The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to let our minds dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute” along with “any excellence and . . . anything worthy of praise” (NASB).

In a fallen world, that has never been an easy thing to do, but in our increasingly rude, crude, and lewd culture, finding the good and beautiful amongst the bad and ugly has become an immensely difficult task. This week, however, a Christianity Today article tipped me off to a recent song – a praiseworthy testament to God’s faithfulness – that stands out for its loveliness and beauty.

The song, “Alone Yet Not Alone” – title song for an obscure Christian movie with only a 21-day release, according to Paul Bonds of the Hollywood Reporter – has generated controversy for having been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Original Song category, beating out well-known songs from highly successful movies sung by highly successful singers (think Taylor Swift). The singer of “Alone Yet Not Alone”?  Little known (outside of evangelical circles, at least) quadriplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada.

Tada’s singing itself is a testament to God’s faithfulness and is part of what makes the song so poignant. As a quadriplegic, Tada has limited lung capacity and, as Bond writes, needed her husband’s pushing on her diaphragm to help her hit the high notes. By God’s grace – as Tada would no doubt attest – and in answer to her opening prayer, listeners would never know such an effort was required.

To the musically trained, “Alone Yet Not Alone” may not seem like a great song. Even to my untrained ears, the song doesn’t appear highly original either in lyrics or instrumentation. Yet, when paired with scenes from the movie of the same name – a movie that tells the story of two young sisters captured by Indians during the French and Indian war and of the faith that sustained them – it has an undeniable power and grace that has kept me playing it over and over.

Will “Alone Yet Not Alone” win an Academy Award? It’s possible. Sometimes the good does beat out the bad and the ugly (not to say, of course, that the other nominated songs are either of those things). But probably not. Still, it’s the audience and not the award that really matters. Because regardless of whether or not the song captures the Oscar, we can always pray that it captures the imagination of at least a few of those who hear it and that, ultimately, its message captures their hearts.

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You Gave Me a Stone

I’ve been wanting to write about the Boy Scouts and all the recent controversy surrounding their near and perhaps still inevitable collapse before the gay rights steamroller, but haven’t yet found the time.

Over at Public Discourse, though, Anthony Esolen (who also writes for Touchstone) writes with righteous anger about another Boy Scout controversy – this time in Philadelphia. He uses a conflict between the city fathers and the Boy Scouts as a lead-in to his commentary, which describes how progressive sensibilities have contributed to the destruction of the lives of young men in that city. Esolen’s article is entitled appropriately “The Least of These.” But when I finished reading it, the title that came to my mind is the one I’ve used for this post.

In Matt. 7:9, we read where Jesus asked in his sermon on the mountain, “Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?” As Esolen’s moving piece shows, the progressives who claim to care so much about the poor and downtrodden and who want the government to act in loco parentis for us all, have truly given these young boys and men a stone instead of the life-giving bread they so desperately need.

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Election Results

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter give the Constitution Day lecture at Roanoke College. During his lecture, Dr. Carter dismissed the notion that Americans are more divided today than they have been at other times in our nation’s history or that this election is of greater consequence than most. I admire Carter and appreciate much of his work, but on that point, I have to respectfully disagree.

While some may consider the time before the Civil War to have been more divisive than the present, Americans in that era had something today’s Americans lack – a common worldview. Disagreements existed as to what that worldview required of them, but they had a common – in large part biblical – vocabulary with which to engage in those disagreements. Whatever their personal religious practices, most at the least believed in the creator named in the Declaration of Independence and most held to the same general understanding of human nature.

For many reasons, however – not the least of which was Darwin’s theory of evolution that called into question the need for a creator – after the Civil War, a split occurred in that worldview. At first the split was small as some began to look to science to handle a portion of what had heretofore been considered God’s province while others continued to hold to a more biblical way of understanding the world. But over time – as science and technology advanced and claimed more and more of God’s prerogatives and as positive law overtook natural law in the making of legislation – that small fissure widened into a chasm that’s now become nigh impossible to cross.

While I pray Romney wins Tuesday’s election, because of the breadth of that chasm, my fervent hope is that whatever the outcome, the results are decisive. Even if President Obama is re-elected, I’d prefer he be chosen by a clear majority. I don’t think I could bear the election dragging out over days and weeks as it did in 2000 if there’s no clear winner on Tuesday night. Nor do I want to see the popular vote go one way and the electoral vote another or, heaven forbid, a tie. Any such result would only embitter one side or the other, and there’s already bitterness enough in this country to go around.

If President Obama is re-elected with a decisive victory, at least conservative Christians will know what we’re up against – an electorate that’s chosen a distinctly European and secular future for our country. If the past four years are any indication, an Obama victory will most certainly make it harder and harder to be a Christian in America. And that, in turn, could force us to begin making choices we’ve never had to make and would rather not have to think about. It could also uproot our comfortable lives in this world and cause us to work that much harder to prepare ourselves and others for the world to come – a reminder that “this world,” as the old hymn says, “is not our home. We’re just a passing through.”

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Constitution 201 & Al Mohler’s Podcast

Hillsdale College began it’s Constitution 201 course, “The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and the Rise of Bureaucratic Depotism” course on Sept. 4. If you haven’t yet signed up for the course, I encourage you to do so immediately. It will make the most sense if you’ve already taken Constitution 101, but even if you haven’t, this course will still help you understand the current state of our government and where it’s likely to go if Obama wins a second term.

You may also find a recent podcast at Al Mohler’s site interesting. It consists of a conversation with historian Gregg Frazer discussing his new book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution.  It’s important that Christians truly understand the beliefs of the founders so that we don’t misrepresent them or overstate our case that America was founded as a Christian nation. You might be surprised at what Frazer discovered as he researched his book. If you’d like to read the writings of the founders for yourself, check out the University of Virginia’s free online collection.

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Abstaining from Facebook

I have to admit that I wasn’t unhappy when Facebook’s disappointing IPO performance dimmed the social media monolith’s glow just a little. I love my laptops and the Internet, I’ve made peace with email, and I’ve come to appreciate some of the attractions of YouTube. I even text now and again. No matter how hard I try, however, I can’t make myself sign up for Facebook.

It isn’t that I don’t think Facebook has its benefits – or that social media isn’t here to stay in one form or another. It does and it is. My 82-year-old  mother, for example, has a Facebook page – and a smart phone with which to keep track of it. For her and many others, Facebook is a fun way to keep up with family and friends.

As theologian Albert Mohler indicated in a recent interview at Social Media Explorer, social media has benefits for ministry, as well. While I may eschew posting my entire life on Facebook, few people these days share my scruples. And since Facebook is where they turn when they want to know what’s going on in the lives of their friends, it seems only natural to turn to Facebook when they want to know what’s going on in their churches and elsewhere.

An article in the June Christianity Today offers another account of the benefits of social media, especially for distributing the Bible. According to Robert Crosby, because of today’s technologies, “billions around the world now have access to the Bible online, and not only are many of them actually reading it, they’re also actively engaging with the Word of God–and with one another in far-flung virtual communities across the planet” (emphasis in the original).

So I get it. If we want to reach people with the gospel, we have to go where the people congregate. And where they congregate today is on Facebook and in other online communities. As Mohler points out, and the CT article illustrates, Christians who are serious about reaching the lost can’t afford not to have a presence in social media.

But social media in general, and Facebook, in particular, have some negative aspects that – to me, anyway – at least partially offset the benefits. Steve Barrendse, an English and humanities professor at Columbia International University, sets out a baker’s dozen* of those in the May/June issue of Touchstone. In the form of an open letter to his students explaining why he isn’t on Facebook, Barrendse articulates many of my own reasons for not hitching a ride on the Facebook bandwagon.

The concerns Barrendse and I share include how Facebook feeds the narcissistic tendencies of its users — its younger users, in particular, I think – tendencies that are already too highly developed as Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell show in their 2010 book, The Narcissism Epidemic.

Another of Barrendse’s and my concerns is that Facebook is a source of “endless distraction.” As if people whose powers of concentration have already been diminished need any additional means of distracting themselves.

Two decades ago, Jane Healy wrote Endangered Minds in which she posited that the medium of television was actually changing the structure of children’s brains in such a way as to interfere with their ability to concentrate. In some ways, Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows is an updated version of Healy’s book with the Internet replacing television as the primary source of brain change with effects that apply as much or even more to adults as they do to children.

From my experience working with students and from the way my own ability to concentrate has taken a hit as I’ve engaged more and more with the Internet, I believe Healy and Carr are largely right in their conclusions. If they are, all the more reason that a source of “endless distraction” like Facebook should not be uncritically embraced.

I don’t deny that social media has its uses. I also don’t deny that it isn’t going away. In one way or another, I’ll have to come to terms with it. Maybe I’ll be persuaded to open a Facebook account for professional reasons at some point. Or, who knows, it’s even possible that someday I’ll succumb to the lure of a personal Facebook page, though I doubt it. For now, though, I think I’ll continue to abstain.

*My thanks to Touchstone for making this subscriber-only article available to my readers.

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More Reason for the Fight

A new column, “Canadian Crackdown,” by Michael Coren, at National Review shows where the U.S. may be headed if same-sex marriage is legalized throughout the country or if the Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right.

Just last week, in fact, a New Mexico appellate court ruled against a photographer who had declined to take the commitment ceremony photos for a same-sex couple. The photographer was appealing a decision of the New Mexico Human Rights Commission that had required her to pay the couple $6,000 for legal costs. (See “Eviscerating Religious Liberty in New Mexico” for additional information and links on this case.)

In Hillsdale College’s Constitution 101 (a free course I just completed and that everyone should consider taking), one of the lectures is on the founders’ concerns about how to guard against majority tyranny, a definite danger in a democratic republic.

While the founders were right to be concerned about majority tyranny, in America today the much greater threat is minority tyranny.

We see this in the case of same-sex marriage, for example, where homosexuals, who comprise only a small percentage of the U.S. population — probably five percent or less — nevertheless are becoming more and more successful — as the above case (one of several I could name) illustrates — in imposing legal and other sanctions against those who disagree with them.

Another case of tyranny by the minority is occurring in a rural county near where I live. In this case, a single student’s complaint forced a local high school — against the wishes of most county residents — to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments that had been hanging on a wall at the school since shortly after the Columbine shootings.

In a democratic country like the U.S., tyranny by majority is an ever present danger. But while we seem well aware of that potential danger, we seem far less aware of the dangers of tyranny by minority.

In Exodus 23:2-3, Moses instructs the Israelites to not “pervert justice by siding with the crowd [in a lawsuit], and [to] not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit” (NIV). Without doing injustice to the text, I think we could find good advice for the problems of both majority and minority tyranny by substituting “majority” for “crowd” and “minority” for “poor man.” As with the crowd and the poor man, neither the majority nor the minority should automatically be favored by the law.

Such favor can result in a form of tyranny and tyranny — whether instituted by the majority or the minority — is wrong. Both marjority and minority tyranny are equally dangerous, equally ugly, and equally to be avoided.

 

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Join the Fight

With this week’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the same-sex marriage issue moves one step closer to the Supreme Court, and same-sex marriage moves one step closer to becoming the law of the land. For those who believe the slippery slope argument to be a fallacy, the speed with which the culture has gone from viewing homosexuality as deviant behavior to viewing same-sex relationships, and even same-sex marriage, as perfectly normal — a civil right, in fact — should put that notion to rest.

Last year I wrote a post recommending Robert George et al’s treatise, “What is Marriage?” written in opposition to the efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. It’s a lengthy and complex piece but well worth reading for anyone who wants a thorough understanding of why same-sex marriage is an oxymoron. For those who’d rather read something just as enlightening, but a little less daunting, Gerry McDermott has “A quick and dirty guide to why we should reject same-sex marriage” over at the Northampton Seminar.

Both pieces make a rational and compelling case for why, as McDermott says, “we should reject same-sex marriage.” But I’m afraid the only people who’ll find them persuasive are conservatives. Progressives, for the most part, I’m coming to realize, don’t approach such issues rationally. As Dennis Prager said recently in a talk at the Heritage Foundation, “the entire ediface of leftism is feelings based,” which explains why progressives’ support of same-sex marriage is based on emotion, not reason.

For progressives, legalizing same-sex marriage comes down to what they perceive to be fairness. It isn’t fair, they believe, that two people who love each other, regardless of their sex, should be denied the legal and moral sanction of marriage. To deny them that sanction would be to hurt their feelings, which, next to being intolerant, is the worst thing one person — or group of people — could do to another.

While I hate to be pessimistic or defeatist, I’m not sure how we bridge that gulf between emotion and reason, in the long run particularly. Progressive control of public education (and the entertainment media) has ensured that most young people today subscribe to this emotion-based, non-rational way of looking at issues. And progressive control of the law schools has ensured that many lawyers and judges hold to a positivist legal philosophy that in shaping and interpreting law — as I understand it — relies more on societal practices and sensibilities than on any objective ideas of justice and morality.

These realities militate against our ability to win the battle over the legal designation of marriage. Nevertheless, we can’t give up the fight. The welfare of our children and grandchildren, as well as our nation, depends on our faithfulness in doing what we can to preserve the legal definition of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. If you haven’t already, arm yourself with the arguments in these two articles by Robert George and Gerry McDermott, then find your place on the battle lines. And listen to Dennis Prager’s talk for a good idea of what we’re up against.

 

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