Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cornball Brother

            He had me fooled.
         I was pretty sure Robert Griffin III was an African American.  Come to find out, he’s not.  Oh, he might look the part, and he might have African-American parents and grandparents.  But none of that counts.  That just makes him ostensibly, not authentically, black.
         What counts, according to ESPN analyst Rob Parker, the self-appointed genuine article of American blackness, is whether or not Griffin is “down with the cause.”  If he’s not, Parker says, then “he’s not one of us.”  To Parker, Griffin can’t be “down with the cause” because he went to Baylor, a Baptist university; he has a white fiancée; and he might have voted Republican.  To Parker, that makes Griffin “a cornball brother.”  You know, “kind of black,” in Parkerspeak.
         If Parker is right, then real blackness comes from immersing oneself in leftist group think, from marrying only racially suitable women, and from going to racially suitable colleges, which sounds very familiar.  It used to be that racists were known by the way they insisted on black men marrying only suitable black women.  It used to be that black men, if they went to college at all, had to go to approved colleges.  Folks who talked like that worked for the KKK.  Now they work for ESPN.  How the voice of the KKK became the measure of authentic blackness I do not know.
         Racists like Parker don’t get it.  They don’t recognize or value the heroic example of folks like Griffin, who acquire an impressive skill set, who get a good education, who accomplish great things, who serve God faithfully, and who fall in love with, and win the heart of, the woman of their dreams.  That’s an example, that’s a cause, any young American, of whatever ethnic or racial background, will find inspiring and instructive.
         Apparently none of that registers with Parker, who thinks that real blackness is a political orientation.
         If it is, then our first black president wasn’t Barack Obama.  It was Bill Clinton.    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Right to Work

         The right to organize a union is a federally protected activity.  It cannot be taken away.  Right to work laws do not take it away.  Right to work laws are the marketplace application of another federally protected activity, one explicitly articulated in the Constitution, namely the right to free association.
         In this context, the right to free association means that you are free to join, or not to join, any legally constituted and legally operating organization you wish.  If you want to join a union, you may.  If you want to decline union membership, you may.
         Unions are not happy with right to work laws because when workers are free to decline membership, they do.  They do it in enormous numbers and in enormous percentages.  That’s another way of saying that unions don’t like workplace freedom.  If to thrive means to have more money for use in securing political clout and legislative advantage, then unions thrive best in an atmosphere of coercion.  They get lots more money to buy politicians who will pass pro-union legislation if all workers are forced to join the union and pay their union dues.  Make no mistake about it:  It’s about money.  It’s about clout.  It’s about power.
         Union advocates always say that right to work laws aren’t really about freedom, they’re about undermining unions.  But by so arguing, those union advocates unwittingly confess that unions are not about freedom and that freedom itself undermines unions.  They unwittingly confess that unions are about coercion.  When workers get what they want, freedom expands.  When unions get what they want, freedom shrinks.  When workers get what they want, unions shrink.  So, according to the unions’ own argument, the real question is this:  Which do you want, freedom or unions?  Pick one.
         Let me make it clear:  Right to work laws don’t undermine unions.  Free workers undermine unions.  Unions fear free workers.  To the unions, the fewer free workers the better.    
         Unions want to turn the union hall into the hiring office.  They want to wrest from the company the company’s right to hire the best workers and to fire the worst.  They want to wrest from the worker the freedom to rise or fall as an individual, to succeed on the strength of one’s own merit and skill, to make or to decline one’s own deal or one’s own contract rather than to be a faceless, nameless, dues paying non-entity inside a tax-exempt, leftist, political front, whose money goes to support political parties, political candidates, and public policies the worker might actually despise.
         The union’s worst nightmare is the competent, self-reliant, I-can-do-it-myself worker able to make his or her own way through the world on the basis of acquired skills and demonstrated acumen, someone who doesn’t need to hide in the collective or to band together with the herd just to get or keep a job, someone who knows that if a company is stupid enough not to hire the best workers at an honest wage that that company gives its opponents a huge advantage in the marketplace because the best workers will then go elsewhere.  Smart companies know that the competitive edge belongs to companies with the best workers, not those with the most coercive unions.
         When right to work states border closed-shop states, existing businesses migrate from the latter to the former.  When start up businesses select a location, they make the same choice.  For example, just a few months ago Indiana, which borders Michigan on the south, became a right to work state.  Since then, almost 1/8 of the nation’s job growth went to Indiana, even though it has only 1/50 of the nation’s population.  During that same period, Michigan, then a closed shop state, lost jobs, just as it has done for years.  Right to work means more jobs.  More jobs mean more workers.  More workers mean more taxpayers.  More taxpayers mean more revenue for the state.  In other words, freedom pays.
         Unions don’t get it.  They think that they can bully their way to prosperity.  They bully their way to unemployment.  They drive away jobs.   By their bullying and their greed, they create a hostile environment for investment and job creation.  Despite their lumpish and loutish bluster, unions cannot suspend the laws of economics at will.  No one can. 
         Unions think (or at least argue) that the real issue is checking corporate greed.  They never think that there needs to be a check on union greed as well.
         Freedom is that check.       

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What's Wrong with Pornography

         What’s wrong with pornography?  Let me count the ways:
         (1) Pornography is sin.  It injures your soul and it injures your relationship with God.  Nothing worse can happen to you.  But that doesn’t mean you will feel it.  You might not feel it because your conscience can become so seared and insensitive that even greater and greater evils leave no impression upon it.  If your conscience is not pained by pornography, do not conclude that you have a clear conscience.  You flatter yourself.  Your conscience is not clear but scarred and benumbed.
         (2) Pornography is addictive.  Like drugs to the body, pornography leads to enslavement of the psyche.  You require a fix, and your fix needs to be more and more potent in order to deliver the desired effect.  In order to get it, you must slide deeper and deeper into the abyss.   The deeper you go, the more disfigured you inwardly become.  Pornography addiction is to your soul what methamphetamine addiction is to your body:  It is the hideous “after” to a more beautiful “before.”   Or, to change the comparison, perhaps you have seen the grotesque disfigurement some persons endure when, by accident or by criminal intention, acid is thrown in their faces.  For your soul, pornography is the acid.  Part of the ugliness of the pornography-soaked soul is its unnatural enslavement.  Contrary to its making, the addicted soul is not free; it is in chains.  You must never think you are free just because you do what you want whenever you want it.  After all, you can be a slave to your own desires, in which case they have you instead of you having them.
         (3) Pornography objectifies others.  Rather than remain themselves, rather than remain creatures for whom real love might lead us to sacrifice ourselves if the need arises, they become sub-persons whom we sacrifice to our own selfish and perverted ends.  We reduce the very creatures whom God has made His picture and His partner, and who therefore are the proper objects of His love and ours, to a mere means to our personal pleasure.  In our minds, they shrink from the lofty and privileged status of God’s image to a sub-human apparatus for our desires and corruptions, to which they are sacrificed.  They shrink from end to means, from human creature to equipment.
         (4) Pornography injures you and your spouse.  It sets up false expectations both of body and of action as if, in order to be acceptable, one had to look and act in a particular way or else to fail.  Rather than learning to love and value your spouse and yourself as you really are, false and unreasonable expectations intrude and, with them, come dissatisfaction, disappointment, self-recrimination and loathing, indeed sexual dislocation of every sort.  What was meant to be the great privilege of sexual intimacy between spouses is now the mere occasion of false expectations, frustration, and anger.  Rather than learning to love what and whom you have, you come to despise them and to desire what you have not.  You miss the great blessing Chesterton articulated:  Having sex with only one woman is an exceedingly small price to pay for being able to have sex at all.
         I easily could go on to name other tragic consequences of pornography.  The list is long with calamity:  disease, impoverishment, emotional destruction, broken families, and broken lives.
         Don’t be a fool.  Don’t go there. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Higher Education: What it is; What it is not; What it's For

         Education is not job training; it is not even schooling.  Education is knowing what things are for, not simply how they work.  The truly educated person understands the proper uses to which such things as bodies, brains, governments, art, and sport are put, not merely how to eat, how to manipulate difficult mathematical formulae, how to win an election, how to paint a still life, or how to hit a curveball.
         The difference between these two conditions of mind is the difference between wisdom and information, between knowledge and data, between knowing and knowing about.  Those who acquire the former are genuinely educated; those who gain only the latter are mere technological functionaries, replaceable by the next generation of machines.
         But no machine can replace Socrates, or anyone like him.  Socrates and his ilk can do what no machine ever shall -- love, worship, exult, grieve, repent -- in short, understand.  Authentic understanding and the suitable responses it engenders within us are not the product of mere job training or of technical expertise.  Here’s what I mean:
         When asked who was the wisest of men, the Delphic oracle replied that it was Socrates himself.  Socrates was shocked to hear it.  "Who, me?" he wondered.  "I don't know anything."  But as he contemplated the oracle's answer, Socrates realized the oracle was right.  Socrates indeed was wiser than other men.  At least he knew he was ignorant; the others were ignorant and didn't know it.  As long as they were ignorant of their ignorance, they could never change it.
         Such true but humbling lessons about ourselves we do not learn from those who could or would train us only to program (or even to design) a VCR.  That is because a teacher can take no student any further than the teacher has gone, and the technicians and self-esteem peddlers of our day cannot and do not teach students the truth about themselves or about the human situation.  Rather, they teach those students that to feel good is at least as important as to do good, and that to get a job and make money is the central purpose of an education and the chief means to happiness.
         Because such views are truncated and foolish, and because foolishness is purchased at the highest possible price, Socrates insisted that a teacher's proper task is not to raise the student's self-esteem.  The teacher's first task is to reveal to the student the student's own ignorance, in the hope that such self-knowledge might spur that student to action, that is, to mental and spiritual life.
         Socrates was no lackey of the self-esteem mongers of his day.  He understood that real self-knowledge was often a painful and deflating thing, not something that made you feel especially good about yourself.  When people discover the truth about themselves, they frequently discover something they fervently hope others will never find out.  Socrates knew that real self-knowledge feels a great deal like mental root canal.  But that painful fact did not persuade him that his students must be protected from such discovery.  He knew that the truth often hurts because the truth about human beings is often unflattering.  Unflattering or not, Socrates knew that it was an absolutely necessary component of education.  Without it no one can truly be called learned.
         Socrates understood that we enter this world in complete, total, and seamless ignorance, and that precious few of us ever penetrate that darkness with even the faintest flicker of wisdom or insight.  He understood that, given our naturally benighted condition, undue self-esteem is the fountain of intellectual apathy and the death of learning.  Feel-goodism is to the mental life of the uneducated what abortion is to the unborn.    
         In Christian terms, we are a fallen and sinful race.  We ourselves are the reason the world has gone haywire.  We are both the crown of creation and the scum of the earth.  As the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, we human beings are the best things God ever made.  But as the sinners we have become, we are the woeful products of the evil thoughts and actions to which we have addicted ourselves.  Those twin facts, our high birth and our low descent, said C.S. Lewis, are reason enough to raise the head of the lowest beggar and to lower the head of the highest king. 
         But such things no mere technician could ever teach, and about ourselves the charlatans of self-esteem deceive us.  Repentance and hard work are what we require, not premature or undeserved congratulations, not heavy doses of vapid feel-goodism.  Martin Luther's torments of conscience, his soul-wrenching bouts with anfechtung, not Norman Vincent Peale's positive thinking, are more likely to cure what ails us.  That’s another of saying that the job well done precedes the feelings of satisfaction; it does not follow them.  As in so many other things, the modern technicians of schooling have set the cart before the horse.  They bow in abject servitude to the tyrannous and impotent dictates of the so-called affective domain when they ought to banish it forever from the classroom.
         If you desire simply to train yourself, then learn to read, to write, and to compute; learn history and science as well.  But do not confuse the acquisition of these skills and of this information for education; they are not.  These things are the necessary means of acquiring an education; they are not education itself.
         But if you desire to become educated rather than remain merely trained, then you must remember that the educated person can give careful and insightful answers to the fundamental, or diagnostic, questions of life, questions like:
         "What is a good life, and what good is life?"
         "What is a good death, and what good is death?"
         "What is a good love, and what good is love?"
         "What is a human being?"
         But not only do most college students not know how to answer these questions, they have never even learned to raise them.  Because they and most of their teachers live without the benefits that come only from a classical liberal arts education pursued under the lordship of Christ, those students have never learned what Aristotle knew:  "He who would succeed must ask the right preliminary questions."
         Such preliminary questions do not include the questions professors most often hear from students, questions that seem naturally to arise from the indoctrination those students receive from the technicians and job trainers of our day -- questions like
"Will this be on the test?" 
"Will this help me get a job?"
"Will this make me feel good?"

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Roads Diverged in a Mental Wood, and That Has Made All The Difference

            The fundamental difference between the Christian worldview and all secular worldviews is reducible to this:  God is there and He is not silent.  Because He exists, and because He has spoken meaningfully and understandably to the mind and senses He both designed and then validated by his revelation to them, we now have a well-grounded system in which facts and knowledge are metaphysically warranted, and in which learning can begin.  We can arrive not only at utilitarian technique and personal or cultural preferences, but at the knowledge and wisdom that relates all things to their rightful and transcendent point of reference.  By knowing which direction is north, you know all other directions.
            In this case, north is personal, indeed Tri-Personal, and not the ultimately impersonal, uncaring, and doomed universe of mindless matter to which students taught in a secularist context must adjust.  The difference between these two worldviews could hardly be greater.  One world is the cosmic home made for us by our gracious and self-revealing Father, a world in which history has meaning, purpose, and direction, a world in which Providence oversees all, and leads the universe and its inhabitants to their proper destiny.  The other is a hostile world unaware of, and therefore indifferent to, both its and our very existence -- an existence forfeit to ultimate destruction, a destruction to which nihilism is the only realistic and appropriate response.  One worldview teaches students that they are everlasting souls of inestimable worth; the other that they are soulless lumps of momentarily animate matter, part and parcel of a dying and meaningless world, and that whatever they might do or think, they are destined to share its inevitable doom.  Those are the options.  If the Christian worldview is true, then secular learning is not education but an exercise in nihilistic disorientation.  If, as Christians say, Christ is the Lord of all things, then nothing is properly secular.  Anything pursued in a secular fashion is, therefore, at least partly, if not wholly, mispursued.  Whether we speak of the academy, the marketplace, the public square, the laboratory, or the arena, all human endeavors, to be rightly understood and rightly pursued, must be related back to Him, back the God who, in Christ, walked our roads, breathed our air, and spoke our language, the God in whose light we now see all things.  If the Christian worldview is true, then secular education is a terrible disservice to those in whom we inculcate its impotent methods of intellection and assessment, methods that, from the beginning, banish the Transcendent as either unimportant or unnecessary.  Conversely, if Christ is not the rightful Lord of literally all things, then Christian education is a deep and wide delusion on the grandest scale because, if matter is all there is, then matter is all that matters.  In the canyon between these two possibilities, neutrality is not possible, despite modernist and postmodernist pretenses to the contrary.  One simply cannot escape the fundamental importance of the question Christ asked his disciples:  “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8: 29).  The secularist worldview answers, in effect, “Not much,” or “No one worth considering.”  To the Protestant, the answer is “You are the One by Whom, and for Whom all things were made.  You are the glue that holds the universe together” (Col. 1: 16, 17).  Upon their differing answers to that question hinges everything.
Compared to the Protestant view of reality, the secularist vision begins from a very different point, and it yields massively different conclusions.  That assertion, of course, is not new with me.  In the words of renowned atheist Bertrand Russell:

“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noon-day brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.  Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built . . . Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow doom falls pitiless and dark.  Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little days . . . proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate for a moment his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.”[1]

            Russell is right:  The secularist worldview is the death not only of optimism, but also of any final distinction between good and evil.  To such a world as they presuppose, only despair can be an appropriate response.  Only death awaits us, the cosmic rendering of what Milton called “ever-during dark” (Paradise Lost 3: 45).  We will, according to Russell, finally be trampled under the heel of the same mindless power from which the world itself arose.  You end where you began.
Whether their secularist teachers intend it or not, the more astute students deduce from all this that life is a cosmic joke without a punch line and that they are part and parcel of a universe on its way to ruin.   They recognize the profound difference between living and learning under the love of a God who would, and did, die for us, on the one hand, and full-orbed, cosmic nihilism, on the other.  They discover that the differences between the Protestant and secularist worldviews are neither incidental nor neutral; they are antithetical.  They notice that ideas have consequences.  They learn that they must adjust to ultimate reality because ultimate reality will not adjust to them.  They learn that Allan Bloom was right about their thoughtless teachers:  Those teachers are the silly purveyors of what he identified as nihilism with a happy ending.  They paint the world with the blackest set of presuppositions and consequences, yet they think that a smiley face sticker on a spelling test can still be appropriate.  By contrast, the Protestant worldview yields an educational philosophy based upon the revelation of God in which – and only in which, things as diverse as humanity and chemistry find their proper place, neither too high nor too low.
            By emphasizing the profound differences between these worldviews, I am not ignoring or belittling what theologians call “common grace,” the enabling grace given to all God’s creatures, the grace by which we all benefit in countless ways, and which links us together in various levels of blessedness.  While real and available to all, common grace neither overlooks nor plays down the ultimate differences between competing worldviews.  Rather, common grace helps us to understand that things that are similar in some ways are not, therefore, ultimately alike.  Simply because the Christian and non-Christian worldviews intersect at various points, or simply because they seem similar in some ways, does not mean that that which divides them is insignificant.  The doctrine of common grace says that similarities between the Christian worldview and others are real but not fundamental.  We must remember that those superficial likenesses appear before the backdrop of the ultimate differences delineated above.  Those who either do not understand or do not believe in common grace are likely to elevate superficial likenesses to ultimate likenesses, with the result that absolute differences are shrunken, even willfully dismissed.
In light of those inescapable ultimate differences, things like the content of the periodic table or the notion that four plus four equals eight, do not have, and cannot have, the same significance for secular thought as for Christian thought, even though their use might be roughly parallel.  Just as epistemological warrant arises only from the God who makes known and who transcendently validates the use of our mind and senses, so also does authentic understanding (or wisdom), which comes from knowing the source, the purpose, the nature, and the end of all things.  That higher, more synthetic, knowledge is not the same as merely efficient manipulation toward a desired end, or as mastery of technique.  Because thinking persons seek to understand the real nature of all things and the relationship that ought to exist between those things, they cannot divorce the reality of, say, atomic weight from the source and proper use of atoms and from our knowledge of it.  The fact that mathematical functions are available to all does not mean that the significance and uses to which those functions are properly put are also equally available, regardless of the context in which we wish to use them or from which they derive.  
You must make a choice:
Either justice and grace are at the root of the world, or else indifference on the grandest possible scale.  We are faced with two very different worldviews as the basis for education and, inescapably, we offer them to our students.  One worldview has the best of all possible outcomes, the other the worst.  An omnipotent and omniscient God is the only sufficient basis for optimism, even in the worst of times; but mindless, indifferent matter at the core of all reality is the death of optimism even in the best of times.  If part of education is to help students know their world and learn how to adjust their responses to it accordingly, then ultimate despair is the only reasonable response to the secular worldview taught in public schools, where the Gospel of John is banished but Heather Has Two Mommies is lauded.  To think things in line with the secularist worldview and yet to inculcate the baseless optimism so characteristic of contemporary education is simply to make Pollyanna the patron saint of secular indoctrination and to sacrifice the minds of our children on her altar, the Moloch of postmodern learning.  Secular educators must either adjust their teaching to their worldview, or else get a different worldview.  Failure to do so is a crime of the intellect and an injury to the next generation.
The road forks; you must go right or left.

[1]Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1925), pp 47-48, 56-57

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Morality and the Marketplace

The marketplace is not a moral absolute.  Simply because an activity yields a financial profit, it does not mean that the activity is moral and ought to be permitted or protected.   Opposing such an activity is not to oppose capitalism but to oppose some of the things capitalists (and others) sometimes do.
It is both legal and profitable to work as a doctor for Planned Parenthood, to sell medical marijuana in California, and to run a brothel in Nevada.  One can make a handsome profit doing these and similar things.  But that does not mean it is right or that those activities ought to be maintained and protected.  It does not mean that such activities are above criticism or beyond approach.  By criticizing or reproaching them, one is not opposing capitalism or the free market, as if market exchanges were to be free from criticism or opposition.  The free market is not, nor should it be, absolutely free.  It is free within limits.  Its freedom is a matter of degrees, not an all-or-nothing false dilemma, as if you must have either all freedom or none.  Other options present themselves.  The proper debate is over the limits of economic freedom and where those limits ought to be placed, not over whether the market ought to be either completely free or completely coerced.
Top of Form
         The voice of the market is important and deserves to be heard, but the voice of the market is not the voice of God.  Some of the things it rewards or sustains are evil.  Because they are, they will lead eventually not to human liberation but to human enslavement.  Never forget that you are not free simply because you are doing what you choose, as if you could not be a slave to your own wicked, destructive and self-enslaving habits or addictions.  Like all other things that humans are and do, market activity is fallen and bears the burdens and curse of sin.  To keep the market as free as possible, you need to limit some activities within it, activities which, if let loose, eat up freedom and swallow it whole.
         Or, to put the matter another way, those who decide which things ought to be permitted based upon their success or failure in the marketplace commit the old mistake of trying to move from “is” to “ought.”   They move from descriptive statements to normative statements, or think they can.  Simply because that’s how a thing is, it does not follow that that’s how it ought to be.