Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

So-called “same sex marriage” is the issue of the week.  The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on its constitutionality in the month of June.

My prediction: “same-sex marriage” will soon become the law of the land.

My reason for this is simple: Conservatives who claim to favor “traditional marriage,” “disbelieve” in “same sex marriage,” and oppose “the redefining” of marriage have ceded too much ground to their opponents.

And they have ceded this ground by speaking of traditional marriage (as if there was any other kind), their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman (as if this was a question of belief), and their opposition to the act of redefining marriage (as if it was within anyone’s power to define or redefine marriage).

In short, by way of their arguments (or non-arguments) against “same sex marriage,” conservatives actually reinforce the idea—long championed on the left—that institutions are “social constructs,” artifacts that government, or “society,” can create and destroy at will.

The problem with this reasoning is that if institutions, like marriage, really have been arbitrarily constructed by government, then there is no reason that they shouldn’t be deconstructed in the event that Equality or some other ideal demands this course.    

With an eye toward ascending from the mire of confusion in which far too many of us have been wading for far too long, I offer the following comments.

First, homosexuality may be the most moral, most natural, most divine-like activity in which human beings are capable of engaging.  No matter. The fact remains that marriage can no more accommodate homosexuals than bachelorhood can accommodate those who are married.

Just as bachelorhood is a state of being that inherently excludes the married, so too is marriage a state of being that inherently excludes homosexuals.  Thus, the language of “same sex marriage” is as self-contradictory, as ridiculous, as that of “married bachelorhood.”

To put it another way, “same sex marriage” is no marriage at all.   

Inseparable from this first point is another: This issue is not now, nor has it ever been, about “the redefinition” of marriage.  It is as impossible for you or I or the Supreme Court to redefine marriage as it would be for any of us to redefine bachelorhood. 

Human beings invent words, it is true, but our words are pointers, vehicles by which we express and relay concepts or ideas. This is crucial, for internal to each idea is its own logic that makes it the idea that it is.  So, for example, whatever word we choose to affix to the concept of a bachelor, the concept of a bachelor has always been and will always be the concept of an unmarried man.  Even if there are no bachelors, even if we somehow managed to drop the word “bachelor” from our vocabulary, never to use it again, the logic of the concept once denoted by this word would remain forever in tact: a bachelor could never be anything other than an unmarried man.

The case is much the same with the concept of marriage.  The government can choose to allow homosexual unions and endow them with the term “marriage.” And, in theory, the government can allow married people to regard themselves as “bachelors.”  In reality, however, the government can no more allow “same sex marriage” or “married bachelorhood” than it can decree that the world started yesterday.

Third, as points one and two make clear, it makes about as much sense to say that one “believes” that marriage is between a man and a woman as it does to say that one “believes” that only single men should be considered bachelors.  Marriage is what it is, an essentially heterosexual union.  It is not an object of belief; it is an object of knowledge.  

Finally, the supporters of “traditional marriage” must stop their talk of “traditional marriage.”  Besides lending legitimacy to the proposition that there are forms of marriage other than the heterosexual variety, the term “traditional marriage” is meaningless by reason of redundancy.  There is no traditional marriage.  There is only marriage.   

Like I said, these considerations aside, in all likelihood the government will eventually ascribe the label of “marriage” to those homosexuals who want for their unions to be recognized as such.  An ever growing number of people fail to see why anyone would or should have a problem with this.  But there is a problem.

Every change, however great or small, is purchased at a cost.  The loss of the familiar and the uncertainty regarding the new situation produced by a change are costs common to all changes.  Because of this, the prudent have always preferred changes that are small and gradual to those that are grand and transformative. 

Yet the kind of change in our marital arrangements that the Supreme Court is presently contemplating is a change of the latter kind: never in the history of the world has anything like it been conceived, much less seriously considered.  Only fools and liars would have us believe that there won’t be a substantial price to be paid for legalizing “same sex marriage.” 

Admittedly, I don’t think that marriage will suffer as a consequence of this.  Marriage is far more threatened by a hyper-sexualized popular culture, the ease with which divorces are pursued and granted, etc. Still, while marriage may be no worse off as a result of the legalization of “same sex marriage,” our liberty just may be. 

American liberty consists of all of the liberties laid out in our Constitution.  If any one of these liberties is threatened, the entire system is imperiled.  Now, freedom of religion is a fundamental liberty.  If it becomes unconstitutional to prevent homosexuals from “marrying” other homosexuals, then religious organizations that refuse to accommodate homosexuals along these lines may very well become convicted of acting unconstitutionally.  Hence, freedom of religion, along with freedom of conscience, will be forever lost.

This is anything but a far-fetched scenario.  Consider that the vast majority of the proponents of “same-sex marriage,” and virtually all of its most militant supporters, are located solidly on the left.  Then consider that for at least a couple of centuries, leftist revolutionaries and radicals have recognized religion to be the most formidable obstacle to their designs, for the religious insist upon deferring to an authority higher than that of the government.

What better way to weaken religion than to coerce its practitioners to submit to the state?  And what better way to coerce its practitioners than by threatening them with, not only legal penalties, but the threat of branding them for acting disreputably?

Thoughtful people, regardless of their religious, political, or sexual orientations, will realize that the issue of “same sex marriage” is not just, and not even primarily, about marriage.

Dallas began in 1978, when I was six years-old. The earliest memory I have of the show dates back to when the world became consumed with the question: Who shot J.R.?  The first episode that I can recall having watched is that which ends with Miss Ellie receiving the news that Jock’s plane had crashed in South America.  It was during that summer, when CBS reran the previous season of Dallas, that I became hooked.

Fast forward some 30 years or so later and here I am still tuning in faithfully to “the new Dallas” each week on TNT.  It says a lot that a television series that originated in a bygone era can still manage to command a strong, impassioned following.  Yet what exactly does it say?  The question concerning the shooting of J.R. Ewing has long since receded into the popular consciousness.  It is now to this question regarding the enduring allure of the trials and tribulations of the Ewings that the fans, no less than the writers and cast, of the new Dallas should turn.    

It should be stated from the outset that the time spent watching the new Dallas every Monday night is well rewarded.  Thus far, the series has not only matched, but exceeded, my expectations.  Moreover, inasmuch as the life of the original series could be said to be divided into two phases—pre-Dream Season and post-Dream Season—the new Dallas does justice to the former while distinguishing itself as a dramatic improvement over the latter. 

Simply put, Dallas never recovered after the death of Bobby Ewing—until now.

However, while Cynthia Cidre deserves congratulations for her conscientious treatment of Dallas, not unsurprisingly—she is human, after all—there is room for criticism.  However, it should be noted that the criticisms, offered as they are by a lifelong fan who wishes to see Dallas remain on the air, are offered in the most charitable spirit. 

Far from being the fare for the shallow pated that many made it out to be, Dallas is a show that is as intellectually as it is aesthetically satisfying.  Beautifully shot, it is also an intelligent show, for it provokes viewers to come to terms with the constellation of moral ambiguities that lurk within their own hearts.  And it succeeds in doing all of this because it has masterfully drawn upon and woven together some archetypical themes.

The first theme against the backdrop of which every other plot plays out is that of nature versus artifice, the land versus industry, the old and the new.  Each embodies a distinct vision of morality that sits uneasily with that embodied by the other. The morality of nature is resolutely non-utilitarian: nature, here, is viewed as something to be prized for its own sake.  The morality of artifice, in contrast, most definitely is utilitarian, for artifice is valued only as a means to some end or other beyond itself: power, wealth, fame, etc.

Yet Dallas puts flesh on the bones of these abstract moral types by centering upon another timeless theme: family.  The moralities of nature and artifice, though as contrary to one another as the human and the divine, together become incarnate in the Ewing clan.  As a result, the universality and impartiality of each is qualified by the particularity and partiality that marks the life of every family: the land and big business are alike to be valued because they are our land and our business.

More so than anything else, it is the fact that Dallas revolves around the joys and sorrows of a family that accounts for its massive and unrelenting appeal.  But it isn’t just any family that would’ve done the trick.  The Ewing family is just similar enough to our own families to engage our sympathies.  At the same time, it is dissimilar enough to elicit all of the interest that, as spectators, we reserve for sporting events and celebrities.

To be more specific, in spite of being a picturesque family on the outside, on the inside the Ewings are marked by joys and sorrows, fortunes and misfortunes, comparable to those experienced by virtually every family.  Most importantly, for all of the intra-familial conflicts that have threatened to tear it asunder, the Ewing family has always succeeded in maintaining its integrity through the love—even if not the like—that its members have for one another. 

In the process, the Ewings provide hope for our own families.

These are the themes that have always pervaded DallasAnd thanks to the laudable efforts of Cynthia Cidre, they continue to do so. 

However, so as to not lose this focus—and, hopefully, to strengthen it—I offer the following comments.

First, while the first season did a commendable job of blending the clashing legacies of Miss Ellie and Jock, nature and artifice, the land and Ewing Oil, if at all possible, more time should be invested into doing the same throughout the duration of the show.  Borrowing a page from the old series, maybe the new can provide us with a scene or two of Bobby and Christopher, say, and maybe even John Ross too, taking a break from the rigors of wheeling and dealing at Ewing Energies to attend a cattle auction, or to go on a cattle run or a hunting trip, as Bobby and J.R. did together and with their sons decades ago. 

Second, it is not at all clear who is even living at Southfork these days.  This should be established clearly, and then fans should be treated to just those homey scenes that originally endeared Dallas to them.  Scenes of the Ewings chatting—and fighting—over the events of the day as they share cocktails and convene at the dinner table are small but priceless ingredients of the success of this series. Still, so far, we haven’t seen any of this.

Third, since continuity with the old Dallas is critical for the new, there are gaps that need filling.  Although the notorious “dream season” became the butt of legions of jokes, Dallas fans were upset with it because they felt cheated.  The series’ continuity was radically undermined when Pam awoke to discover the deceased Bobby alive and well in her shower.  Fans invest thought and emotion into following the characters from one plot to the next.  When this flow is disturbed, however, the program’s unity is compromised.

That being said, at least Dallas fans knew exactly where they stood when season nine was revealed to have been a dream.  With the new Dallas, matters are otherwise.

We know that, as far as Cynthia Cidre is concerned, the two television Dallas films from the ‘90’s were never supposed to have taken place (doubtless, a good thing!).  Yet it would appear that there are some aspects of the original series that we are supposed to forget about as well.

The last we saw of Sue Ellen, she left for Europe to be with another man.  Then, not all that long afterwards, we hear that she married him.  Since the new Dallas began, there hasn’t been so much as a hint as to what occurred there. 

This, however, is pretty easily explainable: Sue Ellen got divorced and moved back to the States (but let’s explain it anyhow, ok?).  The case of Cliff Barnes, though, is more difficult to discern.

When Dallas left the air 22 years ago, Cliff Barnes became the owner of Ewing Oil.  But today, we encounter a Cliff Barnes that, while controlling his own company, is more determined than ever to take over Ewing Energies.  In the most recent episode of Dallas, Bobby explains to Christopher and John Ross that Cliff’s company, “Barnes Global,” was bequeathed to him and Cliff’s two sisters, Katherine and Pam, by their mother. But in the original series, Cliff’s mother left him “Wentworth Tool and Dye.” After Pam and Katherine both disappeared, Cliff then sold it right before Bobby made him a partner in Ewing Oil. 

These may be only apparent inconsistencies, but considering that the Barnes-Ewing feud has been (brilliantly) resurrected for a new generation, it is important that they be resolved.

Fourth, keeping with this theme of continuity, it’s good that the new Dallas has brought back characters from the old.  It would be even better, though, if they were given some meatier scenes as opposed to one or two line cameos.  For example, during “JR.’s Masterpiece,” an exchange between the three brothers—Bobby, Gary, and Ray—over how JR’s life and death impacts them could have fit very nicely.

Finally, John Ross and Christopher are now the new Cain and Abel of DallasYet neither has thus far been able to evoke the affections from fans that their fathers easily commanded.

To put it bluntly, both come across as spoiled brats with immense chips on their shoulders.  More frequently than not, both have scowls on their faces, even if Christopher’s is a function of self-righteousness while John Ross’s reflects his anger at the world.  This isn’t to say these characters are without their share of redeeming qualities; nor is it to deny that, fortunately, there is already some indication that they might be coming into their own at some time in the near future. 

But as of yet, they are devoid of all of the charm and likability of their fathers.  There is much maturing left to be done for both.

To repeat, Cynthia Cidre deserves kudos for her respectful and imaginative handling of an iconic television program.  The forgoing comments and criticisms are offered in the spirit of a friend, a lifelong fan, who wants nothing more than for her to be able doing what she is already doing so well.

*This is scheduled for publication at UltimateDallas.com, a site well known to the writers, cast, and crew of Dallas. 

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

There is hardly a week that passes when Christian pastors and ministers from across denominations don’t use their time at the pulpit to admonish their flocks to love as Christ loved. As the Christian world prepares itself for the Passion and Resurrection of its Savior during this Holy Week, such calls to love intensify. 

To be certain, Christians are called—are commanded—by their Lord to love.  As St. Paul said, of the three “theological” virtues, faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these is love.

But those of us who aspire to be the disciples of Jesus are also called to hate.  In fact, it is precisely because we are called to love that we are called to hate, and to hate with every ounce of the zeal, the devotion, the aching, with which we are expected to love.  The paradox here is only apparent:

The love of God and neighbor with which Christians are consumed is inseparable from the intense hatred of evil and sin demanded of them.

Yet Christians hear relatively little about their obligation in Christ to burn with hatred for corruption. 

This is nothing short of a scandal. 

First, while it is true that, as St. John said in his First Epistle, God is Love, it is equally true that God is Justice.  The God of the Bible—both the Old Testament as well as the New—is a God of infinite compassion.  But He is also a God who rewards and punishes. In stressing God’s mercy at the expense of neglecting His wrath, Christians do a gross disservice to both, for divine mercy and divine wrath are meaningful only when each is understood in light of the other.

One can’t know God unless one knows about His love and His justice.

Second, when justice is mentioned in connection with love in many Christian churches nowadays—particularly Roman Catholic churches like the one that I attend—it always refers to something that Christians from times past wouldn’t have recognized as justice at all: so-called “social justice.”  

Yet social justice is what I will call No Justice.  No Justice is a doctrine, favored by secular, atheistic leftists and far too many Christians alike, that the government must confiscate the resources in time, labor, and property from those to whom they belong and “redistribute” them to those who have less.  This is the ugly reality of No Justice.  

No Justice is injustice.  Far from supporting “social justice,” as a Christian, I am duty-bound to detest it.  And I detest it for the same reason that I detest slavery: it is manifestly unjust for one person or group to coerce others, for whatever reasons, to part with the fruits of their labor.

It is unjust for one person or group to coerce others to subsidize activities to which the latter never consented and to which their consciences may very well be opposed.

But it is exactly this of which No Justice consists.

We should not be misled by any of this into thinking that it is only the evil of the government for which Christians are to reserve their hatred, much less that only government is capable of evil.  The disciples of Jesus know as well as anyone that such is the ubiquity of evil in the world that it even infects their own hearts.

Still, while Christian clergy will talk much about sin in the abstract, they seem to studiously avoid mentioning many specifics.  And even when they urge the members of their flocks to look within, they routinely counsel them to be “less judgmental” of others, and more mindful of their own sins.  But turning a blind eye to the wickedness of others is a recipe for the perfection, not of virtue, but of vice.

It has not infrequently been noted—but not noted enough—that the vicious are a better source of moral guidance than are the virtuous.  By way of his life sentence behind bars, a convict stands a far better chance of deterring a reckless adolescent male from a life of crime than that of his honest father who constantly pleads with his beloved son to walk the straight and narrow path.  All of the Surgeon General’s warnings regarding the potential dangers of cigarette smoking aren’t going to persuade young, healthy smokers from indulging their habit of choice.  The sight of a lifelong smoker suffering from lung cancer, however, might do the trick.

Similarly, for Christians to learn about and hate evil as they should, they must judge, and judge unequivocally, judge passionately, the wickedness of others.  We first spot evil when it is outside of us, and it is vastly easier at that point to recognize it in all of its hideousness. Noticing and judging the evil of others is an indispensable step to noticing and judging the evil in our own hearts. 

Noticing and judging the evil of others is an indispensable step to knowing and loving God and neighbor.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Dawkins is a scientist who is apparently either extraordinarily bored with his discipline, or hopelessly oblivious to its limits.

From his tireless defenses of atheism to his recent tweet on abortion, Dawkins, you see, spends very little time, it seems, sticking to what he knows.  Instead, he is busy away treating his background in science as the supreme credential for making pronouncements on all matters religious and moral.  

Dawkins’ is a textbook case of Amateur Philosopher Syndrome (APS)—the delusion that because one is an expert on the physical, one is an expert on the metaphysical—the stuff that scientists have traditionally left to the philosophers and theologians to study. 

Just this past weekend, he got people talking about him after he fired off a tweet regarding abortion in which he said that “any fetus is less human than an adult pig.” 

When a biologist, as a biologist, uses the term “human,” we expect for it to refer to that which is, well, biologically human.  A human fetus, then, is obviously more human than a pig, for the latter isn’t human at all.  Dawkins, however, uses “human” here in a moral sense, for he is interested in showing that abortion is permissible. “‘Human’ features relevant to the morality of abortion,” he tweets, “include [the] ability to feel pain, fear etc & to be mourned by others.”

To be clear, there is nothing in the least bit scientific or descriptive about Dawkins’ comments on this score.  His training in science no more qualifies him to speak to the moral standing of abortion than does a person’s experience as a janitor or a dishwasher endow him with any special authority to do the same.      

And his handling of the abortion issue shows this in spades.

Dawkins reasons here as if what he’s said hasn’t been said thousands of times over by abortion apologists.  Worse, he proceeds as if he was utterly ignorant of the fact that even those philosophers who have used his argument have conceded that it is fraught with pitfalls.  This ignorance, though, is a common symptom of APS.

 If Dawkins is correct and an entity is human only if it is sentient (able “to feel pain, fear etc.) and “be mourned by others,” then our duties to pigs, rats, bats, and all sorts of other animals are no different than those that we owe to one another, for all of these are sentient and, in the right contexts, capable of being enjoyed and mourned by others. Furthermore, those members of the human race who are less sensitive to pain than others must thereby be deemed less human than others, and those humans whose sufferings or death fail to elicit the sympathies of their fellows must then be relegated to the ranks of the non-human.   

This is where Dawkins’ logic leads.  But afflicted as he is with APS, Dawkins apparently hasn’t thought it through. 

Dawkins’ position on abortion is just as amateurish as his stance on the question of theism, belief in God’s existence.  Not unlike most people, Dawkins thinks that science has it within itself to undermine belief in God’s existence. This is probably the one big blunder of which both theist and atheist alike are guilty.  The reality is that science can no more disprove or prove God’s existence than can a painting of the ocean establish the number of gallons that the ocean contains.

In short, in theory science has no bearing on religion, for each speaks to a world separate from the other.  

The world of the scientist is an abstraction.  It consists of causes and effects, bodies, structures, processes, material forces, objects and categories of various sorts—e.g. genera and species, etc.  By definition, this is a “natural”—a purely natural—world, a universe that doesn’t allow for any intelligence or mind that isn’t ultimately reducible to matter in motion.  The methods of science insure this.

In contrast, the world of religion (and morality) is comprised of, not causes, but reasons; not matter, but mind; not objects, but subjects; not forces and processes, but intentions and purposes.  It is a world of believers and unbelievers, moral agents and moral patients, virtues, vices, duties, rights, good and evil.

In conflating these two worlds into one, Dawkins destroys them both.  In bringing morality and religion before the tribunal of science, Dawkins betrays an astonishing ignorance of the characters of morality, religion, and science.              

 

This, though, is exactly what we should expect from one ravaged by Amateur Philosopher Syndrome.