Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

On Friday, January 3, radio talk show host Mike Gallagher charged NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden with being a “traitor” while accusing those of his conservative minded listeners who disagreed with thinking like leftists.

Self-avowed “conservatives,” like Gallagher, are, at best, morally confused.  At worst, they’re intellectually dishonest. Either way, whether they realize it or not, they are accomplices to the left’s efforts to “fundamentally transform” Western culture.

Regardless of one’s opinions of Snowden the man, the fact remains that he succeeded in calling the nation’s attention to a massive government surveillance program to which most Americans would have otherwise remained oblivious, a program that enables the government to collect information on citizens while bypassing the Fourth Amendment.  That this gargantuan apparatus—the emblem par excellence of just the sort of omnipotent government that our Founding Fathers envisioned with dread, just the sort of liberty-crushing central authority that the Constitution was ratified to preclude—exists, ostensibly, for “our own good,” is neither here nor there.

That it exists is, or at least should be, troubling enough for any lover of liberty.

Even if, per impossible, the NSA never abused its awesome powers, even if it had a perfect track record of thwarting terrorist attacks, that it could deploy its resources to violate the privacy of American citizens is alone sufficient to paralyze the liberty lover with the fear that his government has betrayed the dream and promise of his forefathers.

The true lover of liberty knows that of which the Framers of the Constitution needed no reminding: there is no such thing as liberty. 

There are only liberties. 

Moreover, these liberties are but the flip side of the duties that our Constitution imposes upon the government—the federal, as opposed to a national, government.

By way of its many “checks and balances,” the Constitution of the United States codifies a complex set of political arrangements that severely limits both the authority and the power of the government.  Its Bill of Rights was intended to further immunize the citizen against potential abuses of his government.

Interestingly, it is Gallagher and company, not their conservative rivals, who are guilty of allying with the left.     

First of all, there is no getting around the stone-cold fact that the term “Big Government” applies to nothing if it doesn’t apply to the NSA’s surveillance system.  In other words, no one can credibly claim to oppose “Big Government” who isn’t profoundly troubled by the existence of the NSA.  That Gallagher and his ilk not only support the NSA, but enthusiastically support it, proves that they are just as prone to Big Government as are Barack Obama and his fellow partisans who also defend the NSA.

Second, Gallagher reiterated today that we remain in a war.  Note, as long as self-styled “conservatives” insist that we are in a “war” on “terror” or “terrorists,” they would have us all think that we are in a war without end.  Such a notion, infinitely more so than any other, invites endless government growth: nothing is more amenable to Big Government than war.

This “War on Terror” that Gallagher and his colleagues unfailingly invoke whenever the government’s endeavors to “keep us safe,” however constitutionally suspect these endeavors may be, are brought into question is music to the ears of Big Government leftists like Obama.  Under the pretext of “national security,” Obama, or any other champion of Big Government, can justify, or try to justify, virtually anything.  As we’ve seen, this has already happened with the NSA itself.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who already distrusts Big Government.  Think about it: with the exception of anarchists, everyone else accepts that among the legitimate functions of government, providing for the national defense ranks at the top of the list. Furthermore, everyone knows that government has a propensity to perpetuate itself.  Thus, what better way for office holders at the federal level to strengthen and enlarge the federal government than by having everyone else believe that there is a state of perpetual war?

Neither the conservative movement nor the Republican Party promises to make any gains as long as its representatives fail to recognize two things.

First, Americans long ago grew cold on their “war on terror,” an interminable government exercise in the social engineering of foreign lands that has already come at the cost of far too much blood, treasure, and liberty. 

Second, exactly because of the inexhaustible expansion of the scope and power of the national government that this “war” requires, these voices for “conservatism” and the GOP are actually doing much of the left’s work for it as they empower the government further by supplying a catch-all rationale for the project to  “fundamentally transform” America.      

 

        

“Thank you for your service.”

Whenever these words are uttered, it is always—always—a soldier to whom they are directed. And while police officers aren’t typically singled out for random expressions of gratitude, they too are held in particularly high esteem, for like soldiers, police officers are seen as constituting the line between civilization and savagery.  

That this popular view is true as far it is goes is undeniable. Equally undeniable, however, is that it only goes so far.

And it doesn’t go very far at that.

The reality is that, first and foremost, it is upon the shoulders of the parent that civilization depends.

More so than anyone else, conservatives know that this is the case.  Soldiers and police officers are government actors.  Yet government is and can only be as good as the citizenry over which it presides.  In other words, in spite of what Big Government ideologues would have us think, governments do not create civilizations. Governments cannot create civilizations.

Fundamentally, a civilization is a composition, authored, as it were, over the span of many thousands of years and by countless numbers of people, of a complex of refined manners or habits. 

To put it more simply, a civilization is not natural.  It is even unnatural.  Rather, civilizations are like works of arts: they are hard won achievements.

What this means is that no one is born a civilized person.  The civilized are not born at all. Savages are born—each and every time a human being comes into the world. The civilized, though, are made.  

And they are made by their mothers and fathers.

Nature brings individual homo sapiens into the world. But parents cultivate persons.  Through a mostly informal education in the habits of its civilization, parents domesticate the wild animal that is the child.  Through sacrifices small and large, the parent labors tirelessly for years to slay the savage to which they gave birth.

Of course, both father and mother are equally essential to the creation and sustenance of civilization. But fathers are especially important, for not only is the father the protector of his family, in many respects it is the father who teaches both son and daughter what it means to be a man.  As the renowned cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Motherhood is a biological fact, while fatherhood is a social invention.”  She also remarked that “Fathers are biological necessities but social accidents.”

The family transforms males into men and men into fathers. A preponderance of fatherless homes does not bode well for a civilization.

Sometimes homes are rendered fatherless through choice.  Other times, as in the case of the family of Andrew “Andy” Tobias, there is no choice.

I haven’t seen or spoken to Andy Tobias in well over 20 years.  We met when we were in the first grade together, and then several years later in high school. But the woman with whom he would eventually fall in love and form a family, Laura—also an old classmate of mine—would occasionally touch base with me on Facebook.

This past Christmas, just hours before their children would be up ripping open the presents that Santa would bring them, Andy died of a massive heart attack. He was just 41 years old.

Andy was a plumber and Laura had been a stay-at-home mother. Given that, by all accounts, Andy had been in good health, his death obviously came as a great shock. For Laura and her three children, an old friend of the family has set up a fund—“The Andy Tobias Family Fund”—at giveforward.com. 

To the readers of this column, Andy’s and Laura’s are but two arbitrarily selected names from an infinite sea of the tragedy-stricken. Still, I make this plea on their behalf because I know their circumstances.  I know that Andy and Laura are two people who valued family above all. It is this that accounts for why Andy became a father to, not just the two year-old girl he shared with Laura, but the two children the latter had from a previous marriage. It is their abiding love for family that explains why the two did their best to insure that Laura could be a stay-at-home mom.

 Now, Laura and her children need help.

 Andy was neither a member of the armed forces nor a police officer. Yet he was family man, one of the many who, along with Laura, labor daily to hold the line against the barbarism that’s never far from engulfing the civilized world.   

 As I write this, the terrorist attacks that have just been visited upon Russia at this time leading up to the Winter Olympics remind us of just how precarious is civilization.  Parents, mothers and fathers, are the glue holding it together.

 Andy and Laura tried to do right by their family and their civilization.  Please pray for them now and, if able, do your best to help Laura and her children by contributing to The Andy Tobias Family Fund at giveforward.com.     

 

 

 

While 2 billion people—one third of the Earth’s population—celebrate the Birth of all births at this time of year, Christmas—or at least the conventional manner of celebrating it—remains an object of derision, even of contempt, for some. 

For all of their differences, its discontents—unbelievers, non-believers, and Christian “purists” alike—unite  in mocking it for the pagan symbols that have come to be associated with it.

Given that their self-assuredness is as invincible as is their condescension, the discontents would have us think that Christians are unaware of the pagan sources of many of their Christmas-oriented traditions.  Not only is this not the case; Christians are the people who originally appropriated what the pagan world had to offer in order to enrich their celebrations of Christmas.  

And there isn’t anything in the least objectionable about this—at least not from a Christian perspective.       

Christmas marks the birth of Christ, i.e. the event whereby God assumed flesh: the Incarnation.  God, you see, transcends the world, yes, but He is also immanent in it.

Christianity, in other words, precludes those species of purism that insist that there is some allegedly “original” Christianity that can be separated out, neat and tidy, from the paganism new and old that have corrupted it.  There is no such thing.  God’s Word is as dynamic, as lively, as creation itself. Indeed, creation is as much God’s word as is the Bible, reason, and tradition.  

In becoming “all things to all people,” as he described himself, St. Paul’s belief in this truth was second to none.  Those Christians who conscripted aspects of the pagan world into the service of developing both their theology as well as their worldview is exactly what the greatest of Apostles, Paul, did when bringing the Gospel to the gentile world.

Christian purists should consider that charging the contemporary celebration of Christmas with lacking in authenticity for its pagan influences is like charging as inauthentic any version of the Bible that isn’t written in Hebrew or Greek.  Atheists and nonbelievers should consider that this allegation is akin to the charge that modern science is inauthentic or hypocritical because of its origins in Christianity.

And make no mistakes about it, science has emerged and flourished in the West precisely because of the religion of the West.  More specifically, Christianity relies upon metaphysical assumptions that are, or have always been, absent from much of the world. 

First, for Christians, the world does not, as the ancient Greeks supposed, emanate from a deity. And, unlike what Easterners of various sorts assumed, the world is neither an illusion nor identical with an abstract, impersonal “Absolute” or Tao. 

Rather, the universe is a creation, an entirely, fundamentally distinct thing from the Supremely Personal, all benevolent, omniscient Being that made it.  Because of its divine origins, it is purposeful, meaningful, and good. The universe, then, is an object that both can and should be studied. Thus, Sir Isaac Newton, one of the founders of modern science, spoke for legions of some of history’s most renowned scientists—Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, to name but a few—when he famously remarked that in doing science, the scientist was doing nothing more or less than “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”

So too is what we call “morality” indebted to Christianity.  If Christmas is a fake because popular celebrations of it have their roots in a pre-Christian world, then morality as Westerners conceive it is as well a fake because of its roots in Christianity.

There are two notions central to Western morality—“secular” morality—that are distinctly Christian. It’s their combination that is uniquely Christian. The first is that all human beings, regardless of their individuating characteristics—“race, color, creed,” etc.—possess an inviolable dignity, a worth beyond all price for having been created by an all perfect, all loving God.  The second is that each of us has an obligation to act toward each person as we would act in the presence of God Himself, for in the presence of each person, we are in the presence of God.   

And to fulfill this obligation the God-Man—Christ—gave us the example of His own Person.  To treat others as if we were serving God is to care, genuinely care, for them, and to do so at once tirelessly and joyfully. 

That Christ’s disciples fail to fulfill their calling, that they’ve sinned, they are the first to admit.  As their Lord taught them through His own self-sacrificial life, humility is a cardinal Christian virtue.  Still, given the foregoing considerations, to say nothing of the fact that the overwhelming majority—the overwhelming majority—of the planet’s charitable organizations are Christian-based, no one with two eyes to see who isn’t a boldfaced liar could so much as think to deny that Christianity has been as powerful an engine for good as any to which the world has ever given rise.  

In the interest of keeping this engine humming along, decent people everywhere should, with one voice, shout “Merry Christmas!” this Christmas season.

    

 

 

     

With his characteristic bluntness, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty warned the rest of us against being “deceived” by those who would have us think that “adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers” will “inherit the kingdom of God.” 

Homosexual activist groups have pounced upon Robertson for his “vile” comments and A & E suspended him “indefinitely.”  Meanwhile, predictably, high profile Republican figures have sprung to his defense.  Palin wrote on her Facebook page: “Free speech is an endangered species.  Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

Let’s think clearly and speak truthfully.

First, if the wildly improbable occurs and A & E decides to drop Robertson and/or his program, then the owners of the network would be exercising their right to free speech. Robertson’s right to free speech no more requires that his employers keep him employed than Martin Bashir’s right to free speech required that his employer, MSNBC, keep him employed. 

The right to free speech is nothing more or less than an obligation on the part of the government to refrain from punishing individuals for their speech. In other words, free speech is speech that does not come at the cost of a government-imposed penalty. 

No one, as far as I have been able to determine, is trying to convince the government to penalize Robertson or anyone else for his speech. In fact, his critics are exercising their free speech rights.

Second, this being said, that some are “offended” by the speech of others is to be expected in a free association of self-governing actors. It is precisely because of the heterogeneity of views that are sure to proliferate in such an association that a right to free speech exists in the first place.  But not only is it expected that, say, the spokespersons for GLAAD would find Robertson’s remarks “vile;” it is also utterly irrelevant that they do so.

Third, like it or not, Robertson said nothing that hasn’t, in one way or other, already been said in the Bible and by the entire Christian tradition for the last 2,000 years. If he deserves to be condemned for echoing the Bible and his faith tradition, then so too do the latter deserve the same.  His critics won’t go so far as to take the entire Christian tradition to task for being “anti-gay,” for in doing so they know that they will actually undermine their cause by alienating untold numbers of people.  Instead, they treat one man as if he is some sort of moral aberration. 

Yet it isn’t just Christianity that has always treated homosexuality as morally problematic: every ethical tradition the world over has done so as well.  The Bible, let us never forget, was written almost exclusively by Jews, and close to 80% of it consists in what Christians call “The Old Testament.”  If Robertson needs to apologize, if he is deserving of contempt for his stance on homosexuality, then Jews need to apologize and they are deserving of contempt for their 3,000 year stance on it as well.

And what about Islam?  For all of their indignation, Robertson’s critics would never so much as dream about attacking the disciples of Muhammad like they are now attacking him.  They wouldn’t dream about attacking Muslims at all.  Yet if any ethical tradition in the world today could be said to be “anti-gay,” it is Islam, for Muslims not only view homosexuality as an abomination against God; they arrange their societies to insure that homosexuality is regarded as a capital crime.

Robertson is not advocating “gay bashing” or any type of conduct, mischievous or otherwise. Whether one agrees with Robertson or not, the man is merely expressing what most of the planet’s people, including its most renowned moral teachers, have always taken for granted about homosexuality 

The Bible’s passages on homosexuality lend themselves to more than one interpretation.  But considering that it is Robertson’s critics who—perhaps rightly, perhaps incorrectly—are now in defiance of a trans-historical, trans-cultural consensus on the moral character of homosexuality, the burden is on them to be truthful and enlighten, not Robertson, but the world.