When is it a Fallacy? (Part One)

So, those of you who know me should know that I was on the debate team in college, which means that the concept of “logical fallacies” got brought up a lot. This concept is also something anyone who has spent more than five minutes arguing on the Internet should be familiar with, but let’s define our terms. There’s not really a universally-agreed upon definition beyond “error in reasoning,” but that should suffice for our purposes.

However, the problem with discussing logical fallacies is twofold. First, there’s the fallacy fallacy–the idea that because an argument for a notion has a fallacy in it then the notion is automatically wrong. We’ll discuss this later, as it happens. Second, there’s the problem of figuring out when a logical fallacy has been committed, and when someone is actually making a relevant point. I’m hoping that this series can get some good discussion going on this.

Here’s how it’s going to work: the logical fallacies used will be pulled from this website (which is somewhat obnoxious, but still useful), generally at a rate of one to three per post. Each logical fallacy will have the dividing line between it and a logical argument developed, as well as a discussion of those times when the logical fallacy may be deployed as a reasoned argument.

So, to begin with, let’s start (and finish, for today) with the slippery slope fallacy. This is one of the more notable ones, second only to ad hominem in terms of hollering it being considered a good substitute for refutation.

In essence, the slippery slope fallacy is “Well, if we allow x, then we have to allow y if we want to be consistent, and do we really want to allow y?” This conveniently avoids explaining why x, which the majority of the audience might want, is bad by associating it with y which the majority of the audience probably doesn’t want, and is therefore fairly common in political debates. It should be noted that like most of these fallacies, people will denounce others for using it then turn right around and use it themselves–for example, an online argument I observed where one person who had pooh-poohed the idea that Obamacare would result in a single-payer system said she refused to support banning partial-birth abortions because it would give the hardcore anti-abortion crowd momentum to ban all abortions. It’s generally obnoxious when people do it, and it tends to damage legitimate debate.

However, there’s an issue with this altogether negative portrayal of the notion. The fact of the matter is that one thing, generally speaking, does end up leading to another, so long as the generally-held logical premises for the first thing apply to the other thing. The key division between a slippery slope fallacy and there being an actual slippery slope towards something is whether the logical premises involved are the same. For example, it would not be a slippery slope fallacy to point out that the “consenting adults” paradigm under which the current society views marriage almost demands acceptance of polygamy, because consenting adults can do such a thing. It would, however, be a slippery slope fallacy to claim that eventually the “consenting adults” paradigm will cause acceptance of pedophilia, because one of those parties is not an adult. And it should also be pointed out that, on both sides of the aisle, those who squeal “slippery slope” the loudest are the ones pouring tubs of warm butter on the incline.

But anyway, the fact of the matter is that the slippery slope idea, as outlined above, is really only useful for critiquing the reasons behind a specific notion, rather than the notion itself, like many of these fallacies. For example, pointing out that someone advocating looser gun laws on the grounds that people should be armed the same as their government would have to support private individuals holding main battle tanks, fighter jets, and nuclear weapons is valid. Claiming that this means that looser gun laws are a terrible idea is an example of the fallacy fallacy. In this regard, it is basically only useful for debating on why a specific policy measure should or should not be implemented, rather than whether or not it should be implemented.

So, that wraps that up. I’m not sure what I’ll do next, but it’ll probably be one of the better-known ones.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Concerning SCOTUS

So, to begin with, let’s begin by establishing that we’ll be talking about three rulings in this post, not just the homosexual marriage one.

1. The disparate impact ruling wasn’t covered much in the media due to the homosexual marriage ruling, but it was kind of important. While it did not get rid of the notion of disparate impact, it did make the criteria for establishing malintentioned disparate impact more stringent, which can’t help but be good for everyone. The court is finally moving towards sanity on dealing with race-based discrimination–i.e., innocent until proven guilty, rather than the other way around, like with everything else in our society.

2. The death penalty ruling was…interesting, but not especially groundbreaking. Suffice it to say that the court still finds that the death penalty is still constitutional.

3. And, what you’ve all been waiting for–the homosexual marriage ruling. First, anyone surprised, shocked, or panicked by the ruling really hasn’t been paying attention to the fact that Anthony Kennedy is the most pietistic Catholic in modern jurisprudence–yes, even Sotomayor is less so than Kennedy.

Second, this ruling unfortunately makes sense under the current cultural paradigm through which we view marriage. And yes, it is a cultural paradigm, not the absolute truth. Deal with it. Anyway, the current conception of marriage is that its purpose is solely  to make the individuals involved happy.

Raising happy, healthy kids in the best environment possible? Great side bonus, but not really important.

Basic building block of society? Why should I care?

Any sort of religious notion or other tradition? Hah!

How do I know this is the prevailing ethic, you may ask? Because no-fault divorce, which means that a marriage may be ended at any time, for any reason, exists. At the point where a society has such laws, it has chosen to claim that marriage is a purely personal institution, based around that relatively nebulous concept called “happiness.”

Now, a moment for clarification here. There is a rather large middle ground between the present attitude towards marriage and the “arranged marriage” idea as practiced in much of India and elsewhere. A robust societal conception of marriage would prioritize the happiness of the individuals involved, seeing as happy people tend to be better at raising functional kids–and also, it’s usually bad when people are unhappy–but would include all of the other items mentioned above as well. And no-fault divorce would not exist.

I’d go more into what that means, but that’s a blog post for another day. Suffice it to say that we have an excessively individualistic view of marriage, and that such a view lends itself to…expansion of the combinations of persons involved.

Now, the ramifications should be obvious. For one thing, we’ll get to see how many homosexual pairings decide to act on the new ruling. For another, we’ll get to see how much resistance gets put up to it–expect lots of surreptitious feet-dragging, states de facto doing civil unions, and a lot of RFRA-like laws being passed over the next few months as well.

Longer term–depends on who you ask. I’m not going to speculate, at least not here, except to say that I’ve always known that I don’t live in the world as I would have it or the world that is to come, but in the world that is. And it would behoove everyone to remember that when reflecting on any of these decisions.

‘Til next time,

Lowell

So…About That Flag (Part Two)

So, in part one we went over the origins of the Confederate Battle Flag and its use during the American Civil War. Now we’re going to talk about the post-Civil War history of the flag and what to say about it today.

Anyway, the flag ended up being incorporated and nodded to in numerous Southern state flags after Reconstruction ended, and the homages were seen as part of the process of the South controlling itself instead of being controlled by carpetbaggers. That this involved disenfranchising black people en masse would have been a little awkward for people capable of seeing past the end of their noses, but the people in charge of all this nonsense, as usual, really couldn’t.

And now we’re going to skip ahead to the 1950s and 1960s, because that’s the part living people remember and where things get really, really awkward for people who want to think of the flag as a symbol of resistance against tyranny. Here’s why.

The only Confederate flags that weren’t somehow related to the Civil War Centennial (and even some of those) were being waved by racists and segregationists demanding the right to treat black people like they weren’t real people. This was propagated by the Ku Klux Klan, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, numerous state governors, and various other notables. And the state of Georgia threw it into their state flag for the same reasons. To boot, a lot of people still use it now for those reasons. The Southern Identity movement, the League of the South, the Klan…there’s a lot of that going around. And all of this more recent history, which is what most people who despise the flag remember, renders non-racist interpretations of the flag exceedingly difficult to present to an audience from outside the South–or a lot of audiences within the South.

Now, remember the first part of this post. A lot of the ordinary people who fly the thing choose to remember guys like Cleburne and Lee, who were basically honorable men who served an exceedingly dishonorable cause because they didn’t quite get what cause they were serving. They legitimately don’t see it as a declaration of white supremacy.

“How could they not?” is the cry I hear. Well, if you don’t make a detailed study of Reconstruction, the Klan, the Civil Rights Movement, and hate group symbology, it’s really not that hard. By comparison, it’s kind of like the people who wear Che Guevara t-shirts unironically, without knowing that he was a psychotic failure.

This, however, is countered by the fact that, in the minds of tens of millions of Americans, the Confederate Battle Flag is associated, not unjustifiably, with being a racist jerk.

Let me put it another way. If you didn’t actually bother to read Cleburne’s proposal that I linked to in the previous post, I’m going to give you the opportunity to read it again, because you really should. It’s a masterpiece of writing by one of the most honorable men on the Confederate side of the war as he desperately tries to get the Confederate government to figure out that as long as they continue to support slavery, they will not have independence, and that it would be better to have to deal with four million free blacks rather than to be ruled by the North. The money quote is towards the end of the thing, when he and his co-signers write “It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny…” and, given the rest of the statement, probably actually mean it.

Not in the letter is the part when Cleburne got whacked with the clue-bat of the fact that most of the civilian leadership of the Confederacy really thought that winning the war without slavery wasn’t really better than losing, much like the Battle Flag has come to be a symbol of racism.

If you fly the Confederate flag without racist intent, you are in the role of Patrick Cleburne. You have your own motivations, honorable ones–to honor your kin, or the valiant dead, but in the broader picture you are fighting for a cause unworthy of you.  We should keep it on the battlefields where it flew, and on the memorials for the Confederate dead, and in the living history museums, for under that flag many did not fight to keep the black man in his place, and to eradicate it from those places would be to deny the reality of history.

But keep it out of your yard, unless it is a Confederate cemetery. Keep it off your truck, just in general. There are so many better ways to express defiance of overweening government than to fly the flag of a government that instituted conscription before its opponent did and was based on being tyrannical to a large portion of its populace.

But despite the hypocrisy and opportunism of those denouncing it, despite the hysteria of comparisons to the swastika, despite the fact that many of the people demanding its removal would demand mine if they thought they could get away with it, we should remove the Confederate Battle Flag, in its present form, from anything that is not dedicated to the preservation of history and its memory, for the sake of the public discourse, if nothing else.

As for myself, if I’m going to fly a flag other than the American one, I’d rather it be this one:

We can have the discussion about Constantine later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To my brethren in this sign: let this be our banner in all things. Let us never fight for causes that we are better than, but only for causes that we are worse than. For those are the only ones worth fighting for.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

So…About That Flag (Part One)

It’s time for a history post, because there is far too much heat coming into this debate from people whose only exposure to the American Civil War, and its causes and effects is what they got in school or from what they heard on the news or strange websites on the Internet. So, a brief history of the Confederate Battle Flag is in order.

Let’s begin by stating what should be patently obvious: the proximate cause of the American Civil War was slavery. Full stop. Everything else, from tariffs to states’ rights to farm vs. factory, is secondary, and oftentimes caused by the slavery issue.

How do we know this? Well, of the original seven ordinances of secession, two of them, Texas and Alabama, specifically mention issues involving slavery, while Virginia’s alone of the last four states to actually secede did. That is only three of the eleven, but look you further. There were also several Declarations of Causes made as well–those of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas all list slavery as the primary issue involved. So, of the original seven seceding states, five all mention slavery as the primary cause of secession. Florida also had one, but never published it, and while there is economic talk, there’s a lot of slavery talk there. Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina might be able to receive the benefit of the doubt, although support for secession tended to correlate to slaveholding. Louisiana–they didn’t publish anything, but it was one of the epicenters of American chattel slavery. What do you think?

As a side note, by the way, it would be excellent if anyone who is from or whose ancestors were from New England would kindly be silent on the topic of secession. Two words: Hartford Convention.

Anyway, the Confederate Constitution is essentially a copy/paste of the original American one, except with one Presidential term of six years and the direct inclusion of slavery instead of euphemizing it in the hopes that the thing would go away, and explicitly protecting slavery, “negro slavery” in particular. Awkward, that. In fairness to the last four seceding states, they didn’t draft it. They did, however, agree to join it.

Now, here’s the part where things get messy. A lot of Southerners fought for reasons other than slavery, and there’s actually some evidence for this. See Robert E. Lee’s refusal to join until Virginia joined the Confederacy after Lincoln’s post-Fort Sumter call for 75,000 volunteers, after having previously rejected the notion, much as Tennessee did. Which kind of pokes a few holes in the “All for slavery” thing. (Although, again, Upper South vs. Lower South. It’s…complicated. (And some of those holes get patched if you look at the correlation between slavery and secession sentiment.))

Further emphasizing the messiness of this whole thing is the saga of Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and veteran of the British army, who settled in Arkansas, joined the Confederate army in 1861, and became a major general and division commander by the time of his death in the Battle of Franklin in 1864. He had a good reputation, was an excellent battlefield leader–being the only Confederate general to not have his men go into rout at Chattanooga–and could have become a corps commander…had it not been for a proposal he made in January of 1864 to enlist slaves in the Confederate army with the promise of freedom afterward, seeing as the Confederacy was scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel. This was scotched by Confederate President Jefferson Davis the moment he heard of it on the grounds that it would cause dissension–that Davis was one of the largest slaveowners in Mississippi was a coincidence. That Cleburne did not become a corps commander in the Army of Tennessee, a force close to bereft of gifted leadership at that level, was also purely coincidence.

There’s also the issue that most of the men actually toting rifles and muskets weren’t fighting for any particular reason other than that they believed strange men from far-off places were coming down to their homes to coerce them into compliance with unfair laws–or because they believed that the well-being–by which I mean, the “not starving or trapped under mountains of debt”–of their families was at risk. If that first seems unfair to Northerners, please note that to an Alabama or Mississippi backcountry farmer, Tennessee was a ways off–Massachusetts was barely dreamt of. If the second seems like I’m ignoring the fact that the system they were relying on was an oppressive system of human bondage, you might want to look up a lot of the arguments used in the north against the expansion of slavery–one of the biggest ones was that it messed up opportunities for white people. The vast mass of the people, as per usual, were primarily self-interested, even if it was at others’ expense.

Anyway, in 1865, the Confederacy, after a whole lot of angsting and some very telling remarks by several leading politicians about what they thought the war was about–that is, slavery–finally got around to recruiting some black troops, less than a regiment’s worth, in Richmond months after Cleburne’s death, and months too late to do any good to them. The soldiers never saw action, and were disbanded as the Confederacy crumbled that April. Way to not be racist, guys. Only bring in the black people when it’s literally too late to actually get them onto a battlefield.

Anyway, all of that being provided here basically for context, the flag itself was never the official flag of the Confederacy, although two of the three official flags incorporated it. Instead, it is referred to as the Confederate battle flag because it was the basic design carried by the Army of Northern Virginia, which was the most successful of the Southern armies and the one led by Robert E. Lee (see above) for most of the war. By which I mean it didn’t start losing battles until mid-1863, instead of early 1862. It was developed in order to deal with battlefield confusion caused by the similarity of the first official flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, to the Stars and Stripes. Given that, on a battlefield, this could have potentially deadly consequences, it was decided that a flag for the battleground would be in order. So one was created, and the blue St. Andrews Cross with white stars on a red field that we all know and love/despise was born. As a side note, the St. Andrews’ cross, interestingly enough, was supposedly chosen in order to mollify Southern Jews and certain Protestants concerned about the religious iconography of a St. George’s cross. Yeah, just because you’re a jerk in one area of your life doesn’t mean you’re a jerk in all of them.

Well, this is running longer than I anticipated, so there will be a part two tomorrow, wherein I discuss the post-Civil War history of the Confederate Battle Flag

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Runnymede, Waterloo, and Charleston

There was cause for celebration this week. It was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, where a king was told he was not above the law, and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, where a tyrant was informed that he could tyrannize no longer.

Unfortunately, the celebration had to end because a man decided to go into a house of God and turn it into a house of slaughter in the name of racial supremacy of the white variety. He has been caught, has confessed, and has been forgiven by many of the victims’ families, though he should still answer with his life for the wanton taking of the lives of others.

But there is a continuous thread between these events, however. Let me walk you through it.

The Magna Carta was not really a wondrous charter of liberties, by the standards of today. It is filled with minutia about things like fish traps, contains very little high-minded rhetoric, and mostly consists of “And the king doesn’t get to tell the nobles what to do in the following instances.” However, it also established a right to jury trials for the common man and regularized the administration of justice, thereby making the rule of law as we know it possible.

How so, you may ask? To begin with, it is much more difficult to bribe multiple jurors than one judge, and if a man must be tried before losing his liberty, then charges must be brought against him that can be sustained, thereby severely limiting the ability of the powerful to have their way with the powerless. As to the second, by fixing court locations, everyone knew where and when court was in session, which meant that a powerful man could not attempt to see to it that the court stayed one step ahead of his opponent until the latter ran out of the wherewithal to change the court. Most crucially, these established restrictions on what people could and could not do to each other that were not tied to feudal relations or the power balance.

While this is a largely symbolic thing, as King John, the English monarch forced to sign the document, got it abrogated shortly afterward, it has forever after been a touchstone of politics wherever English is spoken.

Waterloo is more complicated, and is almost more symbolic than the Magna Carta. It was the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, a man who spread the sword and the torch across Europe, from Lisbon to Moscow, attempting to establish French hegemony over the continent (despite actually being Corsican) and, by extension, his own. A dictator of the old school, his opposition was comprised of men as autocratic as he and the only really powerful nation where law was king, rather than the king being law–Britain, the nation that the man himself said was the most constant of his enemies. While it was the autocrats who ensured his initial fall at Leipzig two years before Waterloo, it was Britain who sustained the war in Spain and the naval blockade that drained France of so much blood and treasure and forced Napoleon to invade Russia and go to his catastrophic defeat there, a defeat that set him up for Leipzig. It should also be noted that Napoleon attempted to break the Haitian slave rebellion and put the rebels back in chains, and failed due to yellow fever and Haitian resistance, an event of some relevancy to Charleston.

And, finally, Charleston. An event that tells us that we have a long way to go, seeing as guys like Dylan Roof still exist. An event that also tells us that we’ve come a long way, since it was local authorities that caught him and charged him, and his family’s basically disowned him. A hundred years ago, no one would’ve touched the guy, and you can bet your bottom dollar that none of his victims would’ve been a state senator. Charleston is a tragedy, never doubt it. But that nearly all of society condemns it, and that Dylan Roof had to act alone or not at all…that is a sign that the rule of law is still grinding forward, more fully extending its protection to all people, regardless of color, creed, or class.

Some things are getting worse. Some are getting better. Over the grand course of history, this is one of the things that is getting better.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Ideal vs. Reality

Or, one of the many reasons we can’t actually have a reasonable debate about public employees in this country.

We’ve all seen it.  The thing you get whenever anyone discusses teacher competency issues–the “I can make a C feel like getting the Medal of Honor” speech. The “thin blue line, protecting us from criminals” that comes up whenever anyone discusses possible police misconduct. And whenever bureaucratic issues gets brought up, you get the “tireless public servants, keeping the country running and the people safe from robber barons” spiel.

Of course, it also works the other way. “Time-serving tin-pot child-squashing tyrants.” “Racist, brutal agents of oppression.” “Little tin gods, reveling in meddling in ordinary peoples’ lives.”

The problem, to put it bluntly, is this. Whenever the topic turns to public employees of various kinds–or employees of any technically nonprofit organization, for that matter–there is this odd assumption that crops up that all of the employees will embody the standards and be in alignment with the goals of the organization.

For teachers, it is that all teachers are concerned with teaching children reading, writing, and all that other good stuff. For policemen, that all simply desire to uphold the good, protect the right, and bring down the evil. For normal government functionaries, that all endeavor to selflessly serve the public. And, furthermore, that not only are they all imbued with virtuous motives, but that they are also all capable of performing their jobs, as, apparently, all such persons who are incompetent and desire such jobs are both capable of seeing their own incompetence and actually giving up their desires in order to benefit everyone.

Excuse me when I say, nonsense. They’re human beings, people. Just as fallible as anyone else–just as prone to vice as anyone else. For every responsibility they have, they have privilege–authority, opportunity for illicit profit, the ability to make someone’s life just a little more difficult, or an utter hellscape, and a system that will, unless a violation is utterly egregious (and sometimes even then) will back them to the hilt, because to admit failure is to admit the system is fallible, and we can’t have that, can we?

Of course, then there’s the flipside, which I’ve just outlined above, which sees only the power they wield and not the constraints they work under. The teacher often has to deal with arrogant and/or uncaring parents and students and administrators, the cop faces the possibility of getting killed for what to him seems like no reason and has reams of paperwork while frequently dealing with some of the worst people imaginable, the bureaucrat has to deal with uncooperative citizens and more administrative madness. All the while, truth be told, not being paid nearly enough for the work they are doing and being blamed for things they can’t help.

The reality is that the motivations for public employees, as well as their ability to do their jobs, is a very mixed bag, and cannot be boiled down to the actions of either a few bad, or a few shiny, apples.  Don’t make them out to be saints, but don’t make them out to be monsters.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

The Modesty Wars

Every spring and summer, there is a great Internet tempest in a teapot. It begins when the first flowers bloom, and does not cease until the leaves begin to turn from green to fire. I refer, of course, to the conflict mentioned on this post.

Now, the fact of the matter is, we’ve already talked about this on the blog here, here, and here. However, since they’ve cranked up again, I find myself unable to remain silent in the midst of the utter absurdity of this matter.

So, a few thoughts…

1. No, school dress codes do not promote “rape culture.” Pointing out that what you wear can have a deleterious effect on other people’s concentration does not promote “rape culture.” That is why there is a slewload of restrictions on what may or may not be worn at places like schools, ranging from size to messaging. (In the meantime, the current Toronto kerfluffle seems to be based on incomplete information. Was the girl in question wearing the offending item in the main school building, or during gym class or some such, as she claims the boys running around without shirts on are? There’s a world of difference between the two.)

2. Can we all please stop assuming the worst about each other? That would be really, really awesome. Not every girl who wears a bikini is some kind of seductress, and not every guy who thinks girls don’t wear enough clothing in hot weather wants to either rape them or stuff them into a burqa.

3. Let’s not assume the best of ourselves. There are girls who dress as they do specifically to entice men. There are guys who would, if they could, rape every woman in sight or stuff them in burqas. For that matter, there are men who dress as they do specifically to entice women and girls who would, if they could, rape every man in sight. I mean, there is really no limit to human self-centeredness and evil, and it exists on all sides of any debate.

4. Riffing off of that last bit, there’s a lot of defensiveness going on about matters of sexuality these days–honestly, I’m pretty sure there are some elements of this very post that are probably more defensive than they need to be. And I’m not referring to the Great Homosexual Marriage Debate, either–I’m referring to the interactions between men and women.

Here’s what I mean. While scrolling through my Facebook feed a few days ago, I came across an article a friend of a friend had linked, one of those “x number of things men find unattractive in a woman” articles. Harmless enough, all’s said and done, and anyone who surfs the net, as they said in the ’90s, these days has probably seen several such articles, many with the sexes reversed. However, the status with the link was basically a rant about how the linker would never do anything because she thought it would please a man and how dare someone write such misogynistic twaddle.

Meantime, think about how defensive a lot of guys get about their various habits and how said habits can make them less attractive to girls, a reaction most evident whenever the topic of video games comes up, although facial hair is a close second. Somewhere in the comments section, someone will use the word “harpy” non-ironically.

Both sides here forget that just as you have the right to make your own decisions about what you’re going to do, so other people have the right to decide what they think of your decisions. It’s a two-way street, like most things in this world.

And that’s the big thing here, honestly. Let’s not pretend that all the roads of societal interaction are one-way, alright? It’ll make life better for everyone.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Awkward Questions for Everyone

It is a universal truth that any political/social movement has awkward questions that it must ask of itself, if for no other reason than so that it has answers for when its opponents ask them. And, also, so that the aftermath of their goal doesn’t end in everything falling apart for the people they were supposed to help–see the post-ACW abolitionists for an example, due to their lack of forethought in figuring out what to do with all those freed slaves.

Yes, any movement, or cohesive group.

Today this is mostly directed at the politically active factions of evangelical Christianity, the right and left, which are mirror images of each other in nearly all ways. Both tend towards interventionist government in those areas they believe to be relevant to Christian practice, while favoring a more hands-off approach in those areas they deem to be less crucial. Both tend to claim that the other misrepresents the teachings of Christ, especially as regards government-enforced morality (both are correct in this regard, in my opinion). Both also believe that they are on the right side of history, although the left is currently buoyed on a tide of court decisions while the right is counting babies. Both also have tendencies towards self-righteousness.

So, a few awkward questions are in order.

First, is the Christian right willing to deal with the fallout from supporting God’s Word in all its teachings, particularly those on sexual morality, as the surrounding culture grows more hostile to such?

Second, is it willing to concede that it has largely failed to make the case for the benefits of the free market for the poor and the downtrodden, and for why it is not unjust to deny people what they feel they want?

Third, is it willing to go to the effort to make that case?

Fourth, is it willing to understand why people see it as the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector?

However, the Christian left has some awkward questions of its own to answer.

First, is it willing to deal with the temptations of the halls of power and to not give in to them?

Second,  is it willing to concede that it has largely failed to make the case that taxes are charity and that feelings supersede Scripture?

Third, is it willing to deal with the consequences of trying to shove its co-religionists onto the dust heap of history?

Fourth, is it willing to ask if the tax collector in the parable would have been forgiven if he had said, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like that judgmental Pharisee?”

I don’t expect anyone to have the answers to these questions–in point of fact, I don’t have answers to any of these, beyond the notion that human behavior is self-centered.

But these will be answered, either now in word and thought, or simply in action later. The latter is inadvisable.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Via Dolorosa

We’re currently in what is known as Holy Week, the final seven days before the resurrection of Jesus announced to all and sundry that the longest war was won, and that Yahweh had won it. However, as of now, we still have two days until Good Friday, when the longest war was actually won.

However, that is not what this post is about. It is common, during this time, to focus on the anguish Jesus felt in Gethsemane, as death came for him, not with a scythe but with scissors. It is common to focus on the horrible, agonizing details of the crucifixion. It is less common to discuss the spiritual pain of Christ on that cross. Consider the statement that “he made him to be sin who had no sin.

We don’t really get what that means, I think. We are born in sin. We wallow in it. We cuddle it. Often we abhor it, but that is only when it takes a form not to our liking. Jesus, however, not being a man of sin, saw its true face, and knew it for what it was. To really get how awful this was for Jesus, imagine every cell in your body becoming malignantly cancerous.

Simultaneously.

And you live through it for hours.

Oh, and then your beloved father can’t look at you anymore, and closes the door.

And even then, I don’t think I really grasp it.

However, it is not altogether uncommon to discuss the spiritual suffering of Christ on the cross. What is uncommon is the focus of this post: What Christ went through in the thirty-three years that he lived here on earth.

To begin with, we’re not told what exactly “emptying himself” meant, but given the incident of the woman at the well and various other occurrences, it probably did not mean giving up omniscience.

Imagine walking around, all day, every day, knowing the exact fate of every person you see. Knowing their hopes, their fears, their desires, their fantasies, their sins, their triumphs, their tragedies, from birth to death. And, trumping all of that–could you handle knowing–knowing–who would be in heaven or hell? Think about that for a second. Could you hold up under all that? For even yourself, much less even one other person? I know I sure couldn’t.

But, let’s keep going. Imagine being the only living human in a world of zombies–who, by the way, you love, and desire to make better, despite their constant attempts to eat your brains. By the way, they’re also decomposing right in front of you, little critters and all. That is, spiritually, how we probably looked. And remember, the Lord looks at the heart. And, let’s face it, the above analogy probably understates things.

Ouch. I had no idea this would be quite such a downer.

Then there’s the general pains of being human, added on to this. The pain of having your words misunderstood, in some cases deliberately, losing people you loved and cared about, sickness, disease, sore feet, etc. Oh, and temptation to sin, which, to Jesus, was the equivalent of being sexually propositioned by a month-dead corpse. All of this did Jesus go through, and none of it did he deserve. He was not under the curse of Adam, he had not rebelled against God. But he bore our burdens anyway, and bore far more besides.

Let us all think upon this, this Good Friday.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Let the Campaigns Begin!

Well, it’s that time of the four year cycle again. Time for the men, and, possibly, women, who would be president to start testing the waters before declaring their official candidacies.

I wish that I was planning on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail next year, or this year. I may not listen to the radio for the entirety of next year.

Anyway, there’s going to be a whole lot of nonsense going on over the next year-and-a-half or so, so it’s time for me to put my prognostication goggles on and give you the lowdown on what I figure is coming.

A. If Hillary Clinton runs, expect her to win the Democratic primary. She might not run–one would think that over a decade of being close to executive power would have ended any desire for the presidency–but I think she wants it. She wants it bad. Current polling indicates that she’s ahead of any of the other possibilities–Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren being the only other two with support above the double digits, and that barely. There could be another Obama waiting in the wings, though, so, don’t bet the farm on it.

B. Expect a circular firing squad in the Republican primaries. The four front-runners are Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, Jeb Bush, brother to George and former governor of Florida, Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, and Ben Carson, surgeon, although Rand Paul isn’t far behind. The last three are extremely unlikely. Huckabee won’t garner much support beyond the diehard social conservatives, Carson isn’t ready for primetime, and the Paulistas are but a sliver of the party. Bush is the darling of the party establishment, and does have some broader appeal–however, the main party base is steamed at the party establishment, due to said establishment backing down on both abortion and illegal immigration within the past month. Also, his last name is Bush. Walker has the support of elements of the party establishment due to his union-busting, and the base likes him for not backing down under some pretty heavy pressure from Wisconsin’s public-employee unions. My money’s on Walker, but I’m biased here, as I think he’s the best of the available options for the Republicans.

C. Expect the presidential campaign to get dirty even before the primaries are over. Expect everything from the 1990s to be dredged up again regarding Clinton, and the words “Koch brothers” to be used as often as possible in regards to Walker–fill in for any of the others as you like. Every gaffe exploited, every sound bite taken out of context and magnified, and precious little discussion of actual policy. Which brings me to the next prediction…

D. The campaign narratives will be almost entirely negative. The Democrats will portray the Republicans as the party of Bush and corporatism. The Republicans will portray the Democrats as the party of Obama and statism. In both cases, these charges have basis, although they are both hypocritical. Expect foreign policy, immigration, and healthcare to be the main issues under discussion.

E. I’m not going to hazard a guess as to who’s going to win the election. I will say this, however: if Bush runs against Clinton, the Republicans will lose. Rightly or wrongly, most folks still do not remember the Bush years as fondly as the Clinton years. And if you don’t think that large swathes of the electorate will vote on those feelings, I want whatever you’re drinking. Any of the others and it becomes a toss-up. That the Republicans will keep control of the House is a probability, although the Senate is a bit iffy–there are more Republican than Democratic seats in contention.

F. Finally, do not expect immediate catastrophe as a result of the election, one way or the other. The system’s creaking and groaning, but it still works–for the nonce.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Edit: Originally Rand Paul was Ron Paul. The mistake was pointed out to me by Dr. Micah Watson.