Unspeakable Horror

Blogger photog has a piece up at his blog, Orion’s Cold Fire, entitled “What I Took Away from the Weekend Horror Fest,” which sums up the root causes of this weekend’s two terrible shootings: fatherless, isolated young men with few prospects, few role models, and an excess of narrow ideology.

As I wrote way back in January, I don’t typically write about shootings, because I don’t have much to add, and because the discussion always (incorrectly) focuses on controlling guns, not on addressing the real underlying issue.  The United States doesn’t have a gun problem; we have a God problem.  More precisely, we’ve jettisoned any sense of a transcendent moral order in favor relativism and a form of neo-paganism.

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Reblog: The joke’s on him (Dalrock Post)

A quick post, re: this morning’s post on moral decline:  Dalrock posted this piece about a sleazy divorce attorney in Dallas pitching divorce as a way to clear up closet space.

Here’s the Tweet with the billboard:

This mentality is why we’re in moral free-fall.

Buttigieg and Buchanan: Redefining Morality

It’s Good Friday here in Christendom, and while it feels like Christianity took one on the chin earlier this week, we know there’s victory in Jesus.

Indeed, Christianity has been compromised quite a bit lately, with the rise of “feel-good” non-denominational churches and the decline of High Protestant denominations, both succumbing, in different ways, to social justice pabulum. Blogger Dalrock writes extensively about how “conservative” churches are snookered into radical acceptance of homosexuality (and extremist feminism) as somehow Christ-like. That goes beyond “love the sinner, not the sin,” which is correct; Dalrock writes about “same sex-attracted” preachers in prominent non-denominational churches arguing that their gayness makes them “holy.”

Political pundit, noted paleoconservative, and devout Catholic Pat Buchanan has a piece on Taki’s Magazine this week about Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the out-and-proud Democratic presidential hopeful who is making waves because he’s a.) deceptively normal but b.) also gay, which isn’t as glamorous for the Left as being transgender, but it’s still their alternative lifestyle of choice. Buchanan examines “Mayor Pete’s” assertion that God made him gay, so he’s supposed to live that lifestyle (despite some very specific New Testament injunctions against homosexuality; unless Mayor Pete is the Second Coming of Christ, he’s adding to God’s Word).

Ultimately, gayness isn’t the issue (it’s just one of many bludgeons the Left wields in a relentless culture war). The issue is a persistent redefining of morality, not to mention the moral arrogance of Leftists who believe they, not God, can redefine thousands of years of moral absolutes.

Permit me to quote Buchanan at length:

Consider what has changed already.

In the 19th century, blasphemy was a crime.

In the Roaring ’20s the “vices” of booze and gambling were outlawed. Now they are major sources of state revenue.

Divorce was a rarity. Now half of all marriages are dissolved.

After the sexual revolution of the ’60s, births out of wedlock rocketed to where 40 percent of all children are born without a father in the home, as are half of Hispanics and 70 percent of all black children.

Pornography, which used to bring a prison term, today dominates cable TV. Marijuana, once a social scourge, is the hot new product. And Sen. Kamala Harris wants prostitution legalized.

In the lifetime of many Americans, homosexuality and abortion were still scandalous crimes. They are now cherished constitutional rights.

Yet, Mayor Pete’s assertion — that God made him gay, and God intended that he live his life this way, and that this life is moral and good — is another milestone on the road to a new America.

For what Buttigieg is saying is that either God changes his moral law to conform to the changing behavior of mankind or that, for 2,000 years, Christian preaching and practice toward homosexuals has been bigoted, injurious and morally indefensible.

The decline of the family and Christianity, I believe, are twin evils that brought us to this point. The two go hand in hand: without strong families, moral instruction falls to the wayside (or is delegated to progressive educators and the system that supports them). Without Christianity, the foundation that makes strong family formation possible is missing (at least, family formation loses its metaphysical component).

To be clear, we should not persecute homosexuals, and should treat them with dignity and respect. That said, we should not indulge their petulant outbursts, much less their insistence that their lifestyle is not just normal, but somehow godly. Statistically and morally, neither of those claims are valid or borne out by history or Scripture.

We should love one another, acknowledging we are all sinners in need of Christ. That does not mean we have to condone or enable sin, in whatever form. Homosexuality is particularly difficult to address, but we could start by not openly celebrating it all the time, nor should we encourage people struggling with those proclivities to define their entire being around their sexual preferences. What a terrible foundation upon which to build your identity!

Enjoy this Good Friday, and pray for direction on how we can renew our nation and our relationship with God.

Lazy Sunday IV: Christianity

Ah, yes, the sweet smell of at-home, high-speed Internet access in the morning.  It’s good to be back online.

For this week’s edition of “Lazy Sunday,” I thought I’d look back at some posts I’ve written about or related to the Christian faith.  For those of you that “choose to worship God in my own way” by staying home and watching televangelists in your underwear, these throwbacks are, perhaps, a timely addition to your Sunday morning.

Without further ado, here are some of my Christianity-related posts from the past few months:

    • The Influence of Christianity on America’s Founding” – I featured this piece in “Lazy Sunday III – Historical Moments,” so you can read a more thorough synopsis of it there.  After giving this talk, I walked outside to find it snowing.  Snow in December in South Carolina:  a miracle!
    • ‘Silent Night’ turns 200” – a short Christmas post, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of “Silent Night.”  Next to “O, Holy Night”—objectively the best Christmas song ever written—“Silent Night” is one of my favorites.  The story behind it is almost as beautiful as the song itself.
    • How the Reformation Shaped the World” – the title for this post comes from a Prager University video of the same name.  The post explores—in a very broad way—the ripple effects of Martin Luther’s courageous act of faith.  The piece is a short introduction to a very complex idea; feel free to leave your thoughts below or on the original post.
    • Nehemiah and National Renewal“; “Nehemiah Follow-Up” – these companion posts deal with the Book of Nehemiah, and how the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem was a symbolic and practical recommitment to God and restoration of Israelite national identity.  The parallels to President Trump are a bit on the nose, but obvious.
    • The Desperate Search for Meaning” – this piece came about as many of my posts do:  I read something that floated through my transom, and thought I’d write about it.  Essentially, an online, New Age fraud was selling cheap spirituality, and was herself a troubled, possessive individual.  The real crux was how she pulled susceptible, gullible women into her orbit, women desperately searching for some meaning in their lives.  There are all manner of online charlatans who try to fill men and women’s “God-hole.”

So, enjoy your churchy Lazy Sunday with these timeless classics.

Other Lazy Sunday posts:

1.) Lazy Sunday – APR Pieces

2.) Lazy Sunday II: Lincoln Posts

3.) Lazy Sunday III: Historical Moments

“Silent Night” turns 200

One of my favorite Christmas carols, “Silent Night,” turns 200 this Christmas season.

The carol was originally written as a poem in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars by a village priest, Joseph Mohr, in the village of Oberndorf, Austria, in 1816. Two years later, Mohr approached the town’s choirmaster and organist, Franz Xaver Gruber, to set the poem to music. Gruber agreed, and the carol enjoyed its first performance to a small congregation, which universally enjoyed its simple sweetness.

Since then, the humble hymn has spread far and wide, and is probably the most recognizable Christmas carol globally today. It’s been covered (likely) thousands of times; it’s certainly become a staple of my various Christmas performances.

This simple, sweet, powerful carol beautifully tells the story of Christ’s birth, as well as the import of that transformative moment in history, that point at which God became Flesh, and sent His Son to live among us.

As much as I enjoy classic hard rock and heavy metal, nothing can beat the tenderness of “Silent Night”—except the operatic majesty of “O, Holy Night,” objectively the best Christmas song ever written.

Merry Christmas, and thank God for sending us His Son, Jesus Christ.

Lincoln on Education

The following is adapted from remarks to the Florence County (SC) Republican Party on the evening of 10 September 2018.  The monthly program featured members of and candidates for the local school board, so I spoke briefly about President Abraham Lincoln’s education, and his views thereof.

We’re gathered here tonight to hear from members of and candidates for School Board; in that spirit, I’d like to speak briefly about education, particularly the education of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln.

From what I’ve read, Lincoln’s entire formal education consisted of around a year of schooling.  He would have a week or two here and there throughout his childhood in Kentucky and Indiana, and then return to working on the family’s farm.

Despite little formal education, Lincoln taught himself throughout his life.  He loved to read, and would read deeply on a variety of subjects, obtaining books whenever and wherever he could.  One of his contemporaries commented that “I never saw Abe after he was twelve that he didn’t have a book in his hand or in his pocket. It didn’t seem natural to see a feller read like that.”  When he sat for the bar exam, he’d read law books on his own time to prepare.

Lincoln also believed in education as a source of patriotism, morality, and self-improvement—what we might call “upward mobility.”  He was not a man who wanted to stay on the farm, and his self-education was a means to escape poverty.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to quote Lincoln at length from his 1832 speech “To the People of Sangamo County”:

“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period.”

Here we can see Lincoln’s belief that education lays the foundation for patriotism—we understand our freedoms better when we understood what they cost, and that others lack them.  We see, too, the power of education to teach us the virtuous and the good.  From that morality flows, as Lincoln said, “sobriety, enterprise, and industry,” the tripartite tools to improve our material conditions.

Patriotism, morality, and industry—these were the three benefits of education Lincoln espoused.  Coming from the man who wrote the Gettysburg Address, I think we should take Lincoln’s views on education seriously.

TBT: Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism

On Tuesday, I wrote about the “Human Toll of Globalization“—the dire consequences, both economic and moral, that befall a community when its primary economic engine is gutted through a naïve faith in unbridled free trade and globalization.  Another title for that piece might be almost a mirror of this essay’s from 2016:  “Civil Society Needs Cash.”

I don’t want to take that argument too far, though.  In the case of Danville, Virginia—and countless other American towns that have seen their prosperity flee abroad, or to bicoastal urban cloisters—a decaying economy wrought decaying morality, civil society, and civic pride.  That would suggest that prosperity, in and itself, cannot sustain true morality and virtue.

Indeed, as I argue in the essay below, “Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism,” excessive prosperity and material comfort breed a kind of moral complacency, what Kenneth Minogue likened to widespread Epicureanism (an excellent essay, and well worth reading if you don’t mind subscribing to The New Criterion, which is also worth the price).  Richard Weaver—one of my intellectual heroes—compared the material comfort of the then-mid-twentieth-century West to a drunk who, having grown addicted to alcohol, and requiring ever-greater quantities of it, no longer has the capacity to obtain the very substance he craves.

Milton Friedman famously argued that economic liberty is a necessary precursor to political liberty.  Similarly, I would argue that morality and virtue are necessary pillars to sustaining economic liberty for any length of time.  Indeed, George Washington argued that religion and public morality were “indispensable” to a self-governing republic.

In my mind, the orthodox libertarian (in the political sense, not the “free-will” libertarianism of the free-will-versus-determinism debate in modern philosophy) commits the same error as the orthodox Marxist in relying too much on economic analysis of behavior.  The idea of the “rational man” or “man as a rational animal” is a uniquely modern concept, and while Westerners have tried hard to shoe-horn themselves into that mold, the inner, teeming depths of our souls are still pre-rationalist.  We need God, and we still live according to symbols, rituals, and virtues.

As I wrote in 2016, “Without moral common ground and shared values that stress self-control, liberty rapidly turns to libertinism.  Libertinism without a great deal of wealth leads to shattered lives, which in turn wreck families and communities.”  I’ll explore these ideas further in my upcoming eBook, Values Have Consequences.

***

For the past week, I’ve written about the decline of the nuclear family, with follow-up posts about divorce and sex education, and about the negative impact of the of the welfare state on family formation.  These post have generated some wonderful discussions and input from followers, and I’ve been surprised by their popularity.

As I wrote in “Values Have Consequences,” I’m devoting Friday posts to discussions of social conservatism.  Social conservatism is increasingly the red-headed stepchild of the traditional Republican “tripod” coalition that also includes national security and economic conservatives (with the rise of Trump, populist nationalism could count as a fourth leg).  Politically, this marginalization makes some sense, as it’s not likely that fifty or sixty years of cultural attitudes and values will be changed at the ballot box.

Nevertheless, social conservatism is an important leg of the tripod.  Indeed, I would argue that the three coalitions are not at odds, but create logical synergies that allow each leg to stand.  The stool is much more stable when the three legs work together.

Economic conservatism–by which I mean the belief that freer markets, fewer and lighter regulations, and lower taxes, or what is more properly called neoliberalism (after the classical liberalism of the 18th-century thinkers like Adam Smith)–is wonderful and hugely important.  It’s led to massive gains domestically and globally, lifting untold millions off people out of poverty.  It allows people to enjoy a greater variety of goods and labor-saving devices, and provides more leisure time (and plenty of things to do during that time).

But free markets unmoored from guiding principles, strong and stable institutions, and the rule of law can morph into mindless Mammon worship.  Without a shared sense of trust and belief in human dignity, capitalism becomes cold and abstract.

Further, full-fledged economic liberalization without the limiting principles applied by constitutionalism and a morality supported by strong families and a robust civil society can lead to socially-destructive disruptions and behaviors.

As I’ve argued many times, making mistakes or bad choices is the necessary price of liberty.  But for self-government to work effectively–and to avoid social instability–a healthy dose of social conservatism is the best medicine.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee wears the most socially conservative outfit ever; later, he played bass on Fox News.
(Image Sourcehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Huckabeemike.JPG; photo by Craig Michaud)

To offer an illustration from recent history, contrast the post-Soviet experiences of Poland (and most of Eastern Europe) with that of Russia.  Despite decades under Communism–an ideology that was aggressively atheistic, stressing loyalty to the state and Communist Party over all else–Poland roared back into the West.  It adopted neoliberal (modern conservative) economic policies, and was one of the few European nations not to suffer severely during the Great Recession.

Russia similarly adopted “shock therapy” after the Soviet Union collapsed for good in 1991.  Rather than experiencing a huge economic boom, however, well-connected former Communists and others close to the old regime made off like bandits, leaving most Russians left holding the bag.

What’s the difference?  For one, the Russians lived under Communism for nearly a generation longer than the Poles, meaning there were several generations of downtrodden, state-dependent Russians by the time the USSR collapsed.  Many of these Russians were unable to adjust to a free-market system after living in a closed economy for so long.

Another key difference–and one that I think is extremely significant–is that Russians lost any scrap of civil society they might have possessed prior to the Bolshevik takeover in late 1917.  Civil society–the institutions between the basic family unit and the government, like churches, schools, clubs, civic organizations, etc.–was automatically preempted when every club, organization, or activity became part of the Soviet government.  The severely crippled (and, as I understand it, collaborationist) Russian Orthodox Church was unable or unwilling to push back against Soviet rule, providing little in the way of a spiritual alternative to the totalizing influence of Communism.

“[F]ree markets unmoored from guiding principles, strong and stable institutions, and the rule of law can morph into mindless Mammon worship.”

Poland, on the other hand, managed to maintain its deep Catholic faith.  The Catholic Church as an international organization (and with powerful, influential popes, most notably the Polish anti-Communist John Paul II) could never be wiped out completely by Soviet Communism.  Further, the Poles formed the Solidarity trades union movement, which offered an alternative to official Communist organizations.

Thus, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Poland emerged with a strong civil society anchored in a richly Christian worldview and ethic.  The shared sense of morality–one that stresses mutual respect, the dignity of human life, and the importance of honesty–allowed the complex deals and uptempo economic exchanges of capitalism to occur smoothly and rapidly.  From these civil and religious values came a firmer grasp of and respect for the rule of law, making predictable economic activity and long-term planning possible.

Russia, on the other hand, devolved into a fast-paced, nationwide run on the national cupboard.  Those with good connections grabbed whatever public funds and goodies they could.  Normal Russians couldn’t figure out why their government checks and free lunches stopped coming, and couldn’t understand why (or how) to pay taxes.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, all civic organizations ceased to exist, because they were all part of the Soviet government.  Without any civil society or other enduring institutions to model good behavior and to stress and enforce moral values, Russia struggled–and continues to do so–to adapt to global capitalism and democracy.  Not surprisingly, they’ve turned to a dictatorial strongman for guidance.

***

What of the American context?  As I’ve written before, I’m skeptical of full-fledged libertarianism–what I would broadly define as the marriage of economically conservative and socially liberal views–because it fails to acknowledge the need for strong moral values to uphold its own economic assumptionsLiberty and self-government can only really work when coupled with self-imposed order and restraint.  Without moral common ground and shared values that stress self-control, liberty rapidly turns to libertinism.  Libertinism without a great deal of wealth leads to shattered lives, which in turn wreck families and communities.

Eventually, unbridled, unchecked lasciviousness–even among (formerly) responsible adults–results in social chaos, requiring a dwindling number of hardworking, honest, and thrifty individuals to pay for the ramifications of poor moral choices that have been magnified many times over.

“[L]ibertarianism… fails to acknowledge the need for strong moral values to uphold its own economic assumptions.  Liberty and self-government can only really work when coupled with self-imposed order and restraint.”

Capitalism’s blessing of unparalleled abundance is also a potential curse.  Without a strong civil society that stresses good moral values–and without proper historical perspective–it becomes easy to take that abundance for granted.

That abundance also allows, for a time, more and more individuals to pay for the price of bad decisions.  Prior to the modern era, few people were wealthy enough to risk the negative consequences of immorality.  Now, Americans and Westerners enjoy a level of material comfort and well-being that can absorb at least some of the unpleasantness of questionable choices.  Over time, however, that security breaks down.

Richard Weaver likened the situation to an alcoholic who is so addicted to his drink, he’s unable to do the work necessary to pay for his addiction.  The more he needs the alcohol, the less capable he becomes of obtaining it.  Likewise, the more individuals become addicted to luxuries, the less able they are to work hard to maintain them.

To avoid the fate of Weaver’s drunk, we must recognize the importance of social conservatism.  While we should maximize individual liberty as much as possible, and within the bounds of the Constitution, we should also stress the moral and religious underpinnings that make that liberty both possible and responsible.

Open Borders is the Real Moral Crisis

I typically avoid wading into fashionable-for-the-moment moral crusades, but the hysteria over children being separated from their parents at the border is ludicrous, and demonstrates the typical “facts over feelings” emotionalism that mars our immigration debate.  That feel-goodism is why we’re even in this mess—if it can be characterized as such—in the first place.

Because I’ll be deemed a monster—“Won’t somebody please think of the children!“—for not unequivocally denouncing this Clinton-era policy, I’ll issue the usual, tedious disclaimers:  yes, it’s all very tragic; yes, it could be handled better; yes, I would have been terrified to be separated from my parents at such a young age; etc.

Now that the genuflecting to popular pieties is out of the way, let me get to my point:  this entire situation would be a non-issue if we had simply enforced our immigration laws consistently for the past thirty years.  President Trump isn’t the villain here (if anything, Congress is—they can take immediate action to change the policy or come up with some alternative—but I don’t even think they’re wrong this time); rather, the villains are all those who—in the vague name of “humanity” and “human rights”—ignored illegal immigration (or, worse, actively condoned it).

Sadly, it is an issue.  But what else are we to do?  Years of non-enforcement have sent the implicit but clear message to potential illegal immigrants that we don’t take our own borders (and, by extension, our national sovereignty and rule of law) seriously, and that if you’re sympathetic enough, you’ll get to skip the line.  Folks come up from Mexico and Central America fully expecting that, after some brief official unpleasantness, they can dissolve into the vastness of the United States and begin sending remittances back to their relatives—who may then pull up stakes and come.

Further, sneaking into the country illegally is a crime, and the United States has every right to enforce its laws, including those pertaining to immigration.  Mexico, similarly, has that right—and uses it unabashedly to police its own border (or to let Central American migrants waltz through on their way to the Estados Unidos).  Naturally, the punishment for breaking laws is often detainment, and the kiddies don’t join dad in his cell.

To give a common example:  what happens to the children of, say, an American heroin dealer when he’s arrested and sentenced to ten years in a drug bust?  His children—if they have no relatives willing or able to take them in—go into the foster care system.  It’s tragic, it’s terrible, but it’s part of the price of committing a felony.  No one wants it to happen, but it’s a consequence of one’s actions.  This reason is why crime is so detrimental to society at large, even beyond the immediate victims.

Unfortunately, a combination of winking at immigration enforcement (“eh, come on—you won’t get deported”), feel-good bullcrap (as my Mom would call it), and Emma Lazarus Syndrome (trademarked to The Portly Politico, 2018) have contributed to the current nightmare situation.  Now that an administration is in office that actually enforces the duly legislated law of the land—and at a point at which the problem has ballooned to epic proportions due to past lax enforcement—the problem is far thornier and more consumed with emotional and moral peril.

As any self-governing, self-sufficient adult understands, sometimes doing what is necessary is hard.  I do feel for these children who are stripped from their parents arms (although, it should be noted, usually for only a matter of hours), but who cares about my feelings?  We can have compassion for those who try to arrive here illegally, as well as their children, without attempting to take on all of their problems, and without sacrificing our national sovereignty and our laws in the process.

The United States is the most generous nation in the world—and the most prosperous—but we cannot take everyone in; to do so would not make everyone else better off, but would rather destroy what makes America the land of compassion, liberty, prosperity, and charity that it is.

***

For further reference, I recommend the following videos, the first from the brilliant Ben Shapiro, the second from Dilbert creator Scott Adams:

I’d also recommend this piece from National Review columnist Richard Lowry, which is quite good:  https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/05/illegal-immigration-enforcement-separating-kids-at-border/

And, finally, this piece from Conservative Review‘s Daniel Horowitz, which explains the true moral toll of illegal immigration—and misplaced compassion—very thoroughly:  https://www.conservativereview.com/news/the-immorality-of-the-open-borders-left/