Mencken Could Fix Google

Conor Friedersdorf rightly faults the press for lacking perspective on the memo that resulted in a Google veep’s firing:

To shorthand his position as “anti-diversity” before the fact is still misleading.

Journalists grasp this nuance on lots of other issues.

Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of more jobs for working-class Americans. In service of that end, he has proposed canceling free-trade agreements, building a wall to keep out immigrants, and eliminating lots of environmental regulations. Critics who avow that they favor more jobs for the working class, but oppose achieving more jobs through those specific means, are not described as “anti-job,” especially when they suggest specific alternatives for job-creation. Even if their alternatives would result in fewer jobs than the Trump administration’s plans, that still wouldn’t make a writeup of their proposal “an anti-job memo.”

To object to a means of achieving x is not to be anti-x.

The failure to apply that same logic to the author of the memo is straightforwardly frustrating for those who agree with many of the views that the memo expressed. And it should also frustrate those who disagree with the author but care about social justice.

Every prominent instance of journalism that proceeds with less than normal rigor when the subject touches on social justice feeds a growing national impulse to dismiss everything published about these subjects—even important, rigorous, accurate articles. Large swathes of the public now believe the mainstream media is more concerned with stigmatizing wrong-think and being politically correct than being accurate. The political fallout from this shift has been ruinous to lots of social-justice causes—causes that would thrive in an environment in which the public accepted the facts.

The thing is, if you accept that injustice is basic to human existence in a fallen state, the pursuit of social justice is not a barrier to accurate perceptions of the world. Instead of being surprised or that Rick’s cabaret sponsors gambling in the back room,

we simply put the thought of it out of our minds, just as a wise man puts away the thought that alcohol is probably bad for his liver, or that his wife is a shade too fat. Instead of mulling over it and suffering from it, we seek contentment by pursuing the delights that are so strangely mixed with the horrors – by seeking out the soft spots and endeavoring to avoid the hard spots. Such is the intelligent habit of practical and sinful men. . . .

After all, the world is not our handiwork, and we are not responsible for what goes on in it, save within very narrow limits. Going outside them with our protests and advice tends to become contumacy to the celestial hierarchy. Do the poor suffer in the midst of plenty? Then let us thank God politely that we are not that poor. Are rogues in offices? Well, go call a policeman, thus setting rogue upon rogue. Are taxes onerous, wasteful, unjust? Then let us dodge as large a part of them as we can. Are whole regiments and army corps of our fellow creatures doomed to hell? Then let them complain to the archangels, and, if the archangels are too busy to hear them, to the nearest archbishop.

Unluckily for the man of tender mind, he is quite incapable of any such easy dismissal of the great plagues and conundrums of existence. . . . whenever he observes anything in the world that might conceivably be improved, he is commanded by God to make every effort to improve it. In brief, he is a public-spirited man, and the ideal citizen of democratic states. But Nature, it must be obvious, is opposed to democracy – and whoso goes counter to nature must expect to pay the penalty. (The Forward-Looker, ch 11 of Prejudices, Third Series, 1922)

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How To Talk About Sex (in public)

Conor Friedersdorf (via Noah Millman) suggested a way for Christians to talk to non-Christians about the value of sexual restraint:

Let’s imagine a private, residential college in purple America. It was once an explicitly Christian institution, and while now avowedly secular, the faculty still has a few beloved old-timers who retain a sense that part of their job is moral education. There is also a Christian pastor who lives on campus, runs a campus ministry for Christian students, and sits on a collegiate interfaith counsel. Each year, he plays a role in freshmen orientation—initially, to introduce himself to the students and invite any who are interested to join his ministry; and later, as one voice among many in a half-day session on sex and sexuality. He has 15 minutes to share whatever thoughts he has with the freshmen, who’ve already learned where to get free condoms and been counseled in consent and sexual assault. This is the only time he’ll have the whole class as a captive audience until graduation.

What should he say?

Should he say that abstinence is the only acceptable method for preventing unwanted pregnancy, because premarital sex is always wrong and contraception violates natural law by subverting God’s design of the human form? Should he say that while gays and lesbians are as loved by God as anyone and their desires are not themselves sinful, acting on them is immoral? Should he say that gay students should think about a vocation besides marriage, because the institution is inherently procreative and always will be? Or that students who never accept Jesus as their personal savior may be consigning themselves to eternity in hell? Should he say that anyone who aborts a pregnancy is murdering an innocent human? Or that the weight of tradition should cause students to look askance at masturbation? These are all beliefs a particular traditionalist Christian might well hold. You can imagine why he might feel impelled to speak them aloud—to “stay true” to his beliefs, despite their present unpopularity, or to facilitate what he regards as the potential saving of as many student souls as possible.

Should he say that you should imagine your future wife going to one of these parties and thinking of how to encourage men to show her respect?

Here’s part of what Friedersdorf came up with:

Some students will become depressed after hooking up with someone who doesn’t reciprocate the emotional intimacy they sought. Does that fact affect you? How? There’s always a chance that sexual intercourse will result in a sexually transmitted disease or the creation of a new life. What does that imply, if anything, about your own sexual behavior as you try to be good to one another?

There are so many situations you’ll face—so many more questions I could pose.

I don’t pretend that confronting these situations with the question, “How can I be good to others?” will lead all of you to the same answers, let alone to my answers, though I hope that you’ll keep your hearts open to the possibility. But if you really wrestle with that question in every situation that involves sex, romantic intimacy, dating, hooking up, whatever you kids call it these days—instead of thoughtlessly acting in whatever way most people seem to be acting—you’re much more likely to do right by others, much more likely to be proud of yourselves, and much less likely to remember your time here without the regrets that haunt some people, people who look back at their younger selves ashamed of how they hurt others. You’ll also bring about a community with fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer sexual assaults, less depression—just by trying your very hardest to be good to one another!

Can you imagine a chaplain talking like this to students at a Christian college? Of course, not (unless it’s Boston College — ahem).

But can you really imagine Christians talking to other Christians about movies — MOVIES!?! — the way Samuel D. James does (via Tim Challies)?

The first thing I should clarify about my original blog is what I did, and did not, intend to communicate. My aim was to help Christians affirm their conscientious objections to watching simulated sexual acts by offering some substantive reasons why, in my opinion, violence and profanity are not similarly problematic. I was not trying to argue that all sexual content in movies demands the same response from everyone, nor was I making a case that all movies that contain it are equally problematic. There is, of course, a significant difference between talking about the sexuality of a James Bond film and that of 50 Shades of Grey, just like there’s a difference between the violence of The Exorcist and The Human Centipede. My conviction is not that all these films are equivalent or that Christians must treat them as such, but that a consistent ethic of avoiding explicit sexuality in any film is not hypocritical, unrealistic, or even particularly “legalistic.”

The reason I think this is a point worth making is that when most Christians ask about sex in movies, they’re not asking about whether they should walk out of the theater when it comes on, or if they should leave the party or close their eyes or only watch with their spouse and fast forward. Those might be important questions, but in the majority of cases that’s not what is being asked. What is being asked is, “Is it even worth trying to avoid?” And, “Don’t I have Christian freedom to watch if I’m resisting the temptation to lust?” My blog was specifically directed not toward the details but toward the larger point that, yes, for the Christian, avoiding a dramatic encounter with the erotic outside of the marriage covenant IS realistic and IS spiritually wise.

Why can’t Christians talk about sex in public in ways that suggest they’ve read narrative of David and Bathsheba and the Song of Solomon and don’t think those parts of the Bible are dirty?

Wheaton College: For Christ, His Kingdom, and Islam?

Thanks to John Fea I now know about a graduate of Wheaton College, Aaron Griffith, who thinks that Dr. Larcyia Hawkins is simply doing what the institution’s founder, Charles Blanshard, would do (WWCBD?):

With this history in mind, Hawkins’s activism on behalf of Muslims begins to look a lot less like an aberration and more in keeping with the original vision of the college. The antebellum evangelical tradition Hawkins drew upon was one primarily concerned with upholding human dignity and advocating for those on the margins. Muslims facing discrimination and threats of violence in present-day American life surely fit that description.

In 1842, Jonathan Blanchard preached a sermon on slavery before a church synod in Cincinnati. Over eight pages, he presented forceful arguments against slaveholding Christians, pointing out flaws in their Biblical exegesis and showing how “the property-holding of men is the worst conceivable form, and the last possible degree of oppression.”

During his sermon, Blanchard spent two short paragraphs in the sermon talking about the doctrine of God, where he argued that “Whatever leads men to regard Jehovah as something different from what he is, prevents their acting towards him as they ought.” It was clear from these few lines that Blanchard saw theological precision as an important good.

But Blanchard was not especially worried about muddled theology in and of itself. Instead he argued that slavery corrupted “true religion.” Failure to love one’s neighbor or denounce oppression was the real theological problem.

Hawkins, with her stress on “embodied solidarity” with her Muslim neighbors, would have found herself in good company in 1842. She drew not on liberal theology, secularized notions of human rights or shared American identity, but on a robust evangelical tradition of the biblical call to advocate on behalf of people made in the image of God.

So what happened to Wheaton? According to Griffith who follows John Schmalzbauer, it’s fundamentalism’s fault:

In the early 20th century, dancing, card playing, and theater attendance replaced slavery and mistreatment of Indians as Wheaton’s moral bugaboos. Focus on the fundamentals unfortunately meant that social concerns were often swept aside, and, as religion scholar John Schmalzbauer has shown, fundamentalists tied to Wheaton propounded their own brands of Christian bigotry (in this case anti-Semitism).

Schmalzbauer alleged anti-Semitism was part of Wheaton’s past (even though the dots were pretty disconnected):

In 2010 I returned to campus to deal with some of these ghosts. In a lecture series commemorating Wheaton’s 150th anniversary, I lamented the history of Protestant bigotry in my native Twin Cities, focusing on two fundamentalist firebrands. Together, they led journalist Carey McWilliams to declare Minneapolis the “capital of anti-Semitism in the United States.” Welcoming the paramilitary Silver Shirts to the First Baptist Church (“Why Shiver at the Sight of a Shirt?”), William Bell Riley actively promoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion throughout the Upper Midwest. Preaching a similar message, Luke Rader’s River-Lake Gospel Tabernacle was deemed “the worst place, barring none in the Twin Cities, as far as anti-Semitic vitriol.” Both men had ties to Wheaton College. While Riley preached the funeral sermon for Wheaton’s second President Charles Blanchard, Rader’s brother Paul was a college trustee.

But what do these Wheaton grads think Wheaton was back in the days of Jonathan Blanchard? Lena Dunham’s Oberlin? George Marsden’s reasons for including Wheaton’s founder and founder’s son in his history of — ahem — fundamentalism were sound, even common sensical:

These fights [against Masonry and Roman Catholicism] were simultaneously conservative and radical. Blannchard, who had by now been joined in his campaigns by his son Charles, believed that America was a “Christian nation” and worked for a Christian amendment to the Constitution. Their concepts of Christian ideals, however, showed little regard for prevailing middle-class stands. The 1874 platform of the National Christian Association included recognition of Christianity in the United States Constitution, Sabbath and prohibition laws, outlawing secret lodges, preservation of the “civil equality secured to all American citizens by articles 13th, 14th, and 15th of our amended Constitution,” international arbitration for peace, that “land and other monopolies be discountenance,” “justice to Indians,” abolition of the Electoral Colleges, and election of the President and Vice President by direct vote of the people….

Jonathan Blanchard’s son Charles, thought deeply dedicated to preserving his father’s views, completed Wheaton’s transition into the new evangelical and eventually fundamentalist outlook. The alliance with the Moody forces was clearly the crucial step…. By the end of his career, Charles was a significant figure in the fundamentalist movement. In 1919 he drafted the doctrinal statement of the Word’s Christian Fundamentals Association and in 1926 arch-fundamentalist William Bell Riley delivered the eulogy at his funeral…. Among [Blanchard’s] favorite texts, recalled from his anti-Masonic forays, were “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” and “Come out from among them and be separate. (Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 29, 31)

We don’t need selective history to justify cherry-picked theology.

Yes, it’s a shame if Dr. Hawkins loses her position over her remarks. Yes, it’s tough for administrators to protect faculty privileges while also maintaining institutional identity (not to mention satisfying alumni and donors).

But we don’t need to make up theology or history to justify our own rooting interests. The idea that the Blanchards would have been on the side of Muslims is risible, almost as funny as thinking that anyone would want to justify an institutional policy or personal conviction today by appealing to — wait for it — Jonathan and Charles Blanchard. Those guys would chew any contemporary Protestant up and spit us out. If they’d do that to Protestants dot dot dot

Microaggression Culture

Conor Friedersdorf on college campus exchanges (worth a read):

The culture on display on many college and university campuses, by way of contrast, is “characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the way my brother and I related when we were younger than 12.

Why call this victimhood? Why not childish?