At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Even had Republicans won the much coveted Hispanic vote in November, Mitt Romney still would have lost.

Thus declares Byron York while writing in the Washington Examiner last week.

Using a New York Times’ calculator devised by Nate Silver, York reports that even if Romney “had been able to make history and attract 50 percent of Hispanic voters,” he “still would have been beaten, 283 electoral votes to 255.”  And had he “been able to do something absolutely astonishing for a Republican and win 60 percent of the Hispanic vote,” he “would have lost by the same margin, 283 electoral votes to 255.”

To show just how wide of the mark is the conventional wisdom on the GOP’s need for Hispanics, York reveals that even had Romney “been able to reach a mind-blowing 70 percent of the Hispanic vote,” he “still would have lost [.]”  In such a situation, Romney would have won the popular vote while losing the Electoral College, 270-268.

York informs us that Romney would have had to increase his share of the Hispanic vote from the paltry 27 percent that he actually received to a whopping 73 percent to have won in 2012.  Obviously, York concludes, “Romney, and Republicans, had bigger problems than Hispanic voters.”

Indeed.  Some of us have known all of this for quite some time.  We also have known what York tells us next:

“The most serious” of Republicans’ problems “was that Romney was not able to connect with white voters who were so turned off by the campaign that they abandoned the GOP and in many cases stayed away from the polls altogether.”

Romney, like McCain before him, failed to resonate with white voters.

And judging from the number of whites who decided to either sit out the election or throw in behind Obama or some third party candidate, this failure to connect was huge. “Recent reports,” York relays, “suggest [that] as many as 5 million white voters simply stayed home on Election Day.” What exactly does this mean?  Well, if whites “had voted at the same rate [that] they did in 2004, even with the demographic changes since then, Romney would have won.”

York adds that “the white vote is so large that an improvement of 4 points…would have won the race for Romney.”

Given all of this, York facetiously asks: “So which would have been a more realistic goal for Romney—matching the white turnout from just a few years earlier, or winning 73 percent of Hispanic voters?”

York asserts that if 2012 voting patterns remain constant—“whites voting in lower numbers but about 60 percent for Republicans, blacks and Asians turning out in large numbers and voting 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively, for Democrats”—then “Republicans will have to win an astonishingly high percentage of the Hispanic vote to capture the White House.”

York then proceeds to debunk the conventional wisdom among Republican politicians and pundits as the conventional folly that it is. “It is simply not reasonable,” he states, “to believe that there is something the GOP can do—pass immigration reform, juice up voter-outreach efforts—that will create that result.”

So, what must the GOP do?

The bulk of York’s piece has all but spelled out the answer to this question: appeal to the millions of disenchanted whites who feel that their interests have been neglected by both national parties.  Yet even now, and in spite of all that he has written, York still tries to avoid being racially explicit.  Instead, he writes of the need for Republicans to reach “the millions of Americans who have seen their standard of living decline over the past decades,” those to whom Romney failed to appeal.  The next Republican presidential candidate who can do this, he is convinced, will win.

York is to be commended for daring to speak a truth that far too many try at all costs to deny.  And he is certainly correct when he concludes his article with the reminder that reaching those millions of Americans who otherwise feel betrayed or ignored by Republicans “would do more than any immigration bill or outreach program ever could.”

But neither York nor any other Republican can afford to be afraid to say that it is reaching millions of white voters that will guarantee the GOP future electoral victories.  Nor should they ignore the fact that these same whites do not live by bread alone. It isn’t just material concerns that motivate them, but the sense, the conviction, that political and cultural elites have silently declared a kind of cold war against them: they are the only group that is not supposed to have legitimate interests.

Until Republicans come to terms with this reality, white voter turn-out will remain low.

And Republicans will remain losers.



Recently, I wrote an article on “terrorism” that was rejected by a publication that typically accepts my submissions.

In my piece, I make two points.

First, in spite of the confidence with which everyone presumes to know its nature, there is anything but agreement over what “terrorism” could possibly mean, for the word has been applied in connection with both those Muslims who have killed agents of the American government as well as with those who have killed civilians.

The definition of “terrorism” is unclear.

The second point I made is that whether we apply the term “terrorism” to one class of attackers or the other, we presuppose a meaning for the word that at least appears to apply just as well to modern states—including our own country.

If the Muslims who take aim at agents of the U.S. government are terrorists, then so too, it would appear, were the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor.  If those responsible for 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing are terrorists because they attacked civilians, then, it would seem, so too might our own government’s actions toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki, say, be acts of terrorism.

But only non-state actors can be terrorists, some might say.  If so (and this is a big “if”), then maybe it is the case that only states can go to war, and then, only with other states.  This objection proves too much, for it undermines those who insist that we are in a “war” with “Radical Islam.”

A much more common objection is that neither America nor any other modern “democracy” intends to kill civilians—even if this loss of life is foreseen.  The otherwise sound Catholic doctrine of “double-effect”—the doctrine that an otherwise objectionable course of action may be permissible as long as its consequences, though foreseen, are unintended and unavoidable—is here invoked.  It is also corrupted.

As the distinguished 20th century Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe notes: “It is nonsense to pretend that you do not intend to do what is the means you take to your chosen end.  Otherwise there is absolutely no substance to the Pauline teaching that we may not do evil that good may come.’”

The publication that rejected this piece rejected it on three grounds.

First, the editors protested, terrorism does indeed have an “objective definition.”   To support this contention, they directed me to an old article in their archives in which the author, following conventional practice, defines terrorism as the murder of innocents for political purposes.

For starters, I never denied the possibility of defining terrorism.  In fact, I draw on elements of my editors’ definition to support my point that whether it is Islamic belligerents killing government agents or civilians (i.e. “innocents”), labeling these as acts of terrorism gives rise to problems that are both logical and ethical.  Moreover, the claim that there is an “objective definition” of terrorism may be true, but this precludes neither the possibility of other “objective” definitions nor the possibility that this definition is objectively false.  To assert otherwise is question-begging.

Second, the Benghazi attack on an American embassy was conducted by, not a spontaneously formed mob, but “an Al-Qaeda affiliate”—i.e. a terrorist organization.

Again, this does not speak to anything that I wrote.  I never denied that there are terrorists.  As the title of my article makes clear, I am interested in answering the question: What is terrorism? This is a philosophical question that, as such, cannot be answered by merely pointing to a group that is widely regarded as a terrorist group.  To go about it this way is, once more, to beg the question.

Finally, the editors disagreed with my insinuation that we treat the attacks I list as acts of terror just because they are executed by Muslims.  After all, the Oklahoma City bombing was deemed a terrorist act, yet the bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was a white American.

This objection is just as misplaced as the first two.

Because their shared faith is the only common denominator in my list of attacks, it is true that I suggest that this is why we insist upon lumping together Muslims who kill government agents with those who kill civilians as terrorists.  But this in no way implies that anyone thinks that only Muslims are terrorists.

Even a friend remarked that I should’ve first stated “the accepted definition” of terrorism and then critiqued it.  But I wanted to work backwards by looking at the various ways in which we use the term “terrorism” to show that if a meaningful definition is forthcoming, it still eludes us.  I wasn’t going to start with a definition: I am still in search of one.



The word “terrorism” is not all that easy to define. Yet we wouldn’t know this given the wild indiscriminateness with which it’s applied.  The following five scenarios supply us with examples of this.

(1)Those Muslims on the battlefields of such places as Iraq and Afghanistan are Islamic.  Obviously, they are also killing, or trying to kill, American soldiers.  Therefore, they are terrorists.

(2) An enraged mob attacks an American embassy in Benghazzi on September 11, 2012.  An American ambassador and a couple of servicemen are killed.  The mob consists of Muslims.  Thus, they are terrorists.

(3)Nidal Malik Hasan, a United States Army Medical Corps officer, goes on a shooting spree in 2009 that ends with 13 fellow service personnel dead.   Hasan is a Muslim.  Therefore, he is a terrorist.

(4) The perpetrators of September 11, 2001, an event that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 American civilians, were Islamic.  So, they were terrorists.

(5) The brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing that killed and maimed American civilians were Muslim.  Therefore, they are terrorists.

Situations (1)-(3) involve non-civilian targets, agents of the United States government.  But if Islamic “terrorists” are terrorists because they target American soldiers and/or representatives of the American government, then it would seem that, say, the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor also qualify as “terrorists.”

Is it because the Japanese were state actors, agents acting on behalf of their government, that we don’t think of them along these lines?

This can’t be right.

For starters, the state/non-state distinction can all too easily be turned around to show that it is impossible to be at “war” with non-state actors.  While it is possible for, say, the American government to be at war with the governments of Iraq, Syria, or any other country, it is no more possible for the United States to wage war against Al-Qaeda or “Islamism” or “Islamo-Fascism” than it is possible for it to wage war against Timothy McVeigh or Bill Ayers.

Maybe the Japanese were terrorists.  But then so too are own soldiers who kill the government agents of those on whom we wage war.

Situations (4) and (5) involve attacks against civilians.  This by itself doesn’t prove that they the assailants are terrorists, though.

We should recall that a person who causes terror isn’t necessarily a terrorist.  Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murderer Adam Lanza spread terror, yet we do not treat him as a terrorist.  This is because a terrorist is motivated to instill terror for the sake of a purpose, namely, a political, theological, or otherwise ideological purpose.

The killers in (4) and (5) appeared to be motivated by such a purpose. Perhaps they are indeed terrorists.  Yet if this is the case, then those governments that carpet bomb civilian populations in war are alike composed of terrorists.

The objection that “democracies” don’t intend to kill civilians—even if they foresee them—relies upon the Catholic doctrine of “double-effect.”    As the distinguished 20th century Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe noted, to use the doctrine in this way is to abuse it. The abusers, she wrote, would have us think that “by making a little speech to yourself: ‘What I mean to be doing is’” this, not that, we achieve “a marvelous way…of making any action lawful.”

For example, a person who starts shooting off a gun in a mall, say, and winds up hitting or killing bystanders, might appeal to the doctrine of double-effect by saying that he never intended to kill anyone. He only intended to shoot off his gun.  That someone was shot is but an “accidental,” not an “essential,” aspect of the situation.

Immediately, we recognize that this is unacceptable.  No less unacceptable, though, is the idea that we didn’t intend to kill civilians when we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Anscombe writes: “It is nonsense to pretend that you do not intend to do what is the means you take to your chosen end.  Otherwise there is absolutely no substance to the Pauline teaching that we may not do evil that good may come.”

Perhaps it is best that we don’t think much about the meaning of “terrorism.”  We may not like what we discover once we begin to go down this path.




Last week, world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking addressed legions of enthusiastic students and others at Caltech.  According to reports, the gist of his speech was that “general relativity” and “quantum theory” can enable us to account for the origins of the universe without positing the existence of God.

According to The Daily Mail, Hawking ridiculed the religious position on this topic by likening it to the myth of an obscure African tribe whose God “vomited the Sun, Moon, and stars.”  He further mocked the traditional theistic explanation of the world’s beginnings by referring back to an exchange that Martin Luther is said to have had with a younger man who ventured to discover what God was doing “before” He decided to create the universe.  “Was he preparing Hell for people who asked such questions?”  “Such questions,” Hawking maintained, are nonsense.

As Christians have noted for the better part of 2,000 years, they are indeed nonsensical.  Hawking would have known this had he, say, read St. Augustine’s Confessions—a Western classic that supplies us with an analysis of time that secular and religious thinkers alike acknowledge remains unrivaled for its insights.  Yet this is the problem: Hawking, not unlike most scientists who have made a splash in the popular culture, seems to be almost scandalously ignorant of the philosophical and theological literature that defines his civilization.

Augustine conceded long ago that the question, “What was God doing before He created the world?” is fundamentally misplaced.  He knew what Hawking now knows: the world did not come to be in time, but, rather, time is an aspect or dimension of the world.  Thus, since “before” is a temporal word, there was no “before” God created the world, for there was no time until God created it.

As far as the idea of God puking up the universe is concerned, Christians (along with Jews and Muslims, for that matter) have always found this as primitive and repugnant a conception as does Hawking.  Again, it is shameful that he apparently doesn’t know this, for it is elementary.

Unlike, say, Hindus and ancient Greeks, Christians staunchly deny that the universe “emanated” from God, or that God brought it into being from some “stuff” that already existed.  And, of course, they just as stanchly deny that God is a physical being, a body.  Yet this is all that is implied in Hawking’s metaphor of the god of his African tribe.

For the Christian, the world is not contemporaneous with God, the way a person is contemporaneous with his shadow, say, or the bile in his stomach.  Rather, God is the Supreme Being, immaterial and, thus, invisible, who created the world out of nothing.

In fact, ironically, it is precisely because of the belief that the world is the product of an all-good God that science has soared to such heights as it has.  In the absence of this Christian doctrine, it is much more likely than not that science itself would have been absent from the West.   It is the idea that the material cosmos, by virtue of being the handiwork of the Perfect Architect, is both real and good that the universe was deemed an eminently worthwhile object of investigation.

If not for this “religious position,” there would have been no science—and no Stephen Hawking.

There is a final point.  As Christian (and other) thinkers have noted for centuries and centuries, the universe is not self-explanatory.  Hawking might agree, which is why, I think, he has theorized that our universe is but one universe among an infinite number of such universes.  But this line only pushes the problem back a step.

First, since “the universe” is but a short-hand term for everything or all things, to speak of infinite universes is like speaking of infinite everythings, or limitless all things.  Neither logically nor grammatically does it seem to make much sense.

However, the bigger obstacle to Hawking’s view is philosophical or theological.  Let’s just suppose that there is more than one universe.  So what?  The basic question over which atheists and theists have been clashing from time immemorial is: Why is there something rather than nothing?

Hawking never states the question this directly—and for good reason.

Whether there is one universe or an infinite number of universes, nothing composed of parts—as the universe is—is self-explanatory. In other words, to explain the universe or universes, we must go beyond them.

Why is X here?  Unfortunately, for the Hawkings of the world, it is logically illicit to answer this by pointing to X itself.

Hawking may be a great scientist, but he is a lousy philosopher—and an even worse theologian.

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