Monthly Archives: October 2012

Stereotypes, the TSA, and Christian Legalism

At the root of any stereotype there is at least some kernel of truth; for a stereotype, even if it is rarely true, is at the very least not always false. The fact that I tend to regard employees of the Transportation Security Administration as a largely disagreeable bunch is not because it is true that they are always disagreeable, but because in my experience they have seemed to make a peevish attitude rather the rule than the exception; though I suspect that anyone whose job it is to daily perform the practical equivalent of herding cats might find their patience understandably stressed. Still, if one is to be violated, it might at least be with a smile.

Likewise, there is a general sentiment among skeptics that Christians are essentially like the TSA: always patting people down and cavalierly putting fun or apparently useful objects into the rubbish. “Christian” may as well be synonymous with “killjoy.” I wish this sentiment were entirely untrue, but I have encountered these unpleasant types myself. They are like the person who thinks it their sacred duty to cheerfully broadcast their diet regimen to everyone in the vicinity of the hors d’oeuvres. There is nothing wrong either with diets or hors d’oeuvres, but there is something to be said for tact.

But poor tact is not the real problem of the legalist. Finding life much easier to navigate when separated neatly into clearly defined compartments, he can make little sense of the notion that it might be perfectly acceptable for him to drink alcohol in his own home and sinful for him to drink it at his alcoholic brother’s. For the legalist, “alcohol” is synonymous with “drunkenness”. He thinks that since recreational sex is immoral outside of marriage, recreational sex is always immoral. He thinks that an expletive uttered in pain is the same as an expletive uttered in anger. Rather than trouble himself with considerations of an act’s proper context, he finds it simpler either to perform it wantonly or to banish it altogether. The world in which the legalist lives is not the one in which he finds himself, but the one he fashions in his own conscience. He worships himself as Judge, at the feet of his own law. A legalist knows little about mercy and everything about judgment. Wielding a microscope, he is ignorant of planks but an expert on specks. In his own failings he grants himself a pardon; in the failings of others he issues only a sentence. In his zeal to subdue the world with his gavel, the legalist has forgotten his real place in the defendant’s chair.

Though there is some truth to the charge of Christian legalism, it would be equally in error to suppose legalism the result of Christian doctrine as it would be to suppose fascism the result of being German. If there was one thing that drew the ire of Christ, it was the religious hypocrisy and legalism of the Pharisees. Christ was, first, Savior and, second, the great anti-legalist; and to be Christian without following Christ is (crudely) even worse than being French and having no regard for cheese. Legalism is as much a thorn in the side of Christianity as it is annoying to the skeptic. Nevertheless, the skeptic, being predisposed to believe anything that might serve to justify his skepticism, will eagerly take any example of abuse and hold it up as doctrine. Thus, every Christian becomes a hypocrite, a Pharisee, an Inquisitor, and a Crusader; for the rejection of a faith which produces moral abominations is clearly much easier than one that produces Pauls, Livingstones, Müllers, Elliots, Bonhoeffers, and Liddells. The late Mr. Hitchens said quite soberly that religion poisons everything. It is difficult to take such statements seriously. That some religions poison some things is certain, but I think I should just as soon point to unruly school children as evidence that education poisons everything. Nevermind that atrocities are committed only in spite of Christ’s example; the skeptic would have us believe that He is at best a fiction and, at worst, Lucifer himself.

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The Regression of Progressivism: Chasing Ephemeral Carrot Sticks

If among the political factions into which America has carved itself there is one point of agreement, it is that one ought to seek progress above all else. I am well aware that it is precisely the differing opinions about just what the word “progress” means that form the party lines, but it is nonetheless the one truly common interest. It is for this reason that we must suspiciously regard any political sect that seeks to absorb the word “progress” into its title, as if this were not also the goal of every one of its competitors. It is as good as a sports team calling itself “The Winners” or adherents to secular philosophy, “Brights”; it is at best presumptuous, and at worst compensation for some real deficit.

Progress of any sort, if we are to avoid talking nonsense, is impossible if there is not some understood End towards which we are advancing. Practically, such an End may be arbitrary, and even a cursory historical survey will reveal that men have never found themselves at a loss in contriving plenteous and contradictory goals for which they are willing to sacrifice themselves (or, more likely, everything and everyone but themselves). Napoleon sought to attain land above all else; the Nazis sought to attain racial purity above all else; the American Revolutionaries sought to attain liberty above all else; and it is against these sort of Ends that every other action within a particular paradigm is weighed.

As it concerns progressivism, we must ask: just what does it regard as its supreme goal? Doubtless, in asking a hundred different progressives one is likely to get at least two-hundred different answers, but we may at least look at the cause as it has manifested itself thus far. One may take its regard for human life, for example; for “progressivism” is in this case really only a moral regression. It is a morbid fact that progressives cheerfully offer up the lives of children on the altar of “personal liberty”. It is made worse by the fact that they think they have done something truly revolutionary in human history, and all, quite ironically and reprehensibly, in the name of moral and political “progress”. The Canaanites were sacrificing their children to the Baals long before even the Greeks decided (very progressively) to leave theirs to die in the elements simply for convenience’s sake. Having more sophisticated instruments for such tasks only serves to advance one thing: efficiency; and it is the combination of moral depravity and efficiency that has birthed such monstrosities as Auschwitz. If societal efficiency is itself the goal, as it is with bees and ants and any other swarming creature, the progressive movement is very dangerous indeed; for there is no barbarity too great so long as it is committed in the name of the colony. There is not one vice which cannot be made more efficient through either science or politics.

On the subject of economics, the progressive is rather unsure how he feels about the matter. Though he feels strongly that he wants money (and as much of it as possible), he knows just as strongly that people who actually do possess a lot of money should not have it, or at least not as much. He seeks to raise taxes, but only on those who have more money than himself. He maintains that one ought always to act charitably towards the impoverished, but only when coerced by the state. He believes that the government exists to provide him with a job, and, if it fails, to pay him anyway. If there is something he cannot have, neither should anyone else; after all, it is only fair. Thus, progressivism is really just a kind of socialism masquerading under a different guise.

If liberalism was the correction of tyranny, progressivism is its vast overcorrection.

It might be suggested that not everyone desires political progress (in the case of anarchists and the politically apathetic, for example); but the anarchist merely regards the dissolution of the state as the height of political progress; that is his goal. It is his carrot on a stick, so-to-speak. As to the politically apathetic, I am fairly certain there are really no such persons, at least in an absolute sense. There would be none so unreasonable as to greet the Gestapo with a shrug of the shoulders and invite them in for tea; apathy meets its limit precisely when the state’s encroachment becomes impossible to ignore. It is then when apathy undergoes a fierce metamorphosis: it is changed in an instant from a grub into the fiery butterfly of revolutionary fervor. One who asserts his political apathy is like the Pompeiian who claims indifference to volcanoes: Either he will wake one morning to find his indifference suddenly buried under a heap of ash, or he will not wake at all.

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Postmodern Baby Strollers

Having previously swallowed the bitter pill of modernism, contemporary society, apparently having found lacking satisfaction in the acceptance of false truths, has given up the trouble of assessing propositions and seen fit to dispense with the idea of truth altogether. The embrace of the postmodern paradigm, properly understood as it pertains to the alleged relativity of truth, is an act as impossible as erecting a house without a foundation; but considerations of consistency have not seemed to bother its adherents or in any way slowed its societal advance.

The contemporary postmodern is at every turn plagued by contradiction. He regards tolerance as the highest virtue, though he grants himself a special exemption insofar as it concerns his treatment of the exclusivists. He will argue until he is blue in the face that, since there is no truth, arguing is pointless. He knows absolutely that we can know absolutely nothing. He repudiates morality on the basis of his own moral law. In the same breath he praises science and spurns the metaphysics on which science necessarily relies. He is worse than a pot calling a kettle black; he is a pot denouncing the very idea of cooking ware.

Postmodernism has in politics come under the auspicious title of “Progressivism”, and its spindly fingers have left almost nothing untouched; and whatever it has touched, it has turned squarely on its head. I mean, of course, that supreme guiding principle of American and European politics: political correctness. For instance, in thinking that by tolerating everything they are elevating the virtue of fairness, postmoderns have got it exactly backwards; for fairness is necessarily based on the assumption of justice, and justice must have some Standard. Though it knows nothing, postmodernism knows, at least, that words like “Standard”, “absolute”, and “universal” are only deserving of contempt. Thus, there is hardly any exception for which the postmodern or progressive is not perfectly happy to make a new rule. Nevermind that swimming is enjoyable, we must do away with it to prevent drowning. Nevermind that cake is delicious, it must be forbidden lest children become obese. Nevermind that young boys have always pretended to shoot each other, they must be suspended lest they become murderers.

I once saw a warning on a baby stroller that said “REMOVE BABY BEFORE FOLDING”. While I appreciated the manufacturer’s willingness to provide assistance to what must certainly be the most modest of intelligences, I wondered that it did not also say “DO NOT LEAVE BABY UNATTENDED IN AIRPORTS, STREETS, BARS, BEAR CAVES, ABORTION CLINICS, OR VOLCANOS, ETC”. But, more likely, the manufacturer was not trying to be helpful at all but was only taking precautionary measures against a potential lawsuit. A society in which a person can fold their own baby into a stroller and not only attempt to sue the manufacturer of the stroller, but win, has certainly not got long left.

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