Provocations

How the Trump-News Feud Hurts America

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:

“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 competion.  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…)

The Myth of Modernity

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.

Except, of course, that there is.  The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world (although not the largest reptile: crocodiles get larger). (more…)

Reasoning in Context

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 Between Christians and Historians

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…)

Encouragement from Psalm 31

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?

David’s Unanswered Prayer at the Disjuncture of Faith and Feeling

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.

(more…)

You are Not Your Sexuality

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.

(more…)

Is Anything Miraculous?

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…)

Burying a New Post? One response to controversial ideas…

For unknown reasons, the blog post which I posted last night was erroneously listed as published on 1 February, and thus buried under the previous two blog posts.  The post was somewhat controversial, but I would be surprised if this was a deliberate strategy of marginalizing controversial ideas…  Anyway, I link to it here so that people who missed it can find it more easily.

Gay Marriage Debates: Fallacious Arguments

The US Supreme Court has announced it will finally decide the question of gay marriage for the whole country.  This promises to be a landmark case as significant, and as controversial, as the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade.  Both liberals and conservatives reportedly cheered the decision, and are readying their best arguments.  Some might call me a cynic, but I’d be a whole lot happier if I thought any of the arguments on either side might be anything other than fallacious preaching to the choir, and each of the justices already knows where they sing.  (If the justices on the Supreme Court are supposed to be non-partisan, why do they almost always divide the same way along the same partisan issues?)  Here I present a couple common arguments on both sides, and why they don’t work. (more…)