At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Examining Rich Lowry and National Review

posted by Jack Kerwick

John Derbyshire has spent many years writing for National Review.  Within the last few days, his tenure for the “conservative” magazine came to an abrupt halt.

Derbyshire, you see, was fired for having published (at another publication) an article—“The Talk: Nonblack Version”—that his editor, Rich Lowry, found both “nasty and indefensible.” 

Derbyshire’s essay is a distillation of the cautionary notes regarding groups of young black males that he has conveyed to his teenage children over the span of their young lives.  

Many commentators and readers have jumped to Derbyshire’s defense.  For the time being, though, rather than argue for or against the truth of the remarks of either the offending author or Lowry, we should instead ask: if Derbyshire’s comments are “nasty and indefensible,” then what makes them so?  Since Lowry never offers an explanation for his verdict, we are left to fall back upon our own resources to find the answer to this question. 

It is possible that Lowry thinks his judgment is self-justifying in the way that the statement, “All bodies are extended beings,” is self-justifying.  Yet when we give this just a moment’s consideration, we are forced to rule this out.  The latter statement, you see, is what is called an analytic proposition.  Analytic propositions are true by definition.  In an analytic statement, the meanings of the subject and predicate terms are identical.  An analytic statement can be denied only upon pain of contradiction.

Clearly, “Parental warnings to avoid large groups of young black males are ‘nasty and indefensible’ things” is a fundamentally different type of statement than “All bodies are extended beings,” “Green unicorns are colored entities,” and so forth.

Lowry’s judgment is emphatically not analytic.   

However, some statements may be “self-evident,” even though they aren’t true by definition.  “Every effect has a cause,” “I am really typing out this analysis of Rich Lowry’s judgment of John Derbyshire and not just dreaming that I am typing it out,” would be propositions of this latter sort.  Perhaps Lowry thinks that the nastiness and indefensibility of Derbyshire’s advice to his children is self-evident in this way. Perhaps he thinks that it is self-evident in the way in which the wrongness of torturing little children for the fun of it is self-evident.

Neither does this account do, for we treat these phenomena as self-evident because no one thinks to seriously question them.  In stark contrast, a good number of people take issue with Lowry’s characterization of Derbyshire’s remarks as “nasty and indefensible.”

To act “nasty” is to act in an uncivil, and possibly even cruel, way.  The person who acts nasty seeks to hurt people with his words, and maybe his actions.  Thus, though a person’s words, because they are judged inaccurate or unpleasant or whatever, may be hard to hear, whether they are “nasty’ or not depends solely upon the intentions or motives of the person who utters them.  Does Lowry think that Derbyshire sought to injure others with his words?  If so, for whom was he gunning? 

Considering that, originally, it was to and for his children that Derbyshire imparted his now notorious advice, he certainly couldn’t have intended to harm them. And how, we are left wondering, could words—wrong though they may be—that spring from the lips of a loving and concerned parent and are relayed by that same parent to others be intended to injure anyone?   

Does Lowry mean to suggest that Derbyshire doesn’t really believe in what he told his own children?  Does he think that Derbyshire didn’t really tell his children this stuff at all, that he was just making this up in order to offend and hurt his own readers?  Neither option sounds very believable.  At any rate, to ascribe to Derbyshire’s words a “nasty” character means that it is incumbent upon Lowry to answer these questions.

Next, we may ask of Lowry in which respect(s) Derbyshire’s remarks are “indefensible.”

Lowry condemns Derbyshire’s remarks.  But Derbyshire doesn’t just make assertions, it is crucial to bear in mind.  What assertions he makes Derbyshire then proceeds to substantiate with evidence.  Again, whether he succeeds in so doing is neither here nor there; the fact remains that he does indeed argue for his claims. 

Evidently, Lowry thinks that such arguments are so worthless as to be beyond mentioning. Yet, ordinarily, when a disagreement arises between two interlocutors—especially when they are colleagues, like Lowry and Derbyshire, who have worked alongside one another for years—each seeks to identify the deficiencies of the other’s position.  In this case, though, Lowry didn’t so much as attempt to expose the illegitimacy in Derbyshire’s reasoning.

So, we are left wondering: why does Lowry insist on condemning Derbyshire’s advice to the latter’s children as “nasty and indefensible?” 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

 

 

How and Why the Left will Attack Mitt Romney

posted by Jack Kerwick

On Wednesday April 4, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell remarked that while Judaism and Christianity are thousands of years in the making, Mormonism, in stark contrast, is a mere 182 years old.  Mormonism was “created” in 1830 “by a guy in upstate New York” who got “caught having sex” with his “maid” and then “explained to his wife that God told him do it.”  Alluding to Mormonism’s historically polygamous character, O’Donnell made sure to mention that Joseph Smith—the man who “invented” Mormonism—eventually went on to accumulate 48 wives.  

This isn’t the first time that O’Donnell has sought to discredit Mitt Romney by assailing the former Massachusetts Governor’s faith.  In 2007, he charged Mormonism with being a “racist faith.”  O’Donnell states: “As of 1978 it was an officially racist faith, and for political convenience in 1978, it switched.” 

Those Republicans who suspect that President Obama and his legions of supporters in the media are going to attack Romney by attacking his faith are correct.  Yet it is crucial that they know exactly why this will be their strategy of choice. 

For whatever reasons (we needn’t get into them here), Republicans and establishment “conservatives” refuse—adamantly, steadfastly, refuse—to acknowledge two facts about their rivals.  First, they refuse to concede how Democratic leftists think. Second, they refuse to recognize that unless they make this first concession, they will lose.

If Romney, the GOP nominee, wasn’t a Mormon, Democrats wouldn’t dream of making this campaign about religion.  Republicans must grasp this. They must reckon with the truth that Mormonism, from the leftist’s perspective, is more vulnerable a target than any and every other belief system save for, say, Neo-Nazism.  

O’Donnell forecasts the lines along which the left is going to come after Romney.

That Joseph Smith was a polygamist, and that the logic of Mormon theology implies the need for polygamy, permit leftists to depict Mormonism as an incorrigibly “sexist faith.  And that blacks had long been denied, not membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but access to its priesthood, exposes it to the left’s charge of “racism.”

Shortly after the presidential election, Californians successfully voted against the legalization of so-called “gay marriage.”  In response, leftists launched a full frontal assault against (white) Mormons—though, unsurprisingly, not against the blacks and Hispanics without whom the referendum would have crashed in defeat.

Rest assured, this incident will be among those upon which Romney’s critics will seize in depicting his faith as “homophobic.”

So Romney will effortlessly be portrayed by Obama and company as a “racist, sexist, homophobe.”  But this is not all. 

For all of the leftist’s railing against “stereotypes,” there is no one who trades in stereotypes more so than he.  To the last detail, Romney fits, or can be made to fit, the worst of the leftist’s stereotypes: Romney’s fabulous wealth and wholesome looking family renders him the poster boy for the pre-1960’s bourgeoisie, a ruling class ridden with hypocrisy, self-centeredness, and a cruel indifference to the suffering of blacks, women, and other minorities. 

In the leftist’s imagination, Americawas a cauldron of racial and gender oppression up until the Enlightenment of the 1960’s.  This explains why he despises “1950’s America,” the United Statesas it is portrayed in such television classics as Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave it to Beaver.  Such shows offer an idealized presentation of the all-American family.  Yet given that this ideal co-existed with and, from the leftist’s point of view, actually facilitated “McCarthyism” and other forms of oppression, the ideal deconstructs under its own weight.  And in so doing, the white, heterosexual, bourgeoisie 1950’s family is revealed to be the Enemy of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful—i.e. the Politically Correct. 

Romney’s is the face of the Enemy.  Because of his membership in a little understood and unpopular church, there is no Republican candidate who is more legible for this distinction.  Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are Roman Catholics, and if ever there was a faith that lends itself to being interpreted by the left as “sexist” and “homophobic,” it is Catholicism; but too many American voters are Roman Catholic.  Similarly, Ron Paul is a Protestant, but the denomination to which he belongs, though posing a similar threat to the leftist’s sacred cows, is nevertheless a mainline Christian faith.        

Republicans had better prepare for this line of attack, for it is already under way.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

Easter and Love

posted by Jack Kerwick

Easter is upon us.

From the time I was a child until the present day, I have always been amazed by how differently Americans generally and Christians particularly respond to Easter and Christmas. 

Christmas is impossible to avoid. Regardless of who you are, if you are a resident of the Western world, you have no choice but to reckon with Christmas.  The bonanza of films and television specials, the decorations, the festivities, the music—Christmas is ubiquitous. 

Easter, on the other hand, is not nearly so.  A person stands a better chance of sleeping his way through Easter than he does Thanksgiving or even, perhaps, Independence Day.  If your average Christian American wasn’t already habituated to this state of affairs, it could only strike him as bizarre.

By far and away, Easter Sunday is the most significant of holidays for the Christian.  Even Christmas assumes importance only in light of Easter.  After all, it is for the sake of the Resurrection that Christmas—the Birth of Christ—took place at all. 

By now, there is scarcely a soul, Christian or non-Christian, who isn’t familiar with the story of Easter.  Ironically, it is in no small measure because of this familiarity that we have become desensitized to what a truly marvelous story it is.  To appreciate it to the extent that it deserves, we must become reacquainted with Easter.  And to this end, we must approach it through new eyes.

According to the story of Easter, God, the Unconditioned Condition of all that is subjected Himself to the conditions of human existence.  The Impassable became passable, the Invulnerable vulnerable, the Incorruptible corruptible. Upon becoming a human being, the Ground and Author of all being voluntarily suffered and died.  And He suffered and died for the sake of the same love by which He created humanity (and everything else, for that matter). 

Yet while God loves us, it is crucial to recall that, as St. Johntells us, God is Love.  The Easter story is the story of how Love—Infinite, Eternal Love—became a finite, temporal human being in order to teach other human beings how to perfect their own loving.  Through His Passion and Death Love made it unmistakable that the will to love is nothing more or less than the will to sacrifice all for the sake of one’s beloved.  When it is considered that there isn’t a single person for whom Christ did not offer His life as a sacrifice, we recognize that the formidability of love’s demand to give one’s life for the object of one’s love is even greater than previously thought, for Jesus’ example beckons us to love everyone: the world must be each person’s beloved.

Believe it or not, for as tall an order as this demand undoubtedly is, it is not insurmountable.  In fact, if we think about it for just a moment, we will recognize both that it resonates with us as well as why it resonates.

The experience of love is as familiar—and universal—a human experience as any.  Not everyone loves equally well but we are all equal in having loved. Now, regardless of who or even what we have loved, there can be no denying that love comes at the cost of pain. To love anything is to turn oneself over to it—and this means that the lover exposes him or herself to the inescapability of being hurt.

There is a real sense in which each time we dare to love we will to give up our lives for the objects of our love.  Lovers invest their resources in time, labor, and energy—in short, their lives—in their beloved—in spite of the losses that they know they will inevitably suffer.  It isn’t just that, as Robert Frost said, “nothing gold can stay;” even in the midst of their love there will be pain.  There are moments when we feel more alone in the presence of our loved ones than when they are no longer with us.  Those who we love disappoint, anger, and sadden us, and with each of these experiences, there is the experience of having been betrayed—the experience of suffering a small death.  

Yet still, we continue to love.   

The Christian is heartened because he believes in Easter. He knows that his Lord, his God, has experienced what he has been experiencing his whole life.  “No servant is greater than his master,” Jesus declared.  The Christian is inspired to continue loving in the face of pain because Christ did the same.  The Passion narrative brings into crystal clear focus the brute fact that whatever injustices we think we have endured, Christ willingly endured them, but many times over. 

He was betrayed, and not just by Judas: His own family members and all of his Apostles, including and particularly those with whom He was closest, denied Him.  The legions of people to whose needs and hopes He attended throughout the duration of His ministry turned violently against Him in His hour of trial.  He was unjustly sentenced to be executed as a common criminal, but even as He was being hammered to a cross, He forgave His accusers and betrayers, and asked His heavenly Father to do the same.

While Jesus’ Passion and Death reveal love at its finest, it is really His Resurrection upon which Christian faith hinges, for it is through the Resurrection that Love’s indomitable character is unveiled.  Real, abiding love, God tells us through the Resurrection, is redemptive. Yes, the greatest lovers are those who suffer the greatest heartache, but all of the loss and suffering with which love is met, God reassures us, will be redeemed.  Even death has been rendered impotent by Love.

This is the promise of the Resurrection. 

Happy Easter!

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

 

 

Commentators and Character

posted by Jack Kerwick

The decision to become a cultural commentator or pundit, like any other decision, comes at a cost.  Perhaps not unsurprisingly, scarcely any commentator has thought to comment on the danger to one’s moral character that this decision imposes.

Granted, the hypocrisy of “intellectuals” has long been noted.  The problem, though, is that those who have done the noting have usually been right leaning intellectuals and those intellectuals on whom they have set their sights have been left leaning.

In stark contrast, the temptation to which I refer has nothing at all to do with politics or ideology, for commentators of every conceivable bent are alike in danger of succumbing to it. 

The commentator spends much of his time identifying all that is wrong with his world. He criticizes politicians, other commentators, and pretty much anyone else who he judges worthy of criticism.  This enterprise in and of itself isn’t necessarily objectionable; in fact, we might even want to say that, if prosecuted honestly, civilly, and respectfully, it is an enterprise from which society reaps no small measure of value.

But this doesn’t change the fact that, like the hero of a classic Greek tragedy, the commentator’s strength has the very real potential to be his undoing.  

Given his excessive focus on the moral failings of others, it is far too easy for the commentator to lose sight of his own character deficiencies. And that most of his energies are invested in speaking to such grandiose moral issues as war, government corruption, immigration, abortion, and the rest, he is that much more at risk of not taking stock of the beam in his own eye, for he is that much more disposed to regard the morality of everyday life as almost intolerably insipid by comparison.

Yet it is the morality of daily life that shapes one’s character.  A person’s very identity as a moral agent is chiseled out over the course of a lifetime by each and every choice that he makes.  His virtue is his habit.

Unfortunately, his vice is his habit also.

And this is the point.

Because of his preoccupation with calling attention to the vices of others, the commentator is in much danger of ignoring his own vicious habits.  This negligence, in turn, can only result in the strengthening of those habits and the formation of new ones.

There are certain vices to which the commentator is particularly prone.

For starters, his confidence in his ability to diagnose and recommend “solutions to the planet’s ills pits him never more than a step away from succumbing to arrogance.  To put this another way, if it can be found there at all, the virtue of humility is never in a more precarious position than when it dwells within the character of the commentator.

Secondly, in seeking as wide a hearing as possible for his ideas, what the commentator basically seeks is fame.  In itself, the desire for fame, for recognition, is no more blameworthy than the desire for pleasure.  Yet once it becomes one’s summa bonum, “the supreme good,” then it becomes an obsession.  All obsessions breed vice.  But this obsession gives rise to the most hideous of character defects: greed.

The commentator who has become obsessed with fame is covetous of his colleagues’ recognition.  He will, at best, ignore them; at worst, he will steal their ideas and repackage them as his own.  The virtue of generosity or charity is hard for him to come by.

This obsession with fame can all too easily give rise to other vices, namely, dishonesty and cowardice.

For the sake of fame, the commentator will stake out positions that are popular, but in which he doesn’t really believe, or which he will refuse to question.  For the sake of fame, he will avoid tackling issues that, though critical in their own right, are nevertheless taboo; the commentator will not risk being ostracized.

The commentator’s love of fame also explains the inconsiderateness that he is wont to own.  He is unlikely to give much thought to anyone who isn’t instrumental in securing for him the fame that he craves.  Thus, he replies only to those inquiries the come from those who will serve his career purposes.  And even then, depending on the degree of importance that he assigns to others, his emails are devoid of all traces of thoughtfulness: there are no introductions, sentences are truncated to the point of being barely coherent, words are misspelled, letters that should be capitalized are lower cased, etc.  At least he responds, but the character of those responses unveils the excessive self-absorption of their author, a person for whom no day can have enough hours.  The commentator can barely pencil anyone into his schedule.

Of course, not all commentators embody these vices.  But all of us—I am no exception—are never far from acquiring them.  So, what can the commentator do to avoid rendering himself into a despicable human being?

I would suggest that, first of all, he strive to overcome his sophomoric jealousy of his colleagues.  If a commentator is a radio show host, he should mention, by name, those of his colleagues to whom he would otherwise only subtly allude, and if he is writer or a television personality, he should do the same. 

Also, the commentator should try, every once in a while, to commend rather than criticize.

Thirdly, if at all possible (and this may not always be possible for some), he should respond, thoughtfully, to every email that isn’t bitter and hateful.  Those people who take the time to ingest the commentator’s work and compliment him on it deserve to be answered—even if only by way of a simple “thank you.”  Responding to emails may detract from the commentator’s own work, but he owes what recognition he has to precisely those people who contact him.  Plus, the objective here is to avoid selfishness and hypocrisy, so it is necessary that he should reciprocate his fans’ considerateness.

Finally, the commentator must recognize that fame is fleeting.  His work is a sham if it is untruthful.  He must tell the truth, even if that means that he will not be loved by “the respectable crowd”—even if it means that he will be despised and reviled by his contemporaries who haven’t the will to engage reality.      

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American 

 

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