Thursday, November 30, 2017

The State of Discourse and The Free Media As 2017 Comes To A Close

It is without reasonable argument that the state of the media has reached a low point in American history. At the same time, the level of discourse in our country  has devolved to a point that is often one step removed from preschool tantrums. This is a dangerous state of affairs as our free and open liberal republic relies in large part on the free exchange of ideas. To make matters worse, the line between civil discourse and political violence has gone from fuzzy to non-existent in just a few years, accelerating into what often appears to be virtual open warfare on our streets and on our campuses. I find myself nostalgic for the good old days when we only dealt with the Robert Bork confirmation hearings and the impeachment of President Clinton. Now speakers on college campuses are routinely assaulted, free speech rallies are met with thuggish street violence that would be at home in pre-Third Reich Germany and your average banana republic, and people sever friendships and even family relationships over political differences.

I came across a perfect example of this just last week. I stumbled across an article about one Debra Messing. I sort of knew the name but I wasn't sure who she was until I read the article, apparently she was one of the stars of Will & Grace, a show I am pleased to report I have never watched. Ms. Messing apparently is mad at the New York Times and has canceled her subscription. I couldn't care less about a washed up actress and her newspaper subscriptions but the reasoning was interesting. She is mad at the New York Times for running what she and others thought of as a puff-piece about a far right, "Nazi-sympathizer" named Tony Hovater. I was intrigued so I read the article for myself.

The first thing you notice is what a soft and gentle headline graced the article: A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland. That is clearly a sympathetic headline, right? The article itself was actually quite balanced, and featured some actual journalism where the story was not entirely pre-ordained before the first word was typed. Tony Hovater is on the surface a pretty average 29 year old guy, recently married, working at a grill and doing contract work as a welder. I think what really incensed people is that the article didn't go out of the way to paint him as a lunatic, but rather a pretty run of the mill guy who had adopted what are considered to be very extreme views. Richard Fausset, the author of the piece, wrote a follow-up based on the vitriolic feedback to his article where he wrote his reason for the article:
Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?
That was the real crime, suggesting that this ideology might appeal to a regular guy and not responding with a caricature. If I was some leftist living in Manhattan, terrified of the scary alt-right types living out in fly-over country, it would seem to me that I would want to understand where they are coming from, the old "seek first to understand and then to be understood" thing. I am not sure how well this article accomplished that but at least he tried. Mr. Hovater is not some drooling, knuckle-dragging mouth-breather who just hates him some colored folk. This is someone who reads the works of Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, two writers I also read, and who speaks clearly and intelligently, even if you disagree with him. But that isn't what the readers of the New York Times, people who fancy themselves as smarter and more worldly than the rest of us subscribe to that paper to get. They want red meat (fair trade, vegan, locally sourced, gluten free, soy based red meat of course), just as the readers of Breitbart want red meat. They didn't get it here and while no rational person would see this as a soft sell of far right ideology, that didn't stop readers of the Times from accusing them of "normalizing" neo-Nazi beliefs, an ironic charge given the title of the article and the reality of Tony Hovater being a pretty average guy with un-average beliefs. Kudos to Marc Lacey and the editors of the NYT more or less standing by the piece:
We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.
The aftermath to the story is as predictable as the sun rising in the East. Simply disagreeing and explaining why you disagree is no longer good enough for the Left in America. People figured out, not a difficult task, where Mr. Hovater and his new wife lived and worked. The Washington Post reports that Mr. Hovater both lost his job and is being forced to move: Nazi sympathizer profiled by the New York Times says he lost his job and — soon — his home.
The restaurant’s owners said in a statement Wednesday that they did not know of Hovater’s white nationalist views until the Times article was published. They said the article illustrated “some very disturbing images and thoughts” that they do not share.
The owners also said that they and their other employees have been bombarded with threatening and intimidating calls and social media messages since the article was published. That prompted Hovater to suggest to the owners to “release him from employment,” the statement said. They did so and also fired Hovater’s wife and brother-in-law shortly after.
This is what has become normalized in America. Someone on the right, whether someone as extreme as Tony Hovater or as mild as academic Charles Murray, speaks out and rather than being engaged in the battlefield of ideas they are attacked and threatened with violence. How about a "big statement" in response to that:
People who are willing to threaten and often carry out violence against political views they dislike are far more dangerous to this nation than all of the White nationalists put together.
I sometimes worry a little about this, about whether something I write about homosexuality or gender or immigration will trigger the seemingly limitless ranks of unhinged people on the Left and they will threaten me or my family with violence. This is not an unreasonable concern. I have run into cultists online that I think are dangerous enough that I stopped interacting with them out of concern that they would come after my family. It is way too easy to find out about someone and where they live with a quick search online and while I can take care of myself, my family shouldn't be threatened by lunatics.

If anything, the response from much of the Left simply reinforces the beliefs of people on the far-right, namely that people on the Left are intolerant and prone to violence. It also reinforces my personal belief that we have walked too far out in the desert as a nation and the only way for us to survive peaceably is to divide up now. I agree that ideas can be dangerous, ideas like socialism and communism have been responsible for over 100,000,000 deaths and misery for untold tens of millions more, but I don't see it as my job to combat communism by threatening the lives of communists or actually attacking them. I will argue against them by reason and logic, I will troll and mock them mercilessly but I don't advocate shooting up my political opponents while they practice baseball or jumping them while they are mowing their lawns. Resorting to violence to suppress political speech is the hallmark of brown shirts and Bolsheviks, not free people. If you are really worried about the incipient rise of a resurgent fascism, ask yourself which political movement today is engaged in the sort of behavior that presaged the rise of fascism, communism or other totalitarian movements. It isn't the 29 year old who works at a restaurant and reads Julius Evola.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Nonresistance In An Era Of Church Shootings

June 17, 2015 a young White man named Dylan Roof opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown, South Carolina. Roof killed 9 black parishioners and was clearly motivated by a desire to ignite racial violence.

September 22, 2017 a Sundanese immigrant Emanuel Kidega Samson opened fire at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee. One person was killed and a number of other people were wounded

November 5, 2017, Devin Kelley, a dishonorably discharged Air Force veteran and militant atheist, enters the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing over two dozen people, including a number of small children.

These are three examples of mass shootings that have occurred at churches over the last two years. I am sure there are others but these are the ones that come to mind.

Now more than ever I am seeing a lot of American Christians asking the question “Is it time for me to arm myself when gathering with the church?” and it is a perfectly understandable question and one that needs more than a simplistic response. My viewpoint on this has been maturing, I hope, over the last year.

First things first, we need to start with some definitions. There are three categories of legally legitimate lethal violence as I see it.
1. Violence in the cause of a nation or state, typically as a member of the military or law enforcement, although I would stipulate that the police often would fall into the second or third categories below.
2. Violence in the defense of one’s self, as an act of self-defense against an aggressor.
3. Violence in the defense of another, such as the shooting of Devin Kelley by a neighbor, an act which likely prevented Kelley from killing even more people.

I have been an absolutist when it comes to nonresistance, in large part as a response to the unquestioning acceptance of violence, including lethal violence, on the part of the church. The church in America has a serious issue where it comes to our love affair with the American military and that is deeply unhealthy.

In practice this means that I have generally treated all three types of lethal violence above in the same way. If it is wrong to kill as a soldier it is wrong to kill in self-defense and it is wrong to kill to defend someone else. It is simpler to look at it that way because it helps neuter some of the “Oh yeah, what about...” gotcha questions.

Looking at each in turn and treating them as distinct although closely related issues gives us a slightly different view.

State Sanctioned Violence, Especially The Military

The first category is, in my opinion, the easiest to reject from a Scriptural and practical sense. It is also one of the hardest to address in the church in America because of our unhealthy love affair with the flag and the military. While war is a reality of human existence, one that will not go away in my lifetime or prior to the return of the Lord, and while Scripture teaches that the sword is placed in the hand of the government as represented by Caesar, that doesn't mean that war is inherently noble or something Christians should engage in.

Very few wars would qualify as a truly justifiable war in American history. Not Vietnam or Korea or World War I. Not even the Civil War which was absolutely not fought to rid America of slavery but instead was fought to keep the Union together. Our wars are generally not defensive in any sense and usually were fought over territory, empire or some sense of misplaced national pride.

Even in the case of World War II, the United States both engaged in atrocities like the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo in addition to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that were all designed to strike terror into the civilian population and sap the will of the government to continue the fight, as well as the complicity of the United States in allying ourselves with the brutal totalitarian government of the Soviet Union, whose forces engaged in all sorts of inhumane behavior and who enslaved and murdered millions upon millions of people in Russia and Eastern Europe for decades after Adolf Hitler was dead. Our “good war” which serves as the trump card for pro-military Christians was hardly a flawless war and was arguably the extension of our foolish intervention in World War I.

In summary, Christians should not be involved as participants nor should we support wars of aggression, wars where you are being sent at the command of Caesar to kill either fellow Christians or the people you are supposed to evangelize. While I can make a weak case for Christian involvement of a sort in defensive wars, there have been very few of those (the war of 1812?) and in general soldiers don't get to pick and choose which wars they get to fight in. The soundest policy for Christians is to not serve as soldiers for Caesar.

Violence In Self-Defense

The second category is a little harder but still for me ultimately is an area Christians should adopt a nonresistance/nonviolence position and that is using violence to defend yourself, specifically defending your life.

The New Testament is replete with what appear to be admonitions to not use violence to defend oneself. In Matthew 5:39 Jesus says "Do not resist the one who is evil". We are told to overcome evil by doing good to those who wrong us (Romans 12:21). Jesus Himself stated: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28). Paul saw dying for the sake of the Gospel as far better than remaining in this world:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23)
So killing someone else to preserve my own life seems counter-productive to me. There is an argument to be made that my family needs me for a variety of reasons that would support self-preservation but compared to the commands of Christ and Paul it is a pretty weak argument.

Violence to Protect Others

The third category is where my absolutist convictions waver. Protecting your friends or family or even strangers when they are in danger from an evil person is hard to argue against. It goes against our nature to stand by when someone is being hurt, especially as a man. I understand and have argued on many occasions that there are other options besides pulling a gun or standing meekly by but in some cases there are just not many options.

I have a solemn and sacred obligation to my family which includes providing for them (1 Timothy 5:8) and educating my children. It is hard to not feel that protecting them from evil doers would fall under my obligations as a father and husband. If someone was threatening my wife and kids and I have the means to stop that someone from harming them, whether that means tackling the would-be assailant or punching him in the nose or hitting him with a baseball bat or pulling a trigger, it would seem to be the lesser of two evils to stop an evil man by violence rather than let him hurt my wife and kids. The counter-argument, which again I have used, is that the lesser of two evils is still evil but then again the alternative is also evil and the greater of the two. Sometimes there just isn't a good option. I am not talking about seeking out an opportunity to shoot someone but evil men can and do seek people out, whether in homes or a school or a church.

I wouldn't want to drive people away with an absolutist position that leaves no room for discernment. There is something deeply distasteful about being in a position to protect your family and not doing so. I might be able to craft a fancy theological argument in favor of nonresistance in that situation but in real life if someone was seriously threatening my wife or kids I am pretty confident that those arguments would fly out of the window and I would do anything in my power to keep them from harm. Anything. I am just as sure that even the most dyed in the wool pacifist would do the same thing if push came to shove and claiming otherwise seems sort of dishonest to me. That isn't really a failure to trust God, I have always worked for a living so I could pay for food to feed my kids instead of sitting around the table waiting for God to provide food in a manna in the desert manner. It is the reality of living in a fallen world. Some of my kids have not professed faith in Christ yet (and may never do so). My wife deserves my protection and my kids need their mother. To let someone harm them when it is in my power to prevent that is just not something I am sure I can argue in favor of anymore.

This is not an easy position to come to. I still find myself arguing internally even as I type these words. But I also have to wrestle between an "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" argument and what I prayerfully feel I am obliged to do in the event of a threat to my friends, family or innocent strangers. I also realize this is a largely theoretical discussion as it is extraordinarily unlikely that I or anyone reading this post will ever have to choose between two highly distasteful and disturbing options. Furthermore I am still hashing this question over and I have been for some time but the recent shootings in Texas and the chatter on social media in response prompted me to take this conversation public. So this is where I am right now. I sincerely pray that God will never allow me in a place where I have to put this to the test.

So ought Christians come to the gathering of the church tomorrow armed in case they need to stop an armed assailant bent on murder? I am not going to but I am also not going to condemn those that do. This is not an issue where one can defend the practice by pointing to the two swords conversation in Scripture or by the appeal to the "live by the sword, die by the sword" argument as both sides of that coin have specific redemptive-historical meaning that defies simple pigeon-holing into a marginally related issue. I think this is a serious question to ponder because as we see violence escalating, especially from people who have religious or political reasons to attack Christians, it is not going to diminish. I would not be surprised to see copycat attacks over the rest of this year. So it is a conversation we need to be having in humility and charity toward one another. That is a pretty tall order in this day and age but that is something the church, if nowhere else in our society, should be able to do.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Election That Never Ended

One year ago on November 8th, 2016, the day started as so many other election days have for me since my earliest recollection of an election, the 1980 landslide of Ronald Reagan that I watched with my die-hard Democrat grandparents (they didn't have a good night). As I have in every significant election since I turned 18 I went to the polls and as I have in most elections since 1992 I went to the polls with my wife. I cast my vote for Gary Johnson, as I did in 2012, because I simply couldn't pull the lever for Trump, partly for reasons of character and partly because he just isn't terribly conservative in any traditional sense, although in the last twelve months I have found myself less and less identified with traditional conservatism as well.

I am a pretty skeptical/cynical person on almost any topic and especially when it comes to the media but I admit I bought into the polling data. It was so overwhelming and so uniform and I have such a low opinion of many of my fellow Americans that I assumed that a woman who should be on trial would instead be elected and become the first female President of the United States. I actually was feeling kind of poorly that evening so after dinner I went upstairs to lay down for a bit but my wife and kids watched the returns. I came back down late in the evening when things were a toss up still and we watched the returns on the network news and PBS as well as on the internet. Watching the mostly leftist media talking heads slowly melting down online was pretty funny and at the end of the night, in the middle of the night in fact, I watched the Trump victory speech.

What has transpired since has been nothing less than surreal. The pundits who assumed Hillary would win warned about the danger of violence from Trump supporters when he inevitably lost and a refusal to accept the results in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Since the election there has been plenty of denial, hysterics and violence but it has been almost entirely one-sided from liberals/progressives. From the rise of the antifa to the Jill Stein led recounts to the endless searching for any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign to the relentless negative press and made up stories, culminating recently in the blatantly edited video of Trump dumping food to koi immediately after the Japanese Prime Minister did the exact same thing, the assault on Trump and the electoral process has been vicious and unending. The difference between the way Trump supporters and others on the Right view the election results and the way progressives and far Left voters view it is proof positive that we live in different worlds. We have experienced some of this with family members "unfriending" my wife and I on Facebook because we didn't support Hillary and our experience is far from uncommon. The nation is incredibly divided and ironically but not unexpectedly that division is being driven by those most likely to call Trump divisive.

From calls to arbitrarily abolish the electoral college to articles of impeachment being drawn up for no other reason than political posturing, not to mention the endless primal screams for attention from Hillary Clinton who unsurprisingly lacks the grace to quietly accept she lost and move on with her life, we are in a Ground Hog Day scenario where the election seems to be replayed over and over.


A year later the election is still contested in some corners, like the ridiculous fail last weekend where the antifa were going to come charging out of their parent's basements and overthrow the "Trump regime" which ended up being a handful of tiny protests that no one paid any attention to. There has been a great deal of political violence, again almost entirely from leftists. People were assured that the rise of Trump would lead to a wave of "hate crimes" and when that didn't materialize we have instead been treated to a lengthy series of hoax hate crimes that are breathlessly reported on by the media when first announced and then conveniently forgotten once they are shown to be self-inflicted or otherwise hoaxes.

Meanwhile the Trump presidency has been what you would expect. Twitter fights with people, brashness, chaos. What I didn't expect but should have is how much pushback Trump would get from other Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Jeff Flake not to mention faux-conservatives like Bill Kristol and most of National Review. I figured the Left would fight Trump tooth and nail but I didn't expect the level of petty suicidal political shenanigans from the GOP. It is apparent that many Republicans like the former Presidents Bush would rather have had a liberal Clinton White House as long as she didn't upset the establishment apple cart. If nothing else Trump deserves credit for exposing as phonies most "conservatives" in D.C., plus his nomination of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court who appears to be a slam-dunk.

While most of the elections since last November have gone the way of conservative and populist Republicans, Democrats did win the governor's races in blue state New Jersey and in Virginia last night, both races that would have been easy wins but for the ridiculous truck video in Virginia. The media has been desperate for a win to pronounce a backlash against Trump and I am sure they will latch on to two elections that were almost a given to say "See, see! People are turning against Trump!" when in reality the same people that told us Hillary had a 90%+ chance of winning the day of the election are also telling us that people they clearly don't understand and truthfully despise are turning on Trump. Color me skeptical.

The real test will be next November when a ton of vulnerable Democrat Senators are up for re-election including my own Senator trying to win reelection in a state with essentially no state-level Democrat elected officials. If it goes as I expect, we should see a substantial gain for the GOP in the Senate which would be better news if Mitch McConnell wasn't the majority leader. If Trump has a larger majority in the Senate to work with and the economy keeps chugging along, and if we get the wall built and avoid any new wars, I think Trump is in a good position to be re-elected in 2020, especially if the Dems nominate some crazed liberal that makes people nervous.

I am starting to see some fatigue, the reduced enthusiasm of the protests and the general fizzling out of the anger against Trump after a fever pitch for a year. It would be interesting to see what Trump could get done if he didn't have to fight with the media (and his own party) over every single issue and koi pond but the ideologues in the media are so out in the open in declaring war against Trump that I don't see that happening.

As I said, it has been a surreal year since the 2016 election. It will be an equally crazy ride over the next twelve months leading up to the 2018 elections, especially if there is a war or a Supreme Court vacancy. You better buckle up, it is going to be a bumpy ride!

Monday, November 06, 2017

The Amish Get'n R Dun

Yesterday we had a pretty heavy storm roll through the area including a brief period of high winds. We lost power but didn't think much of it until we got a call that a local business had been damaged. It is an Amish owned pallet shop and we know the family quite well so we took some friends over to survey the damage. It was pretty extensive....

The wind flipped an empty semi trailer on its side

A 2x4 driven through the inner ceiling. 

The tin from the roof left quite a debris field

One large piece of tin landed on a power line

This is the loading dock and pallet storage

As you can see, pretty extensive damage. This is a large building with lots of machinery but luckily it was a Sunday so no one was inside working. The family shored up the rafters as another front was moving in and then waited until today.

Whatever else you may say about them, when there is a crisis the Amish community always comes together. Many men skipped their regular work today and were on site before 7 AM to help. Lots of women were there as well to make sure things were cleaned up and the guys got fed. For most of the day I would estimate there were 75-100 people at work. By the middle of the day the rest of the tin was off and they were removing the soaked insulation, making quite a mess in the storage area where pallets are normally kept....

The insulation was falling like snow and was a foot deep in places.

By the end of the day, what seemed like it would be a week long project to get the business back up and running instead had the place looking like nothing had happened...

A brand new roof viewed from the east.

The loading dock area with the new roof in places

The pallet storage with the floor swept clean and full of pallets again
A brand new roof was in place, the mess inside was largely cleaned up and the tin scattered around the nearby fields was collected and hauled away with the wooden debris burned.

In a world that seems to be tearing itself apart, it was a refreshing reminder that human beings still care for each other and step up when others are in need. I really needed that reminder with everything else that is going on. I don't think we can afford to bunker up and just assume the world will leave us alone but I do think we need to build strong communities to face the days that are coming.