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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Evil and Outrage, not Illness and Tragedy, in Connecticut

posted by Jack Kerwick

As of the time of this writing, just hours after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 27 people are dead.

Courtesy of mass murderer Adam Lanza, twenty children between the ages of five and ten are forever gone from this world. 

For the victims and their loved ones, we are helpless to do anything but pray.  But while our hearts break, we should see to it to prevent our heads from doing the same.

Thus far, we are not off to a good start.  Well, at least some of us aren’t.

As is typically the case, the ever perceptive writer Ilana Mercer is an exception to this rule. The legions of commentators who haven’t wasted a moment to grace the country’s airwaves with their sage analyses of the Newtown rampage Ilana refers to as a bunch of “self-serving tele-experts, twits of psychology and psychiatry” whose obsession with “diagnosing” the purveyors of evil in our midst results, and can only result, in the denial of evil itself.

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Ilana’s verdict is blunt and decisive: “Adam Lanza,” she declares, is “evil, not ill.”

And she is right.

Clarity precludes confusion, but talk of Lanza that simultaneously oscillates between references to his “mental health” and references to the “evil” of his deeds—and this includes virtually all such talk to date—is nothing if not confused, both morally and intellectually.

The language of “evil,” like that of “good,” is the language of morality.  The language of “mental health” and “sickness,” on the other hand, is the idiom of science (whether pseudo-science or not is beside the point).  It is just as incoherent to conscript a scientific idiom in the service of rendering moral judgments as it would be meaningless to describe the law of gravity as unethical.

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If Lanza is—or was—“sick,” then he is as much deserving of our compassion as is a child born with leukemia. 

So, point one: lest we know this elementary difference between evil and illness, we will render ourselves incapable of making pronouncements concerning either.

Moral thought runs into another snag, though, when we insist upon describing episodes like today’s shooting as a “tragedy.”  The language of tragedy, unlike that of “sickness,” does indeed belong to moral discourse.  But it does not belong to a description of the events of the sort that unfolded inNewtown.

A tsunami that decimates a human population is a tragedy.  However, Adam Lanza is not the author of a tragedy. He is an abominable punk—a “waste of sperm,” my late father would have said—who is responsible for an outrage. 

Edmund Burke had famously said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  The good men (and women) of our generation who wish to confront evil can start by responding to it by recognizing it for the outrage that it is.

 

 

 

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Words of Advice for the Conservative Movement

posted by Jack Kerwick

What must conservatives do to win the future?  This is the question with which many on the right have been grappling since Barack Obama won his reelection.

First and foremost, they must recognize that they are not conservatives.  Rather, they are neoconservatives. 

The differences between conservatism and neoconservatism are fundamental.

Conservatives believe that, in reality, human rationality has none of the competence that utopian ideologues of one sort or another insist upon ascribing to it. As Burke said: “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason,” for “this stock in each man is small [.]”  Rather than fall back upon their own meager intellectual resources, individuals should turn toward tradition, the distilled wisdom of a thousand generations.  They “would do better,” Burke said, “to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages [.]”

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Because of the intractable limitations on individual reason and the all-importance of tradition to the cultivation of intellectual and moral virtue, conservatives hold that liberty requires a wide diffusion of authority and power.  Translation: that government works best that works—and can only work—least.

Those who are truly conservative support a truly limited government.

The ideas of reason, morality, and government endorsed by neoconservatives, however, are diametrically the opposite of those affirmed by conservatives.

In proclaiming along with Jefferson that all human beings are possessed of “self-evident” rights, and in insisting that America is the only country in all of human history to have been grounded in this “proposition” alone, neoconservatives reveal their commitment to the same Enlightenment vision of reason and morality against which Burke and legions of other conservatives have been waging war for centuries.  This is also the same vision that has underwritten all manner of destructive utopian schemes, from communism abroad to the Welfare State here at home.

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And it is the same abstract, one-size-fits-all models of reason and morality that informs the neoconservative’s foreign policy of “interventionism.”

Next, Republicans must grasp that neoconservatism is wildly unpopular with most Americans, a point that should’ve been driven home in spades with the massive electoral defeats that the neoconservative party suffered in 2006 and 2008.  That an ever smaller percentage of self-described Republicans have been showing up at the polls in the last two presidential elections confirms that even its own members have been growing disenchanted with it.

Neoconservatism is but a lighter version of leftism.  Hence, Democrats reject it because their own party offers the real deal, and the more conservative and liberty-minded reject it as well because it is a version of leftism.

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Third, it is time for those of us who really want to clean house within the party to start naming names. 

For example, Rush Limbaugh is both entertaining and sharp, and there is no doubt that he has done no small measure of good in combating Democrats.  Yet Rush seldom identifies by name those Republicans with whom he disagrees. He prefers instead to refer to them by way of the generic, “the Republican Party establishment,” or maybe “RINO’s.”  And what is true for Rush is triply true in the case of Sean Hannity, who it would seem is more concerned with not burning bridges with the cast of GOP characters who he regularly trots out as guests on his television and radio programs.

But this unwillingness on the part of Rush and Sean to name names is a big problem.  This is why their names must be named. 

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Recall, along with such captains of neoconservative talk radio (doesn’t have quite the same feel as “conservative talk radio,” does it?) like Michael Medved, Laura Ingraham, Mike Gallagher, and a whole lot of others, Rush and Sean were particularly close to George W. Bush.  Yet until the election of Barack Obama, Bush II had the distinction of presiding over an expansion of the federal government the likes of which eclipsed even that on display during Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.”

No president in our history, until Obama, presided over as much spending as did Bush the junior.

Still, Rush, Sean, and their colleagues said scarcely a word (regardless of what they now say they said).  Instead, they used their resources to defend Bush against his critics on the left.

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A final point: self-proclaimed “conservatives” need to muster the will to sniff out the carnival barkers in their midst. There is no shortage of such showmen in every medium of the so-called “alternative media”—from Fox News and talk radio to websites and blogs—mercenaries who have hitched their stars to “the conservative movement” for no other reasons than fame, money, and power, the sources of motivation that have driven men from all walks of life from time immemorial. 

That November 6, 2012 was able to occur may be all of the proof we need that there are more such people in the “conservative media” than we care to realize.  

 

 

 

 

 

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The Faith is the West and the West is the Faith

posted by Jack Kerwick

A group that refers to itself as the “Arkansas Society of Freethinkers” is not in the Christmas spirit.  When it caught wind of the fact that Little Rock’s Terry Elementary School had arranged for its students to attend a stage performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at a local church, it began to eye the school up for a lawsuit.

Inasmuch as one of its key characters quotes the Gospel of Luke, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” you see, has an explicitly religious theme. 

That there is no such “separation” clause in the United States Constitution has long been established.  Yet this episode is telling not because it reveals the atheist’s ignorance of the Constitution.  Rather, it is telling insofar as it reveals his ignorance of his cultural inheritance.

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The great Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc, had famously declared that “the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith.”  We can paraphrase him by saying just as assuredly that Christianity is the West and the West is Christianity.

It is true that the Western mind is indebted to classical, pre-Christian Greek and Roman sources, but even here, it is primarily to Christian men of learning to whom we owe thanks for resurrecting and restoring to European civilization the lost riches of antiquity.

For the last two millennia there has been no aspect of Western existence that hasn’t borne upon it the indelible impress of the Christian religion.

Take science.  That it is the Western world within which the sciences first emerged and where they continue to flourish is no coincidence.  Prior to the rise of Judaism (from which Christianity spun off), and outside of the Christian West to this day, time is conceived cyclically, not linearly.  But it is our linear conception of time that inspires the scientist’s faith in the possibility of achieving progress within his craft.

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There are still other distinctively Christian concepts from which science has taken flight. 

That the universe has been created by an all-good God and that this God has entrusted its care to the custody of human beings render it impossible for those who’ve been influenced by these beliefs to deny the reality of the world, as do Hindus and Buddhists, or to assume an attitude of indifference toward it, as did the Stoics.  These Christian beliefs make it impossible to proclaim, with Plato and his disciples, that matter is somehow debased and, thus, unworthy of investigation.  They make it impossible to deny the rationality of the world and, hence, the knowledge to be gotten from it.

The very (scientific) enterprise at which the scientist makes his living would have been unthinkable in the absence of the religious faith that he now ignores, and—far too frequently—disdains.  Furthermore, he continues to erect his monuments upon the back of the Christian faith, for the supposition that nature is knowable and worth studying makes sense only within a larger Christian context.  Once it has been plucked from that framework, however, then it is about as meaningful as a piece of a puzzle without the puzzle to which it belongs.

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And what is true of the ideas underlying science are no less true of those of our morality.

The famed Russian novelist Dostoyevsky had said that if there is no God, then all things are possible.  Dostoyevsky was a Christian.  Yet some honest atheists—like the existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre—have admitted that he was correct. 

“Indeed,” Sartre wrote, it is precisely because “everything is permissible if God does not exist” that existentialist atheists like himself find life “very distressing [.]”  Since there is no God, “all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him [.]”  There are “no values or commands” that “legitimize our conduct,” there is “no excuse behind us, nor justification before us,” for “we are alone….”

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If Christianity is to go the way of the dinosaur, so too must natural law, natural rights, human rights, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and each and every one of our traditional moral ideals go this route, for without the theological gestalt supplied by Christianity, these ideals are reduced to arbitrary human inventions.

This Christmas season, let the “free thinkers” among us recognize that nothing that we take for granted—including our thought—is free.  The price we pay for the goods we value is civilization, and for this civilization of ours we owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the very religion that too many of our “free thinkers” are intent upon destroying.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Gay Marriage:” Courtesy of Republicans

posted by Jack Kerwick

The issue of so-called “same-sex marriage” will soon come before the Supreme Court.  I am no betting man, but if I was, I would gamble every dime to my name that before long, “gay marriage” will be the law of the land.  I would further bet that those right-leaning politicians and their allies within the “alternative” media who have insisted upon preserving the heterosexual character of marriage will succumb to a deafening silence not long after that.

In the annals of the human race, it is not often that we witness the particularities of time and culture giving way to a consensus on a moral issue.  Yet whether understood as an historical institution or as a spiritual and moral ideal, there is no group of people the world over that has failed to recognize marriage for the intrinsically heterosexual union that it is.

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But alas, leave it to our generation to see to it that this state of affairs doesn’t last.  The problem is that it will indeed succeed at detonating “the general bank…of nations and of ages,” as Burke famously described the wisdom of “the species.”  

It isn’t just that leftist activists and the Democratic Party are resolved to make their dream of “same-sex marriage” a reality.  More importantly—and more tellingly—it is that the proponents of traditional marriage have no one who is willing to fight on their behalf.

As the base of the GOP reevaluates its party in the wake of the losses it suffered last month, it is imperative that among the realizations at which Republican voters arrive is the realization that Republican rhetoric on this issue is just that.   

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To this some may object that, in fact, Republicans have done more than talk.  After all, Republicans have advocated a constitutional amendment expressly defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman, right?  What about that?  This question is best met by another: Yes, what about that?  We no longer hear about this proposal to amend the Constitution because it was never, and was never meant to be, anything but a gimmick, albeit one with strategic value.

Republicans have always known that their amendment proposal had zero chance of gaining any traction, much less achieving passage.  But in advancing it, they could temporally appease their base while eluding the real work necessary to stop “gay marriage.”

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While it controlled both chambers of Congress and the presidency, the GOP most certainly could have done much in this arena.  

According to Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all those cases, and only those cases, for which Congress makes allowances.  The provision states that the Court’s authority is “under such regulations as the Congress shall make.”  Translation: If a Republican-dominated Congress didn’t want for liberal judges to declare a constitutional right to “gay marriage” (or abortion, or suicide, or interspecies loving, etc.), then it would have needed to have done nothing other than invoke this Constitutional provision.  As the late Sam Francis remarked: “With a stroke of the congressional pen, ‘judicial activism’ could be ended [.]”

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But it isn’t just that Republican politicians have failed to resist the imposition upon the country of “gay marriage.” They have actually encouraged it.

Republicans routinely express support for “civil unions” for homosexuals.  However, when marriage is considered just one more type of secular association—as it must be so considered from the perspective of our secular government—then in what, pray tell, could the difference between a marriage and a civil union be said to consist?  From talk radio show hosts to Beltway politicians, Republican critics of “gay marriage” are at pains to reassure gays that all of the benefits that they would reap from marriage are just as surely secured to them by way of civil unions. The only difference between these two contracts, such Republicans explain, is the name.

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But what’s in a name?  If the difference between a civil union and a marriage is only nominal, then there is no real difference at all.

In the very near future, homosexuals will have found themselves a constitutional right to marry other homosexuals.  When this happens, the country can thank not just the left-wing activists who fought tirelessly for it.

It can thank Republicans as well.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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