Thursday, June 30, 2016

About That Wrong Abortion Ruling

Today’s title is vague. Which wrong ruling? There have been so many. Roe v. Wade, to begin with. Even this week there have been a couple. One was negating Indiana’s law against abortion based on possible fetal abnormalities. A US District Court judge decided the state has no interest in preserving those lives, and a woman has a right to kill an imperfect unborn child—or any other at her whim.

But, no, I’m going back to Monday’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, about HB2, Texas’s 2013 abortion law. I wrote about it in more detail here and here. But let’s do a quick review.

There were separate portions of the bill, and the portion prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks—the point at which science has shown the fetus can feel pain—was upheld. Most European countries and many other states have similar limitations. Originally that was the loudest complaint, with Texas state representative Wendy Davis, in pink tennis shoes, and other pro-baby killers hysterically claiming the bill would cause women to resort to coat hanger back-alley abortions all over Texas.

The part of the bill recently ruled on was about the health of the mother. It was a reaction to the Gosnell case, in which an abortion clinic was filthy, grisly, and engaged in late-term and post-birth abortions (i.e., murder of newborns). There were two basic requirements to make sure Gosnell-like conditions wouldn’t risk the lives of the women receiving abortions. One was that clinics would be required to have doctors with admitting privileges at a relatively nearby hospital (the miles were far enough to offer flexibility in all cases). The other was that the facilities would have to meet the same standards as other ambulatory surgical centers.

So let’s be clear: the abortion industry fought all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid securing basic health care for women.

One more detail: Texas move in and close down any abortion clinics; clinics closed because they didn’t want to meet the standards—mainly based on not wanting to spend money to upgrade. 

Sometimes that had to do with hiring a bona fide doctor with admitting privileges. Sometimes it was cleanliness, equipment, and other basics that they didn’t want to spend their profits on. Larger clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, were not affected at all. Also, very small clinics, such as an OB-GYN office that performed only a few (I think 15 or fewer per year) were not affected. Only actual clinics that were not willing to meet the standards had to close.

The state gave them extended time to meet the requirements. The clinics that closed did so because they didn’t want health care concerns to interfere with their bottom line—money for baby killing.

I do not write about this the way the news media writes about it. This piece in the Washington Examiner, specifically about how the Court changes abortion law back and forth, manages to be aware of the pro-life viewpoint, which I appreciate. But, this front-page story in Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle is typical opinion-pretending-to-be-journalism we’re so often stuck with: 

Notice the slant. This is not a neutral news piece. Maybe we should do some translating. It ought to read something more like this: “Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling against Texas’s right to protect women’s health care, many abortion clinics not meeting standards closed while the law was in effect.” The same graphic applies.

Following a mainly factual paragraph indicating that only 19 of 41 clinics remain open since the 2013 law went into effect, here’s one of the early paragraphs in the piece:

Despite a sweeping legal victory on their side, abortion-rights supporters have an uphill effort as they seek to rebuild shattered networks while opponents work with allies in the Texas Legislature to limit the procedure in the 2017 session.
Taking out the pro-abortion slant, it might read more like this:

Despite the SCOTUS ruling along liberal lines, preventing states from protecting women’s health when regulations could potentially make getting abortions less convenient, the pro-life side can be pleased that the 21 clinics that chose to close while the law was in effect will not likely reopen anytime soon.
Then following quotes would not come from the supposedly downtrodden and victimized (and ironically named) Whole Woman’s Health abortion provider; quotes would come from, possibly, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who worked for the bill—against Wendy Davis three summers ago.

And the story would certainly not go on to claim that the evil Republicans in the Texas Legislature are ignoring the litigious Democrats and their so-called experts, wasting taxpayer money by not agreeing with minority Democrats on all issues. Instead there might be some rejoicing. There wouldn’t be anything in this abortion story on the state’s voter ID law, for example, which takes up a good third of the piece.

When there are facts, there might be reason to rejoice: “The most recent data available show that the number of abortions in Texas dropped 14 percent—from 63,168 in 2013, to 54,191 in 2014—the first full-year after the law took effect.”

And then we could look at what the legislature is likely to do in the 2017 session—without the scolding and foreboding. The legislature is likely to outlaw dismemberment procedures; this has been done successfully in other states. Not only does this consider pain to the unborn, it is for safety—because dismemberment can lead to perforations of the mother.

We could say that, while the courts prevent the states from eliminating murder of the unborn—or at least limiting them to the extreme cases related to rape and incest (pregnancy without consent of the mother) or risk to life of the mother (which is usually a risk to the life of the baby as well)—then states will need to settle for working toward making them safe and rare.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit, Texit, and Exits

It was a rather historic moment for Great Britain last Thursday, with the vote of the people favoring leaving the European Union about 52-48.

One of dozens of photos I took of Big Ben
during my trip to London in May

It’s interesting, because they are our longtime friends; we share language and a fair amount of culture. And I think we can learn from what they’re going through.

The European Union was originally called the European Economic Community. It was meant to unite separate sovereign nations economically, for purposes of money and trade. And it was meant to make it easier for Europeans to travel from state (nation) to state.

In the US, that sounds familiar. We were sovereign states (nations) that united to increase our economic power as well. And also to increase our strength against invasion and takeover. So our union was actually intended to have the central government do more than the European Union was intended to do. But we had our Constitution to strictly limit the federal powers, which is probably why the experiment has extended beyond two centuries, rather than just four decades.

When the European countries signed on to this agreement, it was not supposed to give a central government power over day-to-day decisions of people in these sovereign nations. It wasn’t supposed to set rules on their immigration, or limit them in trade—or take wealth from the successful countries to bail out the profligate ones.

Maybe it’s too much central planning when your economic union decides what your imported bananas must look like, or how much power your vacuum is allowed to have, or how to label your jams, or that you can no longer use incandescent lightbulbs, or that bottled water is not allowed to claim that it helps avoid dehydration. Maybe those kinds of decisions are NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS.

Some of those might seem like trivial annoyances compared to the bailout requirements that drain resources, and the forced immigration-without-assimilation that has been going on.

And, of course, the argument against leaving has been the expected, “Only bigots and xenophobes are in favor of Brexit.” So now, 52% of the UK—one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth, where immigrants have long been welcome and fit into the culture fairly seamlessly until the recent mostly Muslim influxes—can’t possibly have a reason than hatred and fear of foreigners? That seems unlikely.

I don’t know what the economic fallout will be. Since Great Britain kept its own money—the euro was accepted, but the pound remained the usual currency—that will require less transition than some other countries might face. Still, it may take some time, especially in a world economy struggling with debt and recession.

But here’s what we know, based on the Spherical Model: when the government is as local as possible, that always works better than government from a higher level than necessary. Because the European Union was leftist, socialist, and generally anti-freedom, the British people at least have a better chance for freedom without that layer of tyranny hanging over them.

And because the EU was economically controlling, the British people have a better chance at prosperity without the EU’s interference and misuse of earned wealth. There may be some rocky times while things readjust, but the closer you get to earners deciding how their own money is spent, the more prosperity you get.

Various people have been commenting on the outcome. Nile Gardiner at the Daily Signal said,

Britain will no longer be subject to European legislation, with Britain’s Parliament retaking control. British judges will no longer be overruled by the European Court of Justice, and British businesses will be liberated from mountains of EU regulations, which have undermined economic liberty.
Bottom of Form
Indeed, Brexit will result in a bonfire of red tape, freeing the city of London and enterprises across the nation from European Union diktat. And at last, Britain is free again to negotiate its own free trade deals, a huge boost to the world’s fifth largest economy.
All of those things look appealing.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has been thinking about it as well. He said on Facebook,

What were the issues in the election? The people of the U.K. feel they are losing their country. They are being swamped by illegal and legal immigrants and refugees. Wages are flat, immigrants are not assimilating to their new nation, taxes are high and the cost of living has increased. Seniors can't earn a reasonable rate on their savings, and they see a world where terrorism is the new normal. On top of that, they were buried in regulations, put in place not by their elected representatives, but E.U. officials who are elected by no one and accountable to no one. The people are angry and afraid for themselves and their children and grandchildren.
Those were the issues. And it’s not much of a stretch to say we face similar issues here. Patrick added,

As victory was announced in the U.K., media and opponents pronounced the leaders of the Brexit charge divisive, hateful, and dangerous. Sound familiar? Democrats here in the U.S. and their allies in the media, and sadly some establishment Republicans, frequently call those of us who simply want secure borders, lower taxes, increased wages through economic growth, a military that is given the freedom to crush terrorists and protection of our traditional values, liberties and the Constitution, divisive, mean spirited and dangerous.
In our last post, we talked about that as the secular progressive religion—and it isn’t a religion of invitation or peace, but one of coercion and hate.

We can continue to show them the good outcomes of living the rules of freedom, prosperity, and civilization. And they will ignore evidence and obvious facts, and then demagogue.

But the Brexit example may be starting something. There comes a time when it is appropriate to stop submitting to the tyranny and take back the rights God has given us.

On Friday, while I was talking over the Brexit vote with son Political Sphere, we both almost simultaneously came up with the idea of Texit—for a Texas exit. Not that we want a split to happen; we want our US Constitution to be the law of the land—and have government abide by it. But the name is a natural. And apparently it’s so natural, I learned later that day it was a top trending hashtag on Twitter—so plenty of others thought of it as well.

There are already murmurs of possible other exits from the EU. For those of us that remember the dissolution of the USSR, we’re not so surprised at that kind of thing.

We’re a week away from the celebration of the US Declaration of Independence. Some of the words feel so current:

WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
That’s a beautiful way of saying, sometimes there needs to be a dis-union, and since that is such a weighty thing, honor requires giving a full explanation. The Declaration of Independence goes on to enumerate many of the despotic usurpations, “all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States,” which had been committed by the king.

We, the people of the United States, have been infinitely better off than we would have been under tyranny.

And we became strong and loyal friends to the British people—which we could not have been if kept in submission for any longer, let alone an additional couple of centuries.

But when the US government becomes the tyranny we fought independence from, how long can that continue?

Just this morning we got another ruling from the Supreme Court, overruling a just, duly legislated law in Texas: Justice Kennedy leaned to the pro-abortion side (the coercive religion side) and refused to allow Texas to require abortion clinics to meet the health standards of other similar medical facilities. No woman would have been prevented from getting an abortion through the law, but women seeking abortions will now have no health protections against clinics with grisly, unsafe Gosnell-type practices. No abortion clinic was forced to close, but they were simply required to meet the same standard other types of clinics meet.

But unelected members of the Supreme Court threw out the Fifth Circuit ruling, and came up with their own law, not based on the Constitution, but based on their preference for abortions to continue unhindered in as many places as possible. The ruling is so broad as to make it difficult for any state to have any law related to women’s health and safety concerning abortion clinics.

Is this a line too far? Combine it with forcing the state to accept unvetted Muslim refugees in large numbers. Combine it with forcing states to adopt policies for bathrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms that give advantage to sexual predators while taking away the right to bodily safety for women and children. Combine it with high taxes, high debt, Obamacare, Common Core, failure of care for veterans—the list of grievances begins to look as substantial as the founders’ list in the Declaration of Independence. And it looks every bit as substantial as the reasons Britain voted to exit the EU.

The Declaration also points out,

In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms. Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury….We have warned them from Time to Time of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our Connections and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice…
Here in America—and particularly here in Texas—we are at the “petitioning for redress” stage. Texas won one battle last week, proclaiming that the president did not have authority to change immigration law by edict. Other battles continue.

We are currently John Adams, in the 1770s, situated in Great Britain, petitioning for justice again and again. We are not yet Thomas Jefferson penning the Declaration of Independence. But, as Britain has just shown us, in the course of human events, there may come a time.

It is not “crazy right-wingers” or "bigots and xenophobes" that bring an exit closer. Despotic usurpations bring it closer. Big-government oppressors around the world should take heed.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Misguided Search for Meaning, Part II

In Part I we looked at the kind of ideology that shows up when someone searches for meaning without civilization. To review, these are people who:

·         Seek something to give meaning to their lives.
·         Reinterpret what they see in the world to suit their version of reality.
·         Define an extreme version of belief as “good” and all else as “evil.”
·         Believe they are superior and dehumanize anyone not among them.
·         Tolerate no belief outside their orthodoxy.
·         Seek power over anyone not associated with them in full, or annihilation of any who cannot be coerced to submit.
·         Believe that whatever they do is justified.
·         Delight in hating all who believe differently.
These are descriptive of Islamist extremists, such as the Orlando attacker—and similar attacks in Paris, Brussels, Beirut, San Bernardino, Boston, and a growing list of places around the globe. 

But these apply almost exactly to another type of religion. Another religion that wishes to impose its ideology through coercion—although not through annihilation, yet.

I read a couple of articles on the same day last week, and I made some mental connections I hadn’t before.

This is the conclusion of “The First Church of Secularism and Its Sexual Sacraments” by Mary Eberstadt, in National Review

The so-called culture war, in other words, has not been conducted by people of religious faith on one side, and people of no faith on the other. It is instead a contest of competing faiths: one in the Good Book, and the other in the more newly written figurative book of secularist orthodoxy about the sexual revolution. In sum, secularist progressivism today is less a political movement than a church.
If that’s true, then we have a state religion, supported by the administration, the media—news and entertainment in large part—education at all levels, some businesses, organizations, and groups, and even some churches. Non-adherents are officially discriminated against, just as our founders wanted to prevent.

They have doctrine—beliefs that they define as moral. And they require adherence. Eberstadt talks about a particular aspect of the religion, which informs much of the rest:

Its fundamental faith is that the sexual revolution—that is, the gradual de-stigmatization of all forms of consenting non-marital sex—has been a boon to all humanity….
The first commandment of this new secularist writ is that no sexual act between consenting adults is wrong. Two corollary imperatives are that whatever contributes to consenting sexual acts is an absolute good, and that anything interfering, or threatening to interfere, with consenting sexual acts is ipso facto wrong.
I predict the “consenting adults” aspect is not permanent; among the discussion is ascribing “consent” to younger and younger children. And “consent” might be redefined in time. But for now, they use the “consenting adult” idea to persuade themselves of their morality.

Sex without consequences or obligations is a basic tenet of the religion—in contrast to Christianity and other civilizing religions—more than most other tenets:

After all, Christians and other social dissidents today aren’t threatened with job loss because of writing in self-published books about the biblical teaching against stealing, say. Military chaplains are not being removed from office and sidelined for quoting from the book of Ruth. No, every act committed against believers in the name of today’s intolerant “tolerance” has a single, common denominator, which is the secularist protection of the perceived prerogatives of the sexual revolution at all costs. The new intolerance is a wholly owned subsidiary of that revolution. No revolution, no new intolerance.
I don’t think this idea that secular progressivism is a church is merely a metaphor. It is too complete.
Another piece I read is “Why Liberals Support Muslims Who Hate Everything They Stand For” by John Hawkins. He uses the word indiscriminateness, which I think we will find useful, even though it’s an awkward, unlovely word.

His piece attempts to explain why refusing to condemn Islamist terror—for fear of incidentally condemning Islam in general—is more important than supporting homosexuals. Because there is a hierarchy, which indiscriminateness explains.

The word is first explained by Evan Sayat in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, whom Hawkins quotes:

They [liberals, or secular progressives] were raised to believe that indiscriminateness is a moral imperative. That the only way to be moral is to not discriminate between right and wrong, good and evil, better and worse, truth and lies because your act of discrimination—discriminating between these things might just be a reflection of your personal discrimination, your bigotries.
They were raised to believe that indiscriminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is the evil of having discriminated. The second bullet point, and this is an essential corollary, is that indiscriminateness of thought does not lead to indiscriminateness of policy. It leads the modern liberal to invariably side with evil over good, wrong over right and the behaviors that lead to failure over those that lead to success. Why? Very simply if nothing is to be recognized as better or worse than anything else then success is de facto unjust.
There is no explanation for success if nothing is better than anything else and the greater the success the greater the injustice. Conversely and for the same reason, failure is de facto proof of victimization and the greater the failure, the greater the proof of the victim is, or the greater the victimization.
To a non-adherent to the doctrines of secular progressivism, this is obviously convoluted and wrong. For example:

Why do so many liberals seem to loathe America even though we’re the richest, most successful country in history? Because the very fact that we’re the richest, most successful country in history proves we must be doing something wrong and unfair.
Why do white Americans have to be benefitting from racism and “white privilege?” Because white Americans are a majority in the United States and they’re doing better than most other racial groups.
Just to complete Hawkins’ thought on how this relates to Islamist terror, another quote:

They are unable to admit that among religions, Islam has a unique problem with terrorism, violence and rape. They are not capable of admitting that there is a particular risk to bringing in Muslim immigrants. Even when a Muslim tells everyone he’s killing people because of his religion, liberals can’t acknowledge his motivation because to do so would mean that they’d have to admit Islam has issues.
I’m considering the possibility that “indiscriminateness” is a precursor to the “sex is always good” doctrine. The assumption that recognizing relative goodness is itself bad leads to rejection of good, leaving bad as preferred.

We know that family is the basic unit of civilization—a foundational good. So it isn’t surprising that an orthodoxy that insists on savagery over civilization would glorify the specifics that undermine family.

They believe that sex outside of marriage is always right, when it is always wrong. They believe that marriage is whatever any two (or more) people say it is between them, when it is actually a permanent commitment between a man and a woman, who are biologically capable of reproducing and responsible for raising offspring to adulthood. They claim that a woman doesn’t need a man, even for parenting, ignoring the scientifically proven negatives and growing catastrophic social consequences for a society with more children raised without fathers.

Then comes the coercion: a pizza shop that never services weddings is attacked and temporarily shut down for answering a hypothetical question about whether they supported “gay marriage,” which they answered “heretically.”
image from here

A florist who has always served two particular homosexual customers, and considered them friends, declines servicing their “wedding.” She is prosecuted, not for a crime, but for a refusal to submit to the orthodoxy. Her business is shut down. Her assets are seized. And she is deprived of a way to support herself in her imminent (and now forced) retirement. The punishment may be greater than for actual criminals—rapists, drug dealers, embezzlers. All this even though she committed no crime, never refused service to anyone based on sexual orientation, or even deprived the two from getting the wedding service they wanted, which was readily available at multiple other locations.

Adherents to the secular progressive religion intolerantly suggest she could have just ignored her religion and serviced the “gay marriage,” unaware of their intolerance toward her, while also seemingly unaware that the simple solution was for the homosexual couple to be tolerant and go to another florist.

Similar stories are mounting for bakers, photographers, and even a farming family that used to allow weddings in their barn—where they live with their children upstairs, but were not permitted to say no to a “same-sex marriage” in their own home—unless they shut down their business altogether. They had been willing to allow the celebration elsewhere on the property, just not their home. That wouldn’t satisfy the orthodox. They were therefore deprived of their livelihood, and possibly their home.

Beyond the state-imposed religious position on “same-sex marriage,” and this church’s sacramental ritual of child sacrifice which we call abortion, there are other doctrines that can only be explained in terms of a fanatical coercive religion.

Consider global warming—as it was called when it stopped being called global cooling, recently changed to climate change—defined as, “humans are detrimental to the earth and should be reduced in number and effect” [as long as the religious adherents are not deprived of their goods and conveniences, we might add]. Anyone questioning this doctrine is a “climate change denier,” and already there are calls for not only taking away their rights to work in various fields, but to imprison such heretics (here and here).

Economic policies from the secular progressive faithful always fall on the side of, “take from those who produce and give to those who do not produce,” with the self-congratulation that this is “fair,” which is their way of claiming it is moral to steal if it’s done in the name of their religion.

Gun control has come up loudly since the Orlando shooting—it comes up loudly after every shooting. And it is as perverse as their other doctrines: terrorists, madmen, and violent criminals should not be allowed to indiscriminately mass murder; therefore we should not allow law-abiding citizens to own or purchase guns.

If you’re a thinking person, you recognize the logic failure there; but those of the secular progressive religion do not. They go on faith that keeping law-abiding innocent people from defending their own lives is the way to prevent terrorists and criminals from harming us. Only wild-eyed faith could lead to such a line of thinking. And yet the Democrats in the US Congress are holding a sit-in demonstration on the House floor (literally sitting on the floor), throwing a tantrum to get that outcome, so certain are they that they are acting “morally.”

There are a couple of scriptures that are becoming vividly true applied to our day:

20 ¶Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!Isaiah 5:20

That seems to describe the secular progressive religion quite accurately. It also describes radical Islam.

This next one is slightly less familiar.

 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look, and behold that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations, whose founder is the devil.
 10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.
11 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.—1 Nephi 14:9-11

It’s from the Book of Mormon. I wondered at the meaning of the “great and abominable church” while growing up, because I had a limited understanding of the word “church.” For many years now I’ve understood it to be anything outside the gospel of Christ. But I think that isn’t refined enough. There are many good people who are not Christians (and many Christians who are not good Christians). I think that people will be judged on their willingness to do good and be good as best they can understand it. Many such people will recognize God’s truth when invited to see it in this life. Others may not have that chance in this life, but the true Judge will know their hearts and judge them, so we do not have to.

I think it is likely that among Muslims worldwide there are many seekers of good, who do not wish to coerce and bend others to their will—and do not wish to be coerced. But there are not such people among radical Islamists.

I keep hoping there are some seekers of good among adherents to the secular progressive religion, who are merely misguided in their search to be “moral,” and would change if they could see the truth presented clearly. Some have just been indoctrinated—radicalized—through the propaganda surrounding them. Like fish swimming in water, unware of the water because it is everywhere they go.

If there are those, I invite them to learn to love truth, and learn to love people, and tolerate people with differences—and by doing so learn to love the true God.

For those of us who love truthalong with freedom, prosperity, and civilizationwe should know we are dealing with radical religionists. We cannot compromise with them. We can try to avoid contention when possible. But we must stand for truth; the alternative is to suffer coercion to succumb to their great and abominable church.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Misguided Search for Meaning

Along with the rest of the country, I’ve been trying to make some sense of the senseless terrorist murders in Orlando.

I am working on a theory that this—and a number of other challenges to civilization—are related to a misguided search for meaning.

Going back in history, for a moment, this is from The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, concerning the Six-Day War in Israel:

After years of rhetorical attacks on Israel, Nasser demanded the removal of UN peacekeepers in the Sinai and then blockaded the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Israel responded with an overwhelming preemptive attack that destroyed the entire Egyptian air force within two hours. When Jordan, Iraq, and Syria joined the war against Israel, their air forces were also wiped out that same afternoon. In the next few days Israel captured all of the Sinai, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, while crushing the forces of the frontline Arab states. It was a psychological turning point in the history of the modern Middle East. The speed and decisiveness of the Israeli victory in the Six Day War humiliated many Muslims who had believed until then that God favored their cause. They had lost not only their armies and their territories but also faith in their leaders, in their countries, and in themselves. The profound appeal of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt and elsewhere was born in this shocking debacle. A newly strident voice was heard in the mosques; the voice said that they had been defeated by a force far larger than the tiny country of Israel. God had turned against the Muslim. The only way back to Him was to return to the pure religion. The voice answered despair with a simple formulation: Islam is the solution.
There was in this equation the tacit understanding that God sided with the Jews. Until the end of World War II, there was little precedent in Islam for the anti-Semitism that was now warping the politics and society of the region Jews had lived safely—although submissively—under Muslim rule for 1,200 years, enjoying full religious freedom; but in the 1930s, Nazi propaganda on Arabic-language shortwave radio, coupled with slanders by Christian missionaries in the region, infected the area with this ancient Western prejudice. After the war Cairo became a sanctuary for Nazis, who advised the military and the government. The rise of the Islamist movement coincided with the decline of fascism, but they overlapped in Egypt, and the germ passed into a new carrier (p. 38).
So, there was a loss, among Muslims in these Middle Eastern countries, of the sense that they were right, or possibly better than their neighbors as they had supposed. The way they saw it, God no longer favored them. So it was up to them to get back in God’s graces—by doubling down on being more of what they had been.

Fascism is an idea of coercion. It is extreme. They see a need to be extreme in order to assert their superiority. As with the Nazis before them, the fascist Muslims asserted their superiority through coercion, force, and death to the unbelieving or the different.

I wrote some months ago, after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, about the siege in Mecca. The perpetrators of that terrorist attack were executed. During that one-month window between the end of the siege and the executions, the Soviets attacked Afghanistan.

Abdullah Azzam, who, according to The
Looming Tower
(from which this photo
is taken) "issued a fatwa in 1984 that called
upon Muslims everywhere to 'join the caravan' of
the Afghan jihad.
It was a mythos that got Osama bin Laden. He had a teacher at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, a Palestinian named Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. According to Wright, Azzam

embodied in a modern fashion the warrior priest—a figure that was as well established in Islamic tradition as the samurai in Japan. Azzam combined piety and learning with a serene and bloody intransigence. His slogan was “Jihad and the rifle alone; no negotiations, no conferences, no dialogues” (p. 95).
Azzam started traveling to Peshawar to help in the Afghan resistance. His descriptions were a recruiting tool, catching the imagination of bin Laden. As Wright explains,

The Afghans, in his tableau, represented humanity in a pristine state—a righteous, pious, pre-industrial people—struggling against the brutal, soulless, mechanized force of modernity….
The struggle of Islam, as Qutb had framed it, and as Azzam deeply believed, was against jahiliyya—the world of unbelief that had existed before Islam, which was still corrupting and undermining the faithful with the lures of materialism, secularism and sexual equality. Here in this primitive land, so stunted by poverty and illiteracy and patriarchal tribal codes, the heroic and seemingly doomed Afghan jihad against the Soviet colossus had the elements of an epochal moment in history. In the skillful hands of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, the legend of the Afghan holy warriors would be packaged and sold all over the world (p. 96).
So bin Laden was captured by that mythos and used it to recruit throughout his deadly career. It appealed to others like him—the wealthy and educated,

According to research by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist in Cairo, most of the Islamists who had attacked the mosque in Mecca were young men from villages who had come to the city for schooling. The majority were the sons of middle-level government bureaucrats. They were ambitious and tended to be drawn to the fields of science and engineering, which accept only the most qualified students. They were not the alienated, marginalized youth that a sociologist might have expected. Instead, Ibrahim wrote, they were “model young Egyptians. If they were not typical, it was because they were significantly above the average in their generation.” (p. 58) This type continued in recruiting of Saudis to Afghanistan.

It was never about recruiting the disenfranchised, the poor, the oppressed striking out at an unfair world. It appealed to privileged college students, wealthy sons, the comfortable—who lacked purpose, principles, and a sense of meaning. The mythos described for them led them to go fight in far off Afghanistan—at least during a school break. Maybe longer if they got the thrill they sought.

Afghan fighters, the mujahideen, tolerated the Saudis such as bin Laden, but only barely. They were untrained, undisciplined, unworthy of trust in times of war. Bin Laden spent the first several years with a “fear of bodily participation,” (p. 100). Later, ashamed, he pushed for greater Saudi participation in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was often ill, and militarily unwise. But he eventually maintained a training camp in a strategically located mountain overlook called the Lion’s Den.

There was a single battle, near the end, in which this ragtag group prevailed, almost accidentally, at a critical time. It followed their worst defeat, a three-week siege, at the end of which bin Laden ordered the destruction of the camp so the Soviets had nothing to pillage.

The Saudi group hid within the forest and attacked one-by-one any Soviets that approached. Sometime during this assault, bin Laden fainted (claimed he was calm enough to fall asleep). It was confusion within the dense forest that led the remaining Soviets to overestimate the number of the enemy and give up the attack. As Lawrence Wright describes it,
Osama bin Laden, photo from
The Looming Tower, "in a cave in Jalalabad
in 1988, at about the time that he
began al-Qaeda"

From the Soviet perspective, the battle of the Lion’s Den was a small moment in the tactical retreat from Afghanistan. In the heightened religious atmosphere among the men following bin Laden, however, there was a dizzying sense that they were living in a supernatural world, in which reality knelt before faith. For them, the encounter at the Lion’s Den became the foundation of the myth that they defeated the superpower. Within a few years the entire Soviet empire fell to pieces—dead of the wound the Muslims inflicted in Afghanistan, the jihadis believed. By then they had created the vanguard that was to carry the battle forward. Al-Qaeda was conceived in the marriage of these assumptions: Faith is stronger than weapons or nations, and the ticket to enter the sacred zone where such miracles occur is the willingness to die (p. 120).
Bin Laden was presented a rifle taken off one of the killed Soviets, which he brandished thereafter. He had neither shot the rifle nor killed the Soviet. But that didn’t matter; it looked good for building the mythos.

This is only a quarter of the way into Wright’s book. There’s much more to the story on the way to 9/11. But I think this beginning gives us some clues. Islamist extremists are people who:

·         Seek something to give meaning to their lives.
·         Reinterpret what they see in the world to suit their version of reality.
·         Define an extreme version of belief as “good” and all else as “evil.”
·         Believe they are superior and dehumanize anyone not among them.
·         Tolerate no belief outside their orthodoxy.
·         Seek power over anyone not associated with them in full, or annihilation of any who cannot be coerced to submit.
·         Believe that whatever they do is justified.
·         Delight in hating all who believe differently.
I do not think it is a bad thing to seek meaning in our lives; I think we should all do that.
But seeking meaning only in the southern hemisphere of the Spherical Model—below civilization—leads only to savagery.

And coercion will never be the right way to persuade others to find shared meaning. Real conversion comes only by invitation, “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned, by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”[i]

It is undeniable that Islamist terrorists are the most dangerous of the savagery-loving meaning seekers today. And we should do all in our power to identify and defeat this enemy-of-all-that-is-good.

But they are not the only savagery-loving meaning seekers. I’m seeing connections I hadn’t seen before, which may explain in part why our president fails to identify the enemy, let alone protect us by defeating that enemy. I’ll talk that about in Part II.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Depend on Dad

Father’s Day is Sunday. There’s plenty of serious data we can get to in a minute. But first, a couple of short videos that are more what being Dad looks like—and feels like.

This first is an award-winning animated short from Brigham Young University. You just need to see it.

Now another one for your viewing pleasure. The world has changed when a commercial has become a short documentary worth seeing. This Gillette commercial is so good, it might even sell their product. But, better than buying you dad shaving gear, watch this with him. Or just ask him something.

This third video is a little more serious. It's called "Black Fathers Matter," which Larry Elder did for Prager Univeristy--an online collection of informational videos that you should discover, if you haven't already. I suggest you watch the video first. But then, in case you didn’t take notes, I’m following it with some of the included data (which may have some minor discrepancies with other sources, but not enough to change the overall meaning).

·         Fatherless children are 5 times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime.
·         Fatherless children are 9 times more likely to drop out of school.
·         Fatherless children are 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
·         In 1960, 5% of American children began life with single mother.
o   By 1980, 18%.
o   By 2000, 33%.
o   By 2015, 41%.
·         Blacks during slavery, even for whom marriage was illegal, were more likely to be raised by their father and mother than black children today.
·         Between 1890 and 1940 a black child was more likely to grow up with married parents than a white child.
·         Black out-of-wedlock birth in 1965 was 25%; in 2015 it was 73%.
o   White out-of-wedlock births in 1965 was 5%; in 2015 it was 25%.
o   Hispanic out-of-wedlock births in 2015 was 53%.
·         In 1949, the national poverty rate was 34%.
·         By 1965, the poverty rate was cut in half, to 17%.
·         In 1964 (during Johnson's State of the Union Address), the War on Poverty began.
o   $20 Trillion has been spent on anti-poverty programs.
o   The poverty rate has remained stagnant for 50 years.
o   The likelihood of women being in poverty has dramatically risen.
o   64% of poor say the poor have more out-of-wedlock children in order to get more government benefits.

Let those sink in a moment.

Now, let me repeat the formula we know, through social science and economics, for avoiding poverty in America:

1.      Don’t have sex before age 20.
2.      Don’t have sex until after marriage.
3.      Stay married
4.      Obtain at least a high school diploma.

That’s a bare minimum, just to stay above the poverty line. Add some additional education, some consistent work ethic, and a stable, loving home, maybe a helpful and supportive religious community, and outcomes for children (and for parents) approach the American dream. Even in today’s bad economy.

Feminists have this hackneyed phrase, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Fine. Live without a man. That’s a choice.

But for a woman who wants to be a mother, she—and the children—need a man. A good man. One worthy of being called Dad.

To those who are such a man, and to those blessed with one in their lives, Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Cruelty Trademark

I’ve been re-reading a couple of classic youth novels for book club, and I’m reminded that, in order to become a classic, a piece of literature needs to touch our desire to  understand and strive for what is right, just, and civilized.

Black Beauty was published in 1877. It’s the story of a horse’s life—told from the point of view of the horse, in England when horses were necessary for most transportation. Horses are servants to humans, nothing to be done about that. But there’s so much about the way they’re treated that determines whether they can be a good servant.

Nineteenth Century England is somewhat far off, and yet there’s some wisdom that transcends.

While Black Beauty is still at his first master Squire Gordon’s, he is cared for by a good and skilled stable master named John, and his assistant James. John has come upon a scene of a young man trying to force his pony to jump a fence that is too high. The pony keeps refusing, and eventually tips the boy into a thorn hedge. John, rather than helping the boy out, allows him to learn from the scratches, and then lets the father know what has happened—letting them stop worrying after the riderless pony has arrived home, and letting them know the pony was not at fault. The father sees the need to do some teaching with his son.

Back home, John tells the incident to James, and James remembers an incident with that boy at school. James had found the boy catching flies, pulling off their wings, and enjoying watching the resulting torture. James had whopped him, and then explained himself to the school master.

“Of course I said fair and square at once what I had done, and why; then I showed the master the poor flies, some crushed and some crawling about helpless, and I showed him the wings on the window sill. I never saw him so angry before; but as Bill was still howling and whining, like the coward that he was, he did not give him any more punishment of that kind, but set him up on a stool for the rest of the afternoon, and said that he should not go out to play for that week. Then he talked to all the boys very seriously about cruelty, and said how hard-hearted and cowardly it was to hurt the weak and the helpless; but what stuck in my mind was this: he said that cruelty was the devil’s own trade-mark, and if we saw anyone who took pleasure in cruelty we might know who he belonged to, for the devil was a murderer from the beginning, and a tormentor to the end. On the other hand, where we saw people who love their neighbors, and were kind to man and beast, we might know that was God’s mark, for ‘God is Love’” (p. 59).
I’m thinking this is much different from a likely teacher’s response today. A no tolerance policy for fighting wouldn’t even wait for an explanation; the protector against cruelty would be punished.

I have no fondness for flies and feel no compunction about using a flyswatter if they enter my home, but that’s different from inflicting torture. There are studies and statistics showing that adult predators were often cruel to animals and small creatures as children. Black Beauty is fiction. But somehow that long ago society knew animal cruelty was wrong way before the studies.

Also, today the teacher would hardly be allowed to mention the devil and God as his reasoning against cruelty.

And yet this paragraph is rather satisfying for a lover of civilization.

Later in the story, James, the assistant, moves on to a new job, and is replaced with a 14-year-old boy who needs an opportunity to learn a trade. There is an instance when Joe, the new boy, is getting along well, and is riding Black Beauty on an errand. They pass a brick field, where a man is beating his horses to pull his overladen cart out of mud. Joe calls to him to stop. He points out that the wheels are too stuck, and beating the horses won’t help them move the cart. Joe offers to help unload some of the bricks. The man—angry and drunk—tells him to mind his own business, and continues whipping the horses.

Joe goes to the house near the brickyard and finds the brickyard owner and tells him what is happening. The man thanks him. Later he has him testify to a magistrate. And young Joe does it all bravely.

When Joe gets home, John notices he is upset and has Joe tell him what happened. Then he says,

Right, Joe! You did right, my now, whether the fellow gets a summons or not. Many folks would have ridden by and said ‘twas not their business to interfere. Now, I say, that with cruelty and oppression it is everybody’s business to interfere when they see it; you did right my boy (p.88).
There are things we know about being civilized. We need people with a desire to be good. And we still have some innate understanding of what that looks like.

As we’re reminded in the Ten Commandments, we need to honor God, life, family, property, and truth. And we have additional lists like this one in I Corinthians 13, reminding us what pure love entails: being long suffering, kind, not envious, not thinking oneself above others, not unseemly (crude, inappropriate, coarse), not self-serving, slow to anger, avoiding evil thought, no joy in vice, but finding joy in truth.

And, one of my favorites, an admonition from Paul, Philippians 4:8, reminds us what to fill our minds with:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Do we have a taste, a preference, for these things? Isn’t it better to strive for civilization—with good, kind, humble, truthful people—rather than savage people, who are unkind, quick to anger, vengeful, prideful, evil thinking liars?

And isn’t it better to be with civilized people who value life, liberty, and property for themselves and others, rather than live among those who seek to take away life, liberty, and property from those who disagree with them, or those who live differently, or those they dislike for whatever reason?

We suffered yet another savage tragedy this weekend. There can be no sympathy for the perpetrator who killed as many as fifty people in Orlando, Florida. He is dead, after a three-hour standoff. He was an Islamist terrorist.
Orlando tribute
photo from here

There is something particularly savage about mass murdering and claiming it’s for your religion.

Religion is our search for how to live the best possible life. We can share our religions, but we cannot force others to believe.

Religions can and do define what behaviors qualify as good enough for belonging, for calling oneself by that religion’s name. But the power ends before coercion. Before force. Before physical punishment. The ultimate punishment a religion has a right to inflict is excommunication—removing one’s name from the membership. That is for serious wrongdoing, and usually for the unrepentant continuing wrongdoer.

No religion has authority to physically punish its members. And no religion has a right to condemn and mete out punishment on nonbelievers. A so-called religion that condones these things is a usurper of political authority masquerading as a religion.

I suspect there’s a lot I do not want in my lifestyle that the victims this weekend chose for theirs. It was a gay bar; I don’t drink alcohol, and I don’t have sex outside of marriage. I’m like a lot of religious people.

But the idea that anyone would murder them is abhorrent. Murder is far deeper into savagery than anything those victims might have been doing. That should be so obvious that everyone who can be comfortable living in civilization must see this truth.

I do not know anyone who wishes for the death of people whose lifestyle is different. I do not know anyone who hates people whose lifestyle is different—even though we get defined as haters simply for not agreeing to embrace and approve of things that are antithetical to our religious beliefs.

There is nothing civilized about terrorism. There is no excuse for it. It is a delight in cruelty and killing that most of us can hardly imagine—even though in this country we’ve now faced 86 terrorist incidents since 9/11/2001. Almost without exception, the terrorist plots we face are Islamist. Their behavior has the mark of the devil, who is “a murderer from the beginning, and a tormentor to the end.” They lack “God’s mark, for ‘God is Love.’”

Terrorism can’t be condoned, given excuse, or tolerated. It needs to be prosecuted, prevented, and wiped out. Every tool at our disposal should be used, especially common sense.

If someone is Muslim, I’m afraid they will continue to be burdened with the necessity of proclaiming their difference from radicals who condone terrorism. We civilized people will continue to honor them and embrace them as they do so. But it is unfortunately true that the terrorists trying to murder us do it in the name of Islam.

The failure of this administration to acknowledge this basic fact is hurting all of us—including the peaceful Muslims.

If we are less safe from terrorists, then we have greater need to defend ourselves. Yet this administration blames our right to defend ourselves with arms, while avoiding identifying the terrorists’ beliefs.

Armed security at that gun-free nightclub might have helped. And people were prevented by law from arming themselves at many of the terrorist tragedies worldwide.

It cannot be about disarming law-abiding citizens; it must be about disarming terrorist plotters. You do that by identifying them. Our civilization is at stake.