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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Ten Things That Are Right With the World

posted by Jack Kerwick

Recently, I was asked by someone to compile a list of ten—ten!—things that are right with the world.  I have to believe—I would like to believe—that most of my colleagues will find this as daunting a task as do I.  After all, those of us who practice philosophy and write cultural commentary are accustomed to sniffing out problems: the glass is always half empty for us.

That it is a challenge to think of a few positive aspects of the world, to say nothing of ten such things, is sobering enough. That this invitation would strike me as peculiar to boot is more self-revealing than I would care for it to be.  Still, peculiar or not, hard or easy, that I have the opportunity to reorient my thinking toward life proves that there is at least one thing that is right with the world:

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The world supplies us with opportunities, numerous opportunities, to grow.

In fact, given current technology and the ease with which it provides ever growing numbers of people with access to both a bottomless sea of information as well as other human beings from around the globe, the case can be made that there are even more opportunities for intellectual, moral, professional, and spiritual growth today than ever before. 

This is the first thing that is right with our world.  It is, thankfully, by no means the last.

The second, I suppose, would be the technology itself that makes possible the dramatic expansion of opportunities for personal development alluded to in the first.

Third, outside of Heaven, the world will always be ridden with human suffering.  While tragic, this fact is also doubtless.  Equally doubtless, however, is that there is more awareness of this suffering, more sensitivity to it, than at any time in the past.  Our imagistic age renders this unavoidable. 

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And it isn’t just human suffering to which untold legions of people now attend.  Animal suffering is also on our radar for perhaps the first time, historically speaking.

Fifth, while there is no evidence that plants suffer, there are more people in our generation concerned with preserving wildlife than can be found in any from the past. This is part of a larger trend of mindfulness for the environment that, while not infrequently misguided, is still generally a good thing.

Sixth, illiteracy was the norm in times gone by.  Not so today.  Never in the history of the Earth have there been as many literate people as there are in our own day.

Seventh, Christianity is right with the world.  Whether one is a Christian or not, that Christianity has made incalculable contributions to the betterment of humanity over its 2,000 year history is a fact that every remotely open minded person should be able to concede.  No tradition, religious or otherwise, is without its flaws. Every can and has been exploited for wicked purposes.  But Christianity is alone among the world’s religious and ethical traditions insofar as its emphasis on charity is concerned.  There is not now, nor has there ever been, any other system of belief that attaches as much weight to loving the stranger—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.—as does Christianity.

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The world has been enriched by its presence.

Eighth, for all of its problems, Western civilization is right with the world.  There is no other place on the planet that has provided more opportunities for more people from every conceivable walk of life than the West.  Immigration is an issue only in Western countries, for it is only to the lands of the Occident that millions upon millions of people from all around the Earth are risking their very lives to flee.

Ninth, America is right with the world. Again, it should go without saying that in acknowledging the goodness or rightness of a thing, we by no means intend to assign perfection to it.  But America has indeed served—and continues to serve—as a beacon of hope for countless millions of human beings of every racial, ethnic, and religious background. 

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Finally, that the vast majority of us never cease to be stunned by the world’s imperfections, that we never cease to be horrified by the innumerable injustices to which we are exposed on a daily basis, proves that on this “third rock from the sun,” to quote the name of the popular television series, there is no short measure of decency or justice.  There is justice in the world.  There are people who are willing to right the world’s wrongs.

This is the last, but certainly not the least, thing that I will include on my list of the ten things that are right with the world.

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School Daze: Zero Tolerance for Boys Means Zero Virtue for Men

posted by Jack Kerwick

Alex Evans is a seven year-old second grader at Mary Blair Elementary School in Colorado.  Recently, he was suspended for throwing an imaginary grenade while pretending to “rescue the world” from “pretend evil forces.”

Little Alex, it turns out, violated his school’s “absolutes” against fighting and weapons, “real or imaginary.” 

So-called “zero tolerance” policies of the sort on display at Mary Blair have long been in place in public schools throughout the country.  Alex’s mother said that she thought that they were “unrealistic” for kids her son’s age. She is right as far as she goes.  The problem is that she doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Such policies are indeed unrealistic, yet they are unrealistic for people of all ages.  Moreover, they aren’t just unrealistic. They are at once idiotic and outrageous: rather than enable children to become responsible adults, zero tolerance policies threaten to retard this developmental process.

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Boys are particularly harmed by it.  Alex Evans is a case in point.  Here is a seven year-old child whose only infraction is that he possesses an imagination that is both lively and heroic.  Think about it: he delights in envisioning himself as a self-sworn enemy of all that is evil, a world savior.

The kid dreams, not about harming the world, but rescuing it.  He longs to be more like Superman, not Stalin.

Yet for this, the childish adults at his school punish him.

Speaking as one who was once a boy, I can assure you that the sort of play in which Alex Evans and a gazillion other boys engage in is not at all atypical.  When I was a kid, my cousin Wade and I would regularly pretend to be superheroes: Superman, Batman, and Spiderman were our crime fighters of choice.  We would also not infrequently imagine ourselves as characters from Star Wars.  But Wade and I were especially creative: we would essentially play out our self-assigned roles as if we were enacting or—in the case of Star Wars—reenacting films.

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Of course, since there was only two of us, and since no hero is complete without a nemesis, we also had to pretend to be villains. Unlike Alex Evans, however, we didn’t just hurl imaginary weapons at one another; we also really wrestled.  If the rules of Mary Blair Elementary School been our family’s rules, had our family a “zero-tolerance” policy, we would have been in some serious trouble.

The value of these imaginative exercises to a boy’s intellectual and moral development is sorely underappreciated.  They expand his mind’s horizons, awakening him to possibilities to which his counterparts of duller sensibilities will remain oblivious.  And inasmuch as it is the hero that he plays and replays, they serve as the means by which he cultivates those excellences of character that will make him into a virtuous man.

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This is no new insight.  Prior to our generation, it went without saying—though it was often repeated—that the key to maintaining and strengthening civilization lies in heroic men showing young boys how to become heroic men. And it was as well obvious that the virtuous would not infrequently have to deploy force against the vicious.

Those commentators who see in the case of Alex Evans but the latest battle in the so-called “War on Boys” are only partially correct.  If “zero-tolerance” policies like those at Mary Blair are the proverbial shots fired in any kind of “war,” it is a war against men, for in stifling the intellectual and moral growth of boys, they produce men with neither heads nor hearts.

But if it is a war on men that is being waged here, then, ultimately, it is a war on civilization.   

 

 

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Freedom of the Press Control

posted by Jack Kerwick

While teaching on Aristotle in my ethics class last week, I noted that not unlike his contemporaries or his medieval successors, the great philosopher was a “teleologist.”  A teleologist is simply one who thinks that everything in the world has an essential purpose that makes it the kind of thing that it is.  This is what most people held up until the advent of modern science.     

An astute student then attempted to tie Aristotle’s analysis into the current debate over the Second Amendment. He observed that those who favor ever more oppressive restrictions on the Second Amendment—the proponents of “gun control”—sound very much like teleologists when it comes to guns.  Guns kill, we are told.  This is their purpose.

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That cars, knives, fists, and many other things other than guns also kill is neither here nor there for Second Amendment deniers. Cars, say, aren’t meant to kill.  Guns are.

My student was correct. When it comes to guns, the enemies of the Second Amendment do indeed speak as if they were teleologists.  Forget that when it comes to almost everything else, their teleology goes out the window.

But let’s play along and see whether these cafeteria teleologists are willing to follow their reasoning to its logical term.

The purpose of a free press is to safeguard our liberty against corruption.  Those who rely upon the First Amendment to peddle their wares in the media can constitutionally justify their existence by alluding to this purpose.  Without our media “watchdogs,” we are lead to think, those in power—those in government, particularly—could all too easily trample our liberties under foot.

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A free press is what separates liberty from tyranny, citizens from subjects or slaves.

If this is so, however, then it is not unreasonable to think that if those in the media are not doing their job, if they are not serving as watchdogs, then maybe they should no longer be permitted to hide behind the First Amendment.

And they are not doing their job. 

Journalists and pundits in publishing and broadcasting far too often protect, not the liberties that government office holders are busy away eroding, but the government office holders themselves. In exchange for access to politicians, the tireless champions of the press’s sacred right to freedom of speech reduce themselves to public relations tools for these same politicians.

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So, this being the case, we should ask of the First Amendment absolutists: Do they really need freedom of the press? 

If we are in turn accused of wanting to repeal the First Amendment, or at least that part of it that guarantees freedom of the press, we should deny the charge: No one is talking repeal here, we must insist. Rather, we are only talking about “common sense” restrictions or regulations. 

Those in the press can maintain their freedom of speech—but only if they really need it.   That is, if they are exposing or otherwise challenging those in government—and not acting as their propagandists—then and only then should they be free to continue doing so.  However, freedom of the press will not extend to those media figures intent upon serving as apologists for the powerful. 

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To make sure that we apply the First Amendment in a “common sense” way, those who own and manage media organizations—and possibly those in their employment—should be required to submit their coverage of the events and people of the day every so often to a bi-partisan, independent Congressional commission.  

If it is established that their networks and publications have taken an insufficiently adversarial stance toward the government, then a penalty will be leveled.  This is what will happen the first time around.  If it is subsequently discovered that those who are supposed to be pit bulls are actually poodles, then their business will be extinguished.

The First Amendment is not violated here, we can remind our critics. Quite the contrary, in fact, for these “common sense” restrictions will preserve and strengthen it. They will make sure that its purpose is fulfilled.

Somehow, I doubt very much that those who are all too eager to apply these arguments to the Second Amendment will be so eager to accept them when it comes to the First Amendment.

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Ron Paul, Chris Kyle, and Christ

posted by Jack Kerwick

Ron Paul is under fire for a tweet sent from his twitter account regarding the untimely death of Navy SEAL sniper, Chris Kyle, who was allegedly murdered by another veteran who he was supposedly trying to help deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Paul’s tweet read:

“Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn’t make sense.”

Paul is a veteran himself.  After he became the subject of criticism, he extended his condolences to Kyle’s family and assured his critics that it is not Kyle himself to whom he referred, but “the unconstitutional and unnecessary wars” in which the late SEAL participated. 

“Unconstitutional and unnecessary wars have endless unintended consequences,” Paul said.  “A policy of non-violence, as Christ preached, would have prevented this and similar tragedies.”

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Some comments are in order here.

First, anyone who knows anything at all about Paul knows that his most recent remarks are not an attempt at backpedaling on his part: Paul is nothing if not a stalwart opponent of what he routinely calls “the Warfare State.”  As far as he is concerned, there really is no end to the evil that America’s incessant warring abroad promises to visit upon all affected by it—including and particularly those who engage in it.

Still, Chris Kyle chose to become a member of the United States military.  He chose to become a Navy SEAL.  And he chose to distinguish himself as the biggest killer in the annals of American military history.

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These are not criticisms. They are facts.  They are facts that neither a believer in individual liberty, like Paul, nor Kyle, the proud author of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History—would think to deny.  Paul comes dangerously close to playing the “Society made him do it” card when he shifts the focus of his tweet from Kyle to the government.

Second, perhaps Kyle was not mistaken in viewing the 150 lives that he extinguished as a cost that had to be paid for the preservation and well being of his country.  Yet perhaps he was so mistaken.  That the American government selects a group of people as “the enemy” does not mean that they pose a threat to the country.  And when this same government refuses to follow its own Constitution by issuing a formal declaration of war against those who ostensibly pose a vital threat to its interests, there is that much more reason for skepticism regarding its claims.

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Third, even if Kyle was correct and he acted justly in killing 150 people, the fact remains that he still killed.  That is, he did indeed live by the proverbial sword.  Those in the police, the military, the secret service, bodyguards, security, and so forth, all live by the sword.  There is nothing objectionable about this.  Indeed, if the title of his book tells us anything, it tells us that Kyle knew this about himself better than anyone. If one who unabashedly styles himself to the world as “the most lethal sniper in U.S.military history” isn’t also one who “lives by the sword,” then who is?

Yet, presumably, it is precisely because the Kyles of the world occupy the most violent and potentially violent of occupations that so many Americans, especially those on the right, elevate them as heroes.  It is because they stand the greatest chance of dying by the sword that they are admired and praised.

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Finally, that Paul quotes Jesus in connection with the violent death of “the most lethal sniper” to which America has ever given rise strikes this Christian as eminently defensible—intellectually, morally, and religiously.

As was just noted, we all know that police officers in high crime areas and military personnel in combat zones—like Kyle, who served multiple tours of duty over a ten year period—are more likely than college professors and maintenance men to die in the line of duty. 

Morally and religiously, Paul no more speaks out of turn in applying Jesus’ teaching to America’s most lethal sniper than Jesus spoke inappropriately when directing His teaching toward Peter, “the Rock” on which He would build His church.  The difference between Peter and Kyle, though, is that while the latter saw himself as killing for his country, Peter was prepared to kill for his Lord and Savior

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Another crucial difference is that Peter never killed—and yet Christ still admonished him.

But if Christians aren’t outraged over the fact that Jesus issued this adage to one of His closest friends and disciples, then why is there outrage on their part now that Ron Paul has issued it (posthumously, of course) to the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history?

Ron Paul’s tweet raises a number of questions concerning Christian charity, patriotism, war, and our civic obligations that far too many of us remain unwilling to face.

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