All’s Quiet on the Western Front

This blog might appear to have become dormant, and some may have thought I had given up on this project, but the truth is, I’ve been busy. Work, family and being a PhD candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have left my time limited, particularly since I am still recovering from a TBI nearly two years ago. My classwork is going well, and I am in the final stages of my program, facing comprehensive exams and a dissertation, this coming semester my focus will be writing a prospectus on why Old Testament slave codes are not a reason to reject Christianity (Leviticus 25:44-46 being an important point that many apologists overlook in their answers) answering from an analysis of Matthew 19:1-12. At some point I will be applying to teach apologetics in Christian higher education. I will still be very busy, and will not be able to write frequently.

But, besides the issue of time, this blog has not, precisely, been a successful one, at least in terms our culture would consider important. Very few posts are viewed by more than one or two people. I can often become more technical than I mean to be here, and apologetic blogs tend to appeal largely to those who are already engaged in apologetics, or places where a lot of debate is happening. What is more, good bloggers must be good marketers. I have the same relationship with marketing that I have with painting or good bluegrass: I can appreciate it, but I don’t have the skills to produce it. In the long run, I have two things I think Truth in the Trenches will need to be successful, first, this blog has always been a one man show; I am going to need help in the long run. Secondarily, I want to develop a podcast format, but something that is somewhat distinctive; some of my first ideas, for example, were too similar to Al Mohler’s excellent daily podcast to be distinctive enough to be useful.

Some might ask, why bother? Yet, I believe whatever path I have been down, God has led me. I trust this ministry will do what He intends it to do. In the long term, the challenges I list are not reasons to quit but reasons to find a better way to move this ministry forward. I will continue to make updates from time to time as I can. In the near term, I plan to post some position papers, starting with a general statement on Truth in the Trenches “niche,” they are outside of my usual fare for this site and will not, primarily be arguments. Rather they are intended to be useful both as documents I can use to secure a teaching position, and for deciding on what direction, and hopefully for what type of assistance to look for. But, the issue of my intermittent publications will remain in the short term, while I try to work out, in God’s time a different plan for this ministry. Truth in the Trenches is my ministry outlet, my attempt to be useful while still in school, and it may be a repository for work to come later as well as to test ideas and formulations, and if it is small now, well Dr. Bob Jones Senior once noted that the most important light in the house was the backhall light; while I work to find a way to make that light a little brighter and more useful, I will continue to at least use it as I can until those plans come to fruition.

Pro-Choice is Pro-Nazi

Abortion has been a big issue with Christians since the 1970s, when Roe v Wade, when the supreme court expanded federal power to regulate abortion laws, protecting abortion in the first trimester. Some among progressives have tried to argue this is a smokescreen for racism, but this is ultimately something of a conspiracy theory; I’m sure there are some racists that are pro-life (at least, for babies of the desired race), and in the seventies, the religious right existed in both parties; many Christians in the day (including my father) were “blue dog democrats” something that doesn’t seem to exist now. Nor did this lead to an immediate impact for the Republican party, many pro-lifers, for example, voted for Jimmy Carter.

But many today ask why Christians make so much of a big deal on the matter, arguing abortion is only one issue. Why, for example, would we say that being prochoice results in an automatic refusal to receive my vote—my own policy on the issue? The answer can be rephrased this way, I would vote for someone who is prochoice only in those circumstances where I would vote for Hitler as they are ideologically aligned. Many will think this is some extreme statement of political rhetoric, others simply treat this as old hat, and a version of the ad Hitlerium logical fallacy. Now it is true that the ad Hitlerium fallacy is a serious error in reasoning regularly committed in American politics (particularly by progressives), but the problem is, this only works as a fallacy when the comparison is between accidental similarities of policy, rhetoric or presentation rather than essential issues of worldview. That is, it is a logical fallacy to compare the haircut of a candidate, a style of speech or dress, or party organization. Similarly, an expansion of the freeway system (the autobahn being a Nazi contribution), or implementation of socialism are similarities of policy that may be accidental to Nazism rather than essential.

My point, however, is that the core commitments of the prochoice movement are derived principles that are also essential elements of Nazism, that is, the prochoice movement replicates a version of arguments for core Nazi principles, specifically the rationale for the final solution. There are two points of comparison to make. The first was the belief that Jews, Slavs and “easterners” were “sub-human.” That is, Nazis argued that certain racial groups were really not human beings, they were instead closer to apes. Therefore, the Nazis argued that Jews must be killed and Slavs were fit for only slave labor. The prochoice version of this argument comes in two forms, initially there was the direct one, that a baby in the womb (or increasingly an infant) is not human; this was the terminology as I was coming up. Often, for example describing it as a parasite (which is similar but in an accidental way that Nazis spoke of Jewish economic activities). Yet because this is not compatible with the findings of science, it faces severe criticism. A human fetus differs from a two year old child in the same way that a two year old child differs from an adult, that is, the two may be in different stages of development, but there is no fundamental difference between the two. Therefore, because science essentially nullifies that argument, a new version of this Neo-Nazi argument was developed, which argues that there is a difference between being human and being a person.

This second version is a representation of the first one, it dehumanizes infants in the same way the Nazis dehumanized the Jews. This claim is defended with our other point of comparison between the pro-choice movement and the Nazis. The first systematic round of state-sponsored murders committed by the Nazis was not against Jews or Slavs, it was the pursuit of racial hygiene to remove the “unfit” members of society from the genepool. The arguments for the killing varied, but always focused on the physical or mental fitness of the individual, including the level of intelligence. These unfit members were considered a waste of German resources, as a result of their infirmities. This point of Nazi ideology has been brought in by prochoice thinkers to defend “personhood” arguments to defend person/human dichotomy. Most notably, the use of IQ has become a major litmus test to define personhood, thus not only human fetuses, but humans in comas or those with conditions such as Downs Syndrome or more severe cognitive malfunctions are not “persons.” In some cases, like the Nazis these murders are sanction as merciful. Similarly, intellectual criterion were part of the argument to dehumanize Eastern European Jews and Poles.

That is, to put it bluntly, the prochoice crowd, to makes its case (and salves the conscience), with the same type of language and rationale to dehumanize human beings as the Nazis did. This is a point where the philosophical essentials of the pro-choice agenda and the Nazi party are the same, rather than being accidental similarities. While it is true that many politicians have no power to end abortion on demand (say for example, a member of the House of Representatives), it also demonstrates something of the person’s ethical. We would not vote for a member of the Aryan nation for city government on the rationale that they would not be able to institute major Nazi idealogies (no matter what we might think of their economic policies), we would argue that their adherence to Nazism proved them ethically unfit for office. This is my opinion of any pro-choice candidates, I don’t vote for modern Hitlers.

Progressivism as Religion

The usual response to the claim that progressivism is a religion is to treat the matter with a certain amount of derision, or as political rhetoric being used to discredit progressivism. While it is true, I am no friend to the progressive agenda, my point is not an issue of discoloring my opponent, but rather a move towards understanding the conflicts of our times, and pointing out the religious roots of many of our political controversies. One of the back log of articles starting to develop in files on my computer and the back of my mind is a more formal discussion of this topic, though this is outside of most of my studies and may be some time in coming. Some will immediately object, progressivism, they say, builds no churches or temples, there are no sacred texts, or all the other things we associate with religion. But, if my proposal is right, these are accidental aspects of religion, not essential ones, and we must move to what religion is not merely what the guises it wears.

To put this in context, there was a time when medieval European thinkers divided religions into four categories, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Paganism. As the age of exploration began, these four divisions were proven to be inadequate, and the taxonomy of religions expanded, though the activity also influenced religions, themselves. A similar thing has happened in the west as during the enlightenment and post-enlightenment new atheistic, pantheistic and panentheistic philosophies arose that fulfilled the roles not only of philosophy but that held by theologians in the left as well. Naturalism, in the form of Hume’s argument against miracles, or the assertions of Spinoza were accepted as excluding any supernatural content in the world a priori. The atheistic and antisupernaturalistic nature of these philosophies have often led to the claim they are not religious, but the question of the supernatural or God is not the final answer. The atheist claiming he does not practice a religion because he does not believe in anything supernatural is a bit like a Christian claiming Christianity isn’t a religion, it is a relationship. Such statements are good for internal morale, but may not work in actual reasoning.

It will surprise many to know that Communism and Nazism are often noted to have formal, religious elements depending on the system for defining religions. Usually these systems of thought are accorded some related status as “pseudo-religions,” my ultimate proposal is to drop the prefix as unnecessary, and counter-productive. The reason why these philosophies are termed this way is because many philosophical definitions of religion would seem to include these movements, for example, many discussions of religion discuss myth—which is not in philosophy of religion a designation for truth or error, but how stories function, develop and change within a community, and progressives have their myths about the enlightenment, or a cherry-picked version of Western history. Similarly, the utopian dreams of socialism forms their eschatological hopes.

Both Communism and Nazism have been classified as well as “political religions,” this is more common with the Nazis due to some of the rituals the regime engaged in (such as is related to the blood flag or those Nazis who met their deaths during the Beerhall Putsch; and there are indications that Hitler wanted to replace Christianity with a religion based on German blood). Progressives will object that this is again tarring them, but my point, again, is not rhetorical, but taxonomical, and some extreme libertarians (the real “far right” in US parlance, who take the economic principle of markets and turn it into a universal metaphor) would be categorized in the same way, but that is a different argument.

There are two things that are needed to be understood about this proposition, before moving forward. First, I am not using the term “progressive” as a term for the American left, I’m rather using it to distinguish it from the left. The idea of a political “left” and political “right” implies that there are underlying shared premises between the two political sides, but that there are differences in how these principles should be balanced, and applied. That was true when, for example, when Washington was unabashedly in favor of economic capitalism, but there were differences of opinion on how to balance out the needs of social safety nets, and what role government should play in discussions between unions and management. But this is not what I mean when I refer to a progressive, most progressives follow the adage that capitalism should be rejected entirely,[1] this is not a move further to the left on the previous discussions of a political axis, it is rather a rejection of the shared premises that make up that axis, and replacing it with one that is incommensurable. In this sense, the concept of “compromise” with a progressive is impossible to achieve; one can have a capitalist society with safety nets, or one can have a socialist society where industry essentially functions at the will of government, but one cannot have both. Similar things are true about a number of other issues, progressives, for example, issues involving free speech or definitions of justice.

Secondarily, progressivism is not merely another term for “post-modernism” though they are related concepts. One of the major elements in post-modern thought is what news commentators have called “politicization of the humanities;” in colleges, which itself is based some of Nietsche’s ideas communicated into the Academy through Fouchault, the central thesis being that ethics are not about defining how we should live, ethics rather are a lever to control people. Another major component of the genealogical movement are Marx and the twentieth century attempts to repair Marx. This approach is known as the “genealogical approach” to ethics,[2] and it is a major component of the various feminist, ethnic, and queer studies departments on campus. In a sense, this has led to a reversal of the classical Western rational approach to ethics. That is, in the West, the ethics are required to derive their rational basis from other fields, in post-modernism, ethics, particularly social ethics are assumed, and are then treated as axioms for finding truth in fields such as history, where elements of history that do not match the metanarrative are quietly excised. For example, one of the major issues leading to Southern slave codes was the Haitian massacre of 1804, an attempted genocide of the remaining French on the island, and it is often referred to in apologies for slavery. However, in modern treatment (in the dozens of articles I scanned recently on the subject), the importance of the Haitian revolution on slavery on the ante-bellum south is often discussed, usually is propagandized, but the massacre of 1804 is not mentioned (one cannot make the heroes of the Haitian revolution look bad). The “academic” article becomes mere propaganda, and comments to the contrary are not answered with cold reason, but with diatribe, invective, censure and attempts to remove the offender from the academy, itself. That is, the relationship of post-modern philosophy to progressivism is reversed, progressivism is the basis for post-modern philosophy as opposed to the traditional tendency for political systems to be outgrowths of philosophical thought and ideals.

The question, however, is what is a Christian’s response? Our goal should be to win them to Christ, but we need to recognize that this means dealing with progressivism as a religion, not merely as s political ideology. In part, I have a second blog, barely begun and in worse shape than truth in the trenches, in many ways, a political answer is needed to progressivism from the standpoint of countering a false faith. I am not comfortable with this, the tendency for Christians engaging in politics is to let political relationships and alliances dictate truth, this is something to be avoided. Secondarily, the Christian apologist needs to be a defender, in a sense, of the West, as Christianity is, within progressive thought inextricably bound to the west. Works by Rodney Stark are important helps and starting points. Finally, we need to demonstrate the irrational nature of the Progressive ethic. While progressivism is not irrational, it’s proponents believe they are rational. Progressivism is built on the anti-ethical (and anti-intellectualism) of Nietsche, that is, it is based on the idea that ethics (and academic work) are means of power, a way for the weak to control the strong. Ethics, therefore, must be unreal, except that progressives seem to treat their ethical code as if it is both real and self-evident. That is, the progressives do not understand the roots or basis of their own ethical system. For example, pro-abortion proponents rely heavily on a distinction between being human and being a person that is similar to the Nazi arguments that certain racial groups were sub-human, often with the same types of criteria (such as alleged statements of intelligence). There is, therefore, a contradiction in the standard of imitating Nazi arguments on the one hand and decrying them on the other. Some might argue, if progressive ethics are as irrational as I have stated, should I aim for rational discourse? After all, an irrational treatment of an ethic as self-evident must inevitably remain irrational.  But I believe C S Lewis answered this question in Mere Christianity. No matter how much the atheist might try to pretend to deny moral realism (or for that matter rationality), they cannot live as if that denial were true.

[1] Often times this will be objected to, because the left appeals to capitalist states in Europe as models of socialism, but these are actually closer to discussions of welfare liberalism, that is, by American standards they are a left wing movement within capitalism, not a rejection of capitalism.

[2] See MacIntyre Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry

Christianity and Halloween: A Middle Road

So the past few years I have advocated what many cultural apologists have advocated: taking back the types of literature and films that are put forward in the world. To review my essential point, the modern horror movie and horror novelists like Stephen King come from the Gothic novel; a form of literature in which the monsters represent divine justice. As cultural apologists in the tradition associated with Francis Schaeffer have noted, we can trace the changes in the literature to the west’s changes of worldview. Thus, for example, Bram Stoker, in his epistolary novel Dracula clearly treats Dracula as a monster, but the evils that Dracula represents in Stoker’s novel have become a type of anti-hero in modern culture through writers like Anne Rice. Similarly, “torture porn” movies like the Saw and Hostel franchises have become a new tour deforce as people seem to take the same type of pleasure in watching human suffering that the Romans took in the gladiatorial events. This would be unthinkable in past generations.

But one major issue that commonly comes up is the question of Halloween, the time of year when horror movies are central, is one that many Christians think all Christians should avoid. This, again, is a question that I think Schaeffer answers. To those unfamiliar with Schaeffer, Schaeffer was a Christian apologist who brought discussions of worldview back to the table, there are of course issues with this approach. Schaeffer painted with a very broad brush—something that is necessary when worldview scholarship is focused on simple or simplistic comparisons, since worldviews are very large things. Sometimes in so doing his work could lack accuracy (though one of the writers following in Schaeffer’s tradition, Nancy Pearcy who came to know Jesus as Savior through his ministry at l’abri does a much better job in this regard, and her book Total Truth and the follow up works are a must read in the modern world).

When I was a teenager I fell into the anti-Halloween, anti-rock music, anti-modern subculture within some pockets of fundamentalism. These arguments, frankly, had a point,  but this seems to have changed as the rebellion by the modern west from its Christian heritage is so complete that, “if it feels right do it,” is no longer radical, it is typical. Similarly, in the late sixties and early seventies, occultic themes began to develop, as did interests in religions such as Buddhism and other Eastern religions. A sensationalist involved in occultic practices named Anton LeVey published The Satanic Bible, and started the first Satanic church in the mid-sixties; his movement and various splinter factions (such as Setianism, focusing on the Egyptian deity usually identified as either Set or Sutekh, who in at least later versions of the myth was the killer of Osiris, and the antagonist to Horus and Isis), were publicity hounds. During the eighties my family engaged in trick or treating, but the childish fun that was the hallmark of elementary school days began to change as a few Satanist inspired murders began to create a mass panic about Satanic ritual abuse (it was later demonstrated that there was no evidence to support most of the allegations featured on talk shows such as Geraldo Rivera’s, but the allegations tragically led to a number of false convictions that were later overturned). Within Christianity, conspiracy theorists, such as Jack Chick, or Texe Marrs began to argue that there was a secret cabal of Satanists that were secretly taking control of society, following a tradition of poor reasoning and research that is emblematic of Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylon’s.

Yet, there are children who have had no exposure to the gospel coming to our doors. Nor do we wish to teach our children that Christianity means missing out. There is, of course, the fact that we do not  want to teach our children that begging is the way to get things, but this is a different story.

Here is where I think Francis Schaeffer is helpful. My first readings in Schaeffer was the book The Great Evangelical Disaster, which when I was at Bob Jones was considered proof of the superiority of the Fundamentalist position over the Evangelical one. Later, after grad school during my early married years, I read several other books by Schaeffer. It opened my eyes to art and human creativity in ways I had not understood in a seminary education, and it appealed both to my natural eclecticism and tendency for seeking academic breadth as well as depth. The “touch not, taste not, mingle not” approaches to topics such as literature or music assumes only two approaches to literature are possible, we can consume and approve it and allow it to subtly affect our worldview, or we can avoid it entirely. This creates the question of where to draw lines; for example, are we going to reject only modern horror, or Dracula as well? Do we do the same thing with Beowulf due to the growth of neo-paganism? Is it ok to read Greek Mythology, which has both had a massive impact on our literature and represents a real, pagan belief system? Take the old debate about church music; some reformed groups still argue that the only songs that should ever be used in worship are those that are directly quoting Scripture (fortunately they allow translations even if they do not allow paraphrases), everything else that might be produced has been touched at some point by human depravity because it has been handled by human hands and is no longer divine (but again, they sing these Psalms through human translations).

Schaeffer instead argues for reading and understanding the worldview that is implicit in literature and music. That is, it is not merely a question of Christians either avoiding secular literature or imbibing it, but rather do we read it critically? Do we understand literature within it’s own cultural context? Can we take it, and illustrate how Christianity answers the longings of the human heart in ways that other worldviews cannot? There is, in this sense, a middle ground between the two extremes; there is Scriptural warrant for this middle ground, no believer should argue that Paul’s works are something less than Scripture, and yet those Pauline epistles we count as Scripture quote pagan poets. Paul borrowed language from the stoics, though he adapted said language for his own purposes. Similarly, as we live in an increasingly sub-Christian culture it becomes necessary to be able to communicate with that culture within terms it will understand. The modern world has its myths, both in propagandistic takes on history but also in its literature, most notably it’s fantasy, science fiction and horror literature where the existential fears, hopes, and dreams of the generation are recorded. Part of our humanity is represented in our creativity, including  our tendency to communicate our concepts of truth in the forms of stories. Even the most basic texts in philosophy, texts that are still read as a guide for teaching the dialogical method in philosophy classrooms take the form of fictional, literary dialogues. We should not engage with Halloween or anything else with our mind’s turned off, we should filter it through the prism of Scripture and Christian theology and philosophy, but we cannot act as ostriches either if we are to fulfill our role as salt and light.

I won’t tell others how they should respond to Halloween, that is not my point, and I believe texts like Romans 14:10-12 gives us a warning to be cautious in judging other believers in doubtful things. But I hope this backs up the point I have made from C S Lewis in recent years, as Christians we need to engage not only the arguments of the lost, but their imaginations as well, and we do so in large part by engaging the culture with our minds being alert. Schaeffer’s extraordinary legacy is that, when most people were simply laughing at the hippy counter-culture, Schaeffer was winning them to Jesus Christ.

 

The Real Problem with Bias

One of the most common claims made in modern discussions, including the truth of the Christian faith, is the argument of bias. This is best understood in politics, the millenials I work with universally refer to Fox News is biased propaganda; I know conservatives that say the same thing of CNN. This illustrates not only the very human tendency to define bias as a problem related to someone else, but also simething of the way it functions in acadamia, particularly in post-modernism and what some refer to as “the politicization of the humanities.” That is, claims of bias in studies involving race scholarship, feminist scholarship or other approaches identified as “critical theory” are based in an argument taken from the existence of bias; modern critical theory does not examine bias from the standpoint of seeking truth (as the search for truth or the search for justice are ultimately antithetical to critical theory, itself), it rather looks at bias as something to be weaponized, and to be used to proactively attack one’s ideological foes. Thus, discussions of bias are discussions of the “irrationality of my opponent,” it is the substitution of outrage and personal attack for argumentation.
This is not only a discussion of politics, however, but of the critic’s arguments against Christian, politics is merely an area where the principles of bias can, hopefully, be illustrated. Critics on a regular basis argue that Christian apologists are “biased” or “dishonest,” (often by those citing poorly argued works by Hitchens or Dawkins) and therefore apologists arguments do not require exploration. But one “riff” on this “dismiss apologists arguments,” argument is that it often uses the language associated with political arguments about “bias.” Thus, they will refer to Christian’s as engaging in “confirmation bias,” “cognitive dissonance,” “rhetorical tricks,” or they make the claim that apologetics is a money-making scheme (if the goal of apologetics is economics, well, I must be really unsuccessful).
It of course cannot be denied that bias or personal agendas exist and affect our thinking; even John Locke recognized the danger that bias or the personal stake one has in a theory could have a negative effect on philosophy. The problem, though, is that bias is a universal phenomenon not one limited solely to Christians, socialists, capitalists or atheists. The existence of bias ought to be recognized, but the problem with the post-modern approach to bias is that it fails to recognize that bias is a knife cutting both ways, and therefore is not a final answer to an argument. Let’s assume a feminist, we will call her Professor V (letter chosen at random), writes a book about the bias shown in biographies about George Washington. Professor V makes a central point that the love of Washington is actually a means of maintaining the patriarchy and thus power for an elite group of white males, and this is to Professor V the final arguments centering on Washington’s presidency. Some may find this take compelling, feeling that, of course, elite white males are profoundly biased and have skin in the game. Yet, this same argument can be made against Professor V’s thesis, itself. That is, Professor V’s feminist outlook is no less a bias than are more traditional approaches; feminism itself has it’s myths, such as the various theories of alleged peaceful matriarchal societies engaged in goddess worship (beliefs that are contrary to the evidence). Feminist discussions of patriarchy are, themselves founded on bias. Furthermore, Professor V has skin in the game, an academic seeking tenure or funding, the speaker seeking audience, or the author seeking book sales is not a disinterested, dispassionate observer. As this is a knife that cuts both ways, it is difficult to use it to make only one case.
So does this mean we abandon discussions of bias and the need for objectivity? No, it means we do not treat bias and objectivity as answers or significant elements of argumentation. Rather, when there is evidence of bias, we treat it as warrant for investigation, not an answer to the case. Let’s suppose a series of studies were published proposing that Zambonis caused cancer in their operators. Then three major studies are released that claim to debunk the claim; all three were funded in part by a Zamboni manufacturer. Whatever else has happened, the facts, tables, and argumentation in these three studies have not been overthrown on the basis of discoveries about funding, but it is certainly reasonable to attempt to verify and/or replicate the results because of the possibility of bias. Similarly, claims of bias cannot be treated as an answer to the question of theism or atheism, they rather provide warrant for further investigation into the cases being made. Secondarily, bias is inescapable. We are not wholly objective, and worldview formation leads to bias along the way. The solution ultimately to bias is to focus on the possibilities of bias in oneself, rather than in others, and to use it as an incentive to engage in argumentation, rather than as a reason to dismiss argumentation.

Politics as Outrage

During the lead up to the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing, a source called the City Journal, referred to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as “the Madame Defarge of New York.” Madame Defarge is Dicken’s vengeful knitting woman, who seeks to punish the innocent as well as the guilty in A Tale of Two Cities, and it is a remarkable take on where we are in our times. Dicken’s captures the mood of the French revolution and the massacre following. This analogy is apt, we are in many ways repeating steps that have led to bloodshed in the past. I’ve noted on this blog two separate points, the first that we thirst for a justice we cannot achieve on this earth because of human limitations. Secondarily, I noted the issue that modern society gives no room for forgiveness. The repercussion of this is that anger and hate; stored to become bitterness and wrath, are the growing motivational force in American politics.

 

The thing about modern American anger is it has become an issue in both parties, Conservatives and Republicans have sometimes stated they like the fact that “Trump fights back,” that is, Trump deals with Democratic party members and constituency groups the way democrats have dealt with Republican party members and constituency groups for several decades. That is, Donald Trump exemplifies the political rhetoric of Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson Lee; this is something that, I think, is often being missed in discussions of Trump’s twitter account; it is unacceptable to argue that some people are human trash, whatever else may be true about the state of our immigration policies, it is equally unacceptable to declare half of Americans to be part of the “basket of deplorables.” As Scripture warns us in Matthew 7:2-3, we will be measured with the measuring stick we use to measure others. This, along with the way he has treated women, and his actions in the Republican primaries are leading reasons why I voted for a third party candidate in the last presidential election. Death threats, doxing, and mobs, and other forms of intimidation have become weapons of choice, Charlottesville, Berkley, Portland and other cities are seeing politically motivated violence; others seek to use mobs to shut down traffic and commerce, often with threatening behavior. Republican Congressmen have been shot at, target by a far-left extremist. The group we once called the alt-right and “antifa” are forming militias, similar to the SA and the KDP aligned Red Front in the 20’s of Germany. Where once, “No Justice, no Peace” was a slogan, hinting and threatening violence, that violence is now a small, but growing reality.

 

This becomes greater when we consider that this is true in the academy as well. One of the major movements influencing politics and education in discussions of the “politicization of the humanities,” is something known as “critical theory.” Critical theory is an application of an approach to ethics known as a “genealogical approach” which is largely descended from Nietzsche, but has been further adapted by writers such as Fouchault and socialists thinkers. Nietzsche argued that morality was a means for the weak to control the strong (his “ubermensch” which unlike the Nazi adaptation, is not a racial category). That is, to Nietzsche, morality is an illusion, but it can be used as a means to power. Nietzsche was, himself, rather critical of morality, but Fouchault adapted this thought to communist ideas, arguing initially that moral codes are a form of oppression by the strong, and in doing so seems to be making moral pronouncements to make play for his own power. Critical theory has adapted this approach, some recognize that they are themselves not making a moral argument, but they are aiming at destroying whatever they can of western culture and heritage (including Christianity), to build something new. This appears, however, to be lost among others, who do seem to think they are arguing for some type of morality, and fail to appreciate the absurdity of building an ethic from a line of argumentation that denies morality’s existence. Marxist scholars, who impose a view of class warfare on questions of morality and history have had a similar impact. But while critical theory is absurd, it seems to fan the flames of students, who then fan the flames in the streets.

 

Modern students aren’t arguing for a dispassionate live and let live relativist position, as was the left in the past. Increasingly, students at higher and higher levels believe it is just to use violence to silence speech, usually speech by the right, and increasingly students are in situations where they are intimidating professors about matters of curriculum among other things. The words “Nazi” and “Fascist” are used with less of an eye towards the Nazi and Fascist worldviews, and have become merely a new buzzword to drive people into hysteria.

 

Some will argue that I am merely picking on the left here, but as I noted before, there is a thread of pragmatism in the Trump age; the group that was called the “alt-right” will adapt these tools as we enter a phase of escalations reminiscent of Clausewitz. Antifa’s use of violence in Berkley and other places has led to the beginnings of “alt right” groups that are presenting themselves in the same light. Groups such as the “Knights of the Alt Right” present themselves as protectors of peaceful protestors, hoping to attack their rivals. Alt-right websites hint at violence, perhaps trying to draw antifa into making moves to hurt them in the press; either way it is the right’s version of “No Justice, No Peace.” Therefore, we will likely see similar protests against controversialists on the left being invited to speak in various venues, on the grounds that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. What the age of Trump proves is that the type of incivility used by left can be used against the left. There will come a point when the response to Republican senators being harassed in restaurants will be the harassment of democratic senators. Both sides have what they believe to be legitimate grievances that can be stoked for votes. What has been sown to the wind, is being reaped by the whirlwind.

 

We are spiraling towards a civil war that may be unavoidable, we are moving towards a violent clash as mob will be matched by mob. There are steps that can be taken, but only in a bilateral way. Rebuilding civility will require a de-escalation by both sides rather than calls for unilateral rhetorical disarmament as we see now, but I do not see that happening anytime soon. There are philosophically incommensurable differences between the new left and the right, differences that, alone may leave us with the choice between a national split or a civil war. Yet these intellectual differences cannot move forward in a debate or a peaceful secession of states with the current emotionally charged political climate.

 

But then, when you move into a society that has such a limited understanding of justice that it is  vested solely in human beings, can it be any other way? The primal need for justice cannot be adequately met by human beings. And when a worldview has given itself no grounds for forgiveness or mercy, what else can we expect? When government is given the role of God in a worldview, how can we anticipate anything other than a fevered hysteria, appealing to such a fickle deity? In short, the erosion of Christianity is at the heart of the decay of the civil society; we are a post-truth society wallowing in the misery of our human limitations.

The Quality of Mercy–and Forgiveness–is not Strained

The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown: His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

 

The title of the article might consider this a further in a series articles written about the Kavanaugh hearings. To be fair, that is the news of the day, and led to three articles, one on this site, one on a new sister site. But the quality of forgiveness and mercy, in a sense, has nothing to do with Kavanaugh; we cannot say a belief that Kavanaugh is guilty is justified, the case against him extremely thin, and if he is guilty there has been no request for forgiveness nor repentance. But, in another sense, it has everything to do with the social fabric that is revealed in  the public reactions by many in our post-Christian culture.

We live in a society that is increasingly being marked by paradoxes; we talk about the need for “rehabilitation” in criminal cases, but whatever might be the discussion, such a plan has been a total failure, creating an overcrowded penal system that seems to make people increasingly animalistic. The prison system seems to be based on the failed Platonic notions that ethical problems are rooted in ignorance, rather than in the human heart. We no longer talk of people paying their debts to society, this would be to give into the “primitive” ideas of retribution, and then we treat those same guilty persons as if they are still in debt to society. In some cases, the debt seems almost unpayable, and would seem to leave suicide as the only reasonable, honorable action for crimes long past their date of commitment. Physical punishment and quick executions are considered less humane than an extended social ostracism, decades in length. One of CS Lewis’s lesser known essay, “The Humanitarian Case for Punishment.”

Of course, we speak much of the need for societal forgiveness for those who have made “mistakes” in their lives, the need for those with felony records to be able to engage in meaningful, legal employment, usually in the form of a request for someone else to do something. Those deemed worthy of forgiveness also seem to be considered worthy of mercy because of sentiments of class and lack of privilege rather than a general principle of forgiveness. That is, we have more arguments that felons engaged in violence (unless it is violence against women and children) should receive societal mercy (whatever the endangerment this might entail to society) then arguments that white collar criminals should receive mercy, the original sin, the unforgiveable action of modern America no longer an action, but class based perceptions, based on questionable historical claims. In short, forgiveness is a political weapon for those influenced by critical theorists to use against enemies, not an ethical duty, or societal necessity.

In part, this is because a post-Christian society has no sufficient basis for forgiveness, within naturalism this makes sense. In many cases, a debt cannot be repaid, because a victim cannot actually be made whole. The PTSD of a survivor of sexual assault cannot simply be healed by an apology, nor can the mother or spouse of a murder victim have their child restored by repentance, there is a lack of wholeness, fueled by the natural human tendency to believe in the justness of our own actions.

This is a change, and is fueled by two things we have lost as a Post-Christian society. First, we have a different view of ourselves, in a personal sense. Christians believe that men are, by nature, basically evil, the modern believes, at least in practice, that man is basically good but some live in a bad system, but then also denies that the concept of good or evil have any real meaning. Determinism is the root of much current thought, we are machines, merely the biological automata, programmed by primarily by our genes and our habitat, freewill is merely an illusion, a useful fiction. This is as true in arguments for criminal actions as it is for the more well known arguments for human sexuality. The Christian knows better, and says “but by Christ, there go I.” This can descend to the paradox of pride in one’s humility, but is important in how we view others. The Christian sees the murderer, the sex offender, the addict, and, in admitting Christianity is true, must admit that the same problems that led this man or woman to their crimes, that is, we recognize our own hearts are made of the same degenerate spiritual stuff as the hearts of unbelievers. True humility is in remembering, we aren’t as good, great or righteous as we tend to think we are, and therefore by grace we extend grace to others.

The second thing that has been lost is the understanding of the atonement, that God became man, to atone for the sins of men. This means that whatever punishment for my sins, or anyone else, I can point to the sacrifice of something immeasurably greater. This combines, as well, with the above. I forgive, because I also am, by grace, a fugitive from God’s justice, and yet, I have obtained mercy, as the unjust in the transaction with the Just.