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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Shamelessness, Not Forgiveness: Americans and “Fallen” Celebrities

posted by Jack Kerwick

On the front page of the January 18th-20th weekend edition of USA Today, one of the headlines reads: “Can You Forgive?” The article uses Lance Armstrong’s recent “confession” of “doping” to Oprah Winfrey as the point from which to segue into a discussion of the broader topic of Americans’ readiness to extend mercy to those celebrities who have veered from the straight and narrow path.

Rick Hampson writes: “From Bill Clinton (again toast of the Democratic Party) to Charlie Sheen (again a sitcom star) to Michael Vick (again an NFL quarterback), the bar for public redemption seems to have gotten lower and lower.”

This one article provides much food for thought. 

Unfortunately, it is all junk food.

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USA Today expresses our culture’s conventional wisdom on this matter of forgiving those public figures who have fallen from grace. And this is exactly what we should expect would pass for wisdom within a culture that elevates celebrity status above that of every other station.

“Forgiveness” and “redemption” are concepts that originally emerged within a religious context—specifically, the context(s) of Judaism and Christianity.  Within this framework, they are preeminently meaningful.  Once they have been dislodged from this setting, though, they open themselves up to the worst sort of abuse.  Hampson’s USA Today piece is a classic case in point.

I cannot forgive Armstrong.  Neither can you.  Nor can either of us forgive Clinton, Vick, Sheen, Don Imus, Richard Nixon, or any other celebrity who throws himself at the mercy of the court of public opinion.

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It isn’t that either of us is necessarily merciless.  Rather, we can no more forgive any of these famous penitents for their offenses for the same reason that neither of us would ever think to offer forgiveness to the other’s spouse for undermining his or her marriage.

In other words, neither you nor I can forgive the rich and famous for their transgressions because they didn’t transgress against us.

Real forgiveness is among the most painful things in the world for both the persons who ask and offer it.  The person who seeks it is pained by the acute realization that he has wronged another.  Yet he is also pained by the fear that his request will be rejected and he will be humiliated.  The person who is asked to forgive is pained by the transgression. But he too is afraid, for in forgiving, he will render himself vulnerable to being harmed once more.  Maybe he will even be thought weak, a sucker.

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In the Christian tradition, forgiveness or mercy is a virtue, an excellence of character.  Like any other virtue—whether moral, intellectual, or physical—it comes about only as the result of the blood, sweat, and tears of those who make the point of practicing it.

To suggest that we can collectively “forgive” a person who hasn’t lent us any personal offense and about whom we could care less isn’t just to cheapen the concept of forgiveness; it is to cheapen it to the point of extinguishing it.  

In remarking that “the bar for public redemption seems to have gotten lower and lower,” it isn’t upon Americans’ ever growing capacity for forgiveness that USA Today comments.  It is, rather, their ever growing capacity to tolerate shameful conduct to which it speaks. 

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A country that is indifferent to the most shameful, most dishonorable, sorts of conduct is itself shameless.  In conflating this most odious of vices with forgiveness, the noblest, the most divine of virtues, we convict ourselves of more than just an intellectual error.

We hurl ourselves into the depths of moral confusion.

The problem is that as long as we insist upon treating our vice as virtue, the less likely it is that we will recognize our shamelessness for what it is.

And the less likely it is that we will be able to practice forgiveness in our personal relationships—where it belongs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If The Left Was Consistent

posted by Jack Kerwick

The conflict over “gun control” is just the latest episode to reveal the unadulterated hypocrisy of President Obama and his ilk on the left.

Obama and his fellow travelers style themselves champions of “the downtrodden,” “the poor,” “the middle class,” and everyone else for whom “the rich” allegedly has it out.  But if they really are who they would like for us to think they are, if their rhetoric was consistent with their policy prescriptions, then we should not expect for them to favor restrictions on the Second Amendment—i.e. “gun control.”

If those on the left were consistent, then we should expect to hear Obama condemn as “un-American” and “unpatriotic” the gross “inequality” or “disparity” between “the wealthiest one-percent of Americans,” like himself, and the other “99%” on the issue of security or self-defense.

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If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama blast “millionaires and billionaires,” “the children of privilege,” “the powerful,”—like himself—for the “greed” that they have shown in availing themselves of means of self-defense that they deny to “the disadvantaged” generally and “minorities” in particular.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama decry the “unfairness” of “the advantaged,” like himself, lecturing working class, middle class, and lower class Americans about the need for “gun free” zones while sending their own children off to well-secured private schools.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama demand a more just “distribution” of benefits and burdens vis-à-vis the issue of security or self-defense.

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Just as the fabulously rich and powerful—like Obama—have the resources and connections to evade oppressive tax laws, so too do the fabulously rich and powerful—like Obama—have the resources to evade oppressive gun laws.  Those who are not so rich or powerful, however, are made to feel the brunt of both.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama renounce the “racism” of “gun control.” 

Those areas with the highest incidence of gun violence are overwhelmingly poor and black.  Those responsible for the gun violence almost always possess their guns illegally.  Only if they are armed can the law-abiding residents of these neighborhoods hope to defend themselves against the criminal predators in their midst.  But “gun control” makes it difficult, and, in some instances, all but impossible for this to happen. 

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As long as upper-crust whites and blacks—like Obama—have the means to self-protection while poorer blacks are denied such means, racial justice remains elusive, we should expect to hear the President say.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama reject “the classism” of “gun control.”  The latter imposes burdens upon “the 99%” of which “the one-percent”—like Obama—are free.

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama wax indignant over “the sexism” of “gun control.” 

Purveyors of gun violence are overwhelmingly men.  Men are also, on average, larger, stronger, and more aggressive than women.  There is no greater equalizer, nothing can more swiftly “level the playing field,” than a gun. A gun is the greatest means by which women can defend themselves against men.

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For disempowering women, “gun-control” furthers “the misogyny” to which women have been subjected for far too long.  It functions as another sign that ours is a society that remains mired in “patriarchy.” 

If those on the left were consistent, we should expect to hear Obama lambast “the ageism” of “gun control.” 

The perpetrators of gun violence are almost always found among the young. And since the young are, on average, stronger and more aggressive than the aged, the latter are particularly vulnerable to being attacked.  Again, nothing can help the cause of egalitarianism along more than that of a gun.  The elderly more so than anyone else need to be able to arm themselves. 

“Gun control” promises to leave this need unrequited.

If those on the left were consistent, “gun control” would be recognized as the Second Amendment killer that it really is.

If those on the left were consistent, they would no longer be on the left. 

 

 

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Politics and Emoting: A Brief Introduction for Republicans

posted by Jack Kerwick

President Obama’s decision to have himself surrounded with school children as he announced his “proposals” to deal with “gun violence” on Wednesday caused a lot of hand wringing among his opponents. 

“Demagogic,” “offensive,” “disgusting,” and “shameless” were just some of the adjectives used to describe it.

I have no interest in defending Obama.  Anyone with an IQ above four and just a modicum of decency has no difficulty seeing the President’s rush to exploit children—both those who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook School shooting as well as those with whom he surrounded himself—as the intellectually and morally impoverished enterprise that it is.

But what does rationality and moral virtue have to do with political strategy? 

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Obama and his fellow travelers on the left are often accused by their rivals on the right of “emoting.” That the left is not infrequently guilty of this charge is true enough.  Yet what those on the right refuse to grasp is that what they perceive to be a weakness is, politically speaking, the left’s greatest strength.

While this doesn’t accord with the myth—and, yes, it is indeed a myth—of the Wisdom of the American People, the brute, immovable fact of the matter is that when it comes to politics, the vast majority of American voters do not live by reason.  Emotion is the air they breathe.  Emoting is what they do.

That is, the left stands a far greater chance of making inroads with the average American voter because the left speaks his language.

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Notice, I am not suggesting for a moment that the average American acts unduly irrational or emotional. It is the average American voter who acts thus.  It is within the realm of politics, particularly national politics, that he is most susceptible to abandoning reason, for the average voter is just not all that attentive to the events that unfold on this stage—or how those events are framed so as to serve predetermined political ends.

As the conservative theorist Joseph Schumpeter noted, the average voter “drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field.” Schumpeter explains that he “argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests.  He becomes a primitive again.  His thinking becomes associative and affective.”

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Translation: the average voter emotes. 

Not only does the average voter “tend to yield to extra-rational or irrational prejudice and impulse,” but “because he is not ‘all there,’ he will relax his usual moral standards as well and occasionally give in to dark urges which the conditions of private life help him to repress.” 

The average voter then becomes easy prey for “groups with an ax to grind,” groups that “are able to fashion and, within very wide limits, even to create the will of the people” (emphasis added).      

Whether Obama and his ilk have ever read Schumpeter is irrelevant.  They are more than slightly aware of the truth of which he speaks.

And there is nothing or no one that they won’t manipulate to advance their political agenda.

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No class of persons, no event, and no emotion is exempt from being conscripted into the service of perfecting the left’s mission to “fundamentally transform” the country.

Republicans can bellyache all day long about Obama’s and the Democrats’ tactics.  Or the former can realize that only by playing the latter’s game, only by combating image with image, can Republicans defeat Democrats.

Republicans are not very adept at this sport.  Sadly, there is more than enough proof of this, but the most recent exhibition comes to us from last year’s presidential race when the candidates insisted upon centering the bulk of their focus on debts, deficits, and numbers that aren’t remotely fathomable to the average voter.  

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If Republicans understood what Schumpeter and Obama know, then on Wednesday they could’ve choreographed a rebuttal to Obama’s push for greater “gun control.” Rather than surround themselves with children, they could’ve surrounded themselves with images—statues and/or paintings—of the men who ratified the United States Constitution. They could’ve delivered their rebuttal in front of a huge screen with the words of the Second Amendment on it, or grand illustrations of American colonists voluntarily taking to the hills and the streets with their guns in order to do battle with the English King and his Redcoats who threatened their liberties.

Besides reminding Americans of their Fathers and their Fathers’ legacy, this tactic could have also sent the powerful, if subtle, message that while Obama and company prefer to turn to little children for advice on issues of national import, the President’s enemies consult the wisdom of the country’s Founders.

 

 

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“Gun Control” and “Fairness”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a liberal Democrat’s fantasy.  In this fourth and final installment of the film franchise launched by Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel rids the planet of all of its nuclear weapons by rounding them up and launching them into the heart of the sun.  The nations of the Earth rejoice as a new era of world peace begins.   

Superman thinks about nuclear weapons the way liberals think about nuclear weapons and guns: if we get rid of them both, we get rid of the death and violence of which they are the “cause.”  

To President Obama and his fellow partisans who are now itching to add ever stricter “gun-control” measures to the mountain of such laws that are already on the books, I propose that we follow their logic all of the way through and aim to divest everyone of access to guns.

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For years, those on the left have mocked their opponents who have insisted that it isn’t guns, but people, that “kill.” But if this is so, then not only should we seek to prevent the average law-abiding citizen from bearing arms. Police officers and secret service members, soldiers and professional bodyguards, should be prevented from doing so as well.

The heart of logic is consistency. 

Yet it isn’t just formal consistency that is at stake here.  There is also the issue of fairness. 

The concept of a “state of nature” figures prominently in “the social contract” strain of the liberal tradition. According to this approach, (government-) organized society is like a contract.  As long as its members consent to its terms, it is legitimate.  The biggest non-negotiable of such terms is the demand that in signing on to society, so to speak, individuals agree to abandon the right to be judge, jury, and executioner that belongs to them in “the state of nature” when each is on his own.  

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In spite of their many differences, all of the great social contract theorists agree that unless individuals were willing to forfeit or delegate this right, there could be no state or society.  This is a cost to being a member of society, for it makes the task of self-defense more difficult than it otherwise would be in a state of nature.

But it is a cost that everyone must be willing to pay if they want to reap the benefits to be had from living in society.

However, in our society, not everyone is willing to shoulder this burden of self-restraint.

Namely, the privileged, society’s top one percent especially, have escaped paying their fair share of this burden that has been unequally distributed among the remaining 99%.  Worst, it is the top one percent–like President Obama and his allies in government and Big Media—who seek to make it all that much heavier while doing nothing to lift a finger to chip in.

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Obama is not paying his fair share.

Neither are New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo paying their fair share. 

Obama, Bloomberg, and Cuomo don’t have to worry about their homes being burglarized.  They don’t have to worry about their children’s schools being shot up by a demented gunman. They don’t have to worry about being physically assaulted on the street or in a crowded movie theater. 

They and the rest of the one percent, whether its members are politicians or celebrities, have abundant access to armed bodyguards and security of various sorts. The 99% have no such resources.  Because they have only their own guns to rely upon, the latter are already at a disadvantage relative to the former.  There is no level playing field here.  But Obama and his ilk in the one percent want to disadvantage the disadvantaged even further by making it that much more difficult for them to defend themselves.

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We are in dire need of a dramatic redistribution of goods and burdens.  Such a scheme demands that Obama and the one percent make the same “sacrifice” that they are now demanding of the 99% and, thus, drastically reduce, if not altogether abandon, the firepower currently at their fingertips. 

Of course, not for a moment will they consider this.  There is, though, another option of which lovers of equality and fairness can avail themselves: Obama and the one percent can remedy the unequal distribution of burdens that they have imposed upon the backs of the 99% by removing the obstacles to self-defense that they continue to throw up. 

After all, nothing says equality like a gun.  With a firearm, the weakest and smallest can topple the strongest and largest without breaking a sweat.

Unfortunately, there is about much of a chance that Obama and company will consider this possibility as there is that they will consider the first.  

 

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