Friday, March 30, 2012

The origins of the modern state

I've been reading a fascinating little book by William Cavanaugh titled Theopolitical Imagination. One of the most interesting things in the book is a brief section on the origins of the modern idea of the state. Cavanaugh writes that "In the medieval period, the term status had been used either in reference to the condition of the ruler (status principis), or in the general sense of the condition of the realm (status regni). With Machiavelli we begin to see the transition to a more abstract sense of the state as an independent political entity, but only in the works of sixteenth-century French and English humanists does there emerge the modern idea of the state as 'a form of public power separate from both ruler and the ruled, and constituting the supreme political authority within a certain defined territory.'

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Run, Slave Run!

by Terrell Clemmons, guest blogger

“Nancy Pelosi is Italian,” Rev C.L. Bryant observes, “and Rick Santorum is Italian. But yet, Nancy doesn’t attack Rick as a bad Italian for being a Republican. And Rick does not attack Nancy for being a bad Italian for being a Democrat.”

Of course they don’t, the astute observer notes. Nancy Pelosi and Rick Santorum operate out of opposing political views, and attacks and counterattacks usually have some basis in those conflicting positions. We get that.

Why does C.L. even bother to make this observation? Because when he and his fellow black conservatives speak publicly about their conservative political positions, the responses they get from black liberals are of a whole different kind. “If I believe differently than the lockstep ideology of black folks, politically,” C.L. says, “then I’m a ‘bad black guy.’ I’m a ‘sellout.’ We’re the only group of people who are ostracized - color-wise, racially - for having [our different] opinion, politically.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Salvo 20 is now out!

If you don't already subscribe to Salvo, you should. Salvo 20 is now hot off the press. Don't waste another moment but click here to subscribe today at a special discounted rate. If you're not quite sure that you want to subscribe to the magazine, we've put some of the material online for free, including an article of mine titled 'The Illusionist  How Herbert Marcuse Convinced a Generation that Censorship Is Tolerance and Other Politically Correct Tricks.'

Friday, March 23, 2012

Let's Rally for Reason

“Don’t be surprised to find out that there are atheists and agnostics in your midst,” Ted said to me, after railing against the evils of organized religion. I got the impression he expected some kind of visible reaction from me.

But I wasn’t surprised. He’d already said he was a humanist. The two kind of go together. Besides, I’m not horrified over atheists. I took the bait. You wanna discuss atheism, Ted? Let’s discuss atheism. “So, I get that you have problems with organized religion, Ted. But human organizations aside, do you believe there is a God? Or do you believe there is not a God?”

Ted didn’t give me a straightforward answer, though. Instead he referred me to Sam Harris, one of his “favorite authors and Freethinkers,” who takes issue with some Catholic teachings and other Christian ideas about God. That was fine for Sam Harris, but Ted didn’t answer for himself. So I repeated the question.

This time he answered. “I don’t believe there is a God,” he said, and followed up with a caricature of Christianity. “I don’t believe there is a supreme being that created the universe; and sits in heaven and watches every movement and monitors the thoughts of every human. I see very clearly the problems of organized religion...the hypocrisies, the greed, the sadistic, bullying behavior.”

Now I had something to work with.In the language of basic logic of reasoning from premises (P) to conclusions (C), I reflected his own reasoning back to him. “Ok, Ted, correct me if I'm wrong. From what I'm hearing, your reasoning goes something like this:  

P: People associated with organized religion have engaged in objectionable behavior.  
C: Therefore, there is no God.”

Since he’d quoted Sam Harris, I did the same for Harris’s reasoning. “And Sam Harris’s reasoning goes something like this:  

P: The character traits of God as presented by some organized religions are objectionable to me.  
C: Therefore, there is no God.”

At this, Ted clarified himself a bit. He was a “science guy,” and God, if he exists, is either “impotent...or evil.” And then he was ready to be done with it. “But, enough about what I think,” he said, and he shifted the subject to something else.

This exchange illustrates something about non-theists, whether they call themselves humanists, agnostics, atheists, freethinkers, or whatever label they prefer. At root, the atheist’s position is intellectually unsound.

Here’s another example:  

Ivan: “I’m definitely an atheist. I am an atheist because I cannot believe in fantasy. There is no God. There is no Heaven. There is no Hell. That stuff was created by man to help man feel better about himself. When I look at the scientific facts, I cannot believe in that. So yes, I am an atheist. Absolutely.”

 Terrell: “Which scientific facts?”  

Ivan read off statistics about the size of the universe, emphasizing its vastness. “To think that there’s some type of supreme being, call it God or Jesus, that is bigger than that? That is concerned about us on earth? About our welfare? About our future? It’s absolutely preposterous,”

Ivan’s reasoning went like this:  

P: The universe is really huge.  
C: Therefore, there is no God.

Like Ted, Ivan considers himself a “science guy.”

Well, I like science, too. And, sure, the size of the universe is a marvel. But it says nothing about the existence or non-existence of God. Nothing, whatsoever. Soon, Ivan was ready to call it quits too. “I believe that at some point, people end up with firm convictions,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. “Their viewpoints should be respected and further attempts to convert them should be avoided because not everybody wants to be converted.”

Ahh, now we have arrived at the heart of the matter: Not everybody wants to be converted. These two exchanges expose the heretofore hidden reality that Ted and Ivan have made a personal, philosophical faith choice to disbelieve. Believers need to remember this and press those vocal non-theists to make their case. The prevailing posture among atheism says the atheistic worldview is more intellectually sound and evolutionarily advanced—that atheism is the belief anyone would come to if he merely examined the scientific facts, all other belief systems being vestiges of Stone Age superstition on a par with moon worship and child sacrifice. But it’s not. Get the facts out in the open and it becomes pretty obvious. Theism stands. Atheism falls. Because there really is a God who created the universe.

The smart atheists seem to know this. Tom Gilson invited David Silverman, president of American Atheists, to co-sponsor an open, reasoned debate at the Reason Rally which will take place this weekend. He declined. William Lane Craig invited Richard Dawkins to debate. He declined. Nevertheless, unreason notwithstanding, the Reason Rally will go on this weekend. Take it as an invitation to reason together with the non-theists in your midst. Theism is up to the challenge. Atheism isn’t. Related Readings

Terrell Clemmons Joins as Guest Blogger

As the title of this blog suggests, it has pretty much always been just a one-man-show. However, I recently invited fellow Salvo author Terrell Clemmons to join the blog, and to post regular reflections on her own readings, or insights from current events.

Terrell Clemmons is a full-time wife and mom and part-time freelance writer on matters of faith and culture. She specializes in what she calls 'analytical apologetics.' If you want to know what that means, keep an eye out for her posts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bethany College and Anti-Intellectualism

Bethany College was  started in 1840 when the revivalist Alexander Campbell gained a charter from the state of Virginia. It still exists as one of America's leading colleges. And while Wikipedia lists 25 different fields of study that the university offers, you won't find theology among them. If you go to Bethany's own website and look at their religious studies major or their explanation of the major, you won't find any mention of theology.

I came across the explanation for this curious fact today when reading Nathan Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity. Hatch recounts how “In 1840, [Alexander] Campbell gained a charter for Bethany College from the state of Virginia with the curious provision that no professorship of theology should ever be established.”

This unusual provision was, in fact, fruit of the explicitly anti-intellectual posturing that was so characteristic of the Second Great Awakening - a posture I have already touched upon in my earlier post To The Dogs With the Head. In echoing Tertullian's est quia impossible and Anselm's credo ut intelligam (though it is unlikely that any of the Awakening's revivalists even heard of Tertullian or Anselm), they set the trajectory for the type of 20th century anti-intellectualism I wrote about in my earlier post The Double-Truth Universe.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hate Religion but Love Jesus? Think Again!

The video 'Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus' recently went viral, with a number of my friends even falling for this anti-religion propaganda.

I was one of those who was not so quick to jump onto the 'Love Jesus but Hate Religion' bandwagon, and in an article I recently published with the Colson Center I explain why. Here is one of the points I made:
In this popular video a young man trumps out all the same worn-out arguments against the Christian religion that God-haters have been bringing forward ever since the French Enlightenment (i.e., that religion creates wars, produces hypocrites, brings bondage, etc.) The video climaxes in the claim that Jesus came to abolish religion.
While some of my friends have tried to argue that the speaker in this video is only talking about false religion, it is significant that one of the reasons so many Christians repudiate the term ‘religion’ is in order to self-consciously downplay the public and corporate aspects the term immediately brings to mind.

Another reason why the term ‘religion’ is falling out of favor is because it is considered cool to pit the relational aspect of Christianity against the structural and ecclesiastical connotations, with the term ‘religion’ being emblematic of the latter. As you’ve probably heard people say before, “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.” The only problem is that this false dilemma is about just as illogical as if someone were to claim that marriage cannot be a close relationship if it is also an institution. The love relationship of marriage depends on the integrity of marriage as an institution, just as our relationship with Jesus depends on the integrity of the religion in which that relationship is situated. 
If you are interested in reading further about the problems with the 'Love Jesus hate Religion' movement, you might want to get hold of some of the resources I share in the following articles:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Implications of Digitizing Scripture

We all come to online texts with a different set of expectations that we bring to a book. We read books cover to cover, and even when we scan it tends to have a sequential quality to it. But research has shown that the average person does not read a webpage from left to right and from top to bottom. Instead they skip around, scanning for relevant information. (See the study released in 2008 by the research and consulting group nGenera).
While reading, and especially silent reading, works against the brain’s natural predisposition to constantly shift its attention from one object to another, reading online does just the opposite: it feeds the brain’s propensity for distraction. It is not difficult to see this at work. From pop-ups, to animations, to email notification, to live feeds to hyperlinks , the internet seems designed to distract us from one thing to focus our attention onto something else. When we go online, we enter what Cory Doctorow has appropriately termed an “ecosystem of interruption technologies.” Our attention is scattered amid a cacophony of stimuli, inundated with the type of mental stimulation that feeds off “small, rapidly dispensed pieces of information.”
In short, the calm, focused and linear mind of the reader is being pushed aside by what Nicholas Carr has called “a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts – the faster, the better.”
This suggests that our reading habits when we’re online will be considerably different to how we read a book, or even to a newspaper or magazine. The question is whether this differentiation can be sustained in the face of the increasing digitization of books. As everything from the King James Bible to the latest bestsellers are put in digital format, will the book begin to embody the furniture of the online environment, namely “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” ? If so, what are the implications for the church’s use of scripture? Should we resist the digitization of scripture, or does the form of a book even matter?
These are some questions that I have addressed in my series of articles "From the Kings James Bible to the i-pad." To read these articles, click on the following links:
From the King James Bible to the i-pad (Part 1)

From the King James Bible to the i-pad (Part 2)

From the King James Bible to the i-pad (Part 3)


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Sweetness of Mormonism

My book Saints and Scoundrels is not just detached facts about good guys and bad guys. In every chapter I endeavor to draw out lessons that can be applied in our daily walk with Christ.

Here is a point I make at the end of my chapter about the villain Joseph Smith. These reflections arose from my fascination with the way Smith's followers, the Mormons, are able to so successfully perpetuate the faith to the next generation. While the Latter Day Saints represent only 1.7% of America’s adult population, they have the largest retention rate of any religious tradition in America.
Joseph Smith's Vision
The way the Latter Day Saints have achieved self-perpetuation has not primarily been through conversion but through organic growth from within. Being encouraged to have large families plays a key part in this process. But even more significant is the fact that Mormon children are raised not simply to accept their parents’ religion, but to love it. In Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Lecture he noted, “In vain does one repeat what the heart does not find sweet.” Mormons repeat what they are taught because they have been trained to find it sweet. One major reason for this is the sense of community shared by those within the movement – a strange antidote to the individualism in which the movement was birthed. The Latter Day Saints look after each other, put a high premium on loyalty to the extended family, practice hospitality in one another’s homes, and intentionally structure their parishes in a way to facilitate a sense of community among their members. Children growing up in this environment simply do not want to leave it.

The rest of us stand to learn a valuable lesson here. As Christian parents our task is not merely to pass on the truth to our children; rather, we must endeavor to show them that the truth is also lovely. Many Christian young people have willingly walked away from a faith they knew to be true because they were enticed by the illusory attractiveness of idols. But few will abandon a faith they believe to be both true and beautiful. The deceptiveness of Mormonism is that it is packaged in such a way so that the youth find it beautiful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Salvo Pump

Blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of death; 

Critiquing art, music, film, television, and literature, interrupting mass media influence, and questioning the sanity of our consumerist lifestyle;
Countering destructive ideologies, replacing revisionist fictions with undeniable facts, and paring away political correctness;
Debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence;
Recovering the one worldview that actually works. 

The above is from the mission statement of Salvo magazine.

If that isn't already enough to interests you in subscribing to Salvo magazine, the clincher is that nearly every issue includes an article by me.

The articles I write for Salvo explore everything from political correctness to the influence of the media on our sexuality. Although most of the articles that appear in the magazine are only available in the print edition, Salvo has kindly put some of my past articles online, including

In addition to the magazine articles, Salvo has also hired me to write a daily blog post for their blog, 'Signs of the Times' beginning this Wednesday. You can subscribe to my daily blog post here or just visit the website everyday.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Subversive fiction

Fiction is a powerful tool for portraying truth, and this is why fictional movies have such power. They affect you on a deeper level than mere fact. But it is also for this reason that fictions can be so subversive. In his book Intellectual Morons, Daniel Flynn describes why fiction has been central to utopians and social engineers throughout the ages

"Fictional expression is so appealing to Utopians precisely because anything, no matter how ridiculous, can be made to seem realistic....What fails in real-world practice is often an unmitigated success in film, on the stage, or in the pages of a novel. ...the cultural message might be subtle, and as a result it can have a greater impact. Propaganda can be particularly effective in entertainment because people are supposed to suspend reality when they watch sitcoms, movies, plays, and other dramatic performances. With enough theatrical reptition, the abnormal becomes normal, and far-fetched ideas seem plausible."

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Friday, March 09, 2012

The Republican Election

Americans are probably sick and tired of hearing news about the election, but for the sake of my foreign readers, it may be helpful to see the explanation I wrote four years ago about how the process of electing a president actually works in America.

Additionally, the following summary which I recently wrote for the Christian Voice newsletter may be helpful. (It was written prior to Romney's Super Tuesday victories, most of it still applies.)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Politics of Literary Criticism

In an article I recently published with the Colson Center, I bemoan the way that Postmodernism has turned  literary criticism into merely one more instrument for advancing political agendas.

Through a twisted course that has involved the influence of German hermeneutics, French language theory, and the American social sciences, we have arrived at a place where the intention of the author counts for very little when we approach a written work.

Thus, throughout the 20th and 21st century we have witnessed Jungian interpretations of Homer’s Odyssey, Marxist interpretations of Plato’s Republic, poststructuralist interpretations of the New Testament, post-9/11 readings of Milton’s Samson Agonistes, socialist interpretations of the American constitution, etc., ad infinitum. 

Did Homer actually intend for the journey of Odysseus to be an allegory of Jungian archetypes? Did Saint Paul really intend that his words to the Corinthians would not be decoded until the 21st century? Were the framers of the American Constitution really proto-Marxists without realizing it?

After Postmodernism, the answer to these questions is that it doesn’t matter. Since postmodern literary criticism does not have to be anchored to the intent of the writer, there is no longer a court of appeal by which we may adjudicate between the vista of competing interpretations that now accompany any single text.

Unhinged from authorial intent, the science of literary criticism is collapsing into merely another instrument for furthering political agendas and ideologies.

To read more about this in my Colson Center article, click on the following link:

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