If Only this was Actually the End of the Election

“All our ignorance brings us nearer to death.”

cincinnatus

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.”

We watched this thing together, and together we talked our way through it, laughed our way around it, and trudged in absurdist fury to this day, this day when the thing that went too far would go no farther. And now this thing, this collected experience which tinged every area of life, has come to its finale, its conclusion, its end.

No. Of course it hasn’t really. This is only the beginning, and we’ve known – if not all along then at least for some time – that this would not end in the ballot box.

To do this, to move along like we used to, would mean to go back, to unexperience and to unknow. But we can’t. It cannot be like it used to be – not after 2016.

It’s been a year that will go down with the other big years, the digits that evoke thoughts and feelings without any specific event mentioned, like 2008 and 2001 recently, 1968, 1929, 1865 and 1776 before, and so many more. But it isn’t just a milestone like a turn of a century or an important event  like the end of a war. This thing is, like a select few years have been, a tectonic shift in society and culture in America. Our collective consciousness is forever changed – it forever exists in relation to this thing.

For some, this is not the first such shift. It is important to them – certainly – but they have done this before. But for many, me included, this is a year, a time, and a series of events unlike any other in its seismic effect on the way we see and experience the world.

It’s been a loss of innocence. The auras around leaders and institutions are gone. The frauds have struck their colors. The experts have gaffed and the newscasts have chased it all into the nonsensical void. How can any trust be given to elected officials, any faith placed in agencies and bureaus, any credence given to pundits and religious leaders, any credibility granted to the news and the papers?

Now we know that this country is much more racist, sexist, and xenophobic than we ever thought. And we know that good people will set that aside on the strength of ignorance.

Now we know that there are strings being pulled no one knows about. Now we know they’ll try to force us into choices we don’t want to make.

Candidates and parties and systems can never be seen the same.

We’ve had to hear our family and friends and anonymous trolls say things we wish we hadn’t heard them say.

We’ve been disappointed – time and again.

Wednesday won’t make things better – no matter how it goes. 2017 won’t either. It’s out in the open now. We know things now, things that will stay with us as we move forward.

But that is all we can do. We have to move forward, knowing what we know, and hoping to make it better. Hoping this sort of thing never has to happen again.

And maybe it will get better. Maybe that will be the great silver lining in this thing, and the fires it lit will fuel us to fight and win. But maybe not. Maybe it only gets worse. Maybe there’s too much hate. Maybe this awareness will only engender apathy. I wish I knew.

Maybe it is ultimately out of our hands, but let’s control what we can.

So if wherever we are – around the dinner table, at the coffee shop, on Facebook and Twitter, at the pipeline, in the streets, outside the courthouse, in the classroom, in the capital, and, maybe mostly important, within our own hearts and minds – let us make a stand for change. For faith, hope, and love.

Forth now, and fear now darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

Advertisements

Wayne Grudem, Thomas Aquinas, and Cultural Blindness

St-Thomas-Banner-640x256

The evangelical world was caught off balance yesterday by a Wayne Grudem’s endorsement of Donald Trump. Actually, what the theologian posted on Townhall  goes beyond a simple endorsement, as he makes the argument that, not only is it morally correct to vote for Trump, but that it would be sinful for a Christian to vote for anyone other than Trump (even a conservative third-party candidate).

Wayne Grudem is a giant of theological intellect, and a much-respected and much-beloved member of the evangelical community. His magnum opus, Systematic Theology, is one of the definitive works of Western Christianity in the 20th Century. He has been name-dropped in lyrics by Christian rappers like Braille and Lecrae. I, like many Christians, am grateful to Dr. Grudem for his work.

But this article is really, really, dumb. A brilliant man used go-go-gadget arms to reach for Biblical interpretations and applications while making breathtaking leaps of ignorance and inconsistency. While some Christians have accepted his words as the sound work of a solid logician, many in the evangelical community are shocked and disappointed. I won’t bother to walk through everything that is wrong with what he writes – if you can’t recognize it on your own then I don’t think I’ll be able to help you see it, at least not in one go.

However, Grudem is not the first brilliant theologian with an authoritative tome to his name to have written something really, really dumb.

Just yesterday I was reading Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is, and she refers to a quote from the 13th Century theologian Thomas Aquinas, in which he claims that it is a failure of man when his seed leads to the creation of a female:

“Only as regards nature in the individual is the female something defective and misbegotten. For the active power in the seed of the male tends to produce something like itself, perfect in masculinity; but the procreation of a female is the result either of the debility of the active power, of some unsuitability of the material, or some change effected by external influences, like the south wind, for example, which is damp, as we are told by Aristotle.”

Another genius, with the epic albeit incomplete Summa Theologica to his name, basically said that a man’s sexual performance determines whether or not he creates another man or disappoints nature with another female.

Clearly, that is really, really dumb.

But Thomas Aquinas, despite being nicknamed the “Dumb Ox” by his classmates, was not dumb at all. And Wayne Grudem, as he has time and again demonstrated, is not a dumb man either. It would also be irresponsible to claim that either of them are bad men – indeed, those who know Dr. Grudem would say that he has only the best intentions.

And therein lies the danger of making this about Dr. Grudem. This is the urgent matter at hand: while not excusing his ignorance, Dr. Grudem is a product of the Christian culture from which he comes, one that has chased after the wind and missed the billionaire Leviathan coming straight for them.

We do not throw out Thomas Aquinas because of this one quote largely because this sort of view is not particularly unique among thinkers of the 13th Century. Rather than indicate something about Aquinas, what this really reveals is something about that culture. Sexism was so bad at that time that a genius could think dumb things like the above quote – and it is for this reason that Johnson uses this quote to highlight the need for feminist theology. Again, it doesn’t excuse Aquinas for his view, but it is much more a condemnation of the culture than it is of that one man. Christianity and slavery have a similar relationship. For example, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. That’s not about Edwards as much as it is about the evil slave-owning culture he lived in (and again, it doesn’t excuse Edwards).

Wayne Grudem’s argument reveals a strain of Christianity that is saturated with conservative principles, not the Gospel. Grudem dismisses all facets of liberalism, and asserts a desire for Christian cultural dominance and comfort. This is not written like a theologian who has decided it is time to get involved in politics – it sounds more like something Sean Hannity would write after Googling a few passages of scripture.

Now, if someone believes that Hillary Clinton must be defeated at all costs solely on the grounds of overturning Roe v. Wade, and if they think that overturning that decision will somehow end all abortions, and if the thought of the unborn being killed far outweighs any other moral issue, then I can’t really tell that person that they are wrong to feel that way. It’s an issue I wrestle with, as it is of great importance to me, too. So I get it – abortion is, for some people, the only issue that matters at all, and if that’s the case, I guess I understand why that person would vote for Trump.

But that isn’t what Dr. Grudem does. Rather, he writes a comprehensive list of reasons that make Trump a good candidate and Hillary a bad one, and each and every time it is on the basis of conservative far-right politics. Dr. Grudem is so committed to his ideology that he misses, ignores, or excuses all of Trump’s faults, editorializing a demagogue into a “good candidate with flaws.”

It’s not just that he’s saying that a vote for Hillary is a sinful choice – it’s that he saying that to vote for anyone besides Trump, to conscientiously object, and vote for, say, Gary Johnson or Ben Sasse or anyone else would be sinful.

The temptation is to make this about Grudem, and while it affects the way I see him, it should reveal much more to us about Christianity in America. What does it say about what American Christianity teaches and what it practices when one of the most influential minds since the Puritans can write something like this?

I believe it indicates that large portions of white evangelicalism in America are still plagued by racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism. They are still led astray by nationalism, militarism, and a need to be culturally dominant and secure. There is cowardice. There is ignorance. And there is an overwhelming anti-liberal sentiment. I’m sure many of you have felt that last one personally.

The Democratic National Convention made a tour-de-force case for their party and their candidate as the option for love, patriotism, and democracy, following up the bumbling and flailing efforts of the circus in Cleveland. I’m not saying that Hillary and the Democrats are really all about the things that were promoted at that convention, and it’s not like every Republican loves the idea of the authoritarian state which Trump envisions. But it’s remarkably tone deaf to denounce the comprehensive evils of liberalism after those two conventions.

But tone deaf is what much of American Christianity is, and we need to be aware of this and the way it affects our religion and our politics. This tone-deafness leads Eric Metaxas, the man who wrote a big book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to say that Hillary, not Trump, is like Hitler. C’mon man – you wrote the book!

It is important to be aware of our religious blindspots. Rather than trying to isolate particular cases as problematic, it’s important to see failures as the norm.

All this is to say, it’s not Dr. Grudem’s opinion that alarms me, so much as it is the culture that has shaped his brilliant mind.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

Squad Goals of a Fragile Millennial

Misunderstanding of young liberals is making some conservatives unreasonably nervous.

dope butterfly

The cover story for the most recent edition of the National Review pairs features by David French and Emily Ekins with the headline “The Kids Aren’t Alright: The Problem with the Sanders Youth.”

Being a youth and one who voted for Bernie Sanders in my state’s primary, and being acquainted with many so-called “Sanders Youths,” I was compelled to pick up the conservative magazine and read what Mr. French and Ms. Ekins thought was so wrong with us.

If the two featured articles are any indication of the current conservative zeitgeist, then it’s clear to me that some conservatives have had a reaction to the phenomena associated with Sanders that is not only unfair and uniformed, but cowardly and ill-equipped to cope with the challenges of the times we live in.

“It’s hard to doubt that legendarily entitled Millennial social-justice warriors will finally go too far, and not even The Onion will be able to sufficiently parody their aggressive fragility.” When French began his article, entitled “Fiercely Frail Millennials,” this way, I wanted to discount everything he was about to say. Not only did he use the entitlement straw man, but he used “social-justice warriors” as a pejorative, which is usually a good indication of either an ignorant or mean person.

But I kept reading. To French’s credit, he lays the blame for the fragility of Millennials at the feet of a tangible source – bad parents. Some have tried to bash Millennials without also shouldering the blame for raising them, but decrying the faults of parenting becomes French’s main point. His claim is that fragile Millennials are “formed largely by parents who’ve loved their children into the messes they’ve become,” protecting them from hurt and disappointment by trying to make the world a big safe zone.

French longs for the good old days of conservative parenting, recounting how his his parents instilled character in him by not helping him: “I once told my dad that my coach threw a basketball at a kid’s head when he was talking during practice. My dad laughed…If parents ever intervened in playground conflicts, the shame was deep and enduring.” Not only does it seem French and his father wouldn’t mind Mike Rice’s tough coaching methods, but they also think the wimpy kid will gain confidence even as the big bully beats him senseless.

The article concludes with French deriding parent/child friendships, and claims that being adrift in life without helicopter parents or the security of college is what has driven Millennials to Sanders: “Responding to the fear and uncertainty, a geriatric socialist…steps in with his call for free health care and education…and protection from the rough-and-tumble world of liberty and markets.”

There are some valid points in French’s article, for without a doubt there are many parents who place too much value on comfort and not enough value on learning life’s lessons. Life is not a safe space, and children should be taught how to confront life’s challenges and grow from them.

There are, however, many problems with French’s argument. He assumes this problem only creates weak, fragile, liberal Millennials. It is absurd to suggest that Millennial conservatives do not also face the same upbringing, or that conservative parents do not exhibit such behaviors. I would think that French, being a former basketball player, would know that to complain about coaching is to be a parent in sports. And the majority of these complaints do not stem from an egalitarian perspective, but rather the very capitalistic notion that my child has earned this – they worked hard and they deserve more playing time. At no point in his article does French allow for the possibility of fragile conservative Millennials.

But French’s greatest failures is his misunderstanding of who liberal Millennials are, what they do, and what motivates them. He uses extreme anecdotes to highlight the fruit of these poorly cultivated children, but this is not just an unfair use of straw men as he, again, fails to mention the results of extreme conservatism in young people. At one point he claims that “in the name of their own alleged vulnerability and fragility, [Millennials] engage in dramatic protest, seek conflict, and relentlessly attack opponents.” Besides revealing that French is yet another conservative incapable of grasping the basic concepts of protest, he reveals that he doesn’t actually know any liberal Millennials.

Many of the liberal Millennials I know were, like me, raised by more conservative parents, not fruit-loop hippies. But, as we got older, rather than huddle in the safety of mom and dad, like French suggests we do, we started forming our own ideas and rebelled against our parents’ ideologies, bringing not closeness but tension in our relationships. We learned more about the world and found America isn’t so perfect as we were raised to believe. We learned about social and economic inequality. And so we changed – we adapted.

Me and my young Millennial friends are entering adulthood in a country that isn’t perfect by any measurement, and we want to make it better. So how do we do that?

Well, one of my friends decided to head up an environmental club on campus and do the hard work of passing a Green Initiative Fund while raising awareness of different environmental issues. He didn’t ask his parents for help. He just did it.

Another one of my friends led the effort to plant a garden on campus to help educate people about sustainable living practices. The same friend organized a campus event that would give students and faculty the chance to share stories of marginalization. She didn’t attack people – she invited them to listen.

These are just two of many young liberal Millennials who have decided to be the change they wish to see, and their attitude and mindset is the kind I generally find among this demographic. It’s an ethos focused on helping others much more than it is about protecting our fragile feelings. We aren’t here for handouts and pristine happiness – we’re here to work for change. We don’t want to make America great again – we want to make America better than it’s ever been.

Emily Ekins examines a specific ill associated with the Millennials of French’s world – support of Bernie Sanders. In her article, “The Sanders Youth,” Ekins examines what “socialism” mean to Millennials, and why they are so ready to support a socialist candidate. She writes that, “The time has come to start explaining to the next generation how socialistic economic planning hurts people.” While we can do without the condescension, I appreciate that Ekins actually walks through what she thinks socialism really means.

Like too many pundits, she makes the mistake of bringing up the Soviet Union and the government oppression that supposedly comes with socialism. Using Joseph Stalin to discredit socialism is like using Mussolini to discredit conservatism. However,unlike many commentators, Ekins actually bothers to address how “socialism” in American terms relates to the examples of Scandinavian countries. Her conclusion is that countries like Sweden aren’t socialist, but instead have socialistic tendencies. And she’s right.

But Ekins, like French, misunderstands what Millennials are looking for.

We ain’t here for the socialism.

It’s just a word. What socialism actually means and however socialist Sanders actually is do not matter. Young liberal Millennials, in all of our cowering fragility, want Sanders and his socialism because we believe he is the one candidate in the field who is honestly committed to working towards some of the changes we want to see. If a Republican had real plans to invest less in the military and more in health and education, and voiced concerns over the environment, and used progressive rhetoric concerning various types of discrimination, then, yah know what, I’d probably vote for him/her. If they talked about getting money out of politics, all the better. It just happens to be that the candidate with these types of objectives is a loosely-defined socialist.

So I’m not really sure what it is that frightens French and Ekins. Yes – there are some wacky liberals out there that Jessie Watters tracks down for his segment on The O’Reilly Factor. But that’s hardly a representation of the so-called “Sanders Youth.”

Why react to these young people with condescension, anger, and even fear? Why declare that the kids are not alright? I would hope that the people running the National Review would look at this movement, this liberal youth movement behind Senator Sanders, and see not an army of whiny snowflakes, but instead a demographic that is thoughtful, hopeful, educated, and a little pissed off. Why not consider what these people want, and in what ways they are working to achieve it? Is it that impossible for a bunch of kids to have some valid ideas?

Of course it is – if you, like David French, are deluded by the conservative utopia.

It’s easy to call Sanders’ vision a fantasy, but, for whatever reason, the ideals of conservatism don’t face the same scrutiny. Ekins claims that “the way forward is not through increased government management of the economy but through the free-market model.” Again, she’s right. That is, she would be right in an ideal world. If the rich play nice, and no one cheats, and everyone is generous, then yeah – yeah the free-market model would be the best. But that’s never going to happen. French longs for a world where kids could sort it out on the playground themselves, but apparently he doesn’t know that some kids just aren’t built to fight. And I can’t help but question whether or not Mr. French would be so supportive of black children sorting out their problems with violence, or if he might read into that a little differently. It would be great if kids could just fight and build character, but I think we all know that this kind of foisted machismo isn’t good for anyone – our culture’s notion of masculinity is the source of all sorts of problems.

In the conservative utopia, American history shimmers with glory, discrimination is an excuse, and anyone can advance themselves through some rugged individualism. It would be great if the isms and phobias were dead, and I like the idea of true meritocracy. But. These. Things. Aren’t. True. The conservative utopia is every bit as fallacious as the visions of sugarplums dancing in Bernie’s head. How is it that conservatives can continue to deride liberal America for its vision of change all the while building up a fortress around a keep that doesn’t exist?

It’s the insistence on this utopia, this illusion of Americana, and the fear of having that dream taken away, that makes some conservatives fearful and hateful of young liberals. We are a loud voice calling them to get woke. And no one likes to be rousted out of bed. That’s what makes us seems so threatening.

I admire much of the libertarian vision. I respect many of the policies of conservatism. I know that conservatives protect what good the past held, and that this good needs to be a part of America’s future. But things have got to change, and I look forward to working with both liberals and conservatives who reject the notions of utopia and instead are prepared to work for a future that is not great like we used to be, but better.

If you want to call us snowflakes, go ahead.

But just know that winter is coming.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

-Peter

The Shawshank Redemption and the Hypocrisy of Incarceration Nation

prison

I would bet against me avoiding political commentary in the coming weeks and months. For now, we’ll focus in on an issue that – surprise surprise – has not  managed to hold much place in the ongoing political dialogue. Dialogue is, I suppose, much too kind a word for the bloviating that dominates political rhetoric and disscourse (extra ‘s’ intentional).

The justice system in this country is in need of major fixes and some total overhauls. Among the necessary changes to the justice system is prison reform. The current prison system is a bloated panacea that has become a supplier of neo-slave labor. Additionally, it has disproportionately contributed to the plight of many black communities and created a warped sense of reality that frustrates statistical interpretation and projection. White-collar criminals have unfairly avoided prison sentences or bought their way into nicer detainment centers. There are numerous incidents of prison guards grievously abusing inmates. The current system emphasizes punishment rather than rehabilitation, and life after prison is a really tough go for ex-cons – creating such a high re-incarceration rate.

Despite all the wrongs of the prison system, it seems that Americans, in general, don’t care about their incarcerated compatriots. There’s not a lot of sympathy going around for people locked behind bars. Of course – of course – there are some individuals in prison who are dangerous and deranged and should be kept in prison for the well-being of society. But even the psychopaths should be treated humanely. For the most part, people just tend to not think about the millions of people in prison.

And this neglect, apathy, and outright disdain persists despite the fact that prison is – what’s the word? – I honestly can’t think of the right word. It is a horrific, dangerous place to be. At its most basic level, prison is a box that holds people that need to be kept away from society for a while. But prison so often becomes a cruel and unusual punishment. Taking away life’s luxuries is one thing – subjecting people to physical, sexual, and psychological trauma is another. If you can stand it, listen to a few seconds of what solitary confinement sounds like (hint: it’s not quiet).

But here’s the disjointed and hypocritical part of Incarceration Nation that I want to get at: sometimes we really like prisoners. Sometimes we empathize with them. In fact, I think it’s our natural inclination to have pity on the prisoner.

Because you realize that arguably the most-loved American film of all-time is about prisoners, right? Yes, The Shawshank Redemption has a wrongly-convicted man as its main character, but it takes almost no effort for the filmmakers to get the audience to love all the prisoners, with the obvious exception of the men who repeatedly rape Andy. We’re thrilled, as an audience, to see the prisoners gain some nice things like the library, and everyone has a few notes played on the heart strings in the famous “Opera Scene.”

Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, has to be one of the most beloved characters Freeman has ever played – and he’s a black prisoner who readily admits to murdering someone!

Shawshank isn’t the only example of this either – Cool Hand Luke is another iconic film about prisoners – albeit in a setting that’s a little less “maximum security,” given that we’re supposed to believe most of the prisoners aren’t there for the long haul. Still, this film also manages to make the audience love the convicts and celebrate their happiness and mourn their hardships.

So what the heck is up with that? Why do we like these prisoners but hate the ones in real life?

Is it because of the sadistic wardens and guards? It shouldn’t be – there’s plenty of those in real life too.

Is it because of the vibrant characters? Shouldn’t be that either – there’s some interesting people locked away right now.

Is it because the prison life doesn’t seem as bad as in real life? Well, maybe, but if it was worse in the movies, wouldn’t that make us pity them all the more?

I think we just have to accept this as disjointed and hypocritical. We like the fictional characters that are safely locked away on the big screen, but we ignore and even hate the real life convicts that once walked among us. Watching those films, we can let our desire for freedom and our touting of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness dictate how we feel. We set aside our prejudices and embrace empathy as we see humans locked away in a place none of us want to be.

But when does this disjointedness reveal an unnatural mindset: when we watch the fiction or when we consider the real life prisoners? In other words, are we fooling ourselves when we pity the dangerous criminals on screen or are we dishonest when our empathy withers as the detainees become very real?

I don’t know. I am pretty sure, despite our acceptance of Morgan Freeman’s character, that there’s a racial component to it (and, besides, could we really be scared of Morgan Freeman?). It is worth noting that Red is, if my memory serves, the only non-white character in either film (and in Stephen King’s story, Red is not black).

But racial factors probably compound what might be the real underlying hypocrisy – we can get invested in fiction because it’s fiction. It’s easy to watch a movie and then feel inspired to make a difference, but actually acting on real life problems is so much tougher. Obviously.

What remains clear is a dissonance between our love of freedom and our sympathy for fictional inmates and the way we treat prisoners in real life. Prisoners are people too. Yes, many are dangerous, and many should be behind bars for the safety of others, but the Chateau D’if that we’ve made of  the American prison system needs some major reworking

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter