Ten Arguments for Sanity

I have recently had the opportunity to revisit an excellent series of articles at Touchstone’s blog, written several years ago by Tony Esolen, arguing for the sanity of preserving traditional heterosexual marriage, and the dangers of normalizing pseudogamous alternatives, of which gay marriage is just one of many on the horizon. It is a well-reasoned, well-researched series which will take you some time to get through, but is well worth it if this is an important issue to you. The comments are nearly as insightful and thoughtful as the articles, and contain some back and forth arguments which are pleasantly civil for this contentious issue.

Well worth your time:

Ten Arguments for Sanity

Argument 1-2
Argument 3-4
Argument 5-6
Argument 7-8
Argument 9-10

Truth & Consequences


In the trial of Jesus, ancient texts have recorded this exchange:

Pilate replied, “You are a king then?” “You say that I am a king, and you are right,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
 
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Some questions are truly timeless.

We live in an age where the notion of truth, of absolutes which transcend the individual and society, is increasingly under assault. Ours is an age of radical individualism, wherein man alone becomes the sole arbiter of what is right or wrong, where moral relativism reigns, where postmodernism trades absolute truth for “narratives”, which vary from individual to individual, culture to culture, and age to age.

It is no small irony that ours is an age of science and technology — disciplines which depend by their very nature on the absolute, unchanging, and permanent laws of nature. Yet this same age rejects or disdains the concept of absolutes and transcendent truth. No one questions the speed of light, or the Pythagorean theorem, or the laws of gravity, or the quirky and counter-intuitive physics of subatomic particles. The postmodernist whose narrative does not accept the law of gravity will still need a sidewalk cleanup crew when he flings himself from a tall building, believing he can fly.

The difference, of course, is that the absolutes of physics and science apply to the physical world, quantifiable and tangible in greater or lesser measure, while the absolutes of ethics, morality, and religion touch on the metaphysical, the invisible, the theological. The materialist rejects such notions outright, as superstition, “values” (i.e., individual beliefs or preferences based on nothing more than feelings or bias), as mindless evolutionary survival skills, or the dying remnants of an age of ignorance. Absolutes are rejected because of the presuppositions of constricted materialism, the arrogance and conceits of intellectualism, the notion that if it cannot be weighed or measured it does not exist. But the deeper and more fundamental reason for the rejection of transcendent absolutes is simply this: such absolutes make moral claims upon us.

In truth, man cannot exist without transcendent absolutes, even though he denies their existence. Our language and thought are steeped in such concepts, in notions of good and evil, love and hate, free will and coercion, purpose and intentionality. We cannot think, or communicate, or be in any way relational without using the intangible, the metaphysical, the conventions, the traditions. We are by our very nature creatures who compare: we judge, and accept or reject; we prefer or disapprove; we love or hate, criticize or applaud. All such choices involve the will as a free agent — and free will is meaningless if it is not used in the context of an ethereal yet unchanging standard against which a choice is measured. We say a rose smells beautiful and a rotten egg rotten, because we judge those smells against an invisible standard which determines one to be pleasant and the other offensive. We cannot measure the love of a child, or or weigh the sorrow of a death, or calculate the anger at an injustice or the beauty of a Bach concerto; yet such reactions, and the standards by which we recognize and judge such intangibles, are every bit as real as the photons and protons, the law of gravity or the principles of physics. Even the most hardened Darwinist, atheistic to the core, by necessity must speak the language of purpose and transcendence and choice, as Mother Nature “selects”, and “chooses”, and “intends”, and “prefers” this genetic trait or that survival skill. We are incapable of describing even the purported randomness, mindlessness, and purposelessness of evolutionary biology without concepts and language of intentionality, preference, good and evil.

No, the rejection of absolutes is the rejection of their claim upon our wills. To reject that absolute truth exists, to deny that standards and principles stand apart from mere constructs of human imagination, is to affirm the absolute that we are absolutely autonomous, answerable to nothing and no one, masters and gods accountable only to ourselves. To deny absolutes is to deny free will — and to deny the consequences of choices which violate the very principles we dismiss as foolish, ignorant, prejudiced, and superstitious. To deny dogma is to be dogmatic; to reject absolutes absolutely is to affirm absolutes, even if unknowingly. Transcendent absolutes define our very humanity; dogs do not have dogmas, nor are cats categorical.

G.K. Chesterton, prescient and insightful as ever in his vision of the foolishness of man in his intellectual hubris, said:

Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense . . . becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding to no form of creed and contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

Ideas have consequences, philosophies have predicates, and the rejection of absolutes absolutely dehumanizes us, for we devolve from a species of high principles and moral light to denizens of a depravity far lower than the animals. For animals have rational restraints on behavior, brutish though it may be, while there is no end to evil for the human mind unleashed from absolutes.

Speaking of the fall of Carthage, with its materialism, wealth, and power, steeped in a religion whose worship sacrificed infants in the fires of Moloch, Chesterton says thus:

This sort of commercial mind has its own cosmic vision, and it is the vision of Carthage. It has in it the brutal blunder that was the ruin of Carthage. The Punic power fell, because there is in this materialism a mad indifference to real thought. By disbelieving in the soul, it comes to disbelieving in the mind … Carthage fell because she was faithful to her own philosophy and had followed out to its logical conclusion her own vision of the universe. Moloch had eaten her own children.

The rejection of absolutes, with the resulting moral relativism and narcissistic nihilism, is no mere intellectual folly nor faddish foolishness. It is instead a corrosive toxin, appealing in its seeming rationality and reasonableness, but pervasive and deadly for both person and polity.

If the Truth will set you free — and it most surely will — its rejection will surely enslave you.

Open Hands

I have not been writing much of late. The usual excuses apply: busy physician, caught up in other interests, yada yada yada. My wife has also suggested that working long hours, then coming home and sitting on the computer for the rest of the evening and all weekend is not what she would describe as a “relationship” — funny people, these women are — don’t they understand we men have our needs? And of course, she is entirely correct, and I’m committed to making some changes to fix my malfeasance in this area. Obsessively scanning the web for the latest Obamanation is not terrible good use of time or mental energy anyway, so the change is truly a blessing in disguise.

But change there is aplenty, and its rapidity and breadth makes it hard to comprehend and process in such a way as to organize one’s thoughts and communicate them in meaningful ways. We are rapidly becoming a different country and culture, transforming in ways that are hardly new but accelerating seemingly at light-speed. The leaders of our country, a nation long a force of enormous good and beneficence in the world despite her many flaws, now travel the world apologizing and criticizing the very nation and citizens they purport to lead, while praising the Europeans whose parasitic socialism and arrogant superiority exist solely because we have liberated, protected and sustained their existence from crush of fascist nationalism and the dangerous bear of Russian aggression. We now pretend, with stunning naivete, that nice talk will restrain monomaniacal tyrants with nuclear dreams in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The scimitar of Mohammad is resharpened in a much-needed respite after years of crushing humiliation sustained in defending our nation from a new and extraordinarily dangerous fascism fired by a suicidal religious ideology.

At home, our economy stutters and stumbles to ground, suffering the hangover of decades of consumption which we could not afford, purchased with money we did not have. In response, our government spends untold trillions it does not have, bartering the future prosperity of untold generations for the present opportunism of slight-of-hand socialism disguised as a solution. Our banks and auto companies are nationalized; their executives fired by presidential fiat; their salaries capped by politicians who themselves have leveraged their political power to rape, pillage and plunder their way to untold personal millions mendaciously acquired.

Our government is officially, intractably, and utterly corrupt — and we are in no small part to blame:

By almost every measure, Washington is hopelessly corrupt.

And we are at once victims and accomplices.

Career politicians are spending the country to near-bankruptcy as they feather their own nests, tighten their leash on our necks and pat us on the head. They take our money, bend it to their will, then return small portions of it at their discretion to make us feel it has all been worth it.

Washington is to the taxpayer as the drug cartels are to the addict…

Washington is over $10 trillion in debt already. The Obama budget blueprint calls for adding another $9 trillion to that debt in the next 10 years. And the country is already facing untold trillions — $60 trillion or more — in Medicare and Social Security promises we’ve made to future retirees, money for which we have no identifiable source.

… Despite record-low approval ratings for Congress last year, we continued sending our congressmen back at about a 90 percent retention rate.

We have, sadly, been corrupted.

Our health care system, straining under unsustainable and spiraling costs, appears headed for nationalization as well, pouring untold millions of patients into the already-bankrupt Medicare system, while promising illusory “cost savings” through preventive medicine, electronic health records, and national boards to determine “appropriate” health care. The health care system we now enjoy, imperfect as it is, will be unrecognizably worse within the decade. It will not be a pretty sight. The health care bubble is about to burst: the grand mansions of high-tech healthcare, as unaffordable as they are sexy and seductive, are headed for foreclosure. Our pursuit of eternal life through technology is failing; we have exhausted our fortunes seeking a futile utopia of endless life without pain, sparing no expense to vanquish death and disease. Cerberus and Eurynomos reign triumphant, while we, penniless and disillusioned, have forgotten that to live is but to suffer and die — and we no longer know how to do either well.

Culturally, the war is over: the walls have been breached, the barbarians rule. While we focus on the dying paradigm of left and right, liberal and conservative, red and blue, the Goths in Gucci loafers and judges’ robes rule us. Arguments about tax rates, government size, foreign policy, domestic agendas are but flashy choreography on the steepening incline of of the Titanic’s ballroom floor. We will, in short order, see physician assisted suicide — if not active euthanasia — in every state; unrestricted fetal embryonic research and human cloning; all cultural and legal support for monogamous heterosexual marriage eliminated, as the foundational unit of civilized society quietly recedes into the oblivion of endless “lifestyle choices.” Expect all traces of Judeo-Christian influence to be be purged from public view and expression, as the relentless secular assault cements in the public mind the image of Christianity as hateful, bigoted, ignorant superstition. Health care professionals will be coerced to violate their consciences or forced from their profession if they refuse to do so; nor will other professions be spared from this purge. Tax exemption for churches and home schooling will likely come under assault, as society cleanses itself of all Christian influence in the name of tolerance and human rights. This process is nearly complete in the West, as evidenced by Canada’s ironically-named Human Rights Commission persecution of religious freedom and Britain \'s naked public square. It is nearing completion here as well.

The Church, once the strong beacon of light warning of dangerous shoals in a dark sea, now embraces the darkness in pursuit of “cultural relevance,” piling empty flattery on those who hate her, corrupting the doctrines for which saints and martyrs gave their lives. Her own universities, once an oasis for truth and reason, now issue meaningless honors to those who embrace and enlarge the culture of death, repudiating thousands of years of moral teachings in the name of “open-mindedness” and “diversity.”

“When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?”

It is, I suspect, this dismal litany of developments which constrains me, which makes it difficult to write, to make sense of the senseless and signal hope in hopelessness. To be a Jeremiah, in however small a measure, is an unenviable job. Not only must you look forward to the looming disaster awaiting a foolish and deceived culture; that alone would break the heart and pierce the spirit. Not merely must you encounter the hatred and ridicule of those thus warned, who will hear none of it. But more than this, the greater pain is that of mourning; grieving over the loss of what has been and what might have been; mourning lost opportunities to have spoken, or acted, or exhorted in some way, to have touched and changed another or steered but a few back on course. It is this grief which is so hard to process: the grief of a great and noble country crumbling and rotting from within; the grief of wealth unrivaled in history, squandered where moth and rust destroy; the grief for a church which slept with the harlot in hopes of bringing her to holiness. I find myself clinging, with knuckles blanched and fingers bleeding, to a fading dream which slips through the fingers like a mist wafting through an iron gate, drifting silently and relentlessly towards the unfathomable darkness.

It is time, it seems, to open the hands.

The walk of faith is said to be belief in the unbelievable, the fool’s way out of life’s challenges and disappointments, the easy path of cowards and naves. It is in truth none of these things, but rather the very hardest of things: submission. It is to bend the knee; to trust when sight is dim or absent; to rely on the benevolence and wisdom of One who knows all and reject the false knowledge we tenaciously trust in our self-will, fear, and deception. If there is a God — sovereign, transcendent, just, good in ways we cannot begin to fathom, and above all passionate in His love for us — then there is nothing to do but trust, to submit, to rest. It is the Cross — in all its horrors, irrationality, agony, foolishness — and victory.

This week the church celebrates Holy Week, commemorating and meditating on that moment in history when darkness seemed triumphant, when earthly hopes were dashed, when the irrational ruled and evil gloated. In that dark moment, the glorious hopes of man haughty and triumphant were forever dashed on the stones of Golgatha; the blood of a failed prophet sealed their fate forever. Such is as true now as then; it is a timeless certainty, eternal despite all appearances to the contrary.

And so I must — we must — open our hands, and bend our knees. It is a time for prayer, for humility, for fasting, for simplification. It is time for turning over the foolishness of man and the corruption of a culture to Him who alone knows the ways of man and the wanderings of nations. We must lift up the country, its leaders; the culture; the church. It is not ours to seize nor to save. We must stand in truth, suffering what consequences we may endure.

It is time once again to be a light.

Gnostic Fascism

Courtesy of the always-excellent blog What’s Wrong With The World, we read this gem about the philosophy and worldview of our current educational system:

It seems to me that the regulative idea that we — we…liberals, we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists — most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of “needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions. This is the concept the victorious Allied armies used when they set about re-educating the citizens of occupied Germany and Japan. It is also the one which was used by American schoolteachers who had read Dewey and were concerned to get students to think ‘scientifically’ and ‘rationally’ about such matters as the origin of the species and sexual behavior (that is, to get them to read Darwin and Freud without disgust and incredulity). It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.

What is the relation of this idea to the regulative idea of ‘reason’ which Putnam believes to be transcendent and which Habermas believes to be discoverable within the grammar of concepts ineliminable from our description of the making of assertions? The answer to that question depends upon how much the re-education of Nazis and fundamentalists has to do with merging interpretive horizons and how much with replacing such horizons. The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire “American liberal establishment” is engaged in a conspiracy. Had they read Habermas, these people would say that the typical communication situation in American college classrooms is no more herrschaftsfrei [domination free] than that in the Hitler Youth camps.

These parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students….When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank.

Putnam and Habermas can rejoin that we teachers do our best to be Socratic, to get our job of re-education, secularization, and liberalization done by conversational exchange. That is true up to a point, but what about assigning books like Black Boy, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Becoming a Man? The Racist or fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society the students should not be forced to read books by such people --black people, Jewish people, homosexual people. They will protest that these books are being jammed down their children \'s throats. I cannot see how to reply to this charge without saying something like “There are credentials for admission to our democratic society, credentials which we liberals have been making more stringent by doing our best to excommunicate racists, male chauvinists, homophobes, and the like. You have to be educated in order to be a citizen of our society, a participant in our conversation, someone with whom we can envisage merging our horizons. So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours.”

I have no trouble offering this reply, since I do not claim to make the distinction between education and conversation on the basis of anything except my loyalty to a particular community, a community whose interests required re-educating the Hitler Youth in 1945 and required re-educating the bigoted students of Virginia in 1993. I don \'t see anything herrschaftsfrei about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. It seems to me that I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause. I come from a better province.

Rarely do we get such a clear window into the thinking and motives of those who rule our educational institutions, to whom we have entrusted our children, that they may transform a society through their indoctrination into the secular, Utopian vision of their dreams. Richard Rorty, the late philosopher and postmodernist who died in 2007 (and simultaneously discovered the Truth he so long ridiculed and denied, much to his eternal detriment), epitomizes the mindset of our secular culture, which insinuates itself at every opportunity through our media, our institutions of “higher learning”, our popular culture and the entertainment industry.

This is the soul of our now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture.

This is the soul of our now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture.

Keep in mind that the “fundamentalists” whom Rorty sought to discredit, ridicule, and reeducate are not simply knuckle-dragging, illiterate, six-day-creationist bumpkins, the straw men they create to dismiss and destroy with presumptuous arrogance — but rather every Christian who believes in absolute truth, who places themself under the authority of Christ, the Church, and the Scriptures. Our enlightened masters have their secret knowledge — and the sworn duty — to coerce all “unbelievers” into discarding their “primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions.” This is Gnosticism with a fascist bent — the arrogance of superior knowledge, forcefully applied to all who resist.

This philosophy, now thoroughly inculcated in generations of students, and echoed incessantly in media, entertainment, the arts, and popular culture, have engendered a societal world view which can no longer be redeemed with reason, or persuasion, or by the religious engagement in the low compromise of “cultural relevancy.” The culture of materialism and the ideology of atheism have merged, and are now entrenched, dominant, and empowered. The church has fiddled as Rome burned — and now finds itself engulfed in the fiery holocaust it did little to avert. It is long past time for the church to stand proudly apart, to state the truth without fear or compromise, to serve as light and salt to a very dark and increasingly dangerous and toxic society. We will be hated for it — but we are already hated: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

The challenge of the church today is to stand apart, to be the prophet, to be, if necessary, the martyr. It is time to abandon congregations and churches which have been compromised and co-opted by this corpse of a culture — let the dead bury their dead. It is time to call church leaders and pastors to account, and rebuke or even reject them if they refuse to stand for and teach the truth of the Gospel. It is time to train our children — after we ourselves have been trained — in the core beliefs of our faith, its historical veracity and integrity, in the defense of that which is true, and unchanging, and eternal. It is time to set aside the petty differences of denominationalism and sectarianism, join hands in submission to Christ, and recognize the true enemy we face. Your enemy is not the Baptist, or Catholic, or Pentecostal church down the street; however large your differences may seem. It is not the man who makes you uncomfortable by raising his hands in church; not the woman who loves the Mass and respects the saints; not the Biblical literalist nor the contemplative mystic who sees visions and dreams dreams. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Get to know them, discerning their spirits and the passion of their hearts. Learn to love them, learn from them, serve them, respect them. Pray, worship, and study together. The faith which you proclaim is broad and deep, rich in gifts and heritage, a spectacular jewel with countless facets reflecting the unlimited brilliance of a gracious God.

The night grows darker; it is well past time to fill your lamps with oil, and light them.

A Life Not Long

Last week, President Obama removed virtually all restrictions on fetal stem cell research, claiming a triumph of science over “ideology.” The hope, of course, is that science may find new ways to prolong and improve our lives, now that the shackles of moral restraint, humility, and ethics have been removed. It seemed fitting, therefore, to repost this older essay, pondering whether the “victories” which science now has in store for us will be indeed Pyrrhic.

 
sunset

A link from Glenn Reynolds hooked into something I’ve been ruminating on in recent days: the endless pursuit of longer life.

Here’s the question I’ve been pondering: is it an absolute good to be continually striving for a longer life span? Such a question may seem a bit odd coming from a physician, whose mission it is to restore and maintain health and prolong life. But the article which Glenn linked to, describing the striking changes in health and longevity of our present age, seemingly presents this achievement as an absolute good, and thereby left me a tad uneasy — perhaps because I find myself increasingly ambivalent about this unceasing pursuit of longer life.

Of course, long life and good health have always been considered blessings, as indeed they are. But long life in particular seems to have become a goal unto itself — and from where I stand is most decidedly a mixed blessing.

Many of the most difficult health problems with which we battle, which drain our resources struggling to overcome, are largely a function of our longer life spans. Pick a problem: cancer, heart disease, dementia, crippling arthritis, stroke — all of these increase significantly with age, and can result in profound physical and mental disability. In many cases, we are living longer, but doing so restricted by physical or mental limitations which make such a longer life burdensome both to ourselves and to others. Is it a positive good to live to age 90, spending the last 10 or more years with dementia, not knowing who you are nor recognizing your own friends or family? Is it a positive good to be kept alive by aggressive medical therapy for heart failure or emphysema, yet barely able to function physically? Is it worthwhile undergoing highly toxic chemotherapy or disfiguring surgery to cure cancer, thereby sparing a life then severely impaired by the treatment which saved that life?

These questions, in some way, cut to the very heart of what it means to be human. Is our humanity enriched simply by living longer? Does longer life automatically imply more happiness–or are we simply adding years of pain, disability, unhappiness, burden? The breathlessness with which authors often speak of greater longevity, or the cure or solution to these intractable health problems, seems to imply a naive optimism, both from the standpoint of likely outcomes, and from the assumption that a vastly longer life will be a vastly better life. Ignored in such rosy projections are key elements of the human condition — those of moral fiber and spiritual health, those of character and spirit. For we who live longer in such an idyllic world may not live better: we may indeed live far worse. Should we somehow master these illnesses which cripple us in our old age, and thereby live beyond our years, will we then encounter new, even more frightening illnesses and disabilities? And what of the spirit? Will a man who lives longer thereby have a longer opportunity to do good, or rather to do evil? Will longevity increase our wisdom, or augment our depravity? Will we, like Dorian Gray, awake to find our ageless beauty but a shell for our monstrous souls?

Such ruminations bring to mind a friend, a good man who died young. Matt was a physician, a tall, lanky lad with sharp bony features and deep, intense eyes. He was possessed of a brilliant mind, a superb physician, but left his mark on life not solely through medicine nor merely by intellect. A convert to Christianity as a young adult, Matt embraced his new faith with a passion and province rarely seen. His medical practice became a mission field. His flame burned so brightly it was uncomfortable to draw near: he was as likely to diagnose your festering spiritual condition as your daunting medical illness — and had no compunction about drilling to the core of what he perceived to be the root of the problem. Such men make you uneasy, for they sweep away the veneer of polite correction and diplomatic encouragement which we physicians are trained to deliver. Like some gifted surgeon of the soul, he cast sharp shadows rather than soft blurs, brandishing his brilliant insight on your now-naked condition. The polished conventions of medicine were never his strength — a characteristic which endeared him not at all to many in his profession. But his patients — those who could endure his honesty and strength of character — were passionate in their devotion to him, personally and professionally. For he was a man of extraordinary compassion and generosity, seeing countless patients at no charge, giving generously of his time and finances far beyond the modest means earned from his always-struggling practice.

The call I received from another friend, a general surgeon, requesting an assist at his surgery, was an unsettling one: Matt had developed a growth in his left adrenal gland. His surgery went deftly, with much confidence that the lesion had been fully excised. The pathology proved otherwise: Matt had an extremely rare, highly aggressive form of adrenal cancer. Fewer than 100 cases had been reported worldwide, and there was no known successful treatment. Nevertheless, as much for his wife and two boys as for himself, he underwent highly toxic chemotherapy, which sapped his strength and left him enfeebled. In spite of this, the tumor grew rapidly, causing extreme pain and rapid deterioration, bulging like some loathsome demon seeking to burst forth from his frail body. I saw him regularly, although in retrospect not nearly often enough, and never heard him complain; his waning energies were spent with his family, and he never lost the intense flame of faith. Indeed, as his weakened body increasingly became no more than life support for his cancer, wasting him physically and leaving him pale and sallow, there grew in him a spirit so remarkable that one was drawn to him despite the natural repulsion of watching death’s demonic march.

Matt died at age 38, alert and joyful to the end. His funeral was a most remarkable event: at an age in life where most would be happy to have sufficient friends to bear one’s casket, his funeral service at a large church was filled to overflowing — thousands of friends, patients, and professional peers paying their respects in a ceremony far more celebration than mourning. There was an open time for testimony — and such a time it was, as one after another took to the lectern to speak through tears of how Matt had touched their lives; of services rendered, small and large, unknown before that day; of funny anecdotes and sad remembrances which left not one soul of that large crowd untouched or unmoved.

A journey such as his casts critical light on our mindless pursuit of life lived only to live long. In Matt’s short life he brought more good into the world, touched more people, changed more lives, than I could ever hope to do were I to live a century more. It boils down to purpose: mere years are no substitute for a life lived with passion, striving for some goal greater than self, with transcendent purpose multiplying and compounding each waking moment. This is a life well-lived, whether long or short, whether weakened or well.

Like all, I trust, I hope to live life long, and seek a journey lived in good health and sound mind. But even more — far more indeed — do I desire that those days yet remaining — be they long or short — be rich in purpose, wise in time spent, and graced by love.

Coming Contractions

Is the current economic downturn just a painful recession, or is it something more?

At the risk of sounding apocalyptic (I’ve been doing that a lot lately), it seems that the conventional wisdom (that this is just a severe recession which will correct itself within 1-2 years) is increasingly naive.

Several essays I would recommend to you for your consideration.

 ♦ Ray Dalio: Recession? No, It’s a D-process, and It Will Be Long

When I first started seeing the D-process and describing it, it was before it actually started to play out this way. But now you can ask yourself, OK, when was the last time bank stocks went down so much? When was the last time the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve, or any central bank, exploded like it has? When was the last time interest rates went to zero, essentially, making monetary policy as we know it ineffective? When was the last time we had deflation?

The answers to those questions all point to times other than the U.S. post-World War II experience. This was the dynamic that occurred in Japan in the ’90s, that occurred in Latin America in the ’80s, and that occurred in the Great Depression in the ’30s.

Basically what happens is that after a period of time, economies go through a long-term debt cycle — a dynamic that is self-reinforcing, in which people finance their spending by borrowing and debts rise relative to incomes and, more accurately, debt-service payments rise relative to incomes. At cycle peaks, assets are bought on leverage at high-enough prices that the cash flows they produce aren’t adequate to service the debt. The incomes aren’t adequate to service the debt. Then begins the reversal process, and that becomes self-reinforcing, too. In the simplest sense, the country reaches the point when it needs a debt restructuring. General Motors is a metaphor for the United States.

Dalio’s interview is essential, IMO, to understanding where we are, and cutting through the haze and maze of a million pundits talking about a “recession.” His tone is particularly noteworthy, lacking in histrionics or talk of “catastrophe” — thus making him all the more credible.

 ♦ Jaque Attali, Wall Street Journal Europe: We’re Heading Toward a Global Weimar:

This growth of public debt, on top of private debt, can only lead to catastrophe: the bankruptcy of households, banks, even countries. What has happened to Iceland can happen to larger countries as well, if panic seizes creditors. Anything is now possible, including the collapse of the global banking system, whose losses would have grown beyond reach of rescue.

This panic could be set off by the realization of the insolvency of the system. It could also be set off by political or terrorist movements: A number of determined groups, with even limited means, could organize speculative attacks on banks, leading to their collapse.

Then we could arrive at a global depression. It could even be followed by hyperinflation, provoked by the immensity of the monetary means created since the start of the crisis; the depression would allow the debt to be reduced to nothing, to the benefit of the borrowers. The world would then be experiencing a depression ready for inflation, a global Weimar.

His proposed solution, however, should set off a few alarms:

… the world’s institutions should be reorganized. We can’t have a globalization of the market without a globalization of the rule of law…

… it’s quite obvious what should be done: Merge the G-8 with the U.N. Security Council, allowing the chief Southern powers, such as India, Brazil or Nigeria, to join in. Place international financial institutions under the protection of this restructured Security Council, and put it in charge of setting up real global regulation, to control financial institutions; to modify the Basel Accords, by suppressing “mark to market” models; and to organize the revival of the production of public goods (water, clean air, freedom) world-wide.

In the long run, the world will be organized around a new coalition of nations, sharing the burden of these challenges, not around a single country, as is the case today.

Can you say, “New World Order”, boys and girls?

 ♦ Donald Sensing: America is, in fact, bankrupt

Much moaning and groaning has been going on about how the $800 billion “stimulus” bill will saddle future generations with mountains of debt. And it will, though that’s not my main complaint … future generations were already saddled with not a mountain of debt, but a Himalaya range of debt. In fact, using Generally Accept Accounting Practices, a formal set of accounting procedures abbreviated as GAAP and the kind used to audit corporations, the total American federal debt actually is greater than the economic output of the entire world.

Gulp.

 ♦ Fortunately, Europe will save us — or not: High-risk, high volume lending to ex-Soviet block Eastern Europe is not working out so well: Eastern European currencies crumble as fears of debt crisis grow:

Hungary \'s forint fell to an all-time low on Monday, and Poland \'s zloty slumped to the lowest in five years on plunging industrial output. Half of all loans to the private sector in Poland are in foreign currencies so borrowers face a severe debt shock after the 40% fall of the zloty against the euro since August.

“We \'re nearing the level were things could get out of hand,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief strategist at BNP Paribas.

 ♦ But at least you have your pension to fall back on: Maybe it’s time to cash out, buy gold, and keep it under your mattress. Pension Tsunami:

That approaching wave of pension debt is bigger than it looks. The purpose of this site is to provide an overview of the multiple pension crises that are about to drown America’s taxpayers.

 ♦ Richard Fernandez hopes we can, but doesn’t sound very confident: Avoiding the End of The World

One of the reasons government has a hard time managing complex systems is that politics treats events largely like linear systems. Politics interprets events in the context of its mythology. But if politics is in the best of times the art of lying to ourselves in the broad day, politics in crisis is the vice of lying to ourselves while we are falling off a cliff. And when fables meet a changing environment disaster is often the result. The second difficulty is that government is a ponderous, elephantine beast. Bureaucracies are nearly always behind the curve. Part of the requirement is to get ahead of the problem and cut out those parts of governance which contributed to the problem. But what to do when government is already part of the equation; when only government has the legitimacy to do some of things which need doing? It \'s like hoping a patient who shot himself can successfully self operate to remove the bullet.

 ♦ When all else fails, learn from the Soviet Union: Dmitry Orlov is an interesting guy, who immigrated from the Soviet Union at age 12 and traveled back many times during its disintegration and subsequent social collapse. He finds a lot of parallels between the Soviet social collapse and our current economic disintegration. He is decidedly a pessimist on where things are headed, but has some interesting and entertaining insights on how societies function (or don’t) after social or economic meltdown: Social Collapse Best Practices:

I was very well positioned to have this realization because I grew up straddling the two worlds – the USSR and the US. I grew up in Russia, and moved to the US when I was twelve, and so I am fluent in Russian, and I understand Russian history and Russian culture the way only a native Russian can. But I went through high school and university in the US. I had careers in several industries here, I traveled widely around the country, and so I also have a very good understanding of the US with all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies. I traveled back to Russia in 1989, when things there still seemed more or less in line with the Soviet norm, and again in 1990, when the economy was at a standstill, and big changes were clearly on the way. I went back there 3 more times in the 1990s, and observed the various stages of Soviet collapse first-hand…

Here is the key insight: you might think that when collapse happens, nothing works. That \'s just not the case. The old ways of doing things don \'t work any more, the old assumptions are all invalidated, conventional goals and measures of success become irrelevant. But a different set of goals, techniques, and measures of success can be brought to bear immediately, and the sooner the better.

 ♦ And finally, proof that the world really is coming to an end: Playboy‘s going broke: The magazine has fallen on hard times, with flaccid sales and lack of market penetration. It’ll be a shame to see the Playboy Center fold … I guess no one reads it “just for the articles” anymore. Playboy, Posting Loss, Says It Would Consider Sale

None of these essays really consider another factor: the black swan — the unexpected and unpredictable occurrence which renders all prior assumptions invalid. Think: a major Middle East war, with shutdown of oil supplies; a large-scale mass-casualty terrorist attack or nuclear terrorism; a massive natural disaster, such as an earthquake which levels, say, San Francisco. With the world in its current economic state of instability, the effects of such an event would be amplified many times over.

These are, as they say, interesting times. They are a time for prayer, not panic; a time to reassess priorities; a time to prepare for future difficulties and uncertainty.

And a time, above all, for faith.

A Brave New World

Newsweek has declared: We are all Socialists now.

Well, I suppose that’s now true — although it might have been useful information to disclose, oh, about six months ago. Whatever. The agenda is disclosed only after the fix is in. The bad news is, though, the situation is in reality far worse than our resigned embrace of socialism. Socialism is far more a symptom than the disease.

We are entering a brave new world.

America has come relatively late to this party. Most of the world, at least the Western world, has sailed before us into these treacherous and jealous waters, some becalmed in economic doldrums and others perished in their whirlpools of revolt against the inevitable oppression of such systems often bring. We have lived for some decades in this country, under the presumption that we are a free, liberal democracy, where personal freedom, a spirit of entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and a financial system which fostered these character traits in promoting prosperity and wealth have happily coexisted. In reality, this American narrative has been far more myth than reality for a long time now. It may well be arguable whether it has ever really existed at all. We have boasted of our independence and courage while ever more tightly holding our nanny’s hand.

Western culture and civilization, manifested in its highest and most successful form in the American experiment, was grounded in the Christianization of Europe over many centuries. This process — religious, cultural, ethical, and moral — created a fertile ground for societies which prospered culturally and economically based on their respect for the individual, their recognition of the dual nature — good and evil — of the human spirit, and a high view of men as created in the image of God and imbued therefore with a strong inner moral sense and a desire to create in freedom.

This system led to economic prosperity, cultural excellence, and the advancement of science, by basing its worldview on an enlightened reason, and by grounding its economic principles on a system of justice and personal integrity. And yet, within this very system, were contained the seeds of its own ultimate destruction — not through any inherent flaw in its underlying moral and ethical principals, but rather by intellectual advancement through science and technology, empowering not only great technological and economic advances, but also fomenting the dark hubris of arrogant human autonomy.

As Western civilization became increasingly sophisticated through exponential increases in scientific knowledge and technological advancement, there began a divergence from the very empowerment of that civilization in the individual moral compass of Christianity which not only empowered its great intellectual advances, but restrained the perverse consequences of those same technological and financial advances.

Detached from its moral grounding by its intellectual paradigms, the West has become increasingly and intractably secular. We now look to science for all answers about life; we have experts for everything; the new creation of Christianity has devolved into the evolutionary hopelessness and purposelessness of survival-of-the-fittest reductionism. We have become no more than random chance, with no purpose higher than our survival in this life, and no meaning beyond genetics or neurotransmitters or selfish genes. Morality, ethics, self-restraint are but social constructs convenient to our survival — and eminently disposable when the need arises.

The consequences of this imperceptible but profound change in worldview, centuries in the making, have brought us to our current state. We no longer trust the individual, based on the inculcation of moral and ethical values through family and cultural tradition, but instead trust no one, multiplying laws, rules, and regulations to micromanage behavior no longer restrained by the inner moral compass and now-discarded social mores. We no longer look to the individual, and family, the community, the church, to be the prime movers of support or those who fall by life’s wayside, in poverty, ill health, economic or social misfortune. We have outsourced our hearts, contracting with those most ill-suited to the task of compassion: those who by our own appointment or their own unbridled ambition have become our leaders in government.

We talk in terms of left and right, liberal and conservative, but such labels disguise and distort the true reality: we are engaged a war of world views, a war which has become increasingly lopsided in favor of the secular. We have gone from a Christian culture to a Gnostic culture, where knowledge is God, knowledge is power, and power is everything. We have now granted, by means of indifference, ignorance, and deception, the unrestrained levers of this power to our government, which was to have been our servant, but now becomes ever more our master. We have lived under the delusion that these two worlds may live together in harmony, but such fantasy has been demonstrably shown to be catastrophically false.

Those who live by certain conviction of a divine and beneficent deity, upon whose absolute principals lie the foundations of all moral behavior and societal harmony, may tolerate the corruption of secular man who rejects such notions, having as they do a clear-eyed understanding of the fallen nature of man. The secular, on the other hand, can broach no such tolerance: secularism is instead an aggressive and metastasizing malignancy which, while speaking tolerance, seeks only the extermination of that which by its very existence stands as a condemnation of their views. For to be religious, moral, ethical, and grounded in the consequential absolutes which transcend and measure the heart of men is to stand as an intolerable affront to the notion that man alone is the measure of all things.

We referred to this unbridgeable chasm as “the culture wars” — but it is far more than cultural differences and tolerably different perspectives. It is, in fact, a war on absolutes, and it is a war in which the secular by most measures are triumphing. The lost battles are legion; from the removal of old vestiges of religious practice and speech from the public square; to the relentless undermining of traditions regarding family, sexual behavior, public propriety, and respect for others in speech and behavior; to the hollow ethics which speak of honesty and integrity while reveling in bribes, extortion, and the abuse of power; to the absence of everything noble and honorable in our cultural expressions of art, music, and entertainment, the relentless assault of arrogant secularism in all its cultural and political forms has ground our fragile moral and cultural framework into dust.

We stand now at the edge of an abyss. Our technological wizardry, fueled by our moral blindness and hubris, has created a global firestorm — economic and otherwise — which threatens to consume us all. Nations are bankrupt; huge corporations and institutions owe far more than their assets; nation-states are increasingly impotent at providing core and essential services necessary for a safe, stable, and economically prosperous society. The world is going bankrupt, at the light-speed of its digital communications and global commerce.

And we stand at this precipice, in great peril, as those who have fostered this disaster now scurry about pretending to fix it. In our drunken materialism, we bought what we could not afford with money which we did not have; we promoted and elected those leaders who will tell us the same lies which we told ourselves as we catapulted blindly into our current crisis. We hope through a government of crooks and cronies to legislate a stable, fair and compassionate society, when neither we ourselves nor those whom we placed in our have any moral framework by which to establish such a just and equitable society. The criminals sit in the judge’s seat, comprise the jury, and mete out their punishment — and we wonder why our lives and situation becomes increasingly chaotic, dangerous, and violent.

It is a time at which one might hope for some wisdom among the elected; some humility at the daunting task now faced; some responsibility to look out for the common good rather than simply grasp for more power. Yet the fools we have empowered to govern us continue to whistle through the graveyard, pretending in their hubris that the dark forest path upon which they are hopelessly lost really does lead to Paradise — if we only run faster.

We lived in a profoundly unsettling and unstable time, almost apocalyptic in its potential for calamity. Our Gnostic guides assure us, in their high knowledge, that they have the answers — when in fact they do not even understand the questions. The liberty, the prosperity, the promise which was inherent in the Western culture engendered by Christianity, brought to its highest in the American experiment, is drawing to a close, its lifeblood long since drained by those who saw no evil except by those who pursued the good, who saw no answers save those their darkened minds could conceive and by which they might rule. How quickly this edifice will crumble is but pure speculation, but crumble it must. What will remain, or arise, in its stead, is as yet unknown.

We are indeed entering a brave new world.

Redefining Humanity


Gerard Vanderleun recently posted a thoughtful and moving essay on the topic of abortion, and his own personal reflections and experiences with it.

The crux of the abortion dispute is, as mentioned above, the question of when human life begins. At this point, we all know the opposing political and religious positions. At some point, human life begins and the fate of the fetus is either at the absolute will of the mother or it is not. Nevertheless, it is still hard to say exactly when humanness happens since: 1) We do not agree on the term “human,” and 2) as a result, all evidence on this issue remains anecdotal once you strip away the slant of the “research” that supports your preferred result.

When does the fetus become human?

This question, on one hand, seems all-important, yet at another level seems absurd beyond belief. It is a question which would never be asked were it not for the idea of ending a pregnancy by abortion. What reason would there be for such a question? A woman becomes pregnant, and is expecting a baby: this is the expectation of motherhood since man and woman first began procreating. In its natural course, barring unforeseen problems, a child is born — a unique instance of humanity, a living being like none other before or after. It is only in the context of deliberately interrupting this process — ending the pregnancy deliberately — that the question of of the humanity of the unborn fetus has been raised.

That such a question is raised with any seriousness is evidence of a profound denial — the denial required to end an unborn child’s life in the womb. To raise the issue of the humanity of those not yet born, to imply that the fetus is anything other than a human being, is to salve the deep discomfort of the soul inherent in the termination of a life. For we know, innately, that the unborn is alive, and human, and to justify its extinction we must engage in extraordinary contortions of conscience. Thus we say the fetus is an extension of the mother’s body, which it clearly is not; we refer to it as a blob of tissue or protoplasm, dehumanizing its unique and extraordinary human potential; we call it a “potential human”, as if at some magic point a switch is thrown to turn on its humanity — while never stopping to define what that humanity is, or why there is no humanity in the split second before our chosen transition time. We draw false and foolish analogies: the fetus is no different than a skin cell, or a “sacred sperm”, or a tumor — thus denying the extraordinary creation which occurs when the genetic map of two parents fuses into a new life, with an infinite capacity for uniqueness, change, experience, and creativity of its own. For we are created to create; we are engendered to engender; we are conceived to conceive again in an endless and infinite way: to conceive new ideas, new works, new accomplishments, new relationships, new failures and successes, and new life itself, in the generation which we ourselves engender.

From the moment of its conception, that which we so dismissively call a “fetus” begins a journey extraordinary beyond imagination. Using the inscrutable road map of its unique DNA, the developing human undergoes constant change and growth — a process which ends not at birth but some 25 years later when its full physical maturity is reached. Organs form; primitive cells differentiate into complex systems dedicated to tasks both present and future. Before its mother knows of the pregnancy, at 6 weeks, the heart and circulatory system is formed, and the heart is beating; the primitive cells forming the brain and spinal cord are in place and developing; facial features, including eyes, ears, mouth and nose are evident. By 8 weeks, fingers, toes and fingernails are present, as is the digestive system. By 12 weeks, virtually every organ system is formed and differentiated; the rest of the pregnancy is almost entirely about growth and the maturing of these intact systems. The information map for this extraordinary yet orderly complexity — and for far more, including intellect, personality, gifts and skills, — and yes, liabilities — is contained in the fertilized egg in its entirety. We are what we will be, from the the instant of our conception.

We deny what is self-evidently human for many reasons. Our secular and utilitarian culture has lost its sense of wonder at the miracle of that which is the creation of a new human life. Our children are no longer gifts but burdens, impeding our acquisitional materialism and imposing themselves on our pursuit of self-interest and self-gratification. We must dehumanize first, then destroy, the unborn child, that we may live out the delusional fantasy of unrestricted sexual license without consequences; that we may continue the self-deception that somehow we are masters of our own destiny; that we may perpetuate the fraudulent vision that our relationships are about self-fulfillment rather than sacrifice for the good of our progeny and the society and culture in which they will partake.

In introspective moments of regret we may mourn the potential loss, the wistful thought, that we have aborted a Beethoven or a Ben Franklin. Yet even this mild melancholy misses the point, showing the shallowness of our own humanity, as we find comfort in the rarity of such genius, while dismissing the loss of that far more tragic: the loss of the common, in all its richness and variety. It is not the loss of a Mozart we should mourn; it is the empty place where a merchant, a mechanic, a muse, a minstrel might have stood. It is the compassionate mother, the inspirational teacher, the clever repairman or comical co-worker who will never live to enrich the lives of others in ways trivial and transcendent. Our losses are incalculable, because we have destroyed them before we knew their worth. We sacrifice our hope and our future on the altar of calculated convenience and cold rationality.

It is not merely the loss of those who might have lived which we suffer; it is we who survive, who make these mortal choices, who are changed as well. For if the humanity of our children is fungible, redefined, discarded and spent on the expediency of convenience and self-interest, such expediency will not long remain in the dark chambers of the abortion suite. We will, in banal, measured, rational steps, soon judge the humanity of all with the same jaundiced eye. The disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly and frail will soon find our cold and rational eye cast upon them, as we find their lives ever more a burden, ever more useless and wasted, all too easily discarded as we pursue our utopian vision of perfection through self-worship.

Yet our Darwinian dream marches on, leaving the weakest to fall by the wayside in our evolution from compassionate humans to rational beasts. Survive we may — but at the ghastly price of wagered humanity lost.