Monday, April 30, 2018

Evidence and Axioms

I had a conversation recently about the evidence of God. In academia, and media, there seems to be an assumption that there’s no proof, and therefore no evidence, of God’s existence. I shared with my friend that, in my life, there’s a lot of experiential evidence. When I experience the spiritual presence of God, I often feel particular physical indicators. I was surprised, a few years ago, to learn that those physical sensations don’t happen to everyone. But they do happen to me, consistently under spiritual circumstances.

Also, there’s the way words come clearly into my mind, after prayer, when I’m paying attention. Sometimes long after a prayer, when a circumstance arises that seems to answer that prayer, I ask, “Was that…?” And the answer comes, “Yes.”

I can’t say that I can get the words I need on demand, at any moment, without some spiritual struggle. But I can say that my evidentiary experience that God is there is significant enough to convince me.

I described this evidence to my friend, who is also Christian but not of the same faith as me, and he said that was exactly how it was for him too. Also, he’d be reading scriptures (he has learned Hebrew to read in the original when possible), and his mind would open up and ideas and connections would come, seeming to just flow in, beyond anything he could think up himself. It wasn’t something he was imagining.

That happens to me too. They say, when you want to talk to God, pray; but when you want to hear from God, read the scriptures. The words on the page may or may not be your direct answer, but those words will seem to lead you to thoughts and connections that you needed as an answer.
For those of us who are religious, there’s so much evidence that it’s puzzling when people say there isn’t any.

There’s a new Prager U video about the evidence for God, as well as a number of older ones. But that’s not really what I’m looking at today. I’m interested in what religion is.

It's a principle of the Spherical Model that religion is necessary for civilization.

I’ve finally been reading J. D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy. In it he talks about his grandmother’s personal brand of religion:
cover image from Amazon

The theology she taught was unsophisticated, but it provided a message I needed to hear. To coast through life was to squander my God-given talent, so I had to work hard. I had to take care of my family because Christian duty demanded it. I needed to forgive, not just for my mother’s sake but for my own. I should never despair, for God had a plan (p. 262).
There was a brief time in his life when he went to live with his biological father, who became strictly religious after leaving the family and starting anew. Vance didn’t quite ever feel at home there, but he did appreciate some things about that peaceful, structured, religious world (the footnote is included in his book):

Dad embodied a phenomenon social scientists have observed for decades: Religious folks are much happier. Regular church attendees commit fewer crimes, are in better health, live longer, make more money, drop out of high school less frequently, and finish college more frequently than those who don’t attend church at all.[i]
MIT economist Jonathan Gruber even found that the relationship was causal: It’s not just that people who happen to live successful lives also go to church, it’s that church seems to promote good habits (p. 282).
There’s plenty of social science discussion in that book for another day. But there’s another somewhat unorthodox definition of religion I came across in a Jordan Peterson Q&A at Lafayette College. I’m including the question, to give a bit of context, and I highlighted the essential definition:

Q: I was watching a few of your interviews in preparation for this, and I heard you speak about religion quite a bit. And, if you look up what religion means in the Webster dictionary, you get something like, “a system of faith centered on a supernatural being or beings,” or something like that. But I’ve heard you use religion to describe something like punk rockers, for example, that that’s a religious experience. So my first question would be, how do you define what is considered religious? ….
JP: Religious is what you act out.
Q: What’s that?
JP: Religious is what you act out.
Q: Anything you act out?
JP: Everything you act out is predicated on your implicit axioms. The system of implicit axioms that you hold as primary is your religious belief system. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an atheist or not. That’s just surface noise.
Q: So it has nothing to do with divinity or—?
JP: No, I didn’t say that. No.
Q: It doesn’t necessarily have to do with those?
JP: No, it probably necessarily has to do with it too. But it doesn’t necessarily have to do with your voluntarily articulated statements about whether or not you believe in something like a transcendent deity. So, what you act out is much more what you are than what you say about yourself. And what the hell do you know about what you believe, anyways? You’re complicated, man.
Q: It’s a fair question.
JP: Well, seriously, people are complicated. You know, like, we’re not transparent to ourselves at all. That’s why we have to go to university and study psychology. It’s like, we’re not exactly black boxes, but we are the most complicated things there are. Right? And we can’t even program our VCR clocks. So, it’s like, how the hell can we propose to understand ourselves? And, you know, I’m existentially oriented, which is to say that I think that what you hold to be true is best determined as a consequence of an analysis of your actions, rather than as a consequence of an analysis of what you purport to believe.
Jordan Peterson at Lafayette College

Now, in order to act—  You can’t act without a hierarchy of values… because you can’t act unless you think that one thing is better than another. Because, why would you act, otherwise? So that means that you’re embedded within a hierarchy of values, whether you know it or not. Or maybe multiple fragmentary and competing hierarchies of value, which is all the worse for you, by the way, because it just makes you very confused.
That hierarchy of values has an axiomatic—  It’s based on axioms. And the probability that you understand them is very low, because generally people don’t understand their axioms. But that axiomatic system is essentially your religious system. And there’s no way out of that, as far as I can tell.
And you can say, “Well, it isn’t predicated on a conscious belief in a transcendent deity.” OK, have it your way. But, you know, most people in this room act out a Judeo-Christian ethic. And not only do they act it out, if they’re treated in a manner that’s not commensurate with that ethic, they get very, very annoyed.
For example, if I fail to treat you as if you’re an embodiment of a divine fragment, let’s say, that’s characterized by the ability to make free choice, and to determine your own destiny in some sense, or if I fail to treat you as if you’re a valued member—a valued, contributing member of the polity, as a sovereign individual, then you’ll find that very offensive and become angry. OK, then, that’s what you believe.
If I ask you if you believe any of that, well, that’s a whole different story. You might give me some radical leftist nonsense. But that doesn’t take away from the fundamentals of your actions.
I’ve said before that, while it’s possible for atheists to live moral lives, they’re not doing it in a vacuum; they’re doing it within a civilization that sets up certain values.

·         We believe that each human life is precious.
·         We believe that human life is more precious than non-human life.
·         We believe that human beings should be free to choose how to live their lives—how to earn a living, how to form and raise their family, how to live out their religious beliefs.
·         We believe that people can own property, and we need to respect that ownership.
·         We believe that people should tell the truth to one another.
·         We believe that people should keep their word—have integrity, not betray one another.
·         We believe it is good to voluntarily help one another, especially the less fortunate.
·         We believe that purposely harming another person is wrong, except in self-defense.
We have laws against stealing, against perjury and bearing false witness. We have laws against murder and assault. We argue about the rightness of capital punishment (which takes non-innocent life as a response to serious crime), and about abortion or euthanasia (which takes innocent life but involves issues related to choice).

We think we should be decent toward one another, and generally polite. It makes it easier for all of us to live in peace, which we prefer.

The Ten Commandments
at the Texas State Capitol
An atheist can tell you these things are right and good, and moral, and that’s why he does them. But all of them relate to the Ten Commandments. They are moral questions, very much in the religious sense.

If an atheist lives in a savage community, never being exposed to the moral codes of civilization, what are the odds he will invent for himself a civilized moral code? Is it possible that he's actually a believer—as his actions show—even though he is unwilling to say so, even to himself?

I’m interested in that Judeo-Christian ethic that Dr. Peterson talks about. Do you feel “annoyed”—or hurt, or betrayed—when someone lies to you? Do you like it when the person you’re in a committed relationship with has sex with other people? Do you think it’s fine for people to be violent against you? If not, maybe you actually prefer civilization. We agree on that. That makes me hopeful.

In this world, in which we are split and splintering, I’m looking for things we have in common. It just might be that the Judeo-Christian foundation of this country is worth preaching—and by that I mean explaining better, more clearly, including the evidence we experience. Also by our actions. And by telling the actual truth. It may require that we stand up and insist on truth, while we still have the freedom to speak it.

We’re not a country built on geography or tribal heritage. We’re built on the idea that all of us human beings are created equal, with inherent rights—that come from God, not government. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which includes property as well as all the other personal choices in our lives and families. And government’s limited role is solely for the protection of these rights.

You don’t get a country that doesn’t infringe on those rights unless you value these very religious ideas.

As I think about it, the very creation of this country is additional evidence that God exists.

[i] Linda Gorman, “Is Religion Good for You?” The National Bureau of Economic Research,

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The God-given Rights of Parents

It isn’t possible to repeal a God-given right. It isn’t possible for a government to bestow a God-given right; God already did that. It is possible for tyrannical governments to refuse to respect those rights.

Not all God-given rights are spelled out in the Bill of Rights. That’s why we have the 9th and 10th Amendments, pointing out that, whether it’s listed or not, people still have those rights, and only if it’s enumerated does government have powers.

But government, like wildfires, tend to spread and burn things they weren’t intended to burn.
One God-given right, understood everywhere outside Nazi and Communist nations, until very recently is the right of parents to see to the care and upbringing of their children. Serious neglect or abuse can trigger government intervention. But otherwise parents are in charge of the big (and little) decisions about their own children.

If a government is stepping in and usurping the authority of parents, that is tyranny.

Tyranny is happening in England right now. This is a similar story to Charlie Gard exactly a year ago. This time it’s a little boy name Alfie Evans, just coming up on his second birthday. When he was a few months old, he became mysteriously ill and slipped into a coma. Time and again this little child has fought back and survived. Fairly recently a chest infection caused him to need a ventilator.
Alfie Evants
image from here

His parents have been seeking experimental treatment, because it is possible he is suffering from a mitochondrial condition. Italy is offering transportation and treatment, following encouragement from the Pope—and have even granted the boy citizenship. Nevertheless, the UK says no.

It isn’t a matter of cost; if taken out of the UK, the cost to the National Health Service becomes zero more. It has become a matter of control. The doctors have decided the boy should die, and that is final.

They took him off the ventilator and stopped feeding him. He breathed on his own, and at this writing continues to do so. It looked back to be starving a child to death who was breathing on his own, so they quit doing that purposeful murder in favor of a slower wait for death. They placed armed guards around the child to prevent anyone from transporting him. And they refuse to allow the boy to go home with his parents until the parents have a "sea change" in their attitude, meaning they have to come to agree with the doctors that the boy should not have further treatment but should die.

Andrew Klavan spoke on this case today, and I couldn't say it better myself:

It would be hard—I mean, the angriest, backwoods preacher pounding on his Bible could not use language more condemnatory of what’s going on than I would use. I think this is an atrocity. I think it is pitiful that the British, who stood alone against the slaughter of babies in Germany in 1940, and now the only one who’s showing that kind of English spirit is this baby, who stands alone against the people who want to slaughter them now.
Andrew Klavan
screen shot from here

Klavan ended with this:

This is a kind of madness, and it only happens when the state believes that you belong to them. Because parents don’t do this. Remember the state, the court, the judges—they didn’t know this baby’s name before this case came before them. The parents knew the name. And so, the state’s attitude now is basically, this mom could have aborted this child before he was born, but now can’t decide to keep it alive. 
So you’re always going to be on this precipice, because the state never really has—you’re always an expense to the state. You’re always a problem to the state. You’re always taking up space. So your life, it is not sacred. If it’s not precious, if it does not somehow go beyond the natural, then there’s nobody there to protect it. This is a disgrace. And it speaks to the death of a great culture, and a great continent, and it’s just too bad.
When things are this crazy, sometimes parody news is more accurate than it ought to be. The Babylon Bee tells the story this way:

LONDON—Upon the news of a high court ordering life support removed from 2-year-old Alfie Evans, English Prime Minister Theresa May issued a brief, friendly reminder to citizens of the U.K. that the all-powerful state actually owns their children.
In a video circulated online, May informed parents who were “getting a little too attached” to their children that they need to keep in mind that the United Kingdom is the actual legal parent, and the kids are simply on loan to them until the State decides it’s time for them to die.
“Yes, we’re gracious enough to allow your kids to reside with you and for you to make lots of the decisions in their day-to-day lives, but when the rubber meets the road, we just want you to remember that the Almighty State straight-up owns your kids and will do with them as we will,” she said. “We make all the big decisions, and you have pretty much zero say when it comes right down to it. Just keep that in mind and stay in your place.”
The Prime Minister further reminded Britons that they gave up their right to make major decisions for their household when they decided to hand over control of healthcare, social security, education, guns, and free speech to the government.
Too much truth.

If you think that can't happen here in America, where we're free from tyranny, maybe you should review the Justina Pelletier case from 2014. And remember, we learned in the discussion around Obamacare that death panels are always a feature of socialized medicine.

Other "household decisions" include things like how children should be educated, and what they should be taught. In Orange County, California, this means government has decided how, when, and what children should be taught about sexual deviancy in order to inculcate an acceptance and preference for it from a very young age. And parents are being told they do not have the power to have their children opt out.

A memorandum from the Orange County Board of Education says: “Parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction.” In what they seem to think is a generous concession, they will allow parents to tell their kids that they personally disagree with the required curriculum.

The curriculum breaks anti-obscenity laws, yet parents cannot protect their children from it. It is pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, and “encourages children as young as six to question their sexual orientation and gender identity, while teaching them how to use a range of vegetables as sex toys, and promoting anal sex as ‘normal.’” One article provides photos (which I'm not willing to include here), of a teacher demonstrating how to strap on and use sex toys—or vegetables, if toys are unavailable. We have trouble getting kids to learn to write a comprehensible sentence or do basic algebra, but this is a priority?

The Soros-supported curriculum is part of the California Healthy Youth Act of 2015, which includes language protecting parental rights, because “parents and guardians have the ultimate responsibility for imparting values regarding human sexuality to their children.” But Orange County BofE general counsel advises that the law’s opt-out provision “does not apply to instruction, materials, or programming that discusses gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, relationships, or family and does not discuss human reproductive organs.” How they construe these things to not be part of “imparting values regarding human sexuality to children” is a mystery.

No, not really a mystery. It is tyranny.

We talked last summer about a similar curriculum in Washington State (in two parts, starting here). I shouldn't continue to be shocked, but I am.

I know this next statement sounds radical, but get your children out of public schools while you still can. You’ve been indoctrinated to think that you have no other options, because education is so expensive. In the UK, they were convinced they had no other options for healthcare, because healthcare was so expensive.

Letting someone else control the costs means letting someone else control the decisions you should be making. And letting government do what it shouldn’t be doing always means you get less of what you want at a higher and higher cost.

Healthcare is only “free” if you’re willing to “pay” the life of your child, or your elderly parent, or yourself when you become too much of a cost burden to bother with.

Education is only “free” if you’re willing to sacrifice the morals of your children, and possibly affect their psychological well-being and their future family life.

As parents, you have God-given rights. You’d better assert them before they’re completely lost.

Monday, April 23, 2018


I want to mention, before the main part of my post, the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush this past week. She lived here in Houston, and the funeral was here, so we have been especially aware of her life and passing. And the comments are overwhelmingly positive, for good reason.

Barbara Bush
image from CBS News

Funerals at my church tend to be somewhat celebratory, especially when the deceased has lived a good and full life. I watched a recording of Barbara Bush’s funeral and found that it was that kind of event. People told stories—most of them funny, because she had that natural gift—and there were few tears and no regrets. It was lovely. The recording is available on Facebook: here

Facebook was filled with collections video clips showing her humor and caring nature. I especially enjoyed a personal note posted by my friend Leah Christie, founder of Not On This Watch, about the time she wouldn’t accept the then-Vice-President’s wife’s check, and how the great Enforcer handled that. Worth the read: here. 

The other story for today is follow-up to Hurricane Harvey. It has been eight months now. If you don’t live around Houston, maybe you’re not aware, but there are still thousands of people not back in their homes—2160 households still in hotels or temporary housing, according to NPR. And there are thousands more back in homes without all the repairs done, still waiting for flooring, drywall, cabinets, painting, etc.

Last month, during spring breaks around the country, youth groups traveled here to put up drywall and anything else they could do. Some were staying the week, living out of the church I go to one night a week for music jams. It’s touching to see that people still care. The need is less evident now than it was last August and September, but it’s still there.

But this week, one house, symbolic for many of us of the eventual return to normal, the Houston Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is ready for our return.

Water at the front door of the Houston Temple
after Hurricane Harvey
image from here

The "lake" in front of the Houston Temple
is actually Champions Forest Drive
photo by Robert Boyd

During the Tax Day Flood of 2016, Cypress Creek, in the Northwest Houston suburb of Spring, flooded the area around the temple. Water came up to the doors of an ancillary building, and it looked like a lake in the front, but the temple—built several feet above ground level—was safe. But there’s a big difference between 15 inches of rain and 60 inches of rain, which we got in Hurricane Harvey. After two steady days of downpour, nearby church members went by kayak to inspect the building, and water was about a foot over the front door level. That meant the interior was flooded.

Oxen in the baptistry
image from the book Gift of Love:
The Houston Texas Temple, p. 88
The baptistry is on that level, and by tradition a baptismal font must be below the ground—to symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ. So there is actually a below ground level in the temple, unusual around here. The whole basement was filled. The twelve Oxen, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel, along with the font, like a small pool, were submerged. And there was another foot of water on the whole level. There’s a kitchen/break room on that floor, waiting rooms, changing rooms, rest rooms, the entry desk, security, and a first-aid room. As with so many other buildings, that meant removing all the drywall, any non-permanent flooring, all the furniture, art, equipment—just everything. All needed gutting, mucking out, and rebuilding.

It was about two weeks before people could get inside to inspect and start the recovery process, just like so many other people in their homes. Around that time, one of the temple presidency members talked with us. He and his wife, in their 70s, also had their own home flood. So they managed that move-out, muck-out, and recovery at the same time, and also helped other people in similar circumstances. This dear man told us that he knew for a fact that his wife’s faith is so strong, that it could have prevented the flood waters from breaching the temple. But the Lord seemed to be saying, “I know what you’re going through.” And that sharing of our griefs and carrying our sorrows was part of what needed to happen at this time.

So we’ve been waiting anxiously to return to the Lord's house.

Yesterday the building was rededicated in a small, private ceremony, making it a sacred place yet again following the repairs. Today was a training day for workers. My husband and I volunteer one afternoon a week, so we were there for that today. The temple opens for work again tomorrow.
It's good to be back.

Word to those getting ready to attend for the first time since rededication: there’s a new painting just inside the door of the upstairs women’s dressing room, of baby Moses being discovered in the river, that is so beautiful, it was the most memorable thing I noticed. Just, wow!

When a temple is located in a community, that’s a good thing—not just for the people who go there. Good things just happen. Housing prices rise. Good people are attracted to the community, people who help out in the community. Strong families get stronger. There’s a positive influence that emanates out from the temple.

You might say, when God lives in his house in the neighborhood, the whole neighborhood is better off. He’s a good neighbor to have. Having His house restored now, after eight long months, makes many of us feel like the end is in sight for the Harvey hardships.

I hope people continue to pray for those still in the midst of their recovery. If there was any good that came out of the epic flood, it’s that people care about each other. Their love and sacrifice, often for people they don’t even know, is a true sign of civilization. We Houstonians are grateful.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Alternate Narrative

Andrew Klavan spoke at University of Texas Austin last night, and I listened in online. Klavan is a novelist, of gritty crime stories, and has been a screenwriter in Hollywood, recently authored a book about his conversion to Christianity (The Great Good Thing), and does a podcast for The Daily Wire. He’s been around a while, and spends a lot of time thinking about the culture. In fact, I first got acquainted with him through his “Klavan on the Culture” videos for PJ Media.

Anyway, he was talking about the left’s control of the narrative. He says, in film, “What the left does is they solidify the narrative made in the news in historical films.” And he gives examples, and shows how they skew reality. [Note: I generally avoid the terms left and right, because the Spherical Model has a better way. But, in this piece today I’ll go with his term, which means the statist tyranny perspective, located south and east on the Spherical Model; it's opposite is freedom in the north.]

For example, Klavan told the story of the JFK assassination. Besides the news story itself, there was a front page editorial on day one in the New York Times (which he always refers to as a former newspaper, and in this telling says this was when they were still a newspaper). The editorial tried to claim the assassination wasn’t a crazy communist acting on his own—even the Soviet Union had refused to take him, he was so crazy—because he was afraid President Kennedy was somehow going to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba. The editorial claimed, instead, that it was Republicans who were afraid Kennedy would pull out of the Vietnam War.

I’d need to see the editorial, because I was too young then to know much, but I’m aware that the US didn’t get involved in the Vietnam War until Lyndon B. Johnson was president—and we were in it until Nixon pulled us out. Then, after winning all the battles and agreements, it was a Democrat Congress that gave away the peace. Anyway, not his point. His point was that the editorial started the conspiracy theory that was debunked repeatedly, including in court. But it lives on, because in the 90s Oliver Stone made a movie depicting the conspiracy as if it were the truth. So that is what people who don’t remember history actual think is true.

Another example was Argo, about the cruise ship full of people taken hostage by Iranian terrorists. President Jimmy Carter was ineffectual and disastrous in that event. The hostages were held for something like 444 days—released on the inauguration day of President Ronald Reagan. But the movie, while it depicts Carter only briefly, lionizes him as heroic. So people who didn’t happen to be aware of what was happening in the late 1970s think that might be the true story.

Klavan talks about the demise of his career as a Hollywood screenwriter.

One of the reasons my Hollywood career got nailed was during the War on Terror—one film after another—one film after another was made saying that our soldiers were rapists, our soldiers were killers. That was The Valley of Elah. Remember, he comes home and he’s so upset by having been in Iraq that he starts killing people. They were fools. Lions for Lambs, with Tom Cruise; that was where these Republicans wanted a war to manipulate the press, and so they sent these poor, foolish, patriotic clowns off to war and they got killed.
One movie after another. And I started to protest; I started to write pieces about it, because, I didn’t care whether they were for or against the war, but I thought it was wrong to make anti-war propaganda while the soldiers were in the field. That had never happened before. So I started writing about it, and, of course, it was hard to get a job after that, but it was worthwhile.
So, they’re making one picture like this after another. Every one of them bombed. Every one of them bombed. And so, Variety, which is our trade paper, the show business trade paper, started to write pieces saying, “People just don’t want to see movies about the War on Terror.” I mean, that’s how wrapped up in their narrative they are. People don’t want to see movies about the War on Terror.
And then Clint Eastwood made American Sniper, and it became one of the biggest grossing R-rated films in history. And they said, “That’s strange.” You know, “Why did people go to this picture?” Well, it’s because American soldiers weren’t portrayed as rapists and killers and madmen when, in fact, our enemy were the bad guys. You can be against the war, but we weren’t the bad guys. Maybe we shouldn’t have been there, but we weren’t the bad guys. That’s all that American Sniper showed, and people showed up for it in droves.
Why is this important? He illustrates with a quote by Joseph Wilson, who had, back in the day, declared that President Bush had lied, even though he hadn’t; Bush had used the same intelligence as everyone else, including our allies in Britain and elsewhere. Wilson was married to Valarie Plame, whom he frequently introduced as his CIA agent wife. She wasn’t covert. But it became an issue, because the left wanted an issue, and eventually Scooter Libby was entrapped (remembered a detail in the wrong order when talking with the FBI about something they already knew the answer to, and that was not related to a crime to interfere with an investigation of), and he was convicted, and President Trump just recently pardoned him.

Anyway, there was a movie made about the incident called Fair Game, which pretty much no one saw, in which Valarie Plame is turned into a CIA hero, with an evil Dick Cheney and George W. Bush conspiring against her.

So, that Joseph Wilson said, “For people who have short memories or don’t read, this is the only way they will remember the period.”

Klavan follows with this:

Life is short; art is long. Art lasts forever. Movies will be out there forever. You, one night, at 3:00 in the morning, will be channel surfing, and you will see JFK on TV, and if you don’t know any better, that’s what you think the story is going to be. They own the narrative.
He ends the talk portion of the night with this:

There is another narrative. It’s our narrative, which is the narrative of the truth. You know, I’m not one of these guys that believes that facts are everything. I think the internal world is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The jaguar would not be swift unless we had the word swift in our mind. It doesn’t know what it is; only we know. You know, the inner world matters. But you’ve got to align it with the real world. That’s what stories are for.
And the fact that the right doesn’t know how to tell stories, and the fact that it doesn’t care, and the fact that it doesn’t pay attention to the arts except to complain about them and censor them, is a problem for me.
So, I’ll just leave you with this: the truth will set you free, but you’ve got to know how to tell it. You’ve got to know how to tell the story.
Later, during the Q&A, Klavan talks a little bit about what we, with this alternate narrative of truth, can do. He says we have the upper hand on comedy. That’s why Jimmy Kimmel goes on TV and cries every night. Life isn’t funny to them. They’re angry, pretty much by definition. And cynical. They do biting comedy, but it doesn’t feel good, even to people who agree with them. It’s ugly and tears people down. And for people who like to think of themselves as the good guys rescuing the world from evil, tearing people down has got to wear thin after a while.

He thinks, and I agree, that we can’t just do our thing, badly (like so many Christian attempts at art), and expect to win the culture. We need our own institutions. Our own awards. Our own production companies. And we need to produce things that tell the truth, and tell it well.

He suggests as examples of moral stories told well Crime and Punishment, and even The Godfather. Sometimes you end up portraying ugly things, but you gain insight from that.

Back in literature classes, that was how we looked at tragedy, Shakespearean tragedies, for example. Bad things happen. They’re upsetting. But there’s an enlightenment you get from looking at the way things play out when people choose to do bad things.

When he was talking about getting our own institutions, I was reminded of some other media issues lately. For example, Facebook. It is indeed controlled by people with leftist ideologies. Same with Google, YouTube, and Twitter.

Those are all supposed to be open platforms, an equal playing field for various ideas. We all agree that they shouldn’t be used to incite violence, allow for human trafficking, fraud, theft, or other crimes that are also crimes outside the digital world. But they shouldn’t be “protecting” people from disagreeing ideas. PragerU videos are not a danger. Seriously.

So, the better answer would be to come up with an actual open platform, available to everyone, as an alternative.

That’s not an easy thing. As long as Facebook is there, and that’s where I get a lot of social interaction that I appreciate, I’ll probably be there. But if somebody does come up with an alternative, I’d be willing to try that as well. And then, if the alternative becomes sufficient for my needs, I’d be willing to jump ship.

So, to those daring entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, and world changers, if you’re a seeker of truth, as I am, I’m wishing you the best of luck, and all the support I can manage to give if you can make a way for us to get the alternate narrative—the truth—out there.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Basic Building Material for Civilization

I’m about to repeat some words from the Spherical Model website. I wrote this around 2008, published the website in 2010, but had covered many of the concepts much earlier. In the decade since I wrote this, the world has gone further in the opposite direction.

The solution to so many of society’s problems is simple: strong families. Religions have known this for millennia. Social science has known it for centuries. New data shows the truth we’ve known but too many refuse to acknowledge or live. It’s a simple solution, but not an easy one. Repairing decay is never as easy as keeping strong and healthy. Rebuilding is hard. But that’s what we need—rebuilding with the very material we started with: virtue.

Family is the Basic Unit of Civilization

Civilized societies value family as the most important and basic unit of governance. Alternatively, a hallmark of totalitarian regimes, which are savage, is the replacement of the family with the state. Totalitarianism resents loyalty to any societal unit other than itself. And it is this absolute weakness that will always prevent a totalitarian state from offering true Civilization as you’d find it in a free strong-family society.

A Basic Unit of Civilization,
the Spherical Model Family,
give or take a couple of decades
This is particularly important to know for people living in a sub-civilized society. As long as families are allowed to live among themselves (children are under the care of their own parents), it is possible to have a civilized society that is just one family in size. Then, if that family can find additional similarly civilized families to associate with, their society grows. If it could grow to the size of a village or township, all the better. The goal of the founding fathers was to have that civilization spread through the United States (and if that experiment worked, have other sovereign states adopt the plan). But a family doesn’t have to wait until the world changes; the family can live the laws of civilization and enjoy many of the benefits, at least within the walls of the home.

Families have the responsibility to safeguard women and children for the greatest benefit of both current and future generations. Families provide food, shelter, clothing, education, spiritual guidance, and training in how to live a civilized life in a civilized society. Elderly are honored for their wisdom. Youth are honored for their potential. Women are honored for giving and nurturing life, among their other abilities. Men are honored for providing and protecting, among their other abilities. Families are the main economic force, as well as the very means whereby civilization can perpetuate. Civilized societies therefore protect The Family as sacred.

A hallmark of civilized society is the importance of marriage as the only acceptable place for sexual relations. Every society that decides to try devaluing fidelity in marriage eventually (and often quickly) sinks into decadence. Sex within marriage not only provides offspring, it cements the bond between the two parents, so that the child will grow in a home of love and protection and guidance. No other situation is even remotely as beneficial for a child.

Humans being mortal, there will be incidents where some children will be raised without both parents. Ideally, there should never be divorce (a necessary evil in response to decidedly uncivilized behavior). But there will be death, which is inevitable. Nevertheless, in a healthy, peaceful society the abundance of intact, healthy families can help compensate for the few homes that don’t have the child’s two living parents.

It is probably possible to quantify what percentage constitutes a critical mass of functional families that can compensate for a smaller percentage of problem homes without an undue toll on civilization. But, in general, the more family health, the more civilized the society.

Sex Outside of Marriage Is Always Wrong

This is such a simple concept, and so many problems would be settled if people would believe it. It’s an essential of civilization. Every time a society attempts to “progress” or “evolve” beyond the old-fashioned notion of virtue, it slides into decay. Every time. This decay happens so frequently, and is currently so widespread that the need for virtue must not still be self evident. So we might as well spell out the reasons.

Human Children Take Time and Consistency to Bring to Adulthood

Human children grow slowly. It takes close upon two decades to get them from birth to functioning on their own, capable of supporting themselves, reproducing, and raising a civilized next generation. It requires consistency and care from someone with a stake in the child’s success. It takes a pair of parents, providing both male and female role models and ways of nurturing.

The best (really, the only) way to plan for children to be raised by the same two (one male, one female) parents throughout their growing up life is for those two parents to be permanently bonded to each other. To be married. (See Why Marriage Matters[i]), Marriage isn’t as ephemeral as just a declaration of love between two lovers; it is a commitment to each other and to the entire society that they will stay together for life. This commitment establishes a family, the most basic unit of civilization. There isn’t any way to break up a family that doesn’t harm civilization. Therefore, there isn’t any possible way for sex outside of marriage to be acceptable behavior without harming civilization. Without the attitude of its sacredness, it is impossible to maintain virtue (chastity). And without virtue, families are always harmed.

Look, for instance, at what happens when two young people, believing they are in love, give in to sex. They have just admitted to each other that they value their own desires over the needs of the society they live in. They are both lessened for that selfishness. But what if they recognize that, though what they did was wrong, they could marry and move on? Yes, they could alter their course—what religious societies call repentance, change their thoughts and actions for the future. And if it is true that they love each other, they could go forward making a happy home, with very little harm to society. So, while society wouldn’t condone the mistake, it can easily forgive.

Exceptions Must Be Rare

I’d like to note here that making the exception has to be rare, or else society cannot absorb the harm without decay. Making up a small deficit from ideal can be managed without much notice, just as it can in a family budget. But making up a large deficit, while simultaneously reducing the means for society to compensate for the deficit (raising children in the most likely way to bring them up to be responsible adults) inevitably causes damage to the society as a whole. It’s a fact borne out in inner cities in this country and in every culture in the world today where marriage is devalued. A large percentage of children being raised without both parents in a loving home means a significant decline in adults who know how to raise the next generation to be civilized.

[i] Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-one Conclusions from the Social Sciences, © 2002 Institute for American Values, available through their website

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Self-Evident No Longer

The Constitution doesn’t grant us rights. It’s the other way around. We, the People, grant certain limited, enumerated powers to the federal government.

There’s a reason we need to limit government power. Mainly, it’s because governments have a long and storied history of tyranny. In other words, governments can’t be trusted to limit their power.
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were added before the Constitution itself was ratified. The original Constitution didn’t include them, not because there was any question about the importance of those rights. It didn’t include them because they were self-evident; they were so widely understood to exist that they went without saying.

Then the representatives of several of the states spoke up. What if there came a time when these things weren’t still understood? Maybe some of them needed to be spelled out, just as an additional guarantee. This included Virginia’s George Mason, who had proposed major portions of the Constitution, but was suddenly saying he wouldn’t vote for the Constitution unless it contained these guarantees.

What is a right? In the context of the Bill of Rights, we’re talking about natural rights. That means the rights you’re born with. You’re granted these by God, because you are a human being.

There are five listed in the First Amendment. Most of these have to do with freedom to think, or express ideas: 

·         Right of Freedom of Religion
·         Right of Free Speech
·         Right of Freedom of the Press
·         Right to Peaceably Assemble
·         Right to Petition the Government for redress of grievances
So, you can believe what you want, and live your religion, even in public. You can say what you believe. You can publish what you believe. You can gather together with other like-minded people. And, if there’s any disagreement about government infringing on your rights, you can sue to hold the government accountable.

We’ve had plenty of contrasting evidence, much of it in the past century, showing what harm comes to the people when government tyranny steps on these rights.

The Second Amendment concerns the right to protect yourself. The main proper role of government is to protect us—our lives, liberty, and property. We hire government to take on this role so that we don’t have to spend all our time and energy protecting ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we give up our right to protect ourselves as well.

It’s like any other service. If you hire someone to clean your house, that relieves you of much of the need to do it yourself, but you don’t give up the right and ability to do some additional cleaning yourself whenever you feel like it. If your kid spills cereal all over the floor, you’re not required to leave it there until the cleaning service arrives.

If you’re receiving particular threats, you might hire your own extra security team, in addition to the local, state, and federal police forces. They’re busy spreading their protective force across the whole population, so you might not feel confident they’ll be on hand when you’re vulnerable. You retain the right to protect yourself. If someone tries to attack you, physically or with a weapon, you have a right to protect yourself—even physically or with a weapon.

There’s an extra, historical meaning attached to the Second Amendment. It has to do with defense against government. The founders knew, because they’d had to break free from tyranny, that they needed weapons to prevent that tyranny from coercing them into submission. The Constitution prevents government from getting out of hand—but only if government is held to obedience. Government could come and threaten your life, liberty, or property as easily as any thug. Maybe easier, since a thug may have to face prosecution. Who do you appeal to if government is the perpetrator?

Anyway, foreseeing the possibility, because they’d lived through it before, the founders guaranteed the right to self-protection from both outlaws and government.

We could go through the rest of the amendments as well. But let’s summarize by pointing out that the Ninth Amendment says that, just because it isn’t enumerated here doesn’t mean the people don’t have other rights. And the Tenth Amendment says those powers not delegated to the federal government are still held by the states and the people.

It’s troubling when people, in ignorance, start saying things like, “They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment,” as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said a couple of weeks ago. Is a former justice ignorant? Apparently. Did he fail to read the Ninth Amendment? Because we would still have the right to self-defense whether it is written in the Constitution or not.

Pretending that “common sense gun laws” that restrict law-abiding citizens doesn’t interfere with the right of self-defense is disingenuous. It’s not a matter of weapon availability. People have said, partly in jest, that if they took all our guns (if they even could), murderers would still get them. And if, in an invented world, criminals couldn’t get guns, they would use knives. What are you going to do, outlaw knives?

And then, following a series of knife attacks in London, Mayor Sadiq Khan outlaws knives. He tweeted, “There is never a reason to carry a knife.” 

I can think of reasons. Like, if I’m going to a friend’s house to help cook. (I have better cooking knives than most of my friends.) I carry a knife with me when I travel, because I have to take care of most of my own food because of allergies. If I were going to do a project at a charity that required opening boxes, I’d consider bringing my own box cutter. If I were going fishing, I’d carry a knife for gutting the fish. If I went shopping and found an excellent cooking knife, I’d need to carry that home. So, those are all logical and common reasons to carry a knife. But, being who I am, no one around me would be less safe because of my carrying a knife.

Oh, one more reason: if you’re living in a city where they’re having a spate of knife attacks, and you weren’t allowed to carry a gun, you’d want a knife for self-defense.

Remember that moment from the movie Crocodile Dundee, when he’s in New York and some thug mugs them at knife point? And Dundee says, “You call that a knife?” And then he pulls out his own, bigger near-machete, and the thug runs off. No one is injured. No one is robbed. That’s what non-criminals can do with a weapon. It’s not the weapon that is the problem; it’s the person wielding it. And if it’s a bad guy, you need a way to defend yourself.

Back to that First Amendment. We’ve been listening to Senate hearings with Mark Zuckerberg, about Facebook’s use of private information, and about its policies to prevent conservative messages from getting through.

In his questioning of Zuckerberg, Senator Ted Cruz asked him about purposeful and routine suppression of conservative ideas from trending stories. And he listed CPAC, Mitt Romney, Lois Lerner and the IRS scandal, Glenn Beck, Chick-Fil-A Customer Appreciation Day page, a Fox News reporter’s page, more than two dozen Catholic pages, and Diamond and Silk’s page (two sisters, black, who support Pres. Trump). Diamond and Silk were told their content—which is clean and pro-American—is dangerous to the community.

Cruz went on to ask if he was aware of any suppression of stories for Planned Parenthood,, or any Democratic candidate’s page. 

Zuckerberg claimed to be unaware of any of these. He claimed his personal goal was to have a free place for all these ideas—with exceptions we can all agree on such as terrorism, self-harm, or human trafficking. I want to believe him. But, if his company is doing this censoring, he’s responsible whether he’s personally aware of it or not.

In Cruz’s list was the IRS targeting. I got an update email this week from Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, which trained me in poll watching here in Houston. She brought us up to date on recent results. Besides the nonprofit being held up illegally by the IRS—even though it was what ought to be considered politically neutral, in favor of free and fair elections—her personal business was targeted by the FBI and multiple other agencies, preventing her and her family from making a living. This week things were supposed to have been settled finally. But the result has been essentially nothing. No one is held accountable. And anyone in those organizations just got carte blanche to target anyone they want in the future. And we’re left wondering what good it does to oust a corrupt regime if the new regime is too timid to stand up.

Senator Ben Sasse, in his questioning of Zuckerberg, asked about the definition of hate speech, which Zuckerberg was hard pressed to define. There are large categories we can agree on, such as calling for violence. But Senator Sasse was more concerned about the “psychological categories.” 

Sasse: “You use language of safety and protection earlier. We see this happening on college campuses all across the country. It’s dangerous. 40% of Americans under age 35 tell pollsters they think the First Amendment is dangerous, because you might use your freedom to say something that hurts somebody else’s feelings.
Those are frightening and discouraging statistics.

YouTube is another supposedly neutral online platform—i.e., a non-news site, accepting all views (with the exceptions of those terrorist, violent, or other illegal activities we already agree on)—that has been censoring content based on political leanings. PragerU is involved in a lawsuit because YouTube deemed a number of their short information videos “unsafe for the community.” No profanity. No sketchy images. Nothing that couldn’t safely be watched by a 10-year-old. There seemed to be no standard by which certain videos were disallowed, so there was no way to “correct,” if there had been errors. But in the end, it looks like they were censored for having conservative political views.

Conservative comedians Steven Crowder and Owen Benjamin have been YouTube censored for much the same reasons. Owen Benjamin was on with Andrew Klavan today, and he quoted comedian George Carlin as saying, “Political correctness is fascism disguised as politeness.”

Fascism is statist tyranny. Snowflakes worried about hurt feelings need to get a clue: they’re line of thinking is what led to millions of people being killed by their own governments in the last century. But, then, I also read this today:

According to a new survey released on Thursday by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, fully 41 percent of Americans don’t know what Auschwitz was, including two-thirds of Millennials. Approximately 22 percent of Millennials had not heard of the Holocaust, and 41 percent of Millennials thought 2 million or fewer Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Ignorance is probably the result of “political correctness,” or, if you will, fascism, running amok in our education system. But it’s no excuse. We don’t have to get along with people who want to tyrannize us; we just need to stand up to the bullies. And educate them if there’s any openness in their minds to allow for it.

Why were those first Ten Amendments put in the Constitution? Because the founders had the foresight to envision a time such as ours, when people have forgotten what was supposed to be self-evident.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Gravity Problems

I recently read the book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. The book says that everything that was designed was a problem that was solved. It’s a different way of looking at problems—not just obstacles that prevent you from doing what you want, but opportunities to design solutions. The book is about doing that for your life. Worth reading.

But there’s a section near the beginning that talks about some problems that are not worth solving:
Newton and the apple
image from here

These are all gravity problems—meaning they are not real problems. Why? Because in life design, if it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem. Let’s repeat that. If it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem. It’s a situation, a circumstance, a fact of life. It may be a drag (so to speak), but, like gravity, it’s not a problem that can be solved.
Here’s a little tidbit that is going to save you a lot of time—months, years, decades even. It has to do with reality. People fight reality. They fight it tooth and nail, with everything they’ve got. And anytime you are arguing or fighting with reality, reality will win. You can’t outsmart it. You can’t trick it. You can’t bend it to your will. Not now. Not ever (p. 9).
How do you know when we’re looking at a gravity problem? Or, even more specifically, how do you know when it’s a tilting at windmills sort of worthless effort, even though technically it isn’t totally unactionable. Here’s how they say it:

We recognize that there are two variations of gravity problems—totally inactionable ones (such as gravity itself) and functionally unactionable ones (such as the average income of a full-time poet) (p. 10).
About that second one, the authors say,

To change the median income of poets, you’d somehow have to alter the market for poetry and get people to buy more poetry or pay more for it. Well, you could try for that. You could write letters to the editor in praise of poetry. You could knock on doors to get people out to the poetry night at your local coffeehouse. This one is a long shot. Even though you can work on this “problem” in a way that wasn’t possible with gravity, we’d recommend that you accept it as an inactionable situation. If you do that, then your attention is freed to start designing other solutions to other problems (p. 11).
It’s about accepting reality. Some things aren’t problems with the world that need fixing; they’re just “a situation, a circumstances, a fact of life.”

Mr. Spherical Model used to say, “When I make a world, I’ll make the day 25 hours long but tell people there are only 24, so there will always be enough leeway to get everything done.” OK. We laughed. But that’s a gravity problem. You don’t get more time than there is; all you can do is figure out how to better use the time you’ve got.

I’ve been looking at some reality—and the fights against it—since reading about gravity problems. It explains what’s happening. It doesn’t fully explain why. But maybe if we see these things as gravity fights, we can avoid being brought into someone else’s waste of effort.

Here’s an example. Your sex is something you’re born with. It is expressed in the DNA in every cell of your body. It is expressed in your body’s shape, appearance, and function. And in many ways it is expressed in preferences and behaviors. While preferences and behaviors are somewhat subjective and individual, that does not negate all the rest of the evidence. We’re a binary species, like so many other complex species: male or female.

People who don’t want to be what they are have a gravity problem. They and their sympathizers are putting in a great deal of energy and time, and sometimes sacrificing actual body parts, to insist that reality is what they say it is. They are trying to change the world rather than change their own minds.

If they were to convince the whole world, they still would not change the reality they are fighting. It’s a gravity problem.

They harm themselves. They harm civilization. We would all be better off if the people fighting this gravity problem would just stop it.

Here’s another one. The way reproduction works in humans is that when a male and female engage in sexual intercourse, with the right timing, an egg is fertilized, and a new human begins to grow within the female.

It doesn’t matter whether you think that’s fair. It doesn’t matter whether you think engaging in sex shouldn’t lead to pregnancy—or, as former president Obama said, “be punished with a baby”—it is the way the species propagates. We're designed that way.

Within marriage, pregnancy is something to be celebrated. What a miracle! A new life, a new person, is joining the family! That’s such a profound good that for humans (as it is for most species) its goodness should be self-evident. But it’s also profoundly important, since human lives are involved, so it isn’t something to mess around with if you’re not in a position to care for that new person. So, the simple solution to avoid starting that new life when you’re not married and prepared is to not have sexual intercourse until you’re married.

Birth control pills are an attempt to overrule reality. And I’m not going to argue that they’re always wrong. There are plenty of times when married couples aren’t ready to bring another person into the family. There might be temporary financial or health concerns. It’s a private decision. Even so, it’s a private decision that wasn’t available to humans until historical yesterday. And it isn’t fail proof. But when the unplanned pregnancy happens within a marriage, the couple readjusts and gets ready, even if they’re going to face some challenges.

When unplanned pregnancies happen to unmarried people, that’s the result of behaving as if married. It’s preventable. And the way people have prevented it for thousands of years is to wait until marriage to have sex.

A horrendous, savage response to the reality that sex leads to pregnancy is abortion. It doesn’t solve a “problem”; it ends a life. The only grounds on which we can even have a conversation about this is under the rare circumstances in which the woman did not consent (rape) and danger to the life of the mother (which usually endangers the life of the baby as well).

Abortion to nullify the effects of natural human reproduction is an example of fighting a gravity problem. People are harmed in the process. Every time. The baby. The mother. The father. The doctor. The nurses. Civilization.

We would all be better off if the people fighting this gravity problem would just stop it.
Gravity problems aren’t just a problem of youthful lack of wisdom. But things are made worse when young people, planning out their futures, are encouraged to go out and “change the world,” which all too often means throwing their lives at a gravity problem.

If it were only affecting them, we’d all shrug our shoulders and move on. But practically every issue considered “politically correct” is an attempt to impose a “solution” on a gravity problem. And suggesting someone isn’t politically correct isn’t enough, so then the “solution” gets imposed with, not just social pressure, but threats to life and livelihood.

I'm not sure that big government control types and big social experimenters are the only ones imposing world control instead of self-control. But it’s worth noting, since so many of their issues go against truth and reality. 

I don’t know whether they’re aware of it or not. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, let’s keep sharing truth and reality with them. And encourage them to stop breaking themselves—and us with them—against the law of gravity.

Bernoulli Effect
image from here

Imagine the energy being put into fighting gravity problems instead being put into solving real problems. That’s what real world changers do. Like the Wright Brothers and others who invented and improved flight. They didn’t stop gravity, or change it. They found another law—the Bernoulli effect—that they could use to their benefit, and ours.