343 Christians & Pagans

In Pagans and Christians in the City:  Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Kindle Edition, c.  2018), Steven D. Smith, a law professor at the University of San Diego, contends that many people share the beliefs of the ancient Romans.  They may be “godless”from a theistic perspective, but they passionately revere such things as racial equity and sexual freedom and environmental purity.  They have sacred spheres, but they are all within the natural world, rather than the supernatural realm dear to Christians and Jews.  They are the “modern pagans” T.S. Eliot described in his 1939 lectures, and they are as likely to shun or persecute Christians today as they were 20 centuries ago.  

Smith begins his discussion by presenting undeniable evidence that we are homo religiosus.  By nature we are as deeply religious as we are rational or tool-making or playful.  Drawing on sources as diverse as Sophocles, Victor Frankl, Leo Tolstoy, and William James, he illustrates the ancient adage:  “man does not live by bread alone.”  Throughout human history there’s been an insatiable craving for meaning and purpose in life, for answers to the great “why” questions.  Thus, said Ludwig Wittgenstein:  “‘To believe in God means to understand the question about the meaning of life.’  ‘To believe in God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.’  ‘To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning’” (p. 45).  To Rabbi Abraham Heschel, religious reflection begins with the “awe” or “wonder” we feel when confronting creation.  Importantly:  awe “‘is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding.  Awe is itself an act of insight into a meaning greater than ourselves’” (p. 48). 

It’s simply part of who we are—religious, meaning-mongering creatures.  So it’s never a question of whether or not we’ll have religious concerns but rather what form these concerns will develop.  Consequently, in the ancient world, both pagans and Christinas were deeply religious, but pagans sought meaning in this world, which may include certain invisible realms, while Christians and Jews discerned it in an invisible, metaphysical one.  With all their gods and goddesses, temples and public ceremonies, Romans were in many ways “‘the most religious people in the world’” (p. 87).  In its grandeur Rome certainly possessed military, economic, architectural and cultural riches, but it also featured distinctly religious goods—“meaning, sublimity, and communal connection to the sacred” (p. 105).  These goods were present in the natural world, with its beauty, order, and awe-inspiring fecundity. 

Then Christians boldly challenged this Roman religion with an offensive theology and ethics.  Over the centuries Rome had tolerated various tribal deities and mystery cults,  but Christianity was something else.  Above all, it insisted to uniquely possess “the way, the truth, and the life.”  It wasn’t simply one of many ways, which would have been most congenial to the Romans, but it was The Way!  Importantly, whereas the pagan gods inhabited only this world, Christians worshipped “‘the creator of the world, which he guides in its course and maintains in its existence—an invisible, hidden, spiritual god who dwells beyond time and space’” (p. 146).   For pagans, the natural world is our home, and we should settle in and enjoy its goods.  For Christians, however, a heavenly home awaits us as pilgrims.  Beholding the heavens, the pagan “exclaims, ‘How divine!’  The theologically fastidious Christian looks up and says, ‘What a sublime manifestation of the divine!’” (p. 152).  To the pagan, the good life meant good food, casual sex, comforts of various sorts.  But Christians would forego all temporal goods so as to gain “eternal life.”  Pagans disdainfully rejected any notion of the resurrection of the body—death simply ended, once and for all, one’s life.  But St Paul exclaimed:  “O death, where is thy victory?  O grave, where is thy sting?” In fact,  “Luc Ferry asserts that ‘the entire originality of the Christian message resides in “the good news” of literal immortality—resurrection, in other words and not merely of souls but of individual human bodies’” (p. 233).  

Inevitably these two worldview clashed.  The greatest analysis of this conflict, of course, was St Augustine’s City of God, showing how the earthly city constituted itself by loving self self rather than God, whereas the heavenly city was composed of those who disregarded this-worldly matters in pursuit of everlasting well-being.  Though generally tolerant of religious diversity, when pressed Rome resorted to persecuting Christians when they too clearly threatened the stability of their “earthly city.”  And when Christians became politically powerful in the fourth century, A.D., they often (and generally half-heartedly) sought to eliminate paganism.  Christians, of course, prevailed and subsequently established the Western Christian Civilization that so shaped Europe for a millennium.  

And yet, Smith thinks:  “In a certain sense, the Western world has arguably always remained more pagan than Christian.  In some ways Christianity has been more of a veneer than a substantial reality” (p. 251).  Throughout the Medieval world vestiges of paganism persisted—witchcraft and astrology, names and holidays, philosophy and literature.  Then came the Renaissance, which some historians, such as Jacob Burkhardt, think featured a resurgence of ancient paganism highly evident in the great artistic works of that epoch.  To Paul Johnson the Renaissance incubated “‘the first great cultural war in European history’” (p. 260).  And inasmuch as Christianity survived the Renaissance it faced an even more formidable foe in the European Enlightenment.  

“Consequently, in his admired and admiring history of the movement, Peter Gay interprets the Enlightenment as ‘the rise of modern paganism.”  And how exactly were the Enlightenment thinkers ‘pagan’?  Primarily, in Gay’s telling, in their forceful criticism and rejection of Christianity.  ‘The most militant battle cry of the Enlightenment,’ Gay explains, “ecrasz l’infame, was directed against Christianity itself, against Christian dogma in all its forms, Christian institutions, Christian ethics, and the Christian view of man.’  The Enlightenment amounted to a ‘great campaign against Christianity’” (p. 264).  Of Voltaire, a prominent exponent of Enlightenment verities, “Gay explains that the torrent of pamphlets that poured out . . . in the last sixteen years of Voltaire’s life reveals a distaste for Christianity amounting almost to an obsession.’”   As Voltaire declared:  “Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.”  All things Christians he despised—“the Trinity, the chastity of the Virgin Mary, the body and blood of Christ in the Mass, all are cruelly lampooned” (p. 265).  Though less malicious, his counterpart across the Channel, was the skeptic “David Hume, ‘the complete modern pagan’” (p. 265).  Such paganism was on full display amidst the furor of the French Revolution, when Notre Dame was rededicated as a “temple of reason,” the clergy vilified and martyred, and Christianity widely denounced.  

Lest we think the Renaissance and Enlightenment were novel epochs, however, Smith thinks that paganism is simply man’s natural condition, and whenever Christianity recedes it resurges.  But what we see emergent today is an irreligious agnosticism—“secular humanism”—which finds nothing sacred, not even human beings.  There is no ultimate purpose or “telos” to anything, just an evolutionary unfolding of a material world.  To a Princeton philosopher, Walter Stace, the triumph of modern science gave us a philosophical (scientistic) naturalism “which is ‘purposeless, senseless, meaningless.  Nature is nothing but matter in motion.’  This new worldview, Stace thought, ‘though silent and unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world’”  (p. 286).  It lacks the consolations of paganism as well as theism.  

Yet not all thinkers embrace this revolution, portending the failure of sheer secularism.  Such was one of the “most influential (and thoroughly secular) English-speaking legal scholar and philosopher of recent decades, Ronald Dworkin” (p. 293).  As he aged, Dworkin hungered for something more than mere matter-in-motion.  He longed for a “moral realism” giving some basis for ethics as well as something “sacred” to endow his life with some sort of meaning.  And in his final book he “explicitly embraced “religion”—albeit “religious atheism,” as he called it” (p. 296).  There could be nothing transcendent, so he found comfort in the views of Spinoza and Einstein, “whose philosophies he offered as representative of the kind of ‘religious atheism” he himself advocated.”  To Spinoza God and the world are one and the same.  And Einstein “‘did not believe in a personal god, . . . but he did ‘worship’ nature’” (p. 298).  In the disenchanted world of modern secularism, Dworkin prescribed re-enchanting it with nature-worship.  It’s a revival of paganism, reclaiming “the city that Christianity wrested away from it centuries ago” (p. 330).

Consequently we have a divisive cultural war, pitting traditional believers committed to a transcendent Authority against a progressive cohort locating all moral authority within this world.  “In short, the conflicting orientations—toward ‘transcendent’ or conversely toward ‘inner-worldly’ sources of moral authority—reflected, and reflect, the competing transcendent and immanent religiosities” seeking to control America.  “In that sense, the condition of contemporary America is comparable to that of fourth-century Rome, when Christianity and paganism, each with its powerful representatives . . . .  struggled for mastery within the city” (p. 337).  For example, there is a struggle over symbols, traditionalists seeking to retain and progressives to remove Christmas creches, 10 Commandment monuments, “under God” additions to the pledge of allegiance, etc.  

Then there’s sex!  The past half-century has witnessed a momentous “struggle over a variety of issues connected in various ways with sexuality:  contraception, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage.”  All were once illegal.  Now they’re all contested, and traditionalists are losing!  Though it may seem that a “new morality” is triumphing, it’s actually nothing new, for in antiquity sexual standards sharply divided Christians from the pagan world.  Contraception and abortion were embraced in the ancient world, as they are by today’s progressives, helping constitute, Mary Eberstadt says, “‘a new, quasi-religious orthodoxy’” (p. 256).  “As in Rome, it may seem, contemporary society ‘find[s] in erotic fulfillment nothing short of salvation’” (p. 356).   The victories progressives have won have taken place primarily in the nation’s courtrooms, where Christian values have been relentlessly disregarded.  This is vividly evident when considering contraception, “the expressive or symbolic core of the transformation in sexual morality” (p. 361).  Legal restrictions were discarded as the sexual revolution of the ‘60s commenced, and sexual intimacy was effectually severed from its “its traditional connections to procreation and marriage” (p. 361).  Consequently, “the Christian norms of sexual morality and marriage that previously were officially recognized in law, and has moved the law decisively in the direction of a view of sexuality that resonates with the immanent religiosity of both ancient and modern paganism” (p. 368).

Modern pagans endeavor to dismiss the freedom of religion along with traditional sexual standards.  Ancient pagans tolerated a variety of religions but routinely persecuted Christians.  That was because all of the pagan religions shared a commitment to an immanent metaphysics.  When Christians injected their beliefs in a transcendent Creator who prescribes ethical absolutes, the pagans turned malevolent.  Two thousand years later, despite their pretense of “tolerance,” modern pagans increasingly illustrate an “intolerant tolerance” flourishing in the halls of Congress as well as social media.  Epitaphs such as “racist” or “bigot” or “Hitler” are plastered on whomever dares disagree with them.   These modern pagans are determined to repudiate the Supreme Court’s 1892 claim that “we are a Christian nation.”  Rejecting not only the notion that America is a Christian nation but the 1992 Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, today’s pagans want to stamp out any hint of transcendence in the public square.  What you do by yourself in your own home is fine, but you dare not bring your religious commitments into the workplace (bakers, florists, pharmacists, photographers) or school or armed services.  When, for example, the Indiana legislature recently passed a law securing religious freedom “it was vehemently denounced by a veritable legion of politicians, pundits, government officials, scholars, CEOs, late night talk show hosts, athletic directors, and major corporations.  Boycotts were threatened.  Governors and mayors announced that public officials would not be reimbursed for travel to do business in the Hoosier state” (p. 398).  Hoosiers quickly buckled under the assault, and religious freedom retreated.  

Smith’s amply-documented, cogently argued case brings an insightful perspective on developments in our world.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In 1939 T.S. Eliot delivered a series of three lectures at Cambridge University, published the following year as The Idea of a Christian Society (New York:  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., c. 1940).  Though noting the “difficulties of the moment,” as Europe stood on the cusp of WWII, he insisted on addressing more urgent, fundamental issues, looking at things with a long lens and seeking to understand them.  He made no pretense to be a scholar or pundit, simply a poet trying the plumb the inner essence of what made Europe Europe—a Christian Society forged in Medieval times that was rapidly being displaced by what some thinkers judged a Pagan Society birthed by modernity.  That had not finally occurred, he thought, but he wondered if the once-prevailing Christian Society had any hope of resurgence.  To be clear, Eliot believed that a real Christian “can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society—which is not the same thing as a society consisting exclusively of devout Christians.  It would be a society in which the natural ends of man—virtue and well-being in community—is acknowledged for all, and the supernatural end—beatitude—for those who have the eyes too see it” (p. 27).  

Such a society would feature many factors, synthesizing subsidiary “units of the community,” including family, workplace and church.  But its most notable feature would be education.  Indeed:  “A nation’s system of education is much more important than its system of government; only a proper system of education can unify the active and contemplative life, action and speculation, politics and the arts” (p. 33).  Unfortunately, education had become equated with “instruction,” generally of a utilitarian sort.  The sidelining of the liberal arts so evident in today’s universities was clearly on Eliot’s mind!  Still more, he understood that wherever the state takes control education becomes a tool for indoctrination, making youngsters devotees of the political regime.  But “a Christian Society education must be religious,” not in that it is controlled by the clergy or committed to doctrinal indoctrination, “but in the sense that its aims will be directed by a Christian philosophy of life” (p. 30). 

A Christian philosophy of life would be maintained not because it was useful, but because it is eternally true.  At its heart is dogma rather than development.  And it would encourage a right “conformity with nature.”  Long before “ecology” became popular, Eliot lamented the mechanization of life following the industrial revolution, leading to both a “deformation of humanity” and “the exhaustion of natural resources,” so “that a  good deal of our material progress is a progress for which succeeding generations may have to pay dearly” (p. 48).  He believed that “a wrong attitude towards nature implies somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God, and that the consequence is an inevitable doom.  For a long enough time we have believed in nothing but the values arising in a mechanized, commercialized, urbanized way of life:  it would be as well for us to face the permanent conditions upon which God allows us to live upon this planet.”  Without reverting to revering the primitives, we could well heed their examples in some areas.   Unfortunately, we’ve bowed before the altar of progress and thereby compromised our “spiritual knowledge and power.”  In fact:  “We need to know how to see the world as the Christian Fathers saw it; and the purpose of reascending to origins is that we should be able to return, with greater spiritual knowledge, to our own situation.  We need to recover the sense of religious fear, so that it may be overcome by religious hope” (p. 49).   

This of course was not Eliot’s England a century ago, for it had been largely shaped by a Liberalism which was eroding the Christian Society it merely tolerated.   Committed to an insatiable progressivism, it had carelessly jettisoned religious traditions and dogmas.  “By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinion of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation:  the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos” (p. 12).  This Liberalism was, however, weakening, and a deeply non-Christian materialistic philosophy appeared poised to replace it.  

Eliot’s hope for a return to a robust Christian Society was, of course not to be, as was evident in post-WWII Europe.  But his lectures stand as a monument to what once was—and what might be—if the Church could once again provide guidance for our world.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

In 1942, amidst a war that was “more disastrous than any that Europe had known since the fourteenth century,” the noted historian Christopher Dawson published The Judgment of the Nations (New York:  Sheed and Ward, c. 1942; republished by The Catholic University of America Press, 2011).  Noted for his many works detailing the power of The Faith in shaping Western Christian Culture, he wrote with dismay at the evident “disintegration” of that culture.  The world had changed more in the past century, he thought, than in any other “period in the history of the world” (p. 3).  WWII revealed the accelerating power of evil orchestrating “a spiritual catastrophe which strikes directly at the moral foundations of our society, and destroys not the outward form of civilization but the soul of man which is the beginning and end of all human culture” (p. 10).  

After analyzing the religious origins of European disunity and the failure of both Liberalism and the League of Nations, Dawson discussed “The Secularization of Western Culture.”  On a purely material level, the West has progressed impressively—our standard of living is demonstrably superior our grandparents, not to mention their grandparents!  But:  “This is the greatness and misery of modern civilization—that it has conquered the world by losing its own soul, and that when its soul is lost it must lose the world as well.” (p. 67).  The classical 19th century Liberalism of Adam Smith granted religion a small sphere of autonomy and influence—the “freedom of religion” established in America’s Bill of Rights.  “But the progress of mechanization and the social organization which it entails, has steadily reduced this margin of freedom, until today in the totalitarian states, and only to a slightly less degree in the democratic ones, social control extends to the whole of life and consciousness.  And since this control is exercised in a utilitarian spirit for political, economic and military ends, the complete secularization of culture seems inevitable” (p. 72).  Our technological society, it seems, plows ahead as relentlessly as a bulldozer, leveling everything to a purely secular level.  And it cannot but demolish both religion and personal freedom.  

Though Dawson lamented this destruction, he did not despair.  So he crafted a series of chapters calling for the “restoration of a Christian order” to contravene the planned societies espousing Socialism (whether in Stalin’s Russia or FDR’s America).  Mandating equality at the expense of freedom, modern “civilization” seeks to control both the natural world and the persons resident in it.  “A free culture is an unplanned culture” (p. 81).  Consequently, a planned culture is an unfree culture.  A planned culture cannot but destroy the freedoms needed for art, literature, philosophy and religion to flourish.   And so it goes!  

342 SHELBY STEELE on RACE in AMERICA

Despite disquieting episodes in the ‘90s—the riots in Los Angeles provoked by Rodney King’s arrest and O.J. Simpson’s acquittal being celebrated in many black communities—for three decades I naively assumed race relations were genuinely improving as Americans endorsed the aspirations and policies adumbrated by Martin Luther King, Jr.  Giving primacy to the “content of one’s character” rather than the “color of one’s skin” seemed the right recipe for racial justice.  But then Barack Obama, (the nation’s first black President who signified racial progress for many of us) helped expose and ignite racial divisions throughout the country.  This was evident as Obama defended Trayvon Martin and then helped inflame passions following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  Thus was born Black Lives Matter, and there was evident (in pronouncements by Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder) our current and rapidly escalating crisis.    

So to re-think what’s happening today I turned to one of the more thoughtful analysts of race in America:  Shelby Steele.  Three decades ago he published The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, c. 1990), setting forth a position differing from the mainline civil rights establishment and its supportive liberal intelligentsia.  In the ‘60s he had been a militant black-power advocate, helping stage demonstrations and demanding instant solutions to racial injustices.  But ultimately he wearied of that and began to think more deeply.  By 1990, as an English professor at San Jose State University, Steele determined to challenge readers to envision new paths for America’s racial minorities, seeking to discern “the human universals that explain the racial specifics” (p. xi).  What’s needed, he thought, is a philosophical realism, thinking about what actually is rather than what ought to be.  “What one is after is the right fit of ideal to reality.  And reality must always have priority, accepting only those ideas that truly illuminate it” (p. xii).  Consequently, Steele thinks carefully and crafts arguments that are most enlightening—as relevant today as when they were when first written.  

At the heart of the racial struggle, Steele thinks, is a “struggle for innocence.”  Trying to locate and blame others for one’s problems is a way of establishing one’s own purity.  Both whites and blacks do it.  Their rationales may differ but their ends are identical—to maintain a saintly impeccability.  Thus lamenting the legacy of slavery enables blacks to manipulate their past victimization into positions of  power.  But victims are by definition passive—and the “power” derived from victimization is a social rather than a personal exercise.  Blaming others actually empowers them inasmuch as they remain responsible for economic poverty or educational failures.  So protesting racism rather than promoting individual responsibility will never actually improve black lives, and promoting affirmative action and racial quotas will forever fail to motivate self-actualization and achievement.  

One path Steele rejects is the endless refashioning of politically correct terms in an elusive quest for self-respect.  Thus the newly-minted “African-American” label was, he thought, “yet another name to the litany of the names that blacks have given themselves over the past century” (p. 47).  While understandable:  “This self-conscious reaching for pride through nomenclature suggests nothing so much as a despair over the possibility of gaining the less conspicuous pride that follows real advancement.  In its invocation of the glories of a remote African past and its wistful suggestion of homeland, this name denies the doubt black Americans have about their contemporary situation in America” (p. 47).  New names change nothing and will never rightly establish one’s identity.   (Incidentally, it’s non-Indians who most strongly insist on calling American Indians “Native Americans”).  

What’s needed is a new way of acting, Steele says, a new (or is it the old Booker T. Washington strategy of patiently working within the American system?) way of taking the initiative to live creatively and well, of accepting responsibility for one’s actions, successes and failures.  In the 1990’s, the antiquated agenda of the 1960’s (appropriate though it was in that decade) no longer suffices. In particular, he argues, it’s time for blacks to stop blaming whites for their problems and get on with the business of personal and cultural achievement.  The book’s title, “the content of our character,” comes from a speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.  “What made King the most powerful and extraordinary black leader of this century,” Steele says, “was not his race but his morality” (p. 19).  What black leaders need today, he believes, is to recover King’s moral stance, to emphasize integrity and responsibility rather than ethnic victimization.  King’s message had power because it transcended race, binding men and women of all kinds together in a common endeavor.  King’s message had power because it was, in fact, not a “black power” message.

Unfortunately, too many black leaders routinely exploit white Americans’ guilt, asking for special treatment, thereby reducing themselves and their followers to inferiors needing a helping hand.  Tragically, “the price they pay for this form of ‘politics’ is to keep blacks focused on an illusion of deliverance by others, and no illusion weakens us more.  Our leaders must take a risk.  They must tell us the truth, tell us of the freedom and opportunity they have discovered in their own lives” (p. 174).  Steele himself represents—and seeks to speak for—the growing middle class black community.  But what distresses him is the persistence of racial sensitivity even in his own circles.  “As a middle-class black I have often felt myself contriving to be ‘black.’  And I have noticed this same contrivance in others—a certain stretching away from the natural flow of one’s life to align oneself with a victim-focused black identity” (p. 106). 

In a way, he argues, blacks choose to see themselves as inferiors, internalizing an inferiority rooted in alleged social discrimination rather than genetic factors, because it allows them to escape responsibility for competing and achieving as individuals.  Blacks lack power in America not simply because prejudice excludes them but because power comes solely to those who live responsibly.  “Personal responsibility is the brick and mortar of power” (p. 33).  The longer a group marches to the drumbeat of victimhood, even though it may elicit sympathy and applause and even reparations from the crowd, the longer it remains subservient and impotent.  This is not to excuse injustice, which abounds in America.  It is to insist that despite obstacles minorities can succeed here.  “Whites must guarantee a free and fair society.  But blacks must be responsible for actualizing their own lives” (p. 34).  Steele nowhere argues American society is fully free and fair!  He’s suffered discrimination.  Prejudice still stains our national life.  But it must be honestly depicted, not exaggerated as an excuse for immobility, not milked to preserve politicians’ positions.  We need not deny the injustices of the past to admit that “when today’s black college students—who often enjoy preferential admission and many other special concessions—claim victimization, I think that it too often amounts to a recomposition of denied doubts and anxieties they are unwilling to bear” (p. 61). 

Illustrating such preferential treatment, Steele cited Penn State University, which had a program which paid “black students for improving their grades—a C to C+ average brings $550, and anything more brings $1,100” (p. 90).  Minority students at Stanford University seized control of the president’s office several years ago, determined to make known their grievances, among which were complaints about their inadequate financial assistance—which for some totaled $15,000 a year!  Though he taught in a large state university, Steele appreciated the value of small black colleges.  Only 16 percent of black students enrolled in them, but they graduated 37 percent of all black graduates.  “Without whites around on campus, the myth of inferiority is in abeyance and, along with it, a great reservoir of culturally imposed self-doubt” (p. 136).  Consequently, black students in black colleges take more responsibility for their studies, work harder, and accomplish more. 

More broadly, if blacks can move beyond their “racial identity struggle” and begin to live as individuals in American society, Steele thinks this nation offers “a remarkable range of opportunity if we were willing to pursue it” (p. 168).  This book is highly personal, both in its style and its interpretations.  It clearly reflects the experience of only one black man in America.  Yet it’s worth reading, for it makes some important observations and offers some positive suggestions, though they do not lend themselves to political action.  Which is Steele’s message:  blacks as individuals must take charge of their lives.

             * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shelby Steele followed up The Content of Our Character with A Dream Deferred:  The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America (New York:  Harper Perennial, c. 1998), bringing together essays explaining why any society racked by shame will fail.  The liberalism that developed in the 1960s embraced as its “all-consuming goal . . . the expiation of American shame rather than the careful and true development of equality between the races.  Shame pushed the post-sixties United States into an extravagant, autocratic, socialistic, and interventionist liberalism that often betrayed American’s best principles in order to give whites and American institutions an iconography of racial virtue they could use against the stigma of racial shame” (p. xiii).  By this time in his life Steele had become a “black conservative” and found himself subject to various forms of abuse, particularly on colleges campuses.  When he would give a lecture addressing racial concerns, “a virtual militia of angry black students would rush to the microphones and begin to scream” (p. 4).  They had no reasoned arguments, just irrational exclamations, curses hurled at a despised foe.    

They revealed the toxic consequences of a “self-esteem” pedagogy promoted in the ‘80s that made them angry and irrational.  Designed to enhance their self-esteem, assuming they would perform better once their sense of identity was enhanced, such policies inevitably failed.  For self-esteem follows successful performances.  Real success entails meeting high expectations.  (And it makes sense that blacks have actually excelled in precisely those demanding fields where discipline and hard work establish competence—athletics and music.)  But a large segment of the black community is locked into protecting its victimization status.  All inequalities, all injustices, must be understood as a result of white privilege and power.  Even those who enjoy immense advantages—Ivy League degrees, remunerative jobs, media celebrity—insist they’re victims.  As the only important factor worth considering:  “It leads us to believe that all suffering is victimization and that all relief comes from the guilty and good-heartedness of others” (p. 10).  Conversely, white liberals look “at black difficulties—high crime rates, weak academic performance, illegitimacy rates, and so on—and presume them to be the result of victimizing forces beyond the control of blacks” (p. 13).  And rather than try to rectify actual problems in the black community, white liberals relish lamenting their guilt and  dispense hand-outs effectively paralyzing the “poor” blacks they love to indulge.  

Under the rule of what Steele calls “redemptive liberalism, we blacks lost the first chance we ever had in the United States to truly control our own fate.”  Following the abolition of segregation, blacks looked to whites to redeem them.  Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society was the first ambitious expression of redemptive liberalism” (p. 47), and Steele observed the impact of its policies first-hand.  The rivers of cash flowing into black communities looked so wonderful!  But no one envisioned “the price we would pay,” the personal liberty that would be lost.  “Welfare without a time limit or an expectation of work may have shown white America as compassionate, but it also took the problem of poverty away from those who suffer it” (p. 47).  Sadly enough:  “It is not at all an exaggeration to say that the welfare policies of the last thirty years—direct expressions of redemptive liberalism—created the black underclass in America.  This class of husbandless homes, fatherless children, and healthy nonworking adults follows the incentive patter of welfare policy perfectly” (p. 78).  

Consequently the final decades of the 20th century were “possibly the saddest chapter” in black history.  Relying on race rather than accomplishment has sapped the strength of the black Americans, for “to be human is to be responsible.  Correspondingly, living without responsibility constitutes a kind of inferiority, even when people are prevented by oppression for carrying responsibility for themselves” (p. 108).  Whatever relieves a person of responsibility—be it slavery or welfare or affirmative action—diminishes him.  Lowering academic standards in the name of racial justice is “the most dehumanizing and defeating thing that can be done to black Americans” (p. 113).  But it’s been done and the results are clear in the failing schools in the nation’s inner cities.   Here’s the question that haunts Shelby Steele:  “if the Great Society was so good, why did black America produce its first true underclass after it was over?” (p. 124).  And that question—not “white supremacy” or “the legacy of slavery”—that should prompt us all to rethink the problem of race in America.

That whites since the ‘60s have facilitated this destructive process—all in the name of racial justice—strikes Steele as a tragic betrayal of this nation’s finest principles.  In order to burnish their own sense of righteousness in “helping” blacks they have lost sight of the truly “first things” most desperately needed.  Rather than requiring everyone, both black and white, embrace “such timeless American principles as self-reliance, hard work, moral responsibility, sacrifice, and initiative,” whites have resorted to “deference.”  Overlook, explain away, make excuses for black failures!  Be sufficiently remorseful to affirm one’s own goodness without requiring accountability in a “victimized” racial minority.  Treasure empathy and abjure judgment!   “And this deference is always a grant of license—relief from the sacrifice, struggle, responsibility, and morality of those demanding principles that healthy communities entirely depend on.  And virtually all race-related reform since the sixties has been defined by deference.  This reform never raises expectations for blacks with true accountability, never requires that they actually develop as Americans, and absolutely never blames blacks when they don’t develop.  It always asks less of blacks and exempts them from the expectations, standards, principles and challenges that are considered demanding but necessary for the development of competence and character in others” (p. 125).  

                 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Current discussions of “white fragility” and “white privilege” make Shelby Steele’s White Guilt:  How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era (New York:  HarperCollinsPublishers, c. 2006) essential reading for anyone wanting to rightly understand race relations in America.  As George Will said, “Steele is America’s clearest thinker about America’s most difficult problem.  Braiding family memories with an acute understanding of national policies, he demonstrates what went wrong then whites for their reasons, and blacks for theirs, implanted the idea that white guilt explains black  problems and can be the basis of policies for ameliorating them.”  

A major watershed was passed (Steele thinks) circa 1968, when the stigma of “white guilt” replaced the “white racism” that had persisted for nearly four centuries.  Subsequently a “vacuum of moral authority that comes from simply knowing that one’s race is associated with racism” enervated whites in America, rendering them impotent in the face of “black power.”  Whites decided to rectify past injustices by devising programs of racial preferences, freeing blacks from the task of properly preparing for schools or qualifying for skilled jobs—“clearly implying an inherent and irredeemable black inferiority” (p. 134).  Emboldened as victims, blacks seem ironically intent on resurrecting segregation—black churches, black professional associations, a congressional black caucus, black student associations, etc. “Now in the promised land of freedom we reach for the lost Eden of separatism” (p. 26).  

As a young collegian Steele embraced black power.  Listening to a speech by Dick Gregory, who softly peddled the Marxist notion of social determinism, Steele turned away from the vision of Martin Luther King and his embrace of great American principles, simply asking they be extended to all persons.  But Gregory’s rhetoric advocated outrage at the nation’s “systemic” or “structural” or “institutional” racism—something so elusive and toxic that it could never be overcome.  King himself would be replaced by “an entirely new kind of black leadership, not selfless men like King who appealed to the nation’s moral character but smaller men, bargainers, bluffers, and haranguers—not moralists but specialists in moral indignation—who could set up a gird with white guilt” (p. 34).  Ultimately, Steele realized that Gregory and his companions were “not fighting to end racism as King had always done; he was giving us the ideas we needed to enlarge it” (p. 35).  So Jessie Jackson would promote not a color blind society but a “rainbow coalition,” and interpret every racial incident as proof of systemic racism.  “This is why one black man being beaten by police in Los Angeles could trigger a massive riot in which some sixty people were killed” (p. 36).  White guilt, Steele explains, determined O.J. Simpson’s “innocent” verdict, something that would never have happened 20 years earlier.  To black jurors, the race consciousness promulgated by leaders such as Dick Gregory had become more important than judicial fairness.  Embracing this illusion enabled most blacks to persuade themselves that individual initiative and responsibility were less powerful than social determinism.  If you were a “powerless victim of racial oppression, this new morality of social justice meant you could not be expected to carry the same responsibilities as others” (p. 53).  You were also free from “moral constraints, and even the law” (p. 54).  Rioting and looting as “social justice!”  

Playing the “race card” enabled blacks to propound “an unwritten law more enforceable than many actual laws:  that no black problem—whether high crime rates, poor academic performance, or high illegitimacy rates—could be defined as largely a black responsibility, because it was an injustice to make victims responsible for their own problems.  To do so would be to ‘blame the victim,’ thereby repeating his victimization.  Thus, in the national consciousness after the sixties, individual responsibility became synonymous with injustice when applied to blacks” (p. 55).  The outraged response to Daniel Moynihan’s The Negro Family illustrated this phenomenon.   It was clear in 1965 that “whites simply could not criticize black life without being seen as racist, no matter what their intentions were.  His fine study immediately became an untouchable document in both government and academia.  He was made an object lesson for America’s intellectual class:  castigation and disregard await all white scholars who see black poverty outside a context of victimization” (p. 121).  Thenceforth has transpired an enduring “culture war between two political and moral cultures, one grounded in principle and values, the other in dissociation [i.e. separating personal and social morality]—the former broadly focusing the right, the latter focusing the left” (p. 174). 

This, however, was not what Steele and learned as a child.  “I had been raised around what might be called the ‘good man’ ethic.  A good man was the one you turned to when work got really tough, when quality counted, when deadlines had to be met.  A good man always finished what he started.  Such men were quiet figures of dignity in my working class neighborhood.  And in the name this ethic I had continuously held some sort of job since my sixth-trade paper route” (p. 47).  His father was a “good man” who had only a third grade education.  But he worked hard at various tasks, taking advantage of economic opportunities, buying and restoring “three ramshackle homes,” making a good living for his family.  He looked for opportunities rather than complaining about his circumstances.  Young Shelby followed suit, industriously looking for work and trying to get ahead.  Propitiously, he was hired by the Chicago Transit Authority as a bus driver, which he did proudly and well.  But then, enamored with Dick Gregory’s rhetoric, he abruptly resigned his job in order to marinate in Black Power resentment!  In time he came to lament that decision—but in microcosm it demonstrates the misdirection afflicting the civil right movement, preferring to indulge in resentment rather than take advantage of opportunities.   Though not in vogue with today’s ruling class, Shelby Steele’s solution to racial strife is the best I know.  

341 Sensible Environmentalists

The late novelist-physician Michael Crichton, in his 2003 “Remarks to the [San Francisco] Commonwealth Club,” presciently said:  “The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda.  Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.”  His admonition now guides Patrick Moore, who in 1971 helped launch and lead Greenpeace for 15 years.  One of the most radical environmental organizations, employing confrontational tactics, Greenpeace challenged various countries and corporations, trying to eliminate atmospheric nuclear testing and halt the killing of whales and baby seals.  He and his “little band of protesters” showed how a few “dedicated people could effect real change at a global level.”  Within a decade Greenpeace became a major movement, bringing in $100 million a year with offices and staff around the world.  

But ultimately Moore grew disillusioned with the organization he’d founded.  He came to believe:  1) “sustainable development” provides  the key to preserving the environment; and 2) the increasingly extremist and irrational views of many of his erstwhile allies discredit them.  Rather than protesting problems he wanted to propose solutions.  So he wrote two truly significant books.  The first was Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist (Beatty Street Publishing Inc.; Kindle Edition, c. 2010, rev. 2013).  Explaining, he said:  “The truth is Greenpeace and I underwent divergent evolutions.  I became a sensible environmentalist; Greenpeace became increasingly senseless as it adopted an agenda that is antiscience, antibusiness, and downright antihuman.  This is the story of our transformations” (p. 9).  Holding a PhD in ecology, Moore was the only credentialed scientist among Greenpeace leaders!

Moore thinks Greenpeace and similar environmental organizations “have adopted policy after policy that reflects their antihuman bias” and rejected the very scientific and technological innovations that help both people and environment.  Too many of them “are stuck in the 1970s and continue to promote a strain of leftish romanticism about idyllic rural village life powered by windmills and solar panels” (p. 19).  “They oppose forestry even though it provides our most abundant renewable resource.  They have zero tolerance for genetically modified food crops, even though this technology reduces pesticide use and improves nutrition for people who suffer from malnutrition.  They continue to oppose nuclear energy, even though it is the best technology to replace fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  They campaign against hydroelectric projects despite the fact that hydro is by far the most abundant renewable source of electricity.  And they support the vicious and misguided campaign against salmon farming, an industry that produces more than a million tons of heart-friendly food every year” (p. 16).  In the book’s conclusion, having given ample scientific data to support his views, Moore repeats and expands upon these pivotal points, which are the essence of this treatise.  

Though he discusses, in scholarly detail, many of these issues, he mainly seeks to show how “environmentalism has gone off the rails and has become an apocalyptic religion that is self-defeating and demoralizing” (p. 46).  To illustrate he cites a declaration by Robert Kennedy Jr. that can easily be duplicated by the likes of Joe Biden:  “Our generation faces the greatest moral and political crisis in human history.  Will we take the steps necessary to avert catastrophic global warming or will we doom our children to a new Dark Ages in a world that is biologically and economically impoverished and defined by ever diminishing quality of life? . . .   The scientific debate is over except among a few polluter-financed junk scientists and ideologically blinded flat Earthers’” (p. 47).  That none of these assertions are true—and can easily be disproved—seems not to concern either Kennedy or the ruling class he represents.  

A 1984 conference in Kenya prodded Moore to become a sensible, rather than a radical, environmentalist.  Here he understood, for the first time, the importance of helping people work wisely and productively with the natural world.  Sustainable development could be both ecologically attuned and technologically advanced.  “I came away from Nairobi a changed person.  I now realized that as an environmentalist I could either act as if the more than seven billion people didn’t matter (or pretend they didn’t even exist) or I could expand my thinking to include them as part of the challenge.  The latter approach seemed both more honest and more intellectually stimulating.  It got me outside the box of purely environmental thinking and into the real world of recognizing the entire system” (p. 170).  

Leaving Greenpeace in 1986, he returned to his childhood home on Vancouver Island and launched a fish farm, growing salmon.  Rather than depleting the oceans’ wild salmon, growing them in seawater ponds promised to both provide fresh fish for market and protect the species.  To his amazement his old Greenpeace associates condemned him!  In a few years large corporate fish farms made it impossible for him to compete, but this endeavor opened doors for him to support the forestry business, which “was being unfairly used as a whipping boy.”  His family had, for 75 years, run a sawmill, so when he had an opportunity to work as director of the Forest Alliance in British Columbia he jumped at the chance.  This elicited a “firestorm of public and private invective” from tree-hugging radicals who called him an “eco-Judas.”  Their anger was fueled by documents such as “Forests in Trouble,” published by the World Wildlife Fund which claimed there was a worldwide “crisis,” irresponsibly repeating “many of the false claims being spread by the anti-forestry” forces.  Trees are an eminently renewable resource, absolutely needed for our well-being, and Moore believes they “are the answer to many questions about the future of human civilization and the preservation of the environment” (p. 244).  Well-tended forests can perpetually provide us with invaluable materials and concurrently recycle carbon dioxide.  In addition to tapping wood energy, using fossil fuels properly suits a “sensible” environmentalism, particularly when used in the transportation system.  In fact:  “It may turn out to be a very good thing that humans discovered fossil fuels and started burning them for energy,” because CO2 greens the planet and helps counteract harmful cooling!   “This is perhaps my most heretical thought:  that our CO2 emissions may be largely beneficial, possibly making the coldest places on earth more habitable and definitely increasing yields of food crops, energy crops, and forests around the entire world” (p. 462).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A decade after publishing Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout, Patrick Moore updated it in Fake Invisible Catastrophes and Threats of Doom (NP:  Ecosense Environmental, Kindle Editions, c. 2021).  “Awhile back it dawned on me,” he says, “that the great majority of scare stories about the present and future state of the planet, and humanity as a whole, are based on subjects that are either invisible, like CO2 and radiation, or extremely remote, like polar bears and coral reefs.  Thus, the vast majority of people have no way of observing and verifying for themselves the truth of these claims predicting these alleged catastrophes and devastating threats.  Instead, they must rely on the activists, the media, the politicians, and the scientists—all of whom have a very large financial and/or political stake in the subject—to tell them the truth.  This welcomes the opportunity to simply invent narratives such as the claim that ‘CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are causing a climate emergency’” (p. 11).  Such propagandists “are definitely a scurrilous and dishonest lot” and honest scientists have an ethical obligation to refute and denounce them.  A prime example of such the propaganda scientists should pillory is Al Gore’s “effective piece of misinformation in his film An Inconvenient Truth.” (p. 66).  

Rather than touch upon all of the issues he considers—e.g. endangered polar bears and walruses, genetically modified seeds, pernicious plastics, etc.—I’ll focus on two chapters.   One addresses the current “climate of fear and guilt.”  Earth’s climate is ever-changing—“sometimes relatively rapidly, sometimes very slowly, but always surely.  Hoping for a “perfect stable climate” is as futile as hoping the weather will be constantly pleasant, day-after-day, forever!  Yet alarmists routinely cry out about an “existential threat” to our climate if radical steps are not taken to stop global warming.  They irresponsibly cite both higher and lower temperatures, both more snow and drought, disappearing glaciers and species’ extinction, dying forests and coral reefs, crop failures and acidic oceans, cancer and heart disease.  In fact, Moore insists, “there is no hard evidence that any of these things have been or will be triggered by human-caused emissions of CO2.  It is all conjecture based on the hypothesis that carbon dioxide controls temperature, which itself has never been determined as fact.”  Most of these claims are predictions, not observations, and are too frequently “based on simulations, which are computer-generated models created by authors who decide what they want their model to predict and then build assumptions into the model that provide them with the results they are looking to achieve” (p. 33).

The alleged culprit fueling the global warming hysteria is, of course, CO2.  We humans are allegedly pushing inordinate amounts of it into the atmosphere, thereby endangering life on earth.  This is manifestly untrue!  The actual amount of CO2 has been declining for 150 million years.  Today’s level is “much lower than it had been during the majority of the existence of modern life” and was 15 times higher at its inception.  Though you’d never imagine it if you listen to the doom-sayers decrying the “climate crisis,” the earth has been cooling for the past 50 million years.  “The irony of what the alarmists are saying concerning the temperature of the Earth and that it is too hot, is that it is actually colder than it has been during most of life’s existence, and that life, historically, has better flourished during the warmer periods than the comparatively colder periods, like we are in today” (p. 59).   We’re now, geologically, in The Holocene Interglacial era, during which there was a 4,000-year Climatic Optimum wherein “the average temperature of the Earth was at least 1ºC (1.8ºF) warmer than today.”  The Sahara Desert was then green and supported “towns and livestock-herders” (p. 69).  It’s called “Climatic Optimum” for a reason—it was a wonderful time for all kinds of life to flourish. 

We’re now in the “Neoglacial” era, wherein temperatures descended “into the coldest period since the early beginnings of the Holocene.  The Little Ice Age, which reached its coldest around 1650-1700 AD, followed the Medieval Warm Period, when the Vikings colonized and farmed southern Greenland” (p. 70).  This was followed by the Little Ice Age, from which we are now emerging.  We are in The Modern Warm Period, which began in 1700.  “Human emissions of carbon dioxide from 1700 to 1850 were insignificant and yet historical records indicate the Earth warmed at about the same rate during that period as it has since” (p. 71).  The global warming that has actually  occurred since 1850 amounts to a 1.2ºC (2.2º F) rise in temperature, which is quite typical of the ups and downs throughout the planet’s history.  Unfortunately, ill-informed activists and politicians want to radically change the world’s economy to “fight catastrophic climate change.”  Thus they promote “renewable energy—in particular wind and solar—devices which have nothing renewable in their machinery” (p. 78).  Instead, Moore insists, we should grow more trees, build more hydroelectric dams, promote nuclear energy and utilize geothermal heat pumps.  

The second chapter I’ll examine deals with nuclear energy, “one of the safest, if not the safest technology, for generating electricity on the basis of casualties per unit of energy produced” (p. 147).  In his Greenpeace days Moore mindlessly opposed it.  But having educated himself he now sees it as one of the great goods available to mankind.   It is “the most cost-effective, feasible, and timely” answer to our energy needs.  It “will likely be the most important energy technology for the next 100 years and beyond” (p. 328).  Unfortunately, environmental doom-sayers have misled the public and only a few nations have embraced it.  There have only been three significant accidents, and only one (Chernobyl) wrought fatalities.  Every year 1.35 million people die in roadway accidents, while  “there have been no more than 60 nuclear-power-related fatalities from the more than 440 nuclear power plants worldwide; and all of these fatalities were from Chernobyl and the freak accident that occurred because of their poorly designed reactor” (p. 153).  Nothing’s perfectly safe!  But nuclear power comes the closest we have when generating electricity.  On the other hand he discounts the efficacy of solar and wind power, subjecting these industries to careful analysis and showing how ultimately they can only supplement the more reliable generators of electricity we need. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

In accord with Patrick Moore, Michael Shellenberger believes sustainable development requires positive “post-environmental” policies designed to wisely use nature’s resources.  He and a colleague were named Time magazine “heroes of the environment” in 2008 and he served as a respected expert reviewer of one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.  He has published extensively in prominent newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal for 20 years. In Apocalypse Never:   Why Environmentalism Hurts Us All (New York:  HarperCollins, c. 2020; Kindle edition), Shellenberger offers a significant critique of the movement. Representing much that Shellenberger critiques is Bill McKibben, an influential environmentalist who in 2019 published Falter to argue “that climate change is the “greatest challenge humans have ever faced.”   He writes regularly for influential media such as The New York Times and heads an organization with a $20 million annual budget.  He promotes the secular religion which has replaced God with Nature.  Its devotees have constructed an “apocalyptic environmentalism” which gives them “a purpose: to save the world from climate change, or some other environmental disaster” (p. 264).  Shellenberger believes thoughtful people, rooted in copious evidence, must reject the “apocalypse now” hysteria and champion sane solutions. 

He begins his treatise with a 2019 TV interview featuring two spokesmen for “Extinction Rebellion,” a radical group spreading climate warming fears.  Some 6000 of them had blocked bridges in London and they warned that “billions of people are going to die” if draconian measures are not adopted.  They claimed:  “‘Life on Earth is dying.’  And, ‘Governments aren’t addressing it.’”  Their endeavors garnered the praise and support of many journalists and celebrities, and one extensive survey showed that nearly half of the world’s people actually believe “climate change would make humanity extinct.”  Such alarmism is rapidly gaining political momentum—as is evident in the “green new deal” promoted by the Biden administration.  Sadly enough, such activists rarely get the “facts and science right.”  Shellenberger believes “environmental scientists, journalists, and activists” have betrayed their “obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public.  Much of what people are being told about the environment, including the climate, is wrong, and we desperately need to get it right.  I decided to write Apocalypse Never after getting fed up with the exaggeration, alarmism, and extremism that are the enemy of a positive, humanistic, and rational environmentalism” (p. xi).

Determined to show “it’s not the end of the world,” Shellenberger devotes a number of chapters to defusing the misleading claims environmental activists make as they scheme to panic the public.  He shows why “Earth’s Lungs Are Not Burning.”  Despite much media madness, we need not worry about the Amazon’s rainforest!  Certainly there are fires in that vast region—and a fear-monger, such as Greta Thornberg, can easily take pictures suggesting the whole region is endangered—but in fact fires are nothing new.  Some of the more arresting photos weren’t taken in the Amazon and others had been taken many years ago.  “In reality, almost everything the news media reported in summer 2019 about the Amazon was either wrong or deeply misleading” (p. 30).  Actually earth’s “forests are returning, and fires are declining.  There was a whopping 25 percent decrease in the annual area burned globally from 1998 to 2015” and “new tree growth exceeded tree loss for the last thirty-five years, by an area the size of Texas and Alaska combined” (p. 32).  The globe, thanks in part to more available carbon dioxide, is greening!  And that’s a good thing!

Shellenberger champions nuclear power, lamenting its unfair, fear-inducing misrepresentations.  He laments the influence of proponents of the “Green New Deal” such as New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who calls for the abolition of the industry.   Should she have even the slightest interest in the truth she should compare Germany with France.  Heavily invested in nuclear power, France spends half as much for electricity and emits only one-tents of the carbon emissions!  “Had Germany invested $580 billion into new nuclear power plants instead of renewables like solar and wind farms, it would be generating 100 percent of its electricity from zero-emission sources and have sufficient zero-carbon electricity to power all of its cars and light trucks, as well” (p. 152).  But the Germans congratulate themselves for their “green” commitments!  More broadly, during the past 50 years, “the world spent about $2 trillion for nuclear, and $2.3 trillion for solar and wind” and “received about twice as much electricity from nuclear as it did from solar and wind” (p. 152).   Soon after WWII, President Eisenhower stressed the prospects of “atoms for peace,” providing cheap energy for the world.  If only the world had embraced his vision!  But within a decade environmental activists injected fears of radiation into the public mind.   Folks such as Ralph Nader and Jane Fonda, groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, all “tapped into significant anxieties over nuclear weapons among baby boomers who had been subjected to duck-and-cover drills, where teachers ordered them to prepare for the apocalypse by hiding under their desks as schoolchildren, not to mention both government and Hollywood propaganda films” (p. 162).   They successfully opposed building any nuclear power plants, using the courts to delay and needlessly encumber their construction.   They thereby deprived the world of its best electrical energy source.

Unfortunately, these activists persuaded politicians to build air polluting fossil fuel plants or invest in patently misguided solar and wind power plants (which he calls the “unreliable”).  Wind and solar sound wonderfully “renewable” until you dig into the data.  Neither of them are constant, so you must have other power plants (usually natural gas) up and running to supply energy when the wind dies and the sun sets.  Here again Germany is instructive.  For 20 years the Germans have promoted “renewables,” investing nearly a half-trillion dollars in them.  However, “Germany generated just 42 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, and biomass, as compared to the 71 percent France generated from nuclear in 2019.  Wind and solar were just 34 percent of German electricity, and relied upon natural gas as back-up.”  But, ominously, serious problems have surfaced.  “Germany’s electricity grid came close to having blackouts for three days in July 2019.  Germany had to import emergency power from neighboring nations to stabilize its grid” (p. 184).  Still more:  “Renewables contributed to electricity prices rising 50 percent in Germany since 2007.  In 2019, German electricity prices were 45 percent higher than the European average” (p. 184).  So, Shellenberger concludes:  “there is no amount of technological innovation that can solve the fundamental problem with renewables.  Solar and wind make electricity more expensive for two reasons:  they are unreliable, thus requiring 100 percent backup, and energy-dilute, thus requiring extensive land, transmission lines, and mining.  In other words, the trouble with renewables isn’t fundamentally technical—it’s natural” (p. 185).  Few things better illustrate apocalyptic pipe-dreams that building inefficient windmills while disabling nuclear power plants!  But that’s us—not homo sapiens but homo credulous, willing to believe anything!

340 Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt

Since monstrous despots seem self-evidently inhumane, many of us fail fathom why many millions of generally decent, ordinary folks followed the likes of Hitler and Stalin.  We too easily fancy that had we been there we would have responded quite differently—discerning their deviancies and resisting their allure.  So reading first-hand accounts of folks close to them enables us to better appreciate how easily they fell prey to these despots’ charms and manipulative powers.  Ernst Hanfstaengl, in Hitler:  The Memoir of a Nazi Insider Who Turned Against the Fuhrer (New York:  Arcade. Kindle Edition, c. 1957, 2011), gives us fascinating insights into this phenomenon.   The author’s mother was a blue-blooded New Englander, his father German.  The Hanfstaengls were prominent Bavarians with important political ties who owned a successful art-publishing house in Munich, dealing mainly in high-quality reproductions.  

Since his father wanted him to take over the New York branch of the business, it was decided that, after attending school in Germany, Ernst would go Harvard University to finish his academic work and get fully acquainted with his mother’s country.  In 1905 he did so and there “made friends with such outstanding future figures as T. S. Eliot, Walter Lippman, Hendrik von Loon, Hans von Kaltenborn, Robert Benchley, and John Reed” (p. 26).  He also made friends with Teddy Roosevelt’s eldest son, who told the President that Hanfstaengl had composed a song the Harvard football team adopted, featuring him playing his piece before the games.  (Ironically, this little tune was appropriated by the Nazis, who changed the words “Rah, rah, rah!” to Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil!).  Subsequently he was invited to the White House to entertain the household and would spend time with Teddy after he left Washington.  One time they “got to talking about art, literature, and politics, and the ex-President came out with the phrase which has stuck with me ever since:  ‘Hanfstaengl, your business is to pick out the best pictures, but remember that in politics the choice is that of the lesser evil’” (p. 28).  

Later, running the family business in New York and dining in the Harvard Club, he made friends with the young Franklin D. Roosevelt, giving him still more important connections.   When FDR won the 1932 election, he knew Hanfstaentl was close to Hitler, so he dispatched a private emissary, urging him to “do my best to prevent any rashness and hotheadedness.  ‘Think of your piano-playing and try and use the soft pedal if things get too loud,’ my visitor quoted.  ‘If things start getting awkward, please get in touch with our ambassador at once.  The message heartened me enormously, and in due course I was to do just that” (p. 188).  He also developed a deep respect for the United States and her industrial powers.  When World War I broke out an anti-German hysteria gripped America, and the government seized “the assets of the Hanfstaengl firm in the final months of the war.  They were worth half a million dollars and were sold at auction for about $8,000” (p. 30).  

Following the war Hanfstaengl stayed in New York for three years, running a small business he established.  But in 1921 he returned to Germany, finding a war-ravaged land with a demoralized populace.  Hoping to support politicians who would help the country recover, he attended a rally in Munich featuring a relatively unknown orator, Adolf Hitler.  Hanfstaengl was overwhelmed by “his gifts,” for “he had a command of voice, phrase and effect which has never been equalled, and on this evening he was at his best” (p. 34).  The crowd responded enthusiastically.  “It sounded like the demoniacal rattle of thousands of hailstones rebounding on the surface of a gigantic drum.  It had been a masterly performance.  I had really been impressed beyond measure by Hitler.  . . . .  With his incredible gifts as an orator he was clearly going to go far, and from what I had seen of his entourage there seemed no one likely to bring home to him the picture of the outside world he manifestly lacked, and in this I felt I might be able to help” (p. 37).

Greeting Hitler after the speech, Hanfstaengl offered his help, thus beginning a complex relationship that endured until 1936.  They saw each other frequently and Hitler often visited the Hanfstaengl home.  Hitler especially liked Hanfstaengl’s young son and seemed to have a special fondness for children.  But he most enjoyed Ernst’s ability to play the piano.  “Probably one of the main reasons why he kept me near him for so many years, even when we began to differ radically over policies, was this particular gift I apparently possessed of playing the music he liked in exactly the orchestral style he preferred.”   Hitler cared little for Bach or Mozart, but he had an insatiable craving for Wagner’s Meistersinger, Tristan and Isolde and Lohengrin.  “I must have played them hundreds of times and he never grew tired of them” (p. 50).  In those days, he confesses:  “I was an idealistic National-Socialist, I make no bones about it. It is a term which meant many things to different men, and I was no politician, but a piano player and art lover with ambitions to become a historian.  I had a better eye for effects than causes.  I had seen Germany degraded and destituted, and wanted to see the return of the comfortable and traditional values of my youth, combined with an honoured and respected position for what were then still called the working classes.  Behind a cloud of words and threats and exaggerations, I thought this was what Hitler wanted.  Above all, in his second surge of political activity, I was convinced again that nothing was going to prevent him from reaching the top.  If only the radicals like Strasser and Goebbels and the crackpots like Rosenberg and Hess could be off-set by people of more cosmopolitan views, in which I included myself, I believed the social revolution he preached would be orderly and beneficial. I was convinced, to use the old phrase, that there was every possibility of this poacher becoming a reliable gamekeeper” (p. 172).

In those early years there was much about Hitler to admire, though his close associates were less attractive.  They were petty-minded and constantly juggling to get power, willing at any time to slander or eliminate their rivals.  Many had immoral, “unsavoury habits” which Hitler disregarded.  His main ideological guide, Alfred Rosenberg, was “intrinsically illiterate, carried along by his ridiculous Nordic race resentments.”  Though Hitler considered him a great philosopher, to Hanfstaengl:  “‘It is tripe,’ I insisted, ‘and tripe remains tripe.’  I really did talk to him like this, any number of witnesses will confirm it. . . . .  Rosenberg is a dangerous and stupid man and the sooner you get rid of him the better.”  As events turned out I might just as well have been talking to a brick wall” (p. 122).  Detailing a decade of Nazi development and showing how Hitler evolved into an increasingly dictatorial leader, Hanfstaengl’s portraits of men such as Himmler, Goering, Goebels, Hess, et al. reveal his deepening concern for the trajectory of the movement.  When Hitler gained strength in the early 1930s, he needed someone capable of interacting with the world’s press corps, so he arranged a meeting and said:  “’Herr Hanfstaengl, I have come to ask you to take over the post of foreign press chief of the Party.  Great things are before us.  In a few months, or at the most in a couple of years, we must irresistibly sweep to power.  You have all the connexions and could render us a great service’” (p. 152).   Ever hopeful of injecting some balance and wisdom into the movement, Hanfstaengl thought that “this was my best opportunity of entering on the ground floor on equal terms with the wild men of the Party whose influence I had always feared, so in the end I agreed” (p. 152).

His hopes foundered, however, as Hitler took control of the country in 1933.  Hanfstaengl was effectively aside by the “wild men of the Party” and only occasionally saw Hitler himself.  Any cautionary notes he might sound, any restrained policy he might suggest—particularly if it dealt with the Jews—were quickly disregarded.  Hanfstaengl further detected a shift in Hitler’s rhetoric, as when he said:  “‘Now it is the heroic Weltansehauung which will illuminate the ideals of Germany’s future. …’   I pulled myself together with a start.  What was this?  Where had I read that before?  This was not Schopenhauer, who had been Hitler’s philosophical god in the old Dietrich Eckart days.  No, this was new.  It was Nietzsche” (p. 206).  A few months earlier Hitler had visited Nietzsche’s aged sister, who had given him her brother’s last walking stick.  It was as if something shifted within him, and he soon began spouting “Nietzchian catch phrases” such as “Wille zur Macht, Herrenvolk, Sklavenmoral—the fight for the heroic life, against formal dead-weight education, Christian philosophy and ethics based on compassion” (p. 208).

Sadly, Hanfstaengl confesses:  “Too many of us realized too late that the regeneration of the national life and economy was only part of the goal.  Hitler and a majority of his followers really believed their anticlerical, anti-Semitic, anti-Bolshevist, xenophobic catch-phrases and were prepared to keep the whole country in uproar in order to put them into practical effect” (p. 232).  Mid-way through 1934, after the killing of Ernst Roehm, it became clear to him that Hitler was a “pathological murderer” who must be opposed.  Hanfstaengl had naively helped bring “to power a bunch of dangerous gangsters” who would do incredible harm.  Two years later he slipped across the Swiss border and determined to live in exile so long as the Nazis controlled Germany.  He and his son managed to find refuge in England, but when the war broke out he was placed in various internment camps.  Later he was relocated to Canada.  While there he managed to get a message delivered to President Roosevelt, offering his assistance and was brought to a hide-out near Washington in order to provide intelligence.  But before long the British demanded he be returned to their custody, and after the war he was sent to yet another internment camp in Germany.  So for nearly a decade he suffered rather shabby treatment in various camps.  Finally freed, he wrote his book on Hitler, offering us a unique perspective on the man and his movement.

                                             * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One of the most distinguished scholars in the post-WWII era, Robert Nisbet, examined an important aspect of that war in Roosevelt and Stalin:  The Failed Courtship (Washington, D.C.:  Regnery Gateway, c. 1988).   It’s a deeply tragic story, showing how the arrogance of an American President harmed millions of innocent people by imagining he could charm and manipulate a devious dictator.  Ignoring the advice of well-informed advisors who actually knew a great deal about the Bolsheviks and their leader, condescending to Winston Churchill, who represented to him an antiquated imperialism, FDR thought he could win the war and reshape there post-war world through his personal finesse.  Much that he did, the experienced diplomat George Kennan said, grew out of groundless assumptions and a manifest “puerility unworthy of a statesman of FDR’s stature” (p. 6).  But as FDR told a former ambassador to the USSR, William Bullitt:  “‘I think if I give him everything I possibly can, and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of peace and democracy’” (p. 6).  To bank on noblesse oblige from a mass-murderer shows the depth of the president’s naïveté!

Soon after the United States entered WWII Roosevelt wrote Churchill and assured him “‘that I think I can personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department’” (p. 15).  He’d never met Stalin, nor did he know much about Russia, but he had no doubts he could handle things!  Throughout the 1930s the New Deal liberals such as Harry Hopkins had perennially praised and supported the Bolsheviks, so Nisbet says:  “It is impossible to understand the wartime White House or even Roosevelt’s leadership in the war without reference to Harry Hopkins as friend, adviser, envoy, and trusted confidant to the President” (p. 20).  Hopkins, of course, was a social worker turned bureaucrat with decidedly socialistic propensities.  He had visited Moscow in July, 1941, and returned totally enthralled by Stalin, who had treated him royally, ao he continually prodded FDR to treat the USSR as a favored nation and to support its tyrant.  

Stalin hated Churchill, but he developed a superficial rapport with Roosevelt.  But he distrusted virtually everyone, even including eminent Bolsheviks who occupied prominent positions within the regime, and he easily learned how to manipulate the American.  Stalin desperately needed supplies only America could provide and wanted the Allies to open a second front in Europe to ease the Nazi’s military pressure on Russia.  So when FDR suggested face-to-face meetings he was happy to oblige.  They first met, along with Churchill in Teheran, Iran, in November 1943, where Stalin schemed to see FDR three times before the official sessions began, allowing the two of them to make decisions without Churchill’s participation.  In these sessions Roosevelt promised to allow the USSR to exercise control over Poland and the Baltic states when the war was over.  In return, FDR gained support for his vision of a post-war United Nations.  These private talks undermined both Churchill and the Anglo-American military leaders, and throughout the official sessions FDR unfailingly supported Stalin while poking fun at Churchill.  “‘If the tale is true,’ writes Keith Eubank, ‘Roosevelt had insulted Churchill who admired him, and demeaned himself before Stalin who trusted neither man.  In his craving for Stalin’s approval and friendship, Roosevelt imagined the joke had been on Churchill and that Stalin had laughed with him.  More probably Stalin had laughed at the President of the United States for belittling an ally to find favor with a tyrant’” (p. 49). 

In Nisbit’s judgement, “Teheran can be compared to Munich in 1938,” when Chamberlain appeased Hitler, and it marked the beginning of the Cold War.  “What would take place at the later Yalta summit meeting would be little more than a formalizing, a moralizing, to cover what had essentially been decided between Roosevelt and Stalin at Teheran” (p. 49).  Admiral King, one of the American chiefs at the meeting, “said at the end:  ‘Stalin knew just what he wanted when he came to Teheran and he got it’” (p. 50).  Unlike FDR, Churchill hated Communism and had gone to Teheran believing Germany would lose the war; so “‘The real problem is Russia.  I can’t get the American’s to see it’” (p. 50).  He left the conference depressed and pessimistic, realizing what would soon come to pass.  Churchill also thought the “total war” strategy of Stalin and Roosevelt, designed to utterly destroy Germany, would prove disastrous.  But FDR’s plan as promoted by America’s Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, gained authorization; it called for “the complete pastoralization of Germany,” confiscating all of her industrial equipment and permanently occupying the country.  “At Teheran, Roosevelt had agreed with Stalin that Germany must be dismembered and perhaps divided into half dozen or more small and separate states” (p. 55).  As one observer noted, it would replace “factory workers with shepherds and goat herders.”  Though this did not actually happen following the war, since Harry Truman was President, the Morgenthau proposal shows the degree to which FDR and Stalin wanted to radically re-frame the post-war world.  

Roosevelt and Stalin also opposed Churchill’s Mediterranean strategy, whereby the Allies would move quickly from Africa through Italy into Germany.  This would potentially defeat the Nazis and simultaneously deter the Soviets from occupying Eastern Europe—a strategy eminent generals such as Mark Clark strongly favored.  Following the war Clark wrote:  “A campaign that might have changed the whole history of relations between the Western world and the Soviet Union was permitted to fade away” because  the decision had been made at Teheran to open a second front instead (Calculated Risk, p. 368).  German officers, talking after the war, were mystified by this decision, but Stalin knew it would keep the Allies out of the Balkans, delivering them to the Red Army.  So he and FDR determined the Allies would invade France and move eastward.  “It is safe to say that had Churchill’s vision been allowed to prevail, the postwar history of eastern Europe and also central Europe, not to forget the Cold War against the West, would be somewhat different” (p. 61).  Opening a second front in France gave the Red Army time to march deep into Germany and seize Berlin.  Even then, given the rapidity with which Ike’s Anglo-American troops swept eastward, they might have reached Berlin earlier, for an American army reached the Elbe River, 60 miles from Berlin.  The Germans were furiously battling the Russians and left a path to Berlin relatively free for the Americans.  General Simpson recalled that he “had six or seven divisions” on the Elbe with   sufficient supplies to “have gone right on to Berlin within twenty-four to forty-eight hours easily’” (p. 87).  Still more:  “I have the feeling that maybe the Germans would have welcomed us’” (p. 87).  

However, General Eisenhower stopped him, giving the German capital to the Russians.  “Stalin’s joy must have been intense.  He knew very well the value of Berlin and the crucial importance of being first to reach the bunker that housed Hitler” and others.  “The Soviet capture of Berlin, courtesy of General Eisenhower, would be a crowning completion to a larger Soviet plan to assume hegemony in all of central Europe—Vienna and Prague included.  Stalin knew this; and he knew that Churchill had been working against its possibility from early in the war.”  Stalin also knew that Ike would have made his military decisions in accord with the East-West policies of FDR.  “Stalin might well have considered it another generous gift from the President, in accord with their private discussion at Yalta” (p. 84).  Churchill protested, knowing full well what would follow, but he could do little about it.    

Though the truly major decisions had already been made at Teheran, “Roosevelt’s courtship of Stalin proceeded apace at Yalta.  Of all the episodes of the Second World War, the Yalta summit in early February 1945 probably has the worst odor” (p. 69).  As ever, FDR scoffed at the “experts” who cautioned against trusting Stalin and charted his own course, granting “moral legitimation” to the Soviet occupation of territories conquered by the Red Army by issuing the Declaration on Liberated Europe.  Under its provisions, Timothy Garton Ash says, the peoples of “liberated” East Central Europe would be “‘compelled to abandon their hopes of Democracy, Sovereignty, Independence, Representative Government—to use Churchill’s own list’” (p. 71).  Churchill later termed the document “fraudulent” inasmuch as it served only one purpose:  to justify Soviet control over East Central Europe.  In private conversations FDR granted Stalin’s every request.  Anxious to involve the USSR against Japan, America’s President promised to give Stalin the southern half of Japan’s Sakhalin Island and the Kjurile Islands.  Amazingly:  “If Churchill is to be trusted, Roosevelt’s faith in Stalin even reached the point where he expressed intent to share the secret of the atom bomb with the Soviet leader” (p. 74).  

The iron fist of Stalin (the word means “hammer”) appeared wherever Soviet troops prevailed.  A month after the Yalta accords “mass arrests were taking place in Cracow, with whole trainloads of Polish intellectuals, priests, professors, and labor union leaders being taken to a huge prison-work camp” (p. 78).  Similar things happened in the Baltic states and Rumania.  Churchill wrote FDR a long letter informing him of such developments, stressing that:  “‘we are in the presence of a great failure and an utter breakdown of what was settled at Yalta,’” (p. 79), but Roosevelt would not join the British Prime Minister in opposing Stalin, for appeasing the Soviets shaped FDR’s policies.  He rejected not only Churchill’s advice but that of his own ambassador to Moscow, Averell Harriman, who wrote, just a month after Yalta:  “‘I feel the time has come to reorient our whole attitude, and our method of dealing with the Soviet government.  Unless we wish to accept the 20th century barbarian invasion, with repercussions extending further and furthers and in the East as well, we must find ways of arresting the Soviet domineering policy.’  In a separate message, Harriman wrote:  ‘We must come to clearly realize that the Soviet program is the establishment of totalitarianism, ending personal liberty and democracy ads we know it’” (p. 81).  

FDR died on April 12, 1945, just two months after Yalta.  Would he have reconsidered his relationship with and promises to Stalin had he lived longer?  Probably not, because one of his deepest desires was to accomplish what Woodrow Wilson failed to do—remaking the world.  FDR wanted, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett says, not only to “‘establish the United Nations but to superimpose upon it an American-Soviet alliance which should dominate world affairs rot rather detriment of Britain and France, and to this end he made copious concessions to Marshal Stalin’” (p. 95).  In quest of that goal he consigned millions to misery for four decades.  Courting a monster inevitably entails falling prey to his machinations. 

# # #

339 Cynical Theories and a False Gospel

Some current illustrations reveal a disturbing, highly aggressive ideology, rooted in cultural Marxism and deeply racist in nature.  When announcing his cabinet nominees, Joe Biden said little about their qualifications while routinely stressing their membership is certain groups—black, Hispanic, female, gay, etc.  In Oregon the state board of education has decreed that mathematics is patriarchal and white supremacist inasmuch as it invokes objectivity.  So math must now be taught to encourage various aspects of the “woke” dogma.  Chicago’s teachers successfully revised the city’s teacher qualifications to emphasize empathy for disadvantaged groups rather than academic proficiency.  A book entitled Engineering and Social Justice, declares:  “getting beyond views of truth as objective and absolute is the most fundamental change we need in engineering education.”  Tennis legend Martina Navratilova endured savage attacks for saying men claiming to be women ought not compete with  biological women.  It’s evident that “identity,” real or assumed, matters much to many of those controlling us.   And we’re facing what Douglas Murray, in The Madness of Crowds, describes as “antiracist racism.”

The complex roots and branches of this phenomenon is explored by Helen Pluckrose and James Lidsay in Cynical Theories:  how activist scholarship made everything about race, gender, and identity-and why this harms everybody (Durham, N.C.:  Pitchstone Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  The word cynical means faultfinding, captious, or currish, and the theories examined are precisely that—filled with rancor, rage, malice and calumny.  The two authors (Pluckrose is British, Lindsay American) are deeply committed to the Enlightenment-incubated European and American liberalism that flourished for two centuries.  So they are deeply distressed by the Postmodernism promulgated by today’s Leftists who dismiss “objective truth as a fantasy dreamed up by naive and/or arrogantly bigoted Enlightenment thinkers.”  They inevitably espouse epistemological skepticism and ethical relativism and now fly the flag of “social justice,” which has “either become or given rise to one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies that the world has had to deal with since the widespread decline of communism and the collapses of white supremacy and colonialism” (p. 13).  To disabuse readers of any positive illusions regarding today’s “social justice warriors” this book was written.

In rejecting “metanarratives” such as Christianity or Marxism, Postmodernists have also rejected science, reason, and other pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy while advancing what they call “Theory.”  Their forebears include, most notably, some French professors—Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard—whose intellectual heirs now occupy some of the most powerful positions in our world.  They “are obsessed with power, language, knowledge, and the relationships between them.”  Everything is reduced to a power-struggle between social groups, primarily race, sex, gender.  “To an outsider, this culture feels as though it originated on another planet, whose inhabitants have no knowledge of sexually reproducing species, and who interpret all our human sociological interactions in the most cynical way possible” (p. 16).  Literally everything—knowledge, history, religion, art, etc.—is culturally constructed.  Postmodernists see what they want to see, not what actually is.  They value what pleases them, not what is intrinsically valuable.  

Inasmuch as anything unites postmodernists it’s their rejection of the correspondence theory of truth.  Denying the possibility of objective truth and reason, they need not demonstrate or prove anything.  Neither data nor logic much matter.  Instead, they assert their “truths” and seek to impose them by manipulating the powers that be by any means possible. They also reject the metaphysical notion of selfhood (the autonomous individual), asserting that persons are mere members of certain groups.  They claim there are “other ways of knowing” far better than empirical science and deductive logic—mainly it is “lived experience,” meaning personal stories rather than facts.  Emotion, especially, shows how strongly-felt “truths” need no objective validation.  As is true of many ideologies, Postmodernists “have created a new religion, a tradition of faith that is actively hostile to reason, falsification, disconfirmation, and disagreement of any kind.  Indeed, the whole postmodernist project now seems, in retrospect, like an unwitting attempt to have deconstructed the old metanarratives of Western thought—science and reason along with religion and capitalist economic systems—to make room for a wholly new religion, a postmodern faith based on a dead God, which sees mysterious worldly forces in systems of power and privilege and which sanctifies victimhood.  This, increasingly, is the fundamentalist religion of the nominally secular left” (p. 212).

Merging with some Marxist currents in the 1990s, today’s “applied postmodernism”  now promotes the “Social Justice scholarship” so pervasive in our schools and universities.  Earlier Postmodernists  merely discerned the covert powers making our world.  Today’s devotees (following Marx’s injunction to change, rather than describe things) prescribe stringent solutions to societal inequities.  Consequently, we now have postcolonial, queer, and critical race Theories, along with gender studies, disability studies, and fat studies, all demanding political action.  Scholars have become activists.  No longer do university professors dispassionately weigh contending views, trying to disregard personal biases.  Instead, Social Justice Warriors turn lecterns into pulpits, writing incendiary manifestoes rather than nuanced analyses.  “Teaching is now supposed to be a political act, and only one type of politics is acceptable—identity politics, as defined by Social Justice and Theory” (p. 63).   Abandoning the canons of traditional scholarship in order to do “research studies,” their publications are distinguished not by rigor or quality but by their identification with and advocacy for a variety of ever-increasing number of oppressed groups. 

These teachers and their “studies” have powerfully influenced politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, clergy, and business executives.  Most obviously is the pervasive fixation on race.  A black Harvard law professor, Derrick Bell, first set forth what is called “critical race Theory.”  He argued that whites only allow blacks to progress in ways that maintain their white privilege and power.  He denied “the possibility that any moral progress had been made since the Jim Crow era,” declaring, in his 1987 book And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, that recent advances in civil are mere mirages papering over the fact that whites do everything possible to stay in control.  If you cannot find obvious discriminatory practices you look for camouflaged micro-aggressions, hate speech, cultural appropriations, etc.  

Rather quickly Bell’s critique infiltrated the worlds of education and media, wherein we’re “told that racism is embedded in culture and that we cannot escape it.  We hear that white people are inherently racist.  We are told that racism is ‘prejudice plus power,’ therefore, only white people can be racist.  We are informed that only people of color can talk about racism, that white people need to just listen, and that they don’t have the ‘racial stamina’ to engage it.  We hear that not seeing people in terms of their race (being color-blind) is, in fact, racist and an attempt to ignore the pervasive racism that dominates society and perpetuates white privilege” (p. 121).  

Consequently we behold the extraordinary success of Robin Di-Angelo’s White Fragility.  She (a white woman) says all whites profit from their white supremacy.  That’s “The Truth According to Social Justice,” and she insists no one dare question her.  To do so is a mark of “fragility”—the inability to accept what she assumes demonstrably self-evident.  Anyone daring to do so must be “cancelled.”  Instead, to prove we’re as righteous as she, we must embrace her “Truth” and join her in exploring it, “learning how to deconstruct whiteness and white privilege, which is billed as the necessary work of ‘antiracism.’  This is quite staggering.  DiAngelo, a white woman, contends that all white people are racist and that it is impossible not to be, because of the systems of powerful racist discourses we were born into.  She insists that we are complicit by default and are therefore responsible for addressing these systems” (p. 206).  Superficially good, caring whites deceive themselves, for they are irredeemably immersed in an intolerable racism. 

Most fashionable these days is what’s called “intersectionality,”  popularized by Kimberlé Crenshaw.  For example, if you’re black and female and homosexual you are the product of a privileged “intersection” of three oppressed groups!  You can triple your anger!  Everywhere you look you can find “power imbalances, bigotry, and biases” demanding redress.  Intersectionality “reduces everything to one single variable, one single topic of conversation, one single focus and interpretation:  prejudice, as understood under the power dynamics asserted by Theory” (p. 128).  Prejudices abound everywhere.  “Therefore, in Social Justice scholarship, we continually read that patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, ableism, and fatphobia are literally structuring society and infecting everything.  They exist in a state of immanence—present always and everywhere, just beneath a nicer-seeming surface that can’t quite contain them” (p. 182).  Radical activists groups such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, LGBT and feminist demonstrators, are demonstrable manifestations of this Social Justice ideology. 

Pluckrose and Lindsay have clearly read and honestly report what’s shaping these various strands weaving together in various kinds of intersectionalities.  What’s obvious in their presentation is the civilizational threat these theories pose, for inasmuch as they repudiate “the foundations upon which today’s advanced civilizations are built,” we must resist and defeat them.  Committed secularists, they believe the best antidote to Critical Theory is traditional Liberalism. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A “parasitic false gospel of social justice” within Evangelicalism is critiqued by Jon Harris in Social Justice Goes To Church: The New Left in Modern American Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC:  Ambassador Books, c. 2020; Kindle Edition).   Its seed was sown by a few “young evangelicals” half-a-century ago—most notably Jim Wallis, Tom Skinner, John Alexander, Ron Sider, and Wes Granberg-Michaelson.  In short, informative chapters, Harris sketches biographies of these men.  All were reared in conservative churches but embraced New Leftist thought while attending colleges and universities in the ‘60s, and they believed “it was necessary to rescue Christianity from enslavement to the corrupting influence of evil cultural forces the New Left had warned them about.  Yet, they recognized the ultimate answer to society’s maladies was not a secular revolutionary or Marxist philosophy, but a renewed understanding of Jesus and Christianity” (p. 19).  

Arguably the most prominent and influential of them is Jim Wallis, who published Agenda for Biblical People in 1976.  Reared in a fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren church in Detroit, Wallis attended Michigan State University and there joined the Students for a Democratic Society and helped organize campus protests.  Sufficiently radicalized, in attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and joined with other like-minded students discussing how to integrate faith and social action.  Particularly agitated by the Vietnam War, they distributed antiwar leaflets, organized sit-ins, and published a few issues of the “Post-American, their very own social and political magazine” (p. 24).  (I early subscribed to this publication and unfortunately perused and pondered Jim Wallis’s works for too many years!).  Soon thereafter Wallis and some close associates decided, in 1975, to re-locate to the nation’s Capital, where they renamed both their community and its publication “Sojourners.”  He envisioned a growing community of Christians who would begin to see things through “Marxist eyes” and act out their “‘zeal for social change’” (p. 26). 

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, after graduating from Hope College, attended Princeton Seminary.  Classes on liberation theology helped free him from much of his conservative rearing, and he went to Washington in 1968 to intern with Oregon’s progressive Republican Senator Mark Hatfield.  After receiving the first copy of Wallis’s Post-American, he showed it to Hatfield, who approved its contents.  “This opened the way for Sojourners to come to Washington, D.C., Granberg-Michaelson to join the community, and Jim Wallis to collaborate with Hatfield” (p. 30).  John Alexander, the son of a fundamentalist pastor, attended Trinity College in Chicago and began questioning most everything about his faith.  He was deeply disturbed by social inequities and developed his own understanding of a “version of Christianity based upon ‘love’ for ‘the God of the Bible’ who cared about social justice.”  Embracing aspects of Rudolph Bultmann and liberation theology, he came to believe that “‘it doesn’t matter much what you believe as long as you care about peace and justice.’  Later Alexander admitted, “I may have been a socialist when I was young.” (p. 35).  After briefly teaching at Wheaton College, he moved to Philadelphia and began publishing The Other Side—another publication to which I subscribed, back in the day! 

Ron Sider grew up an Anabaptist (the son of a Brethren in Christ pastor), so teachings regarding social activism were congenial to him.  Attending graduate school at Yale University, he joined other young radicals calling for significant changes in America.  Moving in 1968 to Philadelphia, he taught for a while at Messiah College’s Philadelphia campus and worked among the poverty-stricken blacks in North Philadelphia.  In 1972 he served as secretary for “Evangelicals for McGovern,” and in 1977 he published Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which sold 250,000 copies and was listed by “Christianity Today as one of the top hundred books of the century.”  Later in life Sider said it “was a book he ‘had no business writing’ since ‘biblical studies, economics, politics, [and] social ethics’ were topics he ‘didn’t know hardly anything about’ when he wrote it” (p. 40).  Nevertheless, it proved amazingly (and unduly) influential. 

Evangelical feminists found their slot in the social justice agenda.  Letha Scanzoni, after attending Moody Bible Institute, rejected the patriarchy of conservative churches and joined with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, a graduate of Bob Jones University, to promote a “biblical feminism,” which properly valued women.  Mollenkott teamed up with Nancy Hardesty (who had graduated from Wheaton) to promote an “egalitarian” (rather than “complementarian”) view of marriage and urged women to become pastors in All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation.  Their biblical hermeneutics and logic enabled others to call for normalizing homosexuality.  “The Metropolitan Community Church, formed in 1968 by a Moody Bible Institute graduate named Troy Perry, had a statement of faith similar to the National Association of Evangelicals, yet a mission toward ‘meaningful social action’ toward the ‘gay community itself’” (p. 58).  Following the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court decision, only Ron Sider affirmed traditional marriage, whereas other “pioneers of the evangelical left, like Jim Wallis, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Wes Granberg-Michaelson, supported same sex marriage” (p. 148). 

After portraying the leading leftist evangelicals, Harris turns to analyzing and evaluating their impact and influence.  Their ideas (given currency by Carl F.H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism) quickly flowed into church colleges and seminaries.  In the early ‘70s Fuller Theological Seminary, scarcely resembling Charles E. Fuller’s “old fashioned revival hour,” was championing “social concerns,” addressing racism, poverty, and injustices of various sorts.  Para-church organizations such as World Vision and Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship stressed the importance of compassionate ministries.  In 1970 the Urbana Conference, mainly renowned for promoting foreign missions, celebrated “Christ the Liberator,” and the keynote speaker, Tom Skinner, “denounced ‘Americanism,’ the ‘police,’ which he maintained were ‘nothing more than the occupational force in the black community,”’ and portrayed a “‘revolutionary’ Jesus who was arrested for coming ‘to change the system’” (p. 94). 

Decades later the aging evangelical leftists promotes the same agenda and have enlisted numbers of younger cohorts.  Jim Wallis supported Black Lives Matter and Ron Sider assailed Donald Trump.  New terms may be used—“equity” rather than “equality,” “woke” rather than “radical awakening,” etc.  “Still, the basic New Left concepts which motivated progressive evangelicals of the 1970s are making their way into the heart of the evangelical movement. The prophets for social concern are accomplishing their mission, though much later than they originally wanted to” (p. 152).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice (Grand Rapids:  Credo House Publishers, c. 2020; Kindle ed.), Scott David Allen provides what Wayne Grudem says is “an eye-opening, insightful, and (to my mind) truthful warning about the deeply anti-Christian ideas behind much of the modern “social justice” movement, a movement that insists on dividing all of society into the oppressors (people of privilege who can do nothing good) and the oppressed (people who can do nothing evil).  By contrast, Scott Allen firmly grounds his argument in biblical ideas of justice.  He does not hesitate to name specific people and evangelical organizations that are in danger of being led astray by following contemporary calls for social justice instead of true biblical justice.  Highly recommended!”  

Allen begins by carefully defining terms, determined to help Christians understand their importance and guard against their abuse.  Unfortunately, an “ideological social justice” agenda (shaped by Critical Theories in the universities) has shaped large numbers of peoples’ worldviews.   “Now it is the reigning worldview throughout nearly every aspect of education, both K-12 and higher education. It dominates big business, the media, entertainment, high tech, and much of our government, including our systems of justice. In the words of essayist and cultural critic Andrew Sullivan, ‘we all live on campus now’” (#147).  And that’s especially true of many churches!  So we must recover the right meaning of words such as justice, for:  “Just societies are built upon the rule of law, the understanding that the law applies equally to everyone,” whereas “Unjust societies, by contrast, are governed by the rule of man, which acknowledges no transcendent law” (#587).  

Which is precisely why today’s rampant ideological social justice is so injurious, for it reduces truth to power.  Whoever can construct the most influential narrative can impose his will, whatever evils may ensue.  “The highly aggressive advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative employ tactics very similar to those used in the past by Marxist revolutionaries.  They treat their narrative as sacrosanct.  You cannot do or say anything that calls it into question, and woe to the one who tries.  And if you choose to not advocate for it—that too will be viewed as complicity in racism.  Anyone who dissents from the narrative can expect to be denounced as a racist and summarily bullied, shamed, intimidated, threatened, or fired.  Advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative have little interest in engaging in free, open debate.  They want submissive compliance.  The bending of the knee is a perfect symbolic expression for the Revolutionary Narrative as a whole” (#2195).  This revolutionary narrative, pushed by social justice warriors, wields great power in the academy, media, progressive politicians, Big Tech, major corporations, credentialing organizations and Mainstream Protestant denominations.  

Now “Evangelicalism appears to be fracturing in response to” it, with prominent clergy and institutions at least dipping into its tenets.  “Race, more than any other issue, is leading evangelicals into the arms of ideological social justice.”  During the past decade a corps of evangelicals have begun denouncing “whiteness” and “white privilege.”  They joined President Obama in decrying the shooting of Trayvon Martin and supported the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  (Within my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, a prominent pastor made available BLM signs, and a university promises to provide anti-racism training for all faculty and staff and will offer a class on the sociology of whiteness!)  Inasmuch as they are opposing racism these Evangelicals are absolutely right, Allen says.  But if they root their understanding of justice in the Bible they must uphold a truthful definition of it, rejecting the view “that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race—and then work hard for racial reconciliation” (# 2540).

CYNICAL THEORIES and a FALSE GOSPEL

Some current illustrations reveal a disturbing, highly aggressive ideology, rooted in cultural Marxism and deeply racist in nature.  When announcing his cabinet nominees, Joe Biden said little about their qualifications while routinely stressing their membership is certain groups—black, Hispanic, female, gay, etc.  In Oregon the state board of education has decreed that mathematics is patriarchal and white supremacist inasmuch as it invokes objectivity.  So math must now be taught to encourage various aspects of the “woke” dogma.  Chicago’s teachers successfully revised the city’s teacher qualifications to emphasize empathy for disadvantaged groups rather than academic proficiency.  A book entitled Engineering and Social Justice, declares:  “getting beyond views of truth as objective and absolute is the most fundamental change we need in engineering education.”  Tennis legend Martina Navratilova endured savage attacks for saying men claiming to be women ought not compete with  biological women.  It’s evident that “identity,” real or assumed, matters much to many of those controlling us.   And we’re facing what Douglas Murray, in The Madness of Crowds, describes as “antiracist racism.”

The complex roots and branches of this phenomenon is explored by Helen Pluckrose and James Lidsay in Cynical Theories:  how activist scholarship made everything about race, gender, and identity-and why this harms everybody (Durham, N.C.:  Pitchstone Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  The word cynical means faultfinding, captious, or currish, and the theories examined are precisely that—filled with rancor, rage, malice and calumny.  The two authors (Pluckrose is British, Lindsay American) are deeply committed to the Enlightenment-incubated European and American liberalism that flourished for two centuries.  So they are deeply distressed by the Postmodernism promulgated by today’s Leftists who dismiss “objective truth as a fantasy dreamed up by naive and/or arrogantly bigoted Enlightenment thinkers.”  They inevitably espouse epistemological skepticism and ethical relativism and now fly the flag of “social justice,” which has “either become or given rise to one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies that the world has had to deal with since the widespread decline of communism and the collapses of white supremacy and colonialism” (p. 13).  To disabuse readers of any positive illusions regarding today’s “social justice warriors” this book was written.

In rejecting “metanarratives” such as Christianity or Marxism, Postmodernists have also rejected science, reason, and other pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy while advancing what they call “Theory.”  Their forebears include, most notably, some French professors—Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard—whose intellectual heirs now occupy some of the most powerful positions in our world.  They “are obsessed with power, language, knowledge, and the relationships between them.”  Everything is reduced to a power-struggle between social groups, primarily race, sex, gender.  “To an outsider, this culture feels as though it originated on another planet, whose inhabitants have no knowledge of sexually reproducing species, and who interpret all our human sociological interactions in the most cynical way possible” (p. 16).  Literally everything—knowledge, history, religion, art, etc.—is culturally constructed.  Postmodernists see what they want to see, not what actually is.  They value what pleases them, not what is intrinsically valuable.  

Inasmuch as anything unites postmodernists it’s their rejection of the correspondence theory of truth.  Denying the possibility of objective truth and reason, they need not demonstrate or prove anything.  Neither data nor logic much matter.  Instead, they assert their “truths” and seek to impose them by manipulating the powers that be by any means possible. They also reject the metaphysical notion of selfhood (the autonomous individual), asserting that persons are mere members of certain groups.  They claim there are “other ways of knowing” far better than empirical science and deductive logic—mainly it is “lived experience,” meaning personal stories rather than facts.  Emotion, especially, shows how strongly-felt “truths” need no objective validation.  As is true of many ideologies, Postmodernists “have created a new religion, a tradition of faith that is actively hostile to reason, falsification, disconfirmation, and disagreement of any kind.  Indeed, the whole postmodernist project now seems, in retrospect, like an unwitting attempt to have deconstructed the old metanarratives of Western thought—science and reason along with religion and capitalist economic systems—to make room for a wholly new religion, a postmodern faith based on a dead God, which sees mysterious worldly forces in systems of power and privilege and which sanctifies victimhood.  This, increasingly, is the fundamentalist religion of the nominally secular left” (p. 212).

Merging with some Marxist currents in the 1990s, today’s “applied postmodernism”  now promotes the “Social Justice scholarship” so pervasive in our schools and universities.  Earlier Postmodernists  merely discerned the covert powers making our world.  Today’s devotees (following Marx’s injunction to change, rather than describe things) prescribe stringent solutions to societal inequities.  Consequently, we now have postcolonial, queer, and critical race Theories, along with gender studies, disability studies, and fat studies, all demanding political action.  Scholars have become activists.  No longer do university professors dispassionately weigh contending views, trying to disregard personal biases.  Instead, Social Justice Warriors turn lecterns into pulpits, writing incendiary manifestoes rather than nuanced analyses.  “Teaching is now supposed to be a political act, and only one type of politics is acceptable—identity politics, as defined by Social Justice and Theory” (p. 63).   Abandoning the canons of traditional scholarship in order to do “research studies,” their publications are distinguished not by rigor or quality but by their identification with and advocacy for a variety of ever-increasing number of oppressed groups. 

These teachers and their “studies” have powerfully influenced politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, clergy, and business executives.  Most obviously is the pervasive fixation on race.  A black Harvard law professor, Derrick Bell, first set forth what is called “critical race Theory.”  He argued that whites only allow blacks to progress in ways that maintain their white privilege and power.  He denied “the possibility that any moral progress had been made since the Jim Crow era,” declaring, in his 1987 book And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, that recent advances in civil are mere mirages papering over the fact that whites do everything possible to stay in control.  If you cannot find obvious discriminatory practices you look for camouflaged micro-aggressions, hate speech, cultural appropriations, etc.  

Rather quickly Bell’s critique infiltrated the worlds of education and media, wherein we’re “told that racism is embedded in culture and that we cannot escape it.  We hear that white people are inherently racist.  We are told that racism is ‘prejudice plus power,’ therefore, only white people can be racist.  We are informed that only people of color can talk about racism, that white people need to just listen, and that they don’t have the ‘racial stamina’ to engage it.  We hear that not seeing people in terms of their race (being color-blind) is, in fact, racist and an attempt to ignore the pervasive racism that dominates society and perpetuates white privilege” (p. 121).  

Consequently we behold the extraordinary success of Robin Di-Angelo’s White Fragility.  She (a white woman) says all whites profit from their white supremacy.  That’s “The Truth According to Social Justice,” and she insists no one dare question her.  To do so is a mark of “fragility”—the inability to accept what she assumes demonstrably self-evident.  Anyone daring to do so must be “cancelled.”  Instead, to prove we’re as righteous as she, we must embrace her “Truth” and join her in exploring it, “learning how to deconstruct whiteness and white privilege, which is billed as the necessary work of ‘antiracism.’  This is quite staggering.  DiAngelo, a white woman, contends that all white people are racist and that it is impossible not to be, because of the systems of powerful racist discourses we were born into.  She insists that we are complicit by default and are therefore responsible for addressing these systems” (p. 206).  Superficially good, caring whites deceive themselves, for they are irredeemably immersed in an intolerable racism. 

Most fashionable these days is what’s called “intersectionality,”  popularized by Kimberlé Crenshaw.  For example, if you’re black and female and homosexual you are the product of a privileged “intersection” of three oppressed groups!  You can triple your anger!  Everywhere you look you can find “power imbalances, bigotry, and biases” demanding redress.  Intersectionality “reduces everything to one single variable, one single topic of conversation, one single focus and interpretation:  prejudice, as understood under the power dynamics asserted by Theory” (p. 128).  Prejudices abound everywhere.  “Therefore, in Social Justice scholarship, we continually read that patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, ableism, and fatphobia are literally structuring society and infecting everything.  They exist in a state of immanence—present always and everywhere, just beneath a nicer-seeming surface that can’t quite contain them” (p. 182).  Radical activists groups such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, LGBT and feminist demonstrators, are demonstrable manifestations of this Social Justice ideology. 

Pluckrose and Lindsay have clearly read and honestly report what’s shaping these various strands weaving together in various kinds of intersectionalities.  What’s obvious in their presentation is the civilizational threat these theories pose, for inasmuch as they repudiate “the foundations upon which today’s advanced civilizations are built,” we must resist and defeat them.  Committed secularists, they believe the best antidote to Critical Theory is traditional Liberalism. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A “parasitic false gospel of social justice” within Evangelicalism is critiqued by Jon Harris in Social Justice Goes To Church: The New Left in Modern American Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC:  Ambassador Books, c. 2020; Kindle Edition).   Its seed was sown by a few “young evangelicals” half-a-century ago—most notably Jim Wallis, Tom Skinner, John Alexander, Ron Sider, and Wes Granberg-Michaelson.  In short, informative chapters, Harris sketches biographies of these men.  All were reared in conservative churches but embraced New Leftist thought while attending colleges and universities in the ‘60s, and they believed “it was necessary to rescue Christianity from enslavement to the corrupting influence of evil cultural forces the New Left had warned them about.  Yet, they recognized the ultimate answer to society’s maladies was not a secular revolutionary or Marxist philosophy, but a renewed understanding of Jesus and Christianity” (p. 19).  

Arguably the most prominent and influential of them is Jim Wallis, who published Agenda for Biblical People in 1976.  Reared in a fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren church in Detroit, Wallis attended Michigan State University and there joined the Students for a Democratic Society and helped organize campus protests.  Sufficiently radicalized, in attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and joined with other like-minded students discussing how to integrate faith and social action.  Particularly agitated by the Vietnam War, they distributed antiwar leaflets, organized sit-ins, and published a few issues of the “Post-American, their very own social and political magazine” (p. 24).  (I early subscribed to this publication and unfortunately perused and pondered Jim Wallis’s works for too many years!).  Soon thereafter Wallis and some close associates decided, in 1975, to re-locate to the nation’s Capital, where they renamed both their community and its publication “Sojourners.”  He envisioned a growing community of Christians who would begin to see things through “Marxist eyes” and act out their “‘zeal for social change’” (p. 26). 

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, after graduating from Hope College, attended Princeton Seminary.  Classes on liberation theology helped free him from much of his conservative rearing, and he went to Washington in 1968 to intern with Oregon’s progressive Republican Senator Mark Hatfield.  After receiving the first copy of Wallis’s Post-American, he showed it to Hatfield, who approved its contents.  “This opened the way for Sojourners to come to Washington, D.C., Granberg-Michaelson to join the community, and Jim Wallis to collaborate with Hatfield” (p. 30).  John Alexander, the son of a fundamentalist pastor, attended Trinity College in Chicago and began questioning most everything about his faith.  He was deeply disturbed by social inequities and developed his own understanding of a “version of Christianity based upon ‘love’ for ‘the God of the Bible’ who cared about social justice.”  Embracing aspects of Rudolph Bultmann and liberation theology, he came to believe that “‘it doesn’t matter much what you believe as long as you care about peace and justice.’  Later Alexander admitted, “I may have been a socialist when I was young.” (p. 35).  After briefly teaching at Wheaton College, he moved to Philadelphia and began publishing The Other Side—another publication to which I subscribed, back in the day! 

Ron Sider grew up an Anabaptist (the son of a Brethren in Christ pastor), so teachings regarding social activism were congenial to him.  Attending graduate school at Yale University, he joined other young radicals calling for significant changes in America.  Moving in 1968 to Philadelphia, he taught for a while at Messiah College’s Philadelphia campus and worked among the poverty-stricken blacks in North Philadelphia.  In 1972 he served as secretary for “Evangelicals for McGovern,” and in 1977 he published Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which sold 250,000 copies and was listed by “Christianity Today as one of the top hundred books of the century.”  Later in life Sider said it “was a book he ‘had no business writing’ since ‘biblical studies, economics, politics, [and] social ethics’ were topics he ‘didn’t know hardly anything about’ when he wrote it” (p. 40).  Nevertheless, it proved amazingly (and unduly) influential. 

Evangelical feminists found their slot in the social justice agenda.  Letha Scanzoni, after attending Moody Bible Institute, rejected the patriarchy of conservative churches and joined with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, a graduate of Bob Jones University, to promote a “biblical feminism,” which properly valued women.  Mollenkott teamed up with Nancy Hardesty (who had graduated from Wheaton) to promote an “egalitarian” (rather than “complementarian”) view of marriage and urged women to become pastors in All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation.  Their biblical hermeneutics and logic enabled others to call for normalizing homosexuality.  “The Metropolitan Community Church, formed in 1968 by a Moody Bible Institute graduate named Troy Perry, had a statement of faith similar to the National Association of Evangelicals, yet a mission toward ‘meaningful social action’ toward the ‘gay community itself’” (p. 58).  Following the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court decision, only Ron Sider affirmed traditional marriage, whereas other “pioneers of the evangelical left, like Jim Wallis, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Wes Granberg-Michaelson, supported same sex marriage” (p. 148). 

After portraying the leading leftist evangelicals, Harris turns to analyzing and evaluating their impact and influence.  Their ideas (given currency by Carl F.H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism) quickly flowed into church colleges and seminaries.  In the early ‘70s Fuller Theological Seminary, scarcely resembling Charles E. Fuller’s “old fashioned revival hour,” was championing “social concerns,” addressing racism, poverty, and injustices of various sorts.  Para-church organizations such as World Vision and Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship stressed the importance of compassionate ministries.  In 1970 the Urbana Conference, mainly renowned for promoting foreign missions, celebrated “Christ the Liberator,” and the keynote speaker, Tom Skinner, “denounced ‘Americanism,’ the ‘police,’ which he maintained were ‘nothing more than the occupational force in the black community,”’ and portrayed a “‘revolutionary’ Jesus who was arrested for coming ‘to change the system’” (p. 94). 

Decades later the aging evangelical leftists promotes the same agenda and have enlisted numbers of younger cohorts.  Jim Wallis supported Black Lives Matter and Ron Sider assailed Donald Trump.  New terms may be used—“equity” rather than “equality,” “woke” rather than “radical awakening,” etc.  “Still, the basic New Left concepts which motivated progressive evangelicals of the 1970s are making their way into the heart of the evangelical movement. The prophets for social concern are accomplishing their mission, though much later than they originally wanted to” (p. 152).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice (Grand Rapids:  Credo House Publishers, c. 2020; Kindle ed.), Scott David Allen provides what Wayne Grudem says is “an eye-opening, insightful, and (to my mind) truthful warning about the deeply anti-Christian ideas behind much of the modern “social justice” movement, a movement that insists on dividing all of society into the oppressors (people of privilege who can do nothing good) and the oppressed (people who can do nothing evil).  By contrast, Scott Allen firmly grounds his argument in biblical ideas of justice.  He does not hesitate to name specific people and evangelical organizations that are in danger of being led astray by following contemporary calls for social justice instead of true biblical justice.  Highly recommended!”  

Allen begins by carefully defining terms, determined to help Christians understand their importance and guard against their abuse.  Unfortunately, an “ideological social justice” agenda (shaped by Critical Theories in the universities) has shaped large numbers of peoples’ worldviews.   “Now it is the reigning worldview throughout nearly every aspect of education, both K-12 and higher education. It dominates big business, the media, entertainment, high tech, and much of our government, including our systems of justice. In the words of essayist and cultural critic Andrew Sullivan, ‘we all live on campus now’” (#147).  And that’s especially true of many churches!  So we must recover the right meaning of words such as justice, for:  “Just societies are built upon the rule of law, the understanding that the law applies equally to everyone,” whereas “Unjust societies, by contrast, are governed by the rule of man, which acknowledges no transcendent law” (#587).  

Which is precisely why today’s rampant ideological social justice is so injurious, for it reduces truth to power.  Whoever can construct the most influential narrative can impose his will, whatever evils may ensue.  “The highly aggressive advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative employ tactics very similar to those used in the past by Marxist revolutionaries.  They treat their narrative as sacrosanct.  You cannot do or say anything that calls it into question, and woe to the one who tries.  And if you choose to not advocate for it—that too will be viewed as complicity in racism.  Anyone who dissents from the narrative can expect to be denounced as a racist and summarily bullied, shamed, intimidated, threatened, or fired.  Advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative have little interest in engaging in free, open debate.  They want submissive compliance.  The bending of the knee is a perfect symbolic expression for the Revolutionary Narrative as a whole” (#2195).  This revolutionary narrative, pushed by social justice warriors, wields great power in the academy, media, progressive politicians, Big Tech, major corporations, credentialing organizations and Mainstream Protestant denominations.  

Now “Evangelicalism appears to be fracturing in response to” it, with prominent clergy and institutions at least dipping into its tenets.  “Race, more than any other issue, is leading evangelicals into the arms of ideological social justice.”  During the past decade a corps of evangelicals have begun denouncing “whiteness” and “white privilege.”  They joined President Obama in decrying the shooting of Trayvon Martin and supported the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  (Within my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, a prominent pastor made available BLM signs, and a university promises to provide anti-racism training for all faculty and staff and will offer a class on the sociology of whiteness!)  Inasmuch as they are opposing racism these Evangelicals are absolutely right, Allen says.  But if they root their understanding of justice in the Bible they must uphold a truthful definition of it, rejecting the view “that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race—and then work hard for racial reconciliation” (# 2540).

338 “The Modern Self”

Writing a book blurb for Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self:  Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway. Kindle Edition, c. 2020), Francis Beckwith (one of the finest Christian philosophers, now teaching at Baylor University) says:  “This is an amazing piece of work.  Blending social commentary with an insightful history of ideas as well as keen philosophical and theological analyses, Carl Trueman has given us what is undoubtedly the most accessible and informed account of the modern self and how it has shaped and informed the cultural battles of the first quarter of the twenty-first century.  It is a fair-minded, carefully wrought diagnosis of what ails our present age.  This book is essential reading for all serious religious believers who rightly sense that the ground is shifting underneath their feet, that the missionaries for the modern self are not content with simply allowing believers to practice their faith in peace but see these believers and their institutions as targets for colonization and involuntary assimilation.  For this reason, every president of a faith-based college or university should read The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self more than once.”  

Then Rod Dreher, writing the book’s Forward, points us back to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “summary explanation for why all the horrors of Soviet communism came to pass:  ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’  This answer is also a valid explanation for the crises enveloping the West today, including the widespread falling away from faith, the disintegration of the family, a loss of communal purpose, erotomania, erasing the boundaries between male and female, and a general spirit of demonic destruction that denies the sacredness of human life.  Because men have forgotten God, they have also forgotten man; that’s why all this has happened.  We have to go deeper.  The ways in which men have forgotten God matter.  We have to understand how and why they have forgotten God if we are to diagnose this sickness and to produce a vaccination, even a cure” (p. 11).

To do so Carl Trueman serves as a societal soul doctor who begins his analysis with the remarkably revealing recent declaration—uttered by increasing numbers of people—that “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”  That someone can declare, rather than confirm, his or her sexuality is certainly something radically new in human history!  Even more strangely:  a large segment of the population grants them that latitude!  So transgenderism has been normalized—as is evident in the decisions by both the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers.  Now Joe Biden has established transgenderism in one of his first presidential edicts, allowing males to compete with females as long as they claim to be one.  Concurrently, as 2021 begins, sexually clear words such as father or daughter or uncle or aunt may no longer used in the House of Representative.  So we must admit the culture has changed.  It has changed, in large part, because radical feminism succeeded in its insistence that “gender” (not biological organs) may be endlessly “constructed.”  Listen carefully to Simone de Beauvoir’s declaration in The Second Sex half-a-century ago:  “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.  No biological, psychic, or economic destiny defines the figure that the human female takes on in society; it is civilization as a whole that elaborates this intermediary product between the male and the eunuch that is called feminine.”  Carrying forward de Beauvoir’s agenda, Shulamith Firestone, in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, said:  “the end goal of feminist revolution must be . . . not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself:  genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.”  Thus Freud’s “polymorphous perversity” would be celebrated, artificial reproduction would be perfected, and the “tyranny of the biological family would be broken.” 

Consequently, Trueman says:   “At the heart of this book lies a basic conviction:  the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph—the normalization of transgenderism—cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understands the nature of human selfhood.  The sexual revolution is as much a symptom as it is a cause of the culture that now surrounds us everywhere we look, from sitcoms to Congress.  In short, the sexual revolution is simply one manifestation of the larger revolution of the self that has taken place in the West.  And it is only as we come to understand that wider context that we can truly understand the dynamics of the sexual politics that now dominate our culture” (p. 20).

To guide us in understanding of our culture Trueman invokes three late 20th century thinkers:  Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre.  Taylor’s main works—Sources of the Self and A Secular Age—show how “expressive individualism” has become dominant as the West moved from a mimetic to a poietic culture.  We seek not to understand and fit into the world as it is but to make it something in accord with our inner inclinations.  Philip Rieff’s sociological analyses—especially evident in The Triumph of the Therapeutic—enable us to see how our “psychological” man differs from the “political” and “religious” and “economic” man of earlier cultural epochs.  And Alasdair MacIntyre’s masterly depiction of our era’s ethical emotivism enables us to see how the elimination of classical realism had contributed to our malaise—if my feelings set my moral compass, what’s right for me may well be wrong for you and neither of us is actually right or wrong!  MacIntyre insists we must return to an Aristotelian-Thomistic realism, with its teleological perspective, or collapse into the Nietzschean nihilism flourishing everywhere.  “All three would argue that an overriding desire for inner personal happiness and a sense of psychological well-being lie at the heart of the modern age and make ethics at root a subjective discourse” (p. 88).

Trueman gives us a knowledgeable, eminently understandable overview of key philosophical developments during the past two centuries.  Obviously a scholar who has worked through the primary sources, he’s blessed with the gift of illustrating his points with pop music or political rhetoric as well as quoting Rousseau, Darwin, Marx or Freud, the real architects of our postmodern world.  Thus, for example, Rousseau’s views on a person’s freedom to construct his self “is at work in the modern transgender movement.  That it is the inner voice, freed from any and all external influences—even from chromosomes and the primary sexual characteristics of the physical body—that shapes identity for the transgender person is a position consistent with Rousseau’s idea that personal authenticity is rooted in the notion that nature, free from heteronomous cultural constraints, and selfhood, conceived of as inner psychological conviction, are the real guides to true identity” (p. 126).  It’s the romantic affirmation of “expressive individualism” celebrated by Romantic poets (Wordsworth, Blake, Shelley) in their disdain for conventional sexual standards.  

Eliminating traditional sexual standards is certainly central to the “modern self,”  making Sigmund Freud arguably the “key figure in the narrative of this book” (p. 203).  He shared Rousseau’s illusions regarding primitives (“noble savages”) who lived without restraints, following their feelings and finding happiness thereby.  That Freud was demonstrably wrong in much he said, or that few therapists today follow his prescriptions, is irrelevant when appraising the impact he had on 20th century culture, for he “provided a compelling rationale for putting sex and sexual expression at the center of human existence and all its related cultural and political components in a way that now grips the social imaginary of the Western world.”  He “has, in fact, provided the West with a compelling myth” whereby “we can understand the world around us,” and that  “myth is the idea that sex, in terms of sexual desire and sexual fulfillment, is the real key to human existence, to what it means to be human” (p. 204).  

Since the family—and most especially the patriarchal family—restricts sexual behaviors, it must be discredited and discarded.  Since Christianity declares chastity virtuous it must be sidelined if not abolished.  “Sex focused on procreation and family is the repressive weapon of bourgeois capitalist society.  And free love and untrammeled sexual experimentation are a central part of the revolutionary liberation of society” (p. 248).  So away with whatever diffuses or diminishes the joy of sex!  The message of sexual freedom must be trumpeted in the media and inculcated in the schools, beginning in elementary schools,  where homosexual behaviors are endorsed and “homophobia” damned.  In sum, Trueman says:  To follow Rousseau is to make identity psychological.  To follow Freud is to make psychology, and thus identity, sexual.  To mesh this combination with Marx is to make identity—and therefore sex—political.  And, at the risk of offering a truism, the politics that is produced thereby has a distinctive character precisely because the reality that it thinks it is addressing is at base a psychological one.  To transform society politically, then, one must transform society sexually and psychologically, a point that places psychological categories at the heart of revolutionary political discourse” (p. 250).   

To illustrate the power of this transformation Trueman points to a series of United States Supreme Court decisions.  “Perhaps the most obvious example of this shift is the 2015 majority ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found a right to gay marriage in the Constitution.  This decision captures the spirit of our age in numerous ways, given that it reflects changing attitudes to sex and marriage” (p. 302).  The court was not really issuing a novel theory but in simply following through the logic of earlier decisions, giving “legal status to a subjective and plastic notion of what it means to be a human.  . . . .  The key passage reads as follows:   ‘At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.  Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.’  This is a concise articulation of the expressive individualism and psychological subjectivity regarding the self that we have traced in its development from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the present day” (p. 304).

The judicial precepts evident in Supreme Court rulings jibe easily with the philosophical ethics of Princeton’s Peter Singer, considered by some to be the most influential ethicist in the world.  In his advocacy of a radical version of animal rights and a defender of infanticide as merely an advanced version of abortion, “Singer is a modern version of Friedrich Nietzsche’s madman, demanding that the polite liberals of his day face up to the dramatic implications of the death of the Christian way of imagining the world” (p. 316).  Singer asserts there is a rational distinction between a human being and a person—and only persons have rights.  Upon reaching a certain stage of maturity (i.e. having a consciousness of the past and present and capable of thinking) one transitions from a human being to a person.   Thus, he says, we should give “‘the life of a fetus no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc.’” (p. 321)   

To further illustrate this cultural shift Trueman turns to his own academic discipline:  history.  Sifting through the current curriculum offered by Harvard University’s Department of History, for example, one finds nothing available on the Reformation or Renaissance and only one course covering European history from 1450-1789.  What’s now studied at Harvard is politically-based, not tradition-prescribed (since it was shaped by dead, white, Western, heterosexual males).  “Porn, feminism, colonial violence, racism, and minority histories are all prominent, even as the Reformation and the Renaissance are not” (p 335).  As Philip Rieff constantly stressed, in My Life Among the Deathworks, there is a profound anti-culture in contemporary culture manifestly evident in its rejection of history.  As he said:  “‘Forgetfulness is now the curricular form of our higher education.’  That, he says, guarantees that this generation will be the first of the new barbarism, committed to the denigration, destruction, and erasure of the past—not only its artifacts but also its values and social practices” (p. 338).  

To further demonstrate the pervasiveness of the anti-culture, Trueman could have perused transformations in architecture, profanity-laced political rhetoric, or rap music.  To focus on any of these phenomena “from a Rieffian perspective, what this present age represents is an anti-culture, a repudiation of the various regulations and regulative practices that characterized Western society until recently—particularly, though not exclusively, in the realm of sexual ethics.  Behind this repudiation lies a deeper rejection, that of any and every sacred order on which they might be grounded, whether it be that provided by a formal religion, such as Christianity, or a commitment to some broader philosophical metaphysics, such as that found in Immanuel Kant.  The result is a world that has accepted the challenge of Nietzsche’s madman, to remake value and meaning in the wake of the death—indeed, the killing—of the Christian God, or, indeed, of any god.  The repudiation not only of history but of any authority that might pose a challenge to the present—even the authority of physically determined sex in favor of the fluid concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity—is something that marks all the areas on which I have touched in this last section” (p. 381).

Concluding his treatise, Truman considers the Christian’s quandary in the face of such cultural chaos.  There are no easy answers, and churches are frequently more participants in the dominant fads than witnesses opposing them.  But we must realize that the Christian Faith is distinctly doctrinal, and the current fascination with social justice or congenial worship or welcoming environments must be replaced by strong, biblical, doctrinal teaching.  Then too the churches must identify themselves as distinctive communities of faith, willing to depart from and frequently defy the sinful world.  Finally, Protestants especially “need to recover both natural law and a high view of the physical body,” something God-given and fixed by creation (p. 405).  All talk about choosing one’s gender must be challenged, all support of same-sex unions must be opposed.  “A recovery of a biblical understanding of embodiment is vital.  And closely allied with this is the fact that the church must maintain its commitment to biblical sexual morality, whatever the social cost might be” (p. 406).

Few current books better enable readers to grasp what’s taking place around us.  The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self merits serious study and response.

                                      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

An analyis similar to Truman’s is Anthony Esolen’s Sex and the Unreal City:  The Demolition of the Western Mind (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, c. 2020).  He too sees the modern transgender movement as a sign of deep mental and moral confusion, signaling souls adrift on a sea of unreality.  Men are born men and women are born women, and “there are well over six thousand physical differences between males and females, and all the surgeries can do is to mimic some appearance of the opposite sex, such as make chin hair grow on females or swell the breasts of males with fat” (p. 47).  Pretending to change one’s “gender” flies in the face of all that’s Real!  Allowing boys claiming to be girls to compete in women’s athletics is the height of madness!  Pretending same-sex partners make a “marriage,” which necessarily means a man and woman capable of procreating children, is to deny a fundamental truth of creation.  

While writing the book Esolen became increasingly distressed at the apparently “bottomless crater” of such unreality.   Along with Solzhenitsyn he understands this as a result of forgetting God and denying man’s true nature, for:  “Man is made for faith:  he is homo credens.  If he does not believe in God, he will turn straightaway to some idol, a stock or stone, himself, the state, sex—something stupid, salacious, or malignant, like a cancer.  Man without faith becomes credulous” (p. 34).  Consequently:  “We dwell in Unreal City.  We all dwell there.  We have all been dulled and deadened by the unreal.  But if God is real, then to turn away from God is to leap into unreality, and that is pretty much the definition of evil” (p. 6).  This turning away began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam ad Eve fell by believing a lie, succumbing to the tempting words “you shall be as gods.”  Ever after, fallen men have been trapped:  “We want to believe that our words can alter reality: we want to believe that we can, by linguistic magic, negate the Word through whom all things were made, and the things themselves.  . . . .  Hence the battle in our day is theological, whether we wish to admit it or not.  If a man claims to be a woman, which he can never be, and demands to be addressed as such, he is not merely asking for right etiquette.  He is demanding that we enter his delusion, or his lie.  It is not true.  He is demanding that believers in God fall in worship of an idol.  Some idols are hideous, like Moloch, and some are beautiful, like Dionysus.  The Hebrew prophets did not care.  They did not condemn the idols for their style.  They condemned them for being false” (p. 29).  

Falsity distinguishes much modern discourse wherever it insists we construct reality in our minds rather than encounter it apart from them.  To call a dog a cat is a false statement, for there is a particularity to a species.  God made all things “according to their kind” and man cannot alter that hard factuality.  To argue otherwise leads to a philosophical nominalism as old as mankind, denying that words are rooted in actual things.  “Nomina sunt consequentia rerum, went the old medieval wisdom:  Names are consequent upon the things they name” (p. 39).   In naming creatures, Adam discerned their essence, the form indwelling them.  Just as there is a fixity to species, so too there is a fixity to history.  But in the Unreal City history proves as malleable as sexual identity.  The past is what we want or will it to be.  Forgetting the past follows forgetting God.  Rewriting history, as does the New York Times’ 1619 Project, allows practitioners to ratify their feelings or construct utopias.  But “the past is the unalterable record of man.  It shows us what human nature is” (p. 61).  Rightly understanding human nature enables one to discern the natural law, wherein good and evil are objective realities.  This law points to a Lawgiver.  Lacking Him, “the state comes to fill the void, and what is ‘right’ will be determined by those who shout the loudest, or who have the most money, or who fill the positions of greatest prominence and prestige.  Moral argument collapses, and people shout, ‘It’s right because I say so!’  It is the suasion of the gun” (p. 62).  “The greatest aberration of the mind,” said Louis Pasteur, is to believe a thing to be, because we desire it.”  Thus, said Confucious, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names.  So too, said Jesus, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.”  And that’s precisely what’s not done in the Unreal City of modernity.  

The great conservative scholar Richard Weaver, in Ideas Have Consequences, not only identified nominalism as the corrosive factor destroying our culture but suggested that as a result we are looking through a stereoptican, seeing three dimensional pictures rather than Reality.  With it you could pretend travel around the world, simply looking through a clever device.  Similarly, rather than looking for God we easily construct idols to admire and worship.  To Weaver:  “Mass media, the Great Stereopticon, is . . . a vast and astonishingly productive industry of idols, of flashes upon the screen, so easy to look upon, so mesmerizing in their effect, that by contrast the woodcut designs that decorated old books were as a drop in the comprehensive ocean of visual flagella that now whip and sting us and will not let us be.  Until our time, an idol was a phantasm, an untruth” (p. 75).  In the pervasive political rhetoric of today, propaganda indwells the media stereopticon, creating a fictitious world designed to incite passionate fanaticism.  Without roots in Reality we’re easily swayed by our fears to follow whatever propagandist seems alluring as he promotes his Unreal City.  

Repeatedly Esolen returns to the issue of abortion—a premeditated, murderous act that denies the personhood of a living human being.  That our cultural elties—many of them clergy—now celebrate rather than lament (much less oppose) it, reveals the depths of the devious discourse and fantasy metaphysics that afflict us.  It is only one, but a major one, of the indices showing how we have rebelled agains God and His creation.  

To return to God is our only hope, though that recovery will doubtlessly need be done by coming generations, finding their way out of the culture of death we’ve embraced

337 Pandemic Panic

Anyone saying “listen to the science” actually means “listen to the scientists I endorse,” for it’s scientists who speak and they often do so discordantly.  Thus we must discern which of them best explains what actually is—what’s the truth of things.  It’s up to us to check their data and evaluate their logic.  Doing so means we’ll frequently find courageous dissenters more persuasive than the proponents of a reigning consensus.  For nearly a year we’ve endured what’s arguably the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu, watching COVID-19 kill multiplied thousands of people and upend economies and polities around the world.  Getting accurate information, attending to responsible authorities, and coming to personal conclusions regarding it has been, to say the least, quite challenging.  But there is no good reason, when evaluating hydroxychloriquine as a therapeutic medication, to trust a bureaucrat such as Anthony Fauci rather than 6000 practicing physicians effectively using it to treat stricken patients.  Why not take seriously a distinguished Yale epidemiologist, Harvey Risch, with scores of scholarly publications, who thinks Fauci’s refusal to approve hydroxychloriquine caused many thousands of deaths?  Why not follow the 43,000 epidemiologists and health care professionals who signed “The Great Barrington Declaration,” proposing we deal aggressively with threatened population groups while allowing the rest of the country to return to normalcy?  Thus I’ll review several publications which all, to one degree or another, affirm the gravity of the pandemic while questioning the policies crafted by our public health and political leaders.  

Alex Berenson, an experienced investigative reporter who worked 10 years for the New York Times, was initially persuaded the country “might face an outbreak that would kill millions of Americans and potentially destabilize the nation” (p. 1).  So he stockpiled food and purchased N95 masks, preparing to survive the perilous times the experts predicted.   Then, as an investigative reporter curious concerning dubious data, he began checking the evidence and detailing his findings in a series of self-published booklets, beginning with Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1: Introduction and Death Counts and Estimates (Kindle Edition, 2020).  (One benefit of publishing his findings in an ebook is this:  virtually every paragraph links the reader to the current, scholarly, in-depth, chart-studded, on-line publications he cites.)  Berenson quickly found that London’s Imperial College, in concert with the World Health Organization, had early “terrified politicians around the world and spurred what became a nearly universal lockdown.”  When carefully perused, however, the quality of their “research” shocked him and he began publishing his findings.  Initially the only outlet he had was his Twitter account, with only 10,000 followers.  But his posts attracted the attention of billionaire Elon Musk, who retweeted one of his them.  “Suddenly I found myself as one of the few people with any journalistic standing challenging the apocalyptic reporting that dominated media outlets like the [New York] Times.”  

The more scholarly studies he read the more skeptical he became—not regarding the virulent virus but the policies enacted to curtail it.  He quickly discovered the coronavirus “was more than 100 times as likely to kill people over 80 than under 50.  Yes, 100 times.  People under 30 were at very low risk.”  The median age of those dying is in the low 80s.   Still more, as is true of pneumonia, the elderly who were dying would have quite probably died within another year because of their other ailments.  So why, he wondered, enact shutdown policies harming whole populations rather than protect the most vulnerable?  Why shut down schools when children were almost never harmfully infected?  It was also clear, early on, that the virus was significantly less deadly than advertised—far less than the scare-mongering media proclaimed!  He saw how wildly exaggerated were the forecasts rendered by both medical “experts” and the politicians who quoted them.  They also changed their stories!  We were first told we needed to take extreme measures in order to “flatten the curve” and then informed even that was not sufficient—we needed to “stop the spread” of the disease!  The allegedly infallible officials had crafted simulations that dramatically failed in virtually every  way!  Nevertheless, shutdowns were mandated and masks prescribed.

Berenson followed up his initial publication with Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 2: Update and Examination of Lockdowns as a Strategy  (Blue Deep, Inc.. Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  As COVID-19 cases spiked in last summer, many governors decreed draconic lockdowns of all but “essential” activities.  “What went all-but-unnoticed in the push for lockdowns was the fact that major public health organizations had for decades rejected them as a potential solution to epidemics.”  Both the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization had earlier published lengthy guides dealing with influenza, citing ample “laboratory studies, clinical trials, and real-world evidence.”  They had counseled against lockdowns because they consistently proved ineffective!  Nothing in the past had effectively throttled, much less stopped, the spread of influenza epidemics.  So why would anyone think COVID-19 would be different?  Just because!  The “experts” just claimed it must be!  What happened, Berenson thinks, is this:  “Faced with a risk of hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths, the public health experts who for decades had counseled patience and caution flinched.  They found they could not live with acknowledging how little control they or any of us had over the spread of an easily transmissible respiratory virus.  They had to do something—even if they had been warning for decades that what they were about to do would not work and might have terrible secondary consequences.”  And this, I think, is the heart of the issue:  we’ve grown so accustomed to controlling our environment—and relying on the government to do things for us—that we cannot acknowledge some things are beyond our control!  

Just recently Breneson has issued Unreported Truths About Covid-19 and Lockdowns: Part 3: Masks  (Blue Deep, Inc., Kindle Edition).  He sincerely wishes masks worked!  They would, indeed, afford significant relief from the pandemic killing so many of us.  “But they don’t.  Not the ordinary cloth and surgical masks that nearly everybody wears, anyway.  Despite everything the media and public health experts has told you, they don’t work.  More accurately, we have no real evidence they do—and plenty of evidence they don’t.”  The World Health Organization had once stated it clearly:  the “WHO stands by recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick or not caring for someone who is sick.”  Yet these same  health experts insist we wear them and Joe Biden proposes to require them of everyone.  Massive numbers of us have mutely complied!  Why did 85 per cent of those infected insist they either always or nearly always wore masks?  As virus still spreads we’re entitled to ask:  “How can that be, if masks work?”  

“The answer is,” Berenson says, “that the evidence that face coverings do any good turns out to be even more porous than masks themselves.”  To understand why we need to delve into the details regarding droplets, aerosols, and viruses.  A mask may well arrest the movement of a droplet (which may carry a virus) but is much to porous to stop an aerosol (which also may carry a virus).  Only what is called a respirator (the NP95s used in medical facilities) effectively stop aerosols and viruses they carry.  Most of the particles we breathe in and breathe out are tiny.  Inasmuch as “80–90% of droplets were smaller than 1 μm [micron], “masks have almost no chance of catching most of the particles we exhale.”  One of the scholarly studies Berenson cites “combined the results of the 10 trials into a single “meta-analysis”—a review that looks at each study and figures out what they say as a whole.  Their conclusion—published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a Centers for Disease Control journal—was straightforward:  ‘We did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.’”  

Just before Berenson published his booklet there appeared a “large randomized controlled trial that specifically examined whether masks protected their wearers from the coronavirus.”  It was published on Nov. 18 and covered almost 5,000 people in Denmark last spring.  The trial was carefully designed and executed, with half the participants told to wear high-quality surgical masks . . . .   The other half were not asked to wear masks.  Participants were followed for a month to see if they had been infected with Sars-Cov-2.”  The study’s conclusion?  “Mask wearing ‘did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, the incidence of Sars-Cov-2 infection.’”  So why are we shamed  (or bullied through treats of fines) into wearing masks?  Rather cynically Berenson suggests they help fuel the contagion of fear and sustain the illusion our rulers are doing something significant to save us.  “Masks are warnings none of us can escape.  This virus is different.  This virus is dangerous.  This virus is not the flu.  We had better hunker down until a vaccine is ready to save us all.  But the worst reason of all is that mask mandates appear to be an effort by governments to find out what restrictions on their civil liberties people will accept on the thinnest possible evidence.  They are the not-so-thin edge of the wedge.  Today, we must wear masks.  Tomorrow we’ll need negative Covid tests to travel between countries.  Or vaccines to go to work.”

                        * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

In The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe (Washington, D.C.:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2020), Jay Richards (a business professor at the Catholic University of America), Douglas Axe (a biology professor at Biola University), and William Briggs (an economist who’s published over a hundred scholarly papers), collaborate to evaluate the evidence and analyze the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.  They endeavor “to sift prudence from propaganda.  And they have, George Gilder says, “written the definitive account of the most egregious policy blunder in the history of American government.”  The authors  acknowledge the lethality of the pandemic but are astounded at the concurrent, worldwide, destructive panic of medical experts and national leaders.  

It all began, of course, when a deadly virus spread from China.  Then doomsday forecasts, largely propounded by the World Health Organization, the Imperial College London, and the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation at the University of Washington.  The WHO relied on the Imperial College work which “predicted the new coronavirus would be about as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918 (which killed between 18 and 58 million).  They predicted the coronavirus would claim 40 million lives worldwide, including 2.2 million in the U.S., if nothing were done to slow the spread.  Forty million deaths?  Terrifying!” (p. 78).  “We now know these models were so wrong they were like shots in the dark.  After a few months, even the press admitted as much.  But by then vast damage had been done” (p. xiv).  Then the models’ proponents, rather than confessing and correcting their errors, “began to massage the data” and  rationalize their declarations.  In this they were aided by a “gullible, self-righteous, and weaponized media that spread their projections far and wide.  The press carpet-bombed the world with stories about impending shortages of hospital beds, ventilators, and emergency room capacity.  They served up apocalyptic clickbait by the hour and the ton” (p. xv).  And social media websites promoted the fears by hyping the threats and censoring dissenting evidence concerning the pandemic’s true lethality. 

For context, the authors provide a historical record of pandemics—running from the ancient world to the present.  Placed in perspective, the current pandemic is rather routine—something we could have absorbed as part of life and addressed aggressively with every medical resource.  They also remind us of the sheer inevitability of death.  Every day 1,700 people die cardiovascular disease, 1,600 die of cancer, and nearly 700 die just from medical mistakes.  We’re accustomed to people dying—but dying of the new virus somehow became different!  That difference was the contagion of fear ignited by statistical projections!  Most of them predicted some 50 million deaths and such scary numbers naturally alarmed us all!  So we granted “emergency powers” to various authorities not because of “a catastrophe that had just happened, but rather a prediction about what might happen” (p. 17).  In New York, one of the very worst sites, experts predicted the city would need “140,000 hospital beds, only about 18,500 were in use.  Many thousands of field-hospital beds that had been brought in by ship or laid out in temporary shelters sat empty” (p. 111).  Predictions failed astronomically!  What really happened was “the first pandemic of panic.” (In our postmodern era, wherein we’re assured we “construct” rather than “discover” truth, such irrationality might be expected!). 

Some of the panic was spurred along by semantic equivocations.  For instance, it was decided to report anyone dying with the virus would be identified as dying from the virus!  The CDC reported that in only 7 percent of the victims was the virus the sole cause of death!  An Italian study of 355 COVID-19 victims showed that they “averaged 79.5 years of age and were in poor health.  More than a third had diabetes, and just under a third had ischemic heart disease.  A quarter had atrial fibrillation.  A fifth had active cancer, and over a sixth had either dementia or a history of stroke.  Of the 355 people, only three were in good health before catching the coronavirus” (p. 57).  Inflating numbers proved popular in the media, so the numbers of positive tests were called cases and easily conflated with significant infections.  

Richards, Axe, and Briggs carefully examine public health policies (i.e. lockdowns, distancing, masks) and show how problematic and potentially harmful they all are.  Countries or states that refused to lockdown fared as well as those who did so.  Copious charts and graphs fill the book, citing evidence and insisting we think logically.  Unfortunately, when we panic the “thinking parts of the brain stop functioning well” (p. 140).  We have no evidence the policies decreed by politicians actually helped curtail, much less vanquish, COVID-19.  Yet we have ample evidence how they harmed great numbers of people (students and middle aged adults who were hardly at risk of dying).  And the harms were enormous!  For example, though you’d never know it by watching the evening news, a United Nations agency says disruptions in the world’s food supply chains may have caused 300,000 deaths per day!  “In other words, more people around the world could die every two days from our response to the pandemic than those who died from the entire pandemic itself” (p. 139).  

The unintended consequences of the lockdowns will soon become clearer as we understand the follies of the small group of narrowly-focused “experts” who misled us.  We failed to consider a basic economic precept:  “Highlighting unintended consequences is perhaps the greatest gift economics has given to humanity.  ‘There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one,’ wrote French economist Frédéric Bastiat.  ‘The bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.’  He explains:  ‘Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil’” (p. 168). 

Though it’s little consolation for us now, we can learn from a small number of countries (Japan, Taiwan, Sweden) and states (South Dakota, Arkansas, Utah) which followed Bastiat’s prescription, thinking about the “great good to come” rather than the “small present evil.”  More epidemics are sure to follow, as the past decades show, so let us hope we will more wisely respond to the next one.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

  John Schroeter’s COVID-19: A Devil’s Choice (John August Media, Kindle Edition, c. 2020) garnered high marks from distinguished scientists who applauded its commitment to dealing carefully with scientific data.  He believes Anthony Fauci and other public health “experts” unwisely, “under the pretext of public health and safety, advocated extreme social isolation measures, i.e., near-universal lockdown, to forestall the spread of infection until a vaccine can be found.  This strategy has had the two-fold effect of 1) precluding natural herd immunity, and 2) devastating the life-sustaining economy, and thus imperiling the health and wellbeing of vastly larger numbers of persons than a coronavirus could ever conceivably inflict” (p. 8).  Differing from Fauci, many distinguished epidemiologists “have publicly stated that had we opted for herd immunity at the outset, the pandemic would already be behind us.  Instead, we remain trapped in an open-ended nightmare scenario that not only promulgates fear and misery, but actively seeks to silence dissenting voices.  These responses not only have nothing to do with public health and safety, they actually exacerbate the crisis, deepening its effect in both the short- and long-term via widespread collateral damage.  Could there, then, be another agenda at work?  Come now, let us reason together” (p. 9).

The book contains sections of 100 “data-points”— short, succinct, factual arguments.  To think rightly we must first put things in perspective, and we know that people constantly die of health problems (hypertension, obesity, diabetes, respiratory weaknesses, heart problems) that are acerbated by by COVID-19 infections.  Smokers are especially susceptible, and folks breathing filthy air “are twice as likely to die” as those who aren’t.  Then too, unfortunately, many Americans “live unhealthy lifestyles.”  Consequently:  “Dying with COVID-19 (correlation) is not the same as dying from COVID-19 (causation).  And yet, health officials are making no such distinction” (p. 21).  Inasmuch as nearly half of the American people are deficient in Vitamin D, encouraging them to take ample amounts of it would have been a small, preventative step to helping the vulnerable to cope with the virus.  

We also need to acknowledge that epidemics never end until “herd immunity” is attained.  Any other measures are, frankly, illusions.  And you develop herd immunity by allowing the healthy to get infected, not by quarantining them!  So all the rhetoric about “flattening the curve” created an aura of managing the unmanageable.  It was little more than propaganda—much like that set forth by bureaucrats publishing “fire management policies” while the forests burn.  Flattening the curve, in fact, simply means delaying the dying.  Had we let the virus run its course “the pandemic would already be behind us, and the life-sustaining economy would be intact” (p. 17).  Indeed:  “Prior to the lockdown, according to antibody testing, herd immunity to COVID-19 was already well underway, and on its way to the necessary infection rate threshold in key populations.  Sadly, this process was interrupted by the ill-advised lockdown policies” (p. 19).  In fact, “more than two-thirds of newly reported COVID-19 cases are for those who have been sheltering in place!” (p. 29).  

Turning to the efficacy of masks, Schroeter cites “the declaration by the US National Academy of Sciences:  ‘Face masks are not designed or certified to protect the wearer from exposure to respiratory hazards.’  And yet, they are now being mandated for that very purpose.  Moreover, a number of studies have shown the inefficacy of the surgical mask to prevent transmission of viruses.”  This is because, as Dr. Rashid Buttar (who maintains a website on facemarks:  https://www.askdrbuttar.com/facemask/) explains, “the viral particles we’re trying to keep out of our bodies are so much smaller than the smallest pores of these masks.  ‘It’s like using a chain link fence to prevent a fly from entering your house,’ he says, ‘or a split-rail fence to keep mice out.  If our goal is to make people healthy, the first thing we should be doing is telling them to not wear a mask.”  Schroeter cites other scientific studies showing that masks (unlike respirators) simply don’t work to prevent respiratory influenza-like illnesses transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles.  “Dr. Lisa Brosseau, a nationally recognized expert on respiratory protection and infectious diseases and professor (retired), University of Illinois at Chicago, agrees. ‘I don’t necessarily discourage the public from wearing them if it makes them feel comfortable, but I hope they don’t think that they’re protecting themselves.’” (p. 57).   

So it goes!  We’ve panicked at the pandemic and are living in virtuality, not reality.  

336 Leaving the Plantation

For three decades, supporting the civil rights movement, I believed significant advances had been made in both black and white communities, leading to a more just and harmonious society.  My hopes were fueled by evangelicals such as John Perkins (recently feted as World Magazine’s “Daniel of the Year”) who tenaciously embraced Martin Luther King’s teachings on non-violence and loving one’s enemies.  To Perkins, the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness—though it seems harder and harder to find in the streets or in Congress these days!  And he still holds, unlike the advocates and devotees of Black Lives Matter, that:  “There is no black race—and there is no white race.  So the idea of ‘racial reconciliation’ is a false idea.  It’s a lie.  It implies that there is more than one race.”  There may be ethnic groups with diverse traditions and perspectives, but they all have the same blood, human blood!  Yet my hopes in the path proposed by Perkins suffered a setback during the the O.J. Simpson trial and acquittal, when I was shocked by both the verdict and the enthusiastic approval it garnered from the black populace.  Rooted in the black power movement of identity politics (earlier propounded by W.E.B. Dubois and various Marxist-leaning activists),  a different, markedly revolutionary vision seemed triumphant.  Whereas I’d thought blacks were committed to integration and pursuing the American dream, I then realized that many (if not most) of them  still think, as did Martin Luther King in 1963:  “The Negro is still not free.”

Uneasy with many aspects of this revolutionary movement, I began to wonder if the optimistic laws and policies enacted in the ‘60s—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—  had unexpectedly harmed a clearly disadvantaged community.    At about the same time we had a guest speaker in a Point Loma Nazarene University chapel named Star Parker.  She’d become something of a celebrity in southern California for both her personal story and political positions, radically challenging the civil rights establishment.  She had written an autobiographical book—Pimps, Whores, and Welfare Brats (c. 1997)—which I read and found illuminating.  Soon thereafter she published Uncle Sam’s Plantation:  How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can Do About It (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Inc., c. 2003, rev. 2010) setting forth her public policy positions.   

Parker grew up troubled and rebellious, stealing and doing drugs and engaging in promiscuous sex  leading to four abortions.  Her irresponsible lifestyle was subsidized by the maze of welfare programs which abetted her destructive behaviors.  In those years she routinely blamed racism for her predicament—though in time she came to identify her laziness as the real culprit.  Then, in her mid-20s, she encountered a pastor who challenged her to think and act differently, to take charge of her life and live responsibly.  She found a job and later became a self-employed publisher and radio host.  In the process she began to think through and share her markedly conservative, Christian views, thereby eliciting an unexpected tirade of abuse, including death threats from leftists (both black and white) who found her a threat to the status quo.  That various social support systems (welfare, affirmative action, public schools, health care, etc.) were failing meant nothing to her foes so long as they preserved what she came to see as “Uncle Sam’s Plantation.”  She saw that the material “poverty” addressed by various and infinitely-expanding federal programs (77 and counting!) was actually a symptom of the real poverty, which is preeminently spiritual and cultural.  “Government programs cannot help the broken poor because their poverty is in their heart and spirit” (p. 33).  Big Government agencies, allegedly helping the poor, have in fact reduced them to a passive dependency akin to slavery.  “Uncle Sam has developed a sophisticated poverty plantation, operated by a federal government, overseen by bureaucrats, protected by media elite, and financed by the taxpayers.  The only difference between this plantation and the slave plantation is perception” (p. 77).  On the governmental plantation the family has collapsed, the educational system failed, personal freedom eroded, and personal responsibility often disappeared.  

Rather than pour more trillions of dollars into this failing system, Parker calls for blacks to take charge of their lives and—above all—find what she found:  a vibrant faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ.   She’s left the plantation and believes her decision is the only realistic solution to racial problems in this country.   Hers may be the straight and narrow road that is the only way to the good life.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Very much in the mold of Star Parker, Candace Owens has recently written Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation (New York:  Threshold Editions. Kindle Edition, c. 2020).   Owens has gained a sizable following for her U-Tube pod-casts, so she put her views in print in Blackout.  She insists the real problems in black America are moral rather than economic,  and the Democrat Party, by singularly focusing on material factors, effectively suppresses what’s most needed—a recovery of personal responsibility and discipline, especially regarding the family.  But, unfortunately:  “If you are a black person in America today, your identity is as much defined by your skin color as it was more than a hundred years ago and quite similarly, for all the wrong reasons.  To be a black American means to have your life narrative predetermined:  a routine of failure followed by alleged blamelessness due to perceived impotence.  It means constant subjection to the bigotry of lowered expectations, a culture of pacifying our shortcomings through predisposition” (p. 2).  

Consequently, Owens endeavors to “detail just why I believe the Democrat Party’s policies have led to the erosion of the black community by fostering a persistent victim mentality.  I will explain how a radicalized push for feminism is both emasculating and criminalizing men who are needed to lead strong families, and I will reveal the fallacy of socialism, in its inherent argument for the very same government that crippled black America in the first place.  Lastly, I will expose the inefficiency of the left-leaning public education system and tackle the media’s role in the collective brainwashing of our youth” (p. 11).  Her case is well-argued, filled with data as well as personal perspectives (emphasizing the positive role her hard-working, self-reliant grandparents played in her life), and worth reading simply to better understand a position that seems to be gaining some traction among younger blacks.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Vince Everett Ellison, following a career as a correctional officer, recently became involved in both politics and Christian ministry.  After supporting the Democrat party for most of his life he has recanted, persuaded that:  “Too many people become democrats because they want “FREE-STUFF”.  I’m a conservative because I demand “FREE-DOM” (p. 47).  Subsequently he wrote The Iron Triangle: Inside the Liberal Democrat Plan to Use Race to Divide Christians and America in their Quest for Power and How We Can Defeat Them (Outskirts Press, Inc.. Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  As is evident in the book’s subtitle, Ellison takes a jaundiced look at the Democrat Party which he thinks has internalized the perverse prejudices of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sought to give blacks (via the Civil Rights, Voting Rights acts,  and Great Society programs) “a little something, just enough to quiet them down.”  Consistently thereafter blacks (by a 90 per cent margin) have supported Democrat politicians, and, as Nancy Pelosi cynically noted while lofting a glass of water:  “This glass of water would win with a D next to its name in those districts.”  Liberal Democrats have, Ellison charges, deliberately betrayed Black America so as to get and maintain control of the nation.  They accomplished this “by infiltrating and then compromising the three foundational institutions of the Black community:  the Black preacher, Black civic organizations, and the Black politicians.  I call this trifecta:  ‘the Iron Triangle’” (p. 7).  Consequently the black community now looks as if its ruled by totalitarian socialists, featuring “one-party rule, forced compliance, extreme poverty, government dependency, and dictator worship” (p. 7).  This was an amazing tradeoff:  “Blacks gained the right to eat and use the bathroom beside Southern Whites while White Liberals gained control of a nation and potentially the world” (p. 7).   And they’re supporting a political party which, according to its platform, supports “government funding of child murder, the legality of sexual perversions and pornography, the legalization of illegal drugs, and the promotion of atheism” (p. 138).

In accord with Star Parker and Candace Owens, Ellison thinks the main problem in the Black community is the failure of individuals to take personal responsibility for their lives.  In part this is because black preachers, organizations, and politicians forever claim it’s “someone else’s fault” and that blacks are inevitably victims of racism (whether overt or covert) and worse off than they were decades ago.  Rather than helping blacks learn to thrive in America, their leaders have done little more than teach them how to protest.  Ironically:  “If protest brought about desired change, Black people would be the most successful race in the country and Asians would be the least.  Instead the converse is true” (p. 24).  Members of the Iron Triangle profit mightily while ordinary Blacks suffer poverty, crime-ridden neighborhoods, failing schools, drug abuse, and fractured families.  For fifty years trillions of dollars, multiplied marches, riots and mayhem, had accomplished nothing! 

Ellison, a committed Christian, especially condemns the many black preachers who sell their souls for a bowl of porridge (i.e. money generously distributed by Democratic functionaries in pre-election periods).  Thereby, he thinks:  “The Democratic Party controls most Black preachers.  The Black preacher controls the Black church.  And the Black church is the spout that pours the Black community into the Democratic Party” (p. 87).  Before getting into politics, running for a congressional seat in South Carolina, he talked with his father, who had reared his family in the church and orchestrated a family singing group that produced several gospel albums.  His dad cautioned his aspiring adult son to trust bootleggers before preachers!  In fact:  “There is a common saying in the Black community:  most ‘Black preachers talk Black, live White, and think green.  I was going to find that it was more than a saying” (p. 95).  Many of them, like Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, embrace racist versions of liberation theology, pitting victimized blacks against oppressive whites—“a heresy that has polluted the ‘Black’ Church since that the early 1970s” (p. 115).  To Ellison:  “Preachers that lead their congregation into the wretched ideology of Marxism, with its hatred of GOD, victimization, and murderous past, and away from the love, forgiveness, and reconciliation of Jesus Christ have committed the highest form of treason” (p. 122).

Ellison’s text is repetitious, badly needing editing.  His tone is strident and at times off-putting, but   his accusations merit consideration.  He certainly illustrates a significant voice in the burgeoning conservative black community.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

A refreshingly upbeat approach to living as a black man in America comes from Rick Rigsby in Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout:  How the Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition, c. 2006).  He was for several years the Life Skills Coordinator for the Texas A&M football team when it was still coached by the legendary R.C. Slocum, and later worked under Dennis Franchione as A&M’s team chaplain.  Understandably he laces his presentation  with with fascinating athletic anecdotes.  He warmly remembers Coach Slocum saying, “dozens of times:  My value as a head football coach will not be based on how many football games I won or lost.  My value will be directly related to the quality of the lives of the men I coached.  Are my former players productive citizens, good employees, good husbands and fathers?  The quality of their lives is the standard by which I will be judged as a head coach” (p. 123).  Rigsby spoke at Point Loma Nazarene College while I was the school’s chaplain, and I well remember the joyous, uplifting message he brought.  (He may have come, in part, because one of his best friends was Paul Holderfield, Jr., senior pastor of Friendly Chapel Church of the Nazarene in North Little Rock, Arkansas).  

Reading his book I now understand why he was so upbeat and infectiously uplifting.  He had a dad who made a difference.  His father, Roger Rigsby was black and poorly educated, but he never blamed others for anything, so this book has little about “racial” injustice in it.  Unlike the privileged black students in today’s elite universities, he repudiated all versions of victimhood.  Consequently, his timeless wisdom is precisely what both black and white folks most need to learn.  His wisdom looks identical to that of Amy Wax, a courageous law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who endured enormous abuse from the “cancel culture” when she dared suggest affirmative action actually harms blacks (who need to succeed by cultivating healthy habits).  She set forth her views in Race, Wrongs, and Remedies, insisting blacks, like everyone else, need to recognize the problems generated by poor educational accomplishments and work habits, acerbated by drug abuse, criminality, and fatherless homes.  Government programs, however well-intended, nurture these pathologies.  Rather than choosing dependencies of various sorts blacks must take charge of their personal and communal lives.  Nothing else will succeed.  

Amy Wax’s tough love prescriptions gain affirmation in Rick Rigsby’s encomium to his father, for he wrote Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout “to re-acquaint readers with the wisdom—the common sense that was practiced simply and unwittingly by those who represent a generation gone by.   This was an era of individuals who worked hard without complaining.  They committed to doing whatever was necessary to help the company and support their families.  They took pride in doing a good job.  They worked without ceasing.  And they maintained high standards—they had high expectations for themselves and the others they were responsible for” (p. xxxiv).  Such a man was Roger Rigsby.  “This man never ever hid behind an excuse.  He never allowed his problems to determine his present or affect his future.  He realized that destiny was a choice and not a chance” (p. xxxii).  And his son wants to share his wisdom with his world.  “It’s the kind of wisdom that is rare in society today.  It’s the kind of wisdom that will cause you to be a better person, a greater leader, a more effective worker.  It’s the kind of wisdom that will cause you to make an impact . . . rather than just an impression” (p. xxxiv).   

Rick Rigsby consistently celebrates his father’s character.  “I have never met anyone like him. He simply lived character” (p. 121).  His “father believed to the core of his being that a man was not worth much if he could not be trusted to do the right thing at the right time in the right way.”  He lived uprightly, telling the truth, keeping his word, treating others well, loving your family, honoring the Lord.  Few younger folks, smothered in feel-good therapeutic babble, collecting meaningless “participation” trophies, endlessly looking at cell phone screens, encounter men like Roger Rigsby.  They rarely encounter members of a generation that prized doers rather than viewersDoers are, he constantly stressed, kind.  “My dad often said, ‘Son, it does not cost a dime to be kind’” (p. 34).  He taught his son to do good things, such as saying “thank you” or “yes, please” or “yes, sir,” and opening doors for others.  His dad urged him to encourage people you know and smile at folks you meet. 

Doers look for opportunities to help others.  “I can hear my dad’s voice ringing in my mind with a piercing familiarity, ‘Son, always put yourself in a position to help somebody else’” (p. 76).  It took his son “over four decades and three college degrees to understand” that his dad was saying:  “Son, you have a marvelous opportunity to build value in those around you by looking for ways to help humanity.  Remember, no job is beneath you, no task is too unimportant to be left incomplete.  Look for those you can help, and your life will be rich with exhilarating experiences, fond memories, and boundless energy from the satisfaction of assisting others.  . . . .  My son, there is no higher calling than to reach down and pull another up.  Helping is biblical, practical, and in great demand today.  Always make time to help another person!” (p. 82).  

Doers are, furthermore, disciplined—the “essence” of his father.  Doers find work and actually do it!  They show up on time—Roger Rigsby repeatedly stressed that it’s better to be an hour early than a minute late!  And in his 30 years of working as a cook for California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California, he never once failed to be on time.   “Dad would leave home at 3:45 A.M., arriving at CMA one full hour ahead of his shift.  For years I thought the value of Dad’s behavior was the obvious.  But the real genius of my father’s discipline was what was produced as a result.  The quality of endurance was a hallmark in Dad’s life.  He never quit.  It was Dad’s lifestyle” (p. 58).  That explained “his incessant proclivity for excellence and his undeniable intolerance for mediocrity.  To this day, I hear his voice with a piercing familiarity: ‘Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it right!’  Nothing further needed to be mentioned.  Dad did not believe in slothful, lazy, mediocre, average, or adequate performance.  If you do something—he would say—you must take pride in it.  And how can a man take pride in something that is not his absolute very best?  There was no compromise here.  There was no shortcut here.  There was no gold medal for just getting by or special ribbon for finishing first.  At the very least, a good job was expected.  And if we did not do our best, we repeated the task until it met my father’s standard of excellence” (p. 85).  In this he was evoking the words of Martin Luther King, spoken a month before he was killed:  “‘All labor has value.  If you’re a street sweeper, sweep streets the way Michelangelo painted pictures.  Sweep streets the way Beethoven composed music.  Sweep streets the way Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets in such a profound way that the Host of Heaven will say, ‘There goes a great street sweeper!’” (p. 86).

Such discipline enables one to remain standing amidst adversity and sorrow.  “This book,” Rigby says, “began as I stood at my wife’s casket.  Flanked by two young sons and a host of relatives and friends, our lives were over, our dreams dashed, our future bleak” (p. 135).  Before she died, he’d led what seemed to be a charmed life—teaching at a university, prospering, enjoying the good life.  But he was unprepared for the overwhelming sorrow that engulfed him as he watched his wife slip away.  “I never knew the pain of a broken heart could hurt so deeply.  I never knew loneliness so profound it could paralyze your life” (p. 149).   Fortunately for him, his father faithfully served as a  wise counsellor.  “He would say things like, ‘Son, now is the time to be a man.  Your wife needs a man, not a boy.  And I have not raised a boy.  I have raised a man.  And I am proud of you.  And with God’s help, you will make it through. And you begin right now by making a commitment—every day—to just stand’” (p. 148).  Just stand!  That’s a great prescription for right living.  “Son, just stand”—those words, spoken over his wife’s casket following her funeral, proved to be the lifeline for Rick Rigsby.  “Just stand.  The best lesson I have ever received.  The most profound lesson I have ever been taught.  The best job training course I have ever taken.  The best life coaching I have ever gained.  The best—absolute best—advice I have ever received.  My father’s life was speaking to me.  His life’s experiences were telling me a story.  It was a story that had two basic truths: 1) You can depend on God no matter what happens, and 2) If you can keep standing in the middle of hell, you will learn to walk again” (p. 121).

A year later Roger Rigsby died of cancer at the age of 77.  His son treasured the time he spent with his dad, for “even though he was leaving us slowly, the essence of my father was just as strong in that hospital bed as if he were standing on a podium.  “Dad, are you scared?” he asked.   “‘Heavens no, Son.  God has blessed me with two wonderful sons, a wonderful wife, and an amazing life.  And now I get to go home.  You boys carry on.  You carry on, Ricky.  Carry on.’  Even on his deathbed, he was teaching me to be a man.  Especially on his deathbed, he was teaching me to be a man.  Carry on.  Stay the course.  Hold your position.  Keep standing” (p. 157).  So Roger Rigsby, offers wisdom for us all! 

335 Fortitude & Rules for Living

A great 19th century Princeton theologian, A.A. Hodge, lamented:  “It is easier to find a score of men wise enough to discover the truth, than to find one intrepid enough, in the face of opposition, to stand up for it.”  That’s still true, for as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn noted:  “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.   .  .  .  .  Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.”  Calling for a renewal of courage (one of the four cardinal virtues) Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw wrote Fortitude:  American Resilience in an Age of Outrage (New York:  Grand Central Publishing, Kindle Edition, c.  2020).  

Crenshaw begins by recounting a recent incident in the halls of Congress, featuring a group of protesters wearing “shirts that simply read ‘stay outraged,’ along with a matching assortment of signs and buttons that appeared to be professionally crafted from an established vendor, not purchased hastily from some ragtag print shop” (p. 2).  They were obviously embracing the posture of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who once tweeted:  “Never lose your sense of outrage,” relying on the fact that “the most effective political manipulation is achieved by raw emotion” (p. 2).   Rather than a thoughtful land of self-control and discussion, America has descended into an irrational culture of outrage which is “the latest threat to our American story” because of “the victimhood ideology that it elevates.  The threat is born of small beginnings, as big threats so often are.  It starts with toxic personal narratives wrapped in the cheap cloth of victimhood, always looking to an external culprit to blame for real or perceived injustices” (p. 221).  Instead,  Crenshaw insists we need something much better than unfettered emotions!  To him, a former Navy SEAL Lieutenant Commander who lost an eye on the battlefields of Afghanistan:  “Outrage is weakness.  It is the muting of rational thinking and the triumph of emotion.”  It’s not a virtue and “rarely is it productive, virtuous, or useful.  It is an emotion to overcome, not accept, and overcoming it requires mental strength. This book is about acquiring that necessary mental fortitude” (p. 4). 

Crenshaw’s “basic message is this:  If you’re losing your cool, you are losing.  If you are triggered, it is because you allowed someone else to dictate your emotional state.  If you are outraged, it is because you lack discipline and self-control.  These are personal defeats, not the fault of anyone else.  And each defeat shapes who you are as a person, and in the collective sense, who we are as a people.”  It is crucial that we Americans build “a society of iron-tough individuals who can think for themselves, take care of themselves, and recognize that a culture characterized by grit, discipline, and self-reliance is a culture that survives.  A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart.  It really is that simple, and it is a truly existential choice.  We must make that choice.  And it must be a choice to be more disciplined, mentally tougher, and convinced of the fact that we control our own destiny.  The next chapter of our American story depends on it” (p. 10).

To provide perspective Crenshaw tells us that as a child he wanted to be a SEAL and ultimately fulfilled his aspirations on the battlefields of Afghanistan, where he was seriously injured by an exploding roadside bomb.  The doctors thought he would lose sight in both eyes, but he believed (and prayed) that one of them would, with appropriate surgery, heal.   “Though I am not one for overt expressions of faith, I will say this:  I genuinely believe God’s strength was working through me then.  He was allowing me to believe something impossible.  I prayed, and my family prayed, and we believed. We believed that military surgeons would pick through a pierced and shrapnel-ridden eye, remove the most minuscule shards and debris, and restore my sight. We did not have good reason to believe it. But we did” (p. 25).  Choosing to be positive, to hope for the best, was something his parents taught him.  He knew he could embrace either hope or despair, and he realized that, as Aristotle taught, that “habit defines us.  Before we pursue our higher purpose, before we have quality of character, we have habit.  My habit was to never quit.  My habit was to avoid self-pity and believe in a better future, albeit with a bit less vision.”   Importantly:  “Those habits were forged by lessons from a dying mother; her grit, her humor, her grace.  They were shaped in lessons from a loving father who gave us a decent life and refused to be beaten by the loss of the woman he had planned to spend his life with” (p. 34).

The lessons learned at home were reinforced by his BUD/S SEAL training (“the most effective screening process in the United States Armed Forces”) and subsequent service.  Taking note of his best officers he saw that they were not necessarily the strongest or best shooters.  Indeed:  “The qualities that made SEAL leaders great were rarely physical in nature” (p. 46).  The legendary SEAL toughness turns out to be more mental than physical!  Above all, they were calm, self-controlled, thoughtful.  They also insisted everyone be responsible for himself and his team.  “It was why Commander Jocko Willink, one of my mentors in the teams, wrote an entire book about the subject called Extreme Ownership.  The premise of the book is quite simple:  Everything is your fault.  Be accountable.  Take ownership.  Take responsibility. From this responsibility you will find freedom” (148).  Do every job—even small tasks like making your bed—as duty demands.  “The mantra ‘If you are going to do it, you might as well be the best at it’ is repeated constantly.  We live by it” (p. 150).  SEAL officers encourage their men to follow the SLLS prescription:  Stop; Look; Listen; Smell.  Before charging into battle make sure everything’s right.  Stay still before acting.  Silently study and think before moving.  “Don’t overreact, don’t let your emotions drive your action, think before you act.  In other words, stop and count to ten.  Like your mom and dad taught you.  This is stillness in the Stoic sense” (p. 80).   

Following Crenshaw’s rehabilitation from his battlefield injuries, he studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, earning a master’s degree in Public Administration.  While there he encountered youngsters who were amazingly gifted and ambitious.  But few of them had a deep sense of duty—as was evident in their disregard for doing small things well.  “I was amazed by how few people actually showed up on time to class, for instance.  I was amazed how many people typed away on their laptops—sending iMessages, not taking notes—while the professor tried to lecture.  It struck me because it was so normalized in college culture.  This lack of politeness and lack of basic manners was the norm, not the exception.”   He “couldn’t help but think, ‘You are going straight into the job market after this.  Who on earth will hire you if you can’t show up on time?’” (p. 176).  Such youngsters would easily become “vocal members of the outrage mob” haunting the halls of Congress—or staging protests in the streets—because they had lived remarkably easy lives.  “Few places on earth are as sheltered, and accommodating, and insulated from adversity as an American college campus” (p. 193), which almost necessarily produces angry protesters and self-pitying victims.  

What these students lacked was anything resembling the SEALs’ Stoic ethos.  Reading the ancient Stoics (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca) provides SEALs such as Crenshaw a philosophical perspective that’s invaluable for a warrior—and for a congressmen countering the angry, “woke,” outrage culture shredding the nation’s fabric.   This gives Fortitude a depth one rarely encounters in politicians’ electioneering boilerplates!  Concluding his treatise with a thoughtful analysis of American history and contemporary culture, Crenshaw says:  “I told you before about the SEAL Ethos.  Perhaps we now need an American Ethos.  Perhaps it goes something like this:  I will not quit in the face of danger or pain or self-doubt;  I will not justify the easier path before me.  I decide that all my actions, not just some, matter.  Every small task is a contribution toward a higher purpose.  Every day is undertaken with a sense of duty to be better than I was yesterday, even in the smallest of ways.  I seek out hardship.  I do not run from pain but embrace it, because I derive strength from my suffering.  I confront the inevitable trials of life with a smile.  I plan to keep my head, to be still, when chaos overwhelms me.  I will tell the story of my failures and hardships as a victor, not a victim.  I will be grateful.  Millions who have gone before me have suffered too much, fought too hard, and been blessed with far too little, for me to squander this life.  So I won’t.  My purpose will be to uphold and protect the spirit of our great republic, knowing that the values we hold dear can be preserved only by a strong people.  I will do my part. I will live with Fortitude” (p. 244).  Would there were more of his kind in Congress!  Would there were millions of us who would join him!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church Dallas, provides us valuable insights for living with integrity in Courageous:  10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World (Grand Rapids:  Baker Publishing Group, c. 2020).  The book’s ten chapters are no doubt re-worked sermons, filled with biblical texts and illuminating examples, woven together to make a unified text.  Living in the increasingly anti-Christian “enemy-occupied territory” C.S. Lewis described, we need to cultivate important facets of courage.  

First:  “Don’t panic.”  Accept the fact that life is difficult, filled with trials and temptations, challenging in various ways.  When facing unexpected challenges, only a few of us take action—fight or flight; 80 percent freeze and fail to do anything.  But with God’s Grace we can, like Joshua, rise to the challenge and act wisely and well, for “The LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  We can own the words the LORD spoke to Joshua:  “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed” (Joshua 1:9).  Next:  “Gain Situational Awareness.”  Courage is neither rash nor cowardly.  It requires thoughtful assessment of what’s actually happening and how one should  react, learning to see and call things as they truly are, not as they wish them to be” (p. 44).  Embrace the example of the sons of Issachar “who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (I Chron 12:32).  Third:  “Take Inventory.”  Be sure you are well-prepared, equipped with the “full armor of God” described by Paul in Ephesians.  Fourth:  “Develop a Victor, Not a Victim Mindset.”  In Christ, we’re called to overcome, not succumb, to the wiles of the devil!  Fifth, “Trust Your Training.”  Virtues get stronger,  Aristotle insisted,  as good habits are cultivated.  Live out the lessons you learned in Bible studies.  Sixth:  “Bend, Don’t Break.”  Seventh:  Beware of Celebrating the Summit.”  Even in apparent victories remember the war is never over.  Eighth:  ‘Learn from the Past.”  Learning from history and Scripture will fortify your soul and provide invaluable guidance.  Ninth:  “Help Others.”  Be a Barnabas.  Even if we must risk our lives (or fortunes or reputation) we must sacrificially seek to protect and care for others.  And, Tenth:  “Do the Next Right Thing.”  In accord with an ancient precept:  do all the good you can, where you can, while you can.  

                  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Several years ago a Canadian psychologist, Jordan B. Peterson, became something of an internet sensation for speaking out against some of the politically-correct corruptions of the academic world.  He seemed to especially attract young men who were looking for a model of wisdom and strength.  In part this is because he is not a typical academic but a man who has worked with and understands the hard-working people he grew up with in Fairview, Alberta—very much a frontier settlement 400 miles distant from the nearest city.  Peterson set forth his central ideas in 12 Rules for Life:  An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto:  Random House Canada, c. 2018).  Though hewing to an agnostic secular perspective, routinely invoking Darwinian biology to explain both animal and human behavior, he nevertheless finds a wealth of insight in various religious traditions.  So much he says is compatible with Christian philosophy.  This is especially evident when he repeatedly deals seriously with the reality of Original Sin and our need of discipline.

He begins by explaining why he sets down “rules.”  As is evident in Exodus, God gave Ten Commandments, not Suggestions!  So too Peterson insists there are in fact given rules to follow if we are to avoid both the internal and external chaos of contemporary life.  As humans we simply need a “shared cultural system” that prescribes a code wherein some behaviors are accepted as true and valuable, prescribing goals worth celebrating and pursuing.  We are furthermore called to live rightly—“to shoulder the burden of Being and to take the heroic path.  We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world.  We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated” (p. 6).  So Peterson’s “12 Rules” prescribe ways to walk the straight and narrow way, avoiding soul-shrinking, soul-shredding chaos.  Therein one finds sufficient guidance to live the good life.  

“Rule 1:  STAND UP STRAIGHT WITH YOUR SHOULDERS BACK.”  He means this literally—attend to your posture!  Stand tall!  We’re  too often too easily defeated in life’s struggles, and when we cave in or lie down we slip into a dysfunctional state that easily begets depression and lethargy.  But if we do battle with the malevolent persons and powers we encounter we’ll become stronger.  Our nervous system will strengthen.  We’ll discover we’re braver than we feared.  We’ll discover we’re “not only a body” but “a spirit, so to speak— a psyche— as well.  Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically.  Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being” (p. 41).  It means accepting the “terrible responsibility of life” as an adult, “accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood,” and “willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language)” (p. 42).

“Rule 2:  TREAT YOURSELF LIKE SOMEONE YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HELPING.”  If you’re caring for a sick child you insist he follow the doctor’s prescriptions.  Ironically, adults are far less likely to follow the doctor’s orders for themselves!  If you’re a good parent you want your children to become independent, self-reliant persons, strong rather than safe.  But all too many adults fail to do so themselves!  If you’re a wise person you also recognize and respect the ancient, inescapable differences between men and women, clearly evident in men’s drive to establish order in their world—building houses and town, establishing hierarchies, serving as policemen and soldiers, risking their lives to defend what they hold precious.  So too:  “Order is God the Father, the eternal Judge, ledger-keeper and dispenser of rewards and punishments” (p. 54). 

“Rule 3:  MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO WANT THE BEST FOR YOU.”  After telling personal stories, showing why it’s important to terminate toxic friendships, Peterson insists endless loyalty to another person is never wise.  “Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement.  You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place.  Quite the opposite.  You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse.  It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you.  It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improved” (p. 105).

“Rule 4:  COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY, NOT TO WHO SOMEONE ELSE IS TODAY.”  No matter what you do there’s almost always someone better at it!  Rather than compare yourself with others seek to daily develop your own unique self in your own unique setting.  Ask yourself:  “‘What could I do, that I would do, to make Life a little better?’”  “Aim high.  Set your sights on the betterment of Being.  Align yourself, in your soul, with Truth and the Highest Good” (p. 136).  And that Highest Good, Peterson says, in found in the Bible and especially in the Sermon on the Mount! 

“Rule 5:  DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN DO ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU DISLIKE THEM.”  Rather than pamper and develop “a little God-Emperor of the Universe,” seek to shape him into an admirable adult.  Unfortunately, Peterson thinks, today’s parents want to be loved, fear their kids, and aspire to be their friends.  They’re simply following the poor advice doled out by the “adolescent ethos of the 1960s, a decade whose excesses led to a general denigration of adulthood, an unthinking disbelief in the existence of competent power, and the inability to distinguish between the chaos of immaturity and responsible freedom” (p. 148).  But children need guidance, correction, discipline—and only parents can do this well.  “It is an act of responsibility to discipline a child” (p. 153).  Echoes of the much-maligned James Dobson!

“Rule 6:  SET YOUR HOUSE IN PERFECT ORDER BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE THE WORLD.”  Start small.  Do what’s possible for you right now where you are—going to work, caring for your children, treating others rightly, taking responsibility for things you can personally control.  Stop fretting about—and scheming to remedy—the ills of the world.  “Rule 7:  PURSUE WHAT IS MEANINGFUL (NOT WHAT IS EXPEDIENT).”  Most folks do what’s pleasurable, choosing to focus on transient goods rather than permanent things.  But momentary sacrifices to gain long-term goals is the only way to live wisely.  Deferred gratification is the key to happiness.  “Rule 8:  TELL THE TRUTH— OR, AT LEAST, DON’T LIE.”  Talk straight to yourself and to others.  Your well-being, and the welfare of your world, depend upon it.  Lying is particularly the province of the ideologues so prominent in politics and media, and “oversimplification and falsification is particularly typical of ideologues.  They adopt a single axiom:  government is bad, immigration is bad, capitalism is bad, patriarchy is bad.  Then they filter and screen their experiences and insist ever more narrowly that everything can be explained by that axiom.  They believe, narcissistically, underneath all that bad theory, that the world could be put right, if only they held the controls” p. 258).    Truth-telling, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn found, is the only way to rests them.  

“Rule 9:  ASSUME THAT THE PERSON YOU ARE LISTENING TO MIGHT KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON’T.”  Have the humility to acknowledge your limits and forego trying to shape the world in accord with your personal notions.  Fresh, radical, novel, “creative” ideas—especially your own—are likely to be wrong!  Furthermore, know that thinking involves seriously listening to yourself!  “People think they think, but it’s not true.  It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking.  True thinking is rare— just like true listening.  Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult.” (p. 293).   “Rule 10:  BE PRECISE IN YOUR SPEECH.”  Words have meanings, so use them respectfully, thoughtfully.  There’s good reason for grammar, so learn to follow its prescriptions.  “Rule 11:  DO NOT BOTHER CHILDREN WHEN THEY ARE SKATEBOARDING.”  Kids (especially boys) need to take risks, to skirt with danger—it’s the best way for them to attain competence and maturity.  Let boys be boys—and resist every effort of the radical feminists to cram them into their skewed ideology.  (Peterson’s willingness to challenge feminist pieties is one reason he has such a large iTube male audience).  “Rule 12:  PET A CAT WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER ONE ON THE STREET.”  Find joy in the sheer goodness of creation.  Avoid the nihilistic impetus to despise and destroy the goodness in things.  

Summing up his central insights, Peterson says his studies led him to some “fundamental moral conclusions.  Aim up.  Pay attention.  Fix what you can fix.  Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge.  Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death.  Become aware of your own insufficiency— your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred.  Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world.  Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault.  Maybe it’s you.  You’ve failed to make the mark.  You’ve missed the target.  You’ve fallen short of the glory of God.  You’ve sinned.  And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world.  And, above all, don’t lie.  Don’t lie about anything, ever.  Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people” (p. 242).  Enough said!  So let’s shape up and live responsibly!  

334 SCOTUS Justices

Justices of the United States Supreme Court have wielded extraordinary power throughout the nation’s history.  Unlike presidents and prominent legislators, however, they frequently remain rather unknown to the general public.  But for anyone interested, there are some fine treatises giving us insight into the lives and personalities of the jurists.  Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice (appointed by President Ronald Reagan) set down her memories of life on the Arizona in Lazy B:  Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch the American Southwest (New York:  Random House, c. 2002; Kindle Edition).  She prefaced her work with a statement by Wallace Stegner:  “There is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest—there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is.”  And O’Connor obviously learned who she was by understanding the big country around her.  

This “big empty space” certainly helped shape O’Connor, giving her a strong, nature-based frontier ethic.  Growing up unchurched, she once asked her father why they didn’t  “ever go to church on Sunday?”   He responded:  “‘It’s too far to go to town.  Besides, most of the local preachers aren’t very good.’  “Do you believe in God?” [she asked]  ‘Yes, I do. I know some people question whether God exists and whether all those Bible stories are true.  I don’t know about the stories, but when you watch the world around us . . . and see the laws of nature work, you have to believe that some power beyond us has created the universe and has established the way nature works.  . . . . It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe.  And we are only specks in it. There is surely something—a God if you will—who created all of this. And we don’t have to go to church to appreciate it.  It is all around us. This is our church.” (p. 143).  So to the extent she had a moral compass, it came from the Natural Law and her parents’ frontier ethos.  

The Lazy B Ranch was located west of Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the “sparse, open high desert country south of the Gila River on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.”  It was land described by Kit Carson as “so desolate, desert, and God-forsaken that a wolf could not make a living on it” (p. 14).  It’s “high desert country—dry, windswept, clear, often cloudless” (p. 6).  “Water was scarce and hard to find.  Every drop counted.  We built catchment basins and dirt tanks to catch and store it.  We pumped it from underground.  We measured it and used it sparingly.  Life depended on it” (p. 7).  Her father said:  “‘Keep the grass healthy, keep adequate water reserves, take care of the land, and it will take care of us’” (p. 33).  Their cattle needed to graze on public lands (the “open range”), so the Lazy B Ranch controlled some 160,000 acres and measured “roughly 250 square miles, an area about 16 miles across and 15 miles long” (p. 19).  It enabled the Days to graze some 2,000 cattle.

The Lazy B “was the largest and most successful ranch in the region” due to the hard work of her  parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day.  They took up residence there in 1927, and they “thought there was no better life anyone could live than on the Lazy B.”  They lived there 50 years and had two children, including the first-born Sandra, who developed an especially strong bond with her father.  “As the first child, I was always the darling of my daddy’s eye.  . . . .  I loved the ranch and adored my father.  I loved [Mother] MO, too, but the bond between a little girl and her father is often something special.  How lucky I felt to be able to share as much of his life as I did!” (p. 96).  She also developed “a love for the land and for the way of life on the ranch that has stayed with me.  Spending hours each day at the dinner table discussing ranching, politics, or economics is a treat that many young people don’t experience” (p. 29). Sandra’s mother brought cultural refinement and a commitment to education in the family.  She taught Sandra to read at the age of four and provided a variety of magazines and books for her to devour.  “MO was a tidy package of good looks, competence, and charm.  She could fit in at a gathering of Arizona ranch wives or at an elegant party in Washington, D.C.  She was the only female role model we had,” and she “made a hard life look easy.  In a harsh environment where weather, the cowboys, and the animals were all unpredictable, she was unfailingly loving and kind.  She created an appealing and delightful life for her family all her days.  While some of the cowboys taught us that only the toughest survive, MO taught us that kindness and love can also produce survivors, and in a happy atmosphere” (p. 49).  

In addition to her family, O’Connor fondly remembered valuable ranch “hands,” a few of whom spent much of their lives as employees of the Lazy B.  “The cowboys did whatever  job was required.  They met the unexpected as though they’d known about it all along.  They never complained, and they made the best of everything along the way” (p. 124).  She devotes many pages to describing life on the ranch—round-ups, horses, routine tasks so essential for its operation.  Less happy memories include the growing federal government’s role in controlling the ranch, especially as environmentalists successfully pursued their agendas.  After her parents’ deaths, her brother Alan ran the ranch for a few years before selling it.  He and Sandra “worry about the future of the federal and state lands in the greater Southwest. We agree on one thing:  the land is better protected from destruction by off-road vehicles and people out for target shooting when it is occupied by responsible ranchers.” 

When it was time for her to go to school Sandra want to Redford School for Girls in El Paso, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother while attending classes.  She acquired a fine education and made life-long friends.  In due time she attended another El Paso school, Austin High School.  When she was 16 she enrolled at Stanford University, graduating with distinction and later attending its law school.  Graduating in 1952 she married a fellow law school classmate and soon began her legal career in Phoenix.  Thirty years later President Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court, something O’Connor found almost incredible.  “It did not seem possible that a ranch girl would grow up to serve on our nation’s highest court” (p. 199).   Concluding her account, O’Connor said:  “The power of the memories of life on the Lazy B is strong.   It surges through my mind and my heart often.  . . . . We know that our characters were shaped by our experiences there,” where the “value system we learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity.  What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order—the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences, and vehicles.  Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things work in the physical world.  Personal qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor were valued most. These qualities were evident in most of the people who lived and worked at the Lazy B through the years” (p. 315).

And these were the qualities that sustained O’Connor throughout her years, entitling her to our respect for her years of public service on the Supreme Court of the United States.  

                                                * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One of the finest autobiographies I’ve read is Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son:  A Memoir (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, c. 2007).  Looking back over his life, he says:  “All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and ‘play the hand that you’re dealt,’ as my grandfather so often said.  That’s what I did:  I did my best and hoped for the best, too often fearing that I was getting the worst.  In fact, though, I got everything I needed.  Much of it came from two people, my grandfather and grandmother, who gave me what I needed to endure and, eventually, to prosper” (p. x).  His grandparents were hardly famous or important to the world-at-large, but they meant everything to young Clarence.  

Reared for a few years by his mother (he almost never saw his father), Thomas was locked into  her poverty-stricken, dysfunctional world before her parents agreed to take care of Clarence and his brother.  Consequently:  “In every way that counts, I am my grandfather’s son.  I even called him ‘Daddy,’” and he was “determined to mold me in his image.  . . . .  He was the one hero in my life.  What I am is what he made me” (p. 2).  “Daddy” had a third-grade education and could barely read, but he had a strong work-ethic and determined to discipline his grandsons.  “‘The damn vacation is over,’ Daddy had told us on the morning we moved into his house.”  He declared that “while our mother had allowed us to come and go as we pleased, there would be ‘manners and behavior’ and ‘rules and regulations’ from now on” (p. 12).  That meant a great deal of hard work, which included helping Daddy deliver fuel oil when Clarence got out of school!  And at the age of 10 he was informed he was expected “to pull my load on the farm” (p. 23). 

“The family farm and our unheated oil truck became my most important classrooms, the schools in which Daddy passed on the wisdom he had acquired in the course of a long life as an ill-educated, modestly successful black man in the Deep South.  Despite the hardships he had faced, there was no bitterness or self-pity in his heart” (p. 26).   “He never praised us, just as he never hugged us” (p. 26).  In return, however, they “lived a life of luxury” compared to their early years, for they had a comfortable home with modern appliances,  plenty of food, and the security of knowing they were cared for.  As a child, Thomas often resented his grandfather’s severity.  But later in life he “came to appreciate what I had not understood as a child:  I had been raised by the greatest man I have ever known” (p. 28).

His grandfather had earlier joined the Roman Catholic Church, admiring her orderly rituals and disciplined clergy.  He also wanted a quality education for his grandsons and enrolled them in the Catholic grammar and high schools in Savannah, Georgia, where the nuns were “far more demanding” than the public school teachers.  Importantly, the nuns “taught us that God made all men equal, that blacks were inherently equal to whites, and that segregation was morally wrong” (p. 15).  Serving as an altar boy for mass, young Thomas contemplated becoming a priest and entered a Catholic seminary, where he studied hard and excelled in his course work.  Importantly, he profited from the discipline it afforded.  In time he decided to drop out of the seminary and go to college—a decision that precipitated an unexpected confrontation with his grandfather, who ordered him to leave home and survive on his own!  He left home in 1968 and easily slipped into an angry state, railing against various injustices in the country.  A friend of his introduced him to Marxism and Students for a Democratic Society, so when he went off to study at Holy Cross University in Massachusetts he was “an angry black man.”  Indeed:  “Racism had become the answer to all my questions, the trump card that won every argument” (p. 52).  He joined anti-war protests, chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” and endorsed all the then-hip radical causes.  But one morning, after risking his academic career attending a protest, he “stopped in front of the chapel and prayed for the first time in nearly two years.  I promised Almighty God that if He would purge my heart of anger, I would never hate again” (p. 60).  Soon thereafter he “began to suspect that Daddy had been right all along:  the only hope I had of changing the world was to change myself first” (p. 60).  

Thenceforth he studied ever more diligently, gaining entrance to the honors program at Holy Cross and then to Yale Law School.  He was also rethinking his worldview, doubting the efficacy of  the “affirmative action” policies that were bringing unqualified blacks into universities where they were bound to fail.  He began to critique the burgeoning welfare system’s impact  on African Americans.  Following graduation from Yale, he joined the staff of John Danforth, then serving as Missouri’s attorney general.  Thomas and his wife settled into Jefferson City, Missouri, finding acceptance and happiness in both his work and their social life.  Continuing to rethink his views on race, he found a helpful guide in Thomas Sowell, an erudite black economist.  When Danforth was elected to the United States Senate, Thomas soon followed him to Washington, D.C., and in 1980 he registered as a Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan!  “It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one.  I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens” (p. 130).  Now moving in Republican circles, he was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education and later chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He was turning more conservative, and as he took public stands at odds with the liberal agenda of journalists and civil rights leaders he suffered constant criticism and calumny.  “The only good things about these attacks was that they encouraged me to return to the faith that had sustained me in my youth” (p. 184).  He began praying and attending church, confessing that by “running away from God, I had thrown away the most important part of my grandparents’ legacy” (p. 184).  

When George W. Bush was elected President in 1988, he decided to nominate Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Once confirmed by the Senate in 1989, he found the position much to his liking.  The next year, when Justice Marshall retired, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace him on the Supreme Court.  While making the obligatory visits to senators on Capitol Hill the barrage of slanderous attacks in the media rendered his “once-cheerful home . . . a joyless hermit’s cell” (p. 225).  Having earlier witnessed the devious and dishonest way senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden had treated Robert Bork, Thomas braced himself for the barrage of abuse to come.  But he never imagined that one of the women he had helped in his prior positions would become “my most traitorous adversary” (p. 230).  That woman, of course was Anita Hill.

Appearing before the Judiciary Committee, Thomas encountered an agenda crafted by its chairman, Joe Biden.  Privately, Biden had seemed cordial and supportive, but in public it became clear that his “smooth, sincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk” (p. 236).  Capping his duplicity, Biden called Anita Hill to testify, and she made virulent allegations regarding his sexually-offensive behavior.  The media mob took her every word as gospel while disregarding Thomas’s explanations and defense.   Deeply wounded and frustrated by the process, Thomas finally erupted in a memorable verbal torrent:  “This is a circus.  It is a national disgrace.  And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you and you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree” (p. 271).  Members of the committee were clearly stunned.  Public opinion instantly shifted.  And Clarence Thomas would become a justice of the United States Supreme Court, joining Antonin Scalia in rendering consistently originalist opinions.  

Throughout those difficult days Thomas relied on his deepening Christian faith.  He was also given invaluable strength by his faithful wife and the enduring support (and times of prayer with) Senator Danforth.  And he finally found how wonderfully his Daddy had lived out the wisdom he desperate needed in those trying days.  My Grandfather’s Son is an illuminating autobiography, because it reveals how one’s spiritual life and gratitude for family make life ultimately good. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2019), Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severeno provide a detailed account of one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history.  President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.  Justice Kennedy had recommended six of his former clerks, including Kavanaugh, whom he considered simply “brilliant.”  Kavanaugh had served on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years, written some 300 opinions, and was widely applauded for his judicial acumen.  (By contrast, Obama appointee Elena Kagan “had no judicial opinions to her name” but was easily confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate).  Kavanaugh didn’t quite fit the anti-establishment profile Trump wanted, but he seemed to be a safe, “moderate” choice who could easily survive the confirmation process.  Adding to his judicial accomplishments, he regularly attended a Catholic church and had a sterling reputation as a devoted husband and father.  Qualifications, however, meant nothing to powerful Democrats and their militant (pro-abortion) supporters.  As soon as it was known Trump had named his nominee, “a large crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court in a protest organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP), funded by George Soros and founded by John Podesta, a close aide to Barack Obama and the Clintons.  As they waited to find out who it was, they chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho!  The patriarchy has got to go!’” (#1131).   Partisans of the “resistance,”  Senate Democrats had used every possible parliamentary procedure to delay every Trump cabinet nomination, and they were even more determined to frustrate his judicial nominees.  

When the Judiciary Committee scheduled the Kavanaugh hearing, “Democrats considered staging a mass walkout or not showing up.  Fearing that such an action might backfire, however, they came up with a different plan:  disruption” (#1620).  The committee room was packed, while representatives of the “NAACP and NARAL wore shirts of various colors and lined the walkways, forming a rainbow of protesters” (#1625).  Highly disciplined and meticulously scripted, disrupters in the room “shrieked and were arrested, a pattern that would continue throughout the hearings” (#1637).   As protesters (flown in from all parts of the country and funded by Planned Parenthood) were arrested and removed, their seats were immediately filled by others, waiting their time to interrupt the procedures.  The Democrat Senators disrupted in their own way.  As soon as Chairman Charles Grassley opened the hearing, Senator Kamala Harris interrupted him, demanding more time to examine the 42,000 just-released documents dealing with Kavanaugh’s judicial records.  “It took nearly an hour and a half, with dozens of interruptions, for Grassley to get through his ten-minute opening statement” (#1651).  “A major source of the hearings’ drama was political ambition.  Ever since Joe Biden’s grandstanding during the [1987] Bork hearings, senators have been powerfully tempted to exploit a perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee for public attention” (#1871).  So  Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar tried to outdo each other in posturing for the public at Kavanaugh’s expense.  

Then Diane Feinstein, defying procedural rules, released copies of a letter alleging Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a woman while they were in high school.  Kavanaugh couldn’t remember the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, since they’d attended different schools and moved in different social circles.  Importantly, those who’d known her insisted her “behavior in high school and college were dramatically at odds with her presentation in the media” (#2215).  On the other hand, eighty-seven women who had known Kavanaugh for many years held a press conference to make clear their support of him and validate his probity.  Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it plainly:  “‘The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be. There are some gaps there that need to be filled.’  Cornyn had simply stated the facts.  Those were enormous gaps in an accusation of sexual assault that was intended to keep one of the nation’s most distinguished judges off the Supreme Court.  But the media responded as if Cornyn were maliciously sowing doubt about an account that anyone of sound mind must regard as unimpeachable” (#2331).   With no concern for legal traditions, Senate Democrats and the media seized upon Ford’s words  as the capstone of their ferocious attacks on Kavanaugh.  “Normally, the burden of proof is on the accuser, but the media were not even paying lip service to that principle” (#2213).  

Hemingway and Severeno carefully document all the developments in this disgraceful episode, making it clear how maliciously Democrats and media sought to destroy a good man.  That Kavanaugh survived and hearings and was finally approved as a Supreme Court justice bears witness to his courage and the constant support of the president who nominated him. 

SCOTUS JUSTICES     

Justices of the United States Supreme Court have wielded extraordinary power throughout the nation’s history.  Unlike presidents and prominent legislators, however, they frequently remain rather unknown to the general public.  But for anyone interested, there are some fine treatises giving us insight into the lives and personalities of the jurists.  Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice (appointed by President Ronald Reagan) set down her memories of life on the Arizona in Lazy B:  Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch the American Southwest (New York:  Random House, c. 2002; Kindle Edition).  She prefaced her work with a statement by Wallace Stegner:  “There is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest—there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is.”  And O’Connor obviously learned who she was by understanding the big country around her.  

This “big empty space” certainly helped shape O’Connor, giving her a strong, nature-based frontier ethic.  Growing up unchurched, she once asked her father why they didn’t  “ever go to church on Sunday?”   He responded:  “‘It’s too far to go to town.  Besides, most of the local preachers aren’t very good.’  “Do you believe in God?” [she asked]  ‘Yes, I do. I know some people question whether God exists and whether all those Bible stories are true.  I don’t know about the stories, but when you watch the world around us . . . and see the laws of nature work, you have to believe that some power beyond us has created the universe and has established the way nature works.  . . . . It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe.  And we are only specks in it. There is surely something—a God if you will—who created all of this. And we don’t have to go to church to appreciate it.  It is all around us. This is our church.” (p. 143).  So to the extent she had a moral compass, it came from the Natural Law and her parents’ frontier ethos.  

The Lazy B Ranch was located west of Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the “sparse, open high desert country south of the Gila River on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.”  It was land described by Kit Carson as “so desolate, desert, and God-forsaken that a wolf could not make a living on it” (p. 14).  It’s “high desert country—dry, windswept, clear, often cloudless” (p. 6).  “Water was scarce and hard to find.  Every drop counted.  We built catchment basins and dirt tanks to catch and store it.  We pumped it from underground.  We measured it and used it sparingly.  Life depended on it” (p. 7).  Her father said:  “‘Keep the grass healthy, keep adequate water reserves, take care of the land, and it will take care of us’” (p. 33).  Their cattle needed to graze on public lands (the “open range”), so the Lazy B Ranch controlled some 160,000 acres and measured “roughly 250 square miles, an area about 16 miles across and 15 miles long” (p. 19).  It enabled the Days to graze some 2,000 cattle.

The Lazy B “was the largest and most successful ranch in the region” due to the hard work of her  parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day.  They took up residence there in 1927, and they “thought there was no better life anyone could live than on the Lazy B.”  They lived there 50 years and had two children, including the first-born Sandra, who developed an especially strong bond with her father.  “As the first child, I was always the darling of my daddy’s eye.  . . . .  I loved the ranch and adored my father.  I loved [Mother] MO, too, but the bond between a little girl and her father is often something special.  How lucky I felt to be able to share as much of his life as I did!” (p. 96).  She also developed “a love for the land and for the way of life on the ranch that has stayed with me.  Spending hours each day at the dinner table discussing ranching, politics, or economics is a treat that many young people don’t experience” (p. 29). Sandra’s mother brought cultural refinement and a commitment to education in the family.  She taught Sandra to read at the age of four and provided a variety of magazines and books for her to devour.  “MO was a tidy package of good looks, competence, and charm.  She could fit in at a gathering of Arizona ranch wives or at an elegant party in Washington, D.C.  She was the only female role model we had,” and she “made a hard life look easy.  In a harsh environment where weather, the cowboys, and the animals were all unpredictable, she was unfailingly loving and kind.  She created an appealing and delightful life for her family all her days.  While some of the cowboys taught us that only the toughest survive, MO taught us that kindness and love can also produce survivors, and in a happy atmosphere” (p. 49).  

In addition to her family, O’Connor fondly remembered valuable ranch “hands,” a few of whom spent much of their lives as employees of the Lazy B.  “The cowboys did whatever  job was required.  They met the unexpected as though they’d known about it all along.  They never complained, and they made the best of everything along the way” (p. 124).  She devotes many pages to describing life on the ranch—round-ups, horses, routine tasks so essential for its operation.  Less happy memories include the growing federal government’s role in controlling the ranch, especially as environmentalists successfully pursued their agendas.  After her parents’ deaths, her brother Alan ran the ranch for a few years before selling it.  He and Sandra “worry about the future of the federal and state lands in the greater Southwest. We agree on one thing:  the land is better protected from destruction by off-road vehicles and people out for target shooting when it is occupied by responsible ranchers.” 

When it was time for her to go to school Sandra want to Redford School for Girls in El Paso, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother while attending classes.  She acquired a fine education and made life-long friends.  In due time she attended another El Paso school, Austin High School.  When she was 16 she enrolled at Stanford University, graduating with distinction and later attending its law school.  Graduating in 1952 she married a fellow law school classmate and soon began her legal career in Phoenix.  Thirty years later President Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court, something O’Connor found almost incredible.  “It did not seem possible that a ranch girl would grow up to serve on our nation’s highest court” (p. 199).   Concluding her account, O’Connor said:  “The power of the memories of life on the Lazy B is strong.   It surges through my mind and my heart often.  . . . . We know that our characters were shaped by our experiences there,” where the “value system we learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity.  What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order—the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences, and vehicles.  Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things work in the physical world.  Personal qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor were valued most. These qualities were evident in most of the people who lived and worked at the Lazy B through the years” (p. 315).

And these were the qualities that sustained O’Connor throughout her years, entitling her to our respect for her years of public service on the Supreme Court of the United States.  

                                                * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One of the finest autobiographies I’ve read is Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son:  A Memoir (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, c. 2007).  Looking back over his life, he says:  “All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and ‘play the hand that you’re dealt,’ as my grandfather so often said.  That’s what I did:  I did my best and hoped for the best, too often fearing that I was getting the worst.  In fact, though, I got everything I needed.  Much of it came from two people, my grandfather and grandmother, who gave me what I needed to endure and, eventually, to prosper” (p. x).  His grandparents were hardly famous or important to the world-at-large, but they meant everything to young Clarence.  

Reared for a few years by his mother (he almost never saw his father), Thomas was locked into  her poverty-stricken, dysfunctional world before her parents agreed to take care of Clarence and his brother.  Consequently:  “In every way that counts, I am my grandfather’s son.  I even called him ‘Daddy,’” and he was “determined to mold me in his image.  . . . .  He was the one hero in my life.  What I am is what he made me” (p. 2).  “Daddy” had a third-grade education and could barely read, but he had a strong work-ethic and determined to discipline his grandsons.  “‘The damn vacation is over,’ Daddy had told us on the morning we moved into his house.”  He declared that “while our mother had allowed us to come and go as we pleased, there would be ‘manners and behavior’ and ‘rules and regulations’ from now on” (p. 12).  That meant a great deal of hard work, which included helping Daddy deliver fuel oil when Clarence got out of school!  And at the age of 10 he was informed he was expected “to pull my load on the farm” (p. 23). 

“The family farm and our unheated oil truck became my most important classrooms, the schools in which Daddy passed on the wisdom he had acquired in the course of a long life as an ill-educated, modestly successful black man in the Deep South.  Despite the hardships he had faced, there was no bitterness or self-pity in his heart” (p. 26).   “He never praised us, just as he never hugged us” (p. 26).  In return, however, they “lived a life of luxury” compared to their early years, for they had a comfortable home with modern appliances,  plenty of food, and the security of knowing they were cared for.  As a child, Thomas often resented his grandfather’s severity.  But later in life he “came to appreciate what I had not understood as a child:  I had been raised by the greatest man I have ever known” (p. 28).

His grandfather had earlier joined the Roman Catholic Church, admiring her orderly rituals and disciplined clergy.  He also wanted a quality education for his grandsons and enrolled them in the Catholic grammar and high schools in Savannah, Georgia, where the nuns were “far more demanding” than the public school teachers.  Importantly, the nuns “taught us that God made all men equal, that blacks were inherently equal to whites, and that segregation was morally wrong” (p. 15).  Serving as an altar boy for mass, young Thomas contemplated becoming a priest and entered a Catholic seminary, where he studied hard and excelled in his course work.  Importantly, he profited from the discipline it afforded.  In time he decided to drop out of the seminary and go to college—a decision that precipitated an unexpected confrontation with his grandfather, who ordered him to leave home and survive on his own!  He left home in 1968 and easily slipped into an angry state, railing against various injustices in the country.  A friend of his introduced him to Marxism and Students for a Democratic Society, so when he went off to study at Holy Cross University in Massachusetts he was “an angry black man.”  Indeed:  “Racism had become the answer to all my questions, the trump card that won every argument” (p. 52).  He joined anti-war protests, chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” and endorsed all the then-hip radical causes.  But one morning, after risking his academic career attending a protest, he “stopped in front of the chapel and prayed for the first time in nearly two years.  I promised Almighty God that if He would purge my heart of anger, I would never hate again” (p. 60).  Soon thereafter he “began to suspect that Daddy had been right all along:  the only hope I had of changing the world was to change myself first” (p. 60).  

Thenceforth he studied ever more diligently, gaining entrance to the honors program at Holy Cross and then to Yale Law School.  He was also rethinking his worldview, doubting the efficacy of  the “affirmative action” policies that were bringing unqualified blacks into universities where they were bound to fail.  He began to critique the burgeoning welfare system’s impact  on African Americans.  Following graduation from Yale, he joined the staff of John Danforth, then serving as Missouri’s attorney general.  Thomas and his wife settled into Jefferson City, Missouri, finding acceptance and happiness in both his work and their social life.  Continuing to rethink his views on race, he found a helpful guide in Thomas Sowell, an erudite black economist.  When Danforth was elected to the United States Senate, Thomas soon followed him to Washington, D.C., and in 1980 he registered as a Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan!  “It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one.  I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens” (p. 130).  Now moving in Republican circles, he was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education and later chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He was turning more conservative, and as he took public stands at odds with the liberal agenda of journalists and civil rights leaders he suffered constant criticism and calumny.  “The only good things about these attacks was that they encouraged me to return to the faith that had sustained me in my youth” (p. 184).  He began praying and attending church, confessing that by “running away from God, I had thrown away the most important part of my grandparents’ legacy” (p. 184).  

When George W. Bush was elected President in 1988, he decided to nominate Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Once confirmed by the Senate in 1989, he found the position much to his liking.  The next year, when Justice Marshall retired, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace him on the Supreme Court.  While making the obligatory visits to senators on Capitol Hill the barrage of slanderous attacks in the media rendered his “once-cheerful home . . . a joyless hermit’s cell” (p. 225).  Having earlier witnessed the devious and dishonest way senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden had treated Robert Bork, Thomas braced himself for the barrage of abuse to come.  But he never imagined that one of the women he had helped in his prior positions would become “my most traitorous adversary” (p. 230).  That woman, of course was Anita Hill.

Appearing before the Judiciary Committee, Thomas encountered an agenda crafted by its chairman, Joe Biden.  Privately, Biden had seemed cordial and supportive, but in public it became clear that his “smooth, sincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk” (p. 236).  Capping his duplicity, Biden called Anita Hill to testify, and she made virulent allegations regarding his sexually-offensive behavior.  The media mob took her every word as gospel while disregarding Thomas’s explanations and defense.   Deeply wounded and frustrated by the process, Thomas finally erupted in a memorable verbal torrent:  “This is a circus.  It is a national disgrace.  And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you and you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree” (p. 271).  Members of the committee were clearly stunned.  Public opinion instantly shifted.  And Clarence Thomas would become a justice of the United States Supreme Court, joining Antonin Scalia in rendering consistently originalist opinions.  

Throughout those difficult days Thomas relied on his deepening Christian faith.  He was also given invaluable strength by his faithful wife and the enduring support (and times of prayer with) Senator Danforth.  And he finally found how wonderfully his Daddy had lived out the wisdom he desperate needed in those trying days.  My Grandfather’s Son is an illuminating autobiography, because it reveals how one’s spiritual life and gratitude for family make life ultimately good. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2019), Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severeno provide a detailed account of one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history.  President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.  Justice Kennedy had recommended six of his former clerks, including Kavanaugh, whom he considered simply “brilliant.”  Kavanaugh had served on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years, written some 300 opinions, and was widely applauded for his judicial acumen.  (By contrast, Obama appointee Elena Kagan “had no judicial opinions to her name” but was easily confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate).  Kavanaugh didn’t quite fit the anti-establishment profile Trump wanted, but he seemed to be a safe, “moderate” choice who could easily survive the confirmation process.  Adding to his judicial accomplishments, he regularly attended a Catholic church and had a sterling reputation as a devoted husband and father.  Qualifications, however, meant nothing to powerful Democrats and their militant (pro-abortion) supporters.  As soon as it was known Trump had named his nominee, “a large crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court in a protest organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP), funded by George Soros and founded by John Podesta, a close aide to Barack Obama and the Clintons.  As they waited to find out who it was, they chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho!  The patriarchy has got to go!’” (#1131).   Partisans of the “resistance,”  Senate Democrats had used every possible parliamentary procedure to delay every Trump cabinet nomination, and they were even more determined to frustrate his judicial nominees.  

When the Judiciary Committee scheduled the Kavanaugh hearing, “Democrats considered staging a mass walkout or not showing up.  Fearing that such an action might backfire, however, they came up with a different plan:  disruption” (#1620).  The committee room was packed, while representatives of the “NAACP and NARAL wore shirts of various colors and lined the walkways, forming a rainbow of protesters” (#1625).  Highly disciplined and meticulously scripted, disrupters in the room “shrieked and were arrested, a pattern that would continue throughout the hearings” (#1637).   As protesters (flown in from all parts of the country and funded by Planned Parenthood) were arrested and removed, their seats were immediately filled by others, waiting their time to interrupt the procedures.  The Democrat Senators disrupted in their own way.  As soon as Chairman Charles Grassley opened the hearing, Senator Kamala Harris interrupted him, demanding more time to examine the 42,000 just-released documents dealing with Kavanaugh’s judicial records.  “It took nearly an hour and a half, with dozens of interruptions, for Grassley to get through his ten-minute opening statement” (#1651).  “A major source of the hearings’ drama was political ambition.  Ever since Joe Biden’s grandstanding during the [1987] Bork hearings, senators have been powerfully tempted to exploit a perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee for public attention” (#1871).  So  Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar tried to outdo each other in posturing for the public at Kavanaugh’s expense.  

Then Diane Feinstein, defying procedural rules, released copies of a letter alleging Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a woman while they were in high school.  Kavanaugh couldn’t remember the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, since they’d attended different schools and moved in different social circles.  Importantly, those who’d known her insisted her “behavior in high school and college were dramatically at odds with her presentation in the media” (#2215).  On the other hand, eighty-seven women who had known Kavanaugh for many years held a press conference to make clear their support of him and validate his probity.  Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it plainly:  “‘The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be. There are some gaps there that need to be filled.’  Cornyn had simply stated the facts.  Those were enormous gaps in an accusation of sexual assault that was intended to keep one of the nation’s most distinguished judges off the Supreme Court.  But the media responded as if Cornyn were maliciously sowing doubt about an account that anyone of sound mind must regard as unimpeachable” (#2331).   With no concern for legal traditions, Senate Democrats and the media seized upon Ford’s words  as the capstone of their ferocious attacks on Kavanaugh.  “Normally, the burden of proof is on the accuser, but the media were not even paying lip service to that principle” (#2213).  

Hemingway and Severeno carefully document all the developments in this disgraceful episode, making it clear how maliciously Democrats and media sought to destroy a good man.  That Kavanaugh survived and hearings and was finally approved as a Supreme Court justice bears witness to his courage and the constant support of the president who nominated him.