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May 2013

A Week in CrazyWorld

I have resisted the smartphone trend, partly out of general contrary reluctance but more out of parsimony: the dang things are expensive, and they cost a lot to use. I do have a mobile phone. I've had one for something like ten years, since I embarked on a long drive alone and my wife talked me into getting one just in case I needed it, and to let her know I was all right. I've gone through several of them now, because she is rather attached to them and interested in them, and whenever she got an upgrade I got her hand-me-down, up until the point a couple of years ago (I guess) when she got an iPhone. 

For a long time I rarely used the mobile, mainly for simple purposes such as calling home or work to say I'd be late. But of course the usage has slowly grown, and people at work have the number, so that I can be reached if I'm away from home and there's an emergency there. I even learned to send text messages.

Last Christmas we upgraded the iPhone belonging to one of our children, and I got her former model as a hand-me-down. It doesn't function as a phone, because I have no intention of paying the monthly fee for that service. But I took it because in my job I really need to have some familiarity with these things, and this was a way to do so without spending any money. It does have WiFi, so I can do all sorts of things with it if I have that connectivity, including reading my email. Mostly I've used it as an mp3 player.

This week I'm at a technology conference. I've been away for the whole week, and there are a lot of problems that come up at work every day that no one else knows how to handle. So I've been carrying around with me both the ordinary mobile phone, for emergencies, and the iPhone, for less pressing matters that can be handled by email (the convention center has Wi-Fi, naturally). 

It's crazy-making. I sit in a conference session in which someone is talking about some terribly complicated technical matter, and the phone buzzes with a text message. I try to handle whatever problem it presents me with while not completely losing the thread of the talk. If there's a lull I pick up the iPhone and check my email, to see what's transpiring with the problems I've been dealing with that way, and probably encounter a new one. 

My attention span and ability to concentrate, not so hot at best, are so attenuated that there is never a moment when I'm entirely focused on one thing. It doesn't help that being in a large crowd always tends to make introverted me uneasy and distracted. 

When I leave this conference I won't be tied to these devices anymore, but such seems to be a normal way of life for an awful lot of people. Setting aside the introvert part, I can't believe that the adoption of these habits isn't going to have the effect of making people in general less able and/or willing to think deeply and to reflect. I hope they're more resilient than I am.


Error Has No Rights

I've been meaning to write about this for some time, and I find that every time I start collecting my thoughts I discover that events have taken another step. It's dawning on more and more Christians that the movement for homosexual marriage and for approval of homosexuality in general means that the liberal culture is beginning to operate on that erstwhile Catholic motto that "error has no rights." 

James Hitchcock, writing in the March/April Touchstone, has an excellent succinct summary of the situation. The article is not available online, and my copy of the magazine is in my office at work, thirty miles away, so I can't quote him precisely, but he makes three key points. 

First is that liberalism, in the sense that we casually use the term, is a religion. This is neither classical liberalism, nor political liberalism insofar as specific opinions about, for instance, government spending, are concerned. It's a complete philosophy of life comprised of practical atheism (though with plenty of room for unstructured "spirituality"), left-wing politics, sexual liberation, and hostility toward the Western heritage, with particular animosity for Christianity. 

Second, that this religion is engaged in a struggle for dominance with traditional religions, most visibly with the strains of Christianity which still insist on the objective meaning of traditional beliefs, but also with similar strains in Judaism. (Islam is a special case: to be applauded and encouraged as an enemy of Christianity, but yet alarming, because so entirely un-liberal.)

And third, that this religion is less and less inclined to consider that its opponents have a right to express their views in public. 

The reasoning is based on the assertion that a negative view of homosexuality is exactly the same thing as racism, and that opposition to homosexual marriage is exactly the same thing as opposition to equal rights for black Americans. The gradual defeat of racism in law and in public opinion is the defining historical paradigm for liberalism--and almost every question is subsumed in it, with the side favored by liberalism naturally standing in the place of Martin Luther King et.al. and its opponents in the place of t he Ku Klux Klan. This very simplified good-vs.-evil schema is immensely powerful, not only among committed liberals themselves but among white Americans at large, who remain rightfully ashamed of the racism of the past and are at least defensive about taking the wrong side in any controversy which has been framed this way.

Examples of this are popping up all over the place. There was a good bit of noise a few months ago when a Washington Post reporter explicitly affirmed that he felt no more obligation to be fair to opponents of same-sex marriage than to be fair to open racists. This post on Rod Dreher's blog at The American Conservative gives a good summary of that affair, with links to more details. 

And if you read the comments on any post related to same-sex marriage at National Review's blog, you'll find, over and over again, liberals making exactly the same argument, though with more vigorous hostility, and an often-repeated happy anticipation of the day when those who disagree will be defeated and silenced. I imagine you can find many instances in the hundreds of comments on this post, for instance. It seems a Christian legal organization came into possession of a list of suggestions for IRS managers about dealing with homosexuals (et.al.). As the post notes, the suggestions clearly assume that disapproval of homosexuality (etc.) is not tolerable in the modern workplace. Some of them are simple matters of civility, but some go far beyond that in insisting on active agreement and suppression of disagreement. (Click here to go directly to the document.)

When you consider that the agency in question here is the one in charge of implementing tax policy and has enormous discretionary power to inflict punishment, and that it is currently in the news for plainly having used its powers to handicap conservative organizations, the picture of what is coming our way is pretty clear. I have been saying for many years that the pretense of secular democracies that government is completely neutral on fundamental philosophical questions is untenable and doomed. I'm now watching the pretense dissolve. Liberal culture is largely in control of the federal government, and we can expect it to push ever harder to disgrace and marginalize orthodox Christians and other dissenters, and to attack, where possible, the legal right to act or speak in opposition to the liberal consensus on homosexuality . Any Christian who doesn't see this and doesn't think it's significant has his head in the sand. That may not be a sin but it certainly isn't a virtue.


I had a dream last night that was a sort of murder mystery in which I was both the murderer and the detective.

Loudon Wainwright III: Talkin' Bob Dylan

Weekend Music

Today is Dylan's birthday. He's 72. Loudon Wainwright III, as you may know, was one of several artists who were briefly touted as "the new Dylan" in the early 1970s.

 

The kid he refers to in the last verse is presumably Martha Wainwright, herself a worthy artist, I think somewhat less well known than her brother Rufus, who is a gay star (that is, not just a star who is gay, but a star for whom being homosexual is a significant part of his matter and presentation--or at least that's the impression I have from seeing him on TV a couple of times).


Time to Dump The Atlantic

Here's the cover of the current issue:

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The magazine has always been a very mixed bag. But over the last few years the mixture has tipped decisively toward the conventional thinking of affluent liberals. The good things have been fewer, and the bad things more numerous and egregious. And whether good or bad, the whole magazine has become thinner, in both paper and ideas, and more superficial. I supposed I should have dropped it several years ago, when this cover appeared:

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Of course I don't expect a secular magazine to see things from a Christian point of view. But respect is not too much to ask, not to mention reason. The article to which the cover refers actually was not as bad as the title made it sound--as I recall, it was mainly about the influence of prosperity-gospel preachers. But still, the title was ugly enough.

Most Peculiar Biblical Exegesis Ever?

This has been getting quite a bit of commentary on blogs and Facebook for a couple of days, so maybe you've already seen it. I generally avoid picking on the Episcopal Church: it feels a bit unsporting, because it's such a soft target if you're looking for heretical/apostate Christians, and because in spite of all that there are still a number of people in it who believe something close to the historical faith.

But a recent sermon by presiding bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is too tempting. Surely her interpretation of Acts 16 is one of the strangest and most un- or anti-Christian ever advanced. In a nutshell, she asserts that Paul's exorcism of a young slave girl is an act of aggressive intolerance:

Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

Read the whole thing, so you can't be accused of taking her out of context. This story is being circulated with titles such as "Presiding Bishop Says Diversity Saves, Not Jesus." That's not quite fair. But it's not all that unfair, either: apart from the Acts 16 analysis, most of what she says consists of banalities about openness that are at best half true from the Christian point of view.

I admit I have always found that exorcism story a bit puzzling, since the girl is testifying to the authority of Paul and his companions. Perhaps it was the relentless compulsive behavior, not the words themselves, that worried Paul.


George Herbert: "Whitsunday"

Listen sweet Dove unto my song
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

Where is that fire which once descended
On thy Apostles? thou didst then
Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
That th’ earth did like a heav’n appeare;
The starres were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

The sunne, which once did shine alone,
Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
When he beheld twelve sunnes for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

But since those pipes of gold, which brought
That cordiall water to our ground,
Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound

Thou shutts’st the doore, and keep’st within;
Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu’ring sinne
Did not excite thee, we would wholly sink.

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light:
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.