At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The Moral Imperative of Being Mannerly

posted by Jack Kerwick

What we call “manners” consists of a family of habits or customs that are, with ever greater—indeed, alarming—frequency, regarded as, at best, niceties or pleasantries. At worst, they are viewed as the antiquated fictions of a bourgeois social order that, threatening alike as they do both the individual’s search for “authenticity” as well as the realization of an egalitarian dream—should be relegated to the dustbin of history.

The truth, though, is that we neglect manners at our own peril. Far from being superfluous to morality, manners are indispensable to it. But it isn’t just that manners supplement morality; they are a species of it: A connoisseurship in manners indicates good character.


Conversely, the unmannerly reveal weak character.

That’s right: Manners constitute a virtue.

Specifically, as writer Ilana Mercer, quoting George Will, recently reminds us, manners compose the virtue of civility.

And what a vital virtue this is.

There can be no civilization where there is no civility. Conversely, where there is a lapse in civility, barbarism supervenes.

It is often said that it is the police—“the thin blue line”—that separates civilization from barbarism or savagery. For as important as police are, the truth of the matter is that it is, first and foremost, parents upon whose shoulders civilization rests. After all, the child—as feral at birth as is any other animal—is made over into a person, a civilized being, courtesy of the moral education that it begins to receive while in the cradle. In no small measure and as a foundation for all that comes later, this education into the virtues consists of manners.


As it embarks upon its long trek from the savagery of infancy to the light of civilization, among the first words that a child should learn are those of “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” (and, of course, their non-English counterparts). To reiterate: these are among the first words that children should genuinely learn—and not just hear. Parents must labor tirelessly to habituate their children, not into “using their manners,” as the old saying goes, but into becoming mannerly human beings, for mannerly human beings are civilized persons.

Just a cursory glance at the passing scene today (all too) readily reveals that there is nothing less than a crisis of manners that seems to have overcome adults and children alike. The fundamentals that my whole family—parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—besieged me with from as early on as I can recall, appear to have been lost upon ever-burgeoning legions of people from every conceivable walk of life.


Whether at a restaurant or the gym, church or work, it is simply impossible to avoid encountering people who are either incapable of or unwilling to do something as simple as say “hello” while looking you in the eye. Evidently, these are the same folks who find it a challenge to walk and chew gum at the same time.

On the other hand, unsurprisingly, it has become just as difficult for people to refrain from engaging in, say, public cursing as it has been difficult for them to exercise manners. After all, the essence of manners—and, hence, the essence of civility—is self-restraint. It stands to reason, then, that as manners recede, they will be replaced by self-expression.

But self-expression, taken to the extreme, is barbarism.


Manners, being the stuff of the virtue of civility, are worth cultivating for the same reason that any virtue is worth cultivating: virtues are character excellences, goods that enable the virtuous person to live a better life than he or she otherwise would have. Yet manners, like any other virtue, and even more so than most, also serve the interest of supporting civilization, for where there is a mannerly people, there is a self-restrained people, persons mindful that the universe is one that they share with other persons.

This last consideration bears elaborating.

Mannerly people, though far from perfect in virtue, have a moral leg up on the unmannerly in that they at least acknowledge the existence of other human beings. Recently, while at the school at which I teach, a colleague—and a person from whom I have a right to expect more—passed me by without so much as issuing a simple “hello.” This was not the first time that this has happened, and from what I understand, this is not at all atypical conduct for this individual. At any rate, this latest event got me frustrated enough to get me to thinking some more about manners.


So why am I as exasperated as I am with this sort of thing?

Simply put, while it is breathtaking in its rudeness, it isn’t just rude.

It is cruel.

Unmannerly actions of this kind have the effect of either objectifying those to whom they’re directed by treating them as if they were no different from any other inanimate thing or, worse, reducing them to the status of non-entities.

Unmannerly people endanger their own moral well-being as well those with whom they share the Earth.


The Real Jesus vs. the Neutered Idol of the Politically Respectable

posted by Jack Kerwick

Easter is upon us.

But who is Jesus? Upon reading the Scriptures, it becomes clear that the real Jesus, as opposed to the tamed, lame, and maimed Politically Correct Jesus who Christian clerics as much as anyone have been promoting for years, was the antithesis of the meek, mild mannered, nonjudgmental man of whom Christians and non-Christians alike hear about at every turn. The latter placates this generation’s political-moral sensibilities, but he hardly fits the profile of a person who gave rise to a religion claiming billions of followers.

The truth about Jesus, in His own day as in ours, is hard.

For starters,”Marcionism” was a school of thought from the second century that distinguished the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New. Though it was recognized early on for the heresy that it is, to hear many contemporary Christians, including and especially clergy, one could be forgiven for thinking that Marcionism is Christian orthodoxy.


Though God in the Old Testament repeatedly reveals His love for and patience with His people, He just as often proves that this love is not at all incompatible with bloodshed and death. In fact, judging from the Hebrew Scriptures, divine love—which is inseparable from the divine justice—not infrequently demands punishment.

In other words, the God who flooded the Earth and ordered the Israelites to slaughter every living thing among their neighbors is the babe who was born in a manger to a humble young virgin.

However, even “the God of the New Testament,” i.e. Jesus, was most definitely anything but meek and mild. Meek and mild human beings tend not to draw huge followings of fans that are willing to sacrifice their very lives for them. They tend not to polarize whole populations, command the attention of the most powerful leaders and rulers, and get themselves executed as capital offenders against the largest empire the world had ever seen (up to that point).


Jesus was neither meek nor mild by the standards of His own day. By the lights of the self-appointed guardians of secular liberal orthodoxy—both Democrats and Republicans, “liberals” and “conservatives”—He is nothing less than scandalous: Jesus, to the politically respectable, can only be judged a “hater,” a “fear monger,” a “bigot,” and maybe even a “sexist!”

After all, Jesus had the audacity to refer to a poor Canaanite woman who begged for Him to heal her daughter as a “dog.” “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus sternly informed her. It was only after the woman persisted—“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”—that Jesus relented and healed her little girl (Mathew 15: 21-28).


As for judging, Jesus spared no occasion to remind both fans and foes alike that He and “the God of the Old Testament” are one and the same:

“So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13: 49-50).

“Whoever is not with me is against me…but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt. 12: 30-32; Mk. 3:19-30; Lk. 11:14-23).

For His enemies, the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus reserved a furry of criticism. They were “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “whitewashed tombs” who are “full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” like “greed and self-indulgence.” His opponents are “descendants of those who murdered the prophets,” “snakes” and “vipers” who can’t “escape being sentenced to hell” (Mt. 23: 16-36; Mk. 12: 38-40; Lk. 20: 45-47) [.]


Yet even those who styled themselves His friends didn’t escape His wrath.

Unfaithful servants will be “cut” into “pieces” and placed “with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 24:51; Lk. 12: 41-48). Jesus informs His disciples of His plans for those nations with which He is displeased: “Then he [the Son of Man] will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…And these will go away into eternal punishment” (Mt. 25: 41-46).

Of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, Jesus likened them to the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom—cities to which He (God) laid waste. “But I tell you [Chorazin and Bethsaida], on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum…you will be brought down to Hades” (Mt. 11: 22-23; Lk. 10: 13-15).


“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18: 6; Mk. 9:42-48; Lk. 17: 1-2).

If Jesus were on the Earth with us right now, PETA would’ve long ago made Him into Public Enemy Number One, for Jesus, upon curing a man of demons, sent the demons into a herd of about 2,000 pigs, propelling the swine down a hill into a body of water in which they drowned. Not only, though, did legions of defenseless animals die; the livelihoods of people who depended upon these animals were also destroyed. “Then they [the townspeople} began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood” (Mt. 8:28-9:1; Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:26-39).


I could continue.

Some other details about the real Jesus that we never hear:

While Jesus did indeed show great love to the poor and powerless, He also showed great love to the rich and powerful. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were wealthy and influential members of the Sanhedrin—and disciples of Jesus. The Centurion whose servant Jesus healed was, obviously, a man of means—and of power.

And, of course, God the Son, as the Christian’s Old Testament readily reveals, always extended blessings to such super wealthy and powerful rulers—and kings to boot!—as King David and King Solomon, etc.

Though He condemned some rich people, He also condemned some poor people. And, contrary to the narrative that the socialist-minded clerics of today have labored tirelessly to ensconce in the popular consciousness, it wasn’t only the rich and powerful that conspired to execute Jesus; the poor, many of the very folks to whose needs He attended with great care, turned on Him in His hour of need and demanded—demanded!—His death: According to all four Gospels, when given the choice to spare the life of Christ or that of the murderous zealot, Barrabas, the bloodthirsty crowd of mostly poor folks chose the latter.


Jesus was no pacifist: At least some of His disciples were armed with swords, and at one juncture, Jesus even commands His disciples to arm themselves. “And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one,” He ordered them (Lk. 22: 36). All four Gospels inform us of how Jesus burst upon the Temple in Jerusalem and cleared house by flipping over the tables of the traders and driving them and their animals out with a whip!

Jesus also used military imagery in His parables, and heeded a Centurion’s request (without admonishing him, as He admonished so many others—like Levi, the tax collector—to repent of his ways). Furthermore, the martyrology of the early church included soldiers).

To serve Jesus, we must first know Him from the idol—the false god—with which “polite society” has replaced Him.

Happy Easter!




Forgetting Malcolm X

posted by Jack Kerwick

This year isn’t just the golden anniversary of Selma. It is as well marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of Malcolm X.

Malcolm X has been mythologized. According to the myth, there are, essentially, two Malcolms: the “pre-Mecca” Malcolm and the “post-Mecca” Malcolm X. The former, a national minister for Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, preached black separatism. The latter, in glaring contrast, rejected the Nation and promoted interracial unity.

That this is revisionism at its best (or worst) is gotten easily enough from the inconvenient facts that it omits:

(1)Malcolm X taught that the white race was the creation of an evil black scientist named Yacub.

(2)Malcolm as well taught that history would culminate in a racial Armageddon in which God would enable blacks to bring about the extermination of the white race. And how would this occur? According to Malcolm X biographer Bruce Perry, Malcolm, following Elijah Muhammad, informed his congregants of “the mother ship,” a “wheel-shaped flying saucer that contained hundreds of ‘baby planes.’ Each baby plane carried bombs filled with two tons of a powerful explosive. Piloting the planes, he said, were men who had been trained to fly since the age of six—men who had never smiled.”


(3) In 1962 a French airliner crashed and 121 whites from Georgia were killed. Malcolm’s response seems not to have made it into any of the collections of his quotations: “I should like to announce a very beautiful thing that has happened. I got a wire from God today. He really answered our prayers over in France…We will continue to pray, and we hope that every day another plane falls out of the sky.”

(4)Whites, Malcolm taught, were “devils.” But it wasn’t just whites for whom he reserved his venom. His black rivals he showered with degrading insults as well. Take, for example, Malcolm’s public comments on Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, Malcolm said, was “a chump, not a champ.” King was “a little black mouse sitting on top of a big white elephant” [the United States]. When King received the Nobel Peace Prize, Malcolm publicly remarked: “He got the Peace Prize; we got the problem.” Malcolm added: “I don’t want the white man giving me medals.” King, he said, “is the best thing that ever happened to white folks. For white folks! As long as anybody can keep Negroes nonviolent, it helps white folks.”


By the way, Malcolm X made these remarks after his split with the Nation of Islam.

(5)On January 28, 1961, Malcolm met with the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta, Georgia. On behalf of the Nation of Islam, he sought to elicit help from the Klan in obtaining land in the South that could be used as an independent nation for black Americans. According to Bruce Perry, Malcolm blamed Jews for hijacking the civil rights movement by promoting integration, and he expressed his dismay to the Klansmen that they hadn’t yet killed King.

(6) Booker T. Washington, Malcolm said, was a “white man’s nigger,” Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis were “stooges” for “the white man,” and the NAACP was a “black body with a white head.” In fact, as far as Malcolm was concerned, every black integrationist was either a “Quisling” or an “Uncle Tom.”


Malcolm X did not split with the Nation of Islam; the Nation split with Malcolm.

Against Elijah Muhammad’s orders to refrain from commenting on the assassination of JKF, Malcolm remarked to the media that Kennedy’s murder was a case of “the chickens coming home to roost” and that this made him “glad.” Livid, Muhammad reacted, and Malcolm was in effect shown the door.

But this wasn’t the end of it: Malcolm threw himself at “the Messenger’s” mercy by beseeching him, on multiple occasions, to reinstate him—all to no avail.

It was then that Malcolm retaliated by publically charging his former mentor with having fathered at least eight illegitimate children with several of Muhammad’s young assistants.


And it was then that the call for Malcolm’s head was issued.

In desperate need of a new public relations image, Malcolm made his trek to Mecca where, after a mere eleven days, he returned to the states a new man, a champion of the brotherhood of all men.


Malcolm founded a new organization, the Organization for African American Unity (OAAU). Its newspaper continued to feature the same incendiary racial rhetoric—e.g. headlines like “Racist America”—for which Malcolm was known, and Malcolm himself pledged to haul the United States government before the United Nations for its violation of the “human rights” of its black citizens.

However, on February 21, 1965, while about to address a crowd at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, thugs from the organization to which Malcolm committed his adult life—thugs whose frame of mind he did as much as anyone to shape—filled him with bullets. Such was the determination of his fellow black Muslims—not the United States government—to avenge “the Honorable” Elijah Muhammad that even the knowledge that Malcolm’s pregnant wife and four little daughters were in attendance didn’t suffice to deter them.

These are just some of the ugly details that don’t make the cut when it comes to the mythology surrounding Malcolm X.





Ben Carson: “Progressive” on Homosexuality?

posted by Jack Kerwick

Ben Carson got himself into some trouble a couple of weeks back for remarks concerning homosexuality that he made during an exchange with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

However, I’m not sure what exactly it is that Carson said that ignited such controversy—or any controversy.

Carson expressed his position that homosexuality—presumably, homosexual desire, not just conduct—is the product of choice. To substantiate his thesis, Carson alluded to the phenomenon of (ostensibly) heterosexual prisoners who, upon engaging in homosexual relations while incarcerated, “become” gay.

Cuomo agreed that such a phenomenon occurs. But—for reasons that he failed to specify—Cuomo disagreed that this example vindicates Carson’s view.


Unsurprisingly, so-called “conservatives” in the media, including those who claim to be Carson’s admirers, pounced on Carson with all of the fury—and more—unleashed upon him by the usual suspects on the left. Carson, one pundit insisted, was finished.

All of this was extremely odd. Granted, Carson is about as eloquent as he is a strong speaker: he’s not eloquent at all. And while he is doubtless a man of great intelligence, this doesn’t mean that he’s either politically savvy or a critical thinker. Carson shouldn’t have insisted that homosexual orientation per se, i.e. in all instances, is a choice. It was also a mistake to use the example of male prisoners, rather than, say, lesbians, to legitimize his point.


Still, if we were as remotely interested in logic as we are interested in emoting and scoring partisan points, things would’ve unfolded much differently than they actually did.

First, Cuomo would’ve been forced to resolve the apparent inconsistency between his bio-centric vision of homosexuality and his concession to Carson’s commentary on the experience of male prisoners. After all, Cuomo, apparently, thinks that gays are “born that way.” Insofar as he agreed with Carson’s assessment of male prisoners, he must acknowledge that phenomena of these sorts pose a counterexample to his belief.

Second, in this Age of Enlightenment on all things sexual, a day when homosexuality is loudly and proudly proclaimed to be just as viable and healthy an alternative to heterosexuality and “homophobia” is decried as among the gravest of secular “sins,” it is the Ben Carsons of our world who sound “progressive” on this issue. In stark contrast, Chris Cuomo sounds like a retrograde.


In other words, the new Zeitgeist on homosexuality would seem to demand that we relegate to the dustbin of history the idea that homosexuals don’t deserve to be judged for their homosexuality because they were “born that way.” On the other hand, insofar as the new orthodoxy on homosexuality is supposed to be a function of sexual liberation generally, the idea that gays choose to be gay seems much more in keeping with the latter.

This is not just hypothetical reasoning on my part. For nearly 25 years, at least, gays themselves have been saying as much.

Back in 1991, Lindsy Van Gelder, a self-avowed lesbian, warned in Ms. Magazine against falling for what she described as “the ‘born that way’ trap.” Against those proponents of “gay rights” who dismissed “‘the prejudice and ignorance’” of the view “‘that homosexuality is a matter of choice,’” Van Gelder is at pains to convince readers that for her, “coming out was…a conscious decision—every step of the way.”


She also insists that she is no “aberration, at least among women.”

Van Gelder identifies “the public relations edge” of the “‘Born That Way’ line”:

“At the root of a lot of homophobia is a fear that gayness is somehow contagious. If people really did fit into neat little either/or sexual pigeonholes from birth, no one would be able to say that gay teachers could possibly ‘recruit’ their students. Parents of gays would be off the blame hook. Straights wouldn’t have to feel threatened by passing queer attractions.”

In addition to these benefits, Van Gelder notes that the genetic view of homosexuality implies that “if we [gays] could help it, we would.” This, she elaborates, is “what a fair number of straight people hear, including some of our allies.” But what this means is that gays are then perceived “as bearers of a genetic flaw” rather than “sexual equals.” The “Born That Way” line conveys the message “that it’s O.K. to regard us as sexually defective.”


Van Gelder poses a thought provoking challenge to the proponents of “Born That Way” approach: Suppose, she asks, “they discover that there’s no biological basis to sexual orientation? Are we willing to promise that on that day, we’ll give back any gay rights we’ve managed to win and march off to the psychic showers” to be “‘cure[d]’” of [our] “homosexuality’(emphasis original)?”

In 1992, homosexual and “gay rights” activist Darrell Yates Rist penned an instructive article in The Nation. Rist alludes to the “Hungarian activist doctor” who coined the term “homosexual” in the 1860’s. The doctor, writing under the pseudonym K.M. Kertbeny, addressed a letter to the Prussian Minister of Justice in response to a new penal code that would criminalize sexual relations between men. Kertbeny opposed the proposed measures, arguing that homosexuality is an “‘inborn, and therefore irrepressible, drive [.]”


Rist quotes authors John Lauritsen and David Thorstad who summarized Kertbeny’s position as such: “‘If homosexuality is inborn…it cannot be regarded as a punishable offense by rational persons who respect the mysterious laws of nature.’”

My objective here is to defend neither Ben Carson nor his position on this complex matter. The point, rather, is that given our rapidly changing mores with respect to homosexuality, Carson’s position that homosexuality is chosen appears to be more in keeping with the spirit of these new mores than is the belief that homosexuality is biologically determined.

My prediction is that it won’t be long until the self-sworn guardians of “progressive” thought on homosexuality will have succeeded in branding the “Born That Way” line as an expression of virulent “homophobia.” Soon, no “respectable” person will dare to regard homosexuality as anything but an enlightened, courageous choice.






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