At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

It is over a year now since Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency of the United States. Anyone who still doubts that our 45th President is anything less than a world-historic figure, a truly unique individual, and a president unprecedented for his effectiveness is not to be taken seriously.

Trump’s chronic critics, the anti-Trumpers and NeverTrumpers, are delusional, dishonest, and, importantly, arrogant, for the New York billionaire who never held a political office has proven them epically wrong repeatedly, a painful fact with which they are unwilling to reckon.

Trump was one of 17 GOP presidential candidates in what amounted to among the most crowded and competitive of presidential fields to date.  Practically overnight, the man who “conservative” and “liberal” commentators alike dismissed as a clown rose like a phoenix to clear the field, clobbering the Republican Party’s and the conservative movement’s brightest stars.

With nothing but his army of Deplorables behind him, the man who up until the night of the Election all of the smart and respectable folks assured the country had virtually no chance of winning, smashed into the ranks of the has-beens America’s political dynasties and some of the most influential movers and shakers in the world.

It isn’t just the Clintons, Bushes, and Obamas over whom Trump prevailed; he defeated as well the Democratic and Republican Party Establishment(s); the Deep State; a hostile, dishonest media; the entertainment industry; academia; George Soros and his street-vermin thugs; and even Pope Francis, who attempted to alter the outcome of an American election by suggesting that Trump was not a Christian for wanting to construct a border wall.

Trump, the David to his enemies’ Goliath, beat them all.

One year later, in the face of a relentless onslaught of overwhelmingly negative, outrageously dishonest criticism by most of the media, the President continues to double down, pursuing with tunnel vision his agenda to Make America Great Again.

Whether one likes or dislikes Trump, only the willfully blind or the apathetic will refuse to admit that the man is cut from exceptionally rare cloth.  Few people in human history possess Trump’s fortitude, his guts, and his raw determination.  No public figure today could weather the constant attacks to which both Trump and his family are routinely subjected.

Even former President Jimmy Carter conceded that Trump’s nemeses in the media have besieged him in ways unfamiliar to all of Trump’s predecessors.  He told Maureen Dowd of The New York Times: “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about.” Carter even implicitly acknowledges that at least some of this is Fake News.  “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”

Indeed, the Media Research Center has found that in the months of September and October of 2017, the coverage of the President supplied by ABC, NBC, and CBS was 90% negative.

Much less are there any public figures that would be able to weather these attacks while barreling full steam ahead in fulfilling his promises.

And this brings us to the next point:

One needn’t be a die-hard Trump fan to admit that the President has indeed had a remarkable first year.

Although such smart people like Paul Krugman assured us that Trump’s presidency would break the economy, just the opposite, in fact, has occurred.

The stock market reached record highs 70 times and, for the first time ever, rose 5,000 points. As I write this, the Dow Jones reached 25,000 points—a historical first.

An estimated 42,000 new jobs promise to be created thanks to the President’s efforts to create energy-independence via the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Unemployment is 4.1%, and the number of people collecting unemployment benefits is the lowest that it’s been in 44 years. Black unemployment is the lowest it has been in 17 years and Hispanic unemployment is at a record low.

Shortly before leaving office, former President Barack Obama, under whose watch 16,000 Americans lost their manufacturing jobs in 2016 alone, mocked then-candidate Trump’s pledge to return these jobs (and more) to the United States. “Well how exactly are you going to do that? What are you going to do?” Obama asked Trump: “What magic wand do you have?”

Well, one year later, 171,000 manufacturing jobs have been created and manufacturing unemployment, standing at 2.6%, is the lowest that it has ever been.

Consumer confidence reached its highest level since 2000, and housing sales are higher than they have been in well over a decade.

Obama was POTUS for eight years.  He enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only President in American history whose economy never saw a full year of 3% GDP growth. The average annual growth rate of the GDP during his tenure never exceeded 1.48%, making his economic recovery the weakest period of expansion since the 1940’s.

In glaring contrast, despite a couple of natural disasters, one right after the other a few months back, GDP growth under Trump has managed to exceed 3% in the last two quarters of 2017.

And, of course, we can’t forget the huge tax plan package—the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—that the Republicans (only) passed in December.  As even the Trump-haters in the media had to finally concede, middle and working-class households will be keeping thousands more of their dollars next year as the standard deductions for individuals and married couples have now doubled.

Because the corporate tax rate has been reduced from 35% to 21%, immediately upon its passage several corporations gave larger bonuses to and raised wages for their employees.

The tax plan makes it possible to drill for oil in the Arctic, thereby moving us but another step closer to energy-independence and, importantly, it extinguishes the cornerstone of Obamacare, the so-called “individual mandate.”  The Republicans failed to formally appeal Obamacare last year.  Yet through this law, it has, in effect, been defanged. It hangs in the air, its foundation obliterated.

There is much more that the President has accomplished within his first 12 months in office.

He has eliminated dozens (at least 67) of his predecessor’s regulations, adding only three of his own.

Trump has rescinded, through Executive Order, the obscene Obamacare contraceptive mandate, which forced private employers to provide contraceptive and abortion services through the health insurance plans they offered their employees. In his very first week in office, the President also eradicated $9 billion in foreign aid that was used to finance abortions.

Recently, Operation Rescue, one of the largest pro-life organizations in the country, named Trump as their “Pro-Life Person of the Year.” The group’s president, Troy Newman, released a statement upon presenting Trump with their Malachi Award. It commended Trump for his “courage” to “keep promises made during the campaign” to “provide greater protections for the pre-born and deny Federal funds from those who commit abortions.”

Newman praised Trump, saying that he “has proven to be the most pro-life president we have had in modern history and has backed up his pro-life rhetoric with action like no other before him.”

Trump has also been supportive of Christians throughout the Middle East.  As Vice-President Pence told Middle Eastern Christians at this past year’s annual In Defense of Christians Summit, no longer would America funnel humanitarian aid to persecuted religious minorities through multi-national organizations like the United Nations.  The Trump administration, he assured them, is committed to giving aid directly to those who need it.

Moreover, Trump lent significant assistance to persecuted Christians (and others) in defeating some of their biggest persecutors in the Middle East: the Islamic State.

Even NeverTrumpers like The New York Times’ Ross Douthat confess that the President fulfilled a campaign pledge by, incredibly, defeating ISIS.  The Islamic State emerged and metastasized under Obama.  Within a year of assuming the presidency, Trump changed the rules of military engagement and ISIS has been virtually crushed in Iraq and Syria.

On the homeland security front, Trump has fought and won his battle to prevent people from seven terrorist-sponsor states from entering the United States. Furthermore, Trump added two other hostile states to his Executive Order (the misnamed “travel ban”): North Korea and Venezuela. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the case against it.

Critical to homeland security is, of course, immigration.  Earlier in the year, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asserted that immigration from Central America was down a whopping 64% from the previous year. “We’ve seen an absolutely amazing drop in the number of immigrants coming out of Central America.” He added: “In particular we have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of families, the number of children.”

“The decrease in apprehensions is no accident,” Kelly insisted.

The last two presidents, George W. Bush and Obama—each of whom, mind you, served for eight years—both promised while campaigning to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Trump made the same promise.

And within his first year, he kept it.

People, even Trump’s supporters, needn’t agree with every move of the President’s that I listed here. I don’t necessarily agree with every achievement of Trump’s that I listed here, and there are several other decisions of his to which I object, sometimes fiercely.

The point here, though, is that while there remain other accomplishments and mistakes that Trump has made during his short time in office, there can be no denying that, as a leftist colleague of mine acknowledged privately to me, Trump most definitely is “a man of action.” He has accomplished much.

There is, however, another point.  Trump is doing everything in which his “conservative” detractors have told us for years they believe.

The big difference, of course, is that while these conservative movement politicians, think tank-types, and journalists talked much talk, eliciting donations in fundraising from gullible voters, the President is actually walking the walk.

Having fallen in love with Star Wars from the time that I first saw it in the late 1970s, it brings this 45 year-old no pleasure to concede that, for various reasons, the latest installment in the SW saga is simply not a good film.

Much has already been written about The Last Jedi’s poor story-telling, sorely underdeveloped and misused characters, and rampant Political Correctness. Most of the commentary has been spot-on in these respects.  However, little to no attention has been drawn to that which is most disturbing about TLJ:

It is the first antiStar Wars Star Wars movie.

TLJ essentially deconstructs the whole SW saga.

The classic tale of the perennial battle between Good and Evil collapses in on itself, here being revealed as an epic delusion begotten by the monumental arrogance of those—the Jedi—who thought themselves heroes.  By insisting upon a hard and fast distinction between the dark and light sides of the Force—by insisting that morality is an objective feature of the universe—and positioning themselves as guardians of the Light, the Jedi, in their “hubris,” as Luke Skywalker says, gave rise to all that had gone wrong in the galaxy.

In other words, it is the Jedi Order that is the “root cause” of evil (if we can any coherently speak of evil in connection with TLJ).  To put it more exactly, it is civilization, its traditions and institutions, from which all corruption springs.

Freedom, Equality, and every other virtue can come about only after the old civilization has been razed, burnt to the ground along with its literature, those Jedi texts to which Yoda takes the proverbial match in TLJ.

This idea that civilization is corruptive of nature extends back centuries in Western thought.  Its most prominent representative is the 18th century French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau. It was Rousseau who famously remarked that “man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” Civilization enslaves.  Specifically, the institution of private property, the cornerstone of civilization, is the origin of all cruelty, vice, and horror.  Rousseau’s remarks on this subject say it all:

“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by…crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

Private property engenders material inequalities and hierarchies, the “chains” that enslave. The Jedi, to hear TLJ’s Luke Skywalker tell it, created and perpetuated hierarchy and inequality vis-à-vis the Force inasmuch as they were either delusional or deceptive enough to presume that they alone had the right to protect it, as if it somehow belonged to them.

And herein lay the true significance of Daisy Ridley’s “Rey,” the chief protagonist of Disney’s trilogy:

She is a Rousseauian Hero, the Great Leveler, the quintessential champion of Equality.

Rey is the most sagacious, potent, and capable of Force users, exceeding in these virtues even Yoda; yet she is no Jedi—at least she is not a Jedi in any traditional sense of this term.  The criteria that aspiring Jedi were expected to satisfy before they could be recognized as “masters” by guardians of the old order have not only been relegated to the dustbin of history, but that history itself both the heroes and villains of TLJ agree also needs to be erased.

Rey herself has no history or, what amounts to the same thing, no history worth talking about.  This trilogy’s main villain, “Kylo Ren,” wayward son to Leia and Han Solo, nephew and former student of Luke, and grandson of Darth Vader, has a history; but, as far he is concerned, it is inconsequential, a thing to be unequivocally repudiated.  As he tells Rey: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”

The heroes agree.

The little green Socrates of SW, Yoda, emerges for one brief scene in TLJ to beat Luke to the punch by destroying all of the ancient Jedi Scriptures.  Yoda tells Luke that all that Rey needs to know regarding the Force she already knows. “We are what they [students] grow beyond.”

Rey already outstrips even Yoda in sagacity.

In The Last Jedi, Light and Darkness, the Jedi and the Sith—these are for all practical purposes dismissed as relics of a bigoted past.  The Resistance indeed promises to continue fighting against the First Order, but unlike the misguided Rebellion and, before it, the Jedi Order, it is not concerned with restoring balance to the Force or the freedom that existed during the days of the Republic.

No, the Resistance is about as interested in conserving the past as is Kylo Ren. It would appear that its point in fighting is to hit the reset button, to wipe the slate clean and write anew.

This is no slight deviation from the SW mythos.  The Jedi and all of the heroes of the Old Republic were akin to the men of the American founding generation inasmuch as they fought for the sake of conserving an inherited way of life.  In glaring contrast, the Resistors are more like the French Revolutionaries, radical egalitarians inspired by Rousseau and against whom Edmund Burke defined what would become known as conservatism.

The radicals of the French Revolution were zealots who, for the sake of leveling the inequalities and hierarchies that were the legacy of the past, fiercely and indiscriminately used the guillotine against the members of the Ancien Regime that they sought to purge from their midst.

Most decent folks today, regardless of their politics or religion, share Burke’s assessment of the French Revolution.  The radicals were many things, but they were not good.

This, then, is another respect in which The Last Jedi underscores the arbitrary, the arguably artificial, character of our conceptions of right and wrong, good and evil:

The Resistors are not good in any objective sense of this term.

And neither is The Last Jedi a good film.

The #MeToo campaign has far-reaching implications for both feminism and the so-called Sexual Revolution to which feminism gave rise.

First, the Feminist affirms a model of Woman that is, or is supposed to be, radically at odds with what she takes to be the traditional, patriarchal stereotype from which feminists have (allegedly) liberated women.  Feminist Woman is strong and self-sufficient; she is large and in charge, no one’s victim.  Non-feminist Woman, in stark contrast, is weak, needy, and forever at the mercy of her male oppressors.

Yet as the #MeToo campaign has made abundantly clear, Feminist Woman is a mirage, an illusion.

It is a Big Lie.

The vast majority of women on board the #MeToo train travel in left-leaning circles.  They are Feminist Woman.  And here they are revealing to the world that they are every bit as weak, needy, and at the mercy of their male oppressors as they’ve tirelessly insisted Non-feminist Woman has always been.

There is nothing strong or self-sufficient about a woman who, upon being sexually harassed or assaulted, remains silent in exchange for either accepting hush money or otherwise advancing her career, thereby making it easier for other women to fall prey to the same predations to which she claims she was subjected.

There is nothing strong or self-sufficient about a woman who, after having remained silent for decades, in many instances, decides to level allegations of sexual abuse only after many others started doing the same, only once it has become trendy—and profitable—to do so.

And such a woman is nothing if not at the mercy of men.

Feminist Woman is strong, self-sufficient, and no man’s victim—except for when she is weak, needy, and the victim of predatory men.

Second, Feminist Woman’s position on sexual morality is as self-contradictory as her position on women.

Classical Marxists once equated traditional Christian sexual morality with a form of “bourgeois” repression. Feminist Woman, bearing unmistakably her leftist pedigree, regards the Christian sexual ethic as an instrument of misogynistic, “hetero-normative” oppression. Thus, the so-called “Sexual Revolution” that broke loose some 50 years ago was self-consciously meant as an unequivocal repudiation of the West’s dominant, traditional ethic.

This ethic affirms the virtues of modesty, self-discipline, self-love, and mutual respect between men and women. It prescribes chastity until marriage, which it depicts as the sacrament of holy matrimony, the lifetime covenant that a man and a woman enter into with one another and with the God who instituted this sacrament for the essential purpose of begetting and raising children (Yes, given that the etymology of “matrimony” is “mother,” marriage is inherently heterosexual).

Feminist Woman and her fellow “revolutionaries” have spent over a half-of-a-century doing whatever they could to hack this ethic to pieces.  Its virtues Feminist Woman has transformed into vices.  Along with her fellow sexual revolutionaries, Feminist Woman has derided and mocked the Christian sexual ethic.

For humility and self-restraint, she has substituted ostentatiousness and self-indulgence.  Feminist Woman has jettisoned commitment in favor of convenience.  Marriage she wrote off as nothing more or less than a “social construct” that was devised by heterosexual males for the sake of bolstering their “hegemony” over women and sexual minorities (homosexuals, the “transgendered,” etc.), and sex, far from serving a larger common good like the production and nurturance of the family, exists first and foremost for the sake of bringing pleasure to those who engage in it.

As long as the sex is consensual (however individual feminists define this), it matters not with whom, where, when, or how it occurs.

This is the anti-Christian ethos within which the #MeToo campaign has taken flight.

In other words, the Sexual Revolution has proven to be not very liberating after all.  It has turned in on itself, cannibalizing its own.

Third, but it isn’t just the “revolutionaries” who have been harmed.  Most tragically, untold numbers of children, both born and unborn, are casualties of this systematic assault against traditional Christian sexual morality.  The rate of children born out of wedlock has risen astronomically, as has the rate of divorce; the phenomenon of the “broken home” is now commonplace.

And since the early days of the Revolution to the present day, tens and tens of millions of children have been denied the opportunity to leave their mothers’ wombs, killed by their mothers in the name of a “Woman’s Right to Choose.”

To be clear, once convenience trumped commitment and the pleasure of the individual assumed categorical importance, the child in the womb became a “fetus” and the killing of that child an “abortion.”

Given its dependence upon a deceptive vocabulary, the Sexual Revolution, like Feminism itself, reveals itself as a Big Lie.

Yet it is a most dangerous lie, for it has resulted, and continues to result, in the mass destruction of lives, including and especially the lives of the most innocent and defenseless among us, those who have never and could never “consent” to the Sexual Revolution, and who are unceremoniously ignored by the #MeToo campaigners.

One of the points for which I argue in my latest book, Christianity and the World: Essays Philosophical, Historical, and Cultural, is that the civilization—the world—that atheist and theist alike take for granted today would be unrecognizable to itself if not for the religion that produced it: Christianity.

Take, for example, the “secular” figure of Santa Claus. The latter derives from the fourth century Bishop, Saint Nicholas, a real, flesh and blood figure and a devout man of God.

As Bill Bennett writes, the story of Saint Nicholas “stretches from the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa to the Americas and beyond. It crosses oceans, deserts, and frozen arctic climes.”  Moreover, it “is an adventure tale complete with emperors, knights, villains, shipwrecks, kidnappings, treasure, and dark dungeons. It is the age-old struggle of good against evil, or right against might.”

Most importantly, though, Saint Nicholas “matters to Christmas,” for his “influence that has come across so many centuries is a kind of miracle.  It is evidence of God’s love.”

Nicholas—which means “people’s victor” in Greek—was born in 280 A.D. in Lycia, a province of the Roman Empire that was located in what today is known as Turkey.  He was born to Theophanes and Nonna, a relatively affluent couple who, in spite having been married for several years, had been unable to conceive a child until, after much praying,  God blessed them with Nicholas.

The family resided in Patara, the town in which Nicholas was raised.

After his parents died from a plague that decimated many of Patara’s families, Nicholas went to a monastery to live with his uncle and namesake. Shortly thereafter, he began preparing for the priesthood.  It was at this juncture that he proceeded to give away the wealth that he inherited from his parents.

Some of his resources Nicholas used for the benefit of a family in Patara, a once-wealthy father of three daughters who experienced a dramatic reversal of fortunes and now found himself destitute.  This is perhaps the most famous of Saint Nicholas stories, and undoubtedly the one more than any other that would give rise to Nicholas’s reputation as the world’s most famous gift-giver.

In those days, a man was expected to pay his daughter’s prospective husband a dowry for marrying her.  But given this man’s poverty, he couldn’t afford a dowry for one of his daughters, let alone all three of them.  This was a pressing problem, for to prevent his family from starving to death, the only alternative to marrying his girls off was to sell them into slavery.

Nicholas found out about the man’s plight.  On three separate occasions, late at night when he was sure that everyone was asleep, Nicholas threw sacks of gold through the window, providing dowries for all three daughters.  Shortly after Nicholas provided for the third daughter, the father, who had been hiding in the hopes of discovering the identity of his heretofore anonymous benefactor, ran after Nicholas.  Upon realizing who he was, the man bent his knee and began kissing Saint Nicholas’s hand.  Get up, Nicholas told him, and thank God instead.

Revealingly, Saint Nicholas instructed the man to tell no one what he had done for him and his daughters.

Saint Nicholas was tortured, beaten, and starved for years after being imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who blamed Christians for the Empire’s problems.  While incarcerated, Nicholas continued to preach the Gospel to the other inmates.  But when Constantine assumed power and sought to make Christianity the religion of the Empire, the reign of Christian persecution ended.

Nicholas was a free man.

He is said to have been among the bishops that attended the famous Council of Nicaea, the event that produced the Nicene Creed.  From this point onward, Christians the world over would affirm that God the Son, Jesus, was of one substance with His Father.  The controversy resulted in the routing of Arianism, the heresy that denied Christ’s divinity.  It is said that Nicholas so detested this corruption of the faith that he actually assaulted its founder, Arius, by slapping him across his face.

According to reports, Nicholas did some wonderful things.  Once, while attending to the hungry in a region that had been ravaged by famine, Nicholas discovered that a butcher had murdered three boys, stuffed their bodies in a barrel, and attempted to sell them off as ham.  Nicholas spoiled the butcher’s plot and restored the boys to life.

Another time, a ship was in port in his hometown.  People were hungry. Nicholas prevailed upon the sailors to spare some of their wheat. Initially, however, they were reluctant to do so, for they were entrusted with getting the wheat to the Emperor, Constantine.  Yet what they soon discovered is that when they reached Constantine, they had exactly the same amount of wheat that they had before they encountered Nicholas—even though they agreed to give the Bishop enough to feed the residents of his town for the next two years.

Still another story tells of Nicholas, after boarding a ship on route to the Holy Land, rescued the ship’s sailors and passengers from a brutal storm by praying to God for relief.

There are legions of other stories regarding this servant of God.  He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in cities and countries around the world.

Even today, he remains the patron saint of all of Greece, a giant figure in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Unfortunately, space constraints preclude a recap of the long but fascinating journey through the centuries from Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus.  Still, what has been written here should suffice as a reminder that even so-called “secular” Christmas symbols like “Santa Claus” are the products of a rich religious, Christian legacy.

To know about Saint Nicholas is to see Santa Claus in an entirely different, truer light.