Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Write-Up: The Gravediggers, by Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward. The Gravediggers. Pere Marquette, 1964.

This book was published in 1964, the year of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the Presidency. Phyllis Schlafly considered it to be a companion to her landmark A Choice Not an Echo, also released in 1964, which has been credited with helping Goldwater to secure the GOP nomination. The Gravediggers was also Schlafly’s first collaborative project with Rear Admiral Chester Ward. It is the first of other books they wrote that criticize nuclear disarmament on the part of the U.S. The villains of this book include LBJ’s Defense Secretary Robert Strange MacNamara, Paul Nitze, and the liberal Pugwash Conference. For Schlafly and Ward, nuclear disarmament on the part of the U.S. is what makes the U.S. vulnerable to nuclear war, for the Soviets are eager to attack the U.S.

There are aspects of this book that are understandable and sensible. Removing U.S. missiles from Turkey in exchange for a non-binding commitment from the U.S.S.R. to remove missiles from Cuba sounds like a bad strategy for the U.S. Would the U.S.S.R. act against the U.S. with U.S. missiles at Turkey pointed right at it? That is doubtful, so why remove them? Schlafly and Ward also do well to question the U.S. being part of a nuclear test-ban treaty in which the Soviets cheat. Their defense of Douglas MacArthur’s plan to bomb the Yalu river, across which the Chinese were sending military supplies to North Korea, is likewise sensible.

But there were parts of the book that were rather hairy. Schlafly and Ward defend MacArthur’s desire to use the atomic bomb in the Korean War and praise JFK’s openness to employing nuclear weapons to defend West Berlin against the Soviets.

Schlafly and Ward also argue against the view that nuclear testing creates health defects: “a lifetime dose of fallout from the testing of the nuclear weapons is not as dangerous as smoking one cigarette a month, having a chest X-ray once a year, or wearing a luminous dial wrist watch” (page 39).

The book’s ambivalence about JFK is surprising, since one would expect them to be critical. On the one hand, JFK expressed a desire for nuclear disarmament, of the sort promulgated in State Department document 7277, which advocates the world powers turning over their nuclear weapons to the UN. JFK betrayed the anti-Communist rebels in Cuba, made a disastrous agreement with Krushschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and encouraged Laos to fall to the Communists. On the other hand, JFK admitted some regret when he learned that the Soviets cheated at the test ban treaty, saying it is his fault if they fool him twice. And, as noted above, JFK was open to using nuclear weapons to safeguard West Berlin from Soviet attack. Schlafly and Ward blame some of JFK’s soft stance towards Communism on Lyndon Johnson, who opposed blockading Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Schlafly was sort of a bridge between the Old Right and the Goldwater right. The Old Right was rather critical of U.S. interventionism in foreign conflicts, whereas the Goldwater right advocated a tough U.S. stance against Communism on the international front. In A Choice Not an Echo, the kingmakers whom Schlafly criticizes, at least in 1940 and 1944, were internationalists, whereas the heroes were Republican isolationists, who opposed U.S. intervention in World War II. The kingmakers wanted interventionism because that increased their profits, Schlafly argued. In The Gravediggers, however, Schlafly appeals to World War II as an example of why the U.S. should be tough on the global front. We do not want to be like Neville Chamberlain, who naively trusted Hitler, in our approach to the Soviets! And we want to surround the Soviets with our strength rather than retreating, as the Allies surrounded Hitler in World War II. Do these sentiments express Schlafly’s real views on World War II, or are they merely rhetoric?

The book is a lot of policy critique, albeit on a down-to-earth level. Schlafly said that Ward was the source for the technical information, whereas her task was to explain it in easy-to-understand language. The last chapter is an appeal. Schlafly makes the historical observation that George Washington was not the most intelligent man of his age, but he was a leader. She expresses similar hopes about Barry Goldwater. Whether that is a compliment or an insult is a good question, but it is an astute observation about history: the one who has an effect may not be the smartest but the one who steps forward and leads.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Church Write-Up: Romans 2-3

My church’s Bible study went through Romans 2-3 this morning.

A. Claudius Caesar expelled the Jews, including Jewish Christians, from Rome in 49 CE. The house churches in Rome were now composed wholly of Gentiles and were Gentile in flavor. After Claudius died in 54 CE, the Jews slowly started to return to Rome. The Jewish Christians were surprised to see that the Gentile Christians were not practicing Jewish customs. Why were the Gentile Christians not circumcised? Why were they not observing the Sabbath? According to the pastor, Paul wrote Romans to address these divisions. Paul’s ultimate point is that there are no Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians but only Christians. The Jewish Christians are not superior because they are circumcised and have the Torah, for they, too, are sinners who need forgiveness through Jesus. Paul demonstrates that this is true of all humanity from the Law and also from quotations from the Prophets and the Writings. Circumcision was a physical marker that the Jews were God’s chosen people and a sign of the coming seed, Christ, who would bless all people, and its literal observance is now unnecessary because Christ has come and fulfilled it. The new physical indicator that people are in God’s community, baptism, recalls the death and resurrection of Christ. The fulfillment of the law, God’s intent for human beings, occurs through the Holy Spirit and the spiritual fruit that he produces in believers’ lives.

B. Romans 1:17 affirms that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. Lutherans have traditionally interpreted this to mean from the faith of the church—-its doctrine—-to the faith of the individual believer accepting that doctrine. The pastor had a different interpretation. The righteousness of God is revealed from God’s faithfulness to the faith of the believer. This was the case even in the Old Testament. Abraham, as Paul will show in Romans 4, was right before God, not because he earned it, but because he had faith in God’s faithfulness: that God will give him offspring. The Torah was an indication of God’s faithfulness to Israel, for it was a sign in the Old Testament that Israel was God’s people and God was Israel’s God. Israel, by sinning, rejected God’s faithfulness and placed herself under condemnation. God is the one who needs to act for people to have salvation, and God’s faithfulness is demonstrated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

C. Some Gentiles may object that they are not guilty before God because they did not possess the Ten Commandments and the Torah. But everyone has some notion of right and wrong—-that there are acts that promote and that undermine safety and social cohesion; this standard may fall short of God’s standard but it is still known by people, rendering them accountable and, ultimately, guilty. The class then got into ethical theory: Kant’s insight that we can know what is good and bad by reflecting on what would happen if everyone did the act in question (i.e., harmony or chaos?), and Rousseau’s belief that, if the popular will agrees something is right, that makes it right, a sentiment that contributed to the Reign of Terror in France. The youth pastor commented that, growing up in the 1990’s, what was popular then was moral relativism: what is right and wrong for you may not be right or wrong for me. Now, with the culture wars and BLM, there is a notion that someone is right and someone is wrong.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Book Write-Up: Pornography’s Victims (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly, ed. Pornography’s Victims. Crossway, 1987.

In 1985-1986, Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese, conducted proceedings on the issue of pornography. This book is an edited volume of the testimony that was given at those proceedings. In sharing those testimonies, Schlafly disputes the idea that pornography is “victimless.”

Some items:

A. The overall tone of the book is that pornography should be banned. The back cover of the book quotes Supreme Court decisions from 1957 and 1973 that declare that obscenity lacks constitutional protection. Feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon offers an articulate defense of the idea that the State has the authority to limit pornography, for the State in the past has been allowed to regulate speech (i.e., sexual harassment). Andrea Dworkin, however, provides a slightly different perspective. She rejects the idea that anti-obscenity laws work. Anti-obscenity laws can be circumvented if the pornographer can attach some social value to the pornography, and the “prurient interest” standard for identifying pornography is subjective. Anti-obscenity laws imply that the woman’s body itself is dirty, and they only remove pornography from public view; meanwhile, pornography continues to damage men’s minds in private. Dworkin proposes another approach. Law enforcement offices need to record officially the usage of pornography in rapes, sexual assaults, incest and child abuse, murder, and suicide. Pornography must be removed from federal prisons to protect prisoners from rape. Makers of pornography should be prosecuted under pimping and pandering laws, since they pay people for the sex that is used in their pornography. And RICO’s ban on kidnapping, extortion, and trafficking should be enforced against the pornographers who kidnap the women they use in their pornography.

B. “Diann” on page 85 quotes from a book called Strange Loves. It states: “Perhaps love of sex, whatever form it assumes, is the true and only perversion. It is one thing that offends our nature as human beings, although it may not be against our biological nature. From this standpoint, what is considered normal sexual intercourse can be a perversion of our nature, if our partner is only a means of our own immediate physical gratification, or if sexual intercourse is forced on the basis of conjugal rights. This is legalized rape.” Diann agrees with this quotation. The passage is rather anti-sex. The reason that it stood out to me is that I feel uncomfortable when I see sex scenes in movies and TV. A therapist suggested that this could be because of my Asperger’s, which creates a revulsion against what is gooey. But ancient Christians, too, had an aversion to sexuality; Augustine treated concupiscence as the product of original sin. The quote, of course, stigmatizes sex that is purely physical and that lacks love, but even loving sex in TV and movies is difficult for me to watch. Is that jealousy on my part, or is it a sense that sex is an intimate act between two people and should not include me as a viewer? There is a reason that society treats sex as private.

C. Related to (B.), the book also contains testimonies by women whose husbands raped them. The women believed that pornography played a role in the rapes, for the pornography reduced women to sex objects and increased and distorted the men’s sexual appetites. The opposition to marital rape in this book is ironic because Schlafly herself said in a speech: “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.” There, she appears to deny that marital rape is a possibility, treating all marital sex as consensual.

D. Jonathan Kozol in his book Savage Inequalities laments that low-income neighborhoods only have one movie theater: one that shows porn. That would be sad: the only theater in town showing, not family-friendly movies, but overt and explicit pornography. Kozol is usually placed on the ideological far-left, but some of the contributors to Pornography’s Victims express similar concerns to his.

E. Conventional sentiment is that there are different levels of pornography. You have magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, which simply show women without their clothes on. There is also harder-core pornography, which displays the rape and torture of women. Then there is child pornography, which is illegal (though the penalties may have become tougher since the 1980’s). Pornography’s Victims argues that the lines separating these different types of pornography are not always clear. Playboy and Penthouse sometimes border on child porn. Hustler glorifies the brutalization of women. Soft-core pornography advertises harder-core pornography and is often a gateway to it. “Soft-core” pornography objectifies women, increases men’s sexual obsession, and thereby makes men more likely to rape. “Soft-core” pornography is also used in child sexual abuse and incest; remember that Diff’rent Strokes episode about the bicycle store owner? That happens in real life, as molesters try to groom children by showing them pornography. Pornography and its producers also intersect with the worlds of prostitution and trafficking. One person in the book criticizes popular songs because they reduce sex to the physical. Bruce Springstein’s song “I’m on Fire” says: “Tell me now, baby, is [your father] good to you? And can he do to you the things that I do? Oh, no. I can take you higher. Oh-oh-oh, I’m on fire.” The conclusion, of course, is that her father does not have sex with her, but why bring that issue up?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Church Write-Up: Romans 1-2 and Hope

A. At church, we continued our series on Romans. The pastor talked about Romans 1-2. Paul in Romans 1-3 demonstrates that humans have nothing in their hands to offer to God and thus need Christ as their savior. Gentiles believe that there is no universal god for them to please (or, more accurately, they deny that the God of Israel is that God). Yet, deep inside, everyone has knowledge of God and morality. They crave the harmony with God and neighbor that was lost in Eden. Jews believe they are right with God because they are part of God’s covenant and possess God’s law, but they, too, lack anything in their hands to offer to God. God’s law is a way to life, but humans cannot arrive at life through that means because they are twisted, not just broken. People have rejected God’s faithfulness to them, replacing God with themselves, so God has left them to their devices. While conservative Christians focus on the condemnation of homosexual sex in Romans 1:26-27, Paul mentions other sins as well, such as hatred and gossip. Paul’s emphasis on homosexual sex, the pastor suggested, is due to the sexual libertinism of Greco-Roman society. In those days, Gentile men had a wife and kids, perhaps another woman on the side, and the guys at the gym with whom they had sex. Judaism by that time had become monogamous and saw sex as a way to create life, and that may have influenced Paul to regard homosexual sex as especially twisted.

B. The church service was about hope. The pastor showed a picture of people eagerly awaiting the bus and said that this is the biblical picture of hope: eager anticipation. In times when I was lonely and hurt by continual rejection, I eagerly anticipated the eschaton, the Christian afterlife. Now that things are going fairly well for me, I do not have that eager anticipation as much. Hopefully, the blessings that I have right now will continue for a while.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Church Write-Up: Not Ashamed, Shalom Is Positive (and Thus Negative), the Sower’s Seed

Some items from church last Sunday:

A. We started a class on Romans. In Romans 1:16, Paul states that he is not ashamed of the Gospel. Most Christians interpret that to mean that Christians should go out into the world and boldly proclaim the Gospel, even if people may not want to hear it. Think of the song, “Not ashamed.” The pastor had a different interpretation. He interpreted it to mean that Paul knows God will not disappoint him; God will not leave him out there with no one to help. The Gospel will not disappoint, for it has the power to effect what God intends.

B. The pastor talked about peace, or shalom. Peace is not merely the absence of fighting but is a relationship word. Shalom means wholeness. Christians have peace with God and with one another through forgiveness. They are no longer at odds with creation in the Kingdom of Grace, for they know that God will redeem it. This teaching, especially the part about peace with others, troubles me. Romans 12:18 states: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (KJV). I usually comfort myself by saying that I am not actively trying to hurt others. But then someone will tell me that is not good enough: I have to like them, and I have to do my part to make them like me. That is unfeasible to me. I cannot picture it happening. I read the Old Testament, and I wonder if the bar was lower then. An Israelite did not have to like his enemy, but he still needed to refrain from attacking him and also help him when he needed help (i.e., returning his lost donkey, feeding him when he was poor, etc.).

C. The sermon was about the Parable of the Sower. The parable is about different responses to God’s word. Indeed, at the time, there were different responses to Jesus’s message, as some accepted Jesus, and others trivialized or rejected it. The pastor speculated that the seed of the parable was Jesus himself. In Mark 4:12 and parallels, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:10, which affirms that the hearts of the Israelites shall be hard and slow to understand. A few verses later, in Isaiah 6:13, there is a reference to the holy seed. The pastor interprets that as the Davidic seed, the Messiah, Jesus.

Book Write-Up: Phyllis Schlafly’s Favorite Speeches

Phyllis Schlafly. Phyllis Schlafly Speaks, Volume 1: Her Favorite Speeches. Ed. Ed Martin. Skellig America, 2016.

This book is a compilation of Phyllis Schlafly’s favorite speeches that she gave. She selected them for this book shortly before her death. 

A. In a speech on those she calls the “gravediggers,” Schlafly offers a reason that LBJ’s Defense Secretary Robert S. MacNamara severely reduced military spending. She states that LBJ wanted to spend a lot of money on social programs so as to go down in history as a progressive reformer. But he wanted to do so while cutting taxes, since raising taxes for the Great Society and the War on Poverty would be controversial with voters. His solution was to cut defense spending and to divert that money to the social programs. The Vietnam War, as Schlafly acknowledges elsewhere, threw a wrench in LBJ’s plan, for LBJ spent a lot of money for the war and for social programs; liberals have claimed that the government spending on Vietnam gave the social programs a short shrift. In Kissinger on the Couch, Schlafly takes a different approach: she argues that MacNamara spent a lot on Vietnam so as to justify reductions in nuclear preparedness. Here, disarmament itself, not social programs, is MacNamara’s chief goal. Schlafly speculated that there were other reasons that MacNamara pursued nuclear disarmament, including a belief that it was better to be red than dead.

B. Schlafly disassociates Hitler and Nazism from the right and instead associates them with the left. She distinguishes Hitler from Marxism because Hitler supported National Socialism, whereas Communism had an international focus. Yet, she claims that Marxists supported Hitler and observes that Hitler enthusiastically pursued an alliance with Stalin. Hitler’s later attack of Stalin was a dispute over turf, not ideology. A lot can be said about this. Hitler was anti-Communist because he opposed Communism’s internationalist focus and preferred a German nationalistic approach to Germany’s problems. He still drew from Marxist insights and advocated the uplift of the German proletariat. Some Marxists became Nazis, but this was not because Nazism was a Communist front; rather, Nazism and Communism were political competitors in Germany for the loyalty of the proletariat, and some Marxists left the Communists for the Nazis. Communism’s internationalist focus has been debated: some argue that Communism itself was nationalistic and that Stalin’s version of Communism was more Russia-focused than Trotsky’s version.

C. In arguing against the idea that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) will put women into the U.S. Constitution, Schlafly argues that the U.S. Constitution is already gender neutral. It uses gender-neutral terms: we the people, citizen, Senator, President, etc. Schlafly makes this point a few times in this book, and I saw her make it in a debate with a feminist. The feminist asked if Schlafly was saying that women had the right to vote prior to the Nineteenth Amendment, which, of course, they did not. The significance of Schlafly’s observation is unclear, as is her precise judicial philosophy. Obviously, the U.S. Constitution uses gender-neutral terms. One would understandably assume, however, that the framers of the Constitution meant men when they were using these terms, since women lacked the right to vote at the time. But the text still says what the text says, and it does not specify the gender of the the elected officials. Can the text stand apart from the original intent behind it, in Schlafly’s reckoning? She does embrace original intent when she criticizes judicially liberal decisions on same-sex marriage and abortion, but does she gravitate more towards the text itself when the subject is the gender of the elected officials in the Constitution?

D. On pages 52-53, Schlafly criticizes a feminist proposal that would require a husband to pay Social Security taxes on his wife’s full-time housework. Schlafly states: “…it would probably figure out to about $960 per year in additional taxes that the husband would have to pay on his wife who does not have paid employment. And, of course, with this additional tax, he will not get additional benefits because his wife already has the right to draw Social Security benefits based on her husband’s earnings.” I learned of this debate when I was watching Schlafly’s debate with Betty Friedan, part of which was quoted in the Mrs. America miniseries. Friedan was saying that the current system fails to protect homemakers, for, if a husband were to divorce his wife, the system ignores the wife’s contribution as a homemaker when it comes to Social Security. Schlafly retorted that Friedan’s proposal would dramatically increase Social Security taxes. This debate adds nuance to the characterization of feminists as anti-homemaker and Schlafly as pro-homemaker. Schlafly perhaps felt that Friedan’s argument treated housewives as employees rather than as performing a sacred role within the family unit.

E. Schlafly’s speech about colleges makes two noteworthy points. First, Schlafly is negative about the Greek system. Students should be in college to learn, not to get drunk, party, and have lots of sex. This is ironic because conservatives, such as William Simon, support the Greek system as a bastion against campus liberalism. Second, Schlafly says that students should take STEM classes because, in those classes, they are learning things that are true. This brings a couple incidents to mind. I was taking a class about postmodernism and science as an undergraduate, and a biology major was contrasting his science class with his humanities professors. When his science professor made an error, he acknowledged it before the class. His humanities professors made no such admission because they could bullshit about interpretation. For this student, the natural sciences are on firmer ground than the humanities. Years later, in a graduate program, a biblical studies professor critiqued such as assumption, observing that the natural sciences are in continual flux; think Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Both fields, undoubtedly, have their share of facts and interpretation, but STEM probably leans more towards the fact side.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Booknotes: Puritans, Brown on LGBTQ Movement, Laura Ingraham

Here are some booknotes:

A. William Haller. The Rise of Puritanism. Harper, 1957.

Haller talks about the Puritans in seventeenth century England. Some of what Haller said was unsurprising. TULIP, for one. The Puritans believed in predestination and earnestly sought inner signs that they were among the elect; one such sign was perseverance in faith and the struggle against sin. Then there is ecclesiology. Haller acknowledges that there were Puritan congregationalists, who wanted each congregation to elect its own leaders. Overall, though, the Puritans in Haller’s presentation were presbyterians. Their desire was to replace the spiritually dead Anglican prelates with a spiritually robust presbytery (hierarchy), which would guide the nation to righteousness. Third, there is preaching. Puritan preaching employed plain speech and, while it did get into theology, it also had a strong component of application: how specifically Christians can act on the truth that they heard. I have encountered these ideas before, in some way, shape, or form, but Haller’s explication was a pleasure to read.

But then Haller gets into people who expressed ideas that did not seem particularly Puritan. There were thinkers who treated human reason as their Bible. Some took a belief in biblical truth (i.e., the Bible alone contains truth) to an advocacy of religious toleration and the separation of church and state. John Milton, who actually was part of the Puritan tradition, shied away from formal religious services and preferred to study the humanities over the Bible. Where these thinkers fit into Haller’s narrative was not entirely clear. He seems to treat them as other examples of religious dissidents, in addition to the Puritans.

B. Michael L. Brown. A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been. EqualTime, 2011.

Brown criticizes the LGBTQ rights movement, the increasing promotion and acceptance of homosexuality in Western culture, and the attempt to marginalize, suppress, and persecute traditionalist voices. Brown refers to scholars (i.e., psychologists) who are opposed to homosexual relationships, who believe that conversion therapy is a viable option for some people, and who see a desire to change one’s gender as a psychological problem that can be addressed through therapy, similar to psychological urges for people to cut off their hands and feet. Brown attacks the argument that homosexual orientation is genetic on a variety of fronts. One front, of course, is the “so what?” argument: lots of sins are genetic, but that does not make them right or healthy. But Brown also wonders where bisexuality fits into the claim that homosexuality is genetic. There seems to be a movement away from merely claiming that homosexuality is genetic and cannot be helped, to suggesting that people should be able to follow whatever sexual inclination they might fancy, so long as it does not directly harm others. Particularly controversial, and misunderstood, is Brown’s treatment of pedophilia in this book. Brown essentially argues that some scholars make the same arguments about pedophilia that have been made in favor of homosexuality: that it is an inclination that cannot be helped, and that it is not necessarily harmful as is generally assumed. How can we accept those arguments for homosexuality, Brown wonders, while rejecting them for pedophilia?

Some reactions. First, part of what Brown argues resonates with me. If I were to define my position on this issue (and, yes, I use the term “issue,” as offensive as it may be to leftist Nazis), it is essentially pluralism. I am not in favor of criminalizing homosexual sex, and I am open to the state treating homosexual marriages as the legal equals to heterosexual marriages. But I also believe that society should respect traditionalist positions. Consequently, at times, I donate to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has successfully defended the rights of Christians to take a stand for the traditional position, without losing their livelihoods. Unfortunately, the Left has moved from the tolerant position of Barack Obama in 2008, to treating any criticism of homosexuality as the equivalent to racism, to be stamped out. Where the issue gets murky is when it involves children. I agree with Brown that conversion therapy should be an option for some people, but should parents be allowed to force that on their children? One can ask the same question about liberal parents who pressure their children to change their gender.

Second, Brown could have done a better job articulating and defending a sexual ethic. Okay, so some make the same arguments for pedophilia that gay activists make for homosexuality. What exactly makes both wrong? Personally, I think, on the basis of anecdotal evidence, that pedophiles’ acts towards minors is harmful to children: it compromises boundaries and blurs boundaries in the victims’ minds (making them potential predators), exposes children to what they may not fully understand, and lacks full consent. On what makes homosexuality wrong, Brown, as was said above, refers to traditionalist psychologists. Some of his quotations of them seem rather biased—-like they want the evidence to turn out a certain way because of their religious commitments—-but they most likely advance arguments for their conclusions, much like the APA’s acceptance of homosexuality was probably biased yet cited arguments.

Third, I am ambivalent about Brown’s work, in general. His work is well-researched and thus is worth reading, but he often conveys a smug tone that gets on my nerves.

Fourth, the book seems to rely a lot on the “ick” factor. Brown seems to expect his audience to see homosexual sex as gross, conveying a tone of “Can you believe they are actually promoting this?” In 2011, that may have been effective. It may still be, but LGBTQ activists have succeeded in mainstreaming homosexuality among many, particularly millennials, so the “ick” factor may not work as well now.

C. Laura Ingraham. Billionaire at the Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump. St. Martin’s, 2017.

—. Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America. Regnery, 2003.

—. The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places. Hyperion, 2000.

I decided to read some Laura Ingraham books. I like Ann Coulter better, since she gets into a lot of history, policy, and critiques of liberal arguments. But Laura Ingraham was a breezy, enjoyable read.
Billionaire at the Barricades does three things. First, it narrates Republican politics from the time of Goldwater to that of Trump. Second, Ingraham talks about her personal interaction with that history. Ingraham’s parents were conservatives who disdained Rockefeller Republicans, Ingraham worked as a modest speechwriter in the Reagan Administration, and Ingraham was marginalized by the George W. Bush Administration for her opposition to illegal immigration. Ingraham also talks about her interaction with figures, like Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, and Monica Crowley, while taking delightful jabs at Al Gore and Rachel Maddow. Third, Ingraham praises, yet critiques, Trump. Again, this is a breezy, enjoyable read, albeit not very robust in argument and policy.

Shut Up & Sing was published in 2003. While Ingraham is more of an anti-war paleocon nowadays (at least as I write this in April 2020), she supported the Iraq War in 2003. This book is a little more robust in argument and policy than Billionaire. Ingraham briefly argues that the U.S. is benevolent towards the Middle East rather than exploiting it for its oil. In terms of the UN, she appears to vacillate between the John Bircher fear of the UN as an oppressive globalist force and the conventional conservative view that the UN is weak and ineffectual in countering dictatorships and human rights abuses. Interestingly, Ingraham thinks the U.S. should remain in the UN rather than withdrawing from it because, otherwise, the UN would be a formidable military force that could challenge the U.S. This book gets annoying when Ingraham acts as if the anti-war movement is wrong because Communists are in it, as if Communists lack valid critiques of war; yes, I think war often does serve financial elites, sacrificing innocent lives in the process. The book is slightly interesting when Ingraham attempts to profile the average Hollywood actor, who is not exactly part of the one per-cent but is often financially on the edge, seeking a big break.

The Hillary Trap was the best of the three books, for it was very policy-oriented. Ingraham takes on the charge that the U.S. spends more on health care for men than women, that women are paid unequally for the same work, and that mandated paid family leave benefits women. She makes some of the usual predictable points that conservatives make: that women work fewer hours and take lower positions because they are raising their children, and that mandated family leave discourages the hiring of women. In some cases, I learned something new: she argues, for example, that family leave in Europe has downsides for women in terms of their employment. Ingraham also denies that she is seeking to turn the clock back to the 1950’s. As the title indicates, the book is a critique of Hillary. Much of this relates to Hillary’s policies: Hillary supports gun control, when women find guns helpful in protecting themselves; Hillary expects the government to take care of women, as if they are helpless; Hillary marginalizes successful female entrepreneurs. A significant part of the critique is personal: Hillary fails to be a good role model for women because Hillary succeeded on the coat-tails of her husband, tolerating his philandering so she could rise politically. Near the end of the book, she talks about religion: Ingraham’s journey from being a successful, religiously-indifferent person to becoming a person of faith, and how the death and personal growth of her mother played a role in that. This part of the book was moving. The book raises valid points. There is another side, of course. I found Susan Faludi’s Backlash to be an effective critique of conservative arguments, as Faludi presents women as hardworkers in need of higher incomes to raise their families, and yet as the victims of sexism.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Write-Up: Mindszenty the Man, The Conservative Case for Trump (Phyllis Schlafly)

Mindszenty the Man by Joseph Vecsey as Told to Phyllis Schlafly. Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, 1972.

Phyllis Schlafly, Ed Martin, and Brett M. Decker. The Conservative Case for Trump. Regnery, 2016.

A. Mindszenty the Man was written in 1972. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Phyllis Schlafly headed the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation. The foundation was a Catholic anti-Communist organization, the Catholic version of Dr. Fred Schwartz’s Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. Who was Cardinal Mindszenty? He was a Cardinal in Hungary who stood up against that country’s Communist regime, resisting pressure to compromise with or accommodate it. As a result, he was imprisoned and tortured. When an uprising occurred against the regime in 1956, Cardinal Mindszenty gained some respite, but then the Soviets crushed the uprising. Mindszenty managed to survive.

B. Why was Mindszenty against Communism? The Communists took over the country against the wishes of the people. They were atheistic yet sought to coopt religion for their purposes, allowing it to exist so long as it did not resist Stalinist collectivization efforts. Mindszenty believed that Christianity should stand above the state and critique when it was wrong it rather than be subordinate to it. He also opposed the Communists taking people’s property in their collectivization efforts.

C. Mindszenty had also resisted Hitler. His name originally was not Mindszenty but his family adopted it when Hitler pressured people of German descent in Hungary to adopt German names. Instead, Mindszenty named himself after the city where he lived. This detail stood out to me due to what it said about Hitler. World War II revisionists present Hitler as a champion of the Germans in neighboring countries, as Hitler sought to protect them from persecution (as in Poland). Maybe there is something to that narrative, but this book presents another side to the story. Hitler was also seeking to pressure “Germans” who had little emotional connection with their German ancestry.

D. Mindszenty’s mother appears frequently in this book, as she was a source of continual support for her son. Aspects of Mindszenty’s personal life are discussed: Mindszenty’s mother wished that her son had stayed at home and helped out on the farm rather than become a priest, but the book is clear that Mindszenty came home and helped his siblings whenever they needed it. The book also details Mindszenty’s charitable activities and notes the irony that his priestly superiors criticized him for not being extroverted enough to help the poor. That is a burden many introverts face: doing good that does not always get noticed.

E. Moving on to The Conservative Case for Trump. This book came out during the 2016 Republican primaries. Republicans were struggling with Trump. Was he conservative enough? What about his disparaging comments about religion, or his immoral sexual history? Schlafly, a matron of the modern conservative movement, came forward and endorsed him for President. Her argument was that Trump was what the country needs because of his stances on crucial issues: illegal immigration, trade, political correctness, the judiciary, government regulation, religious freedom, education, national defense, foreign wars, and Social Security. Schlafly was disappointed with how the GOP establishment had handled these issues, particularly illegal immigration and trade. They were soft on keeping the border secure, allowing illegal immigrants to come in, take advantage of America’s welfare state, commit violent crimes, and lower wages by doing the jobs that Americans were perfectly willing to do; there was also the national security issue, as un-vetted refugees and anti-American Muslims were allowed to come into the country. Trade deals shipped jobs overseas and undermined American manufacturing and sovereignty. Schlafly also defended Trump’s conservative credentials, religious stance, and family life. Trump offered a heartfelt account in 2011 about why he changed from being pro-choice to pro-life. Schlafly ignores the self-sufficiency rhetoric of Trump when he talked about religion, focusing instead on his positive recollections about attending Norman Vincent Peale’s church as well as his comments about the role of faith in his life. His relationship with Melania is loving, as he consulted her about whether to run for President and genuinely valued her response. He also works with his children. Schlafly also notes examples of Trump’s business successes and can-do attitude in arguing that he would make a good President.

F.  A question that has been frequently asked since 2016 is “How will Trump get Mexico to pay for the border wall?” The impression that one gets from the media is that Trump had no idea then later came up with weak, ad hoc solutions when he was President. This book shows that, as early as 2016, Trump had ideas about how to get Mexico to pay for the border wall. Pages 4-5: “He proposes that the cost can be covered by increasing existing border fees, raising the price for temporary visas, impounding remittance payments from illegal immigrants, cutting our foreign aid to Mexico, levying tariffs on Mexican products coming into our country, or by convincing the Mexican government that their paying for the wall is a condition of continuing to maintain good relations with the United States.”

G. Trump comes across as eloquent and as intelligent in this book. Each chapter is introduced by an eloquent quote by Trump about some area of public policy. The appendices include speeches by Trump, and Trump presents hard-hitting, yet documented, defenses of his policies and attacks on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In defending the Keystone Pipeline, he notes that Obama’s own administration declared it was safer than other pipelines. In arguing against the claim that Islamic terrorists in the U.S. were not immigrants but were born in the U.S., Trump observes that many of their parents were immigrants, some of them with radical (i.e., pro-Taliban) sympathies. Trump is like Reagan in that he is bold and eloquent, more so than his competitors.

H. The book has its share of ironies, if you want to call them that. Schlafly is against nation-building, yet she overlaps with the anti-radical Islam and anti-Iran deal views of neoconservatives. Many paleoconservatives are sympathetic towards Putin, yet Schlafly appears rather negative about Putin and criticizes the Obama-Hillary “reset” with him. Schlafly opposes homosexuality, yet one of Trump’s speeches included in the book criticizes radical Muslims for opposing the freedom of homosexuals to love. And Schlafly robustly defends Social Security against libertarians; she believes that a strong economy can safeguard the program. The book also includes a list of potential Trump nominees for the judiciary, and it is noteworthy that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were not on the list.

I. This passage from a Trump speech on page 181 stood out to me: “We’ll solve real environmental problems in our communities like the need for clean and safe drinking water. President Obama actually tried to cut the funding for our drinking water infrastructure—-even as he pushed to increase funding for his EPA bureaucrats.” Trump, as President, has been criticized for rolling back Obama’s clean-water regulations. But this passage stood out to me, for two reasons. First, I like when conservatives offer solutions to the problems that liberals harp on (albeit without the cucking and guilt-tripping). Second, it reminds me of something my brother, who has worked on environmental issues, said to me: that Obama’s administration was focused on climate change to the detriment of clean air and water.

Current Events Write-Up: Conservative Diversity on Human Depravity, Roberts Abortion Decision, Trump’s One-Sided China Trade Deal, Revolt, The Right to Bear Cannons, Environmentalist Infighting, Korea

The American Conservative: “Why Conservative Fusionism Was Destined to Disintegrate,” by Tony Woodlief.

This takes off from Tucker Carlson’s controversial comment that people are not born evil. Conservative Christians will disagree! Yet, Tucker is a renowned conservative. This part is noteworthy: “For the individualists, be they libertarians, free-market globalization advocates, or just Creaster Republicans with business degrees, man is essentially pretty good, and will add all kinds of value to the GDP if government will only get out of his way. Cut taxes and regulation, keep oil prices low, and maybe even consider reducing our debt, and the country will do just fine.

“To the neocons and their establishment DC heirs, man is as good or bad as his ideas. The Russkies got Marx, we got Madison, and therein lies all the difference. Use diplomacy or a smart bomb or a few thousand expendable young Marines to depose a guy clutching The Communist Manifesto, replace him with a guy who has The Federalist Papers stuffed into his back pocket, and that’s how you illuminate a darkened world one freedom beacon at a time.

“To the traditionalists, meanwhile, if man is not born evil then he certainly comes out of the womb bent in that direction. His worst impulses must therefore be restrained, his virtue cultivated. What’s more, because original sin implies the existence of God, the aims society ought pursue, as Eric Voegelin argued, extend before the cradle and past the grave.”

The Daily Signal: “With Highly Questionable Legal Reasoning, Roberts Gives Liberals a Win on Abortion,” by Amy Swearer.

“At its core, June Medical Services v. Russo was not a challenge to Roe v. Wade or a woman’s ‘right’ to an abortion. The Louisiana law at issue neither outlawed abortion, nor imposed additional requirements directly on women seeking an abortion. Instead, Louisiana passed a law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital so that, if something went wrong requiring that the woman be hospitalized, the doctor could accompany her and treat here there. The law was passed to protect the health and safety of women seeking abortions by acting as a quality-control measure for abortion clinics. That was not without good reason: The state’s abortion clinics have a long and well-documented history of hiring unqualified doctors who provided substandard care to patients. The requirement of hospital admitting privileges is common for physicians who conduct surgical procedures elsewhere, and the process of obtaining such privileges provides additional oversight for those clinics.”

The Dispatch: “Trump’s China Trade Deal Was Designed to Fail,” by Scott Linicome.

This makes me think more highly of Trump! “In terms of substantive commitments, the Phase One agreement was very one-sided: China committed to purchase fixed amounts of U.S. goods and services and to abide by various rules on agriculture, currency, financial services, and intellectual property rights protection, while the United States committed to almost nothing—not even the limited reduction in the U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports that supposedly achieved the agreement.”

Unherd: “Why the Rich Are Revolting,” by Ed West.

The subtitle is: “The Great Awokening and the 2020 protests are the product of growing radicalisation among the upper-middle-class.” The article, in my opinion, is rather contradictory: Are these rich kids with time on their hands, or are they educated people in desperate search for a job and looking for a career in wokeness? This quote from Chesterton is classic, brilliant, and timely: “You’ve got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists: they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.”

The American Conservative: “Hillary Was Right About BLM,” by Gregor Baszac.

Hillary to BLM activists in 2016: “You’re gonna have to come together as a movement and say, here’s what we want done about it. Because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are gonna say: Oh, we get it, we get it, we’re gonna be nicer. That’s not enough. At least, that’s not how I see politics. So the consciousness raising, the advocacy, the passion, the youth of your movement is so critical, but now all I’m suggesting is, even for us sinners, find some common ground on agendas that can make a difference right here and now in people’s lives…But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own god-given potential, to live safely, without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So, we can do it one of many ways: You can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it, you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in ten years having the same conversation.”

The Daily Signal: “Remembering Frederick Douglass’ Great Fourth of July Speech in Context,” by Dean Nelson.

Douglass not only was lambasting white Americans who celebrated the Fourth of July while enslaving African-Americans. He was also criticizing the abolitionists who wanted to scrap the Constitution altogether. The article would have been better had it addressed the parts of the Constitution that tolerate or even support slavery: the three-fifths compromise and the Fugitive Slave Clause in Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3.

Ammo: “Bowling Alone: How Washington Has Helped Destroy American Civil Society and Family Life,” by Sam Jacobs.

This site’s outreach manager recommended this article to me. I enjoyed it and other articles on the site. Communitarianism troubles me, as a person with Asperger’s. Still, I can understand why conservatives would embrace it. These two passages from the article stood out to me: “Another place where this can be seen is the destruction of the black middle class. A frequently untold story of American life is that by the 1950s, the United States actually had a thriving black middle class. Black business ownership peaked during the years between the end of the Second World War and the Great Society. Every city with any significant black population hosted a black business district where a primarily black clientele spent their money within their own community. Black home ownership was likewise high at this point. This is all very much a thing of the past…There is another, highly unlikely and ironic, culprit behind the decimation of black business and the black community – integration. This is a position championed by Clay Middleton of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Basically, under segregation, black consumers were limited in their choices of business. They could not, in many cases, go to (for example) white hamburger joints. Instead, they had to patronize the equivalent business for black customers. In many cases, these businesses were owned and operated by fellow black Americans. Black hotels are another example of this phenomenon. The point is not that Southern states should reintroduce segregation to prop up black businesses, but simply to give a broader and more complete picture of how and why black business districts have disappeared. It also offers some insight into the destruction of small business in America in general.”

And: “What did people do before the advent of social welfare programs? This is a question that even few libertarians can answer without stammering something about private charity. And indeed, private charity did play a role in meeting social needs for the less fortunate. However, there is a hidden story in how communities met social needs prior to the advent of the welfare state. Mutual aid in the 21st century is largely a nonprofit form of insurance, particularly life insurance – a sort of analog to the credit union. However, in earlier days they oversaw a number of social welfare programs.”

Bearing Arms: “Joe Biden’s Cannon Claim Shows He’s Wrong On History And Gun Control,” by Cam Edwards.

Biden says that the Second Amendment does not grant an unlimited right to bear arms because people could not own a cannon in the 1700’s. Actually, they could: they were called privateers. Interesting observation, but where should we go with that? Should individuals be allowed to own nuclear weapons?

Quellette: “On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare,” by Michael Shellenberger; American Thinker: “A Winning Trifecta for Climate Science and Rationality,” by Charles Battig.

Michael Moore and environmentalist Michael Shellenberger take on other environmentalists. You think that solar is better for the environment? Think again. The Shellenberger article also challenges other myths. His book probably offers more documentation for his claims.

Responsible Statecraft: “Don’t Tie Peace on the Korean Peninsula to Denuclearization in the North,” by Dan DePetris.

Why North Korea wants to nuclearize, and how the U.S. is standing in the way of peace between North and South.

Global Research: “War Crimes: US Destruction of North Korea Must Not be Forgotten,” by Brett Wilkins.

A revisionist perspective on the Korean War that is critical of the U.S. and sympathetic towards North Korea.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Church Write-Up: Does God Find Us Attractive?

At church this morning, the pastor was saying that God does not find us attractive. Rather, God loves us because he loves us, not because we are inherently lovable. The pastor acknowledged that this may be hard to hear. But suppose we had a friend or a child who decided to go his or her own way. Would we not find that unattractive? We would still love our kids, and, similarly, God loves us.

Some thoughts:

A. That part about going one’s own way being unattractive needs to be nuanced, a bit. People could look at that and find it controlling. If I had a child or a friend who chose to go his own way, so what? Who says he has to do what I want? If the child or the friend is doing something manifestly evil, then it is a different story. I remember Tim Keller illustrating a similar point, albeit with different examples. Suppose we have a friend who only used us as a pitstop and the rest of the time wanted nothing to do with us? Or suppose we have a child who was utterly ungrateful for all that we did for him? There, the focus is on relationship rather than obedience. At the same time, Christians would legitimately argue that the God-human relationship should be one of obedience, since God’s standards are right, God is our superior, and obedience is how we demonstrate gratitude and love towards God.

B. Indeed, that part about God finding us unattractive is hard to hear. I don’t just want to be loved because someone has to love me. I also want to be liked for having certain qualities. Evangelicals like to talk about being special creations of God: God created us, with our talents, temperaments, and qualities, and, on some level, likes what he sees. Genesis 1 says that God saw what he made and pronounced it good. It is not that God notices my sense of humor, finds that attractive, and decides to accept me on the basis of that. Rather, God created people with their qualities. I would also like to think that, when we do good and have good motivations, God is pleased with that. Of course, there is the obligatory Christian spiel, which should be acknowledged. We are sinners. Some of what we do may please God, but we also do bad things that repulse God, and even the good that we do is imperfect.

C. I was talking with a professor of mine over a decade ago. He was surprised that I was attracted to God’s transcendence. Most of the young Christians whom he knew were attracted to God as a friend. “They cannot conceive that God might possibly have something against them,” he said. Related incidents come to mind. Tim Keller talked about people who love to blab on about their relationship with God. Keller asks them, “When does your God contradict you?” I recently came across one of these snotty, trying-to-be-profound liberal memes that said that, rather than identifying with the heroes of the biblical narratives, white American Christians should identify with the villains: the oppressive Pharaoh of the Exodus, the imperial powers that troubled Israel, etc. These things are difficult to hear.

D. Does my God ever contradict me? I realize that I fall dramatically short of the loving attitude that Christians are supposed to have. “I hate” such-and-such has been in my mind a lot over the past several months. I think that God wants to lift me towards higher attitudes and thoughts. I am reluctant to believe that he disapproves of me when I have a hateful, unloving attitude because I figure that he understands the reasons: people will not understand and will only see what they see, but God knows what is underneath. Whether that is wishful thinking on my part is a good question. After all, God commands forgiveness, even though, of course, forgiveness is hard for people to do.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Book Write-Up: The Death of the West, by Patrick J. Buchanan

Note: I was planning to publish this post later this year, when I do a series on Pat Buchanan's books. But this post is particularly relevant to issues right now, so here it is.

Patrick J. Buchanan. The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.

In Death of the West, paleoconservative commentator Patrick Buchanan laments the decline of Western birthrates, the proliferation of non-Western birthrates and illegal immigration, and attacks on Western heritage, including American history and Christianity.

Here are some thoughts, analyses, and critiques:

A. Ever since the election of Donald Trump, I have often heard the term “cultural Marxism” within conservative circles. Cultural Marxism is usually associated with the Frankfort School of thought. Long before 2016, Buchanan in this 2002 book talked about cultural Marxism and viewed it as a threat. Essentially, as Buchanan relates, cultural Marxism is an attack on Western civilization and traditions, viewing them as oppressive. Buchanan also talks about the influx of non-Western populations into Europe, an issue that became especially prominent during the latter years of the Obama Presidency and the candidacy of Trump.

B. Buchanan laments the decline of Western birthrates and believes that the United States should encourage women to have more children and start families. Businesses should resume the practice of paying more to breadwinners, and the federal government should have generous per child tax credits. First, in terms of feasibility, some of Buchanan’s policy proposals have potential downfalls, yet they may actually work. On the one hand, if breadwinners cost more, would not companies hire fewer of them, discouraging what Buchanan wants? And would not breadwinners want to spend time with their families rather than be at the office all day and all night? On the other hand, breadwinners perhaps would be particularly motivated to work more hours to support their families, so businesses may find them to be a productive asset. Second, I wonder how Buchanan reconciles his stance on starting families with his own life, since he and his wife do not have children and have not adopted.

C. A salient theme throughout this book is the importance of having a common heritage that brings Americans together. As in A Republic Not an Empire, Buchanan in Death of the West points out that people would have more loyalty to their families and their nation than they would to a nebulous world society. They would take more pride in those things and work to cherish and protect them. An essential part of this loyalty, Buchanan argues, is having a shared history and culture. For Buchanan, rampant illegal immigration threatens this, since illegal immigrants from south of the border tend to be more loyal to their countries of origin than to the United States, and the push towards multilingualism undermines a common language, which is part of the glue that has held Americans together. Meanwhile, the cultural Marxist attacks on Western heritage and its promulgation in public schools have undercut America’s common national heritage. Although Buchanan emphasizes the need for a common national heritage, he, ironically, supports a form of school choice that could conceivably segregate people into schools based on their religion, with Jewish schools, Catholic schools, and evangelical Christian schools. Would that undermine the vision that Buchanan supports of a common national heritage, since public schools are the place where that heritage is promulgated? That is a valid question, but I can envision Buchanan having an answer to it. He could point to the common Americanism that existed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s among people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. But then the question would be whether that can exist today. There are many immigrants who have embraced American culture and language, while still holding on to their own distinct customs.

D. Buchanan does not care for illegal immigration, and he is not that crazy about legal immigration, either. That said, he does have a beautiful passage about the effectiveness of English language immersion for Latin American immigrant children, who learned English rapidly.

E. The issue of illegal immigration is fraught with tensions. First, there is the question of whether immigrants are an asset to society. On the one hand, they can contribute more talent and productivity and provide a greater number of consumers, which helps the economy. On the other hand, they compete with American workers and use social services. Second, there is the question of how Christians should respond to illegal immigration. On the one hand, Christians are called to be compassionate towards the poor and the downtrodden, and many fleeing Latin America to come to the United States fall in that category. On the other hand, letting in masses of illegal immigrants does seem to be an unwise policy, in terms of economics and also in terms of the criminal gangs that illegal immigration brings in. Does God want us to throw practical wisdom out of the window? And is not protecting people part of love (I Corinthians 13:7)? Buchanan engages the first topic, somewhat, for he sees illegal immigration as having a net negative effect. He cogently argues against the idea that illegal immigrants are only doing jobs that Americans do not want to do, for he cites indications that Americans want to do them. On the second topic, Buchanan is silent. He seems to think that others’ misfortunes are not our problem and that we should take care of our own.

F. Buchanan is nostalgic about the version of American history that he received in school, which admires the American experiment and praises both sides of the American Civil War, both North and South. He contrasts that with the harsh revisionism of today, which demonizes America’s founding fathers as oppressive slaveholders. Buchanan acknowledges that America’s history is less than rosy, but why should children in schools be made to wrestle with those troubling issues, when that is the place for them to be educated to become good citizens—-with an appreciation for America’s contributions and heroes? Buchanan’s discussion stimulates thought. First, Buchanan does well to highlight that the “heroes” the revisionists prefer were far from perfect themselves: the Aztecs, for instance, practiced human sacrifice. Second, Buchanan engages in his own historical revisionism. He is against American intervention in World War II, when the standard American patriotic narrative is that the Americans were the “good guys” in that. He likely does not care for Franklin Roosevelt’s domestic policies, when the American patriotic narrative tends to portray FDR as part of America’s heroic pantheon.

G. Buchanan’s discussion of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Civil War general who founded the Ku Klux Klan, is particularly interesting. According to Buchanan, Forrest was quite egalitarian in his own treatment of African-Americans and came to criticize and repudiate the Klan.

H. Buchanan laments the decline of traditional moral values, particularly in the areas of religion and sexuality. What is ironic is that the people he criticizes, immigrants from south of the border and Muslims, tend to be conservative in those areas. Many Latin American immigrants are devout Roman Catholics, and evangelicalism is growing among Latin Americans as well. Regarding Muslims, Buchanan’s stance has been rather ambivalent. On the one hand, he admires them because they have resisted and stood against what he considers to be America’s cultural sewer, particularly its libertine sexuality. On the other hand, the proliferation of Islamic populations does give him concern, especially because there are Muslims who are bellicose and see strategic advantage to being bellicose.

I. Buchanan is critical of hate crimes legislation, seeing it as an attack on white people. If we want to look at interracial crimes, Buchanan argues, we should at least be honest. We should consider the greater number of black on white crimes, as well as the violent crimes that illegal immigrants commit. But hate crimes are not just about race. They are about whether an act of violence was specifically motivated by hatred towards a particular group. In this case, there are times when non-whites are accused of hate crimes against whites.

J. Buchanan is also critical of the neoconservative stance towards the cultural wars. Neoconservatives, Buchanan argues, are rather tepid in confronting the cultural wars, and they prefer a detente between the traditionalists and the liberals. The problem is that the liberals do not want a detente but suppression of the traditionalists. If I have a stance on this, it is that I would love for there to be a detente. I do not believe that homosexuality should be criminalized, but I also think that society should respect the rights of conservative Christians not to approve of homosexual sex. Unfortunately, the cultural wars, as they exist today, do not support that kind of tolerance. They used to do so, but they are coming to do so less.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Book Write-Up: The Story Retold, by G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd

G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament. IVP Academic, 2020. Go here to purchase the book.

The Story Retold is an introductory textbook about the New Testament. Its authors, G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, are candid that it is a different textbook from what is out there. They admit that it does not focus on historical context, authorship, or scholarly trends, and they recommend another textbook they have written that goes more deeply into that. The Story Retold is more biblical-theological. It attempts to show that themes in each book of the New Testament echo and continue themes that are present in the Old Testament.

Whether they successfully do that is up to the reader. Does Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith rather than works echo and continue Old Testament themes about humility before God and relying on God rather than human ability? Perhaps. But I can understand if some readers deem some of the connections to be artificial.

And, since this is a Beale book, you will see Beale themes: that God created human beings to be stewards of creation. Does the New Testament echo and value this theme as much as Beale does, or is Beale artificially making it do so, importing themes that are not explicitly there? Again, that is up to the reader.

What stands out to me is a “failure to launch” aspect of this book. The book raises intriguing questions but fails to answer them adequately. Some examples:

—-The Old Testament prophets and Paul in the New Testament (particularly Paul) have contrasting eschatological expectations. The Old Testament prophets predict that God will restore the nation of Israel and then Gentiles will worship God. Paul reverses the expectation—-Israelites will repent after Gentiles come to God (Romans 11)—-and places Gentile Christians within the nation of Israel as the equals of Jews. Okay, fine observation. But what do we do with it? Were the Old Testament prophets wrong? Was Paul misinterpreting them?

—-The Epistle to the Hebrews denies that the blood of bulls and goats can take away sins. Christ’s death was necessary for forgiveness to occur. Yet, when we read the Old Testament, God still forgives sins, and animal sacrifices appear to have atoning value. Again, fine observation. But where do we go with that? Was there a difference between Old Testament and New Testament forgiveness? What did Jesus bring that did not exist before?

—-II Peter talks about a new heavens and a new earth, drawing from the concept in the Book of Isaiah. Beale and Gladd astutely attempt to tie the theme as it appears in Isaiah with how II Peter employs it, but they do so by emphasizing realized eschatology, without really showing that II Peter has that.

I read this book after Thomas Schreiner’s book on Pauline theology. Not to pit the books against each other, but Schreiner’s book was deep, so reading The Story Retold after it was a bit of a letdown. The Story Retold is still edifying, but it was disappointing, in certain respects.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Booknotes: Liberal Fascism, Ship of Fools, McCarthy and His Enemies

A. Jonah Goldberg. Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change. Crown Forum, 2009.

Conservative writer and pundit Jonah Goldberg argues that fascism and National Socialism have parallels with the American left, although, of course, leftists use “fascist” as an epithet for right-wingers. While William Shirer depicted Nazism as an aristocratic, pro-business movement, Goldberg argues that fascism and Nazism were collectivist in that they supported the use of the State to improve the economy, provide economic security, and ameliorate disparities of wealth. Among other parallels that Goldberg identifies are: the use of State power to encourage nutrition, environmentalism, corporatism in which the government picks winners and losers, and hostility to religion as a competitor with the State. Goldberg also maintains that there are fascistic tendencies that the Left, and American society, have reflected: a belief that a leader embodies the general will of the people, a preference for emotion over reason (Goldberg criticizes the movie The Dead Poets Society on that one), and revolutionary impulses. Moreover, Goldberg documents that the American Left historically embraced controversial Nazi ideas, particularly eugenicism. This book is a repository of information, including factoids one might not expect: did you know that Joe McCarthy, apart from his anti-Communist crusade, had left-wing political and economic ideas? Having been written in 2009, it is a bit dated: the main Vermont politician Goldberg identifies is Howard Dean, when people today would mention Bernie Sanders. A criticism I have is that Goldberg gives the impression that certain ideas are wrong simply because the Nazis and fascists held them. Goldberg also criticizes the Nazi and fascist attempt to seek a third way between the extremes of capitalism and socialism: apparently, for Goldberg, you have to choose. You either select laissez-faire capitalism or socialism. There is no “third position.” Why does the choice have to be so stark, though? Even the United States has elements of both.

B. Tucker Carlson. Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution. Free Press, 2018.

This was an ironic book to read after Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Goldberg argues that the American left historically held fascist and Nazi ideas. Tucker Carlson laments that the left has abandoned its historical principles. Environmentalists historically recognized that unprecedented levels of immigration could hurt the environment; nowadays, such a position is stigmatized within the environmental movement. The ACLU used to be practically absolutist on the issue of free speech, championing the right of Nazis to march through a Jewish neighborhood. The ACLU has backtracked from that absolutism when it comes to white nationalists, even as the left practices its own form of censorship of conservative ideas on Facebook and Twitter. Feminists in the nineteenth century were against abortion; now, they champion it. This book is the sort of paleoconservative manifesto one might expect, a criticism of massive illegal immigration and foreign interventionism. Particularly intriguing was when Tucker tried to probe the motives of whites who hire illegal immigrants: they feel better about hiring the friendly immigrant who has been through a lot, over the pot-bellied American Trump supporter. Tucker is also vivid about the negative consequences of war.

C. William F. Buckley, Jr. and L. Brent Bozell. McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning. Regnery, 1954.

William F. Buckley was a conservative icon. L. Brent Bozell was the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley, Jr. His son is L. Brent Bozell III, a conservative columnist and Family Guy critic. This book is essentially a defense of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Buckley and Bozell argue that McCarthy was basically urging the State and Justice Departments to enforce their own stated security standards for employees. They go through people McCarthy has asked questions about. Sometimes, they see serious reason for concern. Sometimes, they give the accused person the benefit of a doubt, even highlighting where the accused person is heroic and inspiring. Either way, they believe that McCarthy’s concern was understandable and that these people should not have fallen through the cracks as easily as they did. Buckley and Bozell also extensively explore the question of how many Communists or security risks McCarthy said were in the State Department in his infamous Wheeling speech, for critics allege that McCarthy contradicted himself over the course of his career and thus was a sensationalist seeking political gain. Buckley and Bozell look at primary sources about the Wheeling speech and other speeches McCarthy made. Occasionally, Buckley and Bozell discuss the relevance of McCarthy’s concerns to American foreign policy: how Communist infiltration into the State Department contributed to Stalin’s strategic gains in Europe and the fall of China to Communism. Overall, Buckley and Bozell portray McCarthy as more reasonable and measured than his critics allege. This book is not exactly a juicy read. Not everyone, even those who like a good story about American history, will enjoy this book, since it gets into details that are not as important to people nowadays. I personally enjoyed the book, however, since I liked reading the authors’ reasoning, plus the profiles had a storytelling quality.

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