June 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
A valedictorian in a Texas high school had his microphone cut off after mentioning God, and the constitutional right of students to speak about their faith.
In april, I wrote about the subtle indoctrination of secular education, through which children are tacitly trained to think of faith as a private matter that should not be discussed in a public forum. The complete absence of references to God or biblical themes suggests that these are not mainstream ideas, and that the default view of an educated person is an atheistic one. Indeed, as the Anti-Defamation League says on its website, “public schools may not teach religion, although religion in a secular context is permitted… in a neutral, objective, balanced and factual manner”—as if these words are incongruent with faith.
As an instrument of government, the public education system has fallen to the mistaken—though widely assumed—belief that it must be strictly separated from religion, which in America is synonymous with Christianity. Thus, time after time after time, stories surface of teachers and administrators purging their classrooms of anything that can be labelled a “Christian” point of view. At universities it’s far worse.
So again, we have a student at the top of his class, who decides he wants to thank God in his commencement address—something not especially uncommon. While schools generally discourage students around the nation from such content, there are probably many more occasions in which school officials let it slide than we ever hear about. Nevertheless, this one was born for headlines.
Apparently, school officials reviewed and disapproved of valedictorian Remington Reimer’s original draft, featuring religious remarks. He turned in a second clean version to their satisfaction and received warning that his microphone would be cut if he deviated, so when he decided to include this threat in his actual speech that is precisely what happened.
The school district maintains that they followed policy, but the details of their statement show just how well discrimination can be disguised within the patchwork of policy:
The District has reviewed the rules and policy regarding graduation speech, and it has been determined that policy was followed at the Joshua High School 2013 Graduation Ceremony. The valedictorian, salutatorian, and class historian speeches were reviewed in advance by the campus staff, prior to the graduation ceremony. Student speakers were told that if their speeches deviated from the prior-reviewed material, the microphone would be turned off, regardless of content. When one student’s speech deviated from the prior-reviewed speech, the microphone was turned off, pursuant to District policy and procedure.
We are supposed to acknowledge the fair treatment of all speakers and walk away from this story thinking that someone just took it too personally—another overly offended family with a lot of facebook friends.
But the term “prior-reviewed” hides the fact that the speech also had to be prior-approved. By not approving the original speech, then relying on a policy that gives them permission to cut off a microphone if a student deviates, the district set up a game in which they could not lose. Effectively, they gave the student an ultimatum: say what we want you to say, or you’ll be silenced and held against school policy.
The student handbook may not say there is a policy against discussing faith, but by placing complete power over expression in the hands of people who believe faith should not be discussed, the outcome is the same.
Likewise, it may not be a policy of our government to discriminate against Christians, but its persistent squeezing out of “religious” dialogue from the public square has the same result.
April 11, 2013 § 1 Comment
I would like to hear an answer to this question: Do the rights of women to decide on the birth of their children supersede the rights of U.S. citizens to own guns? Or to put it in Piers Morgan’s words, does the “right of a child not to be blown away” also imply a child’s right not to have its spinal cord severed with scissors as part of a late-term abortion procedure? I’ll get back to that in a second.
Morgan’s charge is nonsense. Of course children—and all people—have a right not to be murdered. We have homicide laws for that very reason. He uses this to suggest that people should not have guns, or at least certain arbitrary categories of guns. This same logic would say that prohibition should be reinstated because people have a right not to be a victim of drunk driving. For that matter, we should ban cars, which killed over 32,000 people in 2011.
The media has been all over this gun issue, to the point of suggesting that photos of the dead Sandy Hook victims should be released in order to stir the nation to tighten gun regulations. But when it comes to the equally disturbing practice of abortion, there is no talk of releasing photos, or even discussing the victims of people like Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who gets paid to “flip the body of the baby over and snip its neck with a pair of scissors to ensure ‘fetal demise.’”
Conservative blog site HotAir has a good take on the story here.
Gosnell is facing a minimum 20 years in prison, and possibly the death penalty. That’s the good news, because his estimated 100 victims did have a right to life—regardless of the parent—and he took it. The bad news is that the media has brushed the story under the rug. If you’ve heard of it before now, it was likely from a conservative source.
The tacit message from those in the media, who are overwhelmingly liberal, is that either the public already agrees with their skewed views of justice, or certain injustices are not worth discussing because they harm the agenda. Likely, it’s both. They believe that the majority is behind them, and certain types of injustice warrant discussion because they fuel the fire of “progress” against those cantankerous old world conservatives.
We are supposed to take immediate action against second amendment liberties because we care about children, but at the same time ignore the infanticide happening right in front of us in the name of individual liberty. There is neither logical nor moral consistency in this argument, unless the goal is not really justice, but ideology.
This shouldn’t be a political issue—indeed, the video below shows that many see this as a form of intentional racial oppression, though I would disagree with that characterization. That blacks are the overwhelming majority of abortion victims is a matter less of design than the realities of extremely high pregnancy rates among blacks. This 20-minute video, produced by the 3801 Lancaster Project, tells the story up to the point of Gosnell’s arrest. The trial has been going for months, with many gruesome new details surfacing. And though clinics like this are operating all over the country, all the media wants to talk about is Sandy Hook and guns.
April 6, 2013 § 2 Comments
When I was in high school, I joined a religious student organization. I will never forget one particular conversation in which we were trying to parse out a complex ethical question. After a good deal of struggle and pressure, our faculty advisor finally stepped in to suggest a solution. His comments were helpful, but brief, and he asked us not to tell anyone of his interjection. It was against the law.
Until the last few decades, speaking about faith in public school was common, not controversial: the very small percent of Americans who were not Christians still lived by a Christian-like philosophy of life, and the purpose of schools was much simpler. A system of public education was exactly that—basic education of the general public. Children were taught by their neighbors, parent-teacher associations were the norm, and moral instruction was a part of everyday life wherever children and adults should meet.
Starting in the mid 1900s, education took on a stronger state purpose, and became politicized into a vehicle of social change. In the landmark case Emerson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court provided a new—and misguided—interpretation of the First Amendment. Drawing from one of Thomas Jefferson’s letters, they declared a “strict wall of separation between church and state.” A casual letter from Jefferson, the most atheistic and radical of the founders, is hardly appropriate for such a sweeping interpretation, but nonetheless, this enabled the schoolhouse to be seen as the secular alternative to the community church. It was there that legal debates could be won, traditions challenged and worldviews shaped.
Surely, most of those pushing for change had benign intentions. While there were militant atheists among the ranks, most were simply calling for justice. They believed education could help address racism and close the opportunity gap between blacks and whites. And they were mostly right. But the greater call for equality also took on a project to erase religious “oppression.” If the state can have nothing to do with the church, they argued, then education run by the state can have nothing to do with moral or biblical instruction.In short, public education must be secular education.
When people think of “secular education” they interpret this to mean that it does not push a dogmatic religious perspective. That’s correct, but this does not mean it does not push a perspective or dogma all its own. The question becomes: what is that dogma? The answer: a secular one, of course. There is no God, therefore man has no inherent purpose and there are no eternal or universal values. It is important to understand that secular education does this by default.
When people think of “secular education” they interpret this to mean that it does not push a dogmatic religious perspective. That’s correct, but this does not mean it does not push a perspective or dogma all its own.
Secular education does teach a kind of right and wrong, which is essentially the Golden Rule. And it suffices to an extent, as all major moral philosophies tend to center around its dictum. But while it may be a good rule of manners and basic kindness, it is rather hollow as a coherent and holistic guide to real life.
The public education system has become a 13-year program of secular indoctrination, centered around a concept of “political correctness” by which we are taught never to cast judgment, and never to speak of faith. The vast majority of a public school student’s time is spend in a social environment in which no one acknowledges a divine power, morality is diluted down to simply being nice, and the only eternal truths are math and science. School is where one goes to learn about the world from educated people; where one becomes enlightened. Since no one speaks of religion, it is quickly dismissed from public discourse, and we become comfortable with our silence.
Considering that evenings and weekends are spent in the temples of Hollywood and New York, it is no surprise why our culture has become increasingly unable to express a coherent value system. We talk of human dignity, but glorify pornography. We praise hard work, but demonize the success. We speak of humility and sacrifice, but worship abusive celebrities. Our comedy is more degrading, our drama is more sexualized and our family sitcoms are a thing of the past.
If I may digress for a moment, did anyone catch the Oscars this year? If not, you missed Seth MacFarlane’s stellar performance of We Saw Your Boobs. Yes, in this little number, Macfarlane sings about all of the women who have bared all for their art. Certainly, this is what the women had in mind when they created these films. Surely, they appreciate someone of their own echelon admitting to the world that it’s not really art, just a little light pornography so males have a reason to watch, and we all know it, so we may as well laugh about it. Watch the video of the song here, and pay special attention to the faces of the women as they are mentioned. What is that? Betrayal? Humiliation? Disgust at Macfarlane’s cheap and degrading idea of entertainment at their expense? This kind of mindless and self-absorbed garbage is what comedy has become.
What’s so wrong with a guy jumping on stage in a tux and singing about boobs at an awards ceremony?
Ok, back to education. What’s so wrong with a guy jumping on stage in a tux and singing about boobs at an awards ceremony? A lot, really. But how would we know? If public schools teach us that girls are really no different than us, why shouldn’t we just treat them like one of the guys? And if there’s nothing especially sacred about nudity, sex or marriage, why can’t we have fun with it all? If life is about having a good time and sharing a few laughs before we die, aren’t people just being uptight for no reason? Why can’t we sing about boobs at an awards ceremony, or a wedding reception for that matter?
The Victorian era was all about manners and decorum. To the extent that a person’s worth was wrapped up in shallow outward appearances, it is good that we broke free. And the unprecedented rights and opportunities available to men and women of all races in America is a testament to a truly great nation. But in pursuit of political correctness we lost something important. Today, people are less confident in their faith, and place less value in marriage and parenthood. They remain like children in many respects well into their twenties, and mock the traditions of their grandparents. Yet, they still yearn for community, belonging and purpose.
We are in desperate need of a moral renaissance in education, and we are seeing it emerge in private, charter and home-based schools. People are recognizing that we have failed generations. In order to embrace perfect equality, our public school system had to forgo casting judgment; treating all things as deserving equal respect. Intentionally or not, it marginalized religion and debased humanity. We no longer have the language of truth, and have therefore lost the definition of goodness and beauty.
November 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
No one likes a sore loser. In some ways last night’s election was just another election, and we’ll have another one in four years. In fact, we are much more likely to see a Republican nominee that has the charisma of Barack Obama, but the principles of Calvin Coolidge. I’m throwing my hat in early for Marco Rubio.
Yet, I would by lying if I did not admit my concern for the future of the United States. With the country in such bad shape and so much disappointment in the president and our current political landscape, I thought Romney had a good chance. And the popular vote was extremely close. But a field of oddball candidates in the Republican primary made Mitt Romney the most sensible option, providing an easy target for Obama’s class warfare rhetoric.
A Romney presidency, according to Obama, would have led to a reverse in progress—an “on your own” society where the wealthy benefit at the cost of middle and lower class opportunity. Despite the many failures of the Obama administration, most Americans were willing to accept his message and give him a pass.
This election was the perfect measure of America’s attitudes towards business, wealth and the role of government. For four years Obama railed against income inequality, proposing that the federal government increase its role as the great leveler and distributor of opportunity. He argued that businesses and those who run them can only succeed if you lose. He suggested not only that people should give more to charity, drive cleaner cars and have a healthier diet, but that they should not be allowed to choose for themselves—government should force it upon them.
Americans had a chance to evaluate the debate, and made a few important judgments:
1) People deserve help through hard times, and an occasional boost to help them advance, even if it means other people are forced to bear the cost.
2) People should not have to face the full consequences of their mistakes, and do not necessarily deserve the rewards of their good judgment and hard work.
3) Government’s role is to promote virtue, health and leisure—from the national level—and liberty insofar as people are able make their own moral decisions.
4) Businesses operate on competitive profit maximization, which is antithetical to virtue, health and leisure.
In a sense, these are questions that reflect the foundational principles of republican (small “r”) government. At their core is a question of whether democracy is sustainable; whether government “of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The results from last night are discouraging. To put it simply: if people are not ultimately held responsible for the decisions they make—which means they reap the rewards and consequences—society will begin to unravel and freedom will be short-lived. Don’t believe me? Try it in your own household and see what happens. How much worse among strangers.
America chose to continue down this experimental road. Some of my closest friends supported Obama’s reelection, so I am certainly not suggesting that Americans are stupid. Smart people can disagree about how society functions and what will lead to better outcomes, and I think we just made an erroneous decision.
The good news is that over the next four years we will have a better idea what Obama’s policies have done. His healthcare law will be in full effect, he will not be able to escape an 8-year record on the economy and foreign policy, and the specter of George W. Bush will no longer loom over the Republican party. And hopefully, Americans will have learned that being a good communicator has very little to do with being a good president.
But we have to change our culture. Conservatism and libertarianism are backed by strong arguments and should be partners in educating society on the principles of limited government and personal responsibility. They should also be partners politically. Libertarians should stop whining and segregating themselves. By refusing to work from the inside of the Republican party they simultaneously make the party less libertarian and make libertarians less effective. Read here for more on that.
We need donors to support organizations that advance the ideas of our Founders, not just in Washington, but throughout education and the media.
We need a message that communicates why a free society is a more virtuous, healthier and prosperous society. And we need people who can understand and articulate that message with clarity and creativity.
And Republicans absolutely must bridge the messaging gap with women and minorities. Policies alone do not fully explain the gap, so the problem has more to do with how we have presented our values. The failure, in my view, has been the inability of Republicans to connect their policies to values, and to connect those values to the concerns of the common person. We cannot stand for “liberty” just because we want to keep our money; we must show why liberty is the very cornerstone of equality and opportunity. We must go after crony capitalism and champion charity.
There is much work to be done on behalf of people like myself, not just to change the next election, but to change our cultural worldview.
September 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Over at Values and Capitalism this week, I commemorate Constitution Day with a reminder of the importance of the Constitution, not only in American history, but as a teacher of political principles.
“The center stage of contemporary political debates seems dominated by questions of economics and entitlements, as though government’s role is to simply decide which levers to pull and how far. Were Americans better educated in the history and philosophy of the U.S. Constitution, we might be better equipped for this discussion. Regrettably, our culture has largely relegated the Constitution to the realm of patriotic folklore, denying most Americans the intellectual tools for understanding our own institutions and political principles.” READ MORE…
July 4, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This July 4th we celebrate more than Independence; we celebrate an exceptional nation. American exceptionalism is not about hollow jingoism as critics charge, but a recognition of the unique character and role of the United States in human history and international affairs.
March 22, 2012 § 4 Comments
The first film in the Hunger Games trilogy is hitting theaters at midnight and is already looking like a huge success. If you haven’t read at least the first book I would recommend doing so this weekend.
In honor of the event, ValuesAndCapitalism.com is publishing a series of posts regarding the trilogy’s ending. Yours truly was asked to make a contribution, which you can read here, but you’ll want to read V&C program director Eric Teetsel’s explanation of the blog series first. Note: given that these talk about the last book, here’s a major spoiler alert.
For those of you who have only read the first book (or if you’re reading this after seeing the movie), check out my January post in which I discuss some of the lessons of the Hunger Games.
February 2, 2012 § 4 Comments
Jefferson Bethke’s “Jesus hates religion” video has gained enormous popularity among the Facebook walls and Twitter feeds of America’s young evangelicals. This slick production features Bethke reciting a poem about Jesus and his teachings being the antithesis of “religion,” (to which he applies a peculiar definition). More to the point, it is a critique of hypocrisy, though his message is distorted by extraneous and frequently inaccurate attacks on Christianity and America.
The politically charged opening lines set the tone—perhaps the inspiration—for the rest of Bethke’s prose. It is clearly his view that many Republicans are fake Christians who are judgmental and heartless, yet have claimed moral superiority and hijacked the church. He continues on, recklessly blasting the church for starting wars, not feeding the poor, excommunicating divorcees and generally not representing the gospel. Thus, he concludes, the church—and, of course, Republicans—are following “religion,” but true Christians follow Jesus.
Unfortunately, while there is an important message to be shared here, the video is littered with theological inaccuracies, erroneous assumptions and, yes, its very own glaring hypocrisies (jump to the bottom to see what others have said). Bethke has been thoroughly critiqued, and has taken it with respect and humility, but what I really want to ask is this: How is it that a video with so many wrongheaded statements is so widely praised among my peers? I can think of at least three reasons.
1. The popularization of church
Most Christians do not study theology. That is understandable just as much as the fact that most people do not read philosophy literature. But we should expect pastors and preachers to uphold a high level of intellectual discipline. Furthermore, it is their responsibility to find ways to bring all people to a greater understanding of the history and theology of their faith. In too many churches, substance in teaching has been replaced with opinions, based on the whims of passion, with a supporting act by jumbotrons and coffee shops.
More and more people are rejecting traditions and congregations in favor of independent study and transient attendance at flavor-of-the-month churches. This disconnection from the larger Church body, and its theological and historical context, has left younger Christians with a blank slate and unsteady foundation.
2. Politically and historically biased education
Our public education system has a markedly left-wing bias. It is not uncommon to characterize our Founding Fathers as power-hungry racists, our foreign policy as imperialist, and our economic system as an instrument of oppression and destruction. American successes are counted as steps toward a progressive vision of equality and opportunity, led by protests and presidents, against conservative power structures.
Thus, many young people have been trained to see themselves as part of this ongoing political movement. Their enemies are tradition and wealth, and the party that protects them. Christianity is ordinarily a part of the tradition to be rejected, but Christians themselves call instead for a revolution in the church. Left-wing Christian populism emerged in opposition to the “American Dream,” wrongly interpreted as the acquisition of material success and status.
3. The MTV generation’s reaction to TBN
We live in a media-driven world. Television—especially cable—brought with it new values and ways of communicating. Appearance and production became extremely important for attracting an audience. In the late 1980s, Music Television did to a whole generation what Elvis did in the 1950s: it energized America’s youth and changed the industry. Indeed, the “reality tv” phenomenon first began with MTV’s “real world.” Amidst news anchors and soap operas, MTV made television cool.
In an attempt to utilize television as a ministry tool, along came Trinity Broadcasting Network, featuring gaudy furniture, big hair, fanciful clothing and very uncool entertainment. To my peers, the face of Christian America was outdated and kitschy, while the secular entertainment industry was electrifying. Then came the scandals with Jim Bakker, the angry rhetoric of Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the controversial statements of Pat Robertson and his “Christian Coalition.” The Church, it seemed, was becoming a voice of division.
All of this left young Christians without public role models. In a battle of words, people like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton could compete. But in a battle of popular entertainment, Christianity failed to supply a counterweight. Despite trying to keep up with changing trends, Christianity seemed out of touch, out of date, and seriously in danger of collapse. Enter the emergent church, which is on a tacit mission to inject cool back into Christianity and make Jesus “relevant” to modern culture. One outcome is an explosion of new churches that have effectively exiled the over-40 crowd.
Without roots, Christianity is a slave to the winds.
I wrote a blog post last July called Postmodernism and the Great Protestant Exodus, in which I argued that postmodern philosophy had caused Christians to distance themselves from traditions and denominations. In their place is an idea that each individual is on a personal search for God and truth—relationship, not religion. But while the essence of the idea is true, according to Protestant claim, they swing the pendulum too far. By failing to recognize the role of liturgy, order, accountability, tradition and historical context, they are stepping out of the ship and into a life raft, then cutting the tether in the middle of a vast ocean.
In America, we grow up admiring revolutionaries, but we must also learn when to be loyalists. Of course we are each called to seek Christ on a personal level. But to interpret this as a call to do away with “religion” is throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
OTHER RESPONSES TO THE VIDEO:
- Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really, by Kevin DeYoung
- Video: Jesus=Religion, by Worldview Everlasting
November 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
October 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In my latest post for Values & Capitalism, I offer my take on the Occupy [insert location] protests.
There is some legitimacy in the anger of the protestors. Recent years seem to have lacked ethical leadership in both the private and public sector, leading to a wrecked economy and fewer opportunities for the average American. Conservatives would do well to be outspoken against dishonest and unjust business practices, and serious about accountability and social responsibility. The “Occupiers” miss the mark, however, when they their solutions involve greater government oversight and wealth redistribution.
If what OWS wants is more opportunity for the 99%, the savior is the enemy—free markets and smaller government is the only way.