At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Thoughts on “Gay Marriage”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Joe Biden and Barack Obama have finally expressed what many of us, friend and foe alike, have long known is their real position on the contentious issue of “same sex marriage”: President and Vice President alike favor it. All that matters, Biden says, is that two people love one another.

Notice, from the perspective of the Bidens and Obamas of the world, the opponents of “gay marriage” are guilty of arbitrariness (and worse) insofar as they insist on defining marriage in heterosexual terms.  Yet Obama, Biden, and their ilk should attend to their own glass houses before they cast stones at the homes of others: if the criterion of heterosexuality vis-à-vis marriage is “arbitrary,” then how much more arbitrary are their criteria of monogamy and love. 

Although we are accustomed to thinking of marriage along the lines of both monogamy and love, there are numerous others who are not so inclined.  Historically, polygamy has been the rule around most of the globe.  Even today, a not insignificant percentage of the Earth’s population continues to opt for this ancient marital arrangement.  And love—love!—has been regarded by most human beings as a woefully inadequate basis upon which to root a lifelong commitment.

For that matter, the self-avowed champions of “same sex marriage” demand that marriage be limited to only those individuals who are not related.  Why?  Is not this an arbitrary requirement, especially when it is considered that, again, most societies have permitted marriage between blood relations?

But at no place, and at no time, has marriage been understood as anything but a heterosexual union.   Given that the champions of “gay marriage” wish to mark a radical departure from a universal and timeless practice by imposing upon marriage a homosexual character, the burden is upon them to convince the rest of us that this is something other than a fool’s errand. 

Contrary to what radicals would have us believe, the wish to preserve the heterosexual nature of marriage doesn’t need to be anchored to any religious sensibility.  An aversion to radical change, an aversion born out by painful familiarity with the innovator’s abysmal record, is enough to render anyone skeptical regarding the proposal to restructure marriage so as to accommodate homosexuals.

Let me be clear as to what I am and am not saying here.

First, “bigotry” is presumably immoral because “the bigot” makes arbitrary—i.e. “irrational”—judgments in contexts where sheer preferences have no place.  Since marriage has always and everywhere been treated as an inherently heterosexual union, those of us who want to continue regarding it as such are less “bigoted” than any partisan on this topic. That is to say, we aren’t “bigoted” at all—at least not in respect to this issue.

Hence, whatever else can be said about the charge of “homophobia” that the friends of “gay marriage” level against their rivals, we can safely say that it is most certainly not justified.

Secondly, that marriage has been defined heterosexually by all peoples in all places and at all times does not necessarily mean that “gay marriage” should be outlawed.  Rather, by alluding to the universality of the heterosexual requirement for marriage, we accomplish two ends.  In addition to showing that it is the proponents of “gay marriage,” not its opponents, who are arbitrary and capricious, we show as well that the conflict over marriage boils down to a conflict between the experience of the entire human race—“the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages,” as Burke said—and a minority of our contemporaries. 

Of course, that the apologists for “gay marriage” are overwhelmed in numbers by their opponents is not proof that they are mistaken.  Truth may very well be on their side.  But at the very least, appeal to the experience of the human species constitutes a prima facie case against “gay marriage.” 

To quote the mighty Burke once more, by looking at our present institutional arrangements as a legacy of the past, “an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity,” we strike upon the means by which “our constitution preserves an unity in so great a diversity of its parts” (emphasis original).   

The problem with proposed changes of the magnitude implied by “gay marriage” is that they threaten to come at the cost of squandering our “inheritance.”

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christian and Fame

posted by Jack Kerwick

Among non-Christian and nominal Christians alike, there exists a misconception regarding Christians that is as pervasive as it is erroneous.  In fact, it is downright invidious. 

Christians, according to this falsehood, are morally unassailable—if, that is, their faith is genuine.  To the extent, then, that self-avowed Christians reveal themselves to be susceptible to the same flaws as all other human beings, they are so many “hypocrites” and “frauds.” 

This line of thought is beyond a misconception.  It is nothing short of a lie.  And like any other lie, it is a function of rank ignorance. 

It is precisely because of the Christian’s painful, even agonizing, awareness of his many vices that he is a Christian.  It is for the sake of the ill that Christ the Physician came to Earth.  Each and every Christian church the world over is a hospital, an emergency ward, where those who are sick can seek nourishment any and every day of the year.

As my own beloved pastor has often put it, the Christian Church is a church of sinners.  It is most emphatically not a church of saints.

Of course, none of this means that Christ doesn’t summon His disciples to Godliness.  The Christian has no option but to render his life a standing repudiation of evil in all of its guises.  And he knows, although he not infrequently forgets, that the one instance of evil from which he can never escape, the one he sees every time he retreats from the world into himself, is the most difficult for him to counter.

But at least the Christian knows as much.  His secular counterpart who spares no occasion to participate in one demonstration or other, the activist who never tires of trying to drag the world, kicking and screaming, as it were, into the Promised Land of his own imaginings, is utterly blind to his own conceit: he actually believes that so great is his virtue that he can “fundamentally transform” the planet.

The activist sees evil.  Yet it is always—and only—the evil of others upon whom he sets his sights.  This, though, is what we should expect, given that by his own lights, the activist is a bottomless fount of virtue: he is free from all vice.

The Christian, in stark contrast, knows just how ridden with sin he is.  The doctrine of Original Sin to which he subscribes isn’t just a doctrine: it is a concrete reality with which he has to live day in and day out.  Utterances and deeds of which non-Christians, and possibly even nominal Christians, will think nothing, the Christian recognizes for the instances of evil that they are. 

Take, for example, the desire for popularity, for fame, that lurks within most of us—and especially within those of us who aspire to be commentators.

Recently, I met up with some new friends in New York City.  They asked me what I expected to gain from working within this profession—the writing profession.  The question hit home.  Of course, not unlike any other aspiring commentator, it is fame that I seek. Yet I also know that the desire for fame for fame’s sake, or for the sake of gratifying the ego of the fame seeker, is forbidden by my Christian faith.

As they say, fame is fleeting.  The person who anchors his happiness in fame is like the captain of a ship who tries to dock his vessel in quicksand.  People may be interested in you today, but being the fickle creatures that they are, they will lose interest in you tomorrow.  Granted, the fame of one person may last longer or shorter than that of another, but in any and every case, fame is finite. As such, it is corruptible.

Fame is corruptible in the sense that it will not last.  But it is also a source of corruption.  The person who craves fame is in danger of corrupting his own character, for he is constantly tempted to do anything to achieve or maintain it.  And when fame depends upon satisfying the prejudices of people who are cognitively and/or morally challenged to begin with, there are no lengths to which the lover of fame will not be tempted to go.  That ours is the Age of Reality Television and Social Media should alone suffice to dispel all doubts regarding the truth of this observation.

While the pursuit of fame is a morally hazardous affair, one may object, the fame seeker need not necessarily compromise either his intellect or his virtue to secure his prize.  This is, of course, correct.  Yet to this objection there are three quick replies in the coming.

First, that the seeker of fame may emerge from his engagement unscathed is indeed a possibility.  But this is the point: it is only a possibility.  It is far more probable that in winning the contest to which he set himself, he will lose goods—like integrity—of far greater value.

Second, there is a reason for why the ancients numbered wisdom among the cardinal human excellences.  The wise man recognizes that while every choice is a gamble of a sort, there are certain courses of action to which the man of wisdom won’t look twice (or even once).  Any choice that stands a better chance than not of reducing him from a good man to a bad man is one that he will labor mightily to avoid making. 

Finally, whether pursuing fame will corrupt his character or not is ultimately beside the point for the person of Christian faith.  Insofar he pursues fame for his own sake, he acts as immorally—as impiously—as he would be guilty of acting had he pursued any other thing for his own sake. 

For that matter, if the Christian pursues anything for the sake of anything other than God, he acts impiously.   

This, then, is the point to which it all boils down: it is permissible for the Christian—it is permissible for me—to pursue as wide a hearing as possible—i.e. “fame”—for my ideas as long as it is for the sake of glorifying God.  The commentator’s enterprise is certainly not a questionable one; in fact, ideally, the commentator contributes greatly to the health of his society.  But if it is for the sake of exaggerating his own sense of self-importance that he does his thing, then, from the Christian’s standpoint, he stands condemned.        

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

“Racism,” Liberty, and Evil

posted by Jack Kerwick

Race-relations have intrigued me from at least the time I was a young teenager.  Since I started writing four years ago, I have written my share of essays on this topic—including essays in which I sail unchartered waters by subjecting the notion of “racism” to interrogation. 

Recently, to my surprise, an editor for one of the sites for which I write decided to pass on publishing my latest submission.  In this article, I argue both that “racism” is not the unitary concept that typical usage of the term suggests, and that none of the mutually distinct conceptions of “racism”—none of the “racisms”—succeeds in showing how or why “racism” is the especially horrible thing that we treat it as.

My editor chose to pass on it because, he contended, it lends itself all too easily to being read as coming dangerously close to sanctioning “racism.” In other words, in arguing that “racism” is not the Mother of all Abominations that our political orthodoxy would have us believe it is, I imply that it is not an abomination at all.  “Racism” is an evil, my editor assured me, because it is a species of “collectivism,” and all expressions of “collectivism” deny the worth of the individual.    

My editor is a good man, a friend, who has always been generous to me.  That being said, he was mistaken on a couple of scores.

The purpose of my article was not to suggest that “racism” isn’t evil.  Nor, for that matter, did it mean to imply that “racism” is evil.  I simply wanted to do what no one, shockingly, has thought to do: I wanted to pull back the proverbial curtain on a word that inspires unprecedented fear.  I wanted to determine whether this fear was warranted.  My article was meant to be descriptive, not normative.  Just as an analysis of the concept of God does not necessarily reflect belief or disbelief in God, so neither should my analysis of “racism” be read as a function of my own attitude toward it.

Furthermore, it may or may not be true that “racism” is an evil because it is a form of “collectivism.’  This is because it may or may not be true that it is properly classified as a specimen of “collectivism.” 

“Collectivism,” not unlike virtually every other ingredient of our political-moral vocabulary, is anything but an unambiguous term.  A collectivity is a group.  Presumably, when our focus is on the collectivity, it is set upon something that is supposed to be greater than its individual members.  So, according to my editor, “racism” is evil because if “the racist” sees the individual at all, it is only inasmuch as the individual is a member of the collectivity known as race.

To this line of reasoning, a few quick replies are in order.

First, if “racism” is evil because it is a form of “collectivism,” then my thesis remains in tact, for it isn’t “racism” as such that is the Mother of All Evils, but “collectivism.”  That “collectivism,” in this instance, happens to possess a racial character is irrelevant.

Second, the line between “collectivism” and “individualism” is not nearly as hard and fast as this objection indicates.  Marxism is regarded by self-avowed “individualists” as the prototypical version of “collectivism,” yet even Marxists deny that they are collectivists.  It is indeed the individual who the Marxist wants to protect and strengthen.  The difference, though, between the Marxist’s idea of the individual and that of the libertarian is the difference between their respective thoughts on “freedom,” “liberty,” “equality,” and “justice.” 

For the Marxist, liberty, equality and the rest are substantive.  Justice requires that there exists an equal and, thus, equitable, distribution of material and “social” resources so that liberty can be a reality for each and every person.  For the libertarian, in stark contrast, liberty, equality, and justice are procedural.  Resources are to be earned or otherwise acquired—most definitely not supplied by the government.

The point, though, is that, theoretically at least, the individual is as much valued by Marxism as by libertarianism. 

Third, while the libertarian is certainly entitled to question the Marxist’s understanding of the individual and “individualism,” before he casts stones he should make sure that his own house isn’t made of glass.  Is it really the case that any of us ever see just the individual?  After all, “the individual” is an abstraction.  In actuality, what we encounter—even when we look in the mirror—are complex, concrete beings with distinctive histories and experiences.  It is impossible to make sense of our world—indeed, it is impossible to coherently speak of the world (i.e. a single, self-continuous reality)—in the absence of categories according to which we can classify its limitless phenomena.    

The libertarian, no less than anyone else, navigates his way through life by means of categories.  When he makes a claim, like, “We are all Americans,” he sees the collectivity—America—before he sees the 300,000,000 or so individuals who compose America.  When the libertarian affirms patriotism as a virtue, whether he realizes this or not, he casts his vote for something that a certain sort of “collectivist” will just as readily embrace.  The reason is simple: the country to which the patriot pledges his loyalty is the collectivity to which his own interests will now be subordinated.

“Racism” may very well be a meaningful term, and it may well be an evil, but until we determine exactly what “collectivism” is, we would be well served to avoid linking the former to the latter.  An investigation of “collectivism” is due first.  For that matter, we need to revisit the term “individualism” as well.

Let me say, finally, that while I put the concept of “racism” on the hot seat, I have not and would not think to deny either the reality or the awfulness of inter-racial cruelty. The thing of it is, though, is that I abhor cruelty whether it is inter-racial or intra-racial.  And I abhor it regardless of the racial backgrounds of the perpetrators and victims. 

As a Christian, I have an obligation to God to renounce “Satan and all of his works.”  For this reason, to say nothing of my own devotion to liberty, I am committed to using all of my resources to the end of retiring the agents of the Racism Industrial Complex (RIC) once and for all.  All of us are all too familiar with RIC. Its agents are those peculiar creatures who seem to exist for the sole purpose of discovering “racism” in every nook and cranny of American life. 

While some of its more naïve agents doubtless believe that they are doing good work, its veterans know by now the many benefits to be had from furthering their industry.  They know as well thatAmerica’s white majority lives in perpetual, paralyzing fear of being charged with “racism.”  There is no single accusation other than that of “racism” that most white Americans dread as much.  And RIC agents continue to exploit this fear for all that they can—regardless of the cost in bloodshed at which it has come.

RIC agents, like those who are either demanding George Zimmerman’s head on a platter, or those in the media who have labored inexhaustibly to provoke them to demand Zimmerman’s head, are guilty of evil.  They are evil, or at least it is true that they act evilly, because they could care less whether Zimmerman is really culpable of any crime.

RIC agents are concerned only with advancing the mission of RIC—the mission of exposing and combating “racism” (white “racism,” to be exact).  And since this in turn requires stoking the belief that “racism” not only continues to endure, but that it is ubiquitous, instances of “racism” must be invented.  As the specific case of Zimmerman proves, RIC agents have reached a point at which they feel the need to invent whites, for just a brief glance at Zimmerman reveals him to be a Hispanic.

The threat posed to our liberties by “anti-racists” is much larger than any posed by “racists.”  In the name of combating “racism,” our professional “anti-racists” have managed to transform America from a civil association—an association of laws specifying liberties—to an association of a fundamentally different kind—what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott referred to as an “enterprise association.” 

Thanks to our “anti-racists,” our laws have largely been replaced by policies, instrumental devices designed for the sake of advancing the goal, not of justice, but of “racial or social justice.”

For as unpleasant as he finds it, the Christian and the lover of liberty must—he must—spare no occasion to reckon with the evil of the Racism Industrial Complex for what it is.  If not, evil will prevail and liberty will continue to vanish.   

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

 

 

 

The Case Against Animalism

posted by Jack Kerwick

It hasn’t been until the last half-of-a-century or so since we have discovered that up until that juncture, the human race had been trapped in moral darkness.  With the advent of the 1960’s, though, we gradually began to ascend from this cave, for it was then that we discovered that the institutional arrangements and modes of life to which we had long grown accustomed were nothing less than instruments of racial oppression.

In the ‘60’s, we discovered the evil of “racism.”

Later on in the decade and into the next, as we grew more enlightened, it dawned on us that not only was America founded and sustained upon the backs of non-European minorities; women, too, have been subjugated.  In addition to being “racist” to its core,America—and all of Western civilization—is incorrigibly “sexist,” we realized.

In the ‘80’s and beyond, we reckoned with the glaring truth that we were an even more depraved people than these jarring revelations would have had us believe.  It was bad enough that we were “racist” and “sexist.”  But then we discovered that we are also “homophobic!”  It was during this time that homosexuals joined racial minorities and women as victims of “Amerikanism” and Western civilization more generally. 

Since then, other heretofore undiscovered evils have been unveiled: “classism”—the differential treatment of people on the basis of socio-economic class; “ageism”—the differential treatment of people on the basis of age; “ableism”—the differential treatment of people on the basis of ability; “Islamophobia”—the differential treatment of people on the basis of their adherence to Islam; and even “specieism”—the differential treatment of animals on the basis of their exclusion from the human species.

Given this rapid rate of moral progress, it is nothing short of a monumental disappointment that there is one evil that has yet to be recognized for the horror that it is. 

The evil I refer to is that of what we may call “animalism”: the differential treatment of plant life on the basis of the fact that plants are not animals.

If Americacan be said to have been built upon the proverbial backs of the historically disadvantaged and marginalized, then the planet can be said to have been built upon the proverbial backs of plants.  In the absence of plants, we would be without the elements—particularly, oxygen—without which the existence of animals—of the human and non-human varieties—would be impossible.  Moreover, plants were around long before any other life forms emerged on the scene.

And yet, to this day, plants remain at the mercy of other living things.

Before the emergence of animals, plants ruled the planet.  There were no wars, no bloodshed.  For that matter, there wasn’t even any pain.

Since the advent of animals, all of this has changed. 

The whole world now is governed according to a scheme that has no place for anything that is not either a predator or a prey.  The scary thing about our circumstances is that the ubiquity and comprehensiveness of the systems of animalist domination to which they have given rise continue to blind us to them.  How can things not be so?  After all, every conceivable mode of thought—from the law, morality, and religion, to literature, science, history, and beyond—is determined by an idiom that is animalist through and through.  Our discourses covertly—and not always so covertly—perpetuate animalism.

In other words, those presuppositions and prejudices that have conspired over the span of millennia to generate animal-centric hierarchies—asymmetrical relations of power within which animals are assigned a position of privilege over subjugated plants—are structural.  They are embedded within our institutions.  Structural or institutional animalism, then, renders us all unconscious animalists.

Although the planet once belonged to plants, we have either claimed ownership of them or corralled many of them into “parks,” “public gardens,” and “wildlife reserves”—i.e. the equivalents of concentration camps, reservations, and slave quarters.  And even then, they are still prey to animal predators.

This horror of animalism transcends political parties, religions, cultures, and even species.  Yes, that’s right: even non-human animals are implicated in it.  Granted, unreasoning animals aren’t as guilty as humans.  But this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held somewhat responsible for their animalism.  If non-human animals can be said to have “rights”—and this is what anti-specieists and others say about them—then the implication that is most strongly urged on us is that these animals must also be held accountable for what they do. 

Doubtless, the more sophisticated animalists among us—academic philosophers particularly—will object either to my position that there is such a thing as animalism or to my claim that it is an evil.  Equally doubtless is the line of defense that they will advance. 

“Animalism,” if it is a meaningful term at all, they will contend, is no evil, for there is no one or nothing that is harmed by it.  Plants, unlike human and non-human animals, are not sentient.  A sentient being is a being that is capable of experiencing pleasure and pain.  It is true that not all animals possess the same measure of sentience, and some animals, like lobsters, say, seem to possibly experience very little if any sentience.  Still, it is certain that plants have no sentience: they experience no pain. 

On its face, this line of argumentation appears plausible as far as it goes.  The problem with it, however, is that it doesn’t go far at all.  It is easily met.   

First, this apology for animalism conflates the concepts of harm and pain.  The two are not the same.  Even if it is true that there are no plants that experience pain, this does not mean that it is impossible to harm them.  A person who is cheated on by his spouse may never find out about his wife’s infidelity.  He is, then, not pained by it.  But he is harmed by it, because whether he knows it or not, he has been betrayed, deceived, manipulated.  It is only on the shallowest conception of harm that the case can be made that only if someone feels pain can they be injured.

Thus, inasmuch as we destroy plants for the sake of animal well being, whether real or perceived, we do indeed harm them.  That they cannot experience pain is immaterial.

Second, the utterances and deeds of environmentalists of all sorts suggest that they are well aware of the distinction between pain and harm.  This explains why they fight tooth and nail for wildlife reserves and the rest.  Yes, they express concern for the animals that will be homeless in the event of deforestation.  But there is also no shortage of concern expressed for the plants themselves. 

That this is so can be seen from the following thought experiment. 

Imagine that you are walking along a tree-lined city street and pause to avail yourself of some shade provided by one of the Dogwoods.  About fifty feet or so away, you notice a rowdy group of teenagers that has set its sights upon one of the other Dogwood trees. Unlike you, the teens aren’t interested in seeking relief from the afternoon sun.  Rather, they proceed to vandalize the tree by breaking off its branches.  Surely, you will be appalled by this.  Why? 

There is no question that, whether they were beating on a tree or a lamppost, you will find offensive the violent nature of the teens’ activity.  But beyond this, that it is a living thing—an innocent tree—that did nothing to provoke their outrageous conduct will also account for no small measure of your own outrage.

Third and finally, the argument from sentience pushes the animalist’s problem back one more step and further exposes his bigotry.  The animalist, it is now clear, is a “sentiencist.”  In fact, animalism is propped up by sentiencism.  The latter is the doctrine that only those beings that can experience pleasure and pain are morally relevant, for only sentient beings can be harmed.  Yet sentiencism is objectionable for all of the same reasons that animalism is wrong.

Hence, the counter-objection—the argument from sentience—is question-begging.    

If morality demands impartiality for all peoples and all animal species, then it is nothing more or less than sheer arbitrariness that stops us from extending that impartiality to plants as well.  If all humans and animals have “rights,” then plants have rights too.

It is high time that we recognize animalism and its sister vice, sentiencism, for the evils that they are.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

orginally published at The New American 

 

 

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