Thoughts on “Religion,” and How Not to Fix the World

Maxfield Parrish Humpty Dumpty, fall of man

Before the Great Fall

Does anyone like getting asked the question, “Are you religious?”

When asked this, does anyone ever enthusiastically answer, “YES!”

I only like getting asked that question because it gives me a chance to explain my faith.

One of my earliest insights as a young follower of Jesus was that Christianity is not about a religion; it’s about a relationship. In college I pretty much abandoned the use of the word “Christianity” altogether because it is so broad as to be practically meaningless and confusing.

This is not an uncommon way of thinking in evangelicalism. It is widely understood that our faith has primarily to do with the person of Jesus, not about some system of belief or ritualistic practice. At a minimum most would agree that a religion is not “the answer” to the world’s problems. Most would recognize that one can be scrupulously religiously observant and yet completely miss God. There is good and bad religious practice. I think most people would agree that there are bad religions in the world.

So it’s kinda weird to speak of “religion” in general as either good or bad.

You’ve probably heard evangelicals say,

“Religion is mans’ attempt to reach God, Christianity is God reaching down to man.”

Or “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

I’ve tended to argue that religion can serve as a positive cultural force, but I’ve tended to personally reject the observance of religious rituals, traditions, and practices as baggage. Yes, I pray regularly, but as a part of relationship with God – not as religious ritual. In the same way, I don’t consider talking with my wife to be a marriage ritual.

All in all, the word “religion” has been a pretty distasteful word to me for all of my life, even though, ironically, people who don’t know me well may tend to think of me as religious.

Hmmm…Maybe I don’t despise the word “religion” after all

I recently read some thoughts on the origin of the word “religion” that ring true to me.

…Etymologically, [religion] means something like tying back together – re-ligion:
re-ligamenting, re-ligaturing, finding the unifying reality behind disparate appearances, seeking oneness, integration, wholeness…

(Michael Ward, Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University)

This sounds right to me because, for better or for worse, all the religions of the world seem to be concerned with restoring unity to our broken world in some way. There seems to be a universal recognition that things are not as they should be in the human situation, and that the problem is separateness – division between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.

However, conflict arises between religions and ideologies because there are vastly differing opinions as to how to accomplish the restoration of unity in the world. Unfortunately, history shows us that human beings are vulnerable to the temptation to externally impose unity onto each other. Of course this doesn’t work, but apparently many ideologues feel there is no other option. Current examples include ISIS and the American left-wing Antifa.

The brilliance of spiritual rebirth

Among authority figures, Jesus is unique in His approach to unity and restoration in that He offers voluntary, internal change for the individual. He offers this in the form of spiritual rebirth:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3)

Here’s an apostle of Jesus pithily describing God’s plan for unity and restoration:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
(Eph 1:7-10)

This describes the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures taking merciful initiative on our behalf, and providing a means for us to be reconnected to Him first, and ultimately to each other and to all of heaven and nature. In the very next chapter Paul refers to this salvation as a gift from God – not something that can be earned. (Eph 2:8,9)

Isn’t this what we all want? We really should tell people about this.

(Original image by Maxfield Parrish, circa 1921. Modified by the author.)

 

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How Wounded People Have Shaped Culture

fatherless atheists, defective father hypothesis

Have you ever wondered about the personal histories of people who have influenced the world in negative ways – philosophically or politically? I have. I’ve harbored a long-held suspicion that influential people who have shaped the world for the worse have generally done so from a position of personal woundedness.

The point of the question is not to establish a reason to judge people or to create division. But I think it’s an interesting and significant question. If anything, establishing such a connection may help foster understanding.

It may also shed light on issues that we may assume to be intellectual issues but which may in fact originate with psychological issues rooted in personal history.

In my opinion it also underscores the importance of marriage, loving family, and the meeting of the relational needs of our fellow human beings.

I’ve finally gotten around to doing a little research, and what I’ve learned is fascinating. We know the names and contributions of world-shapers, but what is less well known is that the stories of those who’ve made a negative impact are very often deeply tragic.

Who is to Say What is “Negative”?
This is a fair question. Let me hasten to add a caveat here. I am unapologetically biased in my opinion about what constitutes a “negative influence” in the world. Justifying my opinion is probably a topic for a separate post. I recognize that some of you may consider what I see as a negative contribution to be a positive one. I also recognize that the contribution of many the folks mentioned below is mixed.

However, I don’t believe it matters. Regardless of what you think about a person’s contribution to the world, the facts of their personal history remain, and, I believe, shaped the course of their lives.

Following is a list of people who have shaped the world in the modern era; especially in the world of academia. There is overlap in these categories as most of these people are/were atheists.

Atheist thinkers
In a recent movie review I mentioned the connection between well known atheists and the “father wound.” Psychologist Paul Vitz has written a book on this connection entitled, Faith of the Fatherless, which I recommend. Here are arguably the most notable atheist names in history:

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Popularly known for his pronouncement, “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s father, to whom he was very attached, died just before his fifth birthday. After his father’s death he lived in a religious household consisting of his mother, sister, paternal grandmother, and two paternal aunts, until he went away to school at age 14.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Prominent British atheist philosopher and author, notably published a collection of essays entitled, Why I Am Not a Christian. From an aristocratic family, Russell’s mother died when he was two years old. His father died two years later. Russell was then raised by his paternal grandparents, Lord John Russell and Lady Russell. However, his grandfather died when he was six years old, leaving him to be raised by his puritanical grandmother and a succession of nannies.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Influential 20th century French atheist philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Sartre’s father died when he was 15 months old. He grew up very close and emotionally invested with his mother. When his mother remarried in Sartre’s 12th year, she moved into an apartment with her new husband, and Sartre stayed with his grandparents with whom he was not close.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
French atheist philosopher, author, and journalist. His father died in battle during World War 1 when Camus was 1 year old. Camus was raised by his mother, who was illiterate and cleaned houses for a living, and subsequently grew up in an economically depressed environment. In 1937 Camus was denounced as a Trotskyite and expelled from the French Communist Party, at which time he joined the French anarchist movement.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995)
Perhaps America’s best-known atheist before her death, she led the lawsuit to successfully ban prayer in public schools during the 1960s. According to her son, Madalyn hated her father and unsuccessfully attempted to kill him on at least one occasion. The reason for this intense hatred is not known

Richard Dawkins (1941- )
British “New Atheist,” evolutionary biologist, and author. A critic of all religion and especially Christianity, Dawkins is on record stating that the teaching of Christian doctrine to children is child abuse. He attended a religious boarding school at age 9 and experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his Latin master while separated from his parents.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
British “New Atheist,” journalist, and author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens grew up in an intact family and also went off the boarding school at age 8. His father was a naval officer and Hitchens claims to have “few clear memories of him,” referring to him as “the Commander.” He was close with his mother, who eventually had an affair with a former Anglican priest. The two lovers subsequently ended their lives together in a suicide pact.

Daniel Dennett (1942- )
American “New Atheist” philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist. Dennett’s father worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the US government. The family moved to Lebanon during World War 2. His father died in an unexplained plane crash while away on a Middle East mission when Dennett was 5 years old.

Political leaders
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
Leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and architect of the Soviet state. Third of six children in a happy family, when Lenin was 16 his father died of a brain hemorrhage. He renounced his belief in God soon thereafter. 5 months later his elder brother was hanged for his part in conspiring against the Tsar.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Soviet dictator, orchestrator of the Great Purge against political rivals, and perpetrator of the worst man-made famine in human history. The precise number is unknown, but by some estimates Stalin presided over the deaths of 20 million people. Originally trained for the priesthood, in his 30s Stalin rejected his family name (Djugashvili) and changed it to the Russian word for “man of steel.” Stalin had a very harsh upbringing. His father was an alcoholic and often severely beat him and his mother.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Communist leader and father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao presided over the Great Leap Forward of 1958 (the ensuing famine of which caused the deaths of some 30 million peasants,) and the Cultural Revolution of 1966 (which resulted in some million and a half deaths and destroyed much of China’s cultural heritage.) Mao reportedly hated his father, who was a tyrant and regularly and severely beat him and his three siblings.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945)
Leader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor and fuehrer of Germany, and initiator of World War 2. Hitler presided over the Nazi Holocaust during which 6 million Jews were executed – nearly two thirds of Continental Europe’s Jewish citizenry. Additional victims included communists, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political opponents. As a boy, Hitler’s father severely and regularly beat him; “every day” according to his sister. He was one of 6 children, 3 of whom died in infancy. As an 11 year old boy Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother, Edmund. Hitler’s antagonistic relationship with his father ended 3 years later when his father died unexpectedly. There was no father figure in his life after this.

Opinion shapers
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. While his father was not abusive, apparently Freud considered him to be a weak man and a disappointment; lacking in courage and unable to provide for his family. Furthermore, according to Paul Vitz, in two letters as an adult Freud writes that his father, Jacob, was “a sexual pervert and that Jacob’s own children suffered as a result.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
British naturalist and author of the vastly influential On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The pure naturalism of microbes-to-man evolutionary theory made materialism (atheism) an intellectually respectable option. Darwin’s mother died when he was 8. He was raised by his sisters until he went off to school at age 9. His relationship with his imposing father was ambivalent. He once wrote, “To my deep mortification my father once said to me, ‘you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’.”

Feminist leaders
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
American birth control activist, sex educator, author, nurse, and racist eugenics proponent. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the US and founded the American Birth Control League, which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger grew up in an impoverished home headed by an alcoholic father. She was the 6th of 11 children. Her mother went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, (including 7 miscarriages,) before dying at the age of 40.

Gloria Steinem (1934- )
American feminist, political activist, and journalist. Steinem was a leading figurehead for the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s and co-founder of Ms. Magazine. Perhaps her best known quote is, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” When Steinem was 10 years old her parents divorced and her father left, leaving her to care for her mentally ill mother.

Bella Abzug (1920-1998)
American feminist, lawyer, congressional representative, and social activist. Abzug was also a leading activist during the 60s and 70s. In her later life she became an influential leader at the United nations working to support womens’ equality around the world. Abzug’s father died when she was 13. She went to the synagogue every morning for a year to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer. This was in defiance of the orthodox synagogue’s tradition that only sons recite the prayer.

Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012)
American feminist thinker and author. Firestone is less well known than the others listed here but she was a central figure in the early development of radical feminism. Her book, The Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970, has continued to be influential in feminist thought, and is also considered to be an early “post-genderist” work. In the book she argues that it is the biological role of pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing that keeps women oppressed. She envisioned the abolition of the nuclear family with its oppressive parent-child relationship, and doing away with the maternal instinct. She envisioned artificial wombs, and collective child-rearing. Not surprisingly, Firestone’s relationship with her controlling, orthodox Jewish father was wildly antagonistic.

Summary
One would be justified in asking if fatherlessness was typical in past centuries, or if the family dynamic was dysfunctional for most people. Author Paul Vitz answers this question by providing a contrasting list of theistic thinkers and influencers. In virtually every case these theists were raised in nurturing, loving environments. When a parent was lost at an early age, relatives or friends stepped up as affirming father figures. Examples Vitz gives include Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It would be wrong to assume that all atheists today grew up with a dysfunctional parent relationship. Atheism has now become a mainstream and academically respectable option. However, I remain convinced that children have a God-ordained right to be nurtured by their married biological parents whenever possible. If you are a parent I hope these stories will strengthen your resolve to stay a loving course in your marriage and parenting.

Happy Father’s day to all the dads reading this! May you be a blessing to your children!

What I’ve Been Learning About “Father Wounds”

Married mom and dad best for children

I’ve been mildly obsessing over this topic for the past few months.

Recently I went to an intense and unusual men’s conference. There was almost no verbal teaching there. Instead it was very hands-on and experiential. That weekend I saw man after man experience emotional release around the issue of his relationship with his father. Some of these were mature Christian men who had been stuffing their feelings down for decades. Since then I feel I’ve been noticing the father wound issue everywhere, in friends, family, and strangers, and in seemingly every movie I see.

On the ride home from the conference, our carload of guys debriefed each other and compared our experiences for 12 hours. When I got home I wanted to learn more. I began meeting with all of my adult children to be sure I hadn’t wounded them as I had seen so many others wounded. I thought I’d share with you some encouraging thoughts that have come out of all of this.

First, it would be more correct to speak of “parent wounds,” because it’s not only dads that mark their children with unmet relational needs. But it is true that it is more often dads who are absent, whether physically or emotionally, from the lives of their children. However, I want to hasten to add here that the point of this post is to encourage you! Whether you are a parent, or whether you aspire to be one, I would like to hold up the following vision before you:

It is not unusual in Christian circles to think of children as a gift from God. In fact, the scriptures explicitly say this (Psalm 127:3-5.) I don’t know that Mollie and I would’ve had 5 children if not for believing this. However, I think it is also true to say that we as loving parents are a gift to our children. If this was too obvious to point out in earlier generations, I would suggest that is no longer the case. As a parent I hope that you can see yourself this way. If you fulfill your parenting role well, your children will certainly grow up to see you as among the greatest of their earthly gifts. More importantly, they will have a much better chance of entering adult life without the emotional baggage that weighs so many people down.

What a parent wound is and is not
As I’ve talked with other dads about this, I’ve sometimes sensed some uneasiness around the topic. Perhaps this is because we are all aware that none of us are perfect parents. We all know it is inevitable that we will let down or hurt our children. But when I speak of parent wounds I am not referring to the occasional mistakes that we all make. Parenting well is not about being flawless. Furthermore, sometimes we’ll intentionally need to make decisions that will disappoint our children. But our children can understand and forgive these hurts if they occur within an overall context of love and affirmation in our family culture.

Rather, when I speak of parent wounds I’m referring to wounds that occur as a result of a regular pattern of deprivation; the withholding of good, healthy, emotionally rich relational expression from parents. If parents do not give their children a secure sense of being loved, accepted, and valued, those children will very likely seek these things elsewhere in a variety of unhealthy ways.

Since we all do make mistakes, humility is an essential part of loving, in both marriage and parenting. A parent who will admit a wrong to a child, and ask forgiveness from that child, is an amazing role model! Apparently there are a lot of people in the world who have never heard the words, “I was wrong” from a parent.

What was your “normal” as you were growing up?
To a great extent, much of family culture seems to be passed down, for better or for worse. For obvious reasons, we tend to repeat what was normal in the home in which we were raised. Think of your own upbringing. If you had a parent who rarely or never verbally expressed his or her love to you, it is likely that parent grew up in a home where love was never verbally expressed. For such a parent, verbally expressing love may feel awkward, forced, or perhaps unnecessary.

Realizing this can help us break the cycle of deprivation with our own children. We can learn from our own parents either way – whether their example was great or poor. Rather than conforming to a poor example, we can commit to be conformed to the image of God in our parenting. I would like to think that parents who are followers of Jesus would naturally excel at creating a family culture of love and acceptance, but unfortunately, dysfunctional patterns from our upbringings can easily assert themselves if we don’t keep our heads in the game.

It IS possible to do this well!
I recently finished a book by PhD psychologist, John Trent, and Gary Smalley entitled, The Blessing. It’s not a new book but I think the message is timeless. The authors contend that children naturally look to their parents to confer a blessing on their lives. If this blessing is withheld for whatever reason, those children will almost certainly feel a deficit in their being, and may spend a lifetime seeking to compensate for what they feel they never received from their parents. Trent and Smalley describe the parental blessing as consisting of 5 parts:

  • Meaningful and appropriate touch
  • A spoken message (because silence creates uncertainty)
  • Attaching high value to the one being blessed
  • Picturing a special future for him or her
  • An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

Do these things resonate with you as they did for me? If not, imagine withholding one of these things from your child. Think of your own upbringing. Can you think of ways that your parents expressed these things to you? My parents were better at some of these than others, but I can clearly remember feeling, for example, their “active commitment,” not only to me but also to my three siblings. One of the ways they did this was by attending our events and involving themselves in the things we enjoyed.

My daily reminder
Over the years when our kids were still young, Mollie and I attended several parenting conference with our church. During one of them in particular, I consciously chose to take home a practical suggestion from one of the speakers. He said,

“Every day, give each of your children a loving look, a loving touch, and a loving word.”

I figured even if I only managed to do this once a week for each kid, the cumulative effect would be very great. So I wrote out a small reminder in abbreviated form and kept it on my nightstand where I would see it. It’s been there now for years. I felt a little sheepish that I needed a written reminder to express love to my kids, but I know I am prone to getting busy and forgetting things. I wrote it in abbreviated form because I was afraid one of them might wander into our bedroom someday and see my reminder, and feel like my expressions of love were items on a “to do” list and not from my heart. I still have my note, now a bit worn:

reminder to love every day

Do whatever it takes to remember. I wish you all the best in creating a rich culture of life and love for your kids! You can do this as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or caregiver as well.

I can testify to the power of parental blessing. My dad was an “uneducated” construction worker, while I was a skinny, weird, sensitive little artist kid. My mom was only schooled as far as the eighth grade and never even learned how to drive. I doubt if my parents ever read a parenting book. Nonetheless, they created a home environment that met my and my siblings’ relational needs as small human beings created in God’s Image. That truly is a profound gift.

Soon I’ll share some research on how wounded people have shaped our culture.

If may offer a postscript that might appear to be just a wee bit self-serving, reading storybooks to your kids every day is an enjoyable way to cover at least 3 of the 5 aspects of blessing our kids.
(They don’t even have to be my books!)

You Should See This Movie…

Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel

I was pleasantly surprised recently when I went to see The Case for Christ. Grab your spouse or a friend and see it while it’s still in theaters.

As an artist who is also a follower of Jesus, I guess I’m supposed to be a movie snob, especially when it comes to “Christian movies.” I think I’m not supposed to publicly admit that I loved this movie. But I did.

The movie tells the story of atheist Lee Strobel coming to faith in Jesus. (Whoopsie. I guess I just gave away the ending. That’s part of why I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. I expected another predictable Christian film.)

But you know what? I knew how my dinnertime was going to end last night but I’m still really glad I sat down at the table.

The movie highlighted the Strobel family’s journey to faith, and the relational tension that ensued during the process. That story was believable, well-written, and well-acted. It felt like a love story to me, full of characters that I was moved to care about.

Some Things I Liked
Maybe it was just me, but the movie touched on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’ve been dialoguing with some atheists for several months, and the portrayal of the atheists in the film felt familiar to me. I liked that the atheist Strobel wasn’t made out to be an evil character. He deeply loved his wife and was a great dad. He had a strong moral compass and sense of justice.

I’ve been doing some reading about brain science and social psychology. I’m fascinated with how and why people change their opinions when confronted with information that challenges their worldview. (Or how they don’t, as is usually the case.) It was fascinating to watch one person’s process, knowing that it was a true story.

A big surprise was a direct reference to the “father wound” issue. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this issue for several months, and I’ve come to think that it’s widespread and profoundly important. In the near future I’ll post more on this topic specifically.

Also, an important truism for me is that biblical faith is evidential. This idea directly contradicts what “New Atheism” preaches – that faith is “belief despite the evidence.” The “New Atheists” are demonstrably wrong about what the Bible says about faith. It was nice to see a correct perspective on the screen.

Finally, on an incidental note, The Case for Christ is not a white Christian film. The story takes place in Chicago and several black characters figure prominently in the journey. We see blacks and whites working, attending church, and doing life together. This isn’t talked about; it’s just assumed, as it should be.

I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids, but very small children might be bored with it just because it’s an adult conversation. At any rate, I say “two thumbs up”!

Speaking of kids, it you haven’t already done so, please sign up on my email list at my kids’ storybook website, RIGHT HERE!

Excerpts: Dialogue Between a Trump Voter & Distraught Progressives

disagreeing respectfully
As promised in an earlier post, below are excerpts from an online dialogue I initiated after the Trump election of 2016. I joined a liberal, “safe persons” discussion group, not to gloat or be a troll, but to help foster understanding.

The possibility of mutual understanding now seems almost hopeless to me. From this discussion I learned that much of the left actually believes that half the country really is hateful and immoral, or at least does not care about oppressed people. This discussion was 3 weeks after the election, and many of these people were truly hurting, depressed, and afraid. This Instagram post sums up their reasoning more concisely than anything else I’ve read:

T Madoff anti-Trump rant

Instagram post by Tanya Madoff

On the bright side, this discussion gave me hope that some people can be brought to a place of seeing a different perspective. It was not easy. It required overlooking a lot of insults and condescension; a small price to pay in my opinion. My aim was not to convert people or to justify myself, but to simply enable “progressive” people to see outside of their own frame of reference.

The discussion was quite lengthy. I’ve tried to keep only the meatiest parts. If you’re here to see mud-slinging and insults you’re at the wrong place. I see this as an attempt at a respectful discussion between caring, intelligent people.

THE DISCUSSION (My comments in bold)

I began with this comment, in response to a group member who authored and posted an article in Forbes. Here I asked the admins if they thought it would be helpful for me to post my why-I-voted-for-Trump blog. No one thought it would be helpful:

ME: It is very helpful for me, a “religious conservative” to hear about the deep, negative, emotional impact that this election has had on others.

It is helpful to me because I had been misreading the motives of the left, (at least the rank and file left,) for the past 8 years. I confess that I suspected that the progressive campaign to label everyone who disagreed with progressives as “hateful,” “bigoted,” “anti-gay,” “racist,” and “anti-woman” was simply a political ploy to get religious conservatives to shut-up and leave the public square. In other words, I didn’t think liberals/progressives actually believed that half the country was morally clueless. Now I see that many people actually do believe this.

I would be depressed too if I believed this. I want to take care that I do not attempt to invalidate the feelings of those who are hurting. I see and understand that the feelings are real. At the same time, is it fair to assess the beliefs behind the feelings? Would it be helpful to offer evidence that half of American voters are not KKK-supporting misogynists?

I don’t see how comfort and healing are possible if the only possible comfort is political agreement with those who are hurting. I believe the solution for America is a return to pluralism within the constraints of constitutional government. Within those constraints I believe we can at least trust each others motives, even if we respectfully disagree on public policy.

This quote from the above article breaks my heart:

“I cried for a long time because I got hit hard with the realization that so many people would choose a man who is hateful, anti-Constitution and wholly unfit to head, just to keep a woman from being in charge,..”

Not only am I saddened that she apparently actually believes this, but that her feelings are based on something that is so far from the truth.

If it would help to foster understanding, I would be happy to post my blog post wherein I explained why I felt like I had to do the unthinkable and vote “for” Trump.
Admins? Would this be helpful?

Here is one of the “no” replies that was well stated:

PAMELA: No, echoing Annie, it would not be helpful for this simple reason: those who chose to vote for DJT either (a) didn’t care about what he said about nearly every group in society other than straight white men or (b) decided he wasn’t actually serious and something else was more important than acknowledging others’ basic humanity. This is why it hurts so deep, to me, and why it still does, three weeks later. As someone else put it: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

The distrust was so deep that someone accused me of going ahead and linking my blog post against the wishes of the admins, when in reality the link was to the Forbes article to which I was referring. One woman was fair minded enough to point this out:

ELYSIA: I think it is fair to point out that the link on the post above is not to his blog, but to the article he referenced as being helpful for understanding others’ emotions. But Scott, I think the feedback you received on the other group was accurate. Don’t expect to convince people here that your vote was justified.

ME: Elysia – Thank you for clarifying what I linked.

While I don’t believe the dichotomies that were set up in the feedback from the other group are accurate, I understand why people would feel the way they do. But I do agree with you in that I don’t expect to convince anyone here that my vote was justified. It remains to be seen if even I believe my vote was justified. I have not been trying to justify myself here. My hope was to simply foster understanding. I thought it might be some small comfort for people to be able to understand how, for many, voting for Trump had nothing to do with hate, bigotry, etc; that the picture is not as dark as it seems. But I see now that this would not answer their concerns. I asked a question. The answer is no. I accept that.

Following is a reply from a progressive PhD student and adjunct professor at a Presbyterian theological seminary:

MIKE: Well, you’re half-way there. It’s nice of you to finally accept that people’s beliefs and fears are actually genuine and not just a “political ploy.” Now you just have to just take the additional step of accepting that their fears and moral judgments are based on legitimate concerns and not just “based on something that is so far from the truth.” Because right now, by trying to tell people that their fears are not based in reality, you are basically engaged in gaslighting.

The reality is that people’s fears and moral judgments about people who voted for Trump are based on the ACTUAL things that he and his supporters have said. Actual policies, actual words, actual intentions. These actual things are what we are afraid of. These actual things are what we are judging to be morally reprehensible (“clueless” is way too soft to cover the things being advocated). Yes, we are saying that if one supports such things, one is acting immorally.

Now maybe you don’t support those things personally. Maybe, as you say, you and millions of others Trump voters supported him for other reasons *in spite of* these other immoral things. But even if that is the case, your vote still indicates that those other things did not seem bad enough to you to be deal breakers. And, like it or not, THAT is what we are still judging to be immoral, and THAT is why we are still afraid of you.

ME: Mike – Thank you for your critique. If I may, I’d like to clarify a couple of points here as I feel you’re misreading what I’ve said.

Please note that I never said I believed people’s “beliefs and fears” were a political ploy. I said that I had believed that the tactic of publicly shaming/labeling anyone who disagreed with progressives was a political ploy. I still believe it was and is for many activists – clearly they see this as a way to shape public opinion, (not a very good or effective way, in my opinion.) What is different is that I now see that many people really believe that those who disagree with them must be doing so out of hatred, bigotry, etc.

Secondly, believe me, I grasp your point about Trump’s “actual” reckless and divisive comments. I can’t defend Trump’s character. I think he’s a horrible presidential candidate and a jerk. My comment about the woman-in-question’s feelings being “based on something so far from the truth” was addressing her specific comment. She is “terrified,” and suffering panic attacks and crying fits because she assumes people voted for Trump “just to keep a woman from being in charge.” That’s wildly incorrect, and it’s not gaslighting to say so.

I’ll respond to your point about moral judgment to the group because I think it eloquently addresses the concerns of the entire group.

I’ll post that response next, but first I want to briefly post an exchange with a self-described queer woman. She shared her experience at length. She was well educated, articulate, polite, and obviously hurting. It was no joke. I think these few sentences sum up the heart of what she shared:

ERIN: … Sir. Your belief that the sincere beliefs and advocacy from people like me was all an attempt to silence you is… honestly, just painful for me to hear. It is painful for me because it mirrors the responses I have heard from my own family about my future in this country. It is painful because it says that you hear the genuine fears of Americans and assume that we are lying when we ask to be protected and welcomed here… Sir, I am heartbroken. I don’t want to listen to you justify yourself now…You are not helping me by justifying yourself. You are not listening to me or to my fears. You are helping me still less by insisting that you were okay, you really respect me,..

I felt there was no appropriate response to this except to acknowledge her pain, to validate her feelings, and to quietly leave. Though she misrepresents my stated beliefs, and even though those misunderstandings are causing her pain, a mere online discussion would not help her at this time…

ME: Erin – Thank you for taking time to explain your story. It is good for me to hear you, and your words do make an impact on me. I cannot wave off your concerns and I see that they touch you at the deepest level. I don’t feel free to dialogue with you since you say you can’t listen to me right now. I accept that and I wish you all the best.

This was followed by yet another exhortation urging me to listen. I feel we can all learn from this. We have to stop talking past each other. We do need to listen to each other. I joined the group in hopes of being understood. These people were open to me listening to and understanding them, so that’s where I started.

ANNIE: Scott, I dearly hope you are listening. The people posting on this thread are pouring out from their pain and working hard to craft the words they share.

ME: I am listening. If I may reply to what I’ve heard, Amber, Erin, Marie, and Mike have all articulated a similar argument that I believe gets at the crux of the issue that is causing so much fear and pain.

Mike stated that even if a Trump-voter doesn’t support Trump’s actual policies/words/intentions, a Trump vote “…still indicates that those other things did not seem bad enough to you to be deal breakers… THAT is what we are still judging to be immoral…”

Amber linked a perfectly articulated, concise summary of this idea. [The Instagram shot I posted above.]

Erin asserts that “This is not a case of there being two equal sides with equal concerns and fears… (My) “two sides not communicating” concept is wrong because it assumes that the fears of the two Americas have equal basis and grounds.

Marie points out what love is not, and ends with, “…we’ve learned that “respectfully disagreeing” is often code for “not wanting to listen, because then I might agree.”

My concern, and the reason I joined this group, is that I am deeply concerned over how divided the nation has become. My hope is that this group can accomplish something unique in this climate. (Yes, I recognize that I am an outsider, and I don’t expect people to warm up to my beliefs.) When I look down the road, I see two options:

1) A permanently divided, polarized nation, wherein the pendulum continues to swing back and fourth every 4 or 8 years. The pendulum increasingly becomes a wrecking ball as the party in power seeks to force its agenda onto the people, only to have its “gains” undone when power shifts parties. Anger, bitterness, and resentment continue to grow, as one group in power seeks to marginalize the other. I think this option sucks. Force does not change hearts. Totalitarianism always creates an underground.

2) A free, pluralistic society wherein competing ideas respectfully coexist and compete in a free marketplace of ideas, within the constraints of constitutional government. I contend that the US Declaration and Constitution answer all basic questions about American governance, and we should leave the rest to pluralism and freedom. Any legislation must constitutionally address the legitimate concerns of ALL sides or else there will always be backlash. Addressing Erin’s assertion in the current debate, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism are NOT legitimate concerns. I agree with her in this. However, both equal treatment under the law, and religious liberty ARE legitimate, explicitly stated constitutional concerns. If we cannot all agree on this then our situation truly is hopeless.

Hearts are not changed by attempting to force ideology onto people, either by governmental means, marketing, or by shaming/labeling/judging. There must be freedom to dissent. There must be the right of legal conscientious objection. At the risk of triggering some, I have to point out that the current [Obama] administration has been unbending in its refusal to allow dissent regarding its new policies around social issues. Hillary promised to continue the same strategy. (Examples provided upon request.) This overrides virtually every other concern to me, because if we get constitutional government – freedom, pluralism, and conscientious objection – then every citizen gets a voice and a safer America..

Many here seem to be appalled and offended that I saw the hate-shaming, labeling, and name-calling from the left over the past 8 years (well before Trump entered the picture) as a political ploy. Yet the left has widely assumed that religious liberty concerns are simply a political ploy and a cover for bigotry. I would be surprised if anyone here finds this widespread assumption to be appalling.

I don’t have a problem with the moral superiority of the left. I would hope that we all live according to a morality that we consider to be the most sound. What I have a serious problem with is using the irresistible force of government to force an ideology onto an unwilling population, and refusing to allow conscientious objection. It hasn’t worked, obviously. Apparently close to half of American voters, if forced to choose, would choose an unqualified asshole over a skilled totalitarian politician.

I am listening, but since this is a discussion group, I would suggest that I am not the only one here who needs to listen.

The power of a preconception is very strong. My favorite person in the group took THREE TRIES before she finally understood my point. She is the best at conflict resolution in the group. Here is where she gets it:

ELYSIA: Thanks, Scott. I’m still having a hard time understanding. I’ve reread the first comment, and know somehow you are tying this into constitutionality and legislation, but I’m still unclear. Might this be a workable paraphrase : “Racism, bigotry, xenophobia and sexism are troubling, but if we try and legislate them there will be a backlash, so we shouldn’t. Likewise, we shouldn’t legislate religion.” ? Additional correction/clarification welcomed.

ME: No, I’m simply saying that
1) both sides need to hear and understand each other, rather than trying to “hit back harder,” because
2) both sides have legitimate moral, constitutional concerns.
3) bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are not conservative values. They are not morally and constitutionally “legitimate concerns.” The legitimate concerns of which I am speaking from the conservative side are 1st amendment concerns. Yet my position is continually portrayed as a political ploy to enable bigotry and hate. I refuse to wear that label because it’s no more true for me than it is for you.

Thank you for bothering to attempt to understand. The practice of offering a paraphrase, and asking if it works is a great way to create mutual understanding. You are a shining example.

ELYSIA: OH!!!!! Seeing your recent reply to Annie, I think you are saying “Being racist, xenophobic, or misogynistic is not legitimate.” But, whew! I sure wasn’t hearing that. Thanks for being patient with me.

With respect to the items outlined in this most recent comment:
1) I agree
2) sure
3) I know they aren’t codified as conservative values. I fear they are positions shared by far too much of the population, irrespective of political affiliation, and ignored by many more. And (as I imagine you’ve realized in this group) plenty of people feel like ignoring is tantamount to supporting. Having a president-elect who makes statements that align with these “values” sullies the water for all conservatives, whether fair or not…

We’re all flawed. And we all have fingers to point. And somehow we’ve got to find a way to work through all this muck anyhow, so we can be better neighbors, friends, allies, and people.

ME: Agreed. I would suggest that it needn’t even necessarily be about finger pointing. We may simply have differing worldviews from which our beliefs and actions flow. I submit that the way that we live together is to promote pluralism and freedom within the constraints of the Constitution. This precludes the government, regardless of party, from imposing an ideology or religious belief onto the population. I think that anyone, from either side, who goes with “wrecking ball option #1” (above) may find themselves getting unexpectedly bit in the butt eventually by an intrusive government as mores continue to change.

Bigotry, judgmentalism, and discrimination are not tendencies that belong to conservatism alone. They are universal human tendencies that exist wherever deeply felt opinions exist. For those who don’t believe that, here are 3 examples:

[For brevity I’ve edited out the descriptions, but my three examples of judgmentalism and discrimination were: 1) “new atheist” Sam Harris, 2) a conflict between the trans community and radical feminism, and 3) the Obergefell decision.]

My point is that this not a simple liberal vs conservative debate. I can easily live with and value people who disagree with me, or who are different from me. The conflict comes when people attempt to force me to participate in their political ideology or religion.

After this the discussion ended. Thanks for enduring an unusually long post. I hope it was worth your time! I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

talking into can

 

President Trump & the Worst Thing That Could Happen Now

divided-america-blg

I stand amazed at the American political system.

In the bizarre, 2016 Trump/Clinton election it would appear that the people have spoken in ways that few predicted. Even though, as always, the voters are split nearly 50/50. If you are a liberal reading this, please bear with me as I hope to find common ground with you.

I hopefully believe that what we saw is not “whitelash.” Nor is it a “pro-Trump” movement. Nor is it “a resurgence of bigotry and hatred,” as so many fear.

Rather, I think we have reason to hope that what we saw is the people voting for freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and constitutional government in general. Despite serious questions around Trump’s temperament, voters nonetheless voted down the epitome of a connected, politically entrenched ideologue in favor of a political outsider.

It is also probable that people who are not ideological racists are tired of being called racists. People who are opposed to illegal immigration are tired of being called xenophobes. People who don’t hate gay people are tired of being called anti-gay. People who think the jury is still out on transgender issues are tired of being called bigots. People who are concerned about radical Islamic terror are tired of being called anti-Islamic. People who uphold the sanctity of innocent human life are tired of being called anti-woman. Caring people who hold a biblical worldview are tired of being called hateful.

Each of these issues deeply affect what American culture will be. There needs to be free discussion around these issues. There needs to be deep thought and the airing of opposing viewpoints. Remember how everyone was amazed at how quickly public opinion changed on gay marriage? Well, just maybe a lot of people simply shut down in the toxic environment because they didn’t want to be viewed as hateful and anti-gay. Maybe they felt it wasn’t worth getting on somebody’s poop list, or risking a lawsuit, or losing their job over. But that’s not change of heart.

Maybe they voted for freedom of religion and expression for everyone rather than for a creeping, Orwellian totalitarianism, complete with thought police.

Coming on the heels of eight years of an administration and its supporters attempting to impose political ideology onto the country from the top down, half the voters chose a political outsider over another 4 years of continued labeling, shaming, psychological manipulation, indoctrination, and forced participation.

Remember these labels?
Holier-than-thou
judgmental
self-righteous
imposers one’s morality on others
censor

Within my own lifetime in the not so distant past, these labels were always associated with “religious people.” Remember how the mention of one of these labels would call to mind “religious fundamentalists”? Remember how everyone hated these attitudes when religious people practiced them? Remember how the left framed these labels to be synonymous with Christianity? I do.

Well, it turns out that these labels are not exclusive to religious people. It turns out these things are simply attitudes that all human beings are prone to adopt whenever they feel strongly that they are right, religious or non-religious, right or left. It’s always arrogant, no matter which side does it. Today, the shoe is on the other foot. I have become fond of pointing out in online discussion that, just because it’s liberal bigotry does not make it good bigotry.

I remember reading a comment years ago from a conservative writer. I no longer remember who said it, but I remember hoping it wasn’t true. It was something like this:

“Pluralism is never an end in itself. Pluralism is a transitional strategy employed by the less powerful faction until power shifts from one orthodoxy to another.”

I’ve always remembered that, and wondered if I would live to see if it were true. The past eight years have suggested that it is. As a young conservative adult attending a very “progressive” art college, I was frequently reminded that liberals were the champions of open-mindedness, free speech, tolerance, and anti-censorship. But now, having believed they have the truth, majority support, and power on their side, the progressive movement has become every bit as censorious, judgmental, self-righteous, and holier-than-thou as any fire and brimstone TV evangelist. The difference is that, unlike TV evangelists, progressives attempt to promote their agenda using the power of the state.

That is an enormous difference. After all, one can ignore a TV evangelist.

What we’ve seen for the past eight years is the smug arrogance of liberal politics in action. Over the past eight years the Obama administration has gone around the U.S. Constitution and around the will of the people in order to enact public policy. It did this because voters would not have willingly approved Obamacare and gay marriage. But even worse, not only did the administration go around the people, it stubbornly refused to allow conscientious objection to these liberal policies.

The actions of Obama and his supporters essentially said, “This is way it’s going to be. You don’t get a say, and you must participate. Anything less than participation is hateful, racist, or bigoted and is a punishable offense now.”

As “victory” after liberal victory was won over the last 8 years, I saw a lot of gloating and mocking as dissenting conservative views were shut down. Businesses fell in line for fear of left wing retribution. There was no point in allowing conservative viewpoints to be aired, since those viewpoints were “bigoted” and “hateful.”

Then the election happened.

The worst thing that could happen for America now
The worst thing that could happen now would be for the Trump administration to do the same thing that the Obama administration just did: force its political ideology down everybody’s throats from the top down.

There is a remarkable opportunity now in America that I didn’t think could’ve existed before the election. I do not believe that Donald Trump was a sound presidential candidate. Nonetheless, this administration actually has an opportunity to restore constitutional government. If only it has the will to do so.

At some point all sides are going to have to recognize that both sides have legitimate concerns, and we’re going to have to negotiate how to live together in such a way that both sides feel their concerns are being addressed. For America, the U S Constitution is the answer.

If the American people cannot unite around the American constitution, then the American experiment is over. Christians do not need a Christian president, because constitutional government will protect their rights. Secularists do not need a secularist president, because constitutional government will protect their rights.

How to respond when things get ugly
Restoring constitutional government will mean that some unconstitutional “accomplishments” will have to be undone, and then redone constitutionally. To the left this will seem like an attack, of course. “Progressives” have sworn they are “not going back” because they feel they have gotten some of what they want, never mind that they got it unconstitutionally. But ultimately, restoring constitutional government will be as good for liberals as it will be for conservatives.

In the meantime, our way of relating to each other has to change. America is now horribly divided. We have to stop digging in and, instead, reach out to those who hold differing views. We must listen to each other. Both sides have to stop trying to hit “the enemy” back harder. There are compassionate people on both sides of the issues that divide us.

The election results were so surprising and disturbing that some liberals are trying to understand why things turned out as they did. This is a great opportunity for conservatives interested in building community, (which should be all conservatives.) It’s not that liberals are questioning liberalism. But some realize that they need to understand how their seemingly-nice neighbors could have voted for someone like Donald Trump. It’s a good question.

To help at least a few understand, after the election I joined a “Safe Persons” discussion group composed almost entirely of liberals. It was good for me. I learned that a lot of liberals really are afraid. A couple of members expressed feeling unsafe that I was even part of the group. Of course, they were not actually unsafe, but the point is that they truly felt that way. Some of the other members wanted to interact, and, though it took some time and effort and some overlooking of insults, I feel it was worth it. In my next post I will print some excerpts from our dialogue that I feel are worth posting.

Post election, I’ve seen other encouraging events in my small corner of the world. One friend of mine, along with several of his liberal friends, is starting a book club. Elsewhere, a conservative evangelical friend in a neighboring town has been invited to be on the editorial board of the local newspaper. Apparently the board has decided it needs to broaden its perspective. These things speak well of all parties involved. For some of us, bridge-building could be as simple as going out of our way to initiate a relationship with a neighbor who had a Hillary sign in his or her yard last autumn.

I’d love to hear about how you have reached out in your community to build bridges. Please do share your thoughts and ideas below.

I Changed My Mind. I’m Voting for Trump.

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I was hoping against hope that a viable third option would develop in this 2016 presidential election. A groundswell movement. A grassroots social media campaign. An incarceration.

But, no. Here we are, just days before the election, and cold logic has dictated a course I honestly didn’t think I could take. I’m going to cast my vote for Trump.

From the beginning, a few people I respect have made statements along the lines of, “This election isn’t about Hillary and Trump. It’s about the future of the Supreme Court of the United States.” I have to admit that it now comes down to this for me. Were multiple Court appointments not at stake I would stick to my plan of writing in a worthy presidential candidate.

I would enthusiastically “waste” my vote.

Why I can’t get around voting for Trump
I honestly think that the preservation of constitutional government in the United States is at stake. The point is not that Donald Trump will be the savior of constitutional government. Rather, it is that Hillary has promised to do it in. If the judicial branch of the U.S. federal government becomes overwhelmingly ideologically “progressive” rather than constitutionally-guided, then the legislative branch may as well not exist.

Throughout the Obama administration, a somewhat balanced Supreme Court sometimes served as a check and a balance on the administration’s attempts to impose its “progressive” ideology onto an unwilling U.S. population. However, if both the executive and the judicial branches of the U.S. government become solidly and predictably “progressive,” there will be nothing to stop them from overriding the legislative branch, essentially taking over its lawmaking role.

But aren’t mine simply partisan concerns? Wouldn’t conservatives do the same thing if they could? Aren’t both conservatives and liberals simply trying to gain more power every election cycle? What’s the difference?

Actually there is a difference
There is an important, defining, organic difference between liberals and conservatives. It is this: Liberals and Conservatives hold vastly differing views as to what the role of government should be in America.

Liberals trust their good intentions to use the force of “good government” to fix societal problems, resulting in more government intrusion and fostering ever more dependence on the government.

Principled conservatives are wary of governmental power over civilians, and thus advocate less government intrusion. They trust the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

This is a question of freedom. Even “good government” cannot be resisted. Government does not make suggestions. It always equals force.

America’s founders laid out the 3 branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – in order to limit and balance governmental power over U. S. citizens and to secure basic rights. The expectation was that citizens of character would govern themselves.

The presidency under Obama
How has the “progressive” penchant to governmentally impose political ideology onto the population manifested under President Obama? Following are striking examples of attempts to do so:

  • Obamacare, an arguably unconstitutional idea, was declared legal and mandatory by the Supreme Court by one vote. The tie was broken by Justice Roberts, who redefined the language of the act in order to call it a tax, thus rendering it legal.
  • The Obama administration sought to fine Hobby Lobby over a million dollars a day to force it to comply with the administration’s ideological beliefs about birth control and abortion. The administration lost its Supreme Court case by one vote.
  • Obama instructed his Department of Justice not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA,) when it was still federal law, arguably because he ideologically disagreed with the law.
  • Obama’s Department of Justice worked to redefine marriage along ideological lines before the Supreme Court during the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The administration won this case by one vote.
  • The Obama administration recently issued a sweeping directive along ideological lines, instructing every public school district in America to allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their “gender identity.”
  • In foreign policy, the U.S. Constitution has something called the Treaty Clause, which requires a two thirds Senate approval for treaties negotiated by the president. However, with the Iran nuclear deal, Obama circumvented this principle. Rather than submit the deal as a treaty, he went around the people’s representatives and instead forged a deal by executive agreement, supported only by a small partisan Senate minority.

Hillary has clearly articulated this same “progressive” penchant for using governmental power to impose a left-wing, political ideology onto the nation. While claiming to support families she will promote public policy that undermines marriage and hurts children. While claiming to support minorities she will continue the strategy of buying their votes with promises, and making them dependent on the government. As a good “progressive” she will be more interested in her own ideology than in what the U.S. Constitution guarantees. More interested in her personal political vision than in freedom and the vision of America’s founders.

I already agree with you
Don’t bother explaining to me why Trump isn’t fit to be president of the United States. I already agree with you. I think Donald Trump is a jerk.

If Trump were far ahead in the polls I would proceed with my initial plan to write in a presidential candidate who actually represents me and champions the U.S. Constitution.

If Scalia was still on the Court, and only one justice was expected to retire, I would proceed with my plan.

If a decent third party candidate were making a serious showing, I would proceed with my plan.

But as things now stand, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to hand the presidency to Hillary. As embarrassing and unfit a candidate as I believe Trump is, I don’t think he will irreversibly damage the country. I believe he is the less dangerous of the two.

What about Evan McMullin?
Apparently, there is a possibility of Evan McMullin taking away enough electoral votes to prevent either Trump or Hillary from winning the election. But ironically, in order for this to happen, you shouldn’t vote for McMullin unless you live in Utah. According to what I’ve read, the only way a McMullin upset happens is if Trump and Hillary end in a virtual tie, and McMullin wins Utah.

So even if I want McMullin to win, I still have to vote for Trump.

My solution to make voting for Trump bearable
I would never advocate such a thing as electing Trump and then hoping he is assassinated. Such a thing would be unchristian and immoral. This is the type of thinking that conspiracy theorists think Hillary advocates. It might be the kind of thing that Trump would inappropriately joke about. Terrible.

But I do have an idea.

After Trump is elected I think he should be abducted and surgically rendered mute. (And perhaps given a haircut.) Then he should be returned to office. America’s first mute billionaire president. Diversity. Win-win. Vice President Pence could give Trump’s state of the union speeches. ‘Just throwing the idea out there.

My apologies to my friends outside of the U.S. I was looking forward to assuring you that I would never vote for Trump.

For the rest of you, don’t forget to get out there and vote! May God have mercy on us.

“We usually survive mistakes by particular leaders because leaders are not the foundation of our system. The foundation of U.S. foreign policy is the views and values of the American people, filtered by elected representatives through democratic institutions, proven by time.”
— Senator Tom Cotton