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Who Are the Top 20 Conservative Columnists of 2014?

Thursday, December 18th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

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Here was the list from last year:

10. Ross Douthat

9. Frank Gaffney

8. Daniel Pipes

7. Rich Lowry

6. Jonah Goldberg

5. Mark Steyn

4. Dennis Prager

3. Ben Shapiro

2. Thomas Sowell

1. Ann Coulter

And here’s where I explained why Charles Krauthammer wasn’t on it (and why he won’t be on this year’s either, so don’t even bother asking): “3 Basic Differences Between Conservatism and Neoconservatism.” Also remember: I’m strict about this list being A) a list of regular columnists who write articles — not bloggers, tweeters, journalists, radio hosts, or TV pundits. B) not including anyone that I currently edit here at PJM, and C) a way to define the values, principles, and stylistic techniques of Conservatism 3.0.

I still need to finish my review of all their columns, but I’m not aware yet of anything that any of the previous year’s 10 columnists would have done or written to warrant an exclusion from this year’s list. Are you? There might be a little shuffling of the rankings, though, and it’s entirely possible that someone could jump into the top 10 or even top 5…

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image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Why Politics and Music Are Like Oil and Water

Monday, December 15th, 2014 - by David Solway

I’ve been writing on political subjects since 9/11—three polemical books and 400 articles worth. But I’ve done my utmost to keep my poetry free of political themes and pleading, generally the poet’s kiss of death. The classical world made room for politically oriented poetry (cf. the invectives of Archilochus and Alcaeus among the Greeks, Horace and Juvenal among the Romans) but this sprang from a completely different cultural context, and lapsed with time into obscurity. Samuel Butler’s 17th century book-length satiric extravaganza Hudibras dealt with both religious and political subjects—clever and funny, but hardly great poetry. The 18th century loved political/satirical squibs, though with apologies to Dryden, Pope and Swift (and even Peter Pindar), these are scarcely remembered today.

Of course, the political category can be stretched indefinitely—is Yevtushenko’s scathingly tender elegy Babi Yar, for example, “political” or not? I would maintain that it is more a bitter denunciation of human savagery and a memorial to the suffering Jewish people than a political statement. The war poems of Wilfred Owen have an acrid political edge to them, but Owen writes as a humanist under fire, not as a political observer or critic. Admittedly, from time to time some modern poets have managed to align political subjects and poetic excellence (e.g., William Butler Yeats, W.H. Auden); however, a successful conflation of this nature is exceedingly rare and prudently to be avoided.

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Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 - by David Solway

Editor’s Note: see the previous reflection in this series on country music and American values: “3 Reasons Why I Like Country Music

Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” (“on that September day”) is a loving and poignant tribute to the victims of the 9/11 atrocity. Debuting at the CMA Awards festival two months after the terrorist attack, it is country’s version of Billy Collins’s poetic memorial “The Names.” Like Collins (“Yesterday I lay awake in the palm of the night”), Jackson is modest and understated (“I’m just a singer of simple songs/I’m not a real political man”), but the political and communal messages are powerful. Listing the reactions of ordinary Americans, Jackson charts a range of caring responses to the terror attack. These include patriotism, gratitude to heroes, the turn to God for answers, and a reassessment of what matters most in life:

Did you burst out with pride for the red, white and blue
And the heroes who died just doin’ what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?

“I didn’t want to write a patriotic song,” Jackson told his interviewer Linda Owen at Today’s Christian. “And I didn’t want it to be vengeful, either,” he explained, “but I didn’t want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day.”

Whether he intended to or not, Jackson did end up writing a patriotic song filled with solicitude for his country and its people. There is one potentially vengeful, or realistically self-protective, response mentioned (“Did you go out and buy you a gun?”), but most of the emphasis is on holding loved ones close and affirming membership in community: phoning one’s mother with a message of love, standing in line to give blood, speaking to a stranger on the street. Nowhere, of course, does Jackson imagine that ordinary Americans might have felt satisfaction at the thought of America being so wounded, or that their first impulse would have been to blame America and glorify the terrorists.

For many if not most Americans, the assumption of inviolability and non-involvement had crumbled with the Towers. The feeling of immunity or even apathy toward the possible irruption of terror on American soil had been replaced in the minds and hearts of decent people by an unexpected conviction of responsibility, coupled with a deep sense of anger, sorrow and resilience. “No man is an island, entire of itself,” John Donne wrote in the 17th Devotion, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Wherever many of us were on that September day, we were also in New York. I was marooned (no boats, no planes) on the tiny Greek island of Tilos, but rapidly understood that Tilos was a part of the North American continent.

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A National Call for Gratitude this Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.

So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.

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A Radical Ranking of Disney’s 8 Best Animated Features

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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You may remember my experience last week where I received the strange basket of apples with a cryptic note from Valerie. I ate one of the apples and fell into a deep sleep, after which I received the strangest ideas for how to improve Walt Disney World. So I wrote them down, and my editor posted them here.

Well, I decided to try a second apple from the basket. One bite of this next apple, and I passed out again. I woke up with the inspiration to rank some of Disney’s best cartoons. Get ready, because I guarantee you that you’ve never seen Disney’s films in this light…

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8. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Just picture it: a large, virile character roams the world, and though people see him as a bad guy, he’s really good inside, and in the end, he saves the day!

Am I talking about Wreck-It Ralph? Of course I am, but in reality I’m talking about the man whose life I’m convinced the movie is a metaphor for: our wonderful ally Vladimir Putin. Just think about it.

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7 Ways to Radically Improve Walt Disney World

Monday, November 17th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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The basket of apples appeared on my door step. At first I wasn’t sure where they came from until I saw the note card that read VJ’s Organic Co-Op, Washington, DC. The note inside the envelope read:

Dear Chris,

Try these apples. I guarantee you’ve never tasted anything like them.

Love, Valerie

Valerie? I wasn’t sure who this Valerie was, but I figured organic apples couldn’t be all that bad. I made sure to wash one of them thoroughly, and I took a bite.

Whoever Valerie was, she was right. It didn’t taste like any apple I’d ever eaten, and soon after the first bite, I fell asleep, right there on the kitchen floor!

When I woke, I had all these ideas in my head on how to improve my favorite place on the planet — Walt Disney World. So I wrote them down, and here they are:

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7. An Updated CircleVision 360 Film For China At Epcot

Epcot’s China pavilion does a wonderful job celebrating the rich history of its home country, but there’s very little mention of the successes of the last sixty or so years. Wonderful triumphs like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and defeating those pesky students in Tiananmen Square don’t get the mention they deserve at Epcot.

To remedy that problem, I propose that Disney replace the current Reflections of China film with an informative and interesting documentary I’ll call Forward: China from Mao to Now. The film will look back at the great history of the People’s Republic of China from the earliest days of the revolution to China’s bright future.

Of course, such a short film would not have time to delve too deeply into certain aspects of the nation, so concepts like human rights and economic freedom would probably have to go by the wayside. But I think a CircleVision 360 movie dispelling the myths about the People’s Republic would be worth seeing, don’t you?

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What Happened to East Germany’s Brutally Effective Secret Police After the Wall Fell?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas
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On November 9, 2006, as the free world celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise, an 83-year-old man died in a peaceful slumber at his home in the German capital city. The man was Markus Wolf, who during the Cold War led the foreign-intelligence section of East Germany’s secret-police apparatus: the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit), known colloquially as “the Stasi.” The Stasi’s most renowned spymaster, he controlled thousands of agents, whose purpose was to infiltrate important Western institutions and government positions. Often mistaken as the inspiration for John le Carre’s shadowy Karla character, Wolf for years remained a mystery to Western intelligence services, who didn’t even have a picture of him until the late 1970s—several decades into his career. Historians have marveled at his success in leading the Stasi’s foreign wing, known as the HVA, or Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung. Perhaps his most well known accomplishment is having one of his agents, Gunter Guillaume, become a trusted aide to Willy Brandt, the West German chancellor.

Seven years after Wolf’s death and twenty-five years after the Wall’s, the West still doesn’t appreciate the breadth and depth of the Stasi’s brutality. (The KGB still reigns in the popular imagination as the ultimate secret-police force.) Formed after the Second World War in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, the Stasi grew to become the most potently effective Eastern bloc intelligence organization. They possessed a more impressive informant network than even the KGB. When East Germany crumbled, the Stasi employed upwards of 190,000 unofficial informants. By 1989, approximately one out of every 90 East German citizens was a Stasi informant. Referred to as inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (“unofficial collaborators”), most were simply ordinary German citizens, tasked with reporting everything they could about possible (real or imagined) anti-regime activity, as well as details about family and friends. Even children were involved in spying on their parents.

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What’s Evil Got to Do with It?

Sunday, November 9th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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My editor, David Swindle, has a penchant for assigning me to review what I’d consider some pretty nasty stuff. It started with HBO, Girls in particular. He tried getting me into Game of Thrones, but after the whole Red Wedding thing I just couldn’t take it. Now, David has me watching Scandal. It’s more palatable in the network sense (nowhere near the gratuitous nudity and graphic sex levels of HBO), but it’s still as dark. Nothing beats watching a show about a team of lawyers who don’t care a whit about the law. In fact, they go to great lengths to break the law in order to serve the gods of public opinion.

Only four episodes in, I consulted with my PJ colleague April Bey, a big fan of the show, for her opinion. “Everyone is evil, but that’s okay because we’re all evil,” she explained. Her observation was ironic, disturbing, and thought-provoking. Despite an apparent thread of cynicism regarding religion and morality, the struggle between good and evil remains the stuff of blockbuster hits like Scandal. Because our stories reflect our cultural psyche, it should come as no surprise that the word “evil” is beginning to carry serious weight in intellectual circles. Ascribed with more power than a petty adjective (i.e. early 2000′s “evil” George W. Bush), evil is now being discussed as a theory and a reason for contemporary political, legal, military and indeed cultural failings.

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5 Conservative Themes Hidden in Interstellar

Friday, November 7th, 2014 - by John Boot

The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan made his conservative leanings clear in that film and in The Dark Knight Rises, which earned the sobriquet of “reactionary vision” from the leftist newspaper The Guardian. Is Interstellar as unabashed in its conservatism? No, but there is a political subtext to the film that’s visible to the discerning. It may not be showy about being conservative, but it’s conservative just the same. Let’s look at five ways the film aligns with conservative philosophy and values.

1. Human beings are not just another animal.

Once this proposition would have been uncontroversial, but not anymore. Today liberals hasten to remind us that we’re just one among many species. “Human beings are no more special than a butterfly, a gazelle or a paramecium,” opined a onetime senior White House science policy analyst at the Huffington Post. “Our species is nothing but a normal consequence of natural selection, and certainly not the pinnacle of evolution. We are nothing special. God is just not that into us.” Nonsense, says Interstellar: the hero of the film, a pilot played by Matthew McConaughey, says humans have a special gift for adjusting and overcoming the sometimes dire circumstances of nature. Man is unique.

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Where Did the Left Vs. Right Fight Start?

Thursday, November 6th, 2014 - by Rich Tucker

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To know where you’re going, it helps to know where you’ve come from. We’re all the result of decisions made by previous generations. But everything has to start somewhere, even political arguments.

Yuval Levin has done a great service to political junkies everywhere, then, with his recent book The Great Debate. It’s an attempt to trace today’s liberal vs. conservative divide back to its origins. As he explains in the subtitle, Levin finds the roots in the differences between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke.

The only problem is that, while Burke is certainly a suitable (and often celebrated) figure on the right, Paine’s ideas don’t translate well into modern liberalism.

To begin, consider Paine’s views on intergenerational relationships. “Every human individual in every generation has the same relation to society as every other person in every other generation,” he thought, according to Levin. “The political actions, decisions, rules, and achievements of past generations do not constrain the present or define it.”

Well, that’s actually the very opposite of modern liberal thought.

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8 Reasons Why Jews & Christians Should Re-Think Celebrating Halloween

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.

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My Favorite Insane Tweet Today

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Sometimes I like to ironically retweet Communist, anarchist, and other varieties of far left slogans. Often times the sentiments are anachronistic or conflict with the more prominent, popular progressive sentiments of the day. Occasionally some truth manages to get out. This one really provoked a smile in its honesty:

No matter what’s going on in your life or what decisions you’ve made that have gotten you there, there’s always someone else to blame! How is any ideology with this at its core not appealing?

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Like a Serial Killer, Mao Zedong Manipulated Everyone

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas
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Editor’s note: this is part 3 in an ongoing series exploring the history of dictators and their evil ideologies. See the previous installments: Part 1:”Why It’s OK to Be Intrigued by Evil Dictators“ and Part 2: “Does Everybody Want Freedom?” Have ideas for who you’d like to see Robert explore next? Get in touch on Twitter: @RobertWargas and @DaveSwindle

Celebrating its centennial, The New Republic recently mined its archive and republished an intriguing piece from its February 27, 1965, issue: an exclusive interview with Mao Zedong by the American journalist Edgar Snow. As TNR correctly notes, as far as interviews go this would be analogous to a Western journalist today being granted exclusive access to Kim Jong Un. The sit-down took place almost seven years before Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger arrived in Peking to re-establish relations with China.

Though the interview has value as a journalistic artifact, it isn’t the most satisfying piece of reportage when it comes to Mao the man. Snow, who was not exactly Red China’s greatest critic, wasn’t allowed to quote the Great Helmsman directly, and most of the discussion concerns issues of policy and military strategy. These are big subjects, and big subjects always make for big answers laden with propaganda.

Mao comes across as intensely theoretical; he seems genuinely infatuated with Marxist theory and its rigorous application to world affairs. When asked about the Vietnam War, for instance, Snow writes that Mao “repeatedly thanked foreign invaders for speeding up the Chinese revolution and for bestowing similar favors in Southeast Asia today.” He ”observed that the more American weapons and troops brought into Saigon, the faster the South Vietnamese liberation forces would become armed and educated to win victory.”

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Why Smoking Bans Are More Dangerous Than Smoking

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 - by Robert Wargas
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One lamentable feature of the contemporary West is the ruthless efficiency of the nanny state. It works overnight. You wake up, slouch over your coffee and corn flakes, and read of the new Bad Thing that must be stopped Right Now. In Britain, the latest activity slated for oblivion is smoking in public parks. Readers, I’m sure, do not need to be reminded that parks are outdoor places; the traditional excuse of “secondhand smoke” does not appear to apply (although it is possible to find “studies” on the dangers of “thirdhand smoke”).

Nevertheless, British officials moved quickly. In September 2013, the mayor of London, alleged conservative Boris Johnson, ordered a “major review of health in the capital,” according to The Independent. The results are already in: Lord Darzi, Britain’s former health minister and the appointed chair of Johnson’s special commission, has said smoking needs to be banned in London’s parks and public squares. There is news that ”councils throughout England are also understood to be analysing how the proposals could be applied locally, paving the way for potentially the biggest crackdown on smoking since the Smoke Free legislation of 2007.”

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Who Are the Racists in America?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

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Does Everybody Want Freedom?

Sunday, October 19th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas

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A few years ago, on a rainy summer’s day, I was browsing around a secondhand bookshop on the east end of Long Island, breathing in the musty wonder of the overstuffed shelves, when an elderly man approached me. I had in my hand a first edition of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The man started up a friendly conversation about the Second World War, asking me whether I had watched a recent television documentary on the subject.

He continued talking, perhaps unaware that he wasn’t allowing me to respond. I didn’t take this as an insult. Most people prefer to hear themselves talk; this isn’t necessarily a sign of malice or rudeness on their part. I find it’s especially true of the elderly, who are usually lonelier and thus more desperate for the ear of a stranger. So I stood there and listened as politely as I could, not altogether uninterested in his views of fascinating matters like the Nazis and other dictatorships, which are subjects that I could eat with my breakfast cereal.

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Is Medical Greed Leading to D.I.Y. Deaths?

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

My PJ colleague Walter Hudson published a compelling argument regarding physician-assisted suicide in response to the ongoing dialogue surrounding terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard. His is a well-reasoned argument regarding the intersection of theology and politics, written in response to Matt Walsh’s Blaze piece titled “There is Nothing Brave About Suicide.” Both pieces are a reminder that, in the ongoing debate over whether or not Maynard has the right to schedule her own death, little has been said regarding the role the medical profession plays in the battle to “Die with Dignity.” Walsh argues:

None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I’m sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.

It’s a simplistic comment that ignores a very real medical fact: Death can come on your own terms. And that doesn’t have to mean suicide.

My mother was a nurse for 20 years. During that time she worked in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to private practice, to nursing homes. Much like Jennifer Worth, the nurse and author of the Call the Midwife series, my mother practiced at the end of Victorian bedside nursing and the dawn of Medicare. As a result, the abuses she witnessed in the name of insurance claims were grotesque. For instance, if a patient required one teaspoon of medication, an entire bottle would be poured into the sink and charged to that patient’s insurance company. This was just the tip of the iceberg of unethical practices that would become priority in the name of the almighty “billing schedule.”

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Why It’s OK to Be Intrigued by Evil Dictators

Saturday, October 11th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas

My first memory of thinking about dictators is a day I spent with my grandmother at age six or seven. Staying at her house while my parents worked, I was “reading” my latest edition of MAD Magazine, in which was printed a humorous depiction of such masters of malice as Pol Pot, Augusto Pinochet, Anastasio Somoza, and Hafez al-Assad. I asked my grandmother what this interesting new word “dictator” meant, and she informed me, as best she could to a child, that it was a leader who enjoyed absolute power in a country. Even at that young age, my instincts as an American were strong: I bristled at the idea of tyrannical authority, but naively suggested that the people suffering under these monsters could be free if only everyone agreed all at once not to listen to them.

As the years passed, I learned that I was utterly intrigued by these odd men—all of them bizarre in so many ways, always grotesque morally and usually physically as well.

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Ross Douthat Loves Lena Dunham for All the Wrong Reasons

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Conservative columnist Ross Douthat has declared his love for Lena Dunham. It hardly comes as a surprise that a New York Times writer, even one who dwells to the right of the aisle, would find the Girls prodigy appealing. What makes Douthat’s devotion disturbing is that he has managed to transform a goddess chained to a slew of liberal causes into a sacrificial lamb for conservative culture. In his struggle to do so, his misses the mark in what could have been one of the most culturally relevant critiques of Girls to date.

The critic defends Dunham’s showpiece Girls, writing,

She’s making a show for liberals that, merely by being realistic, sharp-edge, complicated, almost gives cultural conservatism its due. 

It’s a seemingly ironic observation, based in the idea that Girls “often portrays young-liberal-urbanite life the way, well, many reactionaries see it…” That is, a subculture on the verge of self-destruction due to excessive amounts of what sociologist Robert Bellah dubbed, “the view that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.”

In other words, as Gawker so simply put it:

He likes watching the show because it allows him to feel superior to Dunham and her fellow sluts.

By employing a rote, traditionalist perspective, Douthat argued himself into a hole, turning his love into judgement and burying his point in poorly-worded theory and equally bad theology.

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The Battle Against Israel’s Orthodox Patriarchy

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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I didn’t fully appreciate how spiritually free I am as an American woman until I set foot on an El Al plane.

“Do you speak Hebrew?” the fretting woman in front of me asked.

“No, not really.”

“It’s okay, I speak English,” she hurriedly replied, obviously looking for a friendly face. “These Orthodox,” she motioned to the people sitting next to her, “they don’t like sitting next to women.”

“Well, that’s their problem.” My response was pointed, matter-of-fact, American.

She smiled as if a light bulb went off in her head. “You’re right!” Her expression grew cloudy. “But what if I take off my sweater? They won’t like that I expose my shoulders with my tank top.”

Again, I simply replied, “That’s their problem.”

She smiled, empowered. Removing her sweater, she took her seat and stood her ground.

And at that moment I thanked God I was raised in pluralistic America, and realized, oddly enough, that the Holy Land was giving me my first chance to practice the biblical feminism I’ve preached.

Israel is a Western nation in that women have equal rights by law. Israel is also a confluence of religious and ethnic cultural attitudes, not all of which are friendly to women. Two days into our trip to Jerusalem, a family member who also happens to be a retired journalist explained the latest story to hit the nightly news. A man accused of spousal abuse was released to return home. Later that evening, police found his wife had been shot dead. The husband confessed to the murder. Apparently, domestic violence and death is a relatively small but significant problem in Israel. When I asked my former journalist why, he pointed to the influence of Middle Eastern (both Arabic and radical Islamic) patriarchal culture as the primary source.

Yet, even religious Jews in Israel (and around the world), despite their insular nature, are far from immune to sexual abuse. Sex scandals among the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) show up frequently on the evening news. In this case it’s not the Arab/Muslim influence, but perverted behaviors that arise from rabbinic abuse of biblical teachings. How do you expect a man to relate to a woman sexually when he’s not even allowed to look her in the eye?

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How Leo Strauss Nurtured American Narcissism

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

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Crossposted from Asia Times Online

The late Leo Strauss (1889-1973) was a thinker sufficiently nuanced to allow a wide range of interpretation of his views, and a teacher broad-ranging enough to influence students with divergent interests. I am honored to contribute occasionally to the Claremont Review of Books, associated with the so-called West Coast Straussians (although I am persona non grata among some East Coast Straussians). In fact, some of my best friends are Straussians.

As my friend Peter Berkowitz argues in a recent essay for RealClearPolitics, it is silly and not a little mendacious to portray the late emigre philosopher as an arachnidan spinner of right-wing plots. [1] My problem isn’t simply with Strauss, but with the ancients whom he admired. He taught that we have something fundamental to learn about statecraft from the ancient Greeks. This in my view is woefully wrong.

Greek philosophy, to be sure, remains one of the ornaments of human endeavor – as it applies to epistemology, ontology, aesthetics and logic, among other fields. Plato and Aristotle, though, came into adulthood just as the Greek city-states destroyed themselves through their own cupidity. What was left of Athens after the disastrous Peloponnesian War was ruined by Alexander of Macedon, who employed Aristotle as a tutor. I do not mean to deprecate the importance of the Greek polis as an exercise in democracy, but Aristotle was hardly its advocate.

“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim,” begins the Nichomachean Ethics. But Aristotle’s assertion that all men seek the good (or at least the good as they see it) is wrong on the face of it. Frequently men seek perversion, violence, and the destruction of themselves and all around them. That is typical of civilizations that have reached their best-used-by-date, and at some point has been true of every civilization west of the Indus during the past 2,500 years with the exception of Israel.

By the time the Romans walked in, all of Greece could not field two regiments of phalanx-men. The rational, logical Greeks chose not to have children and disappeared. They did so after Athens built an empire that looted its colonies to pay off the Athenian mob, relying on imperial exactions for half of its food supply. Athens was a slave society that preyed on its neighbors. What is the sum of Athenian wisdom after the war was lost? For Sophocles (in Oedipus at Colonnus) it was that the best of all possibilities is never to have been born (“But who has such luck? Not one in ten thousand!,” said Yankel to Moishe in the old Jewish joke). It was Sophocles more than Aristotle whom Hellas took to heart, and ensured that its next generations would not be born.

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5 Idols that God’s Followers Allow to Get in the Way of Their Relationship with Him

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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These days we don’t really talk much about idols, at least not in the literal sense. We talk about American Idol and teen idols and that sort of thing, but the idols that represent serious sin go unmentioned.

Throughout the Bible, we see the evidence of the damage that idol worship does. After the Exodus, when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the impatient Israelites made a golden calf to worship. For the people of Israel, it was just downhill from there, as idol worship and the unfaithfulness toward God that such worship represented led to a world of trouble for them, including the exile to Babylon.

In the New Testament book of Acts, Jesus’ apostles encountered idol worshipers when they went about spreading the Good News of the Messiah. These worshipers of other gods — and even some of the craftsmen who made the physical idols — stirred up all sorts of strife for the followers of the one true God.

So what relevance does idol worship have for us today? These days, the idols that Jews and Christians follow aren’t graven images per se, but followers of God do allow certain ideas, preferences, and opinions to become idols that get in the way of their relationship with Him. Many of these idols come with the best of intentions, yet they impede the ability to truly follow God.

In the following pages, through an inter-faith dialogue with one of my favorite colleagues here at PJ Lifestyle, Susan L.M. Goldberg, we’re going to look at five idols that God’s followers allow to get in the way of their relationship with Him. Hopefully naming these idols will get some Christians and Jews to think about how they may affect their own relationship with God.

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11 Lessons About Religion I’ve Learned from Pop Culture Polytheism

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.

Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.

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10 Lessons on Abiding in Everyday Life I’ve Learned from The Dude

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

See the previous installment in Susan’s Dudeism series: How to Become an Official Dude in 10 Easy Steps

Warning: Given that the f-bomb is dropped in The Big Lebowski over 200 times, some of these clips will most likely be NSFW.

10. Abiding is a science as well as an art.

Patience is an inherent aspect of abiding. Other definitions include “to endure without yielding,” “to accept without objection,” and “to remain stable.” In the world of the Internet and social media technology, abiding is an anachronistic action. We have been shaped by our media to function at rapid speeds. One of the biggest goals of Common Core is to increase the speed at which students mentally process information. Not study, analyze and comprehend, but process and regurgitate the way they would like and share a Twitter or Facebook post. Abiding flies in the face of today’s high-speed reactionary culture.

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