On Wednesday the Arkansas Senate overrode the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe (D) to pass a law which bans abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy. Governor Beebe cited his gubernatorial oath to uphold the Constitution of Arkansas and the U.S. Constitution as the reason for his veto. He also said that passage of the law would lead to an expensive legal battle that would cost the tax payers money. In other words, Gov. Beebe invokes “truth-telling” and “penny-pinching” in order to resist the legislature’s efforts to lower the infanticide rate in the state of Arkansas. How noble of him. (more…)
If you are reading this, you may be in danger. You may be in danger of reading too much politics. Much of the content published here at the Kuyperian Commentary is political in nature and the odds are good that political content drew you here. That is well and good (in fact, tell your friends), and I have no desire to impugn anyone’s sense of civic duty, but I have noticed that often consumption of political news and political commentary is not something done in moderation. As a case in point, consider the people in your social media networks. We can all think of the friends who “just aren’t that into politics” and those who are posting and tweeting political graphics, statistics, rants, etc. a dozen or more times a day (unless you are that friend, in which case, like a Mr. Collins, you may not realize it). It could be argued that one has to read a great deal from a variety of sources to get a balanced picture, but one could also balance bourbon with vodka and not end up sober. Now, I don’t want to take the bottle away, just put some food in those stomachs. (more…)
Bill O’Reilly had on Pastor Robert Jeffress of The First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX. Jeffress gained a lot of attention during the 2012 presidential elections when he opposed Romney—in favor of Perry—on the grounds that Romney was a Mormon. Jeffress argued that we needed an evangelical in the White House.
O’Reilly’s segment focused on whether the Bible should be understood literally or allegorically. The unstable Fox News host began the segment with an irresponsible remark:
“The Bible,” which was co-created by Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, “highlights fundamentalist Christian beliefs.”
The History Channel show can be debated (at another time), but the opening assumption already triggers the insult of ignorance of anyone who believes such events to be literal. “Fundamentalist Christian beliefs” is the media’s way of perpetuating evangelical Christians as theological dinosaurs. Further, it carries on the abusive stereo-types usually addressed towards Islamic radicals. If you are a fundamentalist, you are in some way capable of doing things the typical enlightened human being would never do. (more…)
The University of Idaho hosted a public debate, to a crowd of over 800, on February 27, 2013. The debate was participated in by Andrew Sullivan, blogger and former senior editor of The Atlantic, and Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church of Moscow, ID, author and educator. The topic of the debate: Is Civil Marriage for Gay Couples Good for Society?
“How to revive the flagging fortunes of the Republican Party might matter to some people, but it’s not a question that should concern principled conservatives. Crypto-conservatives aplenty stand ready to shoulder that demeaning task.”
Several weeks ago a piece appeared over at The American Conservative touting itself as a manifesto-of-sorts for a re-envisioned and reinvigorated conservatism: “Counterculture Conservatism: the right needs less Ayn Rand, more Flannery O’Connor.” Before the literary among you get excited, I should warn you that author Andrew J. Bacevich interacts with O’Connor nowhere in the article; in fact, by the end, I felt a little like Inigo Montoya (“you keep using that name; I do not think it means who you think it means”). Anyway, Bacevich’s opening lines (quoted above) are one measure consolation, one measure exhortation, and just a splash of knowing self-congratulation
True enough, a lot of people predicted that if and when Republicans lost the 2012 election, the party would attempt to reinvent itself, distancing itself from “loser issues” like the sanctity of biblical marriage, or the fight against abortion (of course, the party had already begun to do this when they put Mitt Romney in the race, but what’s a few months one way or the other to the long memory of history?). ‘Republican’ and ‘Conservative’ might be related terms, but fortunately they are not perfect synonyms, and many of the latter woke up and found themselves too “principled” to remain attached to the former. I followed the author this far because, truthfully, I was in that number and could say, without irony, “thank God for conservatism,” but he (in this case, the article’s author) wasn’t finished yet.
What, then, is Bacevich’s vision of conservatism in the coming epoch?
“The conservative tradition I have in mind may not satisfy purists. It doesn’t rise to the level of qualifying as anything so grandiose as a coherent philosophy. It’s more of a stew produced by combining sundry ingredients. The result, to use a word that ought warm the cockles of any conservative’s heart, is a sort of an intellectual slumgullion.”
His recipe for this mess of pottage includes, among other thinkers, heavy doses of Flannery O’Connor (he drops her name a second time, but by now I’m even more skeptical that he could explain satisfactorily why she belongs in the discussion) and Wendell Berry (who recently came out in support of gay marriage, which will seem more relevant in a minute)—“don’t skimp” he writes.
Next, there are the sweeping, inspirational value statements about the human responsibility of stewardship—“preserving our common inheritance and protecting that which possesses lasting value”—the importance of community—“ Conservatives understand that the most basic community, the little platoon of family, is under unrelenting assault”—awareness of pain and suffering—“conservatives also believe in Original Sin, by whatever name”—and patriotism—“America is amber waves of grain, not SEAL Team Six.”
Bacevich finally descends to the level of clear details in outlining the task that is before the next generation conservative.
“The key to success will be to pick the right fights against the right enemies, while forging smart tactical alliances. (By tactical, I do not mean cynical.) Conservatives need to discriminate between the issues that matter and those that don’t, the contests that can be won and those that can’t….So forget about dismantling the welfare state. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and, yes, Obamacare are here to stay. Forget about outlawing abortion or prohibiting gay marriage. Conservatives may judge the fruits produced by the sexual revolution poisonous, but the revolution itself is irreversible.”
He warns against a Quixotic tilting at windmills, while adopting for himself the conciliatory tone of the Don on his deathbed, claiming that there are no birds in last year’s nests. I mention Don Quixote, but the reader may also be reminded of the first-century Sadducees with their “smart tactical alliances.” This conservatism begins to sound less countercultural and more concultural or syncultural. One could hope that the author simply intends the Church to play a larger role than the State in transforming culture, but churches are mentioned as a kind of afterthought in the close of his manifesto and largely as a sheepish concession that they all “may be flawed.” The piece reads instead, as if conservatives simply have bigger (largely financial) fish to fry.
More recently, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman wrote an article (also for The American Conservative) entitled “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause,” arguing,
“There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship [a happy marriage] with the person they love.”
But his essay’s final remarks strike a now familiar chord that complicates the simplicity of that emotional appeal:
“We are at a crossroads. I believe the American people will vote for free markets under equal rules of the game—because there is no opportunity or job growth any other way. But the American people will not hear us out if we stand against their friends, family, and individual liberty.”
Neither Bacevich nor Huntsman is the force behind this shift, but they are both good indications of where the winds are blowing. Both outline a strategy that feigns compassion (or possibly misunderstands real compassion as a secondary end) in order to gain influence, especially in financial/economic arenas. These Conservatives are simply maneuvering to become the new Republicans and making moderate the new conservative.
Fortunately, the Christian remains more conservative than the Conservative. Kuyper would remind us that the state is meant to restrain sin out of love for the nation and concern for its culture; love and concern based in and upon the truly charitable, Gospel-oriented mission of the Church, where liberty and equality truly abide.
So, how to revive the flagging fortunes of the conservative movement might matter to some people, but it’s not a question that should concern principled Christians. Crypto-conservatives aplenty stand ready to shoulder that demeaning task.
Sean Johnson is a graduate student of Literature at the University of Dallas (TX) and husband to a beautiful pregnant woman.<>
We have often heard it said that, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is often said in response to a disagreement in artistic preference and does help maintain a sense of “agreeing to disagree.” Being able to look past disagreements and maintain civilized, social order is a habit that many of us would do well to nurture, but is there any truth to the old adage? Is beauty indeed in the eye of the beholder? Is there any such thing as objective beauty? Something that’s beautiful even if no human had ever said, “Wow. Pretty.”
One way to pursue an answer to this question is by studying patterns in philosophical thought. The three major branches of philosophy are: Metaphysics (the study of stuff and its origin, whether physical, spiritual or otherwise), Epistemology (the study of knowledge and how mankind comes to acquire knowledge), and Ethics (the study of the evaluation of human conduct). Theologian John Frame makes a wise assessment when he generalizes this third branch into “Value Theory” instead of just “Ethics”. Value theory steps beck from merely assessing rules and codes of conduct to encompass traditional descriptive, normative and applied ethics, as well as aesthetics (the study of beauty) and economics. Aesthetics fits nicely as a sub-category of “value theory” but might be a tight fit under the category of “ethics”, or would it?
Here’s what I mean by patterns in philosophical thought. As Christians, when it comes to metaphysics, we do not leave the answers to the big questions about reality, existence, minds, bodies, God, space, time, causality, etc., up to the one asking the questions. If someone says, “what’s true for you is true for you. As for me, reality is in the eye of the beholder.” That’s not an answer that receives much support from orthodox Christianity. In fact, most folks would scoff, right before questioning the person’s sanity.
And what about epistemology? How can I have knowledge of myself, the external world, and God? As Christians, is there some other point of beginning for knowledge and wisdom besides the revealed Word of God? If God has said, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, do we allow for some neutral zone where people can acquire knowledge on their own terms? How is it that we have the possibility of knowledge? Should we be rationalists or empiricists, or both, or neither? Tertium quid, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
What about ethics? Is moral human conduct up to the individual? Is it a social contract? Is it the greatest good for the greatest number of people? Is the greatest good even recognizable? When it comes to ethics, Christians are famous, if not notorious, for not allowing ethics to remain in the eye of the beholder. We have the ten commandments, the two greatest commandments, Psalm 119, which is a really long song about loving the law, the entire Pentateuch, the law of God written on our hearts, etc. The answer to this question of value theory rests in the revealed Word of God which contains His Law. No eyes of any beholders here.
So, I mentioned a pattern earlier. Metaphysical questions? Objective answers revealed by God. Epistemological questions? Objective standards revealed by God. Ethical questions? Ditto. What about questions about beauty, another branch of value theory? Does God have an opinion on what is beautiful and what isn’t? Does He delight in some things and find others detestable? If ever there was an opportunity to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this is it. God sees. God assesses. God beholds and declares beautiful or ugly. God weighs in the balances and finds some things wanting.
Once we’ve rejected the myth that all beauty is subjective, we can make some real progress towards a Christian aesthetic. So where do we begin? There is the difference between “beauty” and “preference” to consider. The smell of anchovies or the texture of sushi may come up in the conversation about preferences. There is the fact that everything that God finds beautiful may not tickle our fancy. Author Nate Wilson commends us to the reproductive patterns of the leopard slug, if we want to expand our horizons of aesthetic study. God created leopard slugs with all their mucous and odd protrusions, and God created bunnies and kittens. However, we often see bunnies and kittens on posters containing bible verses, but we never see posters with leopard slugs reproducing. Is there a verse somewhere in the Bible that extols the blessings of bunnies and kittens while condemning leopard slugs to eternal perdition? Maybe we do not yet see creation through the new eyes that we have been given.
Are questions concerning objective beauty the easiest questions to answer? Obviously not. Does the present author have an entire system of biblical aesthetics worked out? Uhhhh, nope. Is beauty one of those square inches of creation about which Jesus Christ says with great affection, “Mine!”? Yep. So, for those interested in embarking on the journey of Christian aesthetics, there’s a great article by Justin Hawkins over at FareForward. Here’s a sample…
In the Christian understanding, humanity was made for the contemplation and enjoyment of God, and since the beauty of creation is the shadow of the radiance of the divine beauty, it is no mystery that we are attracted to it as to the echo of a lover’s voice. In the beauty of creation, our Creator is speaking to us, and that is why we love beautiful things.
Ethics and aesthetics are too closely linked in value theory for one to be objectively true and the other to be left to individual preference. The non-Christian would agree with me and say that ethics and aesthetics are very closely linked, and they both ought to be based on individual preference. What should the Christian say?
Just this past weekend (04/22/2013), Steve Jeffery, minister of Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Southgate, North London, England, hosted a colloquium for those who wish to experience the Word of God with new eyes.
The event featured special guest speaker Reverend James B Jordan, director of Biblical Horizons and soon to be joining Dr. Peter J Leithart at the Trinity House Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, AL, who gave a four-part lecture entitled How to Read the Bible for the First Time…Again. (more…)