I do not generally blog on current events, because I have a hard enough time finishing a blog post within months (or even years!) of starting it, much less within hours of reading something for which it might be relevant. So for practical reasons, I aim for “timeless truths” which will not go stale in the drafting process. I also don’t usually blog about politicians’ upcoming decisions, because they aren’t listening to me. But reading today’s news about the sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden, I had a different take on the situation than I think is likely to be found in media outlets, whether liberal or conservative. This is no dispute that this is the biggest crisis of Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy, and could derail it entirely, which some people consider cause for mourning and others cause for celebration. But I think this could be an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate his character, highlight his difference from President Trump, uphold the values of the MeToo movement, and still probably clinch the Democratic nomination if not the presidency. How might this miracle be worked? By repentance. (more…)
In a famous episode of The Simpsons, Homer exposes both presidential candidates as in fact space aliens conspiring to take over the earth and enslave humanity. Among the watching crowd, one person proposes voting for a third-party candidate, and one of the aliens responds, “Go ahead! Throw your vote away!” after which Ross Perot in frustration punches through his hat. The episode ends showing that one of the aliens has in fact won the election.
Ross Perot’s 1992 independent campaign for US president received 18.9% of the popular vote, a larger percentage of the vote than any other candidate outside the two-party system since Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 bid to derail William Howard Taft’s reelection campaign (resulting in the election of Woodrow Wilson). Yet despite his success attracting individual voters, Ross Perot received no votes in the electoral college. Not since 1968 has any third-party candidate received any electoral college votes, apart from individual faithless electors who have not changed the outcome of the election. It is easy to see why many people consider voting for anyone other than the Republican or Democratic candidate is simply “throwing you vote away.” I would like to suggest a more nuanced analysis. (more…)
Everyone who reads the news, or only the President’s twitter feed, knows that there is a major feud between the occupant of the Oval Office and the editors of every mainstream news organization in this country. In a tweet, President Trump even declared the press:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
“Fake news,” of course, was originally the battle-cry of the mainstream media against alternative sites such as the pro-Trump Breitbart news, a weapon which Trump has now turned on its makers. But the mainstream media is not above the fray: major news outlets have consistently offered the reporting to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency, even a month after his inauguration.
In a recent press conference (which the news media reported was 77 minutes long!) President Trump mentioned that he was enjoying the give and take with the news media, even as he expected them to publish that he was “ranting” (which the media duly characterized him as doing). It does not surprise me, given what we know of the president’s career and conversational style, that he enjoys some conflict and competition. And he probably knows that his public feud with the media is good for keeping his name on the front page: this is apparently no presidency to become “boring.” It probably even helps the mainstream media with page views, even as it panders to Trump’s political supporters (a smaller group than those who voted for him). So it’s a win-win situation, right?
The only problem is that it is bad for America as a whole. (more…)
As a child, I greatly enjoyed fantasy fiction. Dragons, witches, elves, sorcerers, vampires (before Twilight gave those a teen angst transfusion), werewolves, magic swords, ancient curses, were all great fun. (I wasn’t sure about the gnomes – dangerously curious – but who wouldn’t love the hobbits?) The movie Willow was the sort of adventure I enjoyed. Dungeons and Dragons was where I learned social interactions. (Sad, perhaps, but common enough.) Of course wiser heads than mine ensured I could distinguish between make-believe and reality, and I never thought such fantasies were real.
The standard story, duly educated into me, was that people used to believe in witches, dragons, alchemy, demons, etc., but the Enlightenment and modern science had shown that there were no such things. The world revealed by science was sometimes bizarre, certainly (not only quarks are strange), but it bore no resemblance to such legends and medieval superstitions. “Everyone knows,” I well knew, that “there’s no such thing” as a dragon.
I recently heard a philosophy professor present a talk entitled, “Why I am not a Christian.” The title, of course, is taken from Bertrand Russel’s 1927 talk on the same subject, though the professor I heard was not nearly as hostile to Christians as Russell. Nevertheless, in common philosophical fashion he went beyond the apparently autobiographical scope of the title to claim that no one else anywhere is warranted to believe either in the existence of God or in the extraordinary claims made in the Gospels about Jesus. As he reviewed philosophical arguments for the existence of God and scriptural appeals to faith in Christ, he repeatedly said, “I have not found compelling justification,” and he took that to imply that neither had anyone else. There were various other elements of the talk that struck me (and upon which I may at some point comment here), but the assertion of categorical lack of rationality for certain conclusions is something I am wrestling with. (more…)
Teleology is both the hope of Christians and the bane of historians. As a professional historian, I have publicly railed against teleology for the edification of my students. As a practicing Christian, I have publicly thanked God for his teleology and used it to comfort those who are hurting. That sure looks like a contradiction. It struck me as odd recently, as I was buried under a mountain of undergraduate papers and final exams to grade. I don’t think it’s a contradiction, but exploring why not has clarified for me what historians are trying to accomplish, and the basis on which Christians formulate their understandings. (more…)
The Psalmist wrote:
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress!
My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
My strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my body has wasted away.
Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors,
And an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind,
I am like a broken vessel.
For I have heard the slander of many, terror is on every side;
While they took counsel together against me, they schemed to take away my life.
Someone remind me: why do we expect the Christian life to be easy and comfortable?
The Bible does not often report unanswered prayer; when it does, we should pay close attention. One such instance occurs in an unlikely place: the fallout of the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah. In this story (2 Samuel 12), David is no hero, but a villain, and when he was rebuked by Nathan, the prophet tricked him into condemning his own actions. Only then did he repent, and even so the Lord condemned the child to be born, for Bathsheba had become pregnant with David’s son, to death. David then lay in sackcloth for seven days, fasting and praying for the child to be spared, and yet at the end of the week the baby died. To the bewilderment of his servants, David then got up, cleaned himself off, stopped fasting, and worshiped the Lord. Even though this awful situation was the result of David’s own sin, the divergence between David’s actions and his servants’ expectations, a disjuncture occasioned by unanswered prayer, spotlights the difference between faith and feeling in Christianity.
In any contentious debate, it is useful to reconsider the views that are taken for granted in order to facilitate dialogue. This is especially important for views that are shared by both sides, which may by their falsity enforce a sterile debate. One key tenet in much of the “gay marriage” debates, held by “liberals” and “conservatives” alike, is that each person’s sexuality defines them as a person. Your “sexual orientation” is an essential trait, perhaps the most essential trait, to your human personhood. On reflection, this is preposterous, and both conservatives and liberals should jettison the notion. This will enable much more fruitful discussion on contentious issues.
Much of Euro-American culture, and especially its educated elite, has adopted two contradictory and equally useless attitudes toward miracles. The first, starting in mid-1700s, was a full-scale assault on the notion that miracles can happen. The second is a sentimental and vapid dilution of the term to mean anything really good or life-changingly beneficial. I’m not sure when this second attitude developed, but I’d be inclined to date it to the late 1800s as a defensive, and wrong-headed, rearguard action to preserve the language of miracle while emptying it of all meaning. In other words, having conceded the idea that genuine miracles are impossible, some Western Christians domesticated the notion of the miraculous in order to retain the language without its threatening implications. I think this is the wrong approach, and this post will critique the denialist approach, and propose a different definition of “miracle” which I think is more in keeping with its etymology, and with its pre-modern Christian usage. (more…)