Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

A group that refers to itself as the “Arkansas Society of Freethinkers” is not in the Christmas spirit.  When it caught wind of the fact that Little Rock’s Terry Elementary School had arranged for its students to attend a stage performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at a local church, it began to eye the school up for a lawsuit.

Inasmuch as one of its key characters quotes the Gospel of Luke, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” you see, has an explicitly religious theme. 

That there is no such “separation” clause in the United States Constitution has long been established.  Yet this episode is telling not because it reveals the atheist’s ignorance of the Constitution.  Rather, it is telling insofar as it reveals his ignorance of his cultural inheritance.

The great Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc, had famously declared that “the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith.”  We can paraphrase him by saying just as assuredly that Christianity is the West and the West is Christianity.

It is true that the Western mind is indebted to classical, pre-Christian Greek and Roman sources, but even here, it is primarily to Christian men of learning to whom we owe thanks for resurrecting and restoring to European civilization the lost riches of antiquity.

For the last two millennia there has been no aspect of Western existence that hasn’t borne upon it the indelible impress of the Christian religion.

Take science.  That it is the Western world within which the sciences first emerged and where they continue to flourish is no coincidence.  Prior to the rise of Judaism (from which Christianity spun off), and outside of the Christian West to this day, time is conceived cyclically, not linearly.  But it is our linear conception of time that inspires the scientist’s faith in the possibility of achieving progress within his craft.

There are still other distinctively Christian concepts from which science has taken flight. 

That the universe has been created by an all-good God and that this God has entrusted its care to the custody of human beings render it impossible for those who’ve been influenced by these beliefs to deny the reality of the world, as do Hindus and Buddhists, or to assume an attitude of indifference toward it, as did the Stoics.  These Christian beliefs make it impossible to proclaim, with Plato and his disciples, that matter is somehow debased and, thus, unworthy of investigation.  They make it impossible to deny the rationality of the world and, hence, the knowledge to be gotten from it.

The very (scientific) enterprise at which the scientist makes his living would have been unthinkable in the absence of the religious faith that he now ignores, and—far too frequently—disdains.  Furthermore, he continues to erect his monuments upon the back of the Christian faith, for the supposition that nature is knowable and worth studying makes sense only within a larger Christian context.  Once it has been plucked from that framework, however, then it is about as meaningful as a piece of a puzzle without the puzzle to which it belongs.

And what is true of the ideas underlying science are no less true of those of our morality.

The famed Russian novelist Dostoyevsky had said that if there is no God, then all things are possible.  Dostoyevsky was a Christian.  Yet some honest atheists—like the existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre—have admitted that he was correct. 

“Indeed,” Sartre wrote, it is precisely because “everything is permissible if God does not exist” that existentialist atheists like himself find life “very distressing [.]”  Since there is no God, “all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him [.]”  There are “no values or commands” that “legitimize our conduct,” there is “no excuse behind us, nor justification before us,” for “we are alone….”

If Christianity is to go the way of the dinosaur, so too must natural law, natural rights, human rights, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and each and every one of our traditional moral ideals go this route, for without the theological gestalt supplied by Christianity, these ideals are reduced to arbitrary human inventions.

This Christmas season, let the “free thinkers” among us recognize that nothing that we take for granted—including our thought—is free.  The price we pay for the goods we value is civilization, and for this civilization of ours we owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the very religion that too many of our “free thinkers” are intent upon destroying.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

The issue of so-called “same-sex marriage” will soon come before the Supreme Court.  I am no betting man, but if I was, I would gamble every dime to my name that before long, “gay marriage” will be the law of the land.  I would further bet that those right-leaning politicians and their allies within the “alternative” media who have insisted upon preserving the heterosexual character of marriage will succumb to a deafening silence not long after that.

In the annals of the human race, it is not often that we witness the particularities of time and culture giving way to a consensus on a moral issue.  Yet whether understood as an historical institution or as a spiritual and moral ideal, there is no group of people the world over that has failed to recognize marriage for the intrinsically heterosexual union that it is.

But alas, leave it to our generation to see to it that this state of affairs doesn’t last.  The problem is that it will indeed succeed at detonating “the general bank…of nations and of ages,” as Burke famously described the wisdom of “the species.”  

It isn’t just that leftist activists and the Democratic Party are resolved to make their dream of “same-sex marriage” a reality.  More importantly—and more tellingly—it is that the proponents of traditional marriage have no one who is willing to fight on their behalf.

As the base of the GOP reevaluates its party in the wake of the losses it suffered last month, it is imperative that among the realizations at which Republican voters arrive is the realization that Republican rhetoric on this issue is just that.   

To this some may object that, in fact, Republicans have done more than talk.  After all, Republicans have advocated a constitutional amendment expressly defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman, right?  What about that?  This question is best met by another: Yes, what about that?  We no longer hear about this proposal to amend the Constitution because it was never, and was never meant to be, anything but a gimmick, albeit one with strategic value.

Republicans have always known that their amendment proposal had zero chance of gaining any traction, much less achieving passage.  But in advancing it, they could temporally appease their base while eluding the real work necessary to stop “gay marriage.”

While it controlled both chambers of Congress and the presidency, the GOP most certainly could have done much in this arena.  

According to Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all those cases, and only those cases, for which Congress makes allowances.  The provision states that the Court’s authority is “under such regulations as the Congress shall make.”  Translation: If a Republican-dominated Congress didn’t want for liberal judges to declare a constitutional right to “gay marriage” (or abortion, or suicide, or interspecies loving, etc.), then it would have needed to have done nothing other than invoke this Constitutional provision.  As the late Sam Francis remarked: “With a stroke of the congressional pen, ‘judicial activism’ could be ended [.]”

But it isn’t just that Republican politicians have failed to resist the imposition upon the country of “gay marriage.” They have actually encouraged it.

Republicans routinely express support for “civil unions” for homosexuals.  However, when marriage is considered just one more type of secular association—as it must be so considered from the perspective of our secular government—then in what, pray tell, could the difference between a marriage and a civil union be said to consist?  From talk radio show hosts to Beltway politicians, Republican critics of “gay marriage” are at pains to reassure gays that all of the benefits that they would reap from marriage are just as surely secured to them by way of civil unions. The only difference between these two contracts, such Republicans explain, is the name.

But what’s in a name?  If the difference between a civil union and a marriage is only nominal, then there is no real difference at all.

In the very near future, homosexuals will have found themselves a constitutional right to marry other homosexuals.  When this happens, the country can thank not just the left-wing activists who fought tirelessly for it.

It can thank Republicans as well.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas is a holiday that most Americans associate with all manner of symbols, from candy canes to crosses, decorated trees to dangling lights, snowfall to Santa Claus.  It is next to impossible for us to imagine Christmas without also thinking about some combination or other of these signs.

Sadly, it has also become impossible for those of us in contemporary America to think about Christmas without thinking about “the war” that various media outlets assure us is being steadily waged against it.

About this “War on Christmas,” this Christian and veteran lover of Christmas has more than one thought to share.

First, for certain, our world consists of a not insignificant number of anti-Christian zealots who are determined to eradicate from the public life of American and Western culture every last vestige of Christianity.

Second, it is indeed Christianity, and this religion alone, that is the object of the secularist’s wrath.  We must guard against being fooled by his talk of the generic “religion:” there is a reason why we never hear about the War on Hanukah or the War on Ramadan.

Third, the assault against Christianity is part of a much larger cultural trajectory, an ever growing propensity of Western peoples to visit transformative change upon their civilization generally, and its apex—America—specifically. 

For the better part of the last two millennia, not only has Christianity been the faith of the West; as Belloc observed, the two had fused into one. What this means, though, is that if the West is to be transformed, then Christianity—the blood that has flowed through its veins, the spirit that has propelled its imagination to heretofore undreamt of heights—must die.  Either it must, like the dinosaur, go away outright or, what is more feasible, render itself into an instrument that can readily be enlisted in the service of cultural transformation.

Either way, whether its enemies are consciously aware of this or not, it is nothing less than the death of Christianity for which they call.

Still, while there is no small measure of anti-Christian animus in the world, talk of “the War on Christmas” is nothing more or less than the stuff of media sensationalism. But that which serves the interests of journalists, pundits, and their employers need not necessarily serve the interests of Christians.

Besides it being simply false, there are at least two other reasons—one practical, the other historical—why Christians should object to the annual hype about a “war” on Christmas.

For one, Christmas is the time that Christians prepare for the advent of Christ, the Prince of Peace.  Yet if they are forever being pressured at just this time to view themselves as combatants in an interminable war in defense of their faith, the peace of mind for which they strive during the Christmas season promises to be elusive.

Attacks on Christmas and Christianity are discouraging, but thinking that there is an all out war on them is enough to rob Christians of “the good cheer” that Eddie Pola and George Wyle implore all of us to exhibit in their famous Christmas carol, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” 

Second, the notion that there is a “War on Christmas” is offensive from an historical perspective.  Since its emergence, Christianity has all too regularly had war—real, bloody, war—waged upon it.  Not infrequently, though, it has been one brand of Christianity that has come under attack by the champions of another.  The most ardent of our secularist contemporaries no less than their Christian counterparts can only recoil in horror upon hearing of how Christians of yesteryear were treated at times and places by other Christians.   

And as for Christmas, if the prevalence of “Happy Holidays” is the sign of a war, then what must we think of the seventeenth century ban on public Christmas celebrations that the Puritans imposed for roughly two decades?  Again, in the 1600’s, the spectacle to which we bear witness is that of Christians appropriating measures of which Bill O’Reilly’s “Secular Progressives” could scarcely conceive.

Not at any time has Christianity been without its share of hostile critics. Nor will there be any time in the future when things will be otherwise.  But the penchant for construing every instance of hostility as a shot fired in an endless war not only blinds one to history.  It is the surest way to preclude the peace of mind the Christ promised.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Republican Party is no longer the party of limited government, with limited spending and limited taxes.  It is now officially exactly right behind the Democrats—on everything. It is time for conservatives to start looking for a new home.  There’s precious little left for us here.”

Thus spoke Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center and long-time movement conservative.

Although Bozell deserves two thumbs up for his remarks, it is still worth noting that his epiphany is a little late in the coming: if it was ever really the party of limited government, it has been eons since the GOP ceased being so.

Ron Paul labored indefatigably for decades to call his fellow partisans to their senses, but the self-avowed champions of “limited government” in Washington and “conservative” talk radio ridiculed and derided him.  Just as he spotted the recession of ’08 long before it exploded and at a time when his competitors in the presidential primaries insisted that the economy was strong, so too did Paul recognize the identity-crisis in the Republican Party—the chasm between its rhetoric and its policies—years before it dawned upon the likes of Bozell. 

It is crucial to bear in mind that it isn’t because Paul is so prescient that he has been ahead of the curve on this score.  Rather, it is because Republicans have been so blind that accounts for why it has taken some of them this long to appreciate Paul’s insights.

The sources of this blindness are probably many.  Doubtless, one of them just may be the glare from the contrast between what Republicans espouse with their lips and the policies for which they advocate.

To hear Bozell and others in the conservative movement, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Grand Old Party is just now beginning to retreat from its pledge to promote “limited government.” But we needn’t go all that far back in time to see that this simply isn’t so.

In fact, we needn’t go all that far back to realize that the very same voices on the right who have been screaming (rightly, I might add) from the rooftops over obscene levels of government spending and the like for the last four years uttered scarcely a peep over the same during the preceding eight.

Let us not forget that for six years—from 2000 to 2006—Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress and the presidency.  For six years prior to this, the Republicans dominated Congress.  This period supplied a golden opportunity for the party of limited government to practice what it preached while definitively establishing once and for all to the country the intellectual and moral superiority of its ideas over those of its rivals.

Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, none of this happened.  Instead, Republicans definitively established that all of their talk of “limited government” was just that. 

That is, they established to the satisfaction of both their opponents as well as a not inconsiderable number of their constituents that they were just as committed to Big Government as were their nemeses. That ever fewer Republicans have showed up at the polls in the last two presidential election cycles proves that long before Bozell had his revelation, Republican voters on the ground got the message loudly and clearly.

But how could anyone not have seen this?

The scope and size of the federal government expanded exponentially while in the care of Republicans under Bush II. Not since Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” had the federal government figured so powerfully in American life.  The only difference is that spending under Bush II was even greater than that which occurred under Johnson.

Bush II and his Republicans launched two woefully unpopular, drawn out wars.  In prosecuting them, he assumed unto the executive branch heretofore unseen powers—like the ominously named “Patriot Act,” say—that has left legions of patriots shivering.  This is bad enough in itself, but to compound the problem, it erects a dangerous precedent for future presidents to appropriate those very same powers for all manner of evil.

Of course, there is a host of other resolutely anti-conservative policies for which Bush II and his Congress successfully fought.  To briefly touch upon only a few, there was: No Child Left Behind (the now nearly universally despised law that increased the federal government’s role in education); the Home Ownership Society (which facilitated the explosion of the housing bubble and the onslaught of the recession of ’08); Medicare “Part D” (the exorbitantly expensive prescription drug entitlement of ’03); and federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (an unprecedented step that only retarded any progress that the pro-life movement could be said to have made).  

Bozell is right that “conservatives should start looking for a new home.” Yet he fails to see that this is a search that should have begun a long time ago.

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