Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving: we have celebration day for it every year.  It’s a very American holiday, and it is deeply ingrained in our culture.  We devote a day just to thanksgiving - at least that is what we claim.  You wouldn’t think it would be all that difficult.  But it turns out to be difficult than you might first think.

Think about what the origin of the word “holiday.”  It is a day that is, for some reason or other, “holy.” Besides the demands that holy things can make on us, there are other reasons why “holy” days can make people a little uncomfortable.

The existence of the “holy” implies the existence of God.  When you start talking about God, try as you might NOT to identify this God, it becomes very hard to avoid that question at some point.

A “holy” day brings up this very question, a question asked and answered very often in the Old Testament: just who is God?  Is everything God?  Are human beings their own god?  Are there lots of gods, one for one locality and a different one for another locality?  Holidays bring up these very sticky questions that a lot of modern people would just rather avoid.

Still, people love “holidays” because we get to change our routines and can, if we allow ourselves, have a little rest from the normal “grind.”  So we run into a very interesting, and somewhat depressing, modern phenomenon.  People want  holidays, but we wish they were just “days” and not “holy.”

I have noticed how this has been handled lately.  Christmas has become just “the season” for which we send “season’s greetings.”  It’s a pretty slick trick if you think about it.  You don’t have to bother about that worrisome, politically incorrect “Christ” part of Christmas.  Thanksgiving has faired no better.  It has become “turkey day.”  But this nifty little arrangement takes the “thanks” out of Thanksgiving.

There is, however, a little milder version of the holiness avoidance syndrome (you can call this H.A.S. if you like).  This milder version keeps the word thanksgiving intact, and it even let’s us talk about being thankful, but we just don’t specify TO WHOM we are being thankful.  While you can try that, at some point inquiring minds want to know, “thankful to whom?”

For those who think much about it (and many do not) Thanksgiving Day and the whole season is a traumatic experience for our society.  The old saying tells us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the apostle Paul tells us that the skids to hell are greased with thanklessness.  You can find that in Romans 1:21.  People are sliding down those horrible rails all the time.  Again, there is no excuse for this, but if you think about it, it has a certain kind of understandability because thankfulness is very hard for us humans.

Thankfulness is especially difficult when we have so much stuff.  We are so accustomed to our abundance of stuff that we don’t even realize just how much stuff we really have.  When I take a moment to think about it, I am awed by what I see in department stores and supermarkets.  Almost anything you could ever want is there, and even those of us the most modestly provided can buy everything we need and much of what we want.  The only reason we don’t notice this abundance is that we are in the habit of having.

Even people like my parents, who lived through the “Great Depression” (hey, what was so great about it?) were VERY aware of abundance when they were young adults.  But the memory of depravation is fading, even with some of them.  Those of later generations have no memory of depravation.  Let’s face it - we have STUFF, so much stuff, in fact, that it rather engulfs us sometimes, making us unable to move around in our houses, making it impossible to see some of the best things in life.  That doesn’t make stuff somehow evil.  It just reveals that we can be.

You might think that people with very little stuff would have a more difficult time being thankful.  But surprisingly, the Bible presents just the opposite picture.  Notice what the Apostle Paul says:

    Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  (1 Tim 6:17)

It is those with much who are more likely to be ensnared by thanklessness.  That’s a little ironic if you think about it, but it’s true.  It’s not only true, but especially dangerous for Christians in our society, because we have all the stuff, and we also have salvation that comes from the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving Day is a good idea.  But if you think through what it implies, it is not easy, because it makes us think about the things that often make us the most uncomfortable.  But that is part of what makes it a good idea.

Have a very happy and very uncomfortable Thanksgiving!

Thursday, September 8, 2016


It is the perfect example of matters gone very wrong on university campuses and across America.  It’s the “Welcome White Week!” poster at NKU.  Both the Cincinnati Enquirer and The Northerner (NKU campus newspaper) carried stories about it this week.

Before I begin, I know this example is about race, and race is something that can be discussed only in approved terms and categories these days.  But it is not just this example that interests me.  It is, rather, a whole attitude of what can be said in public about many topics.  Race is just one of those.  So we will wade into this in spite of the prohibitions.

The gist of the matter is this: African American Programs at NKU placed officially approved posters around campus which read “WELCOME BLACK WEEK” in which the “O” is replaced with what appears to be a black power clenched fist.  There is at NKU a welcome back week for students in general, which is presumably the basis of this poster.

But, after these posters were in place, someone placed alongside each of them a poster which is very similar except in place of “BLACK” is WHITE” and the clenched fist in “WELCOME” is white rather than black.  At this, a demonstration was directed at which the president of the university spoke words of sympathy and encouragement for the protestors.  And, as you might guess, the university had more official response:

    University spokeswoman Amanda Nageleisen said the “Welcome White Week” flier did not go through university approval process with the Student Union and the student organization named is not active or registered with the university. There is also no record of any of the events on the flier scheduled at NKU.
    “We’re still looking into it,” Nageleisen said, “but all signs point to this not being a legitimate organization or flier or activity.”
    She said the fliers first came to university's attention Tuesday and they were quickly removed, mostly by students.

I have no idea of the motive of those who posted the parallel white welcome posters.  But for my purposes, that does not matter.  What does matter is this interesting, even distressing, situation in which we find ourselves in which a poster with “BLACK” in it receives official approval from a university, which a parallel one with “WHITE” receives implicit and explicit condemnation.

For example, one department at NKU offered this statement:

“African American Programs and Services stands in solidarity with students, staff and faculty who were offended by the intolerant flier created by individuals who chose not to embrace the recent 'Welcome Black Week' activities.  Moving forward we value and respect dialogue regarding all viewpoints and will create educational spaces to build awareness and move towards the common good.”

Which is it, AAPS?  Is this poster intolerant, something at which we should be offended, or is it a viewpoint that you will “value and respect”?  That is the kind of question that universities have not been able to answer coherently for a long time.

There is, of course, a horrible history for black people in this country.  How could it have been otherwise when most of their ancestors came as kidnaped slaves?  But that problem will never be solved by trying to create a society in which you can’t post a “WELCOME WHITE WEEK” poster.  After all, isn’t a university supposed to be a place where all ideas get an equal hearing, even the bad ones?

While that is how it is often billed, it is not that way now, and has not been that way for a long, long time.  This incident just puts an exclamation point behind that problem.

According to the reports, at the demonstration, “students, both collectively and individually, discussed the underrepresentation they feel on campus and the challenges they face as black students.”  Under represented?  Perhaps, but while admitting that I do not know all the details here, there is a complete “Office of African American Student Affairs” at NKU.  Not every ethnic background has such an office there.

Junior James Johnson, one of the organizers of the demonstration, was quoted as saying, “The ignorance that stands on NKU’s campus is no longer acceptable.  It’s starting to become deliberate. Just like this person who deliberately copied our flyer.”

I would say to James that, while I don’t know the motives of those behind the “Welcome White Week!” poster, it has nothing necessarily to do with ignorance.  And of course the copying of the “Welcome Black Week” poster was deliberate.  That was, obviously, the whole point of the thing.  It could just be someone’s way of saying to those who don’t want to hear it that the emperor has no clothes.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The “He’s Not Hillary” Argument

I am more than a little upset with those who voted for Trump in the primaries.  Some of them are friends of mine, and I am sorry if this angers you, but I can’t change that.

It should not have taken long to figure out that Trump is nut job candidate.  The "he is not Hillary" argument is worthless when the guy who is not Hillary is Trump. I try to listen to him, but he sounds like someone who has never put two rational thoughts together.

My son attended a Trump rally recently.  Some of the things said there, with the encouragement of those who organized the rally, were reprehensible.  They were things that should not be said in polite company, let along in public.  Screaming about who you hate is not something that attracts people to a cause or a candidate.  (And there was plenty of that at the Trump rally, according to my son.)  The tenor and behavior at the Trump rally was not something that would even attract conservatives.  Who thinks it would attract those who are undecided?

Who can predict what a president Trump might do.  He seems to change his mind almost daily.  He has spoken strongly during his campaign about using protective tariffs to punish certain counties.  Do we understand that tariffs are a tax on us?  Do we understand that protectionism was a key factor in the Great Depression of the 1930s?

Having a lot of brass and sass might be OK if a candidate were advocating a consistent set of good ideas.  But Trump seems to have no idea what his ideas are, why he holds them, or if he might change his mind (if he has one) in the next few minutes.  Who can expect reasonable people to vote for the package that is Trump?

So I am ready to announce that, should Hillary be elected, it will be due to those who voted for Trump in the Republican primary. There were other choices - there always are. You folks made a very bad choice.  Did you not know what you were voting for, or did you just not care?

So now, the realistic possibilities (third parties just don’t get elected) are the mafia-like Hillary (no offense to the mafia intended) or the incoherent maniac Trump.

We might all have to suffer the consequences, no matter who is elected.  I hope you Trumpers are happy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

We Don’t Approve Your Disapproval

The list of things we can’t talk about continues to grow.  I am thinking here of behaviors that not so long ago were generally disapproved, but that are now being forced onto that list of things of which we must not dispprove.

First came homosexual behavior.  Next came the pretense that marriage is even possible between two people of the same sex.  Now comes the act of behaving as though you are male when you are in fact famale, or vice versa.

This is not to say that these kinds of bad behaviors are not human tragedies.  But that is not the point here.

The point here is that there is almost a mania lately for this strange and contradictory phenomenon of encouaging, and even demanding, the condemnation of those who disapprove of things that almost everyone once knew are bad behavior.  And that “once” is often not that long ago.

This approach is both insidious and a bit of genius.  Once you convince most people that it is wrong to dispprove openly of something, a very large obstacle to the promotion of that something has been removed.  What better way to do this than to convince most people that the only really bad thing is the open expression that something is a bad thing.

The latest example is the whole transgender business.  People may think what they will, of course.  But when women who wrongly believe they are men want to dress up like men, insist on being called men, and watch me take care of private business in the men’s restroom, we have a problem.

Not so long ago that problem, and others like it, had some built-into-society controls.  All those amounted to vaious ways people would openly disapprove of certain behavior.  These ranged all the way from verbal expressions of disapproval to how we associated with others.

Most of those avenues of disapproval have been successfully shut off in a massive campaign of the disapproval of disapproval.  From gradeschool classrooms to the strong arm of centralized government, disapproval has been banned.  The whole weight of society has been re-engineered to disapprove of disapproval.

That this is a blatant contradiction seems to be of little weight.  The open disapproval, especially of whatever has become the latest fad of misbehavior, must be stopped.  Disapproval, at least of those things, is something we must be convinced, or even required, to vehemently and vigorously disapprove.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Could Less “Safety” AND Less Diversity Be Better?

There is an interesting article in FEE today titled, “Safe Spaces Can’t Be Diverse.” It is very reserved in tone, pointing out the rather obvious point that “We don’t need to dismiss either ideal to recognize that a space’s safety and its diversity will be inversely related. The more you have of one, the less you must have of the other.”
In case you have not kept up with such things, there is a recent demand by some college students to make colleges and universities “safe” spaces. They are not talking about safety from gunfire. The continuing policies of most universities that prohibit firearms make it a relatively sure thing that evil people who want to gun down others will have an easy time of it on most campuses.
The “safe” places here are places free of any ideas that make people feel offended or even uncomfortable. Like many stupid trends in society, advocates of “safe” spaces have not always realized that “safe” and diverse are in conflict. Long before people were fretting about “safe” spaces, “diversity” had been enthroned as the god of the university.  Now people are starting to notice you can’t have both.  But what about going for less of both?
What slips between the cracks in this whole discussion is this: there is nothing wrong with a society that mostly, at a purely social level, in some way shuns or socially disapproves those who insist on behaving badly. This is not a matter of governments making laws about such things, far from it. It is about people expressing general disapproval of bad behavior, and even bad ideas.
As Paul the Apostle, Aristotle the philosopher, and many others throughout history have recognized, our wills are weak. Social “nudging” in the right direction can be a very positive thing. This all requires, of course, that we can know what the “right direction” is. But, if we can, such nudging will involve a reduction of both “diversity” and “safety” in the senses mentioned above. And that reduction would be a good thing. I intend to explore this matter in more detail.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Of Courts, County Clerks, Gutless Officials

We have a problem and it is a serious one.  The national government decided to define marriage in a manner contrary to the nature of marriage.  As if that were not bad enough, it is not even the case that all the branches of our three-branch central government did this.  One branch, the Congress, had reaffirmed that marriage is what it is: something that involves one man and one woman.  What makes this situation even worse is that it was five members of the nine-member judicial branch who decided to redefine marriage.

Just to remind us, the crux of what Anthony Kennedy said was this:  “Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”  He got to this conclusion first by pointing out that marriage has changed over time.  For example, we generally don’t have arranged marriages and we now allow inter-racial marriages.  So if marriage is changeable, we should be able to change it in any other way some wish, or so claims Kennedy.  Of course, arranged marriages were still marriages, as are inter-racial marriages.  They required a man and a woman.

But the crux of what Kennedy claims is that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person” so that the Fourteenth Amendment requires that those who want to “marry” the same sex have a “fundamental right to marry.”
The pretense of appealing the Fourteenth Amendment as the grounds for this redefinition are non-sense.  If a state decides to issue certificates of recognition to the owners of horses, no one has been treated “unequally” if that state refuses to issue such a certificate to the owners of dogs.  If it needs stating, this is just because dogs are not horses, no matter how much anyone, including Anthon y Kennedy, wishes they were.  Marriage is what it is.

The fact that Anthony Kennedy and a few of his cohorts decided they do not like the nature of marriage is not the real problem.  Anthony Kennedy thinks all sorts of things that do not comport with reality.  The real problem is that we have forgotten what to do when something like this happens.

Well, not quite everyone.  Because there was one, small, insignificant little county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who refused to go along with the great and powerful.  She refused to issue marriage licenses to those who, in fact, cannot be married.  She was doing exactly what the Constitution of Kentucky required her to do.  After all, she is a clerk of Kentucky.

But as Nathaniel Darnell reminds us, even in the case of officials of the United State, “Under Article VI of the Constitution, each official must take an oath to uphold the Constitution, not a judge’s possibly faulty view of the Constitution.  Otherwise, the oaths are effectively to the judiciary.”

But what are almost insignificant little state officials like a county clerk to do when they do their duty rather than the will of Anthony Kennedy?  As Constitutional lawyers Herbert W. Titus and William J. Olson point out:

“In a better time, a President could have explained to the American people why the Fourteenth Amendment has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, and protected her. Failing that, Clerk Davis should have been able to call on her state’s Governor to protect her - to interpose between her and the five Justices.”

Many people have never even heard of this idea, but it is not new.  It goes back at least to the Reformation era when Martin Luther went head-to-head with the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.  The Emperor would have executed Luther, but a more local official, the Elector of Saxony, protected Luther by putting the power of his position between Luther and the Emperor.  That is, the Elector of Saxony “interposed” himself between Luther and the Holy Roman Emperor.  The Reformers generally adopted this approach because, rather than being and exercise of anarchy and lawlessness, it was one official correcting another official.

Our system of government was designed with this sort of idea defining its very structure.  As either Hamilton or Madison put it in Federalist No. 51:

“In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

In other words, in case you missed it, in order to have many officials at multiple levels who can protect the rights of the people, we (supposedly) have not just a republic divided into somewhat competing branches.  We also have a “compound republic” with “two distinct governments” - the United States government, and the governments of the states.  And like the United States government, the governments of the states have competing departments.  Why have two governments, each with sub-divisions?  One reason is to have a lawful way to control things like an out-of-control Anthony Kennedy.  It is a system designed to be inefficient, in part to provide for the protection of the powerless.

So far the system has not worked in the case of the imprisoned Kentucky county clerk.  Could the system work?  We will never know until the other branches and divisions of our governments are populated with something other than the gutless wonders (like the current governor of Kentucky, just for one example) who now inhabit them.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Thank God for the Anti-Federalists

In the era when the U.S. Constitution was being formulated, there was a rather large and significant group, usually called anti-Federalists, of those who thought it was a bad idea. They are often seen today as an obstacle that had to be overcome to give us “the United States.” I dissent from that view, and instead thank God for the anti-Federalists. They undoubtedly helped mitigate, as least somewhat, the erosion of our liberties today.

To illustrate this, come with me to merry old England. Recently, as reported here:

Mike Overd was convicted under the Public Order Act after he quoted the Bible when preaching about homosexuality in Taunton in June 2014.  The judge at Bristol Crown Court said Overd should not have used the Leviticus 20:13, which uses the word “abomination” . . . Overd has been fined about $200 and is required to pay another $1,300 in costs and compensation to a homosexual man, who was listening to Overd preach.

As far as I can determine, this would not stand in the United States: not yet, at least. Why?

Because of my beloved anti-Federalists. They were opposed to the Constitution in varying degrees, but one thing most of them did agree on was that any constitution needed a “Bill of Rights,” that is, a list of specified areas of liberty where the government to be created under that Constitution may not interfere.

It is not that the Federalists of the time were against liberty. They simply saw no need for a Bill of Rights because they thought they had put together a Constitution of specified, and thus limited, powers for the central government. In other words, according to the Federalists, the Constitution states what the central government can do, and that clearly means it can do no more.

The anti-Federalists resisted rather vigorously, to the point that, to placate them to some degree there was something of a gentlemen’s agreement that if the Constitution were ratified, the first order of business for the new government would be amending said Constitution to add a Bill of Rights.

The British have no Bill of Rights, partly because they have no written constitution. So when the regime there decides that freedom of speech and freedom of religion must bow to social engineering, there is nothing to stand in the way.

Our government has an increasing record of simply ignoring, or creatively reinterpreting so as to eliminate, or Bill of Rights. A couple of them have simply been ignored throughout most of our history. But they have provided a barrier of some kind against things like not being able to cite Lev. 20:13 in public so as not to offend someone.

You can easily imagine that, apart from our Bill of Rights, you would not be able to do all sorts of things that our social engineering state finds objectionable. Our Bill of Rights does not always protect us because, as mentioned before, sometimes it is just ignored.

But even now, and at some key points, our Bill of Rights does keep the hounds of statism in check. And for that you can thank God for the anti-Federalists.