Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jonathan Edwards and the Meaning of Easter

In honor of Easter and under the inspiration of a wonderful quotation from Jonathan Edwards, I have prepared a week's worth of Bible readings and discussion questions, which you can download at the following link:

Friday, March 29, 2013

Postmodernism and the Breakdown of Communication

Words Strain and Crack
Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence…
Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering
Always assail them.

Thus wrote T. S. Eliot in Burnt Norton V from The Four Quartets. Eliot describes the breakdown of meaning that occurs as words and their meaning die under the limitation of time. In these lines, especially if one reads them out loud and in the context of the entire poem, the breakdown of meaning hits us in a way that is startling, disconcerting, and palpable.
Eliot’s Four Quartets, published in 1944, were masterful because they vividly depict so many of the struggles, challenges and agonies characteristic of the late modern (or early postmodern) period in which he wrote. Precisely because of this, the hope of redemption held out by Eliot at the end of The Four Quartets is all the more powerful.
The agonizing words of Eliot’s poem are a good lead-in to what I want to discuss in this article, which is the Postmodern approach to language in general and literary texts in particular. (If you do not already know what Postmodernism is, then you may want to read my brief overview of Postmodernism or buy Gene Veith’s book Postmodern Times.)

Deconstructing texts
Since the advent of mass printing, and possibly even before, texts have been second only to speech as the primary means by which human beings communicate with one another.
The very existence of texts presupposes that communication is possible. Words have meaning, and while the meaning of words can often be misunderstood or change with time, the possibility of genuine, objective communication remains a reality.
At least, that was the prevailing assumption until the 20th century. Though all generalizations have exceptions, by and large people just took it for granted that it was possible to read and understand texts, even as they knew it was also possible to misread and misunderstand texts.
All this began to change in the mid-1900s, when literally thousands of intellectuals began deconstructing the legitimacy of the text as a vehicle of communication. This deconstruction did not happen overnight, but was the result of at least three important factors. We will explore each of these three factors in turn, before looking at the implication this had for literary criticism.

Keep reading...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Creational Order and Same-Sex 'Marriage'

Interacting with Peter Leithart's less than satisfactory comments about same-sex 'marriage' , Alastair Roberts writes, "My dismay at the claim that our only arguments are biblical and theological ones is due to its improper modesty. It involves a falling back from a stance upon creational order, an order established and ruled by God, an order that we all hold in common, irrespective of where we stand on such issues. In a willingness to admit our interlocutors’ claims that same-sex marriage can only be opposed on partisan and fideistic grounds, we have retreated to such an unassuming commitment, from which we are increasingly powerless to speak against their retreat from reality."

The Surpeme Court and the Normalization of Homosexuality

At the Christian Voice website I have posted some feedback on the last few days' Supreme Court debates about same-sex 'marriage.' Click on the following two links to read my articles:

Monday, March 25, 2013

You mean, it's not just a matter of personal taste?

Music and the Objectivity of Aesthetics

Are preferences in music purely a matter of personal taste? Can you say that certain music is objectively better than other music? Can music be evil? And if so, is it only the words that make such a verdict possible? Can any style of music be written for the glory of God? 

In order to address these questions, lets go upstream a bit. Our era tends to give unquestioning acceptance to the truism that beauty exists in the eye of the beholder. Even Christians who would resist relativism very strongly in ethics (“what is good for you might not be good for me”) or truth (“what is true for you might not be the same as what is true for me”) nevertheless collapse into relativism when it comes to aesthetics (“what is beautiful to you might be different to what is beautiful for me.”)

One alternative to this aesthetic relativism is to say that beauty is an objective quality that describes how things truly are in God’s creation. From this standpoint, saying that a certain symphony is beautiful or that something else is ugly music is just as true as making accurate statements about what key it is in, what its time signature is, and so on. 

If we are to be consistent with our Christian worldview, it does seem that we are committed, at least in principle, to predicating some degree of objectivity to both beauty and aesthetic judgments.

Keep reading...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Changing thought by changing speech

By introducing changes in how
we speak, the media often changes
how we think.
We tend to think of language as something posterior to thought. A thought comes into your mind and then you find the right words to express it.

Anthropologists and neuroscientists are currently doing some fascinating work on the relationship between thought and speech and have discovered that things are a little more complicated. Speech does not merely proceed from our thoughts like a one-way street. Rather, researchers have been finding that there is also traffic flowing in the other direction: how we speak affects how we think about the world on a level that our conscious minds may never even be aware. As psychologist Lera Boroditsky put it in a Wall Street Journal article summarizing some of this research, “the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express”.

There are fascinating examples of this from all over the world, but the phenomenon is just as evident close to home. In the last forty years, we’ve seen how the way people speak about unborn children (i.e., calling them “foetuses” or “lumps of tissue” instead of babies) has had an unconscious effect on how so many people think about the ethics of abortion. Or again, how we think about homosexuality has been enormously influenced by pairing homosexuality with words that already had a positive semantic range, such as gay. In David Kupelian book The Marketing of Evil, he showed that these and many other language shifts did not just happen, but arose out of a deliberate strategy for changing the way Westerners perceive certain key issues.

The same thing is now occurring in the debate over same-sex marriage.

Keep reading...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rob Portman's Gay Marriage U-Turn

Rob Portman sent shock waves through America's Republican Party last week by announcing that he was publicly changing his position on same-sex marriage.

The high-profile GOP senator from Ohio was previously an opponent of the gay rights movement and one of the co-sponsors of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law supporting traditional marriage which Portman now believes to be unconstitutional.

In an interview with CNN, Portman explained that his U-turn came as a result of his 21-year old son, Will, revealing to his parents two years ago that he had embraced homosexuality. “I've had a change of heart based on a personal experience” Portman told CNN.

Portman, a Christian, appealed to the Bible when trying to justify his change: “Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Homosexual Gnosticism

On my Alfred the Great website, I wrote an article on the Gnostic overtones of the gay 'marriage' movement. The article is rather long, so I'll summarize the salient points here. If you want the full deal, then visit 'Gay ‘marriage’ and the Revenge of the Gnostics.'

The movement to legalize same-sex ‘marriage’ is a return to Gnostic ideas about the body, at least in some important respects. Advocates of gay ‘marriage’ will frequently downplay the physical aspects of marriage, urging instead that marriage is not primarily about becoming one-flesh physically, but a spiritual and emotional connection for which our physical experiences are extrinsic rather than intrinsic.

In downplaying the importance of consummation in marriage, advocates of same-sex ‘marriage’ have tried to reduce the meaning of marriage to merely a loving and committed relationship between two adults. It’s an emotional and relational union that creates the necessary conditions for marriage, they argue, not what you do with your bodies. In fact, the physical anatomy of the adults in question is irrelevant. Marriage is first about the communion of souls in a committed and affectionate relationship and only secondarily about physical union. You can find statements like this scattered throughout the gay and lesbian literature.

Within the Christian tradition, bodies are
important and help to define who we are.
Our bodies are not an irrelevancy like race
By contrast, in Christian tradition one cannot disengage the relational and the physical aspects of union. Indeed, our bodies are important and help to define who we are. Our bodies are not, as homosexuals claim, an irrelevancy like race. Despite the crucial importance of the emotional and spiritual dimensions of sex, what we do with our bodies is fundamental to the marriage union. As the homosexual movement continues to deny these important truths (as I shall shortly prove) they have colluded with the ancient heresy of Gnosticism.

For the homosexual community, what we do with our bodies is irrelevant because what really matters is the motivation behind it; therefore, if the motivation behind the sex acts of homosexual partners is the same as the motivation behind the sex acts of heterosexual married couples, then the former should be able to qualify as an instance of marriage. The fact that homosexual sex acts are completely different to full sexual intercourse in marriage is irrelevant within the neo-Gnostic paradigm of the gay community: for them what really matters is what happens in the mind, emotion and soul and not the body. In fact, if their mantra that “marriage is a relationship between two committed individuals” were taken at face value, the body has little or nothing to do with marriage at all.

This de-emphasis on the physical dimensions of marriage surfaces again and again in the literature of the gay community, and comes out most prominently in their polemics against monogamy. The notion that “Fidelity is not between your legs but between your ears” (quoted in When Gay People Get Married, p. 95) is a typical position within the homosexual community.

In discussing the differences between heterosexual unions and homosexual unions, Dermot O’Callaghan noted the tendency for homosexual men to downplay the importance of  Monogamy, with the consequence that the sexual dimensions of the relationship are minimized. He writes,
A study called The Male Couple  found that “all couples with a relationship lasting more than five years have incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity …”
Another study, Beyond Monogamy, indicates “a positive correlation between longevity and non-monogamy.”  It says, “… non-monogamy isn’t by nature de-stabilizing.  In fact, the results of this study would suggest the opposite – many study couples said non-monogamy enabled them to stay together”.
The agony of non-monogamy amongst gay men surfaces repeatedly in the literature. Other terms include:
-    Modified Monogamy
-    Monogamy of the heart
-    Negotiated Non-monogamy etc.
Monogamy of the heart? What do these terms represent other than an attempt to steer away from the importance of the physical dimension of our existence (i.e., that monogamy is something you do with your bodies) to a spiritualized (dare I say Gnostic) reconstruction of monogamy?

How different this is from the Biblical understanding. In the Christian tradition, our bodies are important and help to define who we are. I relate to the world as a man, and this is rooted in my biological experience as a male. Similarly, my wife relates to the world as a woman, and this is grounded in her experience being biologically female. The different perspectives we bring to the world as men and women is something to be embraced, relished and enjoyed, not trivialized. By contrast, many within the homosexual community argue that our experience as members of one particular gender is really irrelevant to our functioning in the world.

The biological sex that one happens to be is like one’s race, they suggest. Indeed, one of the most frequent arguments for same-sex ‘marriage’ is that opposition to it is akin to opposition to interracial marriage. Just as race is, or ought to be, irrelevant to marriage, so they argue that one’s gender is similarly irrelevant, that my actual physical anatomy is as irrelevant to my experiences in the world as the colour of my skin.

This Gnostic-like trivializing of the body has led homosexual activists to claim that one’s biology as either male or female makes absolutely no difference to a person’s experience as a parent. A dad is just the same as a mom because our biological differences are irrelevant to our lived experiences in the world. Listen to what Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse said in an article reflecting on her debate with Judith Stacey:
I crossed swords with Judith Stacey…at a debate at Bowling Green State a few years ago. I asked her point blank if she believed men and women were completely interchangeable as parents. In front of that very friendly audience, she said absolutely: the gender of parents doesn’t matter….

Treating same sex unions like marriage amounts to saying that mothers and fathers are interchangeable. It is a coin toss from a child’s point of view, whether they have two moms, two dads, or one of each.
By reducing our physical experiences as men and women to irrelevancy like this, the homosexual community has colluded with the Gnostic lie that our bodies do not ultimately matter.

Further Reading


Read my columns at the Charles Colson Center

Read my writings at Alfred the Great Society

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Art is Christian

Since we are made in the image of God, there is a place for us to appreciate things for their aesthetic qualities even when there is no immediate utility value involved in doing so. For example, when we set the table nicely with flowers and candles, this has no functional value in terms of eating, but it has aesthetic value that adds richness to our lives.

Similarly, the value that literary works have for us as believers does not depend on our ability to wrest from them specific lessons we can apply in our lives. Indeed, to engage with books on a purely aesthetic level is already to be operating under the canopy of the Biblical worldview. We do not have to discover a Christian message in a work of literature before it becomes Christian, any more than we need to do story problems about the dimensions of Noah’s ark before math becomes Christian. Beautiful literature, like math, is already implicitly Christian because of what it is in itself.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Decline in Book Reading

The activity of book-reading declined at the beginning of
this century.
In January 2009, the Washington Post announced that it would be dropping the stand-alone Book World section of the paper’s Sunday edition. Book World had been created in the 1960s and was one of the few remaining stand-alone sections for book reviews in American newspapers.

The trend had been in process for the preceding decade. In 2000, Charles McGrath, editor of The New York Times Book Review, commented, “A lot of papers have either dropped book coverage or dumbed it way down to commercial stuff. The newsweeklies, which used to cover books regularly, don’t any longer.”

A few months after McGrath penned these words, the San Francisco Chronicle decided it would no longer be publishing its Sunday Datebook of arts and cultural coverage, which had been based on the understanding that books are newsworthy. The Chronicle had to reintroduce the Datebook after protests from book lovers, but eventually reduced it to just four pages.

In 2001, The Boston Globe merged its book review and commentary pages. The Globe’s decision was followed by numerous other newspapers expunging their long-standing tradition of offering serious book reviews.

These moves were all part of a wide-spread trend away from book reading, which I am discussing in a new series of articles for the Colson Center. My first article 'Hallowing out the Habits of Attention' looks at what the decline in book reviews, and the larger decline in reading of which this is symptomatic, tells us about the society in which we live.

Gender Actually Makes a Difference

The gender of parents actually makes a difference
Doug Mainwaring, a homosexual, published a fascinating article yesterday at The Witherspoon Institute. Titled ‘I'm Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage’, the article gives an inside look into the problems that arise when two homosexuals try to create a “family” for their children.

After sharing his journey, Mainwaring states the conclusion he reached: “Over several years, intellectual honesty led me to some unexpected conclusions: (1) Creating a family with another man is not completely equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.”

Though Mainwaring is not a Christian and identifies himself as gay, he intentionally got back together with his x-wife for the sake of the children. Mainwaring gave an antidote which shows, from the inside of family life, why gender matters:
"Over the last couple of years, I’ve found our decision to rebuild our family ratified time after time. One day as I turned to climb the stairs I saw my sixteen-year-old son walk past his mom as she sat reading in the living room. As he did, he paused and stooped down to kiss her and give her a hug, and then continued on. With two dads in the house, this little moment of warmth and tenderness would never have occurred. My varsity-track-and-football-playing son and I can give each other a bear hug or a pat on the back, but the kiss thing is never going to happen. To be fully formed, children need to be free to generously receive from and express affection to parents of both genders. Genderless marriages deny this fullness. "There are perhaps a hundred different things, small and large, that are negotiated between parents and kids every week. Moms and dads interact differently with their children. To give kids two moms or two dads is to withhold from them someone whom they desperately need and deserve in order to be whole and happy. It is to permanently etch 'deprivation' on their hearts."
Mainwaring's article is not written from a Christian perspective, and thus he writes that “Same-sex relationships are certainly very legitimate, rewarding pursuits, leading to happiness for many…” At the same time, he has to acknowledge from his own experience that “Two men or two women together is, in truth, nothing like a man and a woman creating a life and a family together… they are wholly different in experience and nature.” This goes against the pervasive idea amongst the homosexual community that gender is irrelevant to family life. Listen to what Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse said in an article reflecting on her debate with Judith Stacey:
I crossed swords with Judith Stacey…at a debate at Bowling Green State a few years ago. I asked her point blank if she believed men and women were completely interchangeable as parents. In front of that very friendly audience, she said absolutely: the gender of parents doesn’t matter…. Treating same sex unions like marriage amounts to saying that mothers and fathers are interchangeable. It is a cointoss from a child’s point of view, whether they have two moms, two dads, or one of each.
This idea that gender can be expunged from family without making any material difference may sound good in theory, but in the actual practice of family life, it is nonsense at best, and abusive to children at worse. This is something that Mainwaring has realized with startling clarity. Thus, his article concludes:
Gay and lesbian activists, and more importantly, the progressives urging them on, seek to redefine marriage in order to achieve an ideological agenda that ultimately seeks to undefine families as nothing more than one of an array of equally desirable “social units,” and thus open the door to the increase of government’s role in our lives…. Marriage is not an elastic term. It is immutable. It offers the very best for children and society. We should not adulterate nor mutilate its definition, thereby denying its riches to current and future generations.

Further Reading


Read my columns at the Charles Colson Center

Read my writings at Alfred the Great Society

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Assertions, Denunciations and Accusations

One of the frustrating things about the debate over same-sex marriage is that rarely are its advocates—and those inclined to sympathize with them—willing to row back upstream and examine whether sexual complementarity is accidental or essential to marriage. Instead, they make statements that presuppose an acceptance of the current definition of marriage (i.e., they merely seek equal access to the existing institution) while, consciously or unconsciously, they work toward a contrary goal: the destruction of marriage through its ­redefinition. 

Last year I wrote an article for Salvo magazine in which I lamented the host of hidden assumptions that permeate the debate surrounding gay 'marriage.' I commented that what might be an opportunity for rigorous philosophical dialogue about the nature of reality itself descends into an endless cycle of assertions, denunciations, and accusations. Instead of spelling out their philosophical positions and putting them on the table for objective analysis, homosexual activists are usually content to construct arguments based on hidden assumptions—­assumptions that remain unexamined and insulated from critique, and that therefore can give rise to the type of mutually exclusive affirmations mentioned above. 

Keep reading...

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Were the Puritans Racist?

Were the Puritans racist?

New England law allowed Puritans to treat
African American women in dehumanizing ways
That was a question that was raised for me back in 2009 when I fell into the company of some North Idaho White Supremacists. As I tried to persuade them to adopt the Biblical view of race (which I articulated in 4 blog posts during our debates), their chief spokesman continually appealed to Calvinist thinkers in America's past who supposedly shared their racist ideology. More than once, the teaching of the Puritans came up.

At the time, I didn't give much heed to the question of whether the Puritans were racist, as I was more concerned with arguing from the Bible. However, the historical question came up again last year a friend from church asked me if I thought the Puritans were racist. My friend - a big fan of Puritan theology - had been listening to Propaganda's new album, which features a track called 'Precious Puritans', dealing with their alleged racism. My friend referred me to Joe Thorn's website, where he interviewed Richard Bailey, author of Race and Redemption in Puritan New England.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Jonathan Edwards on Divine Beauty

"All the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fullness of brightness and glory."

Further Reading

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