Why I am Eating at Chick-Fil-A Tomorrow (August 1)

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Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dan Cathy, owner of the Chick-Fil-A chain of restaurants, recently voiced support for the traditional view of marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Because of this, some supporters of same-sex marriage called for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A, and the chain has been banned in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and at Indiana University South Bend–those are the places about which I know–there may be others. Now any citizen who wants to boycott Chick-Fil-A because they disagree with Mr. Cathy’s views may do so–that is that citizen’s right as an American. Any citizen who wishes to eat at Chick-Fil-A for the food or to support free speech can do so without penalty. Frankly, I am tired of the intimidation tactics used by some supporters of same-sex marriage to try to close any public debate on the topic by force. Any officer in any company has the right to state the principles behind the organization. The attempt by some governments to punish Chick-Fil-A is the product of the totalitarian view that government can force a private business to go against its fundamental values–or at least to remain silent. One good thing about the backlash is that it has finally awakened not only conservative Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others who oppose same-sex marriage; it has also forced secular civil libertarians to rethink their views or at least squirm in their seats when they support a forced ban of Chick-Fil-A. The problem with traditional Christians is that too many are not willing to make the same effort in the culture wars as those who support sexual immorality and a false view of marriage. Perhaps from now on they will be more alert to the threats to their freedom of expression by the secularists and revisionists “Christians” who support same-sex marriage.

It is to support freedom of expression for Mr. Cathy and others in business that I will follow Mike Huckabee‘s lead and purchase food at Chick-Fil-A tomorrow. Those on the other side of the issue who wish to peacefully protest without harassing customers may, of course, do so. This is a small step for traditional Christians who are in more danger of having their freedoms taken away than they realize, not only by politicians in the Obama administration but also by means of intimidation and bullying by opponents of traditional Christianity. I am proud that Mr. Cathy has been open about his Christian views. Other Christians should follow his good example–and I encourage all people who support freedom of expression to eat at Chick-Fil-A tomorrow, August 1.

Evil as Utter Irrationality

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St. Augustine of Hippo as pictured during the ...

St. Augustine of Hippo as pictured during the Renaissance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The shootings at Aurora, Colorado reveal the irrationality of evil acts. I do not know whether the shooter is mentally ill–that will be determined in a psychiatric evaluation–but in the U.S. legal system he is held responsible if he knew the difference between right and wrong when he committed his crimes. What strikes me about this tragedy is its utter senselessness. This reminds me of Augustine’s notion of evil–that turning away from God, one’s highest good, is a supremely irrational act. It is as irrational as Esau’s giving up his birthright for a bowl of soup. Killing one’s fellow human beings (apart from situations of self-defense) is ultimately irrational, even if a killer goes through a reasoning process in planning a murder or murders. Sometimes it is difficult to find the causal chain of reasoning that a person used to justify and plan a murder. I cannot understand what the motive of the Aurora shooter could be. Whitman at the Texas tower–I can understand his actions because a tumor was pressing on the emotional centers of his brain, causing the rage that led him to shoot multiple people from the tower at the University of Texas. In the Colorado case, there seems to be no reason at all for the man to shoot and kill twelve human beings and wound 59 others. Perhaps he was angry with dropping out of graduate school, but how many people in that theater had anything to do with his graduate school career? A few years ago a graduate student killed his adviser, and that, while an evil act, makes some sense. The current situation makes no sense, and reveals evil at its most irrational and dehumanizing. If the shooter did this for attention, he is like a child wanting attention who pushes his baby sister in the water–what the shooter did was childish in the most negative sense. The sheer spitefulness, selfishness, and pride of evil are clear–“I’m going to get the attention I crave by murdering people”). Other people are only “living tools” (Aristotle’s definition of a slave) to the spree killer. They are used to satisfy his own selfish goals. Conscience by this stage has been seared “as with a hot iron,” to use St. Paul’s terminology.

These factors mean that trying to make sense of the incident, at least in terms of the murderer’s motivation, is only helpful in a trial setting. Saying that he was a “loner” is irrelevant, since many people are loners who never commit crimes. My head spins when I think about this case and how stupid human evil ultimately is. What needs to be done is to pray for the victims killed and their families, pray that the wounded will fully recover, and pray that even in a fallen world, an event like this will not be repeated.

Sadness Regarding Academia

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English: Old Well at the University of North C...

English: Old Well at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been out of town in Tennessee, my home state, and am back in North Carolina–only to discover that my library books checked out from UNC Libraries could not be renewed because of fines. I drove to Chapel Hill, paid the fines, returned some books, and renewed and checked out more. As I walked the sparsely populated summer school campus, I felt a twinge of sadness at the current state of the academy. Academia is my job and my vocation. I enjoy working in an academic setting, teaching, reading, writing, wandering through libraries, walking around lovely campuses. At its best, the academy teaches the great traditions of Western Civilization as well as introducing students to other civilizations after they better understand out own. Great philosophy, literature, and art are introduced to students. They can also learn science, mathematics, and various technical skills. Ideally, a college or university campus should be a Mecca of learning, free-spirited discussion, and developing the wisdom to use learned knowledge in a prudent way.

Ideals are never actuality, especially in a fallen world. I remember the summer after my senior year in high school, naively thinking that college would be an intellectual community with students like those who used to appear on the GE College Bowl. Alas, that was not the case for the most part. There were serious students, but most were wanting a degree and that was it. They were not interested in learning about the high points of civilized life. It is no surprise to me, looking back to those days in the early 1980s, that the children of those students now have similar attitudes–or worse. Yet there are students who, in spite of themselves, learn something, and that is a joy to any teacher.

The saddest aspect of the current academy is its radicalization by left wing, Neo-Marxist ideas. Along with such comes speech codes, an anti-Christian bias, and a refusal to entertain alternative points of view.. What used to be a venue for knowledge has become, in most places, a soapbox for left wing propaganda. The days when the Agrarians could survive in the academy are long gone. Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe Ransom would probably pass muster–perhaps even Allen Tate. I doubt that Andrew Lytle or Donald Davidson would be hired. I do not think any of them would be hired today at Vanderbilt University where they once wielded such influence. I could name other academic conservatives from the past who would have difficulty in today’s academy, but that would be superfluous–and it is a pathetic fact that such would be superfluous. For once I would like to see a college or university that believes in teaching the classic works of Western Civilization. St. Thomas Aquinas College in California does, but it is by far a rare exception to the rule.

I hope in the future that there will be good alternatives to the academy–private tutorials in Greek and/or Latin classics or in great works in philosophy, for example. That is most likely a pipe dream. I hope that one day academics wake up that their current course often does more harm that good, creating clones instead of wise thinkers.

The Prom and Wedding Racket

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Prom couple

Prom couple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my minor regrets in life is not attending my high school prom. At the time I was in a Fundamentalist religious group that opposed dancing, I was too shy to ask anyone out, and I did not have the money to go anyhow. Then, in 1980, the prom was a nice event and students dressed up for it, but it was not the ostentatious showy event the prom has become today.

My wedding was on a modest budget. My wife bought a beautiful white dress that served as a wedding dress. I wore my suit and tie. Church members made the wedding cake. It was a nice wedding, and even though it was not fancy, it was just as much of a wedding as one in which a family paid tens of thousands of dollars. Weddings like mine are becoming rarer, with a slew of wedding planners out there to make sure that families spend as much money as possible, and wedding shops willing to take their money.

A prom is a special event, but it is basically a date to a high school dance–a special date, for sure, one that is a great complement to the one who is asked. It is fair to expect those attending the prom to dress formally. In my days a suit and tie was acceptable, although some better off students would rent tuxes. Now proms have become rackets in which attendees demand the best dresses and tuxes in order to keep up with the other students. Shops who rent and/or sell prom outfits are quite happy with the new arrangement. Instead of being a nice date, proms become a way to show off and “keep up with the Jonseses.” The prom then becomes an ostentatious event for middle class parents to show that they can dress their child just as well or better than their neighbors. Poorer students who wish to attend the prom may pressure their parents, already strapped for cash, to rent expensive outfits. Acceptance is so desired by high school students, and this will trump common sense almost every time. The winners are the businesses that make million of dollars exploiting the immature insecurities of parents who are often no more mature than their children. Prom clothing is even marked by the year, like cars–“These are the prom dresses for 2012.” “God forbid that we’re a year out of date.” The parents will make excuses about elegance and how it is so good to see their child dressed up so nicely–I do not know how much of that is sincere and how much is male bovine excrement. I think it is more of the latter.

Weddings have become a racket as well, with families often spending ten thousand dollars or more on them. The money could be better spent in the form of a check to help the new couple get an easier start on their own. Instead, families must scrape, plan, rehearse and rehearse, buy the fanciest wedding dresses, buy or rent the fanciest bridemaids’ dresses, in order to feel superior to their neighbors–“Oh, did you see the Smith’s wedding. Her dress wasn’t half as beautiful as what y daughter is wearing.” The silliness of it all is humorous to watch, and the makers of wedding outfits are laughing all the way to the back. Businesses have a right to solicit business, and if they appeal to man’s baser instincts, it is not their fault that people yield to their baser instincts and buy more than they should need. I do not know how many times I’ve seen a family spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding, only to see that marriage dissolve in divorce less than a year later.

Sometimes it amazes me how much many American people are suckers.

Ideology as Platonism

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English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I was responding to a Facebook post regarding same-sex marriage. As usual, I was irenic, I presented the classic natural law arguments against that practice, and since the person to whom I was responding was Christian, I presented the arguments from Holy Scripture and from Catholic tradition. Instead of engaging in a reasonable discussion over an important societal issue, my respondent (who is homosexual) proceeded to say I was demeaning her, that made her feel less than a person, that she despised people like me. In other words, she resorted to an abusive ad hominem attack instead of rationally responding to my arguments.

The homosexual rights movement is one of many ideologies that came out of the 1960s and early 1970s. Feminism is another and womanism still another. All these ideologies shared a Marxist interpretation of reality in which the group advocates represented was the oppressed and society at large was the oppressor. Recently, homosexual advocates have begun labeling those who disagree with their lifestyle “haters.” Now this is a characteristic of an ideology–no matter how much compassion I show for homosexuals who are “advocates” (note that not all homosexuals agree with their “representatives”), I am, by definition, labeled as a “hater.” It does not matter that I do not hate homosexuals–the ideology accepts the following syllogism:

All persons who believe that homosexual activity is morally wrong are haters.

This person holds that homosexual activity is morally wrong.

Therefore, this person is a hater.

Given my respondent’s ideology, she had no other way to respond.

All ideologies are Platonic in the sense that they propose overarching visions of reality and apply them from at top-down perspective. That is, like rationalism in general, they do not look to sense experience for justification. The only justification is in terms of the axioms of their system, which are taken to be self-evident. Thus if one axiom says that “Anyone who believes that homosexuality is morally wrong hates homosexuals,” then that axiom applies by definition to all people in that class and cannot be questioned. As is the case with Plato’s transcendent Forms, Descartes’ Cogito, or Leibniz’s monads, reality is forced into the mold of theory instead of the theory being checked by reality.

Some versions (not all) of feminism function the same way. If, by definition, all classic literary works reflect male dominance, then scholars needing publications for tenure can search through texts for code words and sentences that reflect such male domination. In the case of Marxist ideology concerning the economic system, those who are in the bourgeois are, by definition, exploiting the proletariat. Mr. Obama’s use of class warfare recognizes the power of such a position (even though he has been more of a Chinese-style “state capitalist” than a dogmatic Communist). Envy is a powerful emotion, and if it can be justified by definition, then government should “make the rich pay their fair share” (whatever that might be).

Platonic political philosophy supports a top-down view of government–the same government is best for all people–the rule of philosopher kings (and queens). Such a position is held by Neoconservative and social democratic ideologues who desire to “spread democracy to the entire world.” The geography, history, and culture of a particular state is ignored in a naive attempt to mold the state into the pattern preferred by the Neocons or social democratic hawks.

Ideology has a convenient way of resorting to ad hominem arguments when its basic principles are attacked. After all, if they are self-evident, the person who does not recognize them is, at the very least, ignorant–and possibly reprobate as well. This position cuts the ground from under rational discussion of important societal issues and dangerously divides people into hostile groups. Ideology is, as Nietzsche recognized, a form of the “will to power,” and in a society only filled with ideologues the fundamental ethic becomes “might makes right.” This is a prescription for societal chaos. If people feel forced into a corner because of ideological labeling, and rational discussion is out of the question, what is left but assertion of raw physical force?

Aristotle recognized, in theory at least, that understanding the world requires a bottom-up approach. While all observation is “theory laden,” this does not abrogate the fact that knowledge of reality arises from the senses. Thus, unlike Plato, Aristotle placed forms in things, and held that states should follow the system that best suits their history and culture.

As Alasdair MacIntyre recognized, the only way for communities with different values can rationally discuss issues is by having the person in one community “put himself in the shoes” of someone in another community to understand that community’s values. Once that occurs (and it must be a mutual process), then rational discussion can take place. Agreement may not be reached, but there should remain a feeling of mutual respect.

Russell Kirk famously said that conservatism is not an ideology, meaning that the form that conservatism takes in a particular state will depend on the history and culture of that state. Conserving key societal values is not a matter of imposing them, Platonic-Formlike, from above–most likely one will only come up with one’s own a priori values to apply to everyone. Rather, conservatism should have a deep respect for the way things are in the actual world. There may be need for change, but this is done slowly and with appropriate concern for the history of a people.

God forbid that American society melt into a soup of competing ideologies. The end of the United States as we currently know it (what’s left of it, at least) will most likely result.

American Civil Religion

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English: The United States Esperanto: Loko de ...

English: The United States Esperanto: Loko de Usono sur la terglobo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I said there was a country in which during church services, church members sang tribute to their nation, carried flags in processional, celebrated national holidays, sang patriotic songs,  praised soldiers as war heroes for the native land, honored soldiers in uniform who came to church, of what country would you think first. My first thought would be of Nazi Germany, where civil religion was a way to honor the Nazi state and show loyalty to the Fatherland. Hitler hated Christianity but was willing to use it for his advantage and to stir up patriotism in the German people, especially in gaining help for the war effort. Worship of God was closely tied to worship of the nation-atate of Germany.

The United States, however, is similar to Nazi Germany in the sense that civil religion is a powerful force in American society. It first role with the coming of the Puritans in the seventeenth century, who envisioned America as specially blessed by God, “a shining city set on a hill.” That passage was quoted multiple times by Ronald Reagan. The idea was originally that America would set an example of Christian government to other nations of the world. That idea was reinforced by the Second Great Awakening at the end of the eighteenth century, American Civil Religion grew with the notion of Manifest Destiny and the rise of the American Empire after the Spanish-American War. This was tied in to European ideas of empire, of spreading “Christian civilization” throughout the world. That idea became more dangerous with Woodrow Wilson’s notion that the United States has a duty to spread democracy throughout the world. Thus, “Christianity and Democracy” should be the key words used to describe American Civil Religion. Instead of one’s land being considered a gracious gift of God, and the state ordained by God to punish evil-doers (as St. Paul put it), the nation-state became an object of reverence that rivaled God. American flags are marched in procession in churches along with the cross and are placed close to the altar at many churches. National holidays are celebrated such as Memorial Day and July 4, with hymns and the National Anthem played and/or sung. Soldiers returning from war are treated like Catholic saints. Sermons focus on the greatness of America and how “Christian” America has always been, despite scholarship that shows this was not the case in early America, not even in the case of the founding Fathers. Some churches are openly supportive of wars, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Church members dehumanize the enemy and call on America to “go over there and kick their a….”. Church members often support every American military adventure, claiming that God is on America’s side, ignoring the one million Iraqi children who died due to sanctions and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in the Second Iraq War. Only American lives are held precious by God.

The similarities with the Nazi German state church are striking. The state is venerated almost to the point of adoration. The United States flag, which has no business being inside a church sanctuary, is held in reverence almost as much as the cross. If ministers had any integrity and put loyalty to God first, the would take all national flags out of the sanctuary and not celebrate a national holiday as a Christian holiday. That may be too much to ask of American Christians, too many of whom buy into American triumphalism and silly theories such as Premillenialism that help to poison America’s policy toward the Middle East

Worship of the state should be decoupled from worshiping God. The church should pray for “all Christian rulers,” as the Anglican Prayer Book says, but not make the nation-state into an object of reverence. Traditionally it was one’s ancestral land that was worthy of veneration, not the nation-state abstraction. “Honoring the emperor< as St. Peter puts it, does not imply semi-worshiping the emperor, as the early Christians recognized when they refused to pray to the genius of the emperor. If only contemporary American Christians had the same level of wisdom.