(Im)moral Monday in North Carolina

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Location map of North Carolina, USA

Location map of North Carolina, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a strange phenomena in America when people hell-bent on supporting murdering the unborn protest on what they call “Moral Monday.” Initially these protests involved the usual suspects from the Left protesting budget cuts and districts set up by the Republican state legislature. The latter will not change due to the recent (and finally sensible) U.S. Supreme Court ruling lifting some of the unfair restrictions of the Voting Rights Act from the states (especially the Southern states). The latter–well, to the left, any cut in government is intrinsically evil. It is the protests against the restrictions on abortion passed by the North Carolina senate that I find particularly ironic.

Any law regulating abortion clinics has been opposed by the pro-abortion lobby despite abuses that occur that have physically harmed or caused death to some women having abortions. This gives the lie to the pro-abortionists’ claim that they are concerned about women’s health. Their actual concern is their own selfishness, a selfishness and pride so perverse that it leads them to think that babies are “parasites” (as two of my students once put in) and that murdering them is just another form of birth control. The shrillness of the voices at Monday’s protests were ear-splitting, far worse than the shouts of any Fundamentalist preacher. The pro-abortion crowd at the protests were Fundamentalists, with their religion being abortion, and the worship services of their religion the sacrifice of innocent life on the altar of selfishness. In the past I have tried to be careful to separate the position from the person–no one is wholly evil, since even the most evil person in the world is still a creature made in God’s image. However, when I saw the shrill protestors on the news yesterday supporting the destruction of unborn life in the name of the “health of the mother,” I was hearing the voices of evil.

What makes the situation worse is North Carolina’s RINO governor, Pat McCrory, refuses to sign a bill putting any further restrictions on abortion. That is so typical of the Charlotte country-club Republican crowd–and it is nauseating to see. In addition, where was there any coverage in the news on the pro-life position? I thought the WRAL reports were so one-sided as to constitute advocacy of the pro-abortion side–but this is typical of the mainstream media.

Pray for the unborn, for the millions murdered in the name of convenience, for the people who commit the terrible crime of abortion that they might repent, for a country so twisted and selfish that it has allowed the atrocity of the murder of the most helpless and innocent of its citizens. Pray for those who “call evil good and good evil,” who call the immoral moral and the moral immoral. May God strengthen the forces who fight the darkness of the Culture of Death.

Missing the Point on Atheism and Mass Murder

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Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speak...

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speaking to a gathering at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atheists have reacted with outrage to Mike Huckabee‘s statements (http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151207029493634) as well as Pat Buchanan‘s column (http://buchanan.org/blog/the-dead-soul-of-adam-lanza-5428) on the role that atheism might play in such tragedies as the school murders in Connecticut. Some comments I have read suggest that atheists believe that Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Buchanan are attacking them personally or saying that atheism directly led to the school shooting. A more careful reading of Huckabee and Buchanan, however, reveals that their claims are more nuanced. The point they make, and I think they are right, is that a godless society is more likely to put the primary focus on the self and its desires. Now I am aware of James Q. Wilson‘s work on sociobiology and altruism, but more people are likely to have heard of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. Most “lay atheists,” even highly educated or intelligent atheists, may not be aware of either work, but one motive for atheism among some (though not all) atheists is the desire to be free of divine judgment in order to fulfill the desires of the self. Kant was a theist of sorts, at least most of his life, and the remains of Lutheran divine command theory kept his principle of autonomy from degenerating into subjectivism–the identical moral law, Kant believed, was given to each individual by that individual self. With the remains of Christianity removed from autonomy, autonomy becomes the right to do whatever the self desires. Now that often comes with the caveat that one can do what one desires “as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else,” but without a divine judgment it is only internal conscience developed by habituation that prevents evil personal desires from being expressed. Ted Bundy made it clear to one of his victims that without a God to judge him, he believed that he should fulfill his personal desires to murder his victims and sexually violate their dead bodies. Without a sense that one’s actions can have consequences beyond this life, including negative consequences, it is easier for disturbed people such as Adam Lanza to act on their evil desires. Now he may have acted anyway–we cannot know for sure–but the point is that with one less barrier to fulfilling personal desires, it is easier for an evil or severely disturbed person to “go over the top” and act on his twisted desires. This does not imply that all mass murderers are atheists, nor does it deny that many atheists have moral lives that put some Christians to shame. In a way, the atheist who seeks only fulfillment of the self is acting more consistently than the one who affirms a larger social responsibility to the group. I am aware that evolution recognizes the nature of humans as social beings, and that a lack of all concern for others would prevent human genes from being carried on to the next generation. Yet there is no transcendent meaning to life in atheism, and as Bertrand Russell recognized, all human achievements would be lost in the final ruin of the universe. In such a meaningless world, hedonism may seem like the best option, as with Russell, but with less stable people egoism may be the course they take. Thus the point made is a general one: a society that eliminates any deity is more likely to produce more people like Mr. Lanza that one that accepts ethical monotheism.

True, There Never Was a Golden Age, but….

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Small town Arizona

I enjoy looking through the books other faculty require as reading at the university where I teach–it gives me a sense of the focus of their classes and the gist of the material taught in a particular class. One day I found a book on the 1950s, arguing that it was not a “golden age” for family life, and that families had severe problems then as they do now. My first response was to say to myself, “No kidding.” Only a fool would think that the 1950s or any other decade was some kind of “Golden Age” that bypassed human frailties. Marriages had problems in the 1950s, some spouses were abused as well as some children, and some families were dysfunctional. However, apart from these obvious facts, and apart from useful advances in technology and medicine since the 1950s, it does appear that, despite its flaws, that decade was the last true “Era of Good Feeling” in the United States. It was also the last decade in which a generally Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic was dominant in American thought, even among most Roman Catholics and Jews. Although divorce was sometimes necessary in extreme circumstances of physical and/or emotional abuse or serial adultery, in most cases divorce was frowned upon. Although the Hollywood set would get abortions as well as others, abortion was recognized as a grave moral evil. Only a small minority disagreed. Premarital sex occurred, of course, and the hypocritical aspects of 1950s sexual mores are well known, but at least there was an ideal that the wedding night would be a special beginning of  a new life between two people that is sealed by their first act of sexual intercourse. More extended families existed, especially in the South, the Midwest, and (as is still the case today) in the Italian-American community. Although people moved, outside of the military or of upper business management, extensive moving was rare. The new suburbs, for a time, retained the notion of a “neighorhood” with cookouts and regular visits between neighbors. Small town life, though declining, still flourished in many parts of the country. Alcoholism was a problem, as was always the case, but extensive use of hard drugs such as heroin was rare outside some inner city neighborhoods. There was a growing problem with juvenile crime, but most teenaged social life was tame by today’s “standards.” Although conformity was sometimes taken to an extreme, there was a strong sense that the older generation felt a responsibility to rear a virtuous younger generation. Perhaps the “greatest generation” did not understand the degree to which easy access to material things would create the spoiled and self-serving whiners of the mid-1960s onward, but most tried to rear their children with high moral values. My parents told me that at least in the 1950s a person knew whom he could trust. Today, they said, it is difficult to trust anyone.

The “Great Society” and the destruction of underclass society which arose through their dependency on federal aid, was in the future. The vast majority of children, white and black, were born in stable two-parent homes. A strong work ethic permeated most of American society.

This is not to say that the 1950s did not have deep flaws–struggles over race and the threat of nuclear war, for example. However, I would have rather lived in that kind of culture rather than the upside down world of 2012, in which people “call evil good and good evil” and Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” took place, though not in the direction of the Homeric virtues as Nietzsche desired. Christian culture is rapidly declining in influence, with a new breed of young secularists coming into view who, as Rush Limbaugh (who is right on this point) notes are both desirous of a government “nanny state” to take care of their physical needs while at the same time desiring that the government let them “do their thing” regarding gay marriage, abortion, and other “choices” they deem “personal.” The rapidity of the decline in American character since the 1950s has been astounding. In my own lifetime the world has turned upside down, to the delight of the anti-Christian left and to the chagrin of the few traditionalists standing against the plague of barbarism overwhelming the country.

No generation is unfallen. Yet most members of the 1950s generation would admit when they did wrong. They might do bad things anyway, but they understood them to be morally wrong. Today people strut immoral activity without believing it to be immoral. Academia has been part of the fuel for the fire of relativism, but it is, ironically, an absolutist relativism that denies traditionalists their right to express their views. The universities have become cesspools of relativism, Marxism, and a stifling politically correct orthodoxy. At least in the 1950s, faculty had academic freedom to express their views. Traditional conservatives may have been a small minority, but they were not censored. The university was generally a place of open discussion of ideas rather than the cesspool of radical orthodoxy it has become now.

It is too late to go back–the United States as I knew it as a child is dying. The sense of anomie I and other traditionalists feel has driven some to emigrate from the country and others to retreat to enclaves of like-minded people. In the 1950s I would have felt at home. Even in the 1980s there seemed to be hope for the future. Now I feel like a stranger in a strange land, and I am sure many other people do as well. There are times I want to go back to my grandparents’ house where my parents lived with my sister and I from 1965-1969 and enjoy the simplicity of it all before the madness of the 1960s froze into place in the 1970s. It may be a good thing for Christians, for it forces us to focus on God as the only One who is eternal, the only One who does not change. Going back to the past is pointless–traditionalists have lost the culture. We can trust in God, try to live good moral lives and be good examples to others, be active in church, and enjoy visits with like-minded people without isolating ourselves from the larger society. We know that God will triumph in the end, but until then, we wait “with earnest expectation” for Christ to come.

 

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.

Theodicy and Animal Suffering

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Four ten-day-old kittens

Four ten-day-old kittens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Too many attempts at developing a theodicy, a broad-based account of why God allows evil and suffering in the universe, take account only of human suffering. Either writers do not deem it important, or else in Neo-Cartesian mold they deny either than animals have emotions or that because they do not find a sense of anomie in pain that they do not suffer in the way that human beings suffer. The Neo-Cartesian route, though still defended by certain Evangelical Protestant scholars who want a cheap way to get God off the hook for animal suffering, is so far from our experience of animals to be absurd. When will Calvinist philosophers stop try8ing to find a cheap way out of a real problem by denying it’s a problem? It is the propensity of some Evangelical scholars to deny the hard issues of their position: the Bible not being inerrant on historical and scientific matters, the evidence for some kind of macroevolution (even if more than Darwinian mechanisms are insufficient to explain all of evolution), the accounts of God in the Bible as an arbitrary, angry, jealous individual who kills with as much ease as He creates–and the problem of animal suffering. Not all Evangelical scholars agree with the Neo-Cartesians (to be fair, this includes Calvinist scholars–my intense dislike of Calvinism encourages me to be rather expressive emotionally).

The Neo-Cartesian position some scholars espouse has been used to justify abusing animals since “they don’t really understand pain like we do” and since “humans are over the other animals”.Despite the claim of some that animals have a sum total of positive emotions that outweigh any bad, one should also consider their short lives in the wild, often spend in running from predators and seeking sufficient food. Human beings have burdened animals with enormous tasks, The history of man’s treatment of animals has, at best, been a “mixed bag” (no pun intended). Abuse and/or abandonment of pets is a growing problem, especially during difficult economic times. Thus both evolutionary biology and its nature “red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson) and man’s abuse has resulted in a tremendous amount of animal suffereing. How could a good God allow such suffering.

Evolutionary biology provides little help, for animals must pass on their genes to their offspring for the species to survive. Survival–life–is the necessary condition for all other good things in life. Why the food chain? Why so much pain due to predatory relationships between carnivores and omnivores and their prey?

Why is there so much human abuse of animals–dog fights, cock fights, beating pets until they are bruised and bleeding. Does God simply overlook such pain and suffering? If man, the steward of the animals, fails to exercise stewardship and instead exercises cruel domination, do animals have any recourse in a just and merciful God?

Francis Collins, John Hick, and C. S. Lewis have provided attempts to explain animal suffering within an evolutionary framework. For Hick, animal suffering is the required result of God using evolution to bring forth life. Lewis posits a fall of some kind to explain animal pain. Without an eschatological dimension, as I have mentioned in previous posts, animal pain has no redemption–and Romans 8 makes clear that the entire creation, not merely man, will be subject o the saving power of God. John Wesley correctly understands that animal resurrection is a possible implication from the Romans passage.

I do not believe that such resurrection involves just the species. God’s concern is for individuals, and millions of individual animals have suffered over the millenia without a smidgeon of support Duns Scotus was correct in holding that each being is individuated by haecceiitas, a unique formality that contracts the individual natures into an individual thing that is incommunicable. Only God knows the haecceitas in this life. It is arbitrary to say that only the human body is resurrected–why not animals? If God cares about each blade of grass, surely He cares enough about individual animals not to allow them to be annihilated at death. Alternatives allow no justice for the suffering endured by animals (or by people), In raising humans and non-human animals, God reveals His mercy and love in extending the gift of eternal life to the sentient beings of His creation. To deny this is to deny the love of God for His creation and His concern for the “least of these.”

Republican Candidates and Waterboarding

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Official photo of Congresswoman Michele Bachma...

Image via Wikipedia

Herman Cain speaking at a press conference to ...

Image by roberthuffstutter via Flickr

Although as a traditional conservative I cannot vote for Mr. Obama, I also cannot vote for Mr. Cain or Ms. Bachmann. I am voting for Ron Paul, and would be open to voting for Mr. Huntsman if he got the Republican nomination. I can swallow hard and vote for neoconservative warmongers such as Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum, but I will not vote for a candidate who supports waterboarding. Mr. Can and Ms. Bachmann explicitly said that they would reinstate waterboarding, which is, despite their denials, a form of torture. Mr. Perry hinted that he could support waterboarding, and that adds another reason I could not vote for him. Torture is objectively morally evil, and for candidates to claim Christian identity while supporting a crass utilitarianism that would countenance torture reveals their hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of their “Christian” supporters who also support waterboarding and other forms of torture. I am not so naive so as to believe that the United States has not used torture in the past, but torture has not been a part of official U. S. policy–at least it wasn’t until the administration of George W. Bush. Even Mr. Obama has only added window dressing in limiting torture, letting other countries do the dirty work. To support torture or to deny that waterboarding constitutes torture reveals a major character flaw that is incompatible with a person being president of the United States. Even if we could obtain actionable intelligence from waterboarding, which is doubtful to the point of being practically impossible, this would not morally justify the practice. Mr. Cain and Ms. Bachmann (and perhaps Mr. Perry) find themselves supporting an evil practice that strips human beings of their dignity, a dignity presupposed in the Geneva Conventions. If an open supporter of torture receives the Republican nomination, I will vote for a third party candidate. Critics of Mr. Obama might say that any Republican would be better than him, but a Republican who states that he or she would reinstate waterboarding would not be better than Mr. Obama.

The problem is that both major parties have been purchased by warmongers, to the point that critics of war and or torture such as Mr. Paul, receive limited air time in a lengthy debate. Mr. Paul only received ninety seconds of air time in last night’s debate. That is a travesty that reflects the extent to which the military-industrial complex has captured the U. S. media. The fact that so-called Christians criticize Mr. Paul for opposing torture in all forms and for opposing unnecessary wars reveals the so-called “Christian right” to be neither Christian nor truly right wing. The traditional right would neither have supported torture no engaging in unnecessary wars. The Cold War was the beginning of the fall of the right into warmongering. Afraid of Communist world domination, which could not have happened given the inevitable inefficiency of Communism, the American right supported the major U. S. military buildup of the 1950s. Southerners, who should know better after the War between the States, strongly supported this warmongering policy, as did the leaders of the Christian right in the 1970s and 80s. When  the U.S. engaged in torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and with the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, these same groups supported the U.S. practice of torture. There are a few people on both the right and on the left who oppose torture. They should work together to change U. S. policy to the point that it cannot engage in torture anywhere and at any time. If they fail, the United States will pay by losing support in the world community–and by losing its soul.

Denying Manicheanism Does not Mean Denying the Reality of Evil

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Clarence S. Darrow

Image via Wikipedia

Some people are evil. They are not totally evil, for anything totally evil would not exist–Manicheanism, the view that evil is an equal and opposite reality to good, is flawed. To accept that evil is real does not imply that evil is positive; it remains an absence of good. Yet evil is a real lack (and here I’m focusing on moral evil) that results in murders, theft, broken promises, manipulation for one’s own selfish ends, and the list goes on. Some psychologists, sociologists, and social workers deny that evil is real in any sense, and deny that there are predominately evil in the world. Yet I have found that if I question the deniers in detail, they almost always have met one person so twisted that they had to admit that person was evil.

The United States is often Manichean in its view of evil, particularly in holding that America is good and America’s enemies are totally evil. But that does not mean that when President Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” that he was wrong. It was predominately evil. To say that the Soviet system was predominately evil is not to say that it was totally evil, nor does it claim that the Soviet leaders were totally evil–even Stalin, by sharing in existence, was “metaphysically good,” even though he was morally twisted and predominately evil. He was not subhuman or a demon; he was a very bad human being.

However a person’s background influences him, this does not excuse him from moral responsibility–one way to dehumanize people is to say that they are totally determined by their background, since denying them free will to make moral decisions denies them a fundamental human capacity. Loeb and Leopold‘s background (wealthy, pampered) did not force them to murder Bobby Franks, despite Clarence Darrow‘s dehumanizing denial of Loeb and Leopold’s moral freedom. They had the free will to decide whether or not to murder Bobby Franks, and their action was twisted and evil. Although it may be difficult for someone in a violent urban area to make the right decisions, the person remains responsible for the moral choices he makes. To deny him moral choice is to deny him humanity. Liberal social reformers who say that instead of making evil moral choices that a person is determined by his environment are the true dehumanizers. Traditionalists may need to admit the importance of social background in corrupting character, but at least they recognize the humanity of people from violent and poverty stricken neighborhoods.  Neither does a rough rural upbringing make bad choices inevitable.

Some people are simply “meaner than hell.” A sociologist may claim that this “evil theory” is naive, but I would say that the sociologist has a twisted and flawed view of human nature. Some people have made so many bad choices that they have ruined their characters, and others have no conscience. With psychopaths, it seems that the only goodness in them is metaphysical goodness, that they exist, and as products of God’s continuing creation, they are good insofar as they exist. But  morally they seem to be utterly twisted to the point of having very little if any moral goodness left. We don’t have to go to the usual examples of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or child murderers and serial killers to know that some people with whom we are in contact are evil. Some people love to create strife–they encourage friends to turn on each other, split and destroy organizations such as churches and clubs, and split up families–all for a kind of evil and selfish spite and glee. Their hearts are rotten; as Solzhenitsyn said, “The battle of good and evil is fought within each human heart.”

That means that as fallen creatures, we all have the capacity for evil. Any of us can start on a slippery slope that leads down the road to evil. So we should watch our own spiteful and selfish thoughts (for selfishness and pride are the ultimate roots of evil) and try to follow Jesus’ advice to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We should never be complacent in fighting the darkness of pride in our own hearts so that we may overcome temptations to evil acts and develop into virtuous human beings.

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