Culture Trumps Politics

Conservatives are cheering the results of this week’s election, in which Republicans have positioned themselves to exert enormous influence over the direction of governance for the next several years. But I’m not cheering. Not because I don’t agree with the need for more conservatism in politics, but because I don’t believe government is where the real battle is being fought. Mark Stein explains the matter in a recent article:

Liberals expend tremendous effort changing the culture. Conservatives expend tremendous effort changing elected officials every other November — and then are surprised that it doesn’t make much difference.

Culture trumps politics — which is why, once the question’s been settled culturally, conservatives are reduced to playing catch-up, twisting themselves into pretzels to explain why gay marriage is really conservative after all, or why 30 million unskilled immigrants with a majority of births out of wedlock are “natural allies” of the Republican Party. . . .

If the culture’s liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, groovy business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a guy with an “R” after his name isn’t going to make a lot of difference. . . .

Culture is the long view; politics is the here and now.

Yet in America vast cultural changes occur in nothing flat, while, under our sclerotic political institutions, men elected to two-year terms of office announce ambitious plans to balance the budget a decade after their terms end. Here, again, liberals show a greater understanding of where the action is.

I recall a friend telling me in 1980, following Reagan’s landslide victory over Carter, that that election had finally halted the nation’s descent into madness. I wasn’t convinced, and the events of the next thirty-four years have confirmed my suspicions. Once the agents of cultural power have been subverted to pernicious ends, the politics will inevitably tag along meekly. Occasional fits of electoral pique may slow, but will never overcome, the culture’s march into hell.

If conservatives want to make a real impact, they need to make inroads in the institutions of cultural significance, starting with the family. It’s a much more difficult battle to fight, but there is no other way to address the problems that plague our country.

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Feminism and Rape

Mona Charen weighs in on Feminist Lies about Sexual Assault:

You don’t have to believe the one-in-four figure floated by activists to agree that women are experiencing a marked degree of sexual assault and battery in the liberated hook-up world liberalism has created. But this is progressivism chasing its tail.

For centuries, men have lied to women to lure them into bed. Parents warned their daughters about such men. In recent decades, it’s women who’ve been lying to other women. Feminists peddled the notion that women wanted exactly the same things from sex that men did. They rejected modesty and its cousin chivalry with contempt and welcomed the sexual free for all.

They were wrong about human nature — in this case immutable sex differences — but cannot admit it. . . .

Women who lie to other women conceal the facts. For example: The National Institute of Justice reports that among the risk factors for sexual assault on campus is “having numerous sexual partners,” getting “drunk or high” on a regular basis, and attending fraternity parties.

Pointing out these realities is rejected as “slut shaming” or “victim blaming” by feminists.

For all their bold talk about empowerment, feminists seem always to demand that they not be forced to deal with reality. They preach to young women that they’re just like men sexually, and when they find, to their horror, that lots of women are getting raped, they respond that women shouldn’t be cautious about who they get drunk with, men should “be taught not to rape.”

The current uproar in academic and legal circles about the rape epidemic and how to deal with it would be laughable if the consequences were not so tragic. Having repudiated the age-old system of chivalry, modesty, and chastity that—however imperfectly—protected women and their offspring, our culture is now caught in a moral morass of its own making. With the old rules now gone, young people no longer have any idea how to manage the powerful—and different—hormonal urges that are part of our male and female natures. The result is chaos.

Putting all the blame on men while absolving women of any responsibility in this crisis is not a recipe for gender equality but for even more conflict. This will not end well for anyone, including women.

Posted in Chivalry, Feminism, Gender, Modesty | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Antikythera and Design

If you have a passion for archaeology, history, and technology, as I do, you are probably already aware of the mysterious Antikythera Mechanism, a badly corroded relic discovered by sponge divers off the coast of Antikythera island in 1900. Intensive study of the relic’s fragments in recent years has revealed an astonishing story of  ancient technology far surpassing anything we previously knew.

This strange object appears to be the remains of a 2,000-year-old device that predicted—with remarkable accuracy—a wide variety of astronomical cycles, including the movement of the sun, moon, and the known planets of its time. The device even accounted for minor fluctuations in these cycles that could only be recognized over a long span of time. It accomplished this feat using a complex system of bronze gears, similar to clock designs that would not be invented for more than a thousand years. Based on their findings, researchers have built reconstructions of this device and confirmed its purpose. (For more details about this object, its function, and its history, see the short video at the end of this post, or the longer Nova episode that follows.)

In reading the body of research devoted to this amazing mechanism, one is struck by the number of times the authors refer to the design that went into the construction of the device. They speculate on the identity of the designer whose amazing grasp of astronomy, metallurgy, and craftsmanship made the construction of the machine possible. This thing did not just ooze up out of the mud; somebody designed it and built it to accomplish a specific purpose.

The Antikythera Mechanism, in other words, is a classic example of intelligent design. Here is a case in which modern man is confronted with an object that shows unmistakable evidence of intentional function and design, and seeks from that evidence—as fragmentary and incomplete as it is—to reconstruct the story of who and why it was made. Whatever the gaps in our knowledge, the evidence is overwhelming that an intelligent being created this thing. Anyone who would posit a theory that it evolved from purely natural processes would be laughed out of the room.

Yet when we encounter evidence for design in the universe—evidence that is infinitely more complex and improbable than Antikythera—the gears suddenly shift and all the “smart” people in the room solemnly agree that it must be the result of random, unguided, accidental, naturalistic processes. It “just happened.”

It is not my purpose here to start a debate on the pros and cons of intelligent design. I’m merely drawing attention to what appears to be a fundamental disconnect from reality on the part of those who argue so passionately against the role of design in the remarkable universe in which we live. If they can see it in Antikythera, they should be able to see it in physics and biology.

Unless, of course, there is an underlying worldview that prevents them from doing so.

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The Religious Fervor of Richard Dawkins

If anyone wears the mantle of leadership in the New Atheist movement, Richard Dawkins is that man. An accomplished author and speaker, Dawkins has done more than anyone to popularize atheism as a valid alternative to religion.

But the manner in which Dawkins attacks religion and promotes his brand of atheism has been an embarrassment to a good many of his fellow atheists, including John Gray, whose review of Dawkins’ recently released memoir, An Appetite for Wonder: The Makings of a Scientist, is quite critical of the champion’s evangelistic certitude.

Gray notes the fatal flaw in Dawkins’ unwavering commitment to scientific rationalism as the ultimate and only answer to all mankind’s problems:

Science may give us the unvarnished truth—or some of it—about our species. Part of that truth may prove to be that humans are not and can never be rational animals. Religion may be an illusion, but that does not mean science can dispel it. On the contrary, science may well show that religion cannot be eradicated from the human mind. Unsurprisingly, this is a possibility that Dawkins never explores.

Gray reaches back over a century to a critique of evolution offered by the British statesman Arthur Balfour. Though an atheist himself, Gray acknowledges the strength of Balfour’s argument:

If the human mind has evolved in obedience to the imperatives of survival, what reason is there for thinking that it can acquire knowledge of reality, when all that is required in order to reproduce the species is that its errors and illusions are not fatal? A purely naturalistic philosophy cannot account for the knowledge that we believe we possess. . . . Balfour’s solution was that naturalism is self-defeating: humans can gain access to the truth only because the human mind has been shaped by a divine mind. . . . One does not need to accept Balfour’s theistic solution to see the force of his argument. A rigorously naturalistic account of the human mind entails a much more skeptical view of human knowledge than is commonly acknowledged.

In other words, the very rationalism by which Dawkins invalidates religion as a legitimate approach to life likewise invalidates Dawkins’ own naturalism. What makes one valid and the other invalid?

The answer: Because Dawkins says so. Which renders him no different from the fundamentalist religionists he so abhors. Gray concludes:

To suppose that science can liberate humankind from ignorance requires considerable credulity. We know how science has been used in the past—not only to alleviate the human lot, but equally to serve tyranny and oppression. The notion that things might be fundamentally different in the future is an act of faith—one as gratuitous as any of the claims of religion, if not more so.

The debate between theism and atheism is welcome and necessary. But both sides need to approach the discussion with a generous dose of humility, recognizing that none of us have all the answers. Dawkins’ pretentiousness does not serve his side well.

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Why Fathers Matter

Paul Raeburn is a journalist who specializes in research on fathers and fatherhood (see his blog here). Raeburn summarized some of his findings in a recent article.

Fathers, it turns out, contribute far more to their children than many of us realize.

Those contributions begin during pregnancy, before fathers and their children have even met. Studies show that the death rate of infants whose fathers were not around during pregnancy is nearly four times that of those with engaged dads. And depression in fathers during their partners’ pregnancies — which is more common than most people realize — can increase the child’s lifelong risk of depression.

After birth, children whose fathers play with them, read to them, take them on outings, and care for them have fewer behavioral problems during their early school years. And they have a lower risk of delinquency or criminal behavior as adolescents.

For many of us this is old news. But in a culture where fathers are widely ridiculed as bumbling, unimportant—or even dangerous—it refreshing to see someone take the subject seriously.

Raeburn has compiled the latest research on the role of fathers in childhood development in his new book, Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked (Scientific American / FSG, 2014).

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The Solution Is Not Political

As another election cycle heats up, we are once again being bombarded with campaign ads urging us to vote for this or that candidate because—you guessed it—the fate of the country depends on it!

Yet if recent trends are any indication, it is likely that no matter which political party we entrust with power, the level of corruption and negativity will remain unchanged or even worsen.

Shouldn’t that give us a clue? The solution to our nation’s problems is not political or partisan, because the problems are not political or partisan. They are spiritual and moral. Our political dysfunction is merely a symptom of a more serious disease.

In 1798, John Adams wrote a letter to officers of the Massachusetts Militia. In that letter he identified the Achilles heel of our nation’s strength:

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. 1

Read that carefully: Human passions unbridled by morality and religion. That’s where we’re at as a nation now, and we are paying a steep price for our liberation. The coarseness and conflict that permeate our culture, including our politics, flow out of deeper wells of spiritual depravity: pride, envy, greed, lust, selfishness. We are rapidly ceasing to be a moral and religious people, so our form of government—being “wholly inadequate to the government of any other”—is gradually breaking down. Our political fortunes will never recover until the character of our people recovers.

That’s why I’m a preacher, not a politician. What our nation needs is not more political grandstanding, but amazing grace. At the moment, sadly, not many are interested in that solution.

1 John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 9. 9/25/2014.

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The Roots — and Fruits — of Radical Feminism

Mallory Millet is the sister of Kate Millet, an early pioneer in the radical feminist movement and author of numerous books that are required reading in Women’s Studies courses. In a recent article, Mallory unmasks the Marxist and anti-family foundation underlying much of modern feminism, and the human misery it leaves in its wake:

 It was clear they desired nothing less than the utter deconstruction of Western society. The upshot was that the only way to do this was “to invade every American institution.  Every one must be permeated with ‘The Revolution’”: The media, the educational system, universities, high schools, K-12, school boards, etc.; then, the judiciary, the legislatures, the executive branches and even the library system. . . .

I’ve known women who fell for this creed in their youth who now, in their fifties and sixties, cry themselves to sleep decades of countless nights grieving for the children they’ll never have and the ones they coldly murdered because they were protecting the empty loveless futures they now live with no way of going back.  “Where are my children?  Where are my grandchildren?” they cry to me. . . .

The girls have been up to something for years and it’s really not good. It’s evil. We should be sick to our souls over it.  I know I am. And so, mass destruction, the inevitable outcome of all socialist/communist experiments, leaves behind its signature trail of wreckage.

So much grace, femininity and beauty lost.

So many ruined lives.

As the impact of second- and third-wave feminism continues to reverberate through society, more and more women are awakening to the destructive effects of the movement and rejecting it. I fear, however, that the movement–and the destruction–has not yet run its course.

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Life at the Bottom

I’m currently reading Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass (Ivan R. Dee, 2001), a collection of essays written through the 1990s.  Dalrymple (pseudonym for Anthony Daniels) is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist who spent a good portion of his career working in Great Britain’s National Health Service among the underprivileged. His experiences there gave him a unique insight into the circumstances that created and sustains the permanent underclass that exists in many Western countries.

Dalrymple argues that the source of the misery that plagues the underclass is not genetic, economic, political, or racial, but intellectual. People create their own hell out of the poor decisions they make, decisions based on a faulty view of how life works. He explains in the Introduction:

Human behavior cannot be explained without reference to the meaning and intentions people give to their acts and omissions. . . . It is the ideas my patients have that fascinate—and to be honest, appall—me; for they are the source of their misery.

Their ideas make themselves manifest even in the language they use. . . . An alcoholic, explaining his misconduct while drunk, will say, “the beer went mad.” A heroin addict, explaining his resort to the needle, will say, “Heroin’s everywhere.” It is as if the beer drank the alcoholic and the heroin injected the addict.

Dalrymple is not blaming the victim here, at least not entirely. He points to a deeper problem that has led to this twisted thinking:

Most of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia. . . . The climate of moral, cultural, and intellectual relativism—a relativism that began as a mere fashionable plaything for intellectuals—has been successfully communicated to those least able to resist its devastating practical effects.

Those “devastating practical effects,” in turn, take their revenge on the rest of society, as sloppy decision-making percolates through the entire culture.

. . . If blame is to be apportioned, it is the intellectuals who deserve most of it. They should have known better but always preferred to avert their gaze. They considered the purity of  their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas.

A civilization collapses when those responsible for its cultural heritage fall asleep on their watch. The darkness that descended upon our intellectual class several generations ago is now bearing its ugly fruit.

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Old Things Have Become New

Christians today are routinely labeled as intolerant, bigoted, hateful, and generally a threat to civil society. Michael Kruger notes that these charges are not new. In fact, they bear a remarkable resemblance to the kind of complaints that Roman authorities had toward the early Christians. He relates examples in the writings of Pliny the Younger and Tacitus, then concludes:

The stories of Pliny and Nero are both encouraging and frightening. They are frightening because they sound eerily similar to the kind of language and accusations being used today against Christians. But instead of Christians being asked to pay homage to the Roman gods to prove their acceptability, they are now being asked to pay homage to the gods of tolerance or homosexual marriage or other practices forbidden by Scripture.

At the same time, these stories are encouraging. They remind us that this sort of persecution isn’t new. Indeed, this persecution was not the end of Christianity but the beginning. In the midst of it, the church thrived and expanded.

The flak is heaviest when you’re over the target. Press on.

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Video #4 – Does Religion Poison Everything?

It’s easy to knock religion as the source of much of the conflict in the world. But before we throw it under the bus, we should apply the same standard to other human enterprises.

Posted in Christianity, Evil, Religion | Leave a comment