On Women in the Infantry

Credit: npr.org

Credit: npr.org

Given the current zeitgeist, that all-consuming vigilance by the Politically Correct for any perceived infractions of equality, the fact that women are now being considered for the infantry should come as no real surprise. Though current social and political trends have already laid a firm groundwork for such an effort (e.g. the recent repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy), it is nonetheless remarkable.

The Marine Corps recently asked the female lieutenants of a graduating class from The Basic School for volunteers to attend the Infantry Officer Course. Of the eighty eligible females, two stepped forward and were promptly admitted into the extremely rigorous course. The first lasted a single day; the second was dropped for medical reasons after about two weeks.

I have met one of these two brave women, and of the soundness of her motivations and determination I have no doubts; neither do I doubt her capability as a leader. Indeed, her willingness to even step into such an environment is worthy of admiration; for it is no secret that men in the infantry are largely hostile to the notion of women joining their ranks. It is not like stepping into a den of lions; it is like stepping into a den filled with men who kill lions for a living.

But this hostility is not unfounded, and I would count myself among the detractors from this new attempt at inclusiveness. There are reasons in principle against it, but having served in the infantry, I have also witnessed firsthand some practical reasons why the admission of women into the infantry is in my estimation unquestionably foolish.

The first is perhaps the most obvious–that of sexual attraction–which involves more broadly the issue of unit cohesion. This could be more generally be called the sexual dynamic. On my first deployment (Iraq, 2007-08), while stationed with about a dozen or so male Marines at a small Entry Control Point (ECP), teams of female Marines (Female Engagement Teams or “Lionesses”) were brought daily to our outpost to aid in searching the Iraqi women who passed through the checkpoint. For obvious reasons, men are not generally permitted to search Muslim women. The Lionesses’ ability to conduct the job assigned to them and the degree of their work ethic were, as is the case with Marines generally, very high.

However, I began to observe Marines, primarily those in the higher echelons of the pecking order present at the ECP, who were otherwise very professional, begin to act like utter fools in a very primitive and obvious attempt to impress the only American women they had seen in months. The constant attempts to woo female Marines were so blatant as to be almost unbelievable. In one particularly puerile case, a team leader deliberately threw a bottle on the ground within sight of some of the female Marines sitting at an outdoor table and ordered one of his subordinates to pick it up, presumably to demonstrate his qualifications as the alpha male.

While one might be tempted to dismiss this debacle as being only a personal immaturity on the part of certain Marines–which is certainly true, to a degree–the point is that these antics were simply the unrestrained result of an unavoidable biological attraction. As has been the case since the beginning of time, men and women are attracted to the opposite sex; and no amount of training, classes, protocols, nor professionalism can ever hope to change this fact. One may certainly be able to behave professionally in spite of a sexual attraction, but one cannot change the propensity to attraction; and it is the energies that must be expended to exercise such discipline that are potentially problematic, given the nature of the combat environment. To use a vulgar and admittedly imperfect analogy: one may train a dog not to eat a treat, but one cannot without great difficulty (and harmful consequences, besides) train a dog not to want a treat. Any readers tempted to complain that I have just equated men or women with either “dogs” or “treats” have missed the point entirely.

In speaking of the sexual dynamic, one need not think only of the explicitly sexual kind of behavior. Even if treated well, men and women naturally treat each other differently. It is important to note in stark contrast to the shrillest voices of the feminist movement that “differently” is not synonymous with “badly”. Men are naturally disposed to be protectors–specifically, protectors of women–just as women are naturally disposed to be protectors of children. In this regard, the presence of women on the battlefield inevitably produces an unhelpful dynamic, since men rightly experience a strong desire to protect women from harm. Thus, this predisposition would potentially result in a male Marine treating a female Marine differently than his male counterparts in the heat of combat for her sake; and in combat, one is rarely aided by additional variables.

This dynamic is especially aggravated in the types of environments inherent to the job of infantryman, where one is often forced to live in close quarters with very little personal space (if any) and at great length. This is a difficult environment in which to operate, and is only made more so by the introduction of the sexual dynamic. For example, when men living in such circumstances inevitably become irritated with one another, the most effective and efficient solution is sometimes the physical one; namely, a solid blow to the face. Two Marines may engage in a heated argument, come to blows, then in five minutes’ time resume their friendship, or at least a working relationship. Such bouts are infrequent and rarely personal. This is a relational dynamic unique to warrior cultures, one that has always struck me as both amusing and profound. Introducing women into this brutish but effective system is to beset it with unnecessary complication. A male Marine would not wish to strike his female counterpart, even in extreme anger; but he would wish that she were male so that he might. Interpersonal conflict resolution among infantrymen is usually of the more diplomatic sort, but women are (and ought to be) exempt from the possibility of this violent avenue of conflict resolution. Moreover, I seriously doubt any women seeking to join the infantry would even wish to be admitted into the full range of barbaric practices that come with the territory. Responding to a female interlocutor’s question, “Do you believe in the comradeship between the sexes?”, G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Madam, if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade, you would turn me out of the house.” I think he was quite right: the notion that women can or would want to be in every way like “one of the guys” is unrealistic and absurd.

It is clear that there is no more physically demanding job in the military than the job of the infantry; it is equally as clear that women are, generally, physically weaker than men. This objective biological difference is precisely why the standards for men and women sometimes differ in the military. In the Marine Corps, for instance, women are required to perform flexed arm hangs in lieu of pull-ups for the Physical Fitness Test, quite simply because they are easier. Further, even given these lower standards, the rate of attrition for females in Marine Corps schools, such as Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, is drastically higher than that of males. As Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio cites in her article, “Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal”:

“At OCS the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent. The same trends were seen at TBS in 2011; the attrition rate for females was 13 percent versus 5 percent for males, and 5 percent of females were found not physically qualified compared with 1 percent of males.”

This is a consistent trend due to the unalterable biological differences between males and females, and it should be unsurprising to those without presuppositional biases to the contrary.

While it is true that there are some women who are quite capable of doing twenty pull-ups without breaking a sweat, perhaps even some capable of making it through a course like the IOC, some of these biological differences are unchangeable and yet significant. For example, the male skeleton is bigger, which provides an inherent advantage, since larger bones are generally stronger. Stronger bones are less apt to break. Males also experience muscle atrophy at a lower rate than females. In her aforementioned article, Captain Petronio attacks the inclusion of women in the infantry on the basis of physical longevity, citing from experience her observation that her male counterparts experienced physical deterioration at a slower rate than she in prolonged adverse circumstances. Naturally, in combat, physical strength and durability are factors of grave importance.

For exactly the same reasons that males and females in the military currently have segregated quarters and bathroom facilities, reasons as obvious as they are practical, women in the infantry would necessarily require additional amenities. It is in every way proper for women to have separate facilities, but in combat environments this is not always feasible. It is, however, a burden; and with women present, a necessary one.

I will forgo the list of potential physical ailments which befall women alone in the field, but suffice it to say the list is long–longer, I might add, than those which afflict men. Similarly, hygiene is a much more complicated endeavor for women. This is a significant logistical problem insofar as it concerns the need for certain types of additional medication and time to recover from medical problems that would otherwise be absent from a fighting unit.

There is also the issue of capture. Though rare, the matter must at least be considered. Despite the many horrible forms of torture an enemy fighter might be inclined to inflict upon a male prisoner, rape is rarely one of them; yet it is perhaps the most devastating, and history has proven it to be one of the first inclinations of depraved men possessing female prisoners. There are already circumstances in which female troops have been vulnerable to capture, even times in which they were captured (e.g. Jessica Lynch); but just what is to be gained by increasing their exposure and risk? I certainly do not think this matter alone is enough to prevent women from joining the infantry; it is but a small part of the cumulative case.

The central argument of the case for female infantry is that we ought not discriminate on the basis of gender. This is because gender is alleged to be an irrelevant factor concerning the infantry occupation. I hope I have given enough reason to suggest the naïvité of this view to those who do not already oppose it on the basis of common sense, but it remains to be pointed out that the military discriminates on the basis of unalterable factors all the time. For instance, pilots for certain aircraft cannot be taller than a specific height, due to the small size of the cockpit; yet, strangely, one does not hear of lawsuits calling for more accommodating cockpits. Absurd as this would be (though it would be on par in stupidity with a profusion of other actual lawsuits), a cockpit is a thing much more easily altered than the nature of ground warfare itself, which is exactly what would require changing in order to make the inclusion of women in the infantry a good idea.

Given that the presence of women among the ranks of the infantry potentially poses significant difficulties, it is quite relevant to consider just what role a woman might fill that cannot be fulfilled (in many cases more successfully) by a man. This suggestion will undoubtedly be unpopular, but unpopularity is a poor gauge of soundness. Women are indistinguishable from men in their ability to lead, solve complex problems, and, perhaps, even kill. It is not on these grounds that I express dissent, but on the basis of those that cannot be overcome by any amount of willpower or training; namely, those intrinsic to sex and biology.

Since there is no shortage of capable men for the job and no intrinsic female qualities beneficial to the infantry occupation that do not also come paired with serious detriments, one must wonder just what practical military benefit the United States seeks to achieve by seeking to include women among the ranks? America is a country of principles, but it is also a country that has historically been practical. To act solely on principle (especially on erroneous principles), is to act foolishly, particularly when it concerns delicate matters of life and death. Combat is intensely practical. It cares nothing for principles. It is a deadly dance of practical gamesmanship that the man acting on principle is certain to lose. Carl von Clausewitz noted–correctly, I think–that “war is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst” (1). Indeed, it is kind and good to open the door for a woman, but it is something less than kind if on the other side is a battlefield.

Evidence of the pervasive perversion of equality in our day is that this essay shall be taken by some to mean that I think men and women are unequal. This is untrue. Men and women are equal, but not the same. Equality has to do with intrinsic value, whereas I am here concerned with practical differences. Thus, the fact that men are generally more suited than women for the unpleasant rigors and brutalities of warfare does not mean that men are better than women. It means that men and women are each better suited for different kinds of occupations. Given the nature of the job in question, one involving life and death and sometimes in the most adverse circumstances conceivable, these differences are not to be dismissed lightly on the basis of philosophical principles of political correctness alone, without compelling practical reasons in support.

The ACLU, being an organization devoted solely to principle, has recently filed a lawsuit seeking to remove all gender-based restrictions on combat occupations. While well-meaning, the ACLU’s attempts will certainly be thought laughably naïve by nearly all infantrymen who have experienced significant time in the field. Perhaps as a test case the NFL ought to welcome all willing female players onto its teams and into its locker rooms. I should be quite surprised if a single season were not enough to cure the participants of any previously ambitious desire to “hang with the boys”, or, likewise, to join the infantry. The woman who claims to want equal treatment with her male infantry counterparts not only will fail to receive it, but is ignorant of what she is asking. The front lines of the battlefield are devoid of women for many of the same reasons the football fields are: virtually no women have any desire to participate, and the ones that do are unqualified to play against men. If the idea of integrating women into the NFL is ridiculous (and it is), integrating women into the infantry can only be more absurd. Any women who readily acknowledge the difficulties their presence would create in the infantry, yet persist in seeking admittance on the basis of principle are disgracefully selfish–they do not have in mind the best interest of the country, but the attainment of their own personal goals.

The rejection of gender roles, or even gender differences, is the central tenet of the contemporary hard-line feminist, who either cannot accept the idea that men and women generally possess significant and objective differences, or, in the most extreme cases, thinks that women are inherently of greater value than men. To the former, I suggest a cursory reading of Gray’s Anatomy; to the latter, a hug.

But not all women seeking to join the infantry would call themselves feminists in either of these two senses. Some are simply patriots up for a challenge. As to their offer, I say, respectfully, “thank you, but no.”

Notes:

1.) Von Clausewitz, Carl. On War. Book 1, Chapter 1. 1832.

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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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Tactical Voting

Concerning the election of individuals to public office, there often arises a situation in which voters are presented with a certain kind of moral dilemma; namely, a dilemma in which there are at least three potential candidates: one whom one really wishes to win, one who is undesirable, and a third, much better than candidate number two but not as strong as the first, who is more likely to actually win. Should one vote for the candidate he thinks is best, at the risk of splitting the vote and causing a total loss; or should one compromise on certain issues and vote instead for a partial, but more certain victory? This dilemma forms the basic premise for game shows in which contestants are forced to choose between taking the quick cash or risking everything in order to potentially win much more. Insofar as it concerns elections the question is a valid one.

The man wishing to vote on principle would assert that, for the sake of one’s conscience, one ought to vote for the very best candidate; but perhaps such a response is too hasty. In the case that projections of the potential winner are truly uncertain, the decision is simple. However, if one votes for the best candidate knowing that the vote is likely to be wasted, is it truly the higher good? If it turns out that the worst candidate wins because of a split vote, is not at least some degree of regret merited? One might ask Ross Perot’s former supporters. Or, consider the man who, having grown disillusioned with the reigning political parties in a two-party system, and knowing his vote for a preferred independent candidate would be wasted, chooses to fold his arms rather than dignify the status quo by casting a vote for less than his druthers. He is like the child who, having been denied cake, chooses on principle to forgo his dinner. The point is made but the hunger remains.

It should be noted that a person’s refusal to vote is not the same thing as opting out of electoral influence. On the contrary, a person must necessarily influence a given election; for in every election the non-voters play as much a part, if indirect, in influencing the outcome as the voters themselves. Inaction is just as susceptible to blowback as action. My decision not to drink anything has symptomatic consequences distinct from my decision to drink only whiskey, but it has consequences nonetheless. In this case, inaction is but a vote in a different guise. Regardless of one’s intentions, it is in practice a vote for the candidate with the advantage.

Regrettable as it is, effective politics cannot be conducted without a shrewd understanding of political tactics. (Regrettable because pure motivations and sound doctrine are almost never enough to achieve victory in today’s political climate). By ‘tactics’ I do not necessarily mean unethical political maneuvers, but all those of which a keen grasp will aid a politician in achieving his goals. This is why candidates undertaking a campaign often have large staffs, replete with advisors, analysts, and various other experts, in order that they may take the steps that will best enhance their chances of winning. Though the nature of contemporary politics and campaigning seems in many ways to encourage the use of contrived efforts to manipulate voters, it is not necessary to do so – at least, not in an unethical way – and it is a reality we must accept. Given this state of affairs, responsible citizens must often make difficult electoral choices in light of the knowledge available to them regarding the political atmosphere.

I do not buy the contemporary libertarian line that says both major parties are entirely but distinctly broken. But even if I did, it would not alter the fact that someone will lead this country come November. If we must have a flawed leader (and we must), we had better choose the flaws with which we are willing to live. Let us not sink proudly to our deaths beneath the banner of “principle”.

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In the Halls of the Vatican

Having recently had the privilege of visiting Europe, I was gratified to find myself in a great many churches and cathedrals, many of which have stood in some form since the Middle Ages or the Enlightenment. In only rare instances were these buildings not absolutely magnificent works of art in every respect: from the architecture, to the stained glass, to the sculpture and the paintings. If there is one thing the United States lacks, it must be a rich, complex history spanning millennia; nothing, save the ground itself, is very old.

At the Vatican in particular, I found myself in both the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica under the spell of an awe akin to that of gazing at the stars under a perfectly clear night sky: not a square foot was devoid of a masterpiece. “Truly,” I thought, “this is one of the most impressive sights I have ever witnessed.” And while it is possible that my inexperienced senses might be easily overwhelmed, I would hazard a guess that only a brute, cold to beauty, could look upon such a scene unmoved.

Looking round, unable to escape the feeling that I was incapable of the degree of appreciation due such work, my thoughts first dwelt in almost equal measure on technical curiosity (I have done only a little painting), the historical significance of such a collection, and the grandeur of the aesthetics themselves. I readily acknowledged that the skill and acumen necessary to produce something with the beauty and depth of Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgment could only be the result of true genius.

But after the impress of these other contemplations had run its course, they were momentarily eclipsed by a more fundamental reflection: To what purpose is all this?

In pursuit of this inquiry, the diverging paths on which my mind had trod now began to merge into a single track. Where I had before only admired, I now bid Rome to give an account of her actions.  Gazing still upon the marbled and gilded halls, my thoughts ran thus:

For what was all this made? Was it that man might revere God, or that he might submit himself to the glory of Rome? Were such exorbitant commissions weighed solemnly against the plight of the starving? Or were Rome’s marbled halls too thick to admit of their cries? Was this “pure and undefiled religion” (1)? Does God look upon such extravagance in the name of “the Church” with favor or with contempt?

I thought that what had begun as the Body of Christ had become captive to a host of ghoulish intruders: Humility had been bound and gagged, and on her throne sat a loathsome successor: Power; while Reverence and Superstition exchanged amorous glances beneath the Pope’s unheeding eyes. Truth had been drowned in holy water and garroted with rosaries, and the stench of its corpse was masked by the scent of countless candles offered to legendary saints whose cold stone visages stared fixedly upon an innocent and expectant congregation. Tradition stood tall and triumphant upon the rubble of what ought to read “sola scriptura” (2), proclaiming boldly the authority of “the Church” and beckoning all to submit on bended knee beneath her gilded scepter. The good done in the name of “the Church” (and there has been much) had been accomplished that all might stand in awe of her good graces and bow to kiss the rings on her benevolent hand. Faith she had forgotten, and Works reigned supreme. Under the weight of a withering but quiet oppression, Salvation had become a pledge of allegiance to Rome’s glory, to her “Sacred Tradition”, and to her Pope.

The frescoes had turned strangely pallid before my eyes.

I considered the similar perversions which had in different guises afflicted the Protestant denominations, wondering if my Reformed upbringing had in some way grafted upon me an illegitimate bias; for surely there were errors in every church (3). No, I concluded: Where heresy had crept subtly into Protestant congregations a mere Christianity (4) firmly called all to repentance. Yet here in Rome was a perverted Doctrine enthroned, honored, and worshipped; a thing of human manufacture; a deadly mix of truth and myth and lore offered at the feet of a maternal goddess. Catholicism was not all bad, I avowed, but this had made it that much more dangerous; for, like Eve, she had succumbed to a tantalizing fruit with a deadly core by inclining her ear towards an insidious serpent. Where Rome should have driven a fierce heel into the serpent’s head, she instead fed it crumbs underneath her banquet table and called it “Sacred Tradition”.

Yet, there were qualities for which Rome could not be faulted. She had not embraced the common sin of either apathy or irreverence, but had simply misdirected her allegiance; nor had she fashioned Christian doctrine into an abstraction, only corrupted it in places and exchanged it with her own. I thought she had only to dethrone her false gods and she would be welcomed back from her prodigal wanderings with a chorus infinitely more joyous than even her choirs could produce.

As I wandered amidst the throngs out onto the monumental steps of that magnificent building and sat down among the columns of its courtyard, I was reminded of a passage from Charlotte Brontë’s Villette:

“Oh, lovers of power! Oh, mitred aspirants for this world’s kingdoms! An hour will come, even to you, when it will be well for your hearts – pausing faint at each broken beat – that there is a Mercy beyond human compassion, a Love, stronger than this strong death which even you must face, and before it, fall; a Charity more potent than any sin, even yours; a Pity which redeems worlds – nay, absolves Priests.” (3)

Rome, though you are dead, you might yet live. The God whom you claim to serve beckons you home; you need only heed the knock. (5)

 Notes:

1.)  James 1:27

2.) “by scripture alone”

3.)  Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1853.

4.)  Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1952.

5.)  Revelation 3:20

On the Nature of Rights

In speaking with advocates of some social or political cause, often one need not wait very long before the central justification of it is unearthed: “Well, it’s our right, of course” – a phrase which is not uncommonly uttered in such a way as is intended to make the inquiring party seem at least a little foolish for not having recognized this apparent fact at the outset. There seems to be a tendency to appropriate the term “right” too capriciously, however, apparently in view of its practical evangelistic value in lending to a cause some moral import, yet often in the absence of consideration of what the term actually means. We are told, for example, that access to marijuana is a social right; that socialized healthcare is a human right; that abortion-on-demand is a woman’s right; and, in every case, we are told these things with the implication that anyone who infringes upon these principles is guilty of some real moral infraction. If such infractions are indeed possible, then it is clearly of value to attempt to understand just what is a right. It it the aim of this essay to investigate some considerations relevant to this endeavor.

Rights can be understood, generally, in two ways: natural (what one might appropriately call “moral”) and civil. A civil right is a protection granted by a government or state, in which the state is understood to be the highest authority to which one can appeal in the case of transgression; that is, it is a protection codified in law, applicable to citizens of a particular state, but which is not necessarily considered to be applicable universally (1). For instance, a land owner might appeal to the law in seeking to prosecute those trespassing illegally on his property. In this case it is his civil right, granted by relevant state law, to prevent unwanted persons from stepping onto his property (it is only “his” property by civil right, also; as opposed to being his by virtue of some transcendent claim to ownership). His appeal may be upheld in court, or it may be struck down. If it is struck down, the land owner may challenge the ruling; but in the case of what he deems an unjustified rejection, he cannot possibly hope to hold the government accountable solely on the basis of his civil rights alone, but must appeal to some transcendent Principle. The Principle to which he appeals may, practically, be a rational ideal with respect to some particular end (i.e. self-interest or some other purpose which may be either empirical or subjective), but to be “transcendent” is to refer to its universal applicability to rational beings with respect to some real ontological ground. (2)

If, in this case, such a Principle exists at all (the example is purely hypothetical), it must be understood to be a natural right. Such a right is “natural” in that it is intrinsic to every rational being (person), so that, while a state may recognize it by inscribing it into law, no state has the power either to create or to annihilate it. This is precisely what was meant by the writers of the American Declaration of Independence in describing certain rights as being “inalienable.”

In contrast to civil rights, natural rights are not law, but Law; that is, they are metaphysical and in every way as immutable, universal, and eternal as the laws of logic. They differ, however, in that they possess the component of duty, since, if such rights exist, every person is inescapably bound by a moral necessity to uphold them. (3)

Moral values are conceptual subdivisions of the Moral Law in its totality. A natural right is a moral value stated in the form of a protection. For example, justice, aside from considerations of its administration in particular cases, is universally regarded as a moral value (4). One might frame it this way: “It is always morally good to treat other persons at least according their deserts.” (I say “at least” to leave room for the values of mercy and grace.) Stated as a right, it might read thus: “It is every person’s moral obligation to act justly with respect to other persons”; that is, every person is protected (in principle, not in actual circumstances) from injustice by a transcendent Moral Law. Every natural right is framed in such a way as to make it a protection against transgression of some moral value.

But how can natural rights be understood to exist? The answer is, I believe, tied to one of the most fundamental questions of philosophy: whether or not God exists (5). “God” is here understood to mean the greatest conceivable being. If God exists, then he exists necessarily, by virtue of his own nature, in every possible world.

While one might appeal to something like platonic forms as an explanation of natural rights, it is my view that God serves as at least a plausible, if not necessary, ground for the Moral Law and, therefore, rights; for a Moral Law necessarily implies Consequence; that is, either reward or punishment for compliance or transgression respectively; and Consequence cannot be understood without respect to some Law-Giver (or else some brute platonic principle). Those incredulous of such a claim need only consider the nature of moral values in order to realize this fact. For instance, to use our previous example, justice is conceptually meaningful only in the context of persons. Imagine a state of affairs in which no rational beings exist. Where, then, is justice? Can inanimate objects be either just or unjust? What would it even mean to assert that justice exists as an entity in the absence of rationality? An attempt to describe the nature of justice without the context of rational beings, so far as I can tell, is incoherent; and if there is any conceivable state of affairs in which justice does not exist as a transcendent moral value, it, like any other moral value, is clearly not metaphysically necessary in and of its own nature. However, if one does affirm justice as being a transcendent moral value (i.e. part of the Moral Law), then in the absence of a philosophical presupposition to the contrary, one must regard some Person as at least plausibly being its ontological ground.

In a state of affairs in which no Moral Law exists (we will call this a materialistic universe), it is difficult to comprehend how there can be real universal moral indictments of any person whatever; for the existence of natural rights is the necessary fundamental justification for indicting individuals or states in any case where they are perceived to have transgressed the Moral Law (e.g. the Nazis) (6). The question, then, is whether it is possible, or even coherent, for a Moral Law to exist in a materialistic universe.

In such a state of affairs, there is only one place for the materialist to turn in seeking justification for natural rights: reason. Given that the principles of metaphysics we refer to as the Laws of Logic are understood to exist necessarily, it is the only realm which contains any potential for establishing a foundation for natural rights. This was Kant’s endeavor, to establish morality firmly on the basis of reason alone, such that one should “act only according to that maxim whereby [one] can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law” (7). This was Kant’s “categorical imperative.”

However, reason is itself morally neutral and can be used to justify ends that are morally contradictory. G.K. Chesterton, in his book, Orthodoxy, described this potential contradiction in the context of madness:

“The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense, satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed especially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. . . . If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators, which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. . . . Nevertheless, he is wrong. . . . Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. The lunatics’ theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason” (8).

Kant said that rational beings must be viewed as ends in themselves, and not merely as means to an end; but on what basis are we to suppose that, if empirical or pragmatic concerns are to be discounted, there is any such moral obligation to view rational beings in such a way? If I do indeed view other rational beings as ends in themselves and act accordingly, by what Principle have I done anything of real moral worth? In order to differentiate between Good and Evil, there must exist some Standard. This Standard is the Moral Law.

Empirical and pragmatic concerns must necessarily be discounted as possible ontological foundations for natural rights; for they are inherently arbitrary (or, at least, not metaphysically objective); and reason, as we have seen, fails to provide adequate justification for real moral obligation, since it is morally neutral and therefore incapable of Consequence.

Thus, if God does not exist, it is impossible to assert any meaningful appeal to some right or “higher” ideal than that which is given by the state, or that which is otherwise a convention. Indeed, in a materialistic universe, there is no ideal, whether moral or otherwise, which can be understood apart from, or above, convention; for in every case would the conception of morality owe its existence to a cause or an end that is not metaphysically necessary (i.e. it could have been otherwise). Yet, any natural right to which one may make a meaningful appeal is inextricably tied to an ontological ground which is metaphysically necessary (e.g. God). For example, given materialism, a belief that rape is morally good cannot be disputed except by appeal to civil law, pragmatism (i.e. it hinders some subjective goal, such as human “well-being”), or outright opinion, each of which is inherently arbitrary. An appeal to apparently universal tendencies or beliefs supposedly invested in humans by natural selection might form the basis for an appeal to objectivity, but not necessity, and certainly not Goodness; for evolution could potentially have invested humans with moral beliefs in direct contradiction to those we currently possess.

Natural rights, then, are only reasonably grounded in God. To summarize, the argument may be formulated thus:

1.) God is the only explanation for the Moral Law

2.) Natural rights only exist if there is a Moral Law

3.) Natural rights exist.

4.) Therefore, God exists.

Now, given that rights are always stated in the form of a protection against moral transgression, how might an appeal to, say, universal healthcare as a natural right be formulated? (We must assume that such appeals are made on the basis of natural, rather than civil rights in the effort to achieve legal change, since it is impossible to appeal to civil rights which do not yet exist.)

1.) Persons possess a natural right to live.

2.) One’s health is directly related to one’s ability to live.

3.) Therefore, every person is morally obligated to contribute to every other person’s health. (This is, presumably, the guiding principle of proponents of universal healthcare, though it is clearly impossible for practical reasons to contribute to literally every person’s health.)

One need not consider this argument long before hitting upon several significant problems (though, perhaps the argument could be better formulated). First, to claim moral obligation with respect to something as unquestionably vague as another person’s “health” is quite a slippery slope indeed; for one could quite easily make a case for how just about anything could contribute to some facet of a person’s health. Second, given that contributing to another person’s health would require some positive action on my part; namely, providing financial support, it makes itself out to be not a protection from transgression, but a veritable enslavement. That is to say, one is alleged to have violated the Moral Law by not actively contributing to another person’s health. One might illustrate the insanity of such reasoning by any number of examples.

For instance, if we grant that the right to life is indeed a natural right, one can easily make a case for a right to self-defense. In the American Constitution, this right is recognized in the form of the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms) (9). However, an extrapolation analogous to that used to justify universal healthcare would suggest that other people are morally obligated to in some way contribute to my ability to defend myself; namely, by providing, or paying for, effective armament of some sort. Citing the police force or the military as such a contribution would be incorrect; for they do not and cannot cover every situation in which I would require self-defense as thoroughly as universal healthcare would, at least theoretically, regarding my health. For example, if I have a natural right to life, I have a natural right to defend myself in any situation in which my life is being threatened without just provocation. The police cannot possibly hope to protect me in every such situation or even in the majority of such scenarios. However, universal healthcare is supposed to apply to any and every situation in which my health requires attention, even to those aspects of “health” as remote as contraception. Therefore, in order to bridge the gap between the potential protection of my life by the police and the much more likely case that my self-defense will depend on some means directly available to me (e.g. firearm, tazer, knife, etc), one is forced to admit (if consistency is to be valued) that the public is under moral obligation to in some way contribute to my ability to defend myself. In other words, one has broken the Moral Law if they do not either pay for my armament or provide it directly. Also, in view of the specific provisions of the recent Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which levies a tax upon those refusing to purchase the government’s flavor of healthcare, should one be taxed, according to our previous example, for not contributing to every citizen’s personal armament? This is manifest nonsense; yet it is but the consistent application of the arguments implied by the movement to achieve universal healthcare.

Clearly, the example of the appeal to universal healthcare as a natural right, if I have accurately described it, is absurd and in no way such a right as they are generally understood to exist. The common trend of exchanging the word “privilege” for “right” owes its explanation, in my opinion, both to a genuine ignorance as to the very meaning of the word “right” (and how it differs from “privilege”), and to a recognition of the fact that one is only likely to get what one wants by use of the latter. The use of the term in the context of healthcare is but one example of its unscrupulous appropriation.

Thus, we have seen some general considerations, at least, of the nature of rights, though I have only but scratched the surface of the subject. In view of the frequency with which appeals to rights of any sort are made, we would do well to inquire of those from whom such appeals originate as to just what is meant. Indeed, in doing so we shall in some cases find that the word “right” is but one of many terms bandied about thoughtlessly for the purpose of personal or political gain. However, for those interested in truth and honesty and consistency, a more careful approach is warranted.

Notes:

1.) A civil law may be a natural right, by virtue of having been officially recognized (but not created) by the state, but in such a case the duty to uphold the law must necessarily find its ontological ground in something that transcends the state (i.e. the Moral Law).

2.) An “ontological ground” is that to which any thing, whether physical or metaphysical, owes its existence by virtue of an explanation of its being; that is, its foundation in reality.

3.) That is morally necessary which must be affirmed by the will (the disposition of the will is formed prior to, or at least simultaneous with action) or else incur fault in transgressing some real Moral Law to which all persons are beholden. There can be no such moral necessity, or duty, if there is no Moral Law, but only subjective inclination, the formation of which is shaped by arbitrary (not universally binding) criteria (e.g. a person may regard cruelty to children as evil, but in the absence of a Moral Law, his belief is as arbitrary as the cause of his belief, which may owe its being to genetics, social convention, or some pragmatic end).

4.) I would maintain that justice is universally regarded as a moral value because it is, in reality, a moral value; and not simply the product of an evolutionary or social mechanism (a convention).

5.) Leibniz declared the most fundamental question of philosophy to be: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” However, if God exists at all, he exists necessarily, such that it is literally meaningless to ask “why” God exists. Therefore, to ask whether or not God exists is, in effect, but to put forth another formulation Leibniz’s question.

6.) Curiously, (though not, in my view, surprisingly), even those that decry the existence of the Moral Law appeal to it, in many cases simultaneously with their denunciation and without the slightest hesitation.

7.) Kant, Immanuel; translated by James W. Ellington [1785] (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed., Hackett. pp. 30.

8.) Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, Norwood, MA: Pumpion, 1908.

9.) It is worth noting that there is no such Constitutional Amendment regarding universal healthcare.

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Atheistic Moral Realism (part 1)

In discussions concerning the ontological foundations of objective morality, there has traditionally been an understanding among atheists and theists alike that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. The word “objective” is being used here to mean that the ontological foundation (being) of moral values is not rooted in or subject to opinion or belief. This acknowledgement lay at the heart of nihilism, in which Nietszche famously proclaimed the death of God and, consequently, the destruction of any objective foundation for morality or meaning. Likewise, the French existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre, reflecting upon a statement uttered by a character in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1880), says:

“Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself…. Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimize our behavior.” (1)

Elsewhere, Sartre argues that value is attached to the choice itself, such that “…we can never choose evil.”  (2)

The affirmation that God’s existence is the necessary prerequisite for objective morality is still frequently recognized by many atheists as being consistent with materialism:

“The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.” (3)

“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.” (4)

“The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns their ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some transcendent ground, are they purely ephemeral?” (5)

Stated formally, one could construe the argument against objective morality this way:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. God does not exist.
  3. Therefore, objective moral values do not exist.

While the second premise possesses a clearly insurmountable burden of proof, most atheists are content with arguments in favor of its plausibility rather than its certainty; and the inability to prove the truth of a negative does not render the argument invalid.

For many years, atheists nearly universally maintained the validity of this argument (or some variation thereof), but it has recently been scrutinized by such figures as Sam Harris and Richard Carrier, who have sought eagerly to make a case for the objectivity of moral values apart from the existence of God. While the attempt is undoubtedly worthy of some admiration in its intent, being an overt recognition that there is such a thing as “good” and “evil,” and therefore at least attempting to provide some sort of meaningful foundation for morality and ethics, the justification for the case made in its favor is suspect.

The basis for morality, suggests Harris, is the “flourishing and well-being of conscious creatures.” That is to say, that which contributes to the flourishing of conscious creatures constitutes the Good and that which harms conscious creatures is Evil. But this seems merely to define the “good” to mean “the flourishing of conscious creatures,” such that “…it makes no sense at all to ask whether maximizing well-being is ‘good.’ He continues: “It seems clear that what we are really asking when we wonder whether a certain state of pleasure is ‘good,’ is whether it is conducive to, or obstructive of, some deeper form of well-being” (6).

And yet Harris seems to have ignored the deeper question with which we are immediately presented: what good reason is there to think that the flourishing of conscious creatures actually is morally Good? An arbitrary definition certainly cannot constitute any kind of ontological ground; and if Harris’ definition is not, in fact, arbitrary, then by what criteria has he fashioned it? If there is such a thing as Good and Evil there must be a Moral Law by which to distinguish one from the other. The question, then, granting as Harris does that objective moral values exist, is not “what is good?,” since this concerns moral epistemology; rather it is “by what Standard do we differentiate between Good and Evil, and why is it the Standard at all?”

The flourishing of conscious creatures cannot be the Good simply because we, as conscious creatures, desire it. This seems an obviously insufficient ground; for desire is inherently subjective. Even so, a universal desire does not constitute an ontological foundation for why one ought to do anything. Indeed, Harris acknowledges that our apparently universal desire to flourish cannot itself form the foundation for the Good: “We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us” (p. 101). In other words, there is no necessary correlation between that which we desire and that which positively affects our flourishing. This seems evidently true; for one’s desire to achieve happiness through the use of methamphetamines, for example, will eventually end in ruin.

But again, why think that the “good” is that which contributes only to the flourishing of conscious creatures, rather than unconscious creatures, or why the “good” must involve flourishing at all? If materialism is true, are not we all destined for utter annihilation? Musing upon such thoughts, Soren Kierkegaard wrote:

“If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?” (7)

Whence comes goodness? And life? And consciousness? “From the abyss,” answers the materialist, “And to it we shall return. But cheer up.”

Sources:

1. Sartre, Jean Paul, “Existentialism and Humanism,” French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, ed. Leonard M. Marsak (New York: Meridian, 1961), p. 485

2. Sartre, Jean Paul, “Existentialism,” Reprinted in A Casebook on Existentialism, ed. William V. Spanos (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1966), p. 279

3. Taylor, Richard, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84

4. Ruse, Michael, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 262-269

5. Kurtz, Paul, Forbidden Fruit. Prometheus. 1988, p. 65

6. Harris, Sam, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York: Free Press, 2010) p. 12

7. Kierkegaard, Soren, Fear and Trembling (Penguin Classics, 1985), p. 14

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A Rejoinder to Mr. Holloway

The following was printed as a letter to the editor of the Ruston Daily Leader on February 5, 2012, titled, “Man speaks out against alcohol sales”:

This is a response to the Jan.16 column by Mrs. Jessica Darden and the December City Council meeting:

First, I would like to address the City Council meeting held on Dec. 5. I have never been to a meeting that was any more insignificant than the one held on Dec. 5, 2011.

From before the meeting began, I was told that the vote was already decided and would be three to two against the majority of those present and, I believe, the majority of this city. The meeting was a waste of time. I learned that if you are a business in this town, what you want and say matters, and if you are a resident, your views are of no interest to the council.

We were actually told that the best thing that had happened in Ruston was the expansion of alcohol sales here nine years ago. Although no study had been done and no evidence was presented by the restaurant association, we were led to believe that the glorious growth of alcohol was the most progressive event in the last decade in Ruston. That may be one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard, with zero facts to support it. In fact, a study was presented from LSU that says the expansion of alcohol will never be a financial winner for a city. Only the ones who pay the most taxes matter and the people who live here may as well shut up and sit down. I hope the people of these districts remember that the next time they vote!

My second response is to Mrs. Darden, who in her column printed on Jan. 16 said that all of us “Bible Belt” people were all wrong. She said their generation needed to be allowed to make their own mistakes, of course she is assuming they live over this one. Unfortunately, a number of students traveling down the frontage road did not live over their mistaken choices. She said young people are going to drink whether it is legal or illegal. Well, using that reasoning, we could say that young people will always steal automobiles so just leave your keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked to make it easier on them. Is it really a gain during a recession as she says? It seems to me that during a recession, there is a greater need to purchase gas to get to work, food for the table and utilities for the home instead of going out on Sunday to get a buzz! One last thought is when she said “Let’s join together … to see just how much of an impact can be made right in our backyard.”

I like that slogan of “let’s join together,” and I want to invite the, I guess we will call it the “Bible Belt Crowd,” to join together and voice your displeasure with this expansion of liquor on Sundays, which us old Bible Thumpers call the Lord’s Day. I am asking all who claim to be Christians to choose to use your money wisely on Sundays. I know that I will support the restaurants that support family and faith over finances.

– Mike Holloway

This is my response, which was printed this morning:

Having read Mr. Holloway’s letter to your paper on Sunday, February 5, which concerned his displeasure with the recent changes to the law formerly prohibiting all alcohol sales on Sundays, I wish to make a few comments.

As a follower of Jesus, I have found myself consistently bothered by any language or practice which seems to have at its root a sort of religious legalism. (By “legalism,” I mean portraying in black or white actions that are in reality gray.) Whether or not Mr. Holloway subscribes to a form of legalism, it is precisely this sort of discomfort which a reading of his remarks elicited from me, and it is that which I wish to address.

First, Mr. Holloway seems convinced that legislation prohibiting alcohol sales will in some way either compel the citizens of Ruston to conform to the tradition of attributing to Sunday a special, but arbitrary, significance, or that it will prevent alcohol abuse. I argue that it will accomplish neither.

Concerning the former, it seems hardly appropriate to use the force of law to deny access on a single day to that which is perfectly legal on the six other days. I assume that Mr. Holloway would not suggest we reinstate Prohibition. In the case that the majority of citizens in Ruston wished to observe a special reverence for Sunday, it seems curious to me that a law should be necessary to enforce it. In the case that most citizens do not attribute a special significance to that particular day, the injustice of such a law seems greatly magnified, given that it forces on the whole the religious convictions of the minority. Such laws succeed, but only in falsely construing Christianity as a religion in which there is greater emphasis on religious tradition than on faith in Jesus. No law will ever change the heart, and people forced to conform to aspects of a religion to which they do not adhere naturally do not think favorably of it. One cannot legislate others into having reverence for God (not that reverence for God is dependent on abstaining from alcohol).

Secondly, it is not at all clear that a law prohibiting alcohol sales on Sunday will in any way deter people from consuming it, much in the way that laws prohibiting firearms at schools do nothing to prevent shootings. While I appreciate Mr. Holloway’s concern in wishing to prevent alcohol-related deaths, I see no reason to think the old law was successful in accomplishing this; but even if it were, it does not occur to me why dying from drunk driving on Sunday is somehow worse than suffering the same fate on Friday. Stockpiling enough alcohol to last one through Sunday seems an easy enough task, but I’ve known people to drive as far as Athens to acquire it. People who wish to consume alcohol, will, and if it is neither illegal nor sinful to consume (not abuse) alcohol on other days, I see no good reason whatever to attempt to prevent the practice through legislation.

My last and greatest concern is that the old law has the potential to misconstrue Christianity. Jesus was relentless in condemning the legalism of the Pharisees, pointing out that they cleaned the outside of the “cup” but ignored the inside. Perhaps my failure to understand the difference between Pharisaical legalism and laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sunday is simply due to my being obtuse.

Mr. Holloway places a special emphasis on Sunday, calling it the “Lord’s Day,” and asking Christians to “choose to use [our] money wisely on Sundays.” I would like to go even further and encourage Christians to use their money and their judgment wisely every day. Is not every day the “Lord’s Day?”

“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” – Collossians 2:20-23

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Faith in Faith

I have occasionally encountered bumper stickers on cars or little decorative hangings in living rooms that say, simply, “Believe,” and every time part of me shouts inwardly, “…in what?” It is akin to hearing the last note of a song that does not resolve properly, which leaves one in a frustrated anticipation of the proper final note.

Though it is often seemingly regarded as profound, as a command to “believe” it is utterly meaningless, being altogether devoid of a context that would allow one to decide in what to believe, since it is just as possible to believe, for instance, that lying is a virtue as it is to believe that it is a vice. It is precisely the type of decoration one would expect to see in a home inhabited by people who have embraced a postmodern worldview, in which “truth” is that which one fashions for himself. Postmodernism or relativism regards the act of merely believing, of having faith in anything, as a virtue, and it has no regard for discerning what corresponds to reality because “truth” is neither objective nor absolute. As long as one has a belief, whatever it may be (though presumably not the belief that postmodernism is false), one can be a good postmodernist. Faith, and not its object, is what counts, and in that sense postmodernists embrace faith in faith.

Something so vague and ambiguous is to be expected of people who consciously affirm a relativistic philosophy, but it is even more curious when it is displayed by Christians. A bumper sticker on a Christian’s car that only says, “Believe.”, achieves exactly nothing aside from succeeding in making their car look tacky. Believe in what? In who? Jesus? Buddha? Allah? The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

It is a small thing, perhaps, but it seems to me to be just another example of the descent into the postmodernist milieu.

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