Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faith And Doubt: A Sunday Rumination

     [The first Sunday after Easter, liturgically titled Divine Mercy Sunday, is also sometimes called Doubting Thomas Sunday, for it is on this day that the tale of Thomas Didymus, the Apostle who doubted the Resurrection, and his encounter with the risen Christ is told. It’s a good day to reflect on something Pope Benedict XVI told us: Faith is inseparable from doubt. It’s also a good day to reflect on something Dr. Gary Habermas said to investigative reporter and atheist Lee Strobel during his investigation into the Resurrection: How much evidence is enough?

     I first posted the piece below on April 27, 2014. -- FWP]

     On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples had gathered together and locked the doors of the place for fear of the Jewish authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”

     Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!”

     Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”

     [The Gospel According to John, 20:19-29]

     The story of Doubting Thomas, perhaps the most famous of all the events of the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension, is often – usually? – told as some sort of mild condemnation of doubt of the Resurrection, and therefore of Christ’s divinity. Yet the story itself does not reflect badly on Thomas. He, a skeptic of a sort familiar to many, wanted substantiation of the unprecedented event in which he’d been asked to believe. Moreover, it was substantiation the other disciples had already received. It might be going too far to assert that he had a right to such evidence, but at the very least he could demur on the grounds that the others had witnessed what he had not.

     Pope Benedict XVI himself has told us that faith is inseparable from doubt. Indeed, it could not be any other way. Faith is the acceptance of a proposition for which there is inconclusive evidence at best, and against which no conclusive disproof is possible. He whose faith is utterly undisturbed by those conditions is a rare creature indeed, perhaps to the point of never having existed.

     We have reason to believe that the Apostles alone were granted conclusive proof that Jesus had returned bodily from death. If others who saw Him in the days before the Ascension received the same sort of indisputable proof that it was definitely Jesus of Nazareth who stood before them, the Gospels do not record it. The Apostles also witnessed His Ascension, and at the Pentecost received the Gift of Tongues to facilitate the Great Commission. No one else, not even Paul of Tarsus, is recorded as having been granted those boons.

     All of us who came after must make do with faith.

     Doubt is inseparable from faith because we are aware of our fallibility and the variable trustworthiness of human testimony. Indeed, it’s quite possible that were we incapable of doubt, we would be equally incapable of faith and of all that follows from it. That doesn’t make it a pleasant thing, of course. Christians are expected to struggle with their doubts. We’re expected to cope with them as we cope with any other trial of human life. It’s part of the test of temporal life: one of the quintessential barriers we must surmount to win to eternal bliss.

     There is no “answer” to doubt. It cannot be defeated once and for all, but must be endured stoically. If we have reasons to believe – again, not conclusive reasons but evidence “good enough” when mated to the urgings of our hearts and consciences – then we have reasons to resist doubt. All the same, there’s a question of tactics to be faced.

     Which is why I’ve chosen to reprint the following story from my collection For The Love Of God.

The Vampire And The Caretaker

     Gavin's alarm clock buzzed with its usual peevish insistence. He cracked an eyelid, noted the hour and the pervading darkness, and pulled the covers over his head, hoping against hope that it wasn't really his least favorite morning of the week yet again.

     It was not to be. Within seconds came his father's usual sharp knock.

     "Come on, son." Even at three-thirty in the morning, Evan Conklin always sounded as relaxed and jovial as a man who's just finished a fine meal in the company of his best friends. "We've got work to do."

     Gavin grumbled an obscenity and flung back the bedcovers with a sweep of his arm. The winter chill was upon him at once, singing along his spine loudly enough to make his teeth chatter. He slapped at the alarm clock with one hand while he groped for his robe with the other and hurried off to the bathroom for a shower and shave.

     Gavin couldn't linger over his toilet if he was to set out at the appointed hour. Evan allowed him to sleep half an hour later than he allowed himself. It was hurry, hurry, hurry from the moment his feet touched his bedroom floor to the moment he buckled himself into the passenger seat of their car. The work, his father explained more than once, would not permit it.

     Their destination was only a few miles away, but in the wee-hour blackness of a continental New York winter it seemed like an hour's ride. It was long enough for Gavin to fall back to sleep, but he didn't permit himself. One awakening per morning was more than enough. He forced himself to full alertness, stretching out his lower back, loosening the muscles in his arms, hips, and legs, and working his lungs open by steadily deepening his breathing. His father merely drove and said nothing.

     Our Lady of the Pines was completely dark. Evan pulled a ring of keys from his coat pocket, thrust one into the lock that had only last spring been installed in the tall oaken doors, and shepherded them inside, flipping light switches as he went. The nave of the church blossomed into brightness. Evan headed directly for the mop closet, while Gavin went to fetch the vacuum cleaner.

     Gavin had almost finished vacuuming the little church in preparation for the early Mass when the vampire fell upon him.

* * *

     The creature was tall and evil of aspect. Its grip was cruelly tight. Its breath upon Gavin's neck stank of ordure and rotting flesh. Despite its form, it was hard to believe that something so foul could once have been a man.

     It had him at its mercy, yet it did not strike. Its attention was fastened upon his father, who stared from the altar steps, mop dangling from his hand.

     "Well?" the creature snarled. "Aren't you going to plead for mercy? Aren't you going to offer me your blood in place of your son's? It's customary, you know."

     Evan smiled slightly. "No need."

     "Oh? You'll concede me your son's life if I agree to spare yours, then?"

     Gavin squirmed in terror, but the vampire's grip was inescapable. Evan shook his head. "Not at all. You won't be killing anyone this morning."

     The vampire cackled. "Really? How do you plan to stop me?"

     "I don't." With his eyes, Evan indicated the crucifix suspended above him. It evoked a snort of derision.

     "Yet you see that I am here, in the heart of your imaginary God's house where I'm not even supposed to be able to enter, doing as I will with your boy." Gavin shuddered as the creature's talons ruffled his hair. "He looks a tasty morsel. I expect I will enjoy breaking fast more than usual this morning."

     His father's gaze remained perfectly serene. "Go ahead, then. Feed on him."

     A stillness forged of cold iron descended upon the church. Nothing moved nor stirred.

     "Well?" Evan said. "What are you waiting for?"

     The vampire did not respond.

     "You have your victim," Evan pressed. "He's helpless in your grip. You know I can't stop you. Why haven't you struck him?"

     "What makes you so sure I won't?" the vampire snarled. It crushed Gavin to itself with lung-emptying force, and he gasped in pain.

     "It's perfectly simple," Evan said. "You won't because you can't. You don't really exist."

     "What?" the vampire roared. "I stand here in your holy place, your son my helpless captive, mocking your Savior as the phantasm you take me to be. I hold your boy's life in my arms, and you deny my existence with such ease?"

     "Of course," Evan said. "If God is real, then you are not. A just God would not permit the existence of a creature that could suck the soul out of a man's body and subject him to eternal torment, he having done no wrong of his own free will. And God exists. Therefore, you do not."

     The vampire's grip loosened, and Gavin's fear was tinted with puzzlement.

     "You see me before you," the creature said slowly. "You hear my voice and smell my odor. Your son feels my claws upon his flesh. Yet you refuse to believe in me, preferring your faith in a being you cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. What gives you such confidence in your delusion, in the face of mortal peril?"

     "It's quite simple," Evan said. "The characteristics assigned to your kind contradict all right and reason. Such creatures could not exist without destroying themselves. In a word, you are implausible. No, wait," he said. "Not implausible; impossible. A creature of supernatural strength and speed that feeds on human blood, yet cannot endure the light of day? A creature that converts its prey into competitors, ensuring both a geometrically increasing number of predators and a dwindling supply of fodder? The laws of nature as God wrote them literally forbid you to exist."

     Gavin twisted again, and broke free of the creature's grip. He stumbled back and gazed upon the thing. But he could not reconcile what his eyes saw with the superhuman monster that had held him helpless a moment before. It seemed to have become insubstantial, ghostly, a mere appearance projected on the screen of reality by some unseen mechanism.

     "You truly believe this?" The vampire's voice had fallen to a whisper.

     Evan Conklin said, "I do so believe."

     And the thing faded from sight.

* * *

     Gavin awoke in a tumult of fright. He could not remember every detail of the dream that had catapulted him from slumber, but the overpowering sense of helplessness and terror, of being at the mercy of something merciless that no human strength could oppose, still pulsed within him. He sat up, switched on his bedside lamp, and breathed as slowly and deeply as he could manage, struggling to calm himself.

     His door opened slowly. His father's head poked out from behind it.

     "Everything all right, son?"

     Gavin nodded, unwilling to trust his voice. Evan entered and sat beside him on his bed.

     "Bad dream?"

     Gavin nodded again, and Evan grinned.

     "I know how rugged they can be. I used to have some pretty vivid ones, at your age." He rose and made for the door. "A shower will help. We'll hit the diner after Mass."

     Gavin extracted himself from his bed and plunged into his Sunday morning ritual. When he'd buckled himself into the passenger seat of his father's car, and Evan had backed them out of the driveway and onto Kettle Knoll Way, he said, "Dad? Do you ever...doubt?"

     "Hm? Our faith in God, you mean?" Evan kept his eyes on the dark ribbon of road unwinding before them.

     "Yeah." Gavin braced himself for the answer. What he got was not what he expected.

     "Now and then," his father said. "It's hard not to doubt something you can't see or touch. But faith isn't about certainty. It's about will."

     "So you...will away your doubts?"

     Evan chuckled. "That would be a neat trick, wouldn't it?" He pulled the Mercedes Maybach into the small side parking lot of Our Lady of the Pines, parked and killed the engine. "No, I simply command myself to do as I know I should do. Faith is expressed just as much by our deeds as by our words. As long as I can consistently act from faith, I can keep my grip on it, regardless of my doubts." He nodded toward the unlit church, barely visible in the darkness. "You might say that's why we're here."

     Gavin marveled. "And all this time I thought it was because the parish was too poor to pay for professional cleaning staff."

     That brought a snort and a guffaw. "Get serious. Though the way you vacuum, I don't wonder that Father Ray would rather have our money than your labor. No, it's that hiring your chores done distances you from them. You can't afford to do too much of that if you want to remain connected to life. I pay a cleaning lady to look after our house, but doing this for the parish keeps us involved in parish life, and mindful of...well, of a lot of things." He cuffed his son affectionately. "Let's get moving. We're already behind schedule."

     May God bless and keep you all.

The Beginning Of The End? (UPDATED)

     I swiped the following from Western Rifle Shooters:

     This is hilarious. Violent thugs determined to silence the opposition by force are terrified of being found out! My God, the horror!

     You know the educational system has become a farce when its inmates start whining that it’s unfair that they should be held responsible for felony crimes of violence. Of course there have been other indications that a “college education” has become a vacation from reality, but this is a capper of sorts. However, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

     Once more I must quote Tom Kratman at one of his pithier moments:

     [I]t has been said more than once that you should choose enemies wisely, because you are going to become just, or at least, much like them. The corollary to this is that your enemies are also going to become very like you....

     If I could speak now to our enemies, I would say: Do you kill innocent civilians for shock value? So will we learn to do, in time. Do you torture and murder prisoners? So will we. Are you composed of religious fanatics? Well, since humanistic secularism seems ill-suited to deal with you, don't be surprised if we turn to our churches and temples for the strength to defeat and destroy you. Do you randomly kill our loved ones to send us a message? Don't be surprised, then, when we begin to target your families, specifically, to send the message that our loved ones are not stationery.

     Conservatives, libertarians, American nationalists, Trump supporters, and others the Left reviles are adopting the Left’s own tactics. And why not? They work. The Left has used them to silence and intimidate its opponents for more than a century. Are they crude? Yes. Are they vicious? Yes. Are they beneath the dignity of a civilized member of a civilized society? Yes, yes, yes.

     But they work. And people will reliably emulate success.

     The Antifa supporter’s whine is a version of an old joke: A little boy comes home bloodied and bruised. His mother alarmed by his condition, asks “What happened?” He replies, “The whole thing started when he hit me back.”

     May we now expect the Antifa / Black Bloc types to appeal to the police for protection from us? I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. Neither would I be surprised were they to start carrying weapons: guns, knives, saps, brass knuckles. But the fly in their ointment is that the Right now recognizes that the gloves are off – that we can rely neither on civility from them nor on a proper response from law enforcement, at least when they initiate violent hostilities on a college campus.

     The implications are grave. At the next occurrence there will be serious injuries, possibly deaths. Despite the spinelessness of the “forces of order,” there might even be arrests and prosecutions.

     And the Left will learn how greatly it’s outnumbered by the real forces of order: Americans determined to protect the freedom of expression who will do whatever that commitment might require.

     The above are not happy observations. They proceed from a dark recognition: that one political community, frustrated by its inability to persuade, has tossed aside the rules of ideological intercourse in favor of violence. It’s happened in other places and times, of course. Several of those have become iconic lessons in what happens when evil starts feeling its oats but good men elect to do nothing.

     However, they do guarantee one thing: The climax of our current political upheavals is on the horizon and approaching at speed. We have entered the concluding phase of America’s political deterioration. Moreover, the odds appear to be “in our favor:” i.e., in favor of the return to a civilized order, albeit not a meticulously Constitutional one.

     The Left has other tactics than crowd violence, of course. Some of them are harder to counter. But its use of street thuggery has been countered most effectively. Will it cease immediately? Probably not. There must be a few more bloodied faces before they get the idea that the most recent response to their tactics wasn’t a “one-off.”

     And we can expect a few more priceless whines such as the one cited above. Pass them around, by all means. The deplorability of schadenfreude notwithstanding, we in the Right can always use a good laugh.

     UPDATE: This Gavin McInnes video should provide some encouragement -- and laughs:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Unity In Opposition

     There have been many expressions of opinion, both from the Punditocrats of the Legacy Media and from prominent figures in the Internet Commentariat, to the effect that Republicans are more comfortable with being an opposition minority than with being the governing majority. To be sure, ample evidence would seem to support this assessment. However, the evidence militates toward another conclusion even more strongly.

     Everyone is more comfortable in opposition than in ascendancy. A look at the suddenly unified Democrat opposition confirms that.

     Consider the advantages that accrue to the opposition party:

  • It gets the “underdog’s” share of popular sympathy;
  • It’s not expected to originate legislation or policy initiatives;
  • It can represent itself as not responsible for what the governing party does;
  • It can oppose any proposition from the governing party with generalities, never going beyond them.

     The governing party, in contrast, is expected to govern. It’s also expected to redress government’s failures and is held responsible for any delays, difficulties, or side effects in the process, even if they’re the consequences of the other party’s time in power. And of course, the governing party’s proposals require support by reason and evidence. The opposition can treat the majority and its initiatives with slander and contempt, especially if the media are on the opposition’s side.

     If there’s anything at all nebulous about this, it’s the GOP’s longstanding reluctance to fully exploit the opposition’s advantages when in the minority. The Democrats, plainly, feel no such reluctance. But the dynamic that currently prevails in American politics should be quite clear.

     Before November 8, 2016, the Democrats were a party at odds with itself. The Clinton Machine’s dominance of its operations was more apparent than real. The unwillingness of the Obamunists to give the party’s “anointed” presidential candidate uncompromising support was made manifest by Obama’s unwillingness, during the primary period, to endorse Hillary Clinton over her surprisingly potent rival, nominal Independent Bernie Sanders. Add to that the disdain felt for Clinton by the Kennedy / Kerry loyalists, and the fragmentation of the party, which weakened its volunteer-recruitment and voter-turnout efforts, becomes plain.

     Clinton’s strategic choices didn’t help much. She, aware that her pose of “pragmatism” after the fashion of her husband didn’t sit well with the increasingly agitated and demanding left wing of the party, refrained from addressing substantive matters of policy in preference for windy generalities and attacks upon her opponents, virtually from the inauguration of her candidacy to November 8. When our talking heads criticize her campaign as “without a message,” they’re fingering the results.

     It is vital to remember that the elections of 2016 were ones the Democrats fully expected to win, especially after Donald Trump emerged victorious from the Republican primaries. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been as much competition for the nomination or contention over the party platform. Neither would there be so much finger-pointing inside the Democrat Party today over its failures, including its failure to elect the first female president after having elected the first non-white president.

     Once the Democrats had recovered somewhat from the shock of the Republican victories, its several factions could unite on a single overriding purpose: Stop Trump and the GOP. Note that a Democrat doesn’t need to articulate a specific reason to oppose the Trump Administration or the GOP’s initiatives in Congress. They’re the adversary; that is sufficient. The behavior of the increasingly erratic Charles Schumer, than whom no Senate Minority Leader has been more destructive to his party’s long-term interests, testifies to the intensity of the commitment.

     When a Capitol Hill Democrat is asked for a reason for his anti-Republican, anti-Trump vitriol – and given the biases of the Legacy Media, that’s an infrequent occurrence – he can invoke any of the emotional shibboleths of his party: “compassion,” “fairness,” “discrimination,” “racism,” “inequality,” and so forth. He’s unlikely to be pressed for details; the “Democrat operatives with bylines” that cover them know better than to demand detailed, well-analyzed arguments, as they usually can’t stand up under scrutiny.

     Concerning the sluggish, barely chugging economy the years of Democrat hegemony have bequeathed to the GOP, no Democrat will shoulder the least sliver of the responsibility, even though the Democrat-dominated Congress of 2007-08 made a slump inevitable and the economic lunacies of the Obama Interregnum transformed the slump from a temporary setback to a decade-long depression. Neither will any Democrat accept any of the odium for the resurgence of racial and ethnic tensions the Obama regime precipitated with its blatantly racist approach to law enforcement. Nor will they hear any criticism over the damage to America’s international standing and the soundness of its alliances during those years. The Republicans have been in power for ninety-two days; why haven’t they fixed all this stuff yet?

     The Republicans are not blameless in all this. They acquiesced far too willingly to Democrat control of Washington, even after they’d achieved state-level dominance and regained majorities in both houses of Congress. Even today, with the White House in their hands once again, they’re prone to the Go-Along Republicanism of the years from FDR through Carter: “We can do it cheaper.” But in a period characterized by hostility toward the political Establishment and widespread demands to “turn the country around,” this is not a formula for popular support or acclaim.

     Governing is not easy for those who lack the courage to withstand the barbs of the opposition. It gets harder when the demands peak for the reversal of previous policies and the adoption of new directions, and harder still when the satellite powers – the media; the lobbyists; the corporate clients; the big donors – are maneuvering for a continuation of What Has Been Done Before, even if it must be draped in sheep’s clothing.

     But that’s the bargain. It would be easy enough for the GOP to return to an opposition minority, expected to deliver nothing but criticism of the Democrats. Over the next four years, the behavior of their caucuses and party strategists will tell us if that’s the role they really want.

How is this not treasonous?

I don't lightly throw around the word "treason." It's the most serious crime there is, worse even than murder which only affects one or a few. But "treasonous" gets us thinking about the issue of who's "us" and who's "them" without getting all steamed up over legal definitions. As things go these days , even such a general inquiry is a much neglected one.

Here's a passage from an article about a French fellow who's done some serious analysis of French realities, particular French real estate:

[Guilluy] aims only to show that, even if French people were willing to do the work that gets offered in these prosperous urban centers, there’d be no way for them to do it, because there is no longer any place for them to live. As a new bourgeoisie has taken over the private housing stock, poor foreigners have taken over the public—which thus serves the metropolitan rich as a kind of taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters. Public-housing inhabitants are almost never ethnically French; the prevailing culture there nowadays is often heavily, intimidatingly Muslim.[1]
Just noticing the ethnic decomposition of major Western cities is such as to make a reasonable person who thought he lived in "his" nation wonder when it was that the government decided to welcome a tidal wave of foreigners that has, in some cases, made him a minority in his own capital city, as is the case in London. In the words of John Cleese, London is no longer British.

One hears the "f" word at every turn these days but never the other "f" word, namely, the word "foreigner." It's the word that can never be uttered for to the beautiful people of our moribund civilization it's a dirty word, without meaning. We're all law-abiding pals with a love of tortillas, halal food, monkey brains, and genital mutilation, aren't we? Huddled masses!

Not foreign.

In the military, it's woe to the man who falls asleep at his post. The idea is that he exists to keep the enemy out of the area he and his comrades control. But there's no longer a place for such thinking in the minds of beautiful people with oh-so-much education in the things that aren't. No. For them immigration is a sacred thing.

But look at the result. Public housing that was built for French people at the time is now exclusively housing for foreigners bent on being parasites and taking over. Native Frenchmen, in this case, were pushed aside, as is also the case now in Sweden where white Swedes are pushed out of public housing to make way for foreigners.

Some might argue that stupidity does not bootstrap one into the realm of treason, but this isn't stupidity and the slow but huge increases in the presence of hostile foreigners is no less an unopposed or encouraged invasion because the invaders come with diaper bags and without visible weapons. It's not stupidity; it's a deliberate betrayal under the banner of the loathsome slogan, "Diversity is our strength." Even circus contortionists don't dare to attempt that kind of twisted thinking.

The people who have done this deserve the punishment reserved in more sensible times for "treasonous" behavior. Each person's last words "But I didn't know!" can be duly noted for the record.

[1] "The French, Coming Apart." By Christopher Caldwell, City Journal, Spring 2017.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Day Off, With A Difference

     I’m rather weary this morning – yesterday was a pretty big day in several senses – so rather than attempt a fresh essay, I’ll recount the meat of a brief exchange I had with the C.S.O. when we sat down to lunch after viewing The Case For Christ.

     Beth is not a Christian. Indeed, she’s not religious at all. Ironically, her work involves the finances and administrative arrangements of several orders of Catholic nuns, who often call her “Sister Beth” and ask her when she plans to take her final vows. However, she does know a fair amount about Christianity and the Catholic Church, and is generally respectful of both. But yesterday, as she awaited her shrimp and fried clam strips and I my crab linguine Alfredo, she asked me about the history of the Eucharist, and the “why” of it.

     That got me talking about the food chain and its historical significance in religious belief. It took some explaining – no, she doesn’t read what I write; approximately 2317.84% of spouses don’t read their beloveds’ written emissions – but there came a point where I sensed “a light going on.”

     As I’m a loquacious sort, it took all my willpower plus 5% (helpfully supplied by the waitress who brought our lunches) to stop right there.

     All I could think at that point was “Now we shall see.” (Cf. The Man Who Would Be King.)

     I’ll see you tomorrow, Gentle Readers. Have a nice day.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Case For Christ

     The Case For Christ movie is currently playing in theaters nationwide. The subject of the movie is the evidentiary odyssey of Lee Strobel, an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who set out to debunk the Resurrection of Jesus Christ...but wound up becoming a Christian, and eventually a Christian pastor.

     The movie, which largely follows Strobel’s first-person account of his investigation in his book of the same name, is frank about his initial intention, which was specifically to disprove the historicity of the Resurrection. He sought to establish it as a pleasant myth embraced by persons with a need to believe it. That desire arose from his wife’s surprise conversion from atheism to Christianity, which upset him greatly, as is often the case in marriages in which one spouse experiences such a transition. Strobel was certain at first that he could demonstrate objectively that the Resurrection could not have occurred. Ultimately, he amassed such a mountain of evidence for the Resurrection that he could no longer maintain his own atheism.

     Most faith-centered movies are unimpressive. They share the fault of most faith-centered fiction: excessive preachiness. The Case For Christ is free of that flaw. Nor does it exhibit any other flaw of significance. It’s well done in every dimension: script, acting, sequencing, pacing, and conclusion.

     As I’ve written before, propositions such as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ can always be rejected by one determined to do so. Even one who personally witnessed the Resurrection, if sufficiently nimble of mind, could concoct unfalsifiable alternative explanations for the event. What Strobel’s book and movie do for us is to assemble a mass of evidence sufficient to armor a believer against the barbs and scorn of today’s vociferous militant atheists.

     I found one specific segment of the movie particularly impressive: After a number of “false starts,” Strobel seeks to disprove the Resurrection by establishing that Jesus didn’t die on His Cross. In confronting a medical expert deemed an authority on the subject, he tells the expert – himself a Christian – that “You’re hardly an impartial source.” The expert replies that Strobel would find the same to be true of everyone who had undertaken his journey. There’s a lot of food for thought in there.

     Believers will come away from The Case For Christ reassured and refreshed. Non-believers will mostly refuse to see it...which is a great pity, as it would do a lot to soothe the acrimony that exists between Christians and skeptics today.

     Highly recommended.

A Summation

     Dystopic has been doing excellent work for quite some time, but his most recent piece is a Jeremiad, a stunning summation of the tactics of the collectivist Left that lead directly to its strategic core. It’s must reading, and I beseech my Gentle Readers to head over there right now to drink it to the lees.

     Here’s an appetite-whetter:

     Underneath it all, of course, [Leftists] hate themselves. This has given rise to people who say things like “I won’t have children, because they would be white.” Or other folks, like Rachel Dolezal and Shaun King, who desperately wish to be black, perhaps because they could escape the weight of the world by identifying with the oppressed instead of the oppressor.

     Weaponized Empathy has destroyed these people, body and soul. They mutilate themselves, hate themselves, rail against the very society that created them, and then seek to unload their shame and self-loathing on to others.

     (If you’re not already conversant with Dystopic’s writings on Weaponized Empathy, repent of your sins, get over there, and start reading at once! No concept is more important to the comprehension of what’s been done to us this century past, entirely through appeals to what we think of as our better natures. But I digress.)

     I’ll wait right here till you’ve finished.

     The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth's centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O'Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote:
     Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

     [From 1984]

     There are particular concepts within the realm of argumentation tactics that, in my view at least, constitute heinous crimes against their targets: genuine violations of the moral law that deserve to be harshly punished. The two I have in mind at the moment are of such enormity that I find myself contemplating other horrors in reciprocation: things I would normally regard as beyond the pale.

     The first of these is the deliberate contradiction or inversion of the facts: a practice that’s sometimes called “gaslighting.” This tactic, especially when substantially extended and prolonged, can erode the target’s confidence in the evidence of his senses. The point, of course, is to “persuade” him to rely entirely upon the pronouncements of others, even when his eyes and ears tell him that they’re lying to him.

     Even the strong-willed can be brought low by a persistent gaslighting campaign. The Left is aware of this. Indeed, by combining it with the deliberate effacement of history, the Left weakened Americans’ will nearly to the point of surrender.

     In that light, consider the passage Israeli Deputy Minister Michael Oren found in our “paper of record,” the New York Times:

     Michael Oren: …I talk about an incident that occurred in May of 2010 with the New York Times when Mahmoud Abbas published an op-ed in the New York Times in which he alleged that he insinuated that the Arabs accepted the U.N. partition resolution of 1947, and the Jews rejected it. And I called up the editor of the New York Times, and I said wait a minute, this is exactly the opposite. Don’t you check facts? We [Israel] accepted it. The Arabs rejected it, and went to war against it. That was the war of independence. And the Arabs rejected the first two-state solution. And he says well, that’s your interpretation. Now wait a minute, there are certain in-controversial historical facts, uncontestable facts. I mean, did the Allies land, or did they not land on Normandy Beach in June, 1944? And the editor’s response was [analogous to] well, some people think so.

     If the editors of the Times are complicit in this sort of deception, no one can be confident that he’s safe from it. The young, who have little knowledge of history owing to our government schools, are particularly susceptible.

     The second tactic is one known to every schoolchild: group pressure. He who finds himself surrounded by a chanting mob will often surrender to that mob’s pronouncements just to get out from under the pressure. The Left has made use of this tactic in innumerable ways. For example, it strives to colonize propagative organizations – educational institutions, the media, the entertainment industries – because those organizations can create pressure waves in public opinion: waves that, if unanimous among such organizations, become all but impossible to resist. John Q. Public might start “swimming with the tide” before he realizes it.

     On a micro-scale, consider how Julius Nyerere’s Communist TANU regime strove to “re-educate” the people of Tanzania via the compulsory “ten-house cell” led by a Communist apparatchik:

     TANU recognizes the urgency and importance of good leadership. But we have not yet produced systematic training for our leaders; it is necessary that TANU Headquarters should now prepare a programme of training for all leaders – from the national level to the ten-house cell level – so that every one of them understands our political and economic policies. Leaders must set a good example to the rest of the people in their lives and in all their activities. [source]

     The point of the ten-house cell was to marshal peer pressure against private dissenters – i.e., to encyst them within a chorus of Communist orthodoxy that would force the dissenter to choose between conformity and isolation. (Really stubborn dissenters, of course, were taken out back and shot.)

     The combination of gaslighting with persistent, inescapable group pressure can overwhelm all but the strongest wills. This is a key element of what Dystopic addresses in his essay.

     ’Another example,’ he said. ’Some years ago you had a very serious delusion indeed. You believed that three men, three one-time Party members named Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford men who were executed for treachery and sabotage after making the fullest possible confession — were not guilty of the crimes they were charged with. You believed that you had seen unmistakable documentary evidence proving that their confessions were false. There was a certain photograph about which you had a hallucination. You believed that you had actually held it in your hands. It was a photograph something like this.’
     An oblong slip of newspaper had appeared between O’Brien’s fingers. For perhaps five seconds it was within the angle of Winston’s vision. It was a photograph, and there was no question of its identity. It was the photograph. It was another copy of the photograph of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford at the party function in New York, which he had chanced upon eleven years ago and promptly destroyed. For only an instant it was before his eyes, then it was out of sight again. But he had seen it, unquestionably he had seen it! He made a desperate, agonizing effort to wrench the top half of his body free. It was impossible to move so much as a centimetre in any direction. For the moment he had even forgotten the dial. All he wanted was to hold the photograph in his fingers again, or at least to see it.
     ’It exists!’ he cried.
     ’No,’ said O’Brien.
     He stepped across the room. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. O’Brien lifted the grating. Unseen, the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air; it was vanishing in a flash of flame. O’Brien turned away from the wall.
     ’Ashes,’ he said. ’Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.’
     ’But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.’
     ’I do not remember it,’ said O’Brien.
     Winston’s heart sank. That was doublethink. He had a feeling of deadly helplessness. If he could have been certain that O’Brien was lying, it would not have seemed to matter. But it was perfectly possible that O’Brien had really forgotten the photograph. And if so, then already he would have forgotten his denial of remembering it, and forgotten the act of forgetting. How could one be sure that it was simple trickery? Perhaps that lunatic dislocation in the mind could really happen: that was the thought that defeated him.

     [1984 again.]

     If “we” have any collective responsibility at all, it would be a responsibility to acknowledge reality. What happens has happened; we are obligated to resist all efforts to deny or efface it. The O’Briens of the world are our mortal enemies.

     Yet O’Brien represents his efforts as beneficial, curative; he tells Winston to regard him as an ally, if not a friend. It is the supreme horror of the novel that sufficiently prolonged, O’Brien’s tortures “persuade” Winston to accept him as such. The Left aspires to a different position: as the hegemon over all things.

     The ultimate tyranny is tyranny over the mind. Dystopic notes how vulnerable any one of us could be:

     The pressure is both great and subtle. Imagine a conversation about the weather, innocent enough on its own. A friend might say “wow, that global warming sure is kicking in today!” You’ve a few choices here. You can challenge him, but the immediate counter is likely to be something like “well, 99% of scientists agree, sooooo….” The implication, of course, is that you are stupid for disagreeing with 99% of scientists (whether or not there is any truth to that claim, either). You could remain silent because it’s easier. Or you could just give in, regardless of the truth of the matter, because it’s easiest. Meanwhile, if you counter your friend successfully, you may be down a friend by the end of the night.

     Placed in such a situation, many of us would regard the loss of a “friend” as weightier than the maintenance of reality. This is especially urgent for those without support. That’s why the Left seeks to separate us from one another. That way, its gaslighting campaigns and group pressures could not be resisted or relieved.

     “Senor D’Anconia, what do you think is going to happen to the world?”
     “Just exactly what it deserves.”
     “Oh, how cruel!”
     “Don’t you believe in the operation of the moral law, Madame?” Francisco asked gravely. “I do.”

     [From Atlas Shrugged.]

     An old mantra of the early New Left was that “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” That’s the zygote of collectivism – yet in one and only one sense, it contains a kernel of truth. The kernel consists of a phrase that was once an essential part of international law: “enemies of all Mankind.”

     The category of “enemies of all Mankind” subsumed pirates and other felons who plied their trades on the high seas, beyond the territorial jurisdictions of Westphalian states. It was considered an obligation of every nation with seagoing capability to collaborate in expunging such felons, as they threatened the travel and commercial intercourse that made possible the advancement of civilization. In more recent years, “enemies of all Mankind” has enlarged to embrace slavers, terrorists, and those who kidnap for ransom of any kind.

     I submit that if there is any obligation that lies upon every man that has ever lived or ever will, it would be to oppose the “enemies of all Mankind” by any and every means, a outrance -- and in that category I would unhesitatingly include those who strive to deny or efface reality. Dystopic’s peroration concludes thus:

     It is, often times, difficult to resist the allure of just giving up the fight. It’s so much easier to throw in the towel, and jump when someone else tells you to. When damn near everyone accuses you of something, to just say “yes, I’m guilty.”

     But you can’t. I can’t. And even if I could make such a choice for myself, I cannot make it for my family, for my country, for my civilization.

     You are not Atlas, and you do not need to suffer his punishment. You are not Christ, and you will never be morally perfect, and can never carry the weight of another’s sins (you will have enough trouble with your own).

     If the ultimate tyranny is tyranny over the mind, then the ultimate bastion of liberty is mental liberty: the insistence upon the real, “the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” He who maintains the facts as witnessed, confirmed, and recorded by reliable record-keepers is a defender of freedom; he who excuses himself from that effort, whatever his rationale, has joined forces with the tyrants.

     And that is really all that need be said.

Whackjob Sweden.

In early 2017, the Swedish police were instructed to increase their preparations for war. They were not told who this potential war would be against, although the authorities like to talk about an alleged threat of an invasion from Russia.

It is not, however, the Russians who now routinely burn cars and commit gang-rapes in Swedish cities. These crimes are largely committed by recent immigrants, many of them Muslims coming from war zones. These immigrants have for decades been allowed in by the ruling political elites, applauded by the mass media and supported by the EU and the UN.[1]

Löfven strikes back.

[1] "Europe: Combating Fake News." By Fjordman, Gatestone Institute, 4/5/17.

Please consider a contribution to Fjordman. There's a link to do that at the bottom of the Gates of Vienna page here. Thank you.

Tommy Robinson can also do with some help. A link for that is on the main page of Gates of Vienna. For that, I thank you as well.

Sabotage of our nuclear forces.

What is left mostly unsaid is that this was a deliberate decision to hobble our nuclear forces in the future and to make it very expensive and difficult for others to fix. It only becomes more expensive and more difficult with each passing year, so hopefully more mature and responsible minds with the long view will get to work this year to give the future options and not problems.

"The Crisis in Nuclear Husbandry." By CDRSalamander, U.S. Naval Institute, 3/29/17.

H/t: Woodpile Report.

Our corrupt, clownish leadership.

All dissent is a Russian operation. Anything bad that happens to America has nothing to do with our corrupt, clownish leadership, but is Putin’s fault. This is where all of this is going, and it’s further evidence that the American empire has entered a much more pronounced and dangerous period of decline.
"Our corrupt, clownish leadership" seems harsh but these times call for clear assessments.

The Republicans have yelled about Obamacare from the git but come time to come up with a replacement that's not a modified version of that leftist monstrosity they've got nothing in their bag of tricks. Not only didn't they have a colorable scheme of what might be a better approach, but what they did come up with was hush hush and rolled out as just another exercise in jamming it down the throats of the people. Take it or leave it, suckahs.

No discussion beforehand. No attempt to show how something as simple as allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines could stimulate competition and lead to more options. No focus on the problem of the uninsurable and what we should do as a nation, whether pretend it's a problem to be dealt with by insurance or a matter of taking care of people in a bad way as a matter of public policy. Ryan knows best!

No discussion of the aberration of employer-provided health insurance as an artifact of WWII price controls.

And sure has shootin' no discussion of the known defects of socialized care elsewhere in the world.

Similarly, the seemingly sacred rule is that no other national problem can be dealt with other than in a "comprehensive" manner. Nope. Can't just build a wall to stop illegal immigration as in stanch the flow of newcomers before we decide how to get rid of the other invaders who got here earlier. We have to come up with the perfect plan for Indians to come take American jobs and seasonal agricultural workers to come from Brunei and deportation and the wall and sanctuary cities. Got cancer? How's that dandruff?

Tax system a bit cumbersome? Why, of course, we must have a "comprehensive" reform such that the deductibility of hobby expenses must be carefully examined. Just take a pen and change corporate tax rate – now the highest in the universe – to 15%? No, no, the clowns have never heard of the 80-20 rule.

These things take time. Arterial bleeding there, Rufus? We hear you but, first, what's the history of diabetes in your family?

"U.S. Propaganda is Embarrassingly Bad (and Why it Matters)." By Mike Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg, 4/19/17.

H/t: Zero Hedge.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


The following exchange took place outside a warehouse store. I can identify only one of the participants: myself. (Full disclosure: I faked a heavy Italian accent throughout.)

SHE: Excuse me, sir, are you an American citizen?
FWP: Si, si! Since before last year.

SHE: Did you vote for Trump?
FWP: E bene, I did. He build grande edifici! Bellissimo!

SHE: Would you call yourself a racist?
FWP: Mi scusi? Is a word I don’t know. What means?

SHE: A racist is someone who thinks his race is better than others.
FWP: Ah, si. Better in all the ways?

SHE: Well, not necessarily all ways. But the ways that matter.
FWP: Oh, so he thinks his race is better at the important things. But people, they disagree about what’s molto importante, no?

SHE: Well, yes, I suppose, but—
FWP: But let’s say there’s these three guys behind a...a tenda spessa, a curtain, and you have to assign each of them to one of three jobs. The first job is running a little shop. The second job is raising a family of sei bambini, six little children. The third job is playing the pro basketball. How do you assign the guys to the jobs?

SHE: Unless you were to tell me more about these guys, I’d have to do it randomly,.
FWP: Bene, bene. The first guy, he’s white. The second guy, he’s Asian. The third guy, he’s black. Now go.

SHE: What? I need to know more than that!
FWP: Mi dispiace, is all I know. So, what assignments, then?

SHE: Well, I suppose I’d have the white guy run the shop, the Asian guy raise the kids, and the black guy play basketball.
FWP: Molto bene, so would I. But why?

SHE: Because...uh...
FWP: Thank you for teaching me this fascinating word, this racist. Ciao!


     The above neologism has gained some currency in recent months, owing to the efforts – semi-comic efforts, to be sure – of those being accused of it. For those who didn’t buy a program at the gate, wrongthink refers to the envelope of the Left’s attempts to silence certain opinions and positions. As the Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch are surely aware, that envelope now includes outright, undisguised violence.

     To this point, the violence has been “private:” i.e., conducted by Leftist activists such as “Antifa” and the “Black Bloc.” However, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be “municipalized.” Consider the passivity of the Berkeley, California police in the face of the recent riot there. Consider the memo that recently came to light:

     ...and ask yourself: “Just whose side were they on?”

     It’s easy to look at the Berkeley street scenes of which so many videos were taken, note the passivity of the “forces of order,” merely snort in contempt and move along. It’s harder to analyze the matter holistically, but much more rewarding.

     Like many coastal cities, Berkeley is hostile to the right to keep and bear arms. Indeed, Berkeley’s municipal ordinances regard even a walking stick as something no one ought to carry. (See the memo above.) I have no doubt that anyone who’d been visibly in possession of a firearm would have been arrested on the spot regardless of his conduct.

     What that does, in the face of a street clash that turns violent, is to award an advantage to the more numerous, better organized, more violently inclined force. That force becomes overwhelmingly likely to win the day. The Antifa / Black Bloc forces assumed that, as they were uninhibited about employing violence, the edge would go to them. Yet in the recent dustup, the pro-Trump ralliers, who had sincerely hoped for a peaceful showing, responded to Leftist assaults with an unprecedented degree of fury. The Leftists were unprepared to face it, and were quickly humiliated.

     Don’t imagine that Leftists will fail to draw the moral. At the next confrontation, they’ll be armed. The “forces of order,” which “stood down” on the most recent occasion, will look the other way.

     Wrongthink, you see, deserves no protection.

     Godwin’s Law:

     Godwin's law (or Godwin's rule of Hitler analogies) is an Internet adage which asserts that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1"—that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler.

     ...has reached peak absurdity. It is no longer necessary to strain to draw such comparisons. America’s Nazis are here and proud of themselves.

     They’re not in unchallenged power, mind you. They might not be in the ascendant. But they’re out and proud, doing what they can to quench all open dissent from their preferences. You can identify them by their willingness to silence anyone who disagrees with them. In Weimar Germany they wore distinctive brown shirts: the garb of the Sturmabteilung:

     The Sturmabteilung, literally Storm Detachment, functioned as the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party (NSDAP).

     It played a significant role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Their primary purposes were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of opposing parties, fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties, especially the Red Front Fighters League (Rotfrontkämpferbund) of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and intimidating Slavic and Romani citizens, unionists, and Jews – for instance, during the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

     Like the original Brownshirts, they lack official sanction. However, they receive unofficial forbearance from the police departments of such places as Berkeley, California. The command levels of those departments sympathize with America’s Nazis. They feel wrongthink must be punished. As it would be indiscreet for those commanders to order the police to do so, the commanders order the police not to intervene. Until recently, that was sufficient to award the possession of the streets to the Nazis, and to intimidate anyone minded to challenge them.

     With the most recent events, the commanders’ attitudes might just be turning – but not in the direction of protecting the wrongthinkers! Oh no, we can’t have that. Rather, the police will be encouraged to intervene – subtly at first, no doubt – in favor of the Nazis.

     I may be wrong...but I don’t think I am.

     The transition from de facto wrongthink to de jure crimethink – the legal prohibition of the public expression of certain opinions – is already in progress in Europe. Laws that privilege Islam, explicitly banning the expression of certain anti-Islam sentiments, are now in place in France and Germany. Those governments are also pondering the banning of anti-“refugee” sentiments, which have swelled greatly in reaction to the tides sweeping northward and westward from the Muslim Middle East. And of course, there’s considerable agitation for the EU and its member states to condemn Israel and outlaw any commercial interaction with it.

     Too many Americans have told themselves that “it can’t happen here.” Perhaps it can’t, at least with regard to Islam, though the numbers of Muslims in America are growing faster than the population as a whole. But what about other opinions disfavored by our political class and our glitterati? Is it really impossible to imagine that the currents that have produced a rash of “safe spaces” at our institutions of ignorance and indoctrination higher learning could some day burst forth to seize our legislatures – first of municipalities such as Berkeley, then perhaps a few state legislatures, and eventually the Congress of these United States?

     It wouldn’t be promoted as “punishing wrongthink,” but in the name of “public order.” Remember Mark Steyn:

     If it were just terrorists bombing buildings and public transit, it would be easier; even the feeblest Eurowimp jurisdiction is obliged to act when the street is piled with corpses. But there's an old technique well understood by the smarter bullies. If you want to break a man, don't attack him head on, don't brutalize him; pain and torture can awaken a stubborn resistance in all but the weakest. But just make him slightly uncomfortable, disrupt his life at the margin, and he'll look for the easiest path to re-normalization. There are fellows rampaging through the streets because of some cartoons? Why, surely the most painless solution would be if we all agreed not to publish such cartoons. [From Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It]

     A few more street battles – especially battles in which America’s Nazis are on the losing end – and laws that forbid the public expression of certain opinions (see the attached list, which will include a schedule of penalties) would become more likely than not. That’s how wrongthink is transformed into crimethink...and the last, pitiful vestige of the freedom Americans once enjoyed is stripped away.

     Scared yet?

     I can’t close this essay without mentioning this little raffle, which seeks to promote “wrongthinkers” among our contemporary storytellers. If you enjoy fantasy and science fiction, you’re likely to enjoy the books being given to all entrants. (Entering costs nothing.) The three winners would enjoy a still larger array of “naughty books.” Please consider entering. (No, nothing of mine is on offer.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


     There’s a substantial, threatening deficit of realism among our politically engaged. If you’ve been listening to the chatter or reading the politically oriented Websites, you might already have noticed it. Or you might be part of the problem, and thus as unable to recognize that deficit as a fish is unable to recognize water.

     But then, quite a lot of people have no idea what realism means.

     For some years we’ve been having a kerfuffle over ideology, specifically political ideologies and their influence over the decisions of public officials. As many people don’t have a clear understanding of the nature of an ideology, much of what’s been said and written about it has been utter bilge.

     An ideology is a set of ideas (sometimes a set of one) about the cause-and-effect laws that govern some segment of reality. Those ideas must be consistent with one another – i.e., they must not imply contradictory consequences – for the ideology to be coherent. An ideology that persists for long enough and acquires enough adherents will be given a name by which it can be recognized.

     Ideologies have addressed many aspects of human life: politics, economics, social order, conventions of courtesy, morality and ethics, and so on. However, not all ideologies are recognizable as such. We most easily recognize the ones that pertain to politics and political economy.

     Ideologies must not be confused with principles. A principle is a fundamental rule about right and wrong – a rule that divides the universe of human action into the morally acceptable and the morally unacceptable. Oftentimes a set of principles will underlie an ideology, but this is not always the case.

     Consider the term human rights for a moment. Does this term denote an ideology? That doesn’t seem to be the case. Rather, human rights is a grab-bag term that summarizes certain moral obligations – an implicit invocation of the moral principle that thou shalt not violate another person’s rights. That not everyone agrees on what should go under that heading is a secondary consideration.

     By contrast, consider Thomas Mackay’s statement about welfarism:

     ...the cause of pauperism is relief. We shall not get rid of pauperism by extending the sphere of State relief...On the contrary, its adoption would increase our pauperism, for as is often said, we can have exactly as many paupers as the country chooses to pay for. [Thomas Mackay, “Methods of Social Reform”]

     That is a statement about cause-and-effect: a diminutive ideology. That it can be part of a larger ideology about political economy is not a dismissal, as several such ideologies incorporate it – and they disagree with one another.

     The salient facts that apply to all ideologies are these:

  1. They pertain to specific areas of human conduct;
  2. They propose cause-and-effect models for those areas;
  3. They can be wrong.

     I’ve ranted about Fact #1 before, albeit in an inverse way: An ideology must not be pushed beyond its domain of applicability. (See Part 4 of the cited essay: “The Ongoing Political Problem.”) Libertarians’ attempt to do so was motivated by a desire to solve problems in public policy to which libertarian ideas do not apply. It’s brought considerable harm to the pro-freedom cause. That harm has not yet ceased to accumulate.

     Fact #2 is definitional: a part of the differentia that distinguishes ideologies from other abstractions. A silly counterexample might go like this:

“Jelly doughnuts must always be eaten with coffee.”

     Is that an ideology? Certainly not: it doesn’t make a cause-and-effect claim. It’s really a silly attempt at a moral principle: a statement that not to have coffee with one’s jelly doughnut is wrong. Yes, there’s an implied “or else” to it: “If you don’t, you will be punished somehow.” However, the implication is too weak to claim that it proposes a cause-and-effect model.

     By contrast, the following:

“Eating a jelly doughnut without coffee will cause indigestion.” a true cause-and-effect statement: if you will, a rather trivial ideology. However, I can testify from personal experience that it is incorrect. That brings us to Fact #3, which is at the core of this tirade.

     “If what you’re doing doesn’t work, do something else.” – Michael Emerling

     To say that some method or procedure “works” implies the following:

  1. It was aimed at producing a well-defined result from well-defined initial conditions;
  2. It achieved that result, within the limits of allowable deviation;
  3. The costs, including all side effects and second-order effects, were acceptable.

     All three of those conditions are imperative. They’re the touchstones by which we judge all proposals for doing anything, regardless of the subject. They apply to ideologies with full force.

     I shan’t sugar-coat the matter. It can be exceedingly difficult to meet all three of those conditions, especially in the realm of public policy. Much that Smith claims to be indisputable truth is pooh-poohed by Jones, because Jones insists on a different set of initial conditions, or places a higher weight on certain costs or consequences than does Smith.

     If we return to Thomas Mackay’s statement about welfarism:

     We shall not get rid of pauperism by extending the sphere of State relief...On the contrary, its adoption would increase our pauperism... determined to “disprove” Mackay might insist that public welfare programs inherently diminish pauperism by converting paupers to non-paupers! There’s quite a bit of definitional sophistry there, and an ill-concealed determination to ignore the second-order effects of public welfare programs. Yet many persons dedicated to the expansion of governmental welfare programs do exactly thus...and get away with it.

     Nevertheless, there are times when an ideology is either demonstrably wrong or inapplicable to the case at hand.

     The Obamunist foreign-policy posture of “strategic patience” is currently under discussion, especially in contrast with the still-emerging foreign policy of the Trump Administration. During the campaign, some drew parallels between the two, claiming that Obama’s reluctance to involve the U.S. in foreign conflicts was largely similar to Trump’s “America first” stance. I believe this to be incorrect: Obama’s posture didn’t actually refrain from involving us; rather, he greatly preferred rhetoric to action, unless he believed action incapable of adversely affecting his Administration. Atop that, Trump’s “America first” stance doesn’t automatically preclude involving the U.S. in a foreign dustup; it merely insists that any such involvement must serve American interests above all else.

     The arguments over Trump’s actions in Afghanistan and Syria, and the arrival of several carrier battle groups in the waters around the Korean Peninsula, have ranged from dubious to ludicrous. It is defensible to argue about what best serves American interests, though in some cases there isn’t a lot of room for disagreement. It is not defensible to argue that an intervention can’t possibly serve American interests. Indeed, it borders on lunacy.

     Foreign-policy ideologies often incorporate a large amount of lunacy.

     The political economy ideology that advocates the free market has come in for some body blows in recent years. That isn’t really the fault of free market economics, but rather the ways in which governments have learned how to disguise their market interventions to the intended benefit of their domestic industries. For example, Country X’s subsidies and regulatory concessions to particular industries can create conditions under which Country Y’s participants in those industries will be induced to relocate to X. That’s not a market failure, but a failure of government X to respect the market. If the effects sufficiently disfavor country Y, its government can and should react – and that’s not a failure of free market economics either.

     Yet there are free-market ideologues unwilling to concede that the political conditions that surround the marketplace can cloud the desirability of unfettered international trade. They maintain that as bad as X’s policies may be, Y’s attempt to compensate for them is still “wrong.” Wrong by their dictates, perhaps, but in what other sense?

     President Trump’s proposed “border adjustment tax,” intended to create a counter-incentive to the expatriation of American industries and employers, might fail for several reasons. It might be ineffective; the costs it imposes, especially upon American consumers, might be too high to bear; or it might precipitate a second-order effect that’s far worse than the flood of industrial expatriations. But those possibilities can only be tested in the crucible of experience. To say a priori that they’re “wrong” is a different sort of pronouncement: a moral pronouncement, with which not everyone is likely to agree.

     Realism is, above all else, the readiness, willingness, and ability to recognize when events have diverged from one’s preferences or expectations, and to admit that that is the case. The admission should imply a concomitant readiness to revise one’s ideology, if it should come to that. The resistance to making such revisions, displayed today by so many, doesn’t alter the facts. How could it?

     Realism also partakes of another practice: the willingness to confront one’s own choices. For an individual, that consists of asking oneself “What did I do to bring this about?” and answering candidly, to the best of one’s ability. For an electorate, it involves asking “What did we do – and ought we to have expected the consequences it has brought?”

     We elevated a consummate deal-maker to the presidency. He’s out there doing his best to make deals – deals that he believes will serve America’s interests. Was it really imaginable that he would superglue himself to any set of policy prescriptions?

     We returned a group of legislators to Congress who could best be described as “pusillanimous time-servers.” There’s very little courage to be found among them; they cower at the lightest criticism from the press, to say nothing of the way they shrink from the barbs of their political opponents. Their highest ambition is to die in office; by their behavior we must conclude that they believe the best course toward that end is never to offend anyone. Was it really imaginable that they would follow any bold course, regardless of the topic or their supposed positions on it?

     We consistently expect more honesty, candor, and respect for our rights from politicians than they provide in practice. We keep “throwing the rascals out” and electing a new set, “insanely assuming that they are better than the set turned out. And at each election we are, as they say in Motherland, done in.” (H. L. Mencken) How is it that we have not yet confronted the fatuity of our expectations?

     The greatest need of our time is for realism about politics, governments, and the behavior thereof. Will it come? If so, from where – or whom?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Resurrections: A Post-Easter Rumination

     Something is happening. Something good. It’s been quiet until recently, but it’s slowly becoming more vocal, more visible, and more self-assured.

     I hope I’m reading the evidence accurately, because it’s something that all by itself could bring these United States back from the twin brinks of disaster and despair.

     I think Americans are rediscovering their Christianity.

     There’ve been many expressions of “Happy Easter!” sentiments on the Web this year. Religious sentiments; not “enjoy your chocolate bunnies” secular crap. People are acknowledging the reason for the feast day, and acknowledging its overwhelming significance. Considering how loud the militant atheists have been in deriding faith, and considering their alignment with left-wing assholes who’ll do anything to beat down those who dissent from their Hellish gospel, that’s a development of note.

     People in my usual orbits have been more cheerful about their Christianity lately, too. There’s less furtiveness about it, generally. That’s more important than it might seem. The pragmatic, temporal impact of a sincerely held faith is its moral-ethical code. It’s pretty hard to be dedicated to the observance of one’s moral code if one’s faith is treated as a cosmetic or an accessory.

     A lot of faiths have promulgated moral codes over the centuries. Most of them, pardon the expression, have been complete horseshit. Many have proceeded from some utterly ludicrous notion about racial or regional superiority. Only two – Christianity and its ancestor faith Judaism – have embedded what C. S. Lewis termed the Law of General Benevolence: the moral obligation to be well-disposed toward others regardless of their identities.

  • Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to another.”
  • Jesus of Nazareth: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

     Unless you’re Robert Axelrod or a millennial genius of fantastic erudition, it can be tough to arrive at those principles from quotidian experience.

     As I’m a Catholic, I’ll add a few words about our particular burden and obligation. The Catholic Church in America has been under a cloud for some years, owing to the “pedophile priests” scandal. I have no doubt that many of the dioceses afflicted by the problem handled it very, very badly. I also have no doubt that the public-relations dimension of the thing was wildly overblown. Sex crimes sell newspapers and commercial slots, and the more lurid, the better.

     There’ve been pedophiles in the clergies of other religious denominations: Christian, Jewish, what-have-you. They don’t get the air time or column inches Catholic priests get, because of the Catholic requirement that our priests must be celibate. And of course, there are pedophiles among non-clerical occupations, as well. Indeed, pedophile Catholic priests were not statistically more numerous than pedophiles in other walks of life. That doesn’t excuse it, of course; as has been said, and truly, even one is too many.

     However, the reactions to the scandal have been healthful and heartening. An increasing number of American Catholics have involved themselves deeply in their parishes, partly from the desire to prevent such horrors and partly out of the recognition that their faith and the Church are of great value to them. They’re determined that no such blot will afflict their parishes, and not by contriving that the hierarchy should cover it up.

     Most encouraging of all, they’re being vocal about it, especially toward diocesan prelates desperate to have the whole thing be forgotten.

     Nothing could be more constructive toward the future of this nation than a general rebirth of sincere Christian allegiance. All Christian sects promulgate the same ethics: those summarized by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, we differ in some theological doctrines, and on some minor ethical points, but those pale in comparison to our commonalities. A Christian nation would be a nation whose people are at peace with one another, whose assumptions about one another are benevolent: “We may differ in methods, but I’m sure we want the same things for our countrymen.” It would not excuse the State or its agents from obedience to the laws that bind the rest of us. (Especially “Thou shalt not steal.”)

     Of course, the keyword in the above paragraph is sincere. One must not adopt a faith for pragmatic reasons. “It would be good for me and those around me” is not an adequate basis for committing oneself to a theological creed. That’s why Easter is such an important event.

     Jesus Christ’s Resurrection, on the third day after His death on the cross, is the confirmation of His authority and the authority of His preachments. Of course, the qualifier of importance here is “if it happened.” One must accept that He rose, laid the Great Commission on His apostles, and will come again at the end of all things to pronounce the judgments that only God is entitled to give.

     That’s an act of faith. One must rationally work one’s way past the objections to the Resurrection. One must then experience a private, interior event – a personal commitment to Christ’s Resurrection as a matter of historical fact – despite the inability to prove that it happened. These are things each candidate for the faith must do for himself.

     Lee Strobel did it. An intelligent, atheistic journalist, disturbed by his wife’s conversion and determined to “rescue” her from her newfound faith, found that despite his best efforts he could not debunk the Resurrection. Strobel became a Christian, and one of the best lay evangelists of our time.

     What about you, Gentle Reader?