Monday, June 30, 2008

How dishonest use of the term "evangelical" weakens Christian influence in our society

By now we've all seen the headlines about James Dobson's "accusing" Barack Obama of distorting the Bible. The story being several days old, we are now on round two or three, with the most recent articles describing counter-responses to responses to the original story. So we know Obama thinks Dobson was wrong. But where do evangelicals themselves stand?

According to an entry on the Dallas Morning News religion blog, Jim Wallis, noted liberal evangelical, has "ripped" Dobson for his criticism of Obama. This is not surprising, since Wallis is a known left-winger, and has become something of a darling of the left for allegedly squaring evangelicalism with leftism and proving that not all evangelicals are rabid right-wing troglodytes. Thus he has become useful in the left-wing quest to weaken the influence of Christianity in our society. But wait, isn't he an evangelical? And isn't the very definition of an evangelical to be a patriotic, pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, pro-prayer in schools, etc., etc., conservative American?

Not when the meaning of the term "evangelical" is shifting. The word comes from the Greek "evangelion," meaning good news. In the strictest, perhaps original sense, it simply means one who is concerned with spreading the good news of the Christian gospel, namely that Jesus Christ, the son of God, came to earth to pay with his life the debt we could not pay for our own sin, purchasing for us eternal life. Now, in theory, this is something a Jim Wallis, a mainline protestant, or a Roman Catholic could sign on to just as well as James Dobson. So how did "evangelical" come to mean conservative, generic, non-denominational (or not particularly denominationally oriented) low-church Protestant? I speak only from my own memory here, but I believe that the term was not in common use in this sense until the 1990s. When I was a child in the 1980s, the term the media used for such people was "fundamentalists." That word had a negative connotation, and was not entirely accurate because only a small subset of conservative Protestants are true fundamentalists, so, by my understanding, this group of which we speak mounted a large PR campaign to replace the f-word with "evangelical," a more positive word that emphasized the seemingly benign mission to spread the gospel.

This campaign was largely successful; the media, and those outside the conservative Protestant world, actually began using this word instead of "fundamentalist." But a funny thing happened on the way to the church: instead of swapping meanings, liberals, secularists, and the mainstream media swapped only symbols, leaving the underlying meaning intact. "Evangelical" simply came to mean exactly what "fundamentalist" used to mean, negative connotations and all. (I had a coworker, a secular Russian Jew about my age, who like many in my generation got all his information about the world from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, who used to say the word "evangelicals" with a sneer in his voice, just the way an older leftist would speak the word "fundamentalist.")

It was inevitable that this would happen. Since conservative Christianity is defined as bad in the worldview of liberalism, any word which conservative Christians adopt to describe themselves must take on negative connotations. This makes it extremely dishonest of the media to describe Jim Wallis and other liberals as "evangelicals," since for them the word implies holding to a level of religious "fanaticism" that goes beyond what is legitimate. I'm not exactly sure why they would use a word that has negative connotations to describe someone they view as good, but I think what they are trying to do is discredit conservative Christians' claim to be true Christians; by co-opting the word commonly used to describe conservative Christians and applying it to liberals like Wallis, they're trying to say that he is the one really spreading the good news, and the Dobsons of the world are spreading hate, intolerance, judgmentalism, etc. (Note: I know that Wallis himself embraces the label "evangelical," but since he is on the same side as the left and the mainstream media, I'm including him under the pronoun "they.")

The other major point of dishonesty in the entry is the following:

Older Religious Right leaders are now being passed by a new generation of young evangelicals who believe that poverty, "creation care" of the environment, human trafficking, human rights, pandemic diseases like HIV/AIDS, and the fundamental issues of war and peace are also "religious" and "moral" issues and now a part of a much wider and deeper agenda.
For the past several years, news stories on religion have been peppered with statements like the above, saying that the younger, rising generation of evangelicals believes that typical left-wing concerns are "also" religious and moral issues, that they take the liberal line on poverty and environmentalism "in addition to" opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. The effect is to make it sound as though these young liberal evangelicals are, to invert a common libertarian catch-phrase, socially conservative and fiscally liberal; that they are in fact conservative on cultural issues but merely add income redistribution and environmentalism to those issues; that their concerns form a superset of the older evangelicals' concerns (i.e., "part of a much wider and deeper agenda.") What they want us to believe is that older evangelicals care only about abortion and same-sex marriage, while the new generation, in addition to caring about these things, also cares about human rights and AIDS.

This is a bald-faced lie. These liberal evangelicals don't care about left-wing causes in addition to the standard right-wing social and cultural concerns; they care about left-wing causes instead of right-wing social and cultural concerns. How often do Wallis or Tony Campolo or other liberal evangelical leaders call for abortion to be illegal, or same-sex marriage to be resisted? Answer: never. Instead, they say they are personally opposed to these things, but refuse to call for a public morality enshrined in law that opposes them. Here is an interview with Campolo where he says that abortion should remain legal and takes the pathetic "get the government out of the marriage business" line on same-sex marriage. And here is an article by Wallis in which he says that liberal Christians "find it painfully difficult to vote Democratic" given that party's stance on abortion, similar to Campolo's description of himself as a "reluctant Democrat." But notice what he's saying: it may be painfully difficult for them to vote Democratic, but they still do it. And why not? The Democratic party's stance on abortion is what allegedly troubles them so much--but their own stance is that abortion is regrettable but should remain legal, a stance indistinguishable from that of most Democratic politicians! How many times did Bill Clinton say that abortion should remain "safe, legal, and rare?"

So, we see that liberal evangelicals aren't some new amalgam of liberals and conservatives, independent thinkers offering a "third way," people who are suffering great personal anguish at being horribly torn between two sides, agreeing more with one on certain issues and with the other on other issues. Instead, they are garden variety left-wingers who completely sign on to the Democratic party platform and have nothing but scorn for conservative positions.

Left-wing dishonesty knows no bounds.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Forget marriage mandate, it's the miscegenation mandate!

Here's something from the "Evangelicals can't save Western Civilization" files.

A certain segment of the evangelical community has been taken to task by some writers and bloggers for promoting a "marriage mandate," the notion that with few exceptions, everyone is obligated to get married. Usually, it is said that more women want to get married than men, and so the blame is placed on the men for not marrying the women. Boundless Line, a blog run by Focus on the Family, whose posters are all conservative evangelicals and which draws a lot of evangelical commenters, is among the publications accused of promoting this view.

I don't want to discuss the marriage mandate controversy here. The purpose of this post is to point out a Boundless post from last July on the subject of interracial dating. As you would be stunned, pleasantly surprised, or knowingly disappointed to learn, based on whether you are a leftist, a neocon, or a traditionalist, the post as well as most of the comments were strongly pro-interracial dating.

I've been familiar with the world of evangelicalism for many years now, so most of the comments did not surprise me. It is not at all shocking to hear evangelicals repeat typical liberal platitudes such as the idea that race is merely a social construct, or make snarky comments about "melanin" or one's "epidermis," falsely reducing race to mere skin color. However, there are a few real howlers in the comments section, like the statement that "a person with black skin raised in a Norwegian community is culturally Norwegian." Even that absurdity, though, is the logical conclusion of the view voiced by many other commenters that any problems encountered in interracial dating are due to culture and culture alone, culture being something completely separate from race.

I was, however, mildly surprised by a comment from a black woman who opposed interracial dating on the grounds that it would lead to the end of the black race. Some traditionalists and paleos have, rightly, said that from the white Western point of view, race-mixing should be frowned upon, because it will lead to the end of the white race. Of course, that is undesirable, but more than the end of the white race, global race-mixing will lead to the end of every race. Non-whites should be expected to care as much about the potential end of their races as we care about ours. The comment was surprising only because the liberalism most often expressed by evangelicals is of the right-liberal variety, where any concern about race is seen as invalid and bigoted, instead of the left-liberal variety, where the white race is constantly upbraided but the exaltation of other races is perfectly legitimate. To hear even a black person within an evangelical context speak so frankly about race is rare.

The point about the end of races was lost on most commenters, though, like the one who said that she grew up thinking inter-ethnic families were the norm (she meant interracial, but wrote inter-ethnic because she doesn't believe race exists.) If you think about it, for interracial families to be the norm is a self-contradictory proposition: if most people marry and have children with someone of another race, soon all races will have blended into one, and without distinct races, there cannot be interracial families. The fact that this commenter thought that something inherently impossible was the norm shows how confused most evangelicals are on these issues.

All of this brings to mind a quotation by Sam Francis I came across for the first time a month or two ago:

The real problem with the religious right is that, in the long run, its religious vehicle won’t carry it home. If it ever ended abortion, restored school prayer, outlawed sodomy and banned pornography, I suspect, most of its followers would simply declare victory and retire. But having accomplished all of that, the Christian right would have done absolutely nothing to strip the federal government of the power it has seized throughout this century, restore a proper understanding and enforcement of the Constitution and of republican government, prevent the inundation of the country by anti-Western immigrants, stop the cultural and racial dispossession of the historic American people, or resist the absorption of the American nation into a multicultural and multiracialist globalist regime.

Indeed, all evangelicals really seem to care about is abortion and same-sex marriage. They would be perfectly happy to see America become a nonwhite, third-world country, as long as abortion, pornography, same-sex marriage, and embryonic stem cell research were illegal. Which means that whoever saves America, it will not be evangelicals, at least not in their current incarnation.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On writing

In the preface to Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor tells of how the original idea for the book was an unfinished story he was working on when his briefcase was stolen in a train station. It was never recovered, and he found himself unable to recreate the story as he remembered it. The more time passed, the better the lost story seemed, and he never felt the book was nearly as good.

I often have the same experience when writing. An idea is never as good as when it first occurs to me, and if I can't manage to get all my thoughts down in writing while they are still fresh in my mind, the eventual product always seems to pale in comparison to the original idea. My previous entry, which was finally published on June 3, 2008, was begun on August 26, 2007. At that time, I typed up the few key points that had occurred to me, and was able to envision them fully developed, but didn't have time to write them down that way. As the weeks passed, the original fervor that had surrounded the ideas in my mind began to wane, and while I'd try to work on the post now and then, the results never seemed up to snuff. Finally, when I had more time to blog again, I realized that my view of that post as an important one, and its being unfinished, was keeping me from starting to post more often again, and I forced myself to finish it. But in my mind, it is not nearly as good as it could have been, or would have been if I had written it the day the idea came to me.

I sometimes think the mark of distinction between a merely good writer and a great writer is how clear, detailed, and permanent his ideas are in his head before they have been written down. I remember how astounded I was when in college I first read Wordsworth's note to his Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, nonchalantly mentioning that he had composed the entire 150+ line poem in his mind over the course of 4-5 days while on a walking tour, and not written any of it down until it was finished. That is the mark of genius--something most of us cannot even imagine being able to do.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Null-O: How Philip K. Dick prophesied liberals' desire to destroy civilization

Warning: this post contains spoilers to the short story "Null-O" by Philip K. Dick. If you have aspirations of someday reading this story without knowing the plot in advance, read no further.

Philip K. Dick is not a writer one would expect a traditionalist to praise. He was married five times, had a lifelong history of drug abuse and wrote much of his work while under the influence of amphetamines, and late in life apparently experienced paranoia and "visions" which he believed were of divine origin. Yet his stories were so thought-provoking, his psychological insights so trenchant, that one cannot help but feel that he was a prophet of the postmodern era. He was exploring the themes of reality vs. unreality and how we can tell the difference decades before such ideas became popular in movies like The Matrix. (A few years ago I picked up a copy of The Philip K. Dick Reader and read most of the stories before checking the dates of publication. I was surprised to find that most were published as early as the 1950s.)

In the short story Null-O, Dick describes the rise of a group of mutant humans called Null-Os who are somehow inherently predisposed toward logical positivism and materialist reductionism. From the Null-Os' point of view, they are gifted in being able to realize the truth that the entire universe is nothing but a vast inchoate stew of subatomic particles and that therefore all distinctions and categories are meaningless. To this factual observation they add a moral imperative: those who realize this truth must actively work to eliminate all factually incorrect, illogical distinctions and categories, such as those that lead us to see, say, a chair as distinct object with its own existence instead of merely a collection of particles that happen to be in a certain configuration at a certain time. Thus, the Null-Os initiate a program of destroying everything: they will start with the Earth, then move on to our solar system, then the Milky Way galaxy, and ultimately, the entire universe.

How does this pertain to modern liberalism? Well, there are liberals and there are liberals. We traditionalists often criticize liberals for their belief in equality, severed from any particular cultural and historical context, as the highest good, and rightly so. The belief in the supremacy of equality is destroying our society, and a large measure of the impetus for this destruction comes from the belief in non-discrimination as a moral imperative. But there is another pernicious idea at work here: the belief in equality and non-discrimination as facts; indeed, as a left-liberal might put it, as scientific facts. In this view, the notion that generalizations are not valid, that there are really no such things as categories, is considered to be a simple, observable fact; one so well established that to doubt it is like doubting that the Earth revolves around the sun, deserving of the same scorn and indignation as geocentrism. I have seen this view made manifest in many online discussions: as soon as someone takes a non-liberal view and posits the existence of categories, or tries to apply a general rule, liberals will immediately blow up at him with vicious anger for being so stupid as to think that generalizations are at all possible.

For example, one might say that Muslims, with their belief in sharia, are not compatible with the Western world and therefore should not be allowed to live in it. A typical response to this would be that there are some "moderate" (i.e., liberal) Muslims who do not believe in sharia, no matter how small a minority they may be, and so to bar all Muslims from the West would be unfair to those few and therefore is unacceptable. This objection is problematic enough, being part and parcel of the liberal contempt for the very idea of a majority, and the willingness to give away our entire civilization so that a very tiny minority does not feel put upon. There is, however, a deeper, more insidious, nihilistic objection, which goes as follows: yes, there are some Muslims who believe in sharia and thus want to destroy Western civilization. They may even comprise the vast majority of Muslims. They may even comprise the entirety of the world's Muslim population, except for one lone Muslim who does not believe in sharia. But, because there is no such thing as transcendence, because all that exists are atoms, those Muslims' status as Muslims and their desire to destroy us have nothing to do with each other. The apparent association is merely a coincidence. Each individual Muslim who believes in sharia just happens to be a Muslim, and just happens to want to destroy us. Every case, no matter how much it appears to point to a general rule, is really a case of just happens. Therefore, it is wrong to bar a Muslim entry into our society even if he believes in sharia, because his desire to destroy us is really just an isolated, causeless desire to destroy us, no different from, say, Timothy McVeigh's desire to destroy us. Even if the Muslim himself thinks there is an association, there isn't.

This line of thinking is difficult to understand when applied to political or religious principles. Dick's Null-O's are chiefly concerned with physical reality, and his exposition of their thinking on this is clearer. Consider this passage from a scene where Lemuel, the Null-O boy the story is centered on, explains his philosophy to his friend Dr. North:

Lemuel indicated the apartment with a wave of his hand. "All these apparent objects--each has a name. Book, chair, couch, rug, lamp, drapes, window, door, wall, and so on. But this division into objects is purely artificial. Based on an antiquated system of thought. In reality there are no objects. The universe is actually a unity. We have been taught to think in terms of objects. This thing, that thing. When Null-O is realized, this purely verbal division will cease. It has long since outlived its usefulness."

"Can you give me an example, a demonstration?"

Lemuel hesitated. "It's hard to do alone. Later on, when we've contacted others... I can do it crudely, on a small scale."

As Dr. North watched intently, Lemuel rushed about the apartment gathering everything together in a heap. Then, when all the books, pictures, rugs, drapes, furniture and bric-a-brac had been collected, he systematically smashed everything into a shapeless mass.

"You see," he said, exhausted and pale from the violent effort, "the distinction into arbitrary objects is now gone. This unification of things into their basic homogeneity can be applied to the universe as a whole. The universe is a gestalt, a unified substance, without division into living and non-living, being and non-being. A vast vortex of energy, not discrete particles! Underlying the purely artificial appearance of material objects lies the world of reality: a vast undifferentiated realm of pure energy. Remember: the object is not the reality. First law of Null-O thought!"

So, to the Null-O, there is really no such thing as a chair. A chair is just a collection of atoms, all of which are indistinguishable from other atoms. A chair cannot be differentiated from a rug, because the carbon atoms in the cellulose that make up the chair are exactly the same as the carbon atoms in the wool that makes up the rug. Yes, they are oriented differently and bound in different configurations, but these differences are purely coincidental: they are not the way things have to be, there is nothing requiring them in the nature of the atoms themselves, and they are not permanent. A chair isn't really a chair, it's just a collection of atoms that just happen to be oriented in a particular way at a particular time. And it's therefore a great offense against nature and truth to speak of a chair as something real or as distinct from a rug.

Is this not the way the left speaks about human differences? Dick even has another Null-O who is working on a bomb to destroy the Earth say "Ultimately, we will unify the entire universe into a homogeneous mass." Sound familiar? Unifying the entire human race into a homogeneous mass is William Saletan's solution to the existence of racial differences in intelligence he has been forced to acknowledge. The Null-O's program of universal physical leveling is akin to the left's program of universal social leveling.

This line of thinking applies in so many other ways. For example, take racial intelligence differences. Even if the left comes to admit that these differences exist and are statistically significant, they may simply progress to the Null-O argument: that the differences are coincidental and meaningless. There is no such thing as a group called "blacks" and there is no such thing as a group called "people with an average IQ of 85." There is merely one individual who happens to have dark skin and be descended from African peoples, and who also happens to have an IQ of 85. Then there is merely a second person who happens to have dark skin and be descended from African peoples, and who also happens to have an IQ of 85... and so on. All higher truths, all categories, all generalizations, don't really exist and are meaningless.

Interestingly, though not all hard leftists are materialists, many are, and there is no real reason why their denial of differences, categories, and generalizations must stop at human society. What will happen once all humans are rendered totally equal? Is it really fair for there to be differences between humans and other animals? Between animals and plants? Between plants and rocks? Is there any reason to think that the left, if unchecked, will not eventually embrace Null-O and decide that the physical world must be leveled as well?

Obviously, this is the stuff of science fiction. In the story, the Null-Os' plan to destroy the world is foiled by, as Dick describes them, "The lower forms of human life: clerks, bus drivers, day-laborers, typists, janitors, tailors, bakers, turret lathe operators, shipping clerks, baseball players, radio announcers, garage mechanics, policemen, necktie peddlers, ice cream vendors, door-to-door salesmen, bill collectors, receptionists, welders, carpenters, construction laborers, farmers, politicians, merchants--the men and women whose very existence terrified the Null-O's to their core." Or, with the exception of politicians, the men and women whose very existence terrifies the modern left to their core. Will ordinary people ever rise up and overthrow our real-life Null-O's before they destroy us? I believe they will, but it remains to be seen how bad conditions must become before that happens.