How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone Not to Proselytize?

Francis Schaeffer on the Origins of Relativism in the Church

One of My Favorite Songs

An Inspiring Song


Monday, February 23, 2009

Attributed to Alexander Hamilton

I have not bothered to verify the source of this quote. Whether or not Hamilton actually said this, though, the sentiments are exquisite:
The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Simple Look at Sola Scriptura

I once wrote:
...we see rejection of Sola Scriptura as the enthronement of whatever one feels as truth.
The reaction to that was simply stunning to me. While in retrospect I suppose that it would have been better to change "truth" in that sentence to "authoritative," in general the post seemed pretty clear, and the reaction thereto firmly convinced me of something I'd already been thinking: that some people are so determined to argue that what I write has only the most tangential relationship to what they read. I suppose, then, that what follows will be horribly misread by some people, but I'm going to take the chance anyway because too many people seem not to know what we mean when we say that the Bible is our final authority. I can't speak for others, but when I speak this way, I am usually referring either directly or indirectly to the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura. There seems to be a lot of confusion about this these days, and--may God help us all--I am going to try to clear some of it up. I'm not claiming to be an expert or that my opinion on the subject carries any sort of official weight whatsoever. I am merely in hopes that some may find this useful.

What is Sola Scriptura? It is the principle that scripture alone--the Bible--is authoritative for faith and practice. That's it. James White says in the introduction to Scripture Alone:
The title of this work is Scripture Alone. Just as the phrase faith alone (sola fide, the great cry of the Reformation, though no longer the great cry of many who were once considered children of the Reformation) is often misrepresented, so too Scripture Alone could be misunderstood. When we say that faith alone brings justification, we are not saying that faith should be considered in a vacuum, separated from everything else God does in the the work of salvation. Instead, sola fide means that faith, apart from any concept of merit or works (actually in opposition thereto), is the sole means of justification. In the same way, Scripture alone does not mean that God zoomed by planet earth, dropped off the Scriptures, and left us on our own. As we will note when we define sola scriptura, this is not a claim, for instance, that there is no church or that there is no Spirit. The title does not suggest that Scripture, apart from the Spirit, outside the church, is God's only means of leading His people. It is, however, saying that Scripture is utterly unique in its nature as God-breathed revelation (nothing else is God-breathed); it is unparalleled and absolute in its authority; and it is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church. It is both a positive statement, asserting the supremacy and uniqueness of the Word, and a negative one, denying the existence of any other rule of authority on the same level. One would be dreadfully misunderstanding this book's title to think it supports the idea of a Christian absenting himself from the body of Christ, rejecting biblical teaching about elders and leaders, and perpetually sitting under a tree somewhere alone with the Bible.
Sola scriptura is not a statement that God never communicates in ways other than the Bible. It is not a statement that God does not speak through natural phenomena. The heavens declare the glory of God, for example. He makes the winds His messengers. The first chapter of Romans declares that this sort of communication from God is so effective a testimony to His existence that those who will not glorify Him have no excuse.

Sola Scriptura is not a statement that God never speaks audibly. I'm thinking of E.B. Sledge's claim in With the Old Breed (highly recommended, by the way) that in the midst of some of the worst fighting in World War II, he heard an audible voice say, "You will survive the war." Sledge never heard the voice before or after that, yet he went through the rest of the war utterly convinced that he would live. Is it possible that he had a stress-induced hallucination? Sure. Was it possible that he heard the audible voice of God? Sola Scriptura, as a principle, takes no position on the issue.

Sola Scriptura is not a statement that God never communicates through circumstances. I'm thinking of a former boss, very dissatisfied with the business approach his superiors were taking, who prayed and prayed and prayed for guidance as to whether he should go into business for himself--a decision that afforded him greater latitude in ministry to people, by the way. After some time, a whole series of remarkable events happened within, if I recall correctly, 24 hours. Someone offered--unasked--office space and up to eighty thousand dollars in loans. Someone else offered--again, unasked--to serve as an unpaid consultant, a critical step in obtaining a crucial license. Several other things happened; the dominoes all fell into place in about one day, and he concluded, not unreasonably, that God had answered his prayer, saying, "Yes, you are supposed to open this business."

Sola Scriptura is not a statement that there is no good and useful information and teaching in church tradition. It does not, for example, say that it is impossible that Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome.

Sola Scriptura is not a statement that God never communicates through an intense emotional experience. I feel sorry for those who've never experienced what can only be described as a wave of peace that thrills the anxious soul, in response to a heartfelt prayer for guidance, consolation, or direction.

Sola Scriptura is not even a statement that God has never spoken through the casting of the lot--though I can't imagine the circumstances under which I'd recommend the practice!

Sola Scriptura is not a statement that God never speaks through the dreams you have as you slumber peacefully--we hope--in your bed.

Sola Scriptura is not a statement that God never speaks through the church or other believers, or even non-believers (or even a donkey!) Is there a preacher alive who hasn't been told by people in his congregation, "I'm sure God meant that sermon just for me."?

Sola Scriptura is, rather, a statement that the Bible is theopneustos, God-breathed, that God used the human writers of scripture just as a human calligrapher might use a collection of pens, to record exactly what He wanted to reveal to mankind as useful for doctrine, reproof, correction, etc. It is a statement that God does not use these other forms of communication in such a way that the scripture is abrogated, nullified, or "broken" in any way. It is a statement that these other forms of communication are to be tested by the scripture rather than elevated above it as superior revelation. It is the statement that scripture alone is revealed as an authoritative rule of faith and doctrine for the Church.

What does this mean? It means that though God may (note: I did not say will) communicate with you through nature, circumstances, tradition, dreams, emotions, the church, preaching, commentaries, the casting of the lot, Urim and Thummim, or even an audible voice, the church is not responsible to God to shape its belief or practice according to the communication you've received. You may be utterly convinced that God has called you to ministry, for example (and you may well have been), but your "call" is not authoritative for faith and doctrine; the church is not responsible to believe you've been called solely on the basis of your "having a peace about it." The church is only responsible to believe you've been called if you can demonstrate it from Scripture. (Note carefully that I did not say that the church cannot believe you've been called without a Scriptural demonstration, only that they are not responsible to believe it.)

More importantly, in my opinion, it means that your private revelations, traditions, what-have-you, cannot be used to shape or to deny doctrine. You cannot appeal to Tradition and say that all believers are responsible to believe in the Assumption of Mary; you cannot expect the church to believe in Universalism on the basis of an audible voice that you heard and believe to be from God; you cannot teach as doctrine that men should wear a coat and tie to church services because that is the common sentiment amongst church members; the church is not responsible to believe that homosexuality is acceptable because the Spirit has revealed to you that Romans 1 is outdated and culturally biased.

It is curious that the Reformers saw Sola Scriptura as a liberating doctrine, that it liberated them from the suffocating, pretentious, and illicit add-ons to the Faith that had been perpetrated by the Roman church, and that now many see it as something to be rejected because it confines them. They prefer to be able to believe things that aren't found in Scripture (such as Homosexuality is just fine as long as it is in a committed relationship or I know my friend is going to Heaven because I know her and she is a really nice person and no one could be that nice without knowing Jesus or Hell is just something the church uses to control the masses or Carlton Pearson is right and everyone's going to Heaven or You can draw closer to God through Transcendental Meditation or Raja Yoga or It's okay to pray to or worship idols or saints because it draws me closer to God and they act as intermediators between me and Jesus or You can believe that salvation is by works plus faith and still be a Christian) and find it annoying that the church rejects their ideas on the basis that Scripture is authoritative and their personal visions are not. That allowing a multiplicity of personal visions to be considered authoritative for faith and practice would lead to a kind of spiritual enslavement worse than anything they've encountered seems not to occur to them.

Or possibly, just possibly, they want to do the enslaving, at least to the extent of silencing criticism of their positions.

The usual--or at least I've heard it so often that I think of it as "the usual"--objection to sola scriptura is that God is the ultimate authority, not the Bible. I always find this objection completely vacuous; of course God is the ultimate authority; that is why what He says is ultimately authoritative. If you want to tell me that God is your ultimate authority, the first thing through my mind is always, "Fine, I understand that; what has He been telling you? By what means has He been telling it to you? By Urim and Thummim, perhaps? If you have definitive communication from God Himself to the effect that something He has said in the Bible is no longer binding or useful, is there some reason you wouldn't go public with your claim that God has, through you his prophet, said something different? If what He has said to you isn't different from what is in the Bible, exactly what is your issue?"

If the communication you've received from God agrees with the Bible, or if you're saying that what you're hearing from God isn't authoritative for faith and practice, I have a hard time understanding exactly what your issue with sola scriptura is; if what you say you've heard from God disagrees with the Bible, then what this ignernt ol' redneck needs from you is not some pious-sounding pronouncement that God is your ultimate authority, but some reason I should believe that what you are saying is theopneustos, God-breathed, communication from God on the level of scripture. If you can't provide such a reason, you'll have to pardon me if I don't take you seriously. It sounds like you are trying to pass off the opinions of men as authoritative communication from God.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Capitalists, Capitalism

The thing to remember about capitalism is that it's not really a system or planned economy, managed by or under the direction of government. Instead, capitalism is simply what happens when the people have property rights--especially documented property rights--and liberty.

You don't have to hunt far for recognition of man's right to own property; it's right there in the Ten Commandments:
You shall not steal.
And then, just a tiny bit later:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.
These commands presuppose the right to own property, as though it were so obvious a thing that only a great fool might fail to recognize it. It is not possible to steal what no one owns. The command not to steal necessarily recognizes that someone owns something and that God
does not want that ownership violated. More, He doesn't even want you to think about violating it! There are many other verses that recognize this; Jesus spoke more than once about thieves and robbers, the existence of which, again, presupposes the right to own property.

Man has an inalienable right from God to own property.

The rights to own property and to liberty are recognized--not given, the Constitution protects rights, it doesn't grant or give them--in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution:
No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.
It doesn't say anywhere in the Constitution that the United States is a capitalist country. It doesn't have to. It is the government's protection of your rights to property and liberty that makes it a capitalist country.

Socialism is a government-directed economic system; in order to direct outcomes, a government necessarily places limits on rights to property and liberty. It may readily be seen, then, that as a country becomes more socialistic and less capitalistic, it necessarily becomes less free. Capitalism is the economics of freedom, the freedom of men and women to work and to determine what to do with the fruits of their labor themselves, the freedom not to have their assets plundered, the freedom to crawl up out of poverty without having to have the good fortune of being born into a privileged class or to lick the hands of those above them. Properly instituted, it is the most egalitarian of economic systems, and the only one--the only one!--that demonstrably produces a real increase in the standard of living for multitudes of people.

Mark it well: those who oppose capitalism either do not understand it, or have designs on your liberty. In neither case should their counsel be listened to.

Find more in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, or, if you're feeling more ambitious, The Wealth of Nations.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fascists, Fascism

Every ignorant fool out there who hollers "Fascist!" at people who oppose limitless welfare spending or homosexual marriage would love for you to forget this (or they don't know themselves), but fascism is just another variety of socialism; that is, it's not a right-wing or conservative thing at all, but rather a leftist phenomenon. It differs from other varieties of socialism chiefly in two ways: it is an explicitly nationalist socialism, whereas other varieties of socialism, especially communism, are more internationalist in their thinking, and it is more willing to tolerate private ownership of capital, as long as the state still directs everything.

I can't tell you how many people shout "Nazi!" or "Fascist!" without understanding--or perhaps deliberately forgetting--fascism's socialist nature. But it's glaringly obvious; the most infamous fascist state in history, Nazi Germany, made it plain: "Nazi" is just an acronym for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or "National Socialist German Workers' Party."

So, no, fascism isn't right-wing totalitarianism after all; it's another variety of leftist, socialist totalitarianism. The fighting between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia in World War II was something of an internecine struggle between two competing varieties of socialism--and inescapably means that socialism of one variety or another is responsible for the murders and killing of almost inconceivably enormous numbers of people.

For more--and highly recommended--reading on this, see Jonah Goldberg's excellent Liberal Fascism.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Communists, Communism, Marxists, Marxism

Not all socialists are communists, but--and, oh, boy, would a lot of people like you to forget this--all communists are socialists. People often overlook this, or try to; many would love to overlook the indisputable fact that one of the worst totalitarian states in history was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, aka "Communist Russia."

Communism is an explicitly godless--it was communists who coined the infamous phrase that "Religion is the opiate of the people", and it is no accident that many atheists are also communists--militant, violently repressive, international-in-design socialism. It is socialism's usual thieving oligarchy carried to a murderous extreme. Communists have been responsible, probably, for the murders of more human beings than any other ideological group--any group period, really--throughout the planet's history.

Communism's most influential and famous theoretician was Karl Marx, hence communism is often called "Marxism." It should send shivers down the spine of any knowledgeable, caring person that Barack Obama said in his own autobiography that he was drawn to Marxist professors in college; that it doesn't, to my mind, indicates that people have no clear idea of what Marxism means anymore.

In short, it means murder and oppression. Murder and oppression by the state, in the name of the people, for the sake of plunder, for the benefit of an oligarchy or dictator.

Occasionally, you will hear some ignorant fool--tool--opine that real communism has never been tried. By this, he means that it's never reached it's ostensible goal of such total brotherhood among men being reached that the state ends up withering away and leaving mankind in a kind of bucolic, egalitarian, eternal brotherhood of love. This is, of course, an admission that it's never worked, not once in all the times it's been tried. Communists often blame this on the fact that they have enemies--that the whole world isn't yet communist--and try to aggressively export their insanity.

At bottom, what you've got with communists are people hell-bent on setting up an oligarchy or dictatorship to dominate and plunder the people, all in the name of the people. I often think of this clip when I think of communists, though I wouldn't go as far as cursing a communist.

I would sure as thunder curse communism, though.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Socialists, Socialism

There are big, long, hairy articles on socialism out there (and it doesn't hurt to read them), but I'll keep my definition of socialism brief if you'll bear in mind that it's not intended to set a standard for the ages.

Socialism might be fairly said to be liberalism run amok. The basic idea is for the community--in practical terms, the government--to either own or control the property and/or the means of production, and to distribute the proceeds thereof to the population. The idea is for this to result in equitable distribution--everyone in the community having enough. The idea has often been summarized by the phrase, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

It sounds all nice and charitable. In practice, it never works. It's never worked as intended throughout, as far as I can tell, all of human history. It doesn't work because it flies in the face of human nature and man's God-given rights--amongst which is, according to Thomas Jefferson, liberty, which surely entails liberty to own something and to dispose of it as one sees fit. Since socialism doesn't work, never works, has never worked, in practice, what actually happens is one of two things. The first is rare; people can admit that they were wrong. This is what happened with the Pilgrim community at Plymouth Rock. At first, they attempted something of a socialistic lifestyle, and the result was a disastrous aggravation of already bad conditions. The next year, they abandoned that plan and assigned each family a plot of ground and gave them the liberty to work it and to do as they would with the proceeds--which lead directly (though admittedly it was not the only factor) to a far better harvest.

The second thing that can happen--what almost always actually happens--is that this theoretically egalitarian system actually turns into a means whereby the few not only plunder the many, they lie about it and expect everyone around them to echo their lies. It turns into robbery by an oligarchy, with the added insult that those being robbed must praise the goodness of the whole system. For an excellent fictional--but very true to life--treatment, read George Orwell's Animal Farm.

When you hear people talk about how wealth is distributed (they won't say, "earned"), and almost always, these days, when you hear people talk about "fairness," or "justice," or, in one famous, recent incident, "spreading the wealth," what they are really talking about is socialism. They just don't want to use that word because they know socialism has been largely discredited in people's minds as a viable system (or possibly, they are just disturbingly ignorant). And where you hear people talk about socialism, what most of them are really talking about is robbery by means of the police power of the state, with themselves cast in the role of robber baron.

Socialism exists in varying degrees. In some countries, it's not too advanced. In others, it's far enough advanced that they are often described as "welfare states." In others, it's a hideous nightmare wherein pointing out that the system doesn't work will cost you your life.

It is possible, in my opinion, to be a Christian and a socialist. Such people would, in my opinion, be terribly misguided and misreading the Scriptures, and ignoring the nature of man and the lessons of history, but they might be educable.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Who Am I and What is this Blog About?

Who Am I?

Well, I'll try never to connect my name to this blog. It's not that I am trying to completely erase all trace of it from the blogosphere; I rather doubt that's even possible. But I'm seeking a second source of income even now--and my current employers have been known to fire people merely for having a second job. My desire not to have potential employers be able to make definitive links to what some might see as incendiary statements accounts for my desire for relative anonymity. I know some people will figure it out, but they'll never hear a confirmation from me. At any rate, yeah, I know some readers will figure out my indentity, maybe even easily, but then, they're not the ones I'm concerned about.

Still, even though you're likely never to know my name, I'd like to give you a sense of who I am and where I'm coming from.

Let's see...

I test high, intelligence-wise. I was a member of Mensa for some few years (and no, I wouldn't have to re-test to get back in, if I wanted to. Once you've been admitted, you can always go back in.). My scores on various tests acceptable to Mensa have ranged from as low as the 98th percentile to high enough to occur only once in every 3000 people. Just depends on the day. At any rate, whatever else you might think of me, I am, on paper at least, demonstrably not stupid.

I'm a middle-aged man, predominantly of Irish ancestry, with just enough Choctaw in my background to make me look just barely noticeably darker than someone of pure European ancestry. I have a mild case of Celtophilia, I suppose, which (by the time this is actually posted), you can see from various elements on this page.

I'm a Christian, of the historical Southern Baptist variety, which means I'm a Calvinist. I have my issues with the SBC, but overall, I'm inclined to stick with 'em.

I was educated--if you want to call it that--in the government schools (You might call them "public" schools.), plus not quite two years of college. Most of what I know comes from endless outside-the-classroom reading and experience, and as a result, sad to say, of that reading and experience, I have become convinced that for the most part, government schools are not merely useless, but positively inimical to real education. I'm sure, for example, that somewhere, there are people who were told about The Federalist Papers when they were in government schools, but I have yet to meet any. Every person I have asked, regardless of age, has denied ever having heard of that book when in government schools--yet it is essential to a proper understanding of our country's Constitution.

I have a fairly wide range of interests, not least of which is the Asian martial arts, especially one of Okinawan origin called Ryu Te.

I have a wife and four children, all of whom have been or are being home-schooled.

I'm a Sunday School teacher. I'm a Young-Earth Creationist (commonly referred to as YEC).

Politically, I probably fit most readily into the Paleocon category, though I have plenty of Crunchy Con streaks.

And I am, as much as anything else, a man with no time to waste. You see, despite my gifts, despite sound advice from my relatives, despite, really, knowing better, for many years I refused to take the options that would have resulted in higher wages than I've usually earned. Instead, I have spent the time on the aforementioned endless reading. Now, I'm finally in a position where not only is it no longer easy to read all that I would like to, I can no longer take the time to comment on every issue of the day, every dimwitted action taken by a politican, every goofball statement made by another blogger. I cannot sit here at the computer and argue minutia with people all across the blogosphere.

I just can't.

It took me a few months just to put together this blog. This post has been in development for all that time. I just can't spend all the time on the blogosphere I would like. I have old cars to fix, non-mortgage debt to pay off, children to educate, an old house to fix up, aging parents who will require more of my help, and old age to prepare for. Bluntly, I have very little time to do anything except what i have to do--which means that I want anything I put my hand to, to be as useful and productive as possible--which leads to the next section of this post.

What's This Blog All About?

(Since the following was originally written, I have to admit that a fairly large percentage of what I've written here has basically been venting or ranting.)

I tend to think of myself as a man of the West (hence the name of this blog.); that is, I am a product of Western Civilization--the moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, aka the Bible; Aristotle-influenced logic; the history and politics of Greece, Rome, and Western Europe. I am not ashamed of this, as some are. I think that even with all its flaws, Western civilization is civilized man's apotheosis. In the end, Western civilization has produced more liberty, more prosperity, more outright good than any other civilization currently extant, indeed, in all of human history. Not that other civilizations haven't produced much, or had their shining moments, but the West, overall, is the jewel among mankind's various civilizations.

And it's crumbling from the foundation up. A kind of civilizational ennui has set in, more advanced in some nations of the West than in others, resulting in one of the most incredible demographic and cultural shifts in history (Read The Death of the West, America Alone, or The West's Last Chance for more extensive discussion on this.). Barring a sudden and dramatic turnaround that we have no good reason to expect, Western civilization as we have known it is, on history's grand scale, about to pass from the scene. The United States may be its last bastion, but the government we recently elected reveals that all too few, even here, understand what gives our society its strength:
(Turn the volume way up for video clips!)

There are not enough of us left, enough of us who have survived the decades-long onslaught of government education, who remember what has gone before, to hold out very much longer than the rest of the West. I foresee little in the near future--say the next hundred years or so, perhaps longer--for the heirs of Western civilization, especially Christians, but oppression, marginalization, and dhimmitude of one sort or another. I don't really know just how bad the situation will ultimately get. I have remarked elsewhere that we seem determined to make the United States a sort of European welfare state, but I don't know for sure that that's where it'll stop.

I hope that's as bad as it gets here. It could get much worse. I am not utterly without hope for our country and for the West in general. There is no telling what God may do.

At any rate, I hope to use this blog as a means to provide information and analysis that may prove useful to the heirs of Western civilization, the Men of the West, as they try to survive and thrive under the coming adverse conditions, as they resist and refute the indoctrination that will surely be practiced upon them, and as they try to educate and persuade enough of their neighbors to lay a foundation for a future renaissance of Western thinking and values, including what I think of as the fundamentally American idea, the idea that government's natural, proper, and divinely-ordained role is to secure man's God-given rights, not to serve as a means of plundering one another. I hope, also, to help convince the half-convinced, to encourage the Body of Christ, and to give apologias and teaching both for elements of and positions concerning conservative Western thinking and that which undergirds it, its very warp and woof, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There will be a fair amount of blogging on the martial arts, as, in addition to the mental and physical benefits that attend their regular practice, they are very useful for self-defense, and it is an increasingly violent and dangerous world--especially for those heirs of Western civilization. There will be occasional commentary on current events, as long as I think my comments are illustrative of some point germane to this blog's purpose. I will also be posting my Sunday School notes, which should grow more interesting shortly, as I believe a friend of mine and I will be starting a new class soon, one devoted to church history and doctrine.

A lot of what you are going to find here is not of the read-it-in-a-minute-or-less variety. I am well aware that that alone will see to it that some readers will stay away, but for those who remain--well, I hope to make their time well spent.

I am not going to spend time here sharing personal photographs, irrelevant stories about my workday, or funny e-mails (that's all for the Facebook crowd...). Nor am I going to waste hour upon hour trying to convince the stubbornly obtuse, those who know the truth perfectly well somewhere in their hearts, but deliberately hold it down (see Romans 1), who will not be convinced because being convinced would mean abandoning their way of thinking, their basis for life, and accepting God's revelation in Scripture as true. I've read enough of people saying that conservatives are ignorant, stupid, religious bigots, and enough of people comparing the GOP to the Taliban. For that matter, I've also read enough of people writing as though every Democrat is a closet communist. I've seen that act before, even taken part in it from time to time, and I've had enough. I will try neither to engage in it nor to encourage it. For those who have come here to spend hours in pointless argument for no better reason than that they want to annoy a conservative Christian, this may be a disappointment, as I will refuse to engage. This doesn't mean that comments, even hostile ones, aren't welcome; it just means that I won't waste my time. You can find more on commenting here in this post.
(Again, turn the volume way up for video clips!)

Well, if you are still here, maybe you'll enjoy what you find, and--hopefully--find some of what I have to share useful and encouraging. Please put it to good use, and encourage me to do likewise. Posting will not be an everyday thing, due to the constraints on my time. If you don't want to miss anything, subscribe, use an RSS feed or Google Reader or something.

Some posts have already been up for a while, as you may have observed. These are, for the most part, either old posts from elsewhere, sometimes slightly rewritten so as to avoid giving unneeded offense (sometimes, in speaking the truth, you inevitably offend, but I will try to avoid unneeded offensiveness) or definitions or expositions which will be linked to in future posts so as to lend clarity.

My Crowd

This section is material originally published elsewhere that will give you a better sense of what sort of person I am, and whether or not you might like hanging around here. I liked it too much to throw it away.

I like the kind of people who:

Think that bass and catfish are darn good eatin,' and fishin' for 'em is darn good fun.

Save some vacation time to go out in the woods and shoot a Bambi. Or two.

Keep and use a smoker in their backyard.

Think they don't just have a right to keep and bear arms, they have a responsibility to keep and bear arms.

Make, use, and display a lot of their own creativity: furniture, artwork, needlepoint, embroidery, home-sewn clothes, etc.

Use the kitchen and dining room as the social centers of their homes.

Know that anything you cook yourself is a hundred times more satisfying than things that come out of a box or a restaurant.

Think Charles Addams' cartoons were dreadfully funny.

Have U.S. and Oklahoma flags somewhere on the property.

Drive old pickup trucks or four-wheel drives because they actually haul stuff and/or go in the woods sometimes and can't afford to be too worried about how their vehicles look.

Spend some time reading their Bibles and praying every day--'cause they actually believe that stuff.

Deliberately cut back on some things they'd like to do because they want to give more away to other folks.

Have a makiwara in the backyard, or a heavy bag in the garage. Or both.

Keep a garden in the backyard every summer and give away a tomato or two.

Would rather have a pear or pecan tree in their yards than anything ornamental, because you can eat what comes off it.

Realize that college and education are only tangentially related, and don't make the idiotic mistake of treating only the degreed as intelligent, educated people.

Don't freak about showing up to church in jeans and a t-shirt.

Have been in the military and are grateful for the experience.

Get really torqued off in the presence of political correctness.

Think that, as a rule, government best serves the people by leaving them the (insert the expletive of your choice here) alone.

Have social lives that revolve around family and church.

Really do think that this is the best and greatest country that has ever existed on the face of the earth.

Really do think that, man for man, the United States Marine Corps is the most awesome military force ever to have existed.

Carry a Buck Folding Hunter or a Leatherman on their belts.

Can and freeze a lot of their food.

Think that barbecue is a sacrament.

Eat grits.

Understand that okra tastes good.

Understand that politicians in general, regardless of party affiliation, are power-hungry (insert your epithet of choice here) who can't be trusted.

Understand that there's a difference between a genuinely poor person and a common bum or career mooch.

Don't give a rip if their neighbors park cars on the lawn, as long as they cut the grass occasionally.

Wear baseball caps.

Understand the game of baseball.

Are grateful for everything they have.

Like baby giggles.

Recognize that America has a fundamentally Christian heritage.

Know that the only thing some people understand is getting their butt kicked and are prepared to do some butt-kicking if necessary.

Who use cast iron in a lot of their cooking and know how to take care of it.

Hate war but understand that once you are in one, you have by golly got to win it.

Serve sliced tomatoes as a side dish with dinner.

Will spank their kids when they need it.

Will hug their kids when they need it.

Aren't embarrassed to talk about Jesus in public.

Know who Francis Schaeffer was.

Know that unfamiliar and unchristian aren't synonyms.

Know that C.S. Lewis didn't go to Hell for smoking a pipe and drinking beer.

Are proud of their ancestry but remember that they're Americans now.

Understand the point that Toby Keith was trying to make in The Angry American.

Why Me?

Lastly, I must briefly address this inevitable question: why, with my meager qualifications, am I so bold as to undertake apologetics, however modest, on behalf of Christianity and conservatism?

It's a fair question. I must confess to feeling myself terribly unqualified. I have no formal education on these subjects. Rather, what I have is a personal history of reading and thinking, often reading and thinking when I should have been doing some kind of work. It would be fair to say that for much of my commonplace, redneck life, I just wanted to sit there and read my books.

You can imagine my surprise when, over the last few years, it began to dawn on me--well, it's like this: if you go back and look at the history of conservatism over the last 250 years or so, you'll find a common element in several people's thinking--the idea that most people, the average guys and gals, are simply too busy earning a living or trying to scramble ahead so that the next generation has it a bit easier, to do a whole lot more than educate themselves to make that aforementioned living. It's not that people are stupid or uninterested, but conservatives of a couple of hundred years ago pretty much took it for granted that if you could get the average person to educate themselves to the point of being responsible, informed voters, you were doing pretty good. Real leadership, real statesmanship, had to come from people who, through accident of birth or fortune, enjoyed enough money and leisure--by "leisure," they didn't mean just free time to fritter away, but rather time that didn't have to be spent in the constant grind of earning a living--to study history, philosophy, scripture, languages, economics, and politics whilst growing up. Such people would then follow their education by engaging in business or agriculture or commerce, then take roles in politics, and so develop into a sort of natural aristocracy that could be counted upon to exercise wise, informed leadership on behalf of a well-informed (but busy!) population.

Where is our "natural aristocracy" now? If seems to me that if people are born with wealth and leisure these days, you wind up with...well, I don't want to name names, but the word "celebutard" comes readily to mind. We just don't seem to have very many people whose upbringing was conducted with the leadership and education of the nation in mind. People who've been successful in business, but who understand little or nothing of history are considered qualified to lead the greatest nation on earth. People who can barely read the Constitution--with any understanding, at least--seem considered fit to appoint people to the Supreme Court.

In other words, the number of people who have even a glimmer of understanding of these things has fallen to a dangerously low level--low enough that--horrifyingly--a bunch of working-class rednecks with laymen's-level interests in Scripture, history, and political philosophy are, in many cases, more informed about certain things than our putative leaders!

Actually, it's about the same way I feel about teaching Sunday School. I feel unqualified, and am constantly asking myself, "Is this--what I have to bring to the table--the best we can do?" But in a world where I have run across seminary graduate after seminary graduate, many of whom actually have doctorates, who have not read Calvin, have not read Luther, who do not know the name of J. L. Dagg, who do not have more than a rudimentary grasp of the history of their own denominations, even such an commonplace ignoramus as I am must step up to the plate and do some teaching.

Oh, dear...

There are manifestly people better qualified than I to address these things. But it seems to me that many amongst the conservative punditry, despite sometimes considerable erudition on history and economics, are only scantly acquainted with Scripture and the foundational role it plays in real, historical conservativism--and many who have considerable Scriptural knowledge are less than concerned with politics and history. And, frankly, sometimes I think I do link things together in ways that have not been thought of by many others.

At any rate, I think I have, if not a unique point of view, one that is no longer very common, and one, perhaps, that will contribute in some small way to the purposes outlined above. I may not know much in comparison to some of my heroes, but I feel compelled to share something of what I do know, for the sake of my country and countrymen.

About the Video Clips

Not too long ago, I decided to send a brief snippet from a DVD to a friend of mine, hoping to illustrate a concept that we had briefly discussed. In the process, I made the acquaintance of dvd-ripping freeware.

Then it occurred to me that there were only-God-knows-how-many little scenes from DVDs that I could use--just a couple of seconds at a time--kind of like one uses quotes from other writers. So I've started building a little library of them, and will use them where I think effective and appropriate. I think that I am not out of line in saying that such usage is covered under fair-usage law.

It is true that the process I use to get these little clips leaves the sound ever-so-slightly out of sync with the video. Many times it's not terribly noticeable, but sometimes you'll notice that a clip is, perhaps, a syllable short or a syllable long. I apologize for that, but it's about the best I can do with what I've got--and I think it's pretty cool.

Why I Choose to Remain a Southern Baptist

I have heard some of the oddest things while I've been a Southern Baptist. Most of them revolve around little cultural accretions that cling like barnacles to the actual contents of Scripture. More than a few times I've been absolutely gobsmacked by someone's insistence on something that is not merely a non-essential, but is flatly not to be found within the pages of Scripture. When challenged on such things, Southern Baptists (especially preachers) will claim to have found "a principle" in scripture, or they will appeal to "Baptist history," or "the majority of Southern Baptists." It's weird. We sometimes seem to hold one another more accountable for things that are not actually sins than we do for real sins. There are times that looking at how much time we invest in trivialities that are simply unaddressed in Scripture, I have almost felt the desire for heavy persecution to come along, just to help us focus. I have felt not unlike Frodo, when he said in The Lord of the Rings:
I should like to save the Shire, if I could--though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt than an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them.
We have a preferred eschatology (which I lean toward, by the way), the questioning of which often seems to elicit much the same reaction as would questioning the reality of Christ's resurrection.

I have heard people preach--or at least write--on the necessity of wearing a coat and tie to services, on the grounds that you'd dress your best to meet the boss, wouldn't you? Never a scrap of Scriptural support for this idea, mind you, but that doesn't stop people from teaching it.

Another oddball thing I've heard is the stunningly absurd, yet fairly typical, Southern Baptist position that drinking per se--that is, having a drink but not getting drunk--is not a sin, but God forbid anyone should actually have a drink! You can see this attitude displayed in fine form in the comments thread here. The same thing goes for smoking. Oddly, no one in the Southern Baptist Convention talks about gluttony and obesity, though. Or maybe it's not so odd. Too many grossly fat preachers.

One of the most common oddball things you'll hear in the Southern Baptist Convention is that God requires Christians to tithe. I say that it's oddball because you will search the Bible from cover to cover without finding one command for Christians to tithe. Oh, you'll find plenty of commands for them to give generously and joyously, but never a command for any specific amount. This is one of those areas, though, where preachers will tell you they've found an applicable "principle" in Scripture. Not a command, but a principle. Kind of like the way the Supreme Court found a "right to privacy" in the "emanations and penumbras" of the Constitution.

I've heard that no Christian should read the Harry Potter books. I can understand that one, to a degree. I had heard--can't recall where--that those books stimulated an interest in real witchcraft. However, I have the advantage of actually having known witches as personal friends and doing at least a little research into their beliefs (an excellent book on the subject, written from an educated Christian point of view, is Craig S. Hawkins' Witchcraft: Exploring the World of Wicca), and when we started actually looking into the Harry Potter books instead of just taking someone else's word for it, I was quick to see that the "witchcraft" in the Potter books bears no resemblance whatever to the real thing. What's amazing to me is not just that so few others in the Southern Baptist Convention--at least that I know--have done the small amount of personal investigation necessary to find this out, but that so many of them have the audacity to compare reading the things with, say, adultery.

I'm not kidding about that. Someone in our household once actually heard a conversation along these lines:
"How do you know the Potter books are bad, if you've never read one of them?"

"Oh, do I need to experience adultery in order to know it's bad?"
Well, of course you don't, for at least one simple reason: there is actually Biblical instruction on the subject of adultery.

Then there's our oddball insistence on teaching the children's Sunday School lessons to our adults (we just use bigger words). This has been so bad for so long that we now have adults that react to being asked anything but multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions as though they've been whacked with a red-hot poker. We do this on the grounds--as far as I've been told, anyway--that we want to avoid having the classes so "advanced" that a new person would feel uncomfortable in them.

Got news for y'all: We hardly ever have any new people in our classes. That's the least of our problems, okay? And trust me on this, it's not because our Sunday School material is too complex for them, either.

I've noticed that a lot of Southern Baptists don't react so well to being told that, either.

Then there are the oddball things that we do, like maintaining programs and entities long after they have ceased to achieve the things they were intended to achieve or to have any relevance to any situation currently existing.

There are other things, things that are so "hot" that I can't talk about them without possibly getting other people into trouble.

So why, I was asked recently, if I disagree with so many common Southern Baptist positions and programs, do I continue to remain a Southern Baptist? Wouldn't it be more honest to go somewhere else?

My answer is no, and this is why I choose to remain a Southern Baptist:

1) In the main, Southern Baptists continue to get the gospel right. Though I am sure that most Southern Baptists would not know the differences between a five-pointer, a four-pointer, and an Arminian if they collectively bled to death on their church steps, I have ample reason to believe that most Southern Baptists believe that salvation is to be found by faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone, and they would never dream of thinking that man, in any way, can claim even the teensiest bit of credit for it.

2) Southern Baptists generally maintain a high view of Scripture, generally holding to inerrancy and infallibility.

3) Southern Baptists fund the mightiest missionary force on the globe.

4) Southern Baptists know how, when, and why to baptize.

5) There ain't no cookin' like Southern Baptist cookin'.

6) The oddball positions alluded to above generally have the proverbial snowball's chance of actually making it into the closest thing we have to an official, Convention-wide doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message. Southern Baptists are so independent-minded that the odds of enough of them agreeing on any one point to successfully hold someone accountable for any one of those oddball positions are slim indeed.

7) You will generally find the same sorts of problems in other denominations, so why bother to jump from the frying pan into the fire?

8) Calvinism is on the rise in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Conservative Resurgence has borne unexpected fruit in this regard. As more and more Southern Baptists have gone to seminary and been told to pay attention to Scripture as the authoritative rule for faith and practice, they have not unnaturally concluded that God is sovereign in salvation and that He not only knows the future, He has determined the future. The day may be coming when the Southern Baptist Convention will once again be a solidly Calvinist body.

9) Most Southern Baptists are Red-Staters. Not that they're all Southerners, but they mostly ain't Yankees. I don't really have to explain this one, do I?

10) My Southern Baptist woman!

No, I may read Presbyterians, Lutherans, and even a few Anglicans, but I ain't a-goin' nowhere. The Southern Baptist Convention is stuck with me.

Laundry-List Conservatism, Modern Conservatism

More than once, elsewhere, I've said that most people who call themselves "conservative" these days aren't so much genuinely conservative as they are subscribers to something of a "laundry list" of popular ideas associated with conservatism. This is so common that a person could easily be excused for thinking that that is what modern conservatism actually is: subscription to the list. And it's not that the ideas are necessarily bad (though some of them might be...); it's that conservatism isn't the list of ideas, it's the approach one takes to arriving at and using them.

Favoring low taxes (or the Fair Tax) doesn't automatically mean you're a conservative.

Being pro-life doesn't automatically mean you're a conservative.

Favoring states' rights doesn't automatically mean you're a conservative.

Favoring a republican form of government doesn't automatically mean you're a conservative (At least one of the Founding Fathers would have been just fine with a monarchy!).

Favoring traditional marriage doesn't automatically mean you're a conservative.

Being pro-gun doesn't automatically mean you're a conservative (Ever heard of the "Pink Pistols"? No? Go look 'em up...).

Etc. Being a conservative (do follow the link) pretty much inevitably leads to these positions, as they are consistent with maintaining man's God-given rights and human experience over the millennia, but it is the approach that leads to holding the positions, not that holding the positions automatically makes a person conservative in approach. Time and again over the last few decades, we have seen putative conservatives championing positions that fly in the face of man's nature and the facts of history. That's not conservatism; at best, it's typical mixed-up political thinking with a conservative flavor.

Laundry-list conservatives are valuable allies at the ballot box, of course. But the truth of the matter is that because their allegiance to those popular conservative ideas is almost tribal rather than the result of reflection, they are frequently forced to resort to purely utilitarian arguments that do not persuade people that ultimately do not believe there is any purpose or plan to human life, or, worse, they fold when pressed on a point because they have no adequate basis for their thinking. To my mind, this is a big part of the reason that so many Republicans fold on crucial issues when they make it into national politics.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review: Crunchy Cons

Since writing this review, I have become more familiar with Russell Kirk, to whom reference is often made in Crunchy Cons, and I think it is advisable, for the sake of readers who will be approaching this review already possessing such familiarity, to note that when I made critical reference to traditionalism, I was by no means criticizing the value of tradition as I perceive Kirk to have thought of it: that is, an established body of practice, of ways of doing things, that reflect much practical experience with the nature of man and the recognition of immutable, especially Divine, truth. Rather, when referring critically to traditionalism, I had in mind the unnecessary investment of authority in etablished ways of doing things, even if those ways of doing things made no sense or were outright contradictory to Holy Writ. One might think of Jesus' observation that the Pharisees were substituting the traditions of men for the commands of God to get a good grasp of the sort of traditionalism of which I am critical.

With that small explanation, I think the remainder of my thinking in this review is largely unchanged since the original writing.
The full subtitle wouldn't fit in Blogger's title box. The whole title and subtitle are: Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party)
Back in the days (pre-Marine Corps, of course!) when I sported hair down to my shoulders, a bandana 'round my head, and jeans with holes in the knees, I had a conversation with my father--a Republican of many decades' standing--wherein I said that, yes, I was quite conservative politically. This seemed to throw him a bit, and he asked how I reconciled my politics with my appearance.

All I could think was, "Reconcile? What's to reconcile? What do my politics have to do with the length of my hair?" Many years later, though I have come to think that long hair generally does look unkempt and unnatural on men, I still don't see that hair length has anything to do with whether a person is conservative or not. I've had similar experiences with a small host of issues, interests or attitudes I've had, things that drew strange looks or intimations that I couldn't possibly be as conservative as I maintain that I am. Sometimes people seemed to think that some interest or other of mine was incongruous with a generally conservative Christian worldview, as when one Emergent blogger seemed surprised at my considerable interest in martial arts. On other occasions, it's been my perusal of The Mother Earth News, or Organic Gardening. Some might think it odd, but I've gotten the "look" over homeschooling our children! Many times I've wondered whether it was that the person I was getting the "look" from didn't understand the subject or whether it was that he was confusing certain elements of our culture with conservatism or Christianity. Once I remarked to our pastor that we ought to change things in the church just for change's sake from time to time; otherwise, people tend to confuse what we've always done with what is scriptural--and they ain't necessarily the same!

For many years, things like this had me identifying myself as a political Independent rather than as a Republican. Republicans, I thought, too often embrace a "conservatism" that isn't so much conservative as it is a collection of attitudes--sometimes platitudes--wrapped up in a supply-side-economics, strong-national-defense box ( I suppose it would be wise to interject that I do, in fact, support supply-side economics and a strong national defense!), that they might readily jettison things that are really, eternally important as long as taxes, deficits, and spending were low. I thought that too many Republicans sported a "conservativism" that privately lamented the "takeover" of their party by "religious zealots" whilst publicly welcoming money and votes from those religious zealots in the most self-serving way imaginable. I thought that too many Republicans really don't understand the true religious and philosophical moorings of their political positions and are hence like children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. I thought that too many Republicans, even evangelical Republicans, are satisfied with merely political results and would be happy to have a country wherein homosexuality was outlawed in every state, but might not consider that just because homosexuality was illegal didn't mean that the people weren't still going straight to Hell. Republicans, I thought, might be fooled into accepting a country that looked moral instead of continuing to seek the salvation of souls. And they would all consider themselves "conservative" every step of the way.

Shoot, I still think that. I changed my registration to "Republican" only because it looks like the primaries are gonna be so cotton-pickin' critical for the foreseeable future. But I digress. I am apparently not the only conservative to experience "the look." Rod Dreher recounts part of his story:
A few summers ago, in the National Review offices on the east side of Manhattan, I told my editor that I was leaving work early so I could pick up my family's weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables from the neighborhood organic co-op to which we belonged.

"Ewww, that's so lefty," she said, and made the kind of face I'd have expected if I'd informed her I was headed off to hear Peter, Paul and Mary warble at a fund-raiser for cross-dressing El Salvadoran hemp farmers.


Now, it had never occurred to me, except in a jokey way, that eating organic vegetables was a political act, but my editor's snarky remark got me to thinking about other ways my family's lifestyle was countercultural, and why, though we were thoroughly conservative in our morals and our politics, we weren't a good fit on either the mainstream left or right.
That incident--one of seemingly innumerable vignettes drawn both from Mr. Dreher's life and the lives of other "crunchy conservatives"--led to a piece in the National Review titled "Crunchy Cons", which led in turn to Mr. Dreher being contacted by quite a host of people from around the country, people who identified themselves as conservatives, usually voted Republican, and yet who sported lifestyles and attitudes often associated with--well, not with allegedly conservative Republicans, I guess.

Crunchy Cons is simultaneously an exploration of the opinions and attitudes of such conservatives and a beginning attempt to state what "crunchy cons" believe. That is a fairly arduous task, and in my opinion, Mr. Dreher succeeds only partially. He succeeds in the places where he drives home the point that real conservatism has less to do with material prosperity or certain cultural norms than with spiritual fidelity and thinking based on eternal, immutable principles; he fails in the places--and there are more than a few--where, it seems to me, he does not quite appreciate the full implications of what he has said or where he has confused or conflated traditionalism with conservatism. At times, he brilliantly articulates and expounds the principle that man does not live by bread--material prosperity--alone, and that a conservatism that is not more concerned with what is good and what is right than with what is economically efficient is not real conservatism at all.
Too many of us today, in our freedom and prosperity, have become alienated from the virtues that made that prosperity possible and sustainable over the generations. Crunchy conservatism draws on the religious, philosophical, and literary heritage of conservative thought and practice to cobble together a practical, commonsense, and fruitful way to live amid the empty consumerist prosperity of what Henry Miller called "the air-conditioned nightmare."
At other times, he manages to articulate in no uncertain terms parts of what one might term essential elements of "crunchy con" thinking. As I mentioned in a previous post, the book is a gold mine of quotes, many of them remarkably insightful. It would be easy to just go chapter by chapter through the book as he touches on "consumerism," "food," "home," "education," "the environment," and "religion," just pulling out quotes. I enjoyed much of the material, and found that I was frequently inspired to seek out material by some of the authors he mentions (in particular, you hear the name "Russell Kirk" about a bajillion times in the first few chapters). Some of the material Mr. Dreher covered was familiar to me--I was familiar with many of the issues covered in the chapter on food, for example, and obviously we share an interest in homeschooling--and some was not.

That chapter on food will be an eye-opener for some people, both for the information about how food--meat, specifically--is raised (one is almost tempted to say that "manufactured" would be a better word) and for one observation which I found particularly interesting: that many large corporations actually have a vested interest in keeping an onerous regulatory environment, in that the burden of coping with excessive regulation can freeze out smaller competitors. Mr. Dreher explains:
Slow Food...(has) its chapters worldwide work to help farmers and small producers navigate the regulatory maze that puts the little guy at a significant disadvantage to big agribusiness.

This is a big deal. Distrust of big government is in the DNA of contemporary conservatives, and to see how state and federal regulatory bureaucracies put the hurt on small farmers, all to the advantage of big business, should be enough to send grassroots right-wingers to the barricades.

Several years ago, in covering this story for National Review,, I talked to Jenny Drake, a former state health inspector turned organic livestock farmer. Drake, a feisty conservative, wanted to raise her chickens and beef cattle without using hormones and antibiotics, which are ubiquitous in factory farming. Those healthy chickens of hers were a problem, though. The state of Tennessee, where she and her husband live and farm, refuses to let any chicken be sold there unless the USDA inspects the processing facilities. Alas, there are no custom-kill processing plants for chickens in the entire American Southeast. Drake told me that to build a small processing facility to meet federal guidelines would cost her about $150,000.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, means a small producer has to put in restrooms that are handicapped-accessible," she told me then. "I'd have to build an office for the inspector. That office has to have its own phone line. I'd have to put in a paved parking lot. We have to meet the same physical standards as a Tyson's"--the industrial chicken megaproducer--"and we just can't do it."

I also spoke at the time to Joel Salatin, an evangelical Christian crunchy con who runs Polyface Farm in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Salatin is well known on the international small-scale sustainable farming circuit. He's had similar problems battling idiotic regulations (e.g., the government wanted him to build changing-room lockers for his employees, even though he has no employees on his family-run farm).

"A lot of [this] is being done under the guise of protecting the general welfare and guaranteeing clean food," he told me. "But what it really does is protect big agribusiness from rural independent competition."

Put simply, it does this by writing health regulations that only relatively large companies can afford to abide by. Economist Edward Hudgins told me that it's often the case that big companies willingly absorb the cost of extra regulation because those rules "have the effect of killing off the competition."
Here, as elsewhere throughout the book, Mr. Dreher forcefully makes the point that the rich and powerful are not necessarily free-market conservatives. It can be a capital mistake to assume that corporate America is on the side of the free marketeer. True, they often present themselves as though they are, but the prudent citizen will be on the lookout.


In terms of negatives, there are many places throughout the book where I found myself thinking, "Yes, but...", places where I understood the point that Mr. Dreher was trying to make but nevertheless thought that he had gotten a definition wrong, or misplaced an emphasis, failed to understand how a conservative principle is applied to a given situation, or--and this was frequent, in my opinion--confused traditionalism with conservatism. It is in dealing with these places that doing the review is hardest, for I could spend hours and hours quoting Mr. Dreher's text and responding to it. I don't want to do that. It would take too long, be boring, and would, I fear, lead the reader to believe that I disagree with the larger point of Mr. Dreher's book. Instead, I will confine myself to just one example, one that typifies the sort of errors to which I most vehemently object in Mr. Dreher's book. It is found in the very first chapter.
One day, I got a shock when I picked up my copy of the Dallas Morning News. There on the front page was a story about the Kimbers, a family we knew from our Catholic homeschool group. They're as conservative, hardworking, and traditional a family as you could hope to find. Greg Kimber ran the family's small moving business, and when Joan wasn't busy homeschooling their kids, she helped out. The recession in the early part of this decade hit north Texas hard, and the Kimbers' business began to suffer. They had to put their kids into the state's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provided supplemental medical and dental insurance for the children of the working poor. State cutbacks in CHIP, led by the Republican legislature, forced the Kimbers to choose between filling their children's teeth or their bellies. The News account told their story.

I was poleaxed by the news. The Kimbers are proud people, and hadn't let any of us know what they were going through. My wife called Joan and offered to help financially, but Joan kindly said no, that they were going to find ways to handle it themselves. She was going to go to work. The kids would be entering public school (given the rather modest neighborhood the Kimbers live in, the school was not, shall we say, an altogether pleasant place to send your kids). In the meantime, I wrote a scathing column in the News, ripping the GOP legislature for the CHIP cuts, which yanked the rug out from under this traditional Republican family. I got in touch with my inner Russell Kirk, and thundered that in case the Republicans didn't realize it, the family is the institution most necessary to conserve. Their willingness to see families like the Kimbers suffer rather than raise taxes even the
tiniest bit (Texas has no state income tax) showed where their values really were.

Well. Little did I know that I was a socialist and the Kimbers were welfare layabouts, until some of my fellow Texas Republicans pointed that out in a fusillade of stinging e-mails. I expected people to disagree with me, but I was not prepared for the contempt, the unshirted spite, that conservatives rained down on my head. I felt like my friend Mike, the guy who had his very existence as a conservative questioned because he spoke from conservative principle against a developer's plan. It was appalling to me, but quite instructive, to learn that for quite a few of my fellow Republicans, almost nothing matters more than keeping taxes low. If the economic structure we live under threatens the traditional family, well, too dadgum bad. You get the idea that for lots of these folks, "traditional family values" means nothing more than "keep the queers from getting hitched."
I was surprised at Mr. Dreher's surprise. I understand his concern about his friends and the traditional family unit. I share it. But it seems to me that here, he had entirely misdiagnosed the situation and its appropriate remedy--possibly out of the immediateness of his emotional upset--and quite unjustifiably dumped all over his fellow conservatives. To complain of their response seems almost shocking. To explain more fully, let me remind you: the Kimbers were experiencing hardships because of the recession and could not afford the dental care they desired for their children. Recessions are caused largely by excessive government, overtaxation, and poor governmental fiscal policy. Governmental involvement drives up the cost of medical and dental care for everyone. Conservatives, therefore, would prescribe less taxation and spending, not out of cheapness or ill-will, but as the only appropriate remedy! The national experience since the implementation of the Great Society programs is not, to say the least, that governmental aid strengthens families, but rather, that it destroys them. Many would argue that at least two generations of black families have been lost to this very sort of thing.To turn around and lambaste conservatives for refusing to make the problem--the underlying problem, not the immediate problem--worse seems almost incomprehensible.

Furthermore, Mr. Dreher doesn't seem to have fully appreciated that his apparent proposed solution--higher taxes for the sake of the Medicaid program--amounted to requiring everybody else to sacrifice their property and liberty (liberty to dispose of their property as they see fit, instead of as the government, in this case in the person of Mr. Dreher, sees fit) to subsidize the Kimbers' chosen lifestyle. Let me hasten to point out that I don't disapprove of their lifestyle. Far from it! I am a homeschooling father myself. However, I don't think it would be right to tax those who do not share that distinction for the sake of making it easier for me to homeschool. 'Course, I also don't think that it's right that I be taxed so other parents can abdicate their responsibility for their kids' education to the government. The situation can quickly grow complicated. But you get the point: it's hard to call taxing other people so you can indulge your chosen lifestyle a conservative position. Government is divinely ordained by God as His minister for justice, not wealth redistribution, or the plundering of one citizen to benefit another.

This is the sort of thing I found throughout the book. Mr. Dreher will beautifully articulate an important point--that too many people are focused principally on filling increasingly large, cookie-cutter McMansions with an ever-increasing collection of vapid, useless toys and ignoring the really important things in life, and calling encouraging such spendthrift habits conservative, when it is anything but, for example--and then undermine it somehow. It might be via a mis-drawn application of principles, a mis-identification of the principles involved in a particular example, or possibly through failing to appreciate that someone else might find the very thing he finds problematic a hallmark of conservative success. For example, Mr. Dreher spends a whole chapter decrying what he calls consumerism, which he seems to identify as the encouragement of pointless, wasteful spending habits that I mentioned earlier. But other people identify consumerism as
...the best and fairest way to bring goods and services to a large number of people at prices they can afford.
One can't help but get the feeling from a number of Mr. Dreher's passages that something makes him uncomfortable about the free market's effect of making abundance affordable to the masses. I rather doubt he'd articulate it that way, possibly he might even deny it, but it is an inescapable feeling nonetheless. I got the feeling, particularly in the chapter on the environment, that Mr. Dreher had given insufficient consideration to other possible ways of seeing the same set of circumstances. I found myself thinking of Victor Davis Hanson saying, in Mexifornia: A State of Becoming:
To go from trying to stay alive while crossing the border, to enjoying the bounty of Kmart and Burger King, to joining the Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club is a complex task requiring more than a single generation...What happens when all that assiduous effort to recycle trash, block power-plant construction and try to ban internal combustion engines butts up against the real needs of millions of the desperate who first want the warmth of four walls, a flush toilet and basic appliances?
As much sympathy as I have for many of Mr. Dreher's concerns, I have a hard time seeing that his answers (where provided; sometimes he is just raising the questions) will actually go very far toward dealing with those concerns.

Still, despite such caveats, the book's overall point is well-taken and much overdue: real conservatism is less about low taxes and material abundance than it is about first principles, specifically principles rooted in the fact that
...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...
Real conservatism's economic successes, which are so frequently held up as the end goal of conservatism, are actually the by-product of the consistent application of those first principles, the outgrowth of, as I wrote elsewhere of capitalism,
...liberty, the freedom of men and women to work and to determine what to do with the fruits of their labor themselves, the freedom not to have their assets plundered, the freedom to crawl up out of poverty without having to have the good fortune of being born into a privileged class or to lick the hands of those above them.
a liberty which is the recognition of man's God-endowed rights. Attempts to conflate real conservatism with a materialistic lifestyle, or reduce it to merely the maintenance of a low-tax environment, or confuse it with special privileges for big business, or the acceptance of cultural norms which are not clearly necessitated by first principles are not merely misguided, they are actively harmful and much resented by those whom Mr. Dreher has labeled "crunchy cons." So, while disagreeing vehemently with some of Mr. Dreher's specifics and recommending that you read thoughtfully and discerningly, I still recommend the book. It appears to be the opening salvo in a needed discussion.

About the Mastheads

Well, as of this writing, there are two mastheads. There will be more. I have only recently started fooling around with GIMP and have no clue what I am doing yet.

First, there is the original masthead, to which the following comments pertain:

These are just a few, a very few, of the many people who have contributed to the development, defense, and preservation of the West. From the upper left and going clockwise:

Samuel Rutherford, author of Lex, Rex and disseminator of many ideas crucial to founding of the United States; Aristotle, who did the tough sledding in formulating the rules of logic; Martin Luther, the great reformer; John Calvin, another great reformer; Thomas Reid, noted thinker of the Scottish Enlightenment and developer of what was once the dominant philosophical school in the United States and England, Common Sense Realism; Paul, the apostle to the gentiles; Adam Smith, the theoretician of capitalism; William Shakespeare, arguably the single greatest dramatist in Western history; Taika Seiyu Oyata, the founder of Ryu Te; Francis Schaeffer, probably the foremost (and most intellectual) Christian apologist of the twentieth century; Edmund Burke, the Irishman generally conceded to be the first of what we now call conservatives; Cicero, the defender of Roman republicanism; and Moses, the great prophet.

Many have been left out for lack of space. More could be said about each of those shown, and will be, as time goes on. For now, two brief words of explanation:

I chose not to include the most important person in all of history, Jesus Christ, both to avoid any hint of idolatry and because every artist's depiction I have seen of Him shows Him, frankly, as a somewhat milquetoast individual, not at all in accord with the way He's described in Scripture.

Now, about Taika...

You've got to be wondering why there's a picture of an Okinawan karate master on the masthead of a blog that is principally about the West. It's so striking that I feel compelled to explain. I'm sure that some will say that I included him solely because of my interest in martial arts, and because he is the founder and head of the system I study, RyuTe, and no doubt there is a little truth to the charge. But there is a little more to it than that.

Consider who this man is, and what he has done. He is descended from a noble family on Okinawa, and is one of the last people to have been trained directly by the old Okinawan bushi who actually had a role in protecting the Okinawan king. He has spent his life researching the old Okinawan martial arts and is quite probably the single most knowledgeable person in the Western hemisphere, if not the world, upon that subject.

He was slated to be a kamikaze just before the end of World War II. His death certificate had already been sent to his parents. And yet, when he opened up his own dojo on Okinawa, not only did he teach Americans, he taught them the real Okinawan karate when not every teacher did so. Eventually, he emigrated to America and was the first, as far as I can tell, to make the subjects of tuite (karate's corpus of close-quarter grappling techniques) and kyusho-jitsu (vital point striking) available to the American public.

I don't know if some people realize how huge this was. For many, many years, hardly anyone was willing to teach Americans the Asian martial arts at all, or if they did, they didn't teach everything they knew. Taika is in the company of people like Henry S. Okazaki and Ark Y. Wong, who made very deliberate decisions to teach what they knew to people of all backgrounds even if not everyone of Asian descent approved. Other people may have followed, and started teaching chin na and cavity press, but as far as I can tell, Taika was the first, he opened up the way, and no one, to my knowledge, has demonstrated greater knowledge on these subjects than he. It is very possible that were it not for Taika Oyata, hardly anyone in the Western Hemisphere would be more than marginally familiar with these subjects.

Taika left his family, his country of birth, and made his home with Americans, and (according to my instructor) converted to Christianity. He teaches his arts as life protection arts, implicitly acknowledging several cardinal Western values in so doing. The time will come, if it isn't already here, that more than a few people of the West will need such life protection skills. It is for the role that he and his teachings have had, and will have, in preserving the individual lives of those who will uphold the values of Western Civilization that he is included.
Then there is Masthead 2, which is the result of my very first efforts with GIMP. It's just a shot of the famous Lewis Chessmen with the blog title on it.
And then we have Masthead 3, which is the one with the go board, or goban. Yes, I am fully aware that go is an oriental game. I still find that playing go has a way of enhancing life and stimulating the mind. It's a welcome addition to intellectual life of the West.

Paleocons, Paleoconservatism

Paleocon--and I do recommend you read the Wikipedia article--is a relatively modern term for what once might have been called "the Old Right." These are the people who, unlike the Neocons, react very negatively not only to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and the modern welfare state, but even to FDR's "New Deal." Their conservatism is, for the most part, pretty much what I describe as conservatism, period, and for the most part, I identify with the Paleocons.

Points where I may have some quibbles with Paleocons:

1) While I would not (as some do) describe them as hostile to Israel, it nevertheless seems to me that some of them are less willing to support Israel than may be wise. I do not think that the Biblical admonition that those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse Israel, cursed, necessarily means that we, as a nation, are obligated to support Israel militarily or economically under all circumstances, but I also think, based on that Biblical instruction, that it is a capital mistake not to support Israel insofar as it is compatible with our Constitution.

2) Paleocons in general place much stock in the cultural homogeneity of a society--that is, they understand that if a society doesn't share certain core values, it is more likely to experience balkanization rather than unity. However, it sometimes seems to me that Paleocons carry this a little too far and some of them wind up confusing some of their personal values with the core values upon which this country was originally built. It is just something to watch out for.

3) Some Paleocons--and I am thinking particularly of Pat Buchanan here--seem to me to greatly misjudge Islam, and as a result, I'm not at all sure that their views on how to deal with rampant Islamism are completely realistic. Too often, they seem to think that if only America will mind its own business, rampant Islam will leave America alone. I don't think that is true; Islam is hegemonistic by nature. Whether we mind our own business or not (and it can be very hard for the world's pre-eminent military, economic, and cultural power to be perceived as "minding its own business," no matter how hard it tries), Islam's agenda demands that it will, sooner or later, come into conflict with us. If prudence is the hallmark of the conservative, then conservatism must take this reality into account.

Most People are Mixed Up

In my definitions of conservatism and liberalism, I have pretty much painted them as methodological and ideological opposites. The reality, of course, is that most people are not all conservative or all liberal. Most people trend conservative on some issues and liberal on others. Reasons for this vary from person to person, but this reality gives rise to some of the most interesting creatures on the political landscape. Perhaps the most notorious example is the Neocon, who has been defined as "a liberal who's been mugged." Libertarians would be another example of this sort of thing. So would "Reagan Democrats."

The thing to note here is that it can be very dangerous to look at most people and try to divine their overall conservative/liberal orientation from just a few of their opinions. You may be surprised to find that a writer whose fiscal conservatism you admire may be very liberal on social issues, for example.