Friday, March 24, 2006


“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” Thus ends America’s Declaration of Independence—a document that cost most of its fifty-six signers dearly in terms of blood and treasure.

Elite opinion today finds such statements of commitment undiplomatic and imprudent—quaint relics from a bygone era when goals other than comfort and self-fulfillment stood at the apex of human aspiration.

In similar fashion contemporary commentators view military service as a barbaric enterprise pursued by individuals with few employment options and limited intellectual firepower. What does it profit someone, they reason, to risk life and limb for the sake of ideals that are subject to deconstruction and ridicule by the likes of themselves? Instead of throwing it all away, these dupes could have pursued a Lexus-load of pleasurable alternatives.

Put succinctly, among the secular literati courage is a virtue that has fallen out of fashion. In its place stand avant-garde cynicism, rhetorical cleverness, and a passion for artistic refinement. Maureen Dowd is their cup of tea, not General Patton.

This shift is understandable. After all, if life has no higher purpose, if ideals are only tarted up neuroses, if patriotism is a mendacious veil for narrow economic interests —then no reasonable person would give up a chance for happiness, short as it may be, for a vocation whose risks are great and whose rewards are largely intangible.

Moreover, most men and women aren’t going to forfeit their lives for the sake of a society that fervently proclaims the necessity of doing your own thing. Nor will they practice self-denial within a culture whose primary philosophical images are those of randomness, materialism, and ultimate extinction.

Over half a century ago C. S. Lewis criticized academics whose disdain for martial endeavors resulted in curricula designed to produce “men without chests” —i.e. persons lacking those noble sentiments associated with, among other traits, bravery and self-sacrifice. Since that time the intellectual landscape has shifted more dramatically in favor of those who “laugh at virtue” and mock patriotism.

When I look at the clash of civilizations that is taking place today, I wonder how long the West can continue to draw on accounts that, in intellectual circles, have long been closed. The phrase “sacred honor” is more likely to produce a guffaw among the pen-wielding set than to promote a series of sacrificial acts. As for “Divine Providence,” this idea has been dismissed by smarter-than-thous—for the sake of human autonomy.

Unfortunately, freedom without a moral context amounts to little more than self-indulgence. And self-indulgence isn’t a medium within which courage thrives.
A decadent culture, it appears, sows the seeds of its own destruction.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Anyone who hasn’t heard the screed that a tenth-grade geography teacher in Aurora, Colorado, recently inflicted on his students ought to visit a website (like Michelle Malkin’s) and take a listen.

The “lesson” becomes a tirade—or more aptly, a jeremiad. Capitalism is transformed into an institutional Satan, Hitlerian traits are ascribed to George W. Bush, and America becomes the focus of evil in the modern world. Apocalyptic certitude permeates this rant presumably designed to get students to think critically about the nation’s foreign policy.

As a two-decade veteran of secondary education, I can assure readers that Mr. Jay Bennish isn’t alone. The only question is how many high school teachers go as far as he does when it comes to indoctrination. What is beyond reasonable dispute is that a very large number of individuals who graduate from schools of education share Bennish’s cookie-cutter political faith and regularly regurgitate that dogma to their captive audiences.

What Bennish’s sermon makes perfectly clear is the extent to which ideology, emotion, faith, and fundamental notions of good and evil permeate political thought. Moreover, the missionary enterprises of left-wing ideologues like Bennish are almost always more extensive, divisive, and offensive than any speech that the Supremes ever deemed an unconstitutional entanglement of the state in matters religious.

As numerous metaphors in the prior paragraphs suggest, no clear line of demarcation separates political conviction and religious faith. And if that is true, then a whole series of decisions that have come down from the Court in the last four decades are based on an untenable premise. That premise places religious speech in a completely different category from political speech and demands that the former be minimized or eliminated from public institutions.

Anyone who has pondered a Soviet May-Day parade, replete with iconic representations of the communist Trinity (Marx, Lenin, and, prior to his excommunication, Stalin) knows that true believers marched under the red flag with the same all-encompassing devotion that characterizes the most committed Christians, Jews, or Muslims. A similar spirit is observable at political meetings on college campuses.

The bottom line of this train of thought isn’t that religious rants should be permitted in public schools alongside political harangues. Instead, because political and religious discourse share fundamental characteristics, the same rules should govern both types of speech. Neither religious nor political discourse should be one-sided and arrogantly disrespectful of dissenting perspectives. Nor should a public school teacher ever take advantage of his or her position to cram a belief system down the throats of students.

As things stand now, however, the Court pretends that political philosophy is somehow less divisive, more rational, and less constitutionally restricted than statements that are traditionally connected to a religious tradition. In this way it leaves open the legal door to geography courses that are more dogmatic than a catechism class.

Friday, March 03, 2006


(The following is a slightly edited response to a question about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, sin, and the afterlife. I republish it here because I think the ideas are important and because I doubt that many folks peruse the "comments" section--where the original response is located.)

First of all I think it is important to say, as C. S. Lewis did in his popular book, Mere Christianity, that religious folks tend to focus inordinate attention on sexual flaws or faults but that their scriptures emphasize spiritual shortcomings—pride, selfishness, lust for power, heartlessness, etc. That comment is appropriately followed by the confession that immorality of this, and of the sexual variety, permeates all lives—including my own. We are all, to varying degrees, enmeshed in immorality.

Secondly, I think of most actions as being on a continuum or scale that terminates, at its apex, in an ideal. Nobody achieves the ideal, but it exists as the goal toward which individuals and societies strive and by which they judge their own moral circumstances. In my estimation (a view endorsed by the Judeo-Christian historical tradition) the “ideal” domestic relationship is a male-female marriage. And marriage, in my view, is an institution whose primary function is the creation of a loving, stable union of husband and wife within which children are raised.

Over the last half-century, however, marriage has been progressively redefined by feelings of affection. The inevitable consequence of that redefinition has been to undermine the child-rearing aspect of marriage. When heterosexual marriage is defined in this manner, there appears to be little to distinguish it from same-sex unions. But when one focuses on sexual fidelity for the sake of a family, it becomes clear that what applies to almost all heterosexual unions does not apply at all (biologically) when it comes to same-sex unions.

In concrete terms, however, not everyone is so constituted (or emotionally arranged as a result of social interaction) as to realize the ideal of marriage. In addition, some persons may be able to achieve non-marital ideals by virtue of the “gift of celibacy.” What I find positively destructive, however, is the insistence on making feelings of affection the basis for understanding marriage—and thus relegating sexual activity and reproduction to activities that, outside of marriage, are still ok. I think it is inevitable that the institutionalization of same-sex marriage will further lessen this vital linkage (since reproduction, by definition, is not part of same-sex intercourse).

On a more individual note, a rather unbiased study, done at a Vancouver hospital and published in 1997 in the Oxford University International Journal of Epidemiology, came up with these conclusions: “In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday. Under even the most liberal assumptions, gay and bisexual men in this urban centre are now experiencing a life expectancy similar to that experienced by all men in Canada in the year 1871.”

This conclusion coincides with others that are available to persons who want to discuss, honestly, the health impact of same-sex intercourse. Unfortunately, our society isn’t interested (in this and numerous other subjects) in having an honest discussion. Instead, vilification of individuals who don’t toe the line that social elites favor is the order of the day.

Do my observations and this medical data mean that same-sex intercourse is “immoral”? I think it indicates that it, like sex outside of marriage, doesn’t live up to the “ideal.” The same is true, I would assert, of my divorced state of affairs. Yet I don't justify myself by saying (as intellectuals like Constance Ahrons do) that “good divorces” are plentiful and that children aren’t regularly damaged by marital breakups. I don’t exhibit the ideal, but I try to do the best that I can under the circumstances. And, I continue to honor, rather than undermine, the ideal.

What I find most depressing is the tendency that all of us have to disparage ideals for the sake of justifying our own actions. When divorce began to be popular, intellectuals quickly began to declare that single parents could raise children just as well as a married couple and that “quality time” was all that mattered. People yearning to justify themselves ate it up. But it wasn’t true. (Patrick Moynihan discussed this topic a bit in his well-known essay, “Defining Deviancy Down.”) I think the same things are being said now about raising children in two-adult homes where the sex of the adults is inconsequential.

As to your question about the afterlife, I have only the inclination to believe that, if there is something like rewards and punishments, we will be judged by one who will be more merciful and understanding than myself. (And I say this with the thought that I myself am inclined to be understanding, seeing as I am acutely aware of my own faults.) In short, doing pretty well, given one’s circumstances, is what I tend to expect of folks—not perfection. I can’t see how a perfect judge would be less understanding.


In recent decades the phrase “cycle of violence” has become popular among academics and politically active celebrities. These words are typically employed when speaking about groups that blow up wedding parties and behead civilian hostages. By contrast, in these same intellectual circles the term “evil” is reserved for corporate executives and Presidents of the wrong political party—that is, for verbal targets who don’t fire back with live ammunition.

The phrase “cycle of violence” has several advantages. First, it transforms discrete acts of murder, retribution, or self-defense into an impersonal pattern. Rather than talking about particular persons who are guilty of specific crimes, this popular phrase encourages us to focus on a revolving door of mayhem in which hapless victims have been “caught up.”

(In similar fashion, individuals who promote cultural depravity are hidden behind “pendulum swings” that invisibly move public taste from the pole labeled Bing Crosby and “Leave It To Beaver” to one named “Two and a Half Men” and Eminem.)

The phrase “cycle of violence” thus excludes from one’s imagination the idea that certain groups and individuals might have greater responsibility than others for initiating or exacerbating hostilities. Messy details about what groups believe and how they talk about their opponents are shunted to the side.

Moreover, the proper solution to a “cycle of violence” is simple. Just intervene at any point in the flow of events to break the historical momentum. According to this paradigm, a tranquil equilibrium will automatically emerge once “the cycle” has been stopped. By picturing circumstances in this way one achieves a certain moral equivalence. Names disappear as attention is focused on a malevolent maelstrom that transcends human responsibility.

Several years ago a similar point of view was employed (in similar circles) when the arms race between America and the Soviet Union was discussed. If the U.S. unilaterally froze its weapon production, then the “cycle” would be broken and harmony would emerge. A more infantile version of this idea was promoted under the Sleep-In for Peace label.

In short, “cycle of violence” language excuses us from the task of distinguishing between force used to counter evil and violence employed to propagate evil. Indeed, it mindlessly places the actions of law enforcement officers and gang members in the same category. Most of all, this phrase makes it unnecessary to resist evil or even to take it seriously.

Almost half a century ago Hannah Arendt, speaking of the Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, observed that sophisticated opinion wished only to condemn trends “so general that distinctions [could] no longer be made.” I imagine that she would find today’s “cycle of violence” crowd (a group that includes “Munich” producer Steven Spielberg) as morally confused as the intellectuals she took to task.