Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Watching From Afar

June 26, 2022

I’ve been privileged now to have observed some pretty major events in recent American history while abroad. It’s a curious feeling, being physically so detached while glued to Internet news feeds. A few observations.

Of the multiple dozens of news feeds I scan daily, I have seen exactly zero headlines indicating there is a large percentage of US citizens who oppose abortion and are relieved this heinous practice is no longer federally protected. Not a single one. By just reading headlines you would be led to believe nobody in America was praying and hoping for this reversal, and that it’s a cruel and barbaric ruling imposed on a population overwhelmingly opposed to it. Although survey data is hard to analyze, what is clear is that the numbers fluctuate greatly depending on how terms are defined. Although there is a +- 10% at either end of the spectrum, who either support or oppose abortion under any circumstances, the vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in between. And somewhere in between is not what Roe v. Wade provided for.

The only headline I’ve seen all week indicating the presence of Americans who welcome the overturn of Roe v. Wade was from the British publication The Guardian.

Headlines almost universally refer to the repeal of Roe v. Wade in language that would lead the uneducated person to believe abortion is now illegal throughout our country, rather than the reality that it is no longer a federally mandated option. Abortion is not illegal in our country. It may be illegal in certain parts of the country, or may become illegal. But that’s a decision best left to more localized populations than dictated from the national level.

Much is said about the changes conservatives are bringing to American policy, but all of the extremely liberal changes that have been wrought since Roe v. Wade are depicted as de facto rights that have always existed and should be above challenge, as opposed to legislation and judicial decisions which, per our Constitution, are always open to review or revision. As amazed as many news stories sound, it is not an alien thing for the Supreme Court to reverse a previous decision. It is rare that it reverses it’s own decisions, but this should be a good thing, assuring both sides that such instances represent some very lengthy deliberation and study of the Constitution and law rather than a simple response to popular pressure. For example, the original Roe v. Wade decision is about 36 pages long. Dobbs vs. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade this week, is 213 pages long. Clearly a lot of thought was given to this case.

I’ve seen stories citing cherry-picked, Western and European countries who are shell-shocked America could change it’s mind on this issue. This ignores the fact that abortion is limited in a large number of countries in the world. Again, since abortion has not been outlawed in the US, it would be more helpful if news reports compared apples to apples in their reporting.

There have also – predictably – been news stories featuring Christians lamenting this decision and asserting their support for abortion. Very little is mentioned – if at all – in such articles that probably the overwhelming majority of Christians worldwide understand abortion to be a violation of God’s Word in the Bible, and that certainly the largest Christian denomination on Earth – the Roman Catholic Church – has and does and (God-willing) will continue to oppose the practice steadfastly. I know there are Christians (some of them Catholic) who disagree with the Bible and their denominational stance, but it’s dishonest to ignore this difference of opinion simply to make it sound like all Christians everywhere support abortion (or should support it).

The (apparent) total lack of regard many lawmakers, celebrities, politicians, and other leaders in our culture have for the many, many people in America who believe abortion to be morally wrong, and who therefore believe it should not be a mandated right (paid for with tax dollars no less) or believe it should be illegal, is indicative of the growing polarization of our population and contributes directly to it. If you wish to disparage the logic or argumentation or conclusions of another citizen, all well and good. But if you simply want to insult and deride them and flip them off, you are not part of the solution to our polarization, you are part of the problem. This applies equally to people on both sides of any given issue. The unwillingness and inability to actually debate and simply scream and yell is a condemnation of our churches, our schools, and should be of utmost concern to our leaders. That they prefer to exploit it for their agendas is abysmal.

Much mockery has been made in recent years of those Americans who openly question the honesty and reliability of American media and news outlets. I suspect most of us are too jaded these days to implicitly trust much of any source (outside a sacred text). The incredibly disproportionate tone of the news media just this week alone ought to give pause for thought to whether or not the major American news outlets really are, as they claim, representing the news fairly and without bias. Not that this shouldn’t have been obvious for decades, but if anyone had any doubts about it, this week ought to make it clear.

Too Good to Pass Up!

May 16, 2022

One more nearly forgotten article, but one too rich in possibilities and disappointments to pass up!

Imagine being attacked by a random person, dragged from your house, stabbed multiple times and left for dead. Imagine being able to drag yourself back inside and call for help, only to have the assailant return and try to batter his way into your home again.

What would your attitude towards your attacker be?

If you’re Christian, you should know what your response should be, right?

Forgiveness?

Not the sloppy, cultural forgiveness of pretending a wrong didn’t really happen, but the forgiveness that acknowledges a wrong was done and chooses to forgive because we are daily (hourly) forgiven in Christ. Could you imagine yourself doing that? What about forgiving someone who sought to hurt someone you love?

That’s what makes this article so tantalizing and yet frustrating. Go ahead and read it. It isn’t long. How does it resonate with you?

As the judge says at the end of the article in praising the victim, “If it (is the motive for not requesting an apology)is the consequence of faith I envy it.”

The article doesn’t use the word forgiveness, but it’s a good example of what it might look like. It never clarifies a motivation for such an incredibly loving response to an apparently random and inconceivable act of violence. The victim hints that the comfort and status of his own life compared to the assailants leads him to the conclusion he has no reason to bear a grudge of any kind. Would he respond differently if he had been assaulted by someone more successful, more comfortable?

The victim’s statement at the end of the article is further maddening. I think in these situations there’s no right, so go with it. What does that even mean? He likes the idea of providing people with tools to think about hard situations differently, but doesn’t provide any tools at all, just an outcome. I’d love to know more about his rationale, what led him to seek for and be concerned about the welfare of his assailant as much as his own.

It’s a worthy example of what forgiveness might look like, minus any reason for choosing this path over a more bitter response. I presume he would consider a more bitter response less ideal than his own, but then claims there’s really no basis at all for how to respond. Such logic essentially removes the criminality of the assailant, if there is no objective guidance about moral truth to help determine not only what actions are right and wrong, but what proper responses are when such boundaries are violated.

Abandoning the Field, and the Need to Redefine the Field

May 14, 2022

The last of my long-neglected articles is this essay by professor (former, now) speaker, thinker and writer Jordan Peterson.

This is a fantastic, no-punches-pulled essay. I believe Peterson has rightly diagnosed an extremely dangerous shift in our culture, one that I’ve been warning about for over a decade. It is not something that is going to go away any time soon. But there are hopeful signs that some leaders are fed up with it and willing to take a stand against it. The best example of this is Netflix, who seemed to be on the ropes last year with employees trying to hold the company hostage in order to force programming and production changes along the lines of what Peterson talks about. But rather than cave (and there was definitely wobbling last year), Netflix has decided that the honesty of artistic expression (and hopefully corresponding capital rewards) outweigh cancel culture. In a memo last week Netflix suggested employees who can’t handle any of the content Netflix produces or sells should consider working elsewhere rather than attempting hostage-techniques to wrest control of the company.

Not surprisingly, media coverage of this memo has been decidedly muted in comparison to the non-stop coverage of a handful of irate employees demanding sweeping changes and control of Netflix content last year. We can only hope more CEOs will follow suit.

It’s tempting to blame Peterson for abandoning the field. After all, if there aren’t holdouts against the rising order, can we ever hope for change? And wasn’t it exactly that tactic of gradual infiltration that ultimately turned American universities into bastions of radical liberal ideology? But I have to admit Peterson makes some good points. The very folks inclined to seek out his mentorship will be rewarded, no doubt, with bright scarlet letters atop their curriculum vitae in any academic HR department or before any hiring committee. He makes a good case that he’s actually doing limited good and by redirecting his efforts he might have a broader impact. Perhaps, within the echo-chamber of existing like-minded people.

But it seems Peterson should do more than lambast his peers who hide and curry favor in order to keep their jobs. Something different is called for, I’d suggest. A turning away from the increasing cycle of more and more years of public education and corresponding radical ideology. What is required is a re-thinking of whether universal university education is an expectation that provides any real degree of value. There will always be a need and place for people who do require advanced or specialized types of training, though I’d argue alternatives could and should be developed still to mandatory undergraduate and graduate degrees for doctors and other professionals. Peterson seems to accept the mandate that has grown unceasingly over the last 40 years – universal university education is a good goal and a benefit to both the individual and society.

But as pressure mounts to eliminate some or all student loan debt, this clearly is a flawed premise. Even when I was in high school in the early 80’s there was already a stigma against vocational education. Maybe more effort should be directed at countering this stigma and providing recognition of honorable work that doesn’t require a degree. While I’m not familiar with and therefore not endorsing everything Mike Rowe might be saying, I do respect his critique of the denigration in American society of vocational training and jobs as somehow menial and non-respectable.

Hopefully Peterson will find that broader platform he hints at. His voice is much needed. But one voice isn’t nearly enough.

Catching Up, Philosophically

May 1, 2022

Now that I have reliable Internet for the first time in almost three months, I want to catch up on a backlog of bookmarked articles to share or comment on.

First up (literally) is this article explaining the prevalence of scientism in the West, and noting the fundamental philosophical flaws that render it’s confidence problematic at best, dangerous at worst. If we’re honest with ourselves, all of us as Westerners raised in the 21st century suffer from this to some extent. Living in another part of the world for a while, I begin to realize the extent goes a lot deeper than I’d like to think. The author’s distinction of scientism zealots vs. agnostics is helpful in this regard.

Realizing that even in Christian communities there are a lot of folks who are effectively scientism agnostics even though they profess Jesus as Lord and Savior is complicated, to say the least. Examining our own ideas about things is a good place to start, both towards humble reconciliation with what we claim is Truth, as well as loving care and outreach to others struggling with these two irreconcilable ideas of truth.

Well You Can Just Rock Me to Sleep Tonight

March 4, 2022

And in case you’d like to stay awake a little longer tonight silently contemplating things you never thought about before as well, here’s this little article on whether or not Superman – were he real – should be baptized.

As the article indicates, the main factors the author uses to consider this are based in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, some 900 years later arguably still the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest theologian. I appreciate the attempt to provide a consistent, coherent answer to the question while addressing some very legitimate questions. The author isn’t the first to ponder this possibility, as I’ve noted before. I’d prefer to lose sleep if/when we actually discover alien life to which we might apply such questions as this (as opposed to microbes or other forms of life we deem baptism inappropriate for). But it’s nice to be reminded others are being more proactive in their theology.

Catastrophic

October 23, 2021

This is the word Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor used to describe the Court’s refusal to block Texas from enforcing Texas Senate Bill 8 which went into effect in early September and made it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to obtain an abortion from either an abortion clinic such as Planned Parenthood or a licensed doctor’s office.

It’s a good word. But let’s flesh it out a bit.

Catastrophic can mean something that causes great damage and suffering. It can also mean extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. It might also mean a sudden and large-scale alteration in state.

Great damage and suffering. Sotomayor means this to describe the suffering of women in Texas who are – at least for the time being pending Supreme Court review by early next month – possibly unable to obtain an abortion. Most statistics I found online indicate that there were in the neighborhood of 55,000 abortions provided in Texas in 2020. That to just under 4,600 abortions per month. For the sake of argument assuming numbers are constant, that means around 8000 women are potentially going to be prevented from obtaining an abortion from when the law went into effect until when the Supreme Court has promised an opinion on it.

That’s a big number. Then again, so is 596, the number of months since Roe v. Wade was finalized in January of 1972. I’m going to assume static numbers again, which I know is not entirely accurate since abortion numbers fluctuate by year, rising steadily from 1973 until 1996, when they began to decline. But since the fluctuation is similar to a bell curve it’s good enough for my broad brushstroke purpose here. 596 months of legal abortion, which adds up to – in Texas alone, and again based on generalized numbers – more than 2.7 million abortions in Texas. Think about that – 2.7 million babies legally killed in Texas alone since 1973.

I don’t know what Sotomayor’s rationale is for defending abortion. I don’t know at what point she believes the union of an egg and a sperm magically transforms from a non-human bunch of cells into a human being defended by other laws in our nation from being murdered. But if she thinks potentially delaying or preventing or causing greater cost or inconvenience to 8000 women who find themselves pregnant (despite presumably knowing that intercourse leads to a risk of pregnancy no matter what form of contraception you prefer to practice) is catastrophic, she hopefully can grasp how great a catastrophe over 2.7 million murdered babies in Texas is for those who based on clear science as well as religious conviction know that when that egg is successfully fertilized by a sperm, it is at that moment a new human life deserving of the full protection of our laws. Hopefully she can grasp that as catastrophic as she finds it that men and women should be inconvenienced by the biological results of their decisions, it is a far greater catastrophe to have redefined the meaning of life simply for the greater convenience of sexual liberty.

Extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. Undoubtedly Sotomayor thinks of this in terms of the Supreme Court’s refusal to block S.B. 8 from enforcement until their review. However perhaps it should be used in this sense to describe the failure of a philosophy and culture of death that glorifies the sexual act but insists on stripping it of natural consequences and removing it from the sanctity of marriage. Nearly 50 years of Roe v Wade and undoubtedly for Sotomayor and those who share her philosophy and opinion it is catastrophic to think their way of thinking and their philosophy and their life choices could be found lacking, inappropriate, even illegal. There is the clear message from those who support legalized abortion that this is simply a fact of life now, a reality that must be accepted and protected as inevitable and unchangeable, even though it’s really just a legal decision rendered by a small group of people 50 years ago.

And legal decisions are capable of reversal. It is fully possible for a ruling to be recognized after the fact as inappropriate on any number of bases. In fact our judicial system is based on this recognition and insistence. People are flawed and therefore decisions can be flawed, no matter how passionately some people wish they were not. No matter how clearly science destroys the most fundamental arguments they use to support their position. The extremely unfortunate issue is that it has taken this long to threaten legalized abortion. That it has taken this long to begin to dismantle the idea that abortion is somehow some sort of human right the US government has an obligation to not just defend but actively promote.

Sudden and large-scale alteration of state. This is certainly true, and I suspect that Justice Sotomayor and I probably would agree in how we apply this definition. If Texas is successful there begins – because other states will follow suit – a formal recognition of the reality that has existed for 50 years – a huge portion of the US population believes abortion is morally wrong or intellectually indefensible. It means that supporters of abortion can no longer pretend it is a monolithic, universally accepted and desired option and that dissenters are outliers and a crazy minority.

Hopefully it will challenge the devastating effects of our liberal ideas about unfettered sexual behavior, though this is probably hoping for too much or, at the very least, will take a lot longer to come about. By continually denigrating the estate of marriage and the historic understanding of family, our country has fostered and perpetuated cycles and systems of poverty linked to unplanned pregnancies and pregnancies where the father is absent. The State has attempted to pretend the family and fathers don’t matter and that the State can replace these things with aid programs. It has failed miserably and those statistics are pretty quickly available. We’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars in the last 60 years on a philosophical and political model that has failed to save those it claims to save, and instead has consigned them and their descendants to a continuous cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to break under current conditions.

Hopefully we can start to have dialogue again about the importance of understanding sexuality as something far too important to fling about casually with a disregard for consequences – something made possibly only by the continued support of legalized abortions and free or nearly free contraceptives and abortifacients. Hopefully we can begin to talk again about the value of human life instead of how to sacrifice some lives in order to make our lives more convenient.

Yes, the changes afoot – changes that hopefully will be sustained by the Supreme Court’s review – are catastrophic. But I’d argue in a good way, rather than the negative way Justice Sotomayor interprets them. That’s a lot of hope, but even for a realist like me, hope is critical. That hope is well worth the inconvenience of 8000 women. The lives of 2.7 million murdered Texan children deserve a little inconvenience by some at the moment, if the outcome could be the saving of 2.7 million Texans over the next 596 months and more.

A More Honest Defense

October 23, 2021

An article summarizing Bill Maher’s defense of David Chappelle. Nice to see some people are willing to talk about this situation honestly. Then again, Maher probably has less risk of losing his fan base than Jon Stewart does.

Still Watching Netflix

October 21, 2021

On the heels of my post last week regarding the controversy between Dave Chappelle and the transgender/LGBGQ+ community I took the opportunity to watch his special at the center of the storm entitled The Closer.

This is not for the faint of heart. Ever since my one – and only – live stand-up comic viewing nearly 30 years ago I’ve never understood the need to resort to the basest language and the exploitation of all manner of sex. Chappelle, while clearly far more intelligent and insightful than the average comic trying to win cheap laughs from an intoxicated audience (thanks to the drink minimums comedy clubs at least used to require in addition to cover charges), is not above snagging some easy laughs from simple crudeness. Likewise, if you’re averse to race-related language and criticisms you’ll likely not enjoy this either. Although I knew this all going into it and considered it more a research exercise than the sort of entertainment I would naturally gravitate towards, I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. The man clearly knows his art.

The issue is what is that art? I’d argue Chappelle’s art is cultural analysis and critique. One may agree or disagree with his conclusions and assertions but that’s what he’s doing under a thin, and I mean very thin veneer of comedy. Much of his material is designed to elicit not just a laugh but the follow-up internal examination why did I laugh at that? Should I have? Is there something wrong with me? Am I part of the problem?

Everything about the show should clue the viewer in that Chappelle is up to more than simple entertainment.

This is the last of his contracted Netflix specials. He’s very clear that he feels not only the freedom but the obligation as such to say some things people aren’t going to like. He’s choosing specifically to be controversial in this special. And the entire special is bracketed within the somewhat comedic narrative arc of issues related to a black rapper named DaBaby.

Chappelle begins with commenting on the curious fact that DaBaby was involved in a Walmart shooting that left a man dead. He slapped a female fan who he claimed took a cell phone photo too close to his face with the flash on. He has an arrest warrant in Texas for a charger of battery. And he and his associates allegedly jumped a concert promoter they believed paid only 2/3 of the money agreed upon for a performance in Miami. In this altercation they stole a credit card, $80,000 in cash (almost 3 times what was originally agreed upon and far more than the $10,000 they were allegedly shortchanged) in addition to beating the promoter.

None of these events slowed down DaBaby’s career in any regard. The Walmart altercation where a man was killed eventually saw DaBaby pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon. The other situations all saw DaBaby posting bail and walking free within a matter of hours.

However DaBaby made a series of homophobic comments at the start of one of his concerts in July 2021 and at the demands of the LGBTQ+ community he was dropped from several concerts, a fashion collaboration, and his contributions on a popular song were edited out of the song, resulting in his removal of credits for the song. Effectively, as Chappelle notes, his career has been destroyed.

Destroyed not because of his violence and even killing a person, but because he hurt the feelings of the LGBTQ+ community.

This provides the crux for most of the material that follows. In this material Chappelle calls out the LGBTQ+ community for their power, and for their hypocrisy. He has garnered little love and much animosity from that community over the course of his career because of his insistence on mocking some of their ideological tenets (biological gender is a social construct rather than a biological fact, etc.). They’ve accused him of punching down on their community – a term that implies a level of superior social standing or other advantages inherent by Chappelle personally.

His counterargument – provided rather powerfully if often offensively – is that the LGBTQ+ community has achieved far more, far more quickly in their march towards equal rights than racial minorities in America. In the span of a few short decades it has become possible for this community to destroy the careers of multiple people opposing their demands not just for legal equality but for preferred treatment and depiction. Meanwhile Chappelle argues, minorities in America continue to deal with racism and discrimination.

The show closes with where it began, with his appealing to the LGBTQ+ community to lay off of DaBaby – and by extension Chappelle and anyone else who happens to simply disagree with them.

He defends his relationship to actual LGBTQ+ individuals while maintaining his stance in opposition to many of their ideas. He affirms his support for the biological reality of gender. And he observes that things have reached an unhealthy place when no dialogue is possible on these issues anymore. That any resistance to the increasingly wild assertions of the LGBTQ+ community simply results in financial ruin for the opposition. In such a toxic environment Chappelle maintains, there is no dialogue and therefore things are dangerously unhealthy. As such, he vows to make no more transgender or LGBTQ+ jokes in his shows until some sort of healthy dialogue is restored. It is not a cease fire so much as a refusal to engage with an enemy who insists he has no right to his opinion (or scientific fact) while he must not only agree but endorse every opinion offered by literally anyone within the LGBTQ+ community. Until this is rectified and acknowledged he will not pretend there is healthy dialogue when there clearly is not.

That’s a lot for a comedy special!

Unsurprisingly, the very situation he criticizes in this special – the inability to speak on the issue at all except in complete and total support and enthusiasm for LGBTQ+ assertions – is demonstrated through demands from LGBTQ+ employees of Netflix to not only remove Chappelle’s program from Netflix’s lineup but for Netflix to actively invest in more content that agrees with and furthers the ideas and demands of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ironically, the LGBTQ+ community claims this is not an example of cancel culture. They argue, hilariously, that this isn’t an example of cancel culture because they invited Chappelle to rupudiate his statements and embrace their ideals and demands and he refused. Therefore they’re justified in attempting to not just figuratively but literally cancel him.

Uh, somebody should explain the definition of cancel culture to these folks!

Friends of Chappelle struggle to not abandon him while not incurring the wrath of the LGBTQ+ community and facing very real financial and professional challenges as a result. Jon Stewart is reduced to simply asserting his love for Chappelle and his necessary belief that this is all just somehow a miscommunication. This is hilarious and pathetic all at the same time. The problem is not miscommunication, the problem is that Chappelle has dared to communicate too clearly and directly. And Stewart – who’s no slouch when it comes to mocking those he disagrees with – is reduced to simpering on the sidelines instead of calling this what it is, a hostage situation.

For whatever reasons (and there are plenty that should be examined) the LGBTQ+ community is in a position to financially and professionally and personally smear and destroy anyone they decide to if that person disagrees with them or fails to meet their expectations. Despite being a tiny percentage of the overall population, they are in a position to dictate to Hollywood to portray LGBTQ+ characters in huge disproportion to the general population. Judging by commercials and movies and other forms of entertainment, you’d likely come to the conclusion that LGBTQ+ folks comprise close to half of the general population, instead of under 5% (although recent studies indicate an uptick of reported LGBTQ+ affiliations by young people – hardly a surprise when this is actively taught in schools to developing minds and personalities).

Chappelle has indicated a willingness to talk with the disgruntled Netflix employees. He has also promised to launch a 10-stop American tour if his show is removed by Netflix. Chappelle appears more than willing to go toe-to-toe with the LGBTQ+ community on this issue. A man who has been vocal about the racism he perceives in our culture is equally willing to stand against and speak out against other forms of abuse. Whether you agree with his perspective on racism or not, he has a lot to say and is very capable and willing to say it, though in language some of us find distasteful and offensive. I’d be fascinated to sit down over a drink with Chappelle and just talk with him.

Netflix in the meantime seems to be wavering, with the CEO apologizing for mishandling the situation. So far they haven’t removed the special, and the disgruntled employee group has dropped that demand from their list of demands. Chappelle is one of the few people willing to speak out actively against these tactics though, and perhaps one of the few voices able to be heard by a large cross-section of people. It’s a shame it has turned out this way, but apparently everyone else has too much to lose, or is too afraid of losing what little they have.

That’s definitely an unhealthy situation, no matter how you feel about LGBTQ+ ideals.

Watching Netflix

October 13, 2021

I’ve watched very little Dave Chappelle. A few YouTube clips at most. I don’t have a feel for his comedic style or where he might be coming from in life. The little I know about him is just that – little. So I don’t have opinions or perspectives on the controversial material that has thrust him into the spotlight again. Opinions and perspectives expressed in comedic observations, but which directly conflict with or challenge the prevailing championing of transgender issues.

This has earned him the ire of those who once felt he was on their side. A small group of Netflix employees have demanded Netflix remove the show. Netflix has thus far refused to do so, claiming it supports the creative license of content producers, and noting that Chappelle’s work as a whole has been some of the most widely viewed material Netflix has produced. No official word on whether this latest offering from Chappelle, entitled The Closer, follows in that lucrative and widely viewed path.

Personally, I wonder what Chappelle is up to. Either he’s boldly taking a stance contrary to the currently dominant vocal minority, or he’s orchestrating a larger-scale comedic event, where he’ll reveal at some point down the line how he was trolling those folks who cheered his countercultural stance. In the long run, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter.

What does matter, and what we should all be watching for carefully, is whether Netflix caves to that strident but very, very small minority of voices within the company insisting Chappelle’s show should be removed because it conflicts with their personal opinions and ideologies. The rest of Hollywood appears to have mostly caved to such voices long ago, and set about dutifully creating content that supports and encourages the sorts of lifestyles and world views championed by this minority. Upcoming new releases include a son-of-Superman comic line where the titular character is bisexual. Another includes a reboot of the awful 80’s horror franchise Child’s Play, this time serialized on cable channels and involving the main character (other than Chucky) just figuring out he’s gay.

Certainly there are a few voices like Chappelle’s willing to challenge this tidal wave of gender confusing material aimed squarely at children and adolescents ill-equipped to make healthy sense of it. But those voices are few and far between, or at least sparsely covered. When they are covered countering opinions overwhelm the actual material the article is allegedly about.

How ironic that those who champion inclusivity and diversity are adamant that any voice out of step with their own ideologies should be silenced. That was one of their complaints when other voices were reflecting or directing our cultural opinions.

What’s at stake here is creative license, to be certain. The reality is that approval and assent to gender and sex redefinitions is nowhere near unanimous. The minority of liberal voices seeks to create the appearance that their views and ideas (which are always in flux) are the majority view. If contrary material is made available to the public and is commercially successful it will demonstrate this is not the case, threatening the control these voices now exercise.

I commend Netflix. Not for their ideology necessarily, but for being a company instead of an ideological power. Their job is to create content and earn money for doing so. The market determines whether they continue to produce certain kinds of content. I don’t personally like slasher films like Child’s Play, nor am I much of a fan of most comedians today, Chappelle included. The question is whether people should determine what is produced by spending their money on it, or whether companies should determine what people like by only producing a certain kind of material.

So far the latter approach is holding sway, and I believe history will judge that trend harshly – both as a business model as well as a sociological movement. In the meantime, be aware of what your kids and grand-kids are watching, and don’t be surprised if they come to some conclusions about the world and right and wrong that are starkly different from your understandings and beliefs.

Book Review: Live Not By Lies

February 2, 2021

Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher

I was looking forward to this book a great deal, remembering how I found Dreher’s earlier work, The Benedict Option thought provoking and important. Having finished his latest work I’m conflicted in my reactions.

First off, pay attention to the title. This book is primarily a political work. It has to do with resisting totalitarianism (soft totalitarianism, as Dreher describes what is gradually taking over in America and the West). This soft totalitarianism will likely (at least for the near future) rely on non-military, non-violent means to continue to shape public opinion and perspectives both through positive affirmation techniques as well as punitive efforts such as banning web sites, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds or Facebook accounts. Dreher sees in the history of Western Europe and Russia under both Stalinism and Naziism valuable lessons about how to endure this coming darkness in American culture. Granted, this darkness will hit the faithful Christian pastors, congregations, and families first and foremost, but it will affect all of American society and culture. Barring a miracle, Dreher doesn’t think this can be avoided, therefore we must learn and prepare now how to endure it and outlast it.

He writes to and for Christians, without a doubt, but this is a political book. The darkness of totalitarianism he rightly warns about are certainly nothing new in world history or Christian history. Christians have endured, outlasted and at times thrived amidst cultures that were directly opposed to them. And, also very true, countless Christians have and continue to lose their livelihoods, their health, their freedom, and their lives in such contexts. This is no small matter. But we must be clear that Dreher’s primary concern is political rather than religious.

Roughly the first third of the book is dedicated to supporting and illustrating Dreher’s assessment of our current situation in America and the rising tide of soft totalitarianism that will soon displace everything we’ve enjoyed in terms of freedoms and liberties. Much of this will be accomplished through socially active corporations and businesses rather than at the point of a government military bayonet. Americans already conditioned to value first and foremost personal achievement and comfort are increasingly unwilling and unable to endure even the thought of discomfort or adversity, and will willingly sacrifice more and more of their freedoms to ensure they maintain their comfort and are accepted as socially relevant and culturally admirable.

The next two thirds of the book cover the major points of Dreher’s outline for resistance – value the truth, cultivate cultural memory, create and maintain strong families, engage deeply in a faith, seek solidarity beyond faith boundaries, and embrace suffering as a necessary and sometimes valuable part of life. These are broad brushstrokes filled in not with specific how-tos but rather illustrative historical anecdotes gleaned firsthand from those who survived (or didn’t survive) the brutal repressions under Communist or Nazi governments.

The proof that this book is primarily political rather than religious struck me most fully on p.176 where, while emphasizing the importance of building and maintaining relationships and cooperative efforts with others who have not succumbed to the totalitarian state even if their beliefs differ markedly from your own, Dreher states “The Christian activist’s point: be kind to others, for you never know when you will need them, or they will need you.”

This might be a good activist motto, but it is patently unChristian and unBiblical. I’m not accusing Dreher of being either of those things, but it’s clear that his focus in this book is on resisting, enduring, surviving and ultimately triumphing over repressive political regimes that are hostile to Christians and others who do not accept their agendas. If I had thought more about the word Dissidents in the subtitle that might have surprised me less than it did.

My main disappointment in this book is that it is mainly ideological rather than practical. His many Eastern European and Russian anecdotes and interviews definitely support his major premises but do not provide anything close to a Manual. It is not a how to so much as you ought to do this. It is a manifesto rather than a manual, a call to awareness rather than instructive to those already seeing what Dreher sees or already convinced by his arguments.

This is not a bad book but it is mainly a political book. Christians should read this book as a means of recognizing just how bad things might get, whether by soft means or hard means. Prisons, torture, solitary confinement, economic marginalization and executions were all hard means by which Soviet and Nazi regimes attempted to force conformity to and acceptance of their ideologies and agendas. In the West it may never come to such harsh, crash measures when so many people are obsessed over their careers and maintaining a social media image dependent on continued purchases, extravagances, and travel. How many people in the US – Christians even – would be quick to accept whatever was told them in order to ensure their Twitter feed stayed up and their YouTube channel remained monetized and their Facebook account was never flagged as offensive or deleted as such. Additional pressures such as banks choosing not to do business with certain individuals or groups branded by the larger culture as offensive makes it even more complicated. In short order – and without the threat of violence or government interaction at any level someone could find their career ended and struggling to make ends meet. Does it sound far-fetched? Read the headlines more carefully. It’s already happening.

But there’s an element of truth in saying it has always happened. Or perhaps the roots just go back farther than we like to think. At one Dreher uses as support for his premise of the onslaught of soft totalitarianism a very practical litmus test – have you ever held your tongue and not said what you really thought because you were afraid of the consequences? It sounds like a water-proof demonstration of Dreher’s assertions. Surely most if not all of us at one point or another at some point in our lives has decided it was more prudent to remain silent.

Is this anything new? I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird to and with my family. I read it as a high school freshman but don’t remember the book at all beyond the character names. It’s fascinating to read it essentially for the first time and appreciate how good the book is on a variety of levels. It’s not easy to read, as some of the explicit language that was commonplace at the time has been judged never appropriate by anyone other than African Americans themselves. We have to check to make sure the windows are closed and the doors are closed so neighbors don’t overhear something and misinterpret it.

A side character we’re introduced to in the book is a white man who lives with a black woman and has children with her. His preference to live in the black community is a source of consternation to the white people in town, but they dismiss it because they believe him to be an alcoholic. However we’re told as the book unwinds that he actually isn’t an alcoholic – doesn’t even really like the taste of alcohol. But he maintains the appearance of a drunk – reeling when he walks and never to be seen without a brown paper bag that he drinks out of. His explanation for cultivating such a bizarre persona is that it allows him to live life the way he prefers without the outright ostracism or even violence of the white townspeople who, were it not for his alleged alcoholism, could never permit him to carry on his life with a black woman. Because he doesn’t hold the same prejudices as his white neighbors, he finds it more convenient that they dismiss him as a drunk rather than attempt to reform his unorthodox opinions, or punish him for them.

In other words, it’s undoubtedly true that in all times and in all places people have had to hold their tongues or curate a particular public persona that may not fully reflect their private beliefs. That this is the case has not always been indicative of a totalitarian agenda or regime, a fact others have noted. One might easily argue from the Bible that Christians should at all times feel as though they have to be careful about what they say and do because the world and popular culture will naturally be antagonistic to the full weight of the Gospel.

Dreher maintains the suggestion first voiced by Neil Postman that while Americans were busy vaccinating themselves against the evil external threat of Communism as articulated by George Orwell in 1984 and Animal Farm, we have actually fallen prey to the dystopia described by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, a situation where people don’t need to be imprisoned or threatened to behave a certain way because they’ve been conditioned to think the desired behavior is the behavior best for them and everyone else. I think this is a fair assessment. I think that people who continue to voluntarily sacrifice their rights and privacy for an illusory safety and convenience will ultimately be rudely disappointed with their choices. How long it takes them to wake up and realize that – if ever they do – is hard to say.

Finishing this book makes me want to go back and reread The Benedict Option (and I will), as I feel it was more specific to Christians and the life of faith not as a means to a political end but in and of itself.