Farewell, Michelle

When she first ran for Congress, I sent money to Michelle Bachmann’s campaign because she had the endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony List, the PAC affiliate of Feminists for Life. I may even have supported her first re-election campaign. But I stopped several election cycles ago, though I don’t think she ever lost the SBA endorsement, and I’m not the least sorry to see her go now.

The track record of SBA List’s candidates at winning is pretty good. Their track record in office is reliably anti-abortion. If there were a Bill to require 20 preliminary visits at two week intervals, and to wear a scarlet letter, before getting an abortion, they’ll be on board.

I wish I could say SBA List candidates also trended prolife in the broader “seamless garden” sense, but Bachmann’s Tea Bagger bellicosity is emblematic. 

A brief glance at their opinion columns suggests that lefties are kind of sorry to see her go. Her usefulness as a whipping boy outweighed by far any legislative accomplishments they disapproved. “Bachmann was public enemy number one for Democrats nationally. Candidates raised money against her. Now, with an open seat, it takes away a lot of their ability of Democrats to nationalize the race.” (Ben Golnik, a Republican strategist in Minnesota, quoted by Jason Riley at the Wall Street Journal.)

My skepticism about the wisdom of the culture wars once again seems vindicated. 

Put not your trust in princesses, the daughters of men, in whom there is no salvation.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Wars and rumors of Wars

I stumbled onto a rather detailed report of a tense encounter between Vladimir Putin and American Secretary of State John Kerry over U.S. toleration of chemical pesticides that are destroying bee populations and thus threatening the entire food chain. Since the source was unfamiliar, I Googled the topic, too.

What struck me in the Google results was the frequency with which the confrontation was characterized as Putin “threatening war.”

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Wounded rulers

Apparently, “wounded healer” is the new paradigmatic qualification for public office.

First, South Carolina’s Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford rises unrepentant from the ashes of an utterly disreputable and brazen breach of public and private trust.

Now this from the more diverse northeastern seaboard:

Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s decision to enter the race for New York City mayor on Wednesday immediately turned the election into a national spectacle and raised the question: Can the subject of a constant barrage of bawdy late-night TV jokes be a credible candidate to run the nation’s most populous city?

Mr. Weiner’s announcement came as the contest to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is stepping down in December after 12 years in office, has already become a soap opera of sorts. Last week, one of Mr. Weiner’s main rivals, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, spoke publicly about her struggles with bulimia and alcoholism. And the wife of another Democratic hopeful, Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, has talked about her past as a lesbian.

Weiner Seeks Redemption With Mayor Race.

I’m not sure what adultery, bulemia, alcoholism, sexual harassment, exhibitionism, and being married to a former lesbian (a category that’s not even supposed to exist) adds to one’s fitness to rule, especially when the first-person experience of human frailty seemingly has produced no humility. Don’t expect to hear any persuasive explanation from the candidates: if they were reflective enough to learn any truly human lesson from their falls from grace, the press wouldn’t report it because it doesn’t fit the 5-second sound bite format.

The Benedict Option looks better and better.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Foreseeing the unintended

I am struck again and again about how well-intentioned acts have unintended consequences. Sometimes the act “was worth it” despite the consequence; sometimes not.

Redefining so fundamental an institution as marriage should be preceded by a lot of hard thinking about the consequences, and the burden of proof should be set quite high. So far, the hard thinking has mostly been replaced by the equivalent of “Oh, what the hell – why not?” or question-begging slogans like “marriage equality” (the begged question being “what is marriage?”)

There’s no miracle cure for insouciance or sentimentality, but some people are just so busy that they don’t have time to think things through on their own. I’ve thought about the issues a lot, but I’ve been aware that time constraints (if not the constraint of waning cognition) have left me short of the clarity I wanted.

Fortunately, some people really have given this a lot of thought. I’ve been tutored a lot lately by people who’ve either come at it from the somewhat abstract direction of natural law or who have broken out of that mold and just considered practical consequences carefully. But none of the arguments are, so far as anyone has convinced me thus far, compelling in any 5-second sound bite format. Apprehending them, let alone comprehending them, takes sustained attention that’s rare these days.

To start with, when the characterization “redefining marriage” is uttered, I’ve come to realize that many people hear it as something like this:

I have a deep and irrational hatred of gay men and lesbians, but I recognize that such hatred is socially unacceptable. So I’m going to gussy it up with some pseudo-principles and imaginary history.

(Convention requires that I now deny hatred: I do deny it, and that’s all I’m going to say. This isn’t about me.)

I can illustrate, from recent essays by Robin Phillips why “redefining” is quite an appropriate term (along the way hinting at some baneful consequences of the redefinition). The fundamental redefinition involves eliminating the element of consummation from the concept of a real (i.e., complete) marriage:

It is interesting … that in the literature of the gay and lesbian community, the specifically sexual dimensions of marriage are increasingly being downplayed, and that is why I have argued elsewhere … that same-sex ‘marriage’ carries with it many Gnostic assumptions about the body.

The de-emphasis of the physical dimensions of marriage has resulted in the UK government announcing that the concept of consummation and non-consummation will be inapplicable to ‘marriages’ conducted by homosexuals. When the news surfaced … that the government had decided that both consummation and adultery couldn’t be committed by two people of the same sex, many people puzzled at this, even though it was the logical outworking of the sex-less descriptions of “union” propagated amongst the agitators for gay marriage. You see, once our understanding of “union” in marriage is reduced to “a loving relationship between two committed adults”, then what two people do with their bodies becomes extrinsic rather than intrinsic to that union. But in that case, it is possible, in principle, for gay marriages to occur between two people who are celibate. By contrast, for a heterosexual marriage to be “consummated” (that is, to be a fully complete marriage), there is an act the husband and wife must perform with their bodies. Hang on to that thought, because it has profound ramifications for how we understand the family’s relationship to the state.

In the case of the conjugal view, there is an empirical reality we can point to when establishing whether a relationship is really a marriage, or at least a complete and consummated marriage. Have they had sexual intercourse? But we have seen that there is no corresponding empirical reality that can constitute what it means to be in a marriage regulated by the first definition [“a committed and loving relationship between two consenting adults”]. Indeed, a person might have a “committed and loving relationship” with any number of other persons without it being marriage.

Now precisely because of this, the only way that a committed and loving relationship can be upgraded into marriage is if the state steps in and declares that relationship to be a marriage, in much the same way as the state might declare something to be a corporation or some other legal entity. By contrast, conjugal marriages have and could exist without the state’s recognition because it is fundamentally a pre-political institution. Marriage is pre-political in the sense that it has intrinsic goods attached to it, not least of which is the assurance of patrimony and thus the integrity of inheritance. Such goods do not exist by the state’s fiat even though the state may recognize, regulate or protect them.

An imaginary example should make my meaning clear. If an unmarried man and a woman are shipwrecked on an island together with no one else around, and they decide to be husband and wife, it is meaningful to talk about them getting married and having a family even in the absence of a civil government … By contrast, one cannot say the same about two homosexual men or two homosexual women on an island who decide to get “married”. Without the mechanisms of the state to confer the status of marriage upon two members of the same sex, there are no acts that organically mark the relationship out as being marriage within a state of nature. Indeed, the philosophy behind same-sex marriage is one which makes both marriage and family entirely the construct, and therefore the province, of positive law.

Since consummation is unnecessary for a same-sex union to be called a complete marriage (even putting aside the question of what would count as consummation within a same-sex context), then what determines whether or not a heterosexual marriage is complete? Either we can have two separate non-equal definitions of marriage, or we can realize the logical consequence of same-sex marriage and say that the only thing left to determine what actually makes something a complete marriage or a legitimate family is the law itself.

Why Gay ‘Marriage’ is a Public Threat (part 1 ) (emphasis and hyperlinks in the original)

[P]eople do not understand what a fundamental revision of family law will be required to accommodate gay marriage. For example, in my secular job, I work for the state child support agency, and so deal with questions of paternity and marriage regularly. In our current legal system, the law presumes that any child born within a marriage is the child of the married couple — that presumption can be rebutted with evidence to the contrary, if the husband wish to make that case in court (usually in a divorce), but that is the presumption. When I was born, I did not have a DNA test to prove who my father was, and when my children were born, they did not have a DNA test. We also did not need to go to court to establish that I was the father, because by law, that was presumed to be the case. If you have two lesbians that are married, can we presume that the other woman is the father of the child if their “spouse” has a child? And if they later divorce, and the other spouse wanted to rebut the presumption that they were the parent with DNA (which obviously would not be hard to do), should they be let off the hook when it comes to child support? Does the actual biological father have no rights in such a case? Should such a child have two parents on their birth certificate, or three? These are the kinds of questions that will rewrite our family law if we throw this monkey wrench into the works.

The fact is that if the government gets out of “the marriage business” it will result in the government becoming more involved in our personal lives rather than less, because the government will have to set up new laws and new mechanisms to deal with issues that we have always dealt with by basic principles of family law that automatically come into play when a man and a woman are married.

Fr. John Whiteford, quoted in Why Gay ‘Marriage’ is a Public Threat (part 2). I’m tempted to boil that down, but again, it seems to require sustained argument to make the point as it needs to be made. (Yes, I know that surrogacy and artificial insemination by donor in true marriages present similar issues, but I don’t endorse them, either.)

Once the conjugal pairing gives way to “a loving relationship between … committed adults,” my elliptical omission of “two” is justified because “two” becomes just as arbitrary as “male and female.”

These types of warnings are often objected to on the grounds that it is a fallacious ‘slippery slope argument.’ But as Girgis, Anderson and George remind us …,

“there is nothing wrong with arguing against a policy based on reasonable predictions of unwanted consequences. Such predictions would seem quite reasonable in this case, given that prominent figures suchas feminist icon Gloria Steinem, political activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich, and New York University Law Professor Kenji Yoshino have already demanded … legal recognition of multiple-partner sexual relationships.

Why Gay ‘Marriage’ is a Public Threat (part 2).

I’ve blogged on these issues a lot this Winter-into-Spring, motivate by the extensive discussion surrounding Supreme Court arguments in the U.S. If you’re insouciant or incorrigibly sentimental, you won’t have made it this far. If you have made it this far, I commend to your further attention both of the Robin Phillips essays.

It comes down to this in the end: Whatever goods are served by long-term erotic relationships between two members of the same sex, they are not the goods served by marriage. It’s the demonstration of that that takes time.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

A matter of emphasis

One bit of my succinct standing advice on recurring themes is “If you’re grudgingly trying to do the minimum God requires, you’re not doing the minimum that God requires. Mark 12:30.” I probably could have said “If you’re grudgingly trying to do the minimum God requires, you’re ipso facto not doing the minimum …,” but I use enough Latin phrases already.

I don’t recall what prompted that thought originally, but I suspect it was my old friend, who considers himself religious (although he might quibble with the word) in the Evangelical Protestant tradition, and who told me point blank, in jargon I knew all too well, that he just wanted to make it into heaven and “would leave all the jewels in the crown for others.” A fair summary of the meaning of this jargon is this, by one Kyle H at the impeccably reliable Yahoo! Answers (emphasis added):

Paul talked many times of running the race, striving for the goal, etc.
Now, we are saved through grace, not by works, lest any man should boast.
Faith saves, works get you rewards in Heaven. Paul knew he was saved but he kept striving for the rewards, a main goal of his.
I have no idea what the rewards may be but they must be very good if Paul was always talking about them.
I believe jewels in your crown = rewards, whatever they are.
There are many people of many faiths that will be in Heaven.
Paul said, if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, (in other words tell people about Him and your belief in Him) and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
He never said you have to first be Baptist, Catholic etc.
I know I will get a lot of the bad thumbs for this, but, believe it or not, there will be a few, (LOL) Catholics in Heaven.
No matter what your creed, your beliefs; your denomination, the first and only requirement to get to Heaven is to accept by faith that Jesus not only died for your sins, but the He was raised from the dead and is now at the right hand of the Throne of God.

So my friend apparently wants (a) to accept by faith that Jesus not only died for his sins, but the He was raised from the dead and is now at the right hand of the Throne of God but then (b) direct his own life, march to his own drummer, and have as good a time as possible without voiding the fire insurance policy.

When last I was deeply immersed in the Evangelical world, that attitude was epidemic. It would be unfair to say “pandemic.”

Prooftext battles are useless and futile, but my citation to Mark 12 says:

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

So if you ask “what must I do to be saved?,” you’re asking a good question. If you ask “what must I do to be saved?,” intending to do no more and intending in particular not to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, you’re violating the first and greatest commandment, and the only possible answer is “repent.”

Unpacking “repent” is beyond the scope I’m willing to take up today except to say that nobody who’s grudging toward God deserves any “eternal security” he or she may delusionally feel.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Dietary Just So Stories

I was a husky boy. I realized that when they steered Mother to a particular section of blue jeans at Silver’s Mens and Boys Wear where the clothes were labeled “Husky.” They used to have stores like that, with real owners who lived in town, not on Manhattan’s Upper East Side or Bentonville, AR.

Whenever a movie theater (or anything else, but celluloid had a certain combustible je ne sais quoi that memorably forshadowed what awaited movie-goers in the hereafter) burned downtown, Silver’s would have a Fire Sale, though Mother insisted the only smoke damage was from the cigars the owner (I thought his name was Ben, but I think I’ve got the name confused with another haberdasher) smoked in the back room.Read More »