The State Of Marriage Debates In The Public Discourse

This is from Australia and I think sometimes it’s worth seeing how this debate is playing out around the industrialized English-speaking world, as it removes it a tiny bit from the personalities and battle lines right here in North America:

I don’t know if it’s just the camera angle, but the questioner’s angry death-stare does him absolutely no favours here. Now I know that some of those who might oppose same-sex civil marriage might have legitimate beefs with Rudd’s interpretations about what exactly is said about slavery in the New Testament, but what’s significant here is that this is a very similar form to what Dan Savage did in another debate video we posted here a while ago. Claiming that the Bible refers to outdated socio-economic relationships in the area of slavery opens the door to the possibility that the same is true for the Bible and same-sex couples. This argument may be constructed quickly and easily and strikes the audience as plausible. It’s enough that the questioner only has his impotent angry stare and no other answer. Even if Rudd loses the election (as he well might), he is winning this argument in the eyes of many.

Where the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage have harmed themselves (and other Christians as well perhaps) is that the argument for equal marriage now moves the front line to the Bible itself. By insisting initially that the Bible and the Bible alone – as interpreted by conservative evangelicals and/or Roman Catholics – be the template for all human relationships in Western societies, even for those of other religious or philosophical views, they have made the Bible itself debatable. Savage or Rudd can now say, in effect, “You conservative evangelicals and/or Roman Catholics claim this book is what governs how all people ought to interact? Okay, let’s look at all of it here and see what it really says.” This is not confined to problems around unclear wording used in the New Testament or that much of the Levitical law has otherwise been abandoned by Christians, this is now the whole Bible up for debate. I do not know if the opponents of same-sex civil marriage are going to like where this leads.

Some Labour Day Reading

Zach Hoag posted a series over this past summer that was titled “Smokin’ Hot Conversations” about the perception of pastors who go on about their “smokin’ hot wives” as well as the wider world of sexuality and gender in American evangelical circles, particularly from the perspective of various female interlocutors. It’s worth reading views on the matter that is not either from an outsider or from another male voice.

John Piper Emerges As New Threat To America

There’s a new threat on the horizon, one that the Values Voter Summit ranks up there with Communism and Islam: the Emergent Church. There’s so much that’s almost comically wrong with this. First of all, this is 2013, not 2003. Second of all, the category of “Emergent” that’s being used is, well, bizarre. You see the list of Emergent leaders includes Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and even John Piper.

John Piper, Emergent Church leader and threat to a Christian America.

I don’t know if this is some kind of Overton window business where the Values Voter people want their audience to be so conservative as to worry that John Piper is some kind of soft mainline liberal. Maybe these guys genuinely believe that Piper, by not being explicitly in support of the GOP, is therefore a danger. I hope it’s not anything to do with Piper’s views on racial reconciliation in the US:

Whatever it is, it’s surprising that this would come out as at least one observer reckons that The Gospel Coalition (with which Piper is associated) seems poised to become a whole lot more political and activist in socially conservative causes and start to constitute a new religious right.

Solid Advice On Blogging

We’ve already done this before on the blog by way of showing what Andrew Sullivan thinks on the topic. Given my own pathetic contributions to the blog as of late, I’d thought I’d share some solid blogging advice I just came across. This comes from Tom Bennett,  a British education author I stumbled across while coveting books in the infamous Blackwell’s  in Oxford last summer. As I’m a teacher, I’m trying to get my hands on everything that Bennett writes, so I was delighted to see that he has a blog.

Here are Bennett’s gems:

1. Write because you have to.

Write because you itch to write; because there’s something to be said that hasn’t been said before and you need to be the one who says it. Write because you own some part of the truth that nobody else possesses. Write because you’re lying awake at night and a particular arrangement of words won’t leave you alone, nudging you to trap them on page or screen. Write because you can’t sleep for not doing so. Write because a day without writing makes you feel empty and indolent.

This is important. Don’t write for money, at least not at first. If money is your primary concern, then get a paper round. Don’t write because you want to be famous: drive your car through a shopping centre if you want that. Write because you are a writer, and that is what you do.

2. Say exactly what you want to say.

Say what you want to say in the most direct way you can. Don’t worry, as you write, is this good enough? Worry about that later. Instead, write about the thing that makes you angry, sad, upset, agitated or elated. Write your truth, in your voice, but don’t worry about what your voice is; just speak. Say it in exactly the way you want, and don’t worry about offence. That comes later. But if you self-edit at this point, you dam the river of words that bubbles and boils inside you.

3. Edit your work.

You should write as if no one is reading it, then edit as if everyone is. Fix grammar and spelling first. Try reading it aloud to yourself. How does it sound? By the end of the piece you usually have a better idea of how it should start, so unpick, unstitch, and most of all, hack away. Gut anything that doesn’t add to the meaning. You love a phrase but it doesn’t serve the whole piece, or it detracts or distracts? Get rid of it. Save it for later. If it’s good you’ll find somewhere to plant it.

If a paragraph doesn’t help the whole thing, cut it out. If you find one half goes in a different direction, cut it in half, like Solomon, and decide which half you love most. Finally, edit for libel, and ask yourself if you have inadvertently caused offence. Nothing wrong with offence at times, but make sure it’s advertent. And legal.

4. Blog regularly.

I feed robins in my garden. At first they must have been delighted by my RSPB coconuts. Eventually they started coming back looking for more. Now, they’re fat. Good.

5. Interact and promote.

You want a readership? Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be blogging: keep a diary instead if it’s just the love of writing, because the love of being read is another requisite of the whole thing. Respond to comments. Use networking sites like Twitter to spread the word. Leave links as parts of discussions on other blogs and education websites.

6. Be prepared for the bouquets and the brickbats.

And finally, the most important thing is to be prepared for a reaction. Some will laud you, and some will damn you. As Malcolm Tucker says in The Thick of It, ‘Are you prepared to be a dartboard?’ The answer has to be yes. But that doesn’t matter, because some of the darts will be flowers, and because blogging is something you love to, have to, do. And if people still troll, even when you’ve genuinely attempted to engage with them, then, as Christopher Hitchens said, ‘They can take a ticket and get in line to kiss my ass.

But first you have to write the damned things. Stop thinking about it. Just write.

So, hopefully this will inspire me to write in more than four month intervals.

What Kind Of Jobs? Ctd

So it seems that The Gospel Coalition has had their own take on how meaningful one’s job may or may not be. Overall their tone was much upbeat and they refrained from using the word “bullshit” even once. (An aside, if anyone in our readership thinks this is a vulgar word thrown about, please read this little book.) The sense I got from this was, “don’t worry, go about doing your job and don’t think to much about whether it’s important or not, you can’t possibly understand.” The money quote is here:

“Though some work may seem useless, Christians understand that all work is God’s work. Our work only seems insignificant because we fail to grasp the big picture. This is what economists refer to as the “knowledge problem.” The knowledge problem means we can’t always see the big picture because knowledge is dispersed among many people; no one person knows everything. In the vocational sense, this means we may not understand how our work is part of a much larger economic dynamic. If we can’t easily see how our work contributes to the common good, we may understate the effect of what we do.

Some positions make it difficult for workers to see the end product, but that certainly does not mean that their work is insignificant. Just because a factory worker doesn’t receive the instant gratification of seeing the final product that he helped to create doesn’t change the reality that his effort contributed to that product.”

Ironic, because in some ways a factory worker is best positioned to see the result of work. Moreover, there’s a big assumption here that all economic activity contributes to the common good. Moreover, one might ask about the cost of this work, look at Pete Campbell from Mad Men explaining his bullshit meaningful job:

In the last couple seasons of Mad Men it has become apparent that Pete hates himself as he destroys his marriage and grows in his resentment towards his coworkers his family and almost everyone else. Does Pete Campbell contribute to the common good? Is it worth it for how his job seems to contribute to his self-loathing? This is but one example, I’m not sure if there are others who find TGC’s view of work a bit glib.

What Kind Of Jobs?

Bullshit jobs. That’s right, you read it, bullshit jobs. I commend to you all this article on what many of us do for the majority of our waking lives and how it impacts our view of work and the economy. Dovetails somewhat with much of what Andrew and his TCI gang are saying about work and economics – at least I think it does, I hope they see the connection. Money quote:

“Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way [...] to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.  Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.”

Interestingly, I read this article, and then I googled “bullshit jobs” to find it again and learned that this is not a completely isolated cultural observation, and indeed that there is a bullshit job title generator. Thoughts?

Possible Futures

Every society, I think, speculates about its own future, and sometimes its own demise. Lately I’ve seen and read a lot of the latter. Films aside, three blog posts have caught my attention. Firstly, Salon had this piece: “How America will collapse (by 2025)“. It gives several possible predictions; here are three:

(1) “Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.”

(2) “The oil shock that follows hits the country like a hurricane, sending prices to startling heights, making travel a staggeringly expensive proposition, putting real wages (which had long been declining) into freefall, and rendering non-competitive whatever American exports remained. With thermostats dropping, gas prices climbing through the roof, and dollars flowing overseas in return for costly oil, the American economy is paralyzed. With long-fraying alliances at an end and fiscal pressures mounting, U.S. military forces finally begin a staged withdrawal from their overseas bases”

(3) “Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident that its F-6 “Fractionated, Free-Flying” satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their “Triple Terminator” missiles at China’s 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits. The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.

“As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate U.S. supercomputers fail to crack the malware’s devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of U.S. ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the U.S. Air Force has long called “the ultimate high ground”: space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a post today on the dystopian impulse:

Kant’s age was more optimistic than ours, and he assumed that a plan meant a story of progress. But in a pinch, a story of regress will still serve a similar, consoling end: The immensity of the future becomes friendlier, more human-sized, when we assume that it has a bearing. And even dystopias reassure us that history moves in a discernible direction, a genuine arc of the universe unfolding through knowable rules.

Dystopian writing, then, can offer us the safe scares of a haunted house. A more radical brand of fiction about the future would still treat our problems with gravity, but it would also be a Copernican kind of fiction; it would not put our lives, our age, or our problems at the center of history. It would start, in other words, from the frightening and less-familiar thought that history has no direction and no center.

Finally, the one I found  most interesting, John Médaille’s “Will There Be Zombies?

To sum up, the technical problems of rebuilding the world, the problems that seem insurmountable, will turn out to be trivial: there is enough knowledge and resources to accomplish that task. But whether we are able to do it is another thing. The modern world begins by discovering—or rather inventing—the autonomous individual; the self-made made man who has no connections save contractual ones freely chosen and broken at will, for indeed there can be nothing higher than than individual will. Such a man is already half-way to being a zombie. And we must admit to ourselves, that we are all zombies, to some degree we are influenced by the technologies of persuasion and “need-creation.” We are all people who feel a need to work to buy what we don’t need, and then to discover new needs, which we must work even harder to fill. The modernist project ends with post-modernism, and with the true zombie, that is, with the creation of emptiness.

On a practical level, we need to first prepare ourselves. We must know what we really want and buy—or make—only what we really need. Growing a tomato is an act of resistance; fixing a car rather than buying a new one throws a wrench into the system. And making your own music defeats the entertainment industry, while entertaining your children and your neighbors defeats the whole wicked world. Educating one’s children, with or without the dubious help of the schools defeats both government and industry. And all of these provide the seeds from which a new economy, and a new civilization, a liturgical civilization, can be built, one that will fill the zombies and make them human again, and us as well.

We need to be looking around our neighborhoods and areas for resources to solve all the problems when the professional problem-solvers no longer can. If we look closely, we are likely to find more than we suspect. But mostly, we need to be looking at our neighborhoods to find our neighbors; all too often our neighborhoods are not at all neighborly, but rather anonymous and temporary housing, not real places but only real estate. By finding real neighbors, we will find real solutions. And here I make the assertion that to find anything real is to find something genuinely Christian. And only in a real Christianity will we build a real world.

To conclude, I say again, let us be of good cheer. To be sure, we must be realistic about the dangers we face and the hardships we will, no doubt, endure. There will be a certain madness abroad in the world, and this is unavoidable in times like these. People, deprived of comfort and customs, and anxious over the next meal or a place to sleep, will at least be mad, and likely prone to madness. But they are unlikely to fall victim to mere ideology, and we may have it in our power to calm their anxiety. And I suspect that we will discover that the things we will have to give up are not things that we really wanted anyway, and that what we stand to gain is what we were always looking for. And what we gain, we may give, and give to our fellow-zombies, who in their true emptiness of heart want only to be filled with the truth. This, I suspect, is our vocation, our calling, and this is our moment.

The Truth About The Truth


It is perhaps a little less remarked on today than it was in the 1990s, but it still comes up in evangelical circles: the “truth.” Actually, no, it’s the Truth and evangelicals can still often be heard denouncing “moral relativism” as a threat to capital-T Truth. Now it’s not talked as much since the perception that New Atheism is the big threat to North American evangelical protestantism, but there is still a concern about moral relativism causing impressionable young Christians to abandon orthodox Christian views in favour of a this-is-my-truth-tell-me-yours mindset. Now though, the big threat seems to be the rise of the “nones” including various sorts of “new” atheism as well as increasing interest in the Roman Catholic, High Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox traditions among disaffected evangelicals.


The unchanging, capital-T Truth.

The evangelical community that has made such a big deal about the threat of relativism and the importance of an eternal, unchanging, objective truth as a starting point possesses another key characteristic that is utterly contradictory: the centrality of personal testimony. This is especially the case in youth groups (and hence this is perhaps why twentysomethings and thirtysomethings are most affected by this return to older church forms). Almost any speaker at a church youth group in the 1990s-2000s, be it the regular youth pastor or some kind of guest speaker or one of the students themselves would, if given any length of time to talk, weave in a personal testimony of sorts. Most youth group kids likely had a better understanding of the personal conversion and faith story of their youth pastor than they did that pastor’s take on any number questions about theology or ecclesiology.

That’s a tremendous zig-zag there. The truth is unchanging and objective, but here’s my own personal story of what I think God did in my own life. In other words: this is my own personal truth. Oops. The kids coming through the churches in the last three decades were fed this contradiction, is it any wonder that they leave to go look for the capital-T truth. An Eastern Orthodox/Roman Catholic/Anglican priest, if you asked him, might tell you a little about his own life and faith, but that’s not what he’s leading with. Not because it’s a secret or it’s of no importance, it’s just not nearly as important as the other stuff such an individual might wish to share. The same might be the case for at least some of the Reformed types who have lately gained much traction in the evangelical world. Conversely, remember those New Atheists, they also like to talk about the truth: in this case the truth that science might be revealing an ugly, uncaring, material world, but if that’s what can be shown to be true (albeit through an entirely different process than the traditions and rites of ancient Christianity) it can be equally appealing to those who were told by their church youth groups to search out the unchanging, immovable capital-T Truth.

New Series on the Front Porch

For those of you who enjoy the Front Porch Republic you might be interested to know that they have begun a series titled “One Thousand Words.” Here is their series description:

Over the next few months, perhaps longer, several dozen contributors will tell us what we need to know about a wide variety of figures—some obscure, some not—in one thousand words or less. Forthcoming: posts on Dwight MacDonald, Mozart, Chekhov, Foucault, Leo Strauss, Paul Gottffried, Charles Taylor, Irving Babbitt, Bernard Lonergan, Machiavelli, HansUrs von Balthasar. And many more.

The first in the series focuses on the poet and literary critic Yvor Winters. Judging from this piece, it should be a good series. I’m especially interested to see that they will do articles on theologians like Lonergan and von Balthasar!


Notes From Sources Of The Self

One of Charles Taylor’s most important works is Sources of the Self, wherein he narrates the origins of the modern conception of identity. I’ve begun the probably long process of reading through this tome. The following are a few selections that jumped out at me on first glance. The first section presents Taylor’s nuanced opinion of modernity.

But I find myself dissatisfied with the views on this subject which are now current. Some are upbeat, and see us as having climbed to a higher plateau; others show a picture of decline, of loss, of forgetfulness. Neither sort seems to me right; both ignore massively important features of our situation. We have yet to capture, I think, the unique combination of greatness and danger, of grandeur et misèrewhich characterizes the modern age. …

But I try to set out in the concluding chapter what flows from this story of the emerging modern identity. Briefly, it is that this identity is much richer in moral sources than its condemners allow, but that this richness is rendered invisible by the impoverished philosophical language of its most zealous defenders. Modernity urgently needs to be saved from its most unconditional supporters–a predicament perhaps not without precedent in the history of culture. [ix-xi]

In the following selection, Taylor explains that our moral sense is not reducible to matters of taste:

We feel the demand to be consistent in our moral reactions. And even those philosophers who propose to ignore ontological accounts nevertheless scrutinize and criticize our moral intuitions for their consistency or lack of it. But the issue of consistency presupposes intrinsic description. How could anyone be accused of being inconsistently nauseated? Some description could always be found covering all the objects he reacts to that way, if only the relative one that they all awake his disgust. The issue of consistency can only arise when the reaction is related to some independent property as its fit object.

The whole way in which we think, reason, argue, and question ourselves about morality supposes that our moral reactions have these two sides: that they are not only ‘gut’ feelings but also implicit acknowledgements of claims concerning their subjects. The various ontological accounts try to articulate these claims. The temptations to deny this, which arise from modern epistemology, are strengthened by the widespread acceptance of a deeply wrong model of practical reasoning, one based on an illegitimate extrapolation form reasoning in natural science. [7]

And in this final section Taylor explains how our moral sense is irreducible. This point is somewhat similar to one that C.S. Lewis makes in The Abolition of Man, namely that practical reason takes for granted the first principles of morality, and that if someone stands outside of these reasons, the science of ethics will be nonsensical to him.

Moral argument and exploration go on only within a world shaped by our deepest moral responses, like the ones I have been talking about here; just as natural science supposes that we focus on a world where all our responses have been neutralized. If you want to discriminate more finely what it is about human beings that makes them worthy of respect, you have to call to mind what it is to feel the claim of human suffering, or what is repugnant about injustice, or the awe you feel at the fact of human life. No argument can take someone from a neutral stance towards the world, either adopted from the demands of ‘science’ or fallen into as a consequence of pathology, to insight into moral ontology. But it doesn’t follow from this that moral ontology is a pure fiction, as naturalists often assume. Rather we should treat our deepest moral instincts, our ineradicable sense that human life is to be respected, as our mode of access to the world in which ontological claims are discernible and can be rationally argued about and sifted. [8]