The relationship between theory and practice is always tricky, but when it comes to politics it can get so out of whack that you really do wonder what motivates people after all. For instance, why are Southerners all Republican now? It was the Republican party who served as the aggressor (at least in the Southerner’s eyes) during and after the Civil War. My grandfather swore that he would never vote for a Republican, and I’m pretty sure he kept that promise. Even growing up in the 1990s, in my small Mississippi town, I remember that all of the city and county officials were Democrat. There usually weren’t any Republicans even on the ballot. And yet, by some magical twist of history, almost all the Southern states vote Republican on the national level, and almost all conservative-minded Christians in the South believe that the ideals of the Republican party are more or less consistent with a Biblical world and life view and philosophy of governance. Is this change simply because of Civil Rights? It’s hard to say.
Again, there’s the case of my grandfather still voting Democrat late into the 20th century and even until the start of the 21st century, and he was hardly a progressive-minded man, at least when it came to social issues. And most Southerners are not just Blue-Dog Democrats or Dixiecrats, opposing the Civil Rights’ issues but still retaining older Democratic values of labor protection, agrarian values, and suspicion towards unchecked corporate power. Not at all. The Republican transition is mostly complete, especially on the fiscal matters. And yet, Mississippi still manages to bring in more Federal subsidies than any other state (at least I think it’s still #1 in that category). As I said, it’s a very strange world. The moral issues probably have as much to do with the transition as anything, as the Democrats did kind of become the party of revolutionary morality, but even here there are a lot of questions that could be asked.
The Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle to the Colossians:
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body,but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
The way in which Christians are “not under the law” is one of those famous disputes in New Testament studies, but this passage seems to make at least one thing clear, you do not gain mastery over the flesh by adherence to regulations and restrictions concerning temporal things. Neither eating, nor not eating in itself has any bearing on your spirit.
I’ve been getting asked this question a good bit recently. Due to some of my public writings, my views are typically not hard to find, and I have criticized certain ideas and positions which I once held. In fact, I’ve done this a few times in my short life, and so from time to time, I suppose, explanation is in order. Continue reading →
Picking back up my series on Christian sexual identity, we have to realize that the foundational issue in conversations about “gender roles,” homosexuality, and the public place of marriage is that of definition. For the progressive gender, sexuality, and the various institutional structures supporting them are to be defined by the individual’s desire. Now, this doesn’t simply mean the surface-level choices that one makes, though it does mean that often enough, but rather those deep-seated desires which then incentivize one’s actions. I’m not sure if it is still the preferred nomenclature, but not too long ago folks used to use the term “orientation” to name this concept. A person’s “sexual orientation” was either heterosexual, homosexual, or something else, and this orientation was an important way that they were to be classified, even getting down to their fundamental identity.
This debate over orientation vs. “what’s natural” is at the heart of the traditional marriage debate. In its crudest form, the traditional marriage position says that it doesn’t matter what an individual might feel about it, marriage is by definition the union of a man and a woman. The response has been to say that this definition is far too thin and doesn’t take into account all of the images and promises that we have been attaching to marriage for some time now. Some might point to the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasizing “mutual society” over procreation. Others might blame it on dating culture and no-fault divorce. Others might still point to the notion that marriage is now one of those ways in which people continue “the pursuit of happiness.” Either way, the issue is that marriage is not simply a societal institution for childbirth and rearing, but it is also a key way for people to find personal fulfillment.
And we should admit that this response has been mostly unanswered because it is (currently) unanswerable. 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 natureof 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 →
So I’ve been gone a long time again. What can I say? I’ve been busy and having fun. However, I do have news that might be of interest to some of you.
Next Thursday, Jan. 12th, I will be presenting a paper for the Southern Political Science Association in New Orleans, LA. My panel is called “People of God? The Role of Political Hebraism in America,” and it meets from 3:00 to 4:30pm. I’m presenting on the 19th cent. Presbyterian-Catholic debates of John Breckinridge and John Hughes. Here’s an abstract:
The notion of religious tolerance in early 19th century America was hotly contested, and perhaps nowhere do we see how hot that contest could get as in the debates between John Breckinridge and John Hughes over religious principles and American liberty. Their political dialogue reveals a mixture of Enlightenment ideals and specifically theological convictions, and as it was in early 19th century America that the new religious tolerance was most clearly put to the test, an examination of the intellectual assumptions involved is helpful in locating the distinctive contours of the new Liberal settlement. There was not an easy or obvious settlement, as the history of anti-Catholicism in America has shown. Although anti-Catholic bigotry was involved in some of the controversies of the time, it is also the case that some of the specific arguments of the anti-Catholics reflected the matrix of political, philosophical, and religious ideals upon which the American settlement was founded, claiming a specifically Protestant foundation for Liberal religious toleration. The Catholics, on their part, pointed to aspects of the Protestants’ own history which contradicted their new sentiment. My investigation will seek to highlight the conflicting demands of religious communities and American civic liberty, identifying the basic principles and the rhetoric of ecclesiastical self-representation. It will also illustrate that certain theories of natural rights were themselves dependent upon religious or transcendental commitments, a fact which Revolutionary secularity did not always aim to highlight, but which became obvious in debates such as the one between Breckinridge and Hughes.
I would also like to compare the intellectual features of Breckinridge and Hughes’ arguments with the claims about developing secularity made by the contemporary writers Philip Hamburger and Eric Nelson. While the relevance to Hamburger’s work on the American notion of separation of church and state is obvious, Nelson’s treatment of the 16th and 17th century Hebraicists might seem much more remotely pertinent. In many ways, however, John Breckinridge’s Protestant version of religious tolerance directly mirrors the early modern moves highlighted by Nelson, and his own religious tradition was an heir of that earlier British thought. In this respect, it may be possible to show that the American development of secularity was a continuation of and not a departure from earlier modern Liberal views.
As we noted in the previous post, the abortion discussion can be divided into two parts: the ethical and the political. These are not unrelated questions, but they are distinct. So first, the ethical-
Is abortion moral?
This question is the elephant in the room. Almost no one in the pro-choice camp is willing to answer in the affirmative. They will always say that abortion is to be regretted, yet there are other influential factors that may make certain abortions morally justifiable.
We can already anticipate more questions, but we must not run off just yet. Let’s stick to this one question. Is abortion moral? Or rather, is it moral to end the life of (kill) a human entity (person? being? life?) prior to its birth? Continue reading →
The fallout from Proposition 26 has been very revealing. The measure was defeated by a sizable majority, and there are various theories as to just what was its downfall. “Overreaching” seems to be the consensus explanation, but I think the problem is more basic. It was seen as overreaching because it implicated a variety of issues and practices that the average “pro-life” Christian was not prepared to question. Almost everyone in the great state of Mississippi is “pro-life.” It’s really quite polite to be so. But it is a much smaller percentage who are willing to condemn abortifacient birth control, and still fewer of that group are ready to say that certain advances in “reproductive technology” violate the natural law. Perhaps, and a bit more understandably, legal “personhood” is also too difficult of a concept to apply to entities that do not yet exist within the immediate jurisdiction of the state.
While I supported Prop. 26 and am still convinced that it was a morally justified position, I am willing to have the conversation about each of these issues. From my own perspective, I am convinced that the ethical questions will always have a singular answer, however, the prudential political questions may vary depending upon our context and ability. Still, what I saw more than anything else was a failure on the part of the citizenry to articulate clear principles and to explain why they would support one practice yet condemn another. We did not have our first principles in order, nor did we quite know how the law ought to work in support of those principles.
Because of this, I would like to have an extended conversation about these matters. I want to examine those principles, as well as ask certain key questions as to why people think and decide as they do. Continue reading →
This Tuesday, the voters of Mississippi will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 26 which states: “As used in this Article III of the state constitution, the term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” This is making national headlines as it is rightly seen as a strategic moment in legal history. The implications of Proposition 26 could affect a variety of issues involving the use of fertilized eggs. I do not wish to give a technical legal examination of Prop. 26. Such an examination has already been done quite well here. According to Professor Green, Prop. 26 will not do very much on its face. It certainly will not overturn Roe v. Wade as some have erroneously asserted. However, I do think that Prop. 26 is an important opportunity to examine our own thoughts and reactions about life and the proper role of government.
I have seen a number of very bad arguments against Prop. 26. I will handle them quickly.
Prop. 26 pushes private values into the public square. – This is a variant of the old line, “You can’t legislate morality.” In point of fact, you can’t legislate much else besides morality. Take a look at our laws. Nearly all of them are grounded on morality. To the issue of “private values,” however, we can say that Prop. 26 is pretty decidedly public. It is seeking to define “person” in the state constitution. Continue reading →