collection of 42 songs. And ok, sure, Songs for Christmas was put together over a few years, but still, who does two Christmas albums? And who would do two so close together? Well, Silver and Gold has a whopping 58 tracks, some serious, some a little quirky, and some entirely bizarre. There are traditional Christmas carols, some Advent hymns, at least one Lenten hymn, some playful electro-folk, and a bit of plain noise.
As I began listening to Silver and Gold, I had a few more questions. First, while I love the hymn Ah Holy Jesus, it isn’t a Christmas song at all. Rather, it’s about the death of Christ. What was it doing on this Christmas album, and in three versions at that? Also, there are a lot of Advent themes– “Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates” and “How Shall I Fitly Meet Thee” are traditional Advent hymns. It even seems that Sufjan has written at least two specifically Advent-aimed songs, “Even the Earth Will Perish and the Universe Give Way” and “Justice Delivers Its Death.” For those who are not familiar with the distinction between Advent and Christmas, Advent is the penitential season in the Church calendar just prior to Christmas. Rather than being jolly, it stresses the judgment associated with Christ’s coming, both his first and second coming. And so Advent songs are often about the end of the world, the final judgment, and Jesus returning cosmic order and righteousness to the universe. What’s striking is that Advent and its music are typically somber, a stark contrast to what most people think of as “Christmas music.” Obviously Sufjan is doing all this on purpose, and so the question is, “What’s he up to?” Continue reading