As we continue though Craig Biddle’s critique of religion found in his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, we are introduced to the concept of objective morality:
“Objective” means “fact-based.” For morality to be objective, it has to be based on a standard of value derived not from feelings, but from facts.
The notion of objective morality stands in contrast to various forms of subjectvism which have dominated much of human history. Biddle lists “religious subjectivism” among “secular subjectivism” and “personal subjectivism” as three variations of the same phenomenon. In this way, he connects the rhetoric and methods of the church, the Nazis, and hedonistic criminals.
This is how an argument for God always ends. One believes because one believes – which means: because one wants to. Religion is a doctrine based not on facts, but on feelings. Thus, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, religion is a form of subjectivism.
In light of this fact, it should come as no surprise that while secular subjectivism denies some of religion’s unproved, evidence-free claims, it demands and employs the very same methods – faith, mysticism, and dogma.
For instance, according to the Nazis, Hitler’s will determined the truth…
Believers may scoff at the comparison. Yet consider the foundation upon which it is built.
Things looked pretty darn good in the middle of the twentieth century. We split the atom, using its energy for power and to send the most dead-end, dead-enders of the Axis scurrying. The Green Revolution saved a billion people from starving to death. On the micro level, we developed vaccines for polio, mumps measles and rubella.
In other words, we had the future and it was so bright, the world had to wear shades.
Fast forward another half-century.
In January 2015, we have at least 91 people infected in an outbreak linked to Disney Land. School districts are quarantining some students. The disease has spread from the happiest place on earth to other states and beyond our borders.
To keep this in perspective, we had 644 cases of measles in the United States for the year of 2014. That was a record year.
But hey, these things happen. After all, President Obama made our border easier to crack than a high school kegger and invited an unprecedented surge of illegal alien kids to crash that party. So an uptick of children’s diseases makes sense, right?
The disease is hitting the unvaccinated Americans and those unvaccinated aren’t born in East LA.
According to the National Institutes of Health,
“[u]nvaccinated children tended to be white, to have a mother who was married and had a college degree, to live in a household with an annual income exceeding 75,000 dollars, and to have parents who expressed concerns regarding the safety of vaccines and indicated that medical doctors have little influence over vaccination decisions for their children” (emphasis added).
So it’s not the poor and ignorant who avoid vaccines. It’s the Real Housewives of Orange County.
Well, in their defense, they have Jenny McCarthy on her side. And Jenny McCarthy went on both Oprah and Larry King.
The reality is that a significant subset of our population has bought hook, line and sinker that vaccines cause autism. They even had a study that showed the link between vaccines and autism.
Of course that study is discredited, not as an error but as an actual fraud by a man paid by the lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers. Its author lost his medical license. His coauthors removed their names from the study. Lancet, which carried the fraudulent data, pulled it.
Yet the non-vaccinated children still come from educated households.
Okay, that’s just one crazy superstition that can kind of make sense because a washed-up Playboy model glommed onto a fraudulent study.
That’s no reason to see a trend, right?
Well, look at the case of manmade global warming.
Well, wait. Here the elites have science. After all, didn’t President Obama point out that 2014 was the hottest year in human history?
If you can’t trust a president who just had his butt handed to him in the midterms, whom can you trust?
In ancient days, when life was nasty, brutish and short, people looked for any sort of advantage to reach the ripe old age of 30. First, there was fire and with it came cool things like keeping the animals at bay and not having bleeding runs every time you ate your latest kill. Then came the wheel, an easier way to get that steaming carcass of meat from here to there.
But let’s face it. In the game of survival, there’s no better way to get an edge on the local saber-toothed tiger — or your annoying neighbor — than seeing the future.
Thus we have the casting of bones because everybody knows that if anything is linked to the future, it’s chicken bones.
I mean, that’s just logic.
Global warming alarmists have their own version of chicken bones, in the form of computer climate models:
Problem: When compared to what is actually observed in the real world, the climate models fail to make accurate predictions. And this is a consistent problem.
You have to think that if our chicken-bone-throwing ancestors noticed that none of their throws matched up to actual events, they’d realize something was wrong. Perhaps they might not give up on the enterprise of chicken-bone throwing altogether – after all, who can deny chicken bones? – but they might decide that they’d killed a defective chicken.
Today’s educated savages can’t even make that leap. An honest man would say since the models don’t figure in things like water vapor – just a small part of the atmosphere, after all – and don’t actually predict the future, let’s try something else.
Instead, the educated savages award the computer modelers the Nobel Prize.
Primitive superstition is also strong in Leftist economics.
In World War II, the tribes of Papua New Guinea saw vast amounts of wealth coming into the Pacific on both the Allied and Axis sides. They had no way to comprehend the power of industrialized economies fully mobilized and dedicated to the largest war the world had ever seen. The natives made the natural assumption that spirits sent cargo to the earth and the evil outsiders jacked the loot.
So they built fake airplanes. They erected structures in the jungle and filled them with fake cash, sometimes even making fake suitcases.
Hmmm. Make work projects paid for with worthless currency. Doesn’t that sound like Obama’s stimulus plan or Paul Krugman – another educated savage Nobel laureate – looking for an alien threat in order to create demand to boost the economy?
Yes, Keynesian economic theory is a cargo cult, dressed up in suits and the flowery rhetoric of the university. Unfortunately, it shows the same effectiveness.
Welcome to the new Dark Ages, a time of policy based on superstitions easily recognized by savages sitting around the campfire. They might not understand the terms of the new cargo cults that have risen but they’d understand that old time religion.
image illustration via shutterstock / maximillion
Christianity is an absurd death cult. That was the expressed belief of the late Christopher Hitchens, one among the so-called “new atheists” who engaged in an aggressive sort of anti-evangelism. Hitchens once sketched his view of the incarnation thus:
In order to be Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years our species suffered and died… [enduring] famine, struggle, viciousness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years – heaven watches it with complete indifference – and then 2,000 years ago [God] thinks that’s enough of that, it’s time to intervene. The best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate part of the Middle East…
Hitchens’ presentation of Christianity highlights one of the greatest challenges to Christian apologetics. Increasingly, a dichotomy has been offered between reason and faith. Ayn Rand defined the two concepts as opposites, and the co-relation of religion and atrocity has been increasingly cited as evidence that faith literally kills.
This Christmas Day, I offer a preview of an ongoing project to begin here at PJ Lifestyle in the new year. Working through books on the topics of reason, individual rights, and the Christian worldview, we will explore how we might reconcile our human perception with divine revelation.
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…
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.
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.
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.
First I ascertained that the class members were unanimously in favor of progress. Then I sprang the first of my traps:
“What is progress? How can you distinguish developments that constitute progress from developments that don’t?”
The students were stunned by the question. Doesn’t everybody know what progress is? was the modal reply. I responded “If you’re one of ‘everybody,’ then define it for me.”
Not one student was willing to take a swing at the question. So I set my second trap:
“This is a basic scientific calculator. I bought it last year for less than $30 at Radio Shack. But twenty years earlier, a calculator that would do somewhat less cost nearly $120. Who here would say that that reduction in the price of such power you can hold in your hand constitutes progress?”
Every hand went up..at which point I sprang the trap:
“Now what if I were to tell you that that price reduction was made possible by enslaving a million men to make calculators for nothing but bread and water and a place on the floor to sleep? Would you still think it’s progress?”
The room buzzed with a welter of objections and qualifications. Of course, the students’ previous willingness to endorse the price drop as progress was founded on the assumption that the process that brought it about was morally acceptable. When that assumption had been invalidated, they were no longer of that opinion.
After a couple more examinations of the processes that had driven developments that we could all agree were progress on their faces, we examined Kevin Cullinane’s famous definition of progress:
1. The improved satisfaction of human needs and desires,
3. And with less input.
However, though the class was willing to accept that definition as suitable, its implications eluded them for a few minutes more.
15. Everything you know about the social stratosphere is wrong…
College is nothing like high school. You understand this in theory, but have never experienced the kind of social freedom you will in college. There are no cliques. There is no lunch table. Welcome to the world of being an adult. For the first couple of weeks you’ll attend pre-arranged mixers, usually orientation events or annoying team-building activities your RA spent all summer training to lead. These awkward moments are helpful for one reason: Discovering who has a car. As a freshman, be aware that the parties you crash at frat houses aren’t for making friends, they’re for getting drunk and hooking up. You’ve been warned.
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.
As a Gen-X/millennial crossover, I was fortunate enough to first meet Robin Williams as Mork from Ork on the sitcom Mork and Mindy. A comedic powerhouse, Mork’s colorful wardrobe and loud laugh were the first things I imitated as a child. As I grew up, I would look back and realize the many character lessons I learned at home were reinforced by a supremely acted alien outsider with a predilection for sitting on his head. In virtually every role he played, Robin Williams taught his audience a life lesson. As a young kid there was no one more fun to hang around with and learn from on TV than Mork from Ork.
10. Old people rule.
Mork marvels at the way the elderly are ignored and maligned on earth. On Ork, old folks are revered as the wise, experienced ones to learn from. “The Elder” is called on to remind Mork of his Orkishness. His was an early lesson in the importance of respect and reverence for the elders in your life and how very important all people are, no matter and, perhaps, especially because of their age.
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.
Dear Spencer Klavan,
I’d like to congratulate you for your first PJ Lifestyle piece that we published today, ”10 Movies Stolen Right Out of The Odyssey.” Editing it and talking with you inspired me to finally get around to finishing a list that’s been on my mind lingering for a few weeks now. But I’m also going to twist things up a bit to really start pushing this list business further. I wrote my previous list post in letter format to Lisa De Pasquale in response to her book Finding Mr. Righteous, and I think it’s a style I’m going to continue and encourage for others as a way to, borrowing a phrase from my wife, kill two stones with one bird. This month I’m going to start focusing to try and write more lists myself but they’ll be with the increased goal of trying to encourage dialogue between writers and readers and to inspire ideas for more articles.
Over the course of several months this spring I watched through and featured all of the Silly Symphony Disney cartoons from the 1930s in the PJ Lifestyle Cartoon at Noon feature. They’re all available on YouTube and are filled with insights into the period’s culture, fashions, racial shortcomings, and technological developments. In studying them and now in comparing to other studios’ generally less impressive releases, it’s clear how Disney dominated: he continually pushed the technology further and he used it to develop meaningful art drawing from deep, substantive mythological sources to promote positive moral values. I believe cinematically these efforts reached their peak with Fantasia, what has become my favorite film of late, and whose pieces can be seen in some of these earlier efforts.
Spencer, with your background in classics and your interest in bringing out some of the dark, hidden aspects of Greek and Roman mythology and their relation to our culture today I’m really excited about the ideas you’re going to start developing. Here are some of the ideas that I’ve been considering courtesy of some of the mythology, folklore, and fables Disney drew from in making his shorts.
CCing some of the other Lifestyle writers exploring pop culture and moral value themes on occasion too: Chris Queen, Susan L.M. Goldberg, Kathy Shaidle, and Hannah Sternberg, I’d invite you to consider these subjects too in your own writings. (And if anyone else would like to submit a blog post responding to these ideas DaveSwindlePJM @ gmail.com or lets talk on Twitter: @DaveSwindle. I’d like to start featuring more Twitter discussions at PJ Lifestyle.)
10. Watch The Big Lebowski a minimum of 3 times.
The first time you watch Lebowski, encounter the film fresh and unfettered. Invite a friend or two over. Make it a casual affair and, if you can, do a double feature. Watch The Maltese Falcon beforehand so you have some understanding of how incredibly screwed up the plotline is going to be. The second time you watch Lebowski, do so with a Caucasian in hand. Immerse yourself in the experience, not as a moviegoer, but as a key aspect of the mise en scene. Discover your favorite quotes. By your third go-round, call in sick, lounge in your bathrobe, and when your friends say, “You wasted a sick day on that movie?” respond with, “Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.” Be sure to obtain the collector’s edition and review the special features for complete immersion.
Whether you’re seeking salvation or inner peace, a god to worship or add to your home-made altar, the pop culture pantheon is at your disposal so that you may pick and choose the gods and tools of worship to service your every emotional, spiritual, and even material need.
10. Harry Potter
When they aren’t re-reading their holy texts, Potterheads commune at MuggleNet to chat about their god, study their faith and perform the usual acts of tithing. According to the Facebook page “Being a POTTERHEAD” (which is classified as a non-profit organization),
Harry Potter has reached out to 200 countries, spoke out in 69 languages, and has touched the lives of 400 million people. It is the phenomenon that ignores race, age, gender and religion and has brought us all together despite our differences.
Also known as Potterholics, Potterites and Pottermaniacs, Potterheads should never be confused with potheads as their allegiance is strictly Wizard, not weed.
Editor’s Note: For years now Walter Hudson has been a perpetual inspiration and a joy to edit. His articles, lists, blog posts, and now podcasts dance across the fault lines of politics, culture, and religion with an always encouraging sense of optimism and clarity. See this compilation today here of his most recent podcasts: Ready For An Argument? 15 of Walter Hudson’s Fightin’ Words Podcasts Not To Miss. Also follow him on Twitter here. For more of of his work check out this collection of PJ Lifestyle’s Top 50 List Articles of 2013, which includes several more Hudson hits. This selection of 10 articles here showcases some of Walter’s most popular and engaging pieces. Please consider adding Walter to your list of #ReadEverythingTheyWrite writers. He’s been on mine for some time now…
- Dave Swindle
1. March 2, 2012:
2. May 9, 2013:
3. April 18, 2013:
4. July 17, 2012:
5. July 6, 2013:
6. July 13, 2013:
7. January 29, 2013:
8. January 31, 2012
9. September 2, 2013:
10. March 7, 2013:
Editor’s Note: Check out Walter Hudson’s podcast Monday-Friday here at PJ Lifestyle and stop by on weekends to get caught up on any you may have missed. Each Saturday we’ll expand this compilation updating it with the newest episodes. What would you like to hear Walter discuss in future podcasts? Please leave you suggestions in the comments.
Last week here at PJ Lifestyle, we saw a lively debate over the difference between altruism and giving out of love — particularly in a Judeo-Christian context. My colleagues Walter Hudson and Susan L. M. Goldberg eloquently shared their thoughts on the nature of altruism in a series of compelling posts:
April 8: Altruism In Religion’s Free Market
April 9: Love And Altruism Prove Opposite
Walter, Susan, our editor David Swindle, and I continued the discussion on Facebook, which morphed into a bigger exploration of faith and religion. At one point, Susan brought up the notion we often hear from secularists that “God doesn’t want us to be happy.” I replied:
I don’t think God wants us to be happy, either. He wants us to be filled with joy. Happiness is temporal and circumstantial, while joy is sustained.
There’s a clear difference between happiness and joy. Circumstances and relationships determine our happiness. An ice cream cone can make you happy. A great comedy can make you happy. An upbeat song (even that ubiquitous Pharrell Williams tune) can make you happy. But happiness is transitory and momentary — and ultimately external. Psychologist Sandra A. Brown writes (particularly in the context of relationships):
Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone….
Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness.
And happiness can disappear as quickly as it comes. The same people who make us happy one moment can hurt us or let us down the next. That great meal you ate can give you unbearable heartburn. You can grow tired of the songs, films, and shows you once loved. A storm can ruin that perfect trip to the beach. The happiness we seek can often disappear without warning.
Here, Ayn Rand Institute executive director Yaron Brook addresses the campaign against income inequality. What are the philosophical roots of this concern?
Last week, alternative media mogul Glenn Beck announced that he was going to focus on “taking back” American culture through the power of nostalgia:
In the future, Glenn Beck’s focus is going to be more on influencing culture and less on politics and news. After all, news is only “what the culture allows,” he said in a recent interview with National Review’s Eliana Johnson.
…“Beck is nostalgic for an America of decades past, and his cultural projects will aim to resurrect and revive it,” Johnson writes. “It’s an America where duty trumped desire and Americans were bound together by a sort of civic religion created by that sense of duty. ‘I want to impact the culture in the way that people see good again,’ [Glenn] says.”
Beck’s goal is admirable, to a fault. The period he seeks to resurrect was one in which concepts like “good” and “duty” were defined by a Biblical religion, not a civic one. Any history student will tell you that Marx had his own take on the American Revolution; you can show someone Frank Capra movies until you’re blue in the face and they’re still going to see Mr. Smith as the ultimate community organizer if that’s their moral outlook.
As Amy Kenyon notes, there are pitfalls to what passes for nostalgia these days:
…the historical meanings and usages associated with nostalgia were finally mangled beyond recognition until its chief purpose became the performance of sentimentalism, the parceling out of discount memory via television, advertising, heritage theme parks, and souvenir markets, all aspects of what we might call the “nostalgia industry.” As such, nostalgia became kitsch, trivial and reactionary: hardly the stuff of a meaningful engagement with the past or the workings of memory.
Simply put: Glenn Beck needs to do more than embrace the facade of America, circa 1940. Beck needs to dig deeper, to America’s Biblical heritage, to understand what re-taking the culture truly means.
Back to the Future actor Crispin Glover sat down with IGN recently to talk about his experience filming the classic time-travel adventure. Glover only worked on the first film in the franchise, though his likeness and select footage from the first film was used in the second.
In his interview with IGN, posted above, Glover explained some of the creative differences which contributed to his leaving the franchise. He objected to what he called “propaganda” in the film promoting “corporate interests.” Specifically, Glover felt that the ending of the first film, portraying the McFly family as happier and notably wealthier than when it began, sent the wrong message.
The happier was fine to me. And the idea of the characters being in love, I thought was excellent. But I thought – I saw that if there was a kind of a financial reward, where the son character cheers because he has a truck in the garage – I thought that the moral aspect ends up being that money equals happiness. And I questioned that, and that was met with a lot of hostility and upset.
Glover recalls watching old movies in revival houses as a teenager in Los Angeles, films which he felt “were questioning things.” He apparently did not want to be complicit in a film which takes for granted that “money equals happiness,” a message he felt deceived moviegoers into sacrificing their interests to that of corporations.
Propaganda is essentially fooling people into believing that there’s something good for them, but it’s actually in the interests of the corporations. I mean, you can call anything propaganda. You can say what I’m saying right now is propaganda. I mean, you’re saying – it’s propagating an idea. But the kind of propaganda that I’m speaking of, that I think is very damaging, is the propaganda that is making people at large feel that what’s being put forth to them is good for their own interests. But in fact, it’s actually best for the corporate interests and it ends up hurting the people at large.
And unfortunately, I think – even though there are very positive things about Back to the Future – there’s very good story structure. There was good writing within it. My argument was, if we just take out the element of wealth as a reward – and it was only that the characters were in love, I would like the film altogether wholly.
The philosophical notion fueling Glover’s objection was that money should not matter if you pursue those things which you love.
This is Week 12 of Season 3 in my 13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading Series. Every week day I try to blog about compelling writers, their ideas, and the news cycle’s most interesting headlines. This Top 10 list is the series’ climax for this year, a project I’ve been planning since first asking the question December 5, 2012.
What is the future of conservatism? Which voices should define the priorities of the movement in the coming decades? Who are its most skilled proponents today? How should the movement evolve to face the threats most endangering America?
This list is my effort to advocate for both my favorite writers contributing to answering these questions and the ideas they champion.
5 quick ground rules first:
- I’m being strict with the “columnist” title – no bloggers, journalists, or feature writers. A “columnist” is one who writes a 700-1400+ word polemical article on a regular basis for an established publication or syndication.
- I’m likewise being strict with the “conservative” title – other various right-of-center ideologies (neoconservatism, libertarianism, Christian theocrats, and paleo-con conspiracists) warrant their own lists. (Which perhaps they might get next year as I continue mapping out today’s most important ideological advocates in the contests of politics, ideas, and culture…)
[UPDATE: Confused why some of your favorites aren't on this list? See: 3 Basic Differences Between Conservatism and Neoconservatism]
- In selecting these individuals, I am including them and the ideas they champion in what I’m calling Conservatism 3.0. This isn’t just a stand-alone list, it’s part of the bigger, ongoing project of my attempt to encourage ideological debate and dialogue. The columnists on this list each write books too and I’m adding their titles to my reading lists at the Freedom Academy Book Club. In next year’s installment of my “radical reading regimen” I’ll blog through their titles too.
- I’m excluding writers that I edit. All of PJM’s columnists and freelancers have been going on a separate list of my favorite writers, which I’ve been accumulating over the last six months and you can read on the last page of this post. And as an extra mention I have to go out of my way to recommend Instapundit Glenn Reynolds’s USA Today columns too. Blogging isn’t the only medium that Glenn’s mastered.
- I’m including excerpts from some of my favorite columns. Fair warning: this article today is over 13,000 words, highlighting some of the year’s best op/eds. (UPDATE: And apparently that means it’s too big for the view-as-single-page or print-this-post feature to work. I’m sorry. I assure you that was not intentional.) It’s really more of a free online e-book — a late Christmas present to all the readers, writers, activists, and patriots who have inspired and encouraged me in my own journey across the political spectrum…
10. Ross Douthat
Back in 2009 the New York Times editorial page made the very rare great decision. They replaced corporatist neoconservative baby boomer William Kristol (born December 23, 1952) with cultural conservative millennial-leaning Gen-Xer Ross Douthat (born November 28, 1979.)
Gone was the D.C.-insider establishment man, symbolic of — and in some ways a contributor to — the Republican Party’s and conservatism’s failures todays, and in was a sunny National Review writer with a film critic background and religious interests to reinvent center-right arguments with a fresh, optimistic voice. A few highlights from this year, on Reza Aslan’s Jesus recycling, the celebration of tribal criminality in Breaking Bad, and lessons for the JFK cult:
August 3, “Return of the Jesus Wars“:
The fact that Aslan’s take on Jesus is not original doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. But it has the same problem that bedevils most of his competitors in the “real Jesus” industry. In the quest to make Jesus more comprehensible, it makes Christianity’s origins more mysterious.
Part of the lure of the New Testament is the complexity of its central character — the mix of gentleness and zeal, strident moralism and extraordinary compassion, the down-to-earth and the supernatural.
Most “real Jesus” efforts, though, assume that these complexities are accretions, to be whittled away to reach the historical core. Thus instead of a Jesus who contains multitudes, we get Jesus the nationalist or Jesus the apocalyptic prophet or Jesus the sage or Jesus the philosopher and so on down the list.
There’s enough gospel material to make any of these portraits credible. But they also tend to be rather, well, boring, and to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith.
October 1, “Walter White’s Dream”:
The allure for Team Walt is not ultimately the pull of nihilism, or the harmless thrill of rooting for asupervillain. It’s the pull of an alternative moral code, neither liberal nor Judeo-Christian, with an internal logic all its own. As James Bowman wrote in The New Atlantis, embracing Walt doesn’t requiring embracing “individual savagery” and a world without moral rules. It just requires a return to “old rules” — to “the tribal, family-oriented society and the honor culture that actually did precede the Enlightenment’s commitment to universal values.”
Those rules seem cruel by the lights of both cosmopolitanism and Christianity, but they are not irrational or necessarily false. Their Darwinian logic is clear enough, and where the show takes place — in the shadow of cancer, the shadow of death — the kindlier alternatives can seem softheaded, pointless, naïve.
Nor can this tribal morality be refuted in a laboratory. Indeed, by making Walt a chemistry genius, the show offers an implicit rebuke to the persistent modern conceit that a scientific worldview logically implies liberalism, humanism and a widening circle of concern. On “Breaking Bad,” that worldview just makes Walt a better kingpin, and the beautiful equations of chemistry are deployed to addict, poison, decompose.
November 23, “Puddleglum and the Savage“:
What exhausts skeptics of the Kennedy cult, both its elegiac and paranoid forms, is the way it makes a saint out of a reckless adulterer, a Camelot out of a sordid political operation, a world-historical figure out of a president whose fate was tragic but whose record was not terribly impressive.
But in many ways the impulses driving the Kennedy nostalgists are the same ones animating Lewis’s Puddleglum and Huxley’s Savage — the desire for grace and beauty, for icons and heroes, for a high-stakes dimension to human affairs that a consumerist, materialist civilization can flatten and exclude.
And one can believe J.F.K. is a poor vessel for these desires, and presidential politics the wrong place to satisfy them, without wishing they would disappear.
“It is a serious thing,” Lewis wrote, describing the implications of his religious worldview, “to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship.”
It is obviously a serious mistake, from this perspective, to deify someone prematurely or naively, as too many of Kennedy’s admirers have done.
”To deify someone prematurely or naively…” – in continuing on this list, picking writers, activists, and thinkers who have influenced my thinking for years, I want to emphasize that this is not a list of conservative heroes. These are not the gods of right-wing writing circa 2013, but rather something more mundane: a chessboard. Both in specific arguments and in tactics they each simply model the methods for how to do battle.
Douthat is a knight. His approach of leading with deeper discussions of religion and culture then eschewing cliche ideological talking points is a great way to begin the discussion with skeptical or even hostile non-conservative friends and family. As the dialogue gets deeper into specifics — as you make progress in provoking others to rattle their chains in Plato’s cage by taking politically incorrect ideas seriously — it’s time to get focused on the facts about the nature of the enemies who most threaten our ability to have these free debates about God and life. I suspect that over the coming years more will make the journey from Left to Right as I and many other post-9/11 conservatives did: through recognizing the nature of the jihad declared against us and then responding in the same way that previous generations vanquished Nazism and fascism.
Track 8 on Oceania is the title track, and it’s more of a challenge musically or lyrically than any of the previous songs. “Oceania” is a nine-minute opus that shifts time signatures and tempos reminiscent of progressive rock. I’ll confess that I had a difficult time figuring out the lyrics and finding something worth writing about – until my mind stuck on the last few lines. You can’t really call it a stanza or verse, since the song doesn’t have a traditional structure, but in these lyrics Corgan tries to convince another person to:
Try the way
Skirt the cliffs of your illusion
Find the faith of me
My mistake as the last remaining soldier
Was to take the place of you
Love the way
Love the way and learn
Try the way
Cast off your indecision
Corgan sounds as though he’s found something truly life-changing and wants to share it with the woman to whom he’s singing.