Religious Freedom: My Top 10 Potential Clients I Would Discriminate Against for Religious Reasons

 

Now Hiring-blg

I probably should’ve consulted with a lawyer before posting this, but, oh well. I thought I’d go ahead and out myself in advance since it looks as though I’m going to eventually get sued for discrimination anyway.

So I’m outing myself as a guy who enjoys discriminating. I enjoy discriminating in all aspects of life: private and public, religious and secular, work and leisure. I think this amounts to a practical definition of integrity. In fact, I think I sleep more peacefully at night because I practice discrimination, for religious reasons, on a regular basis. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed about this even a tiny bit.

Incidentally – You practice discrimination too, when you do things like eat, shop, vote, or choose a career.

My little journey

When I started my art studio business several years ago I figured one of the perks would be that I could take on work that would be personally meaningful to me. I had just left a large corporation, Hallmark Inc., and, while it was a great place to work, I looked forward to putting my creative energies into projects and causes that I could fully and enthusiastically support. I guess I was under the naïve impression that I could enter a profession with the aim of helping to make the world a better place.

But making the world a better place requires freedom to discriminate. Below, I lay out my Top Ten Potential Clients to whom I would gladly refuse graphic design/illustration services, and my religious reasons why.

My underlying religious principle for discrimination

Here’s my bottom line: I don’t want to be a party to participating in projects that I believe will cause harm to, or exploit people. If possible, I would like to do work that is life-affirming, or is at least harmless, in my judgment.

I know…I sound like a crazy person.

This raises a daunting question: Are we all in agreement as to what will harm and exploit people?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. We must each make those judgments ourselves. Sometimes we will disagree. I do my best to use the example and teaching of Jesus when I make my judgments. You may have a different approach. I reserve the right to disagree with your different approach, and I respect your right to disagree with mine. This is sometimes known as “the free marketplace of ideas,” or, “putting on our big boy pants.”

I don’t really want to post my list. It’s kind of personal. I’d rather it remain private, since I’m pretty sure I will now offend some readers, friends, and family members who may feel personally insulted by my choices. But, in no particular order, here’s how my list shakes out. I’m not judging you. This is just my list. We don’t have to agree. Settle down. I still love you. I’m not the boss of you. It takes all the colors to make a rainbow. Okay? No hate here. But I gotta give my reasons. So here goes. Please forgive the broad generalizations for the sake of brevity:

MY TOP 10

  • 1) Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer chemical – I think I see sufficient reason to conclude that genetically modified crops hurt people. The safety of the world’s food supply is a fundamental concern, obviously. The original rational for genetically modifying food may have included humanitarian reasons, but those reasons have not panned out. A sound case can be made that GMOs are bad for human health and the environment. If you disagree, I don’t hate you. I just don’t want to work for these people.
  • 2) The pharmaceutical industry – I’m not anti-drug. I’m drug averse, meaning that, whenever possible, I think prevention is a better approach to dealing with disease than promoting the ingesting of chemicals to manage disease. Personally, I’m extremely thankful for drug technology that was available the few times I’ve needed it. However, I also think I see sufficient reason to conclude that drug companies often push drugs in order to make money, even when they are unnecessary, or even harmful, to people. Knowing this, I generally wouldn’t be comfortable helping these companies with my services. My conscience would bug me. If you work for such a company, I don’t hate you. This is just my decision.
  • 3) The soft drink/junk food/candy industry – This stuff hurts people; especially kids. It’s the cheery marketing and graphic design (my field) that sells this stuff and leads people to think that it can be classified as food. Plus it tastes “good,” so we all voluntarily eat it. If I could catch a leprechaun and make him obliterate all of the Coca Cola in the world, I would do it. And I would blame the leprechaun. But I can’t do that. If you work in this industry, I’m not judging you. Plus, I sincerely hope you don’t become diabetic or die early of heart disease. Actually, I might enjoy working for these people, if only they would let me direct their marketing. I would go for honest packaging, like this:

Mtn dew-blg

 

  • 4) Religions and religious cults with which I disagree – Sorry, but I think some religions hurt and exploit people. Sometimes for money and power, sometimes out of sincere belief. It doesn’t matter. I get to choose not to work for religious groups that I feel are doing this, just like I get to refuse to work for non-religious groups that do this. If you’re my friend and you belong to such a group, you probably don’t know that I think this about your religion, because I generally don’t go around telling people that their religion sucks. If you want my opinion, you’ll probably have to ask for it. Unless I happen to have blogged about your religion. Which is possible.
  • 5) The pornography Industry – I would be honored to refuse service to the porn industry. I would die a tiny bit happier. Pornography preys on the lowest, animal desires of people, often becoming addictive, and hurting human relationships in a variety of ways. Furthermore, pedophiles use porn to introduce and normalize child-sex in the minds of children. Pornography supports, is fed by, and feeds the sex trafficking “industry.” Porn fundamentally contradicts the biblical concept of what a sexual relationship was designed to be. If you work in the porn industry, or are addicted to porn, I don’t hate you, but I hope you get help.
  • 6) Left wing politicians – I would not agree to provide services for a left wing political campaign because I think left wing politics are often hurtful and exploitative. This is a big can of worms and space here is limited. I’ll just summarize by recognizing that right wing politics are also often hurtful and exploitative. But in principle, conservatism is less harmful than liberal “progressivism” because progressivism by definition seeks to achieve its (theoretically good) ends by means of government. And government always equals force. I prefer pluralism, freedom, and Constitutional government. This is a religious value because freedom respects the dignity and value of every person. If you’re a progressive, I don’t hate you. I actually assume that we probably want many of the same things. I just disagree with your means of getting us there.
  • 7) Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry – In my opinion, the Torah has given humankind the only transcendent basis for assigning innate, objective value to all human life. It is this: All human beings bear the image of God. By contrast, if we make the value of human life dependent upon utilitarian factors such as convenience, usefulness, sentience, independence, size, age, functionality, icky-ness, ideology, or other such qualities, we are on a slippery slope where human worth is decided by to who has power. The transcendent basis for the sanctity of life is then lost. An abortion ends the life of an innocent, developing human being. This is a fact. If you are pro-abortion-on-demand, or if you have had an abortion, I don’t hate you. But I’m still not working for these people.
  • 8) Clients that promote materialist/evolutionary beliefs as an agenda – The theory that we exist merely as the result of mindless, accidental, natural processes is a horrible starting place for human interaction, in addition to being technically unscientific. Plus, evolutionary dogma has a terrible track record including institutionalized racism, eugenics, belief in over 100 vestigial organs in the human body, junk DNA, the creation of GMOs, evolutionary psychology, coercive collectivism, postgenderism, transhumanism, biological determinism, and unending Planet of the Apes sequels.
  • 9) Clients that promote hate – I would enthusiastically refuse to work for any group that denigrates or promotes hatred of any other category of persons, including GLBT people, black people, Hispanic people, white people, Jewish people, Muslim people, illegal immigrants, refugees, Evangelicals, atheists, men, women, rich, poor, children, elderly, disabled, incarcerated, or whoever. Love is a fundamental teaching of Jesus. Hatred always works against constructive dialogue, empathy, tolerance, and progress – all of which the world needs more.
  • 10) Clients that would make me a party to supporting “marriage equality”“Marriage equality” is not ultimately about gay marriage. It’s about redefining marriage – the systematic dismantling of the world’s fundamental cultural institution in the service of a false, “progressive” notion of equality. It is the latest and most successful attack in a decades long revolt against the nuclear family as an ideal. Well-meaning people are being led by the short hairs down a path that will hurt children and thus the culture at large. If you’re gay married, I truly wish you happiness. But I still think marriage is by definition a heterosexual institution that benefits society in a way that no other type of relationship does.

That’s my list. If you ask another 10 Evangelicals for their lists, I’m pretty sure you’ll get 10 different lists. Some Evangelicals would bake the gay wedding cake or shoot the wedding photos. Their rational would be to love their neighbor. Other Evangelicals would not want to participate in an event that they fundamentally disagree with. Not all Christians are opposed to gay marriage. Not all gays are in favor of it. Not all children raised by loving gay parents are in favor of gay marriage. So it goes. This is called freedom.

The Left has been claiming that religious freedom laws are merely an excuse to allow bigots to discriminate against gays. This is pure nonsense. Religious people are not discriminating against gays per se. They are refusing to participate in a left wing ideological campaign that conflates equality with redefining marriage and gender. It’s their legal right to do so.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Many states have added sexual orientation to this list. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) does not overrule any of these gains. More to the point, followers of Jesus are not pushing for the segregation of gays and heteros. Nor are we pushing for the right to generally refuse business services to gays as a class of people.

Religious Liberty in America is about the free exercise of one’s religion within the confines of the U.S. Constitution and the legitimate interests of government. It’s not a pretext to subvert constitutional law. It’s not about imposing one’s beliefs on others. I encourage followers of Jesus to freely uphold His clear teaching on what marriage was designed to be from the beginning (Mat 19:4-6,) and to refuse to go along the new, arbitrary redefining of the world’s fundamental societal institution. While doing this, I urge you refuse to be manipulated with labels like “angry,” “hateful,” and “anti-gay.”

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27.)

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Settle Down, People! American Christianity Does Not Want A Theocracy.

Christian theocracy

The ongoing accusation that the “religious right” wants to impose a theocracy is so wildly ignorant that it has to be another political tactic. Like the political tactic of painting anyone who opposes redefining marriage as being hateful and anti-gay.

Accusing Christians of seeking to establish a theocracy is simply bizarre. It might be an understandable offense to accuse goat worshipers of promoting theocracy, because most of us don’t personally know any goat worshipers. But if one wants to find out what Christians believe, one could simply talk to a neighbor who is one, or visit a church on a nearby street corner. Or one could find a Bible and read the words of Jesus, or the letters of the Apostle Paul. Easy. The more theologically orthodox a Christian is, the less he or she will be in favor of an American theocracy.

Why? Because the Bible teaches that all human beings are naturally depraved. It follows then for Christians that human beings cannot be trusted with power.

This is a biblical principle. This is what those scary Christian homeschoolers are teaching their kids in history class. It’s why American Christians love our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. It’s why our religious Founding Fathers established a system of checks and balances – our 3 branches of American government. It’s why we hold to being a nation governed by laws and not men. Because “fallen” people can’t be trusted with power.

In fact, Bible-believers have a compelling basis for believing these things, whereas secularists do not. It is secularists who tend to hatch idealistic, utopian political schemes and foist them onto the world. Even giving humanist totalitarians and oligarchs the benefit of the doubt – that they impose their systems “for the good of the people” – doesn’t change the fact that millions of “their people” in the last century ended up imprisoned or dead for the crime of resisting their utopian governments.

This should be common knowledge, yet somehow, we are now seeing a festival of uninformed fear-mongering from the Left crying that Christians want a theocracy. Those of us who are Christians need to start demanding proof.

So…prove it
I’m willing to be corrected. All I need is for someone to give me an example of ANY mainstream, respected, widely supported Christian leader, spokesperson, organization, politician, or theologian calling for an American theocracy. Just one. Please copy and paste your theocrat’s quote into the comment section below with a reference.

I’ll even help. Because we have lots of examples of religious people calling for and working toward theocracy. Scores. Masses of religious people are unapologetically and publicly opposed to democracy and freedom because of the “unrighteousness” these ideas allow. Unfortunately for those who might take me up on my challenge, these people are never Christians.

I got your theocracy right here:

Theocracy-sharia-anti-freedom

…But I digress.

This is all Kim Davis’s fault
The latest round of fear-mongering comes because Kim Davis is a publicly elected official, who, for reasons of conscience, is refusing to carry out her job responsibilities to issue marriage licenses, and has attempted to keep clerks under her from doing so, as well. When privately owned businesses refused to participate with the Left’s novel and arbitrary redefining of marriage, that was intolerable. But for an elected government official to refuse to comply with an arguably unconstitutional Court decision, that apparently amounts to establishing a Christian theocracy. Who knew county clerks had such power?

But is that what’s going on? Is this religious freedom, or theocracy?

I’m not going to defend Kim Davis, because I have mixed feelings about some of what she has done. Instead, to my own surprise, I’m going to quote the Pope.

I’m not really a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church, or such a thing as a pope, but I have to admit that brother (“Pope”) Francis cut right through the rhetoric around religious freedom with a simple statement:

“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection … but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right…”

Truer words were never spoken. This is especially heartening coming from the head of a 2000 year old religious institution that has a long and disturbing history of not allowing conscientious objection. Happily, brother Francis owned up to this as well when he said:

“…Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying “this right that has merit, this one does not.” It [conscientious objection] is a human right. It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the Chanson de Roland when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font and they had to choose between the baptismal font or the sword. They had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights…”

If I were a person who used emoticons, I would do a whole page of little smiley faces right here.

Then, when asked if conscientious objection includes government officials as well, brother Francis replied:

“…It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right.”
It is disturbing to me that anyone could disagree with this. For example, do we not all now despise the reasoning of Nazi government officials whose excuse for committing crimes against Jews, gays, and others is that they were “only following orders”?

But the importance of brother Francis’s statement seems to be lost on the Left. I’m saddened to see Huffington Post commenters, and the like, fail to grasp the gravity of what is at stake in this discussion. Instead, like a new generation of Hitler Youth, they are saying things like:
“If you work for the government you are obligated to carry out your duties no matter what, or else resign.”

But they’re wrong, and brother Francis is right. If no conscientious objection is allowed, then aren’t we left with totalitarianism? Just because it’s “Progressive” totalitarianism doesn’t make it good totalitarianism. Both sides of the political spectrum should be well aware that human governments are often wrong. In a free and pluralistic society conscientious objection must be allowed.

When Kim Davis was elected, she had no conscientious objection to performing her duties whatsoever. It’s not her fault that the Supreme Court pulled a new, arbitrary definition of marriage out of its butt.

A very big deal
It’s important to remember that we are not talking about the Supreme Court telling Americans that they must now abide by a new definition of weed whacking. What the Court has attempted to do is as penetrating and monumental as it is foolish. Heterosexual marriage is a longstanding institution upon which the very architecture of civilization has always stood. In addition it bears enormous religious significance for a majority of Americans. Furthermore, it is not defined in the U.S. Constitution. Does the political Left really think it can force such a major ideological bias onto an unwilling population?

“Progressives” attempting to use government to force their beliefs onto an unwilling populace is no different than religious people attempting to use government to force their beliefs unto an unwilling populace. Except that Christians have no intention of imposing their doctrines, while “Progressives” apparently do.

Contrary to LGBT talking points, people of biblical faith are not interested in re-criminalizing homosexuality, or preventing LGBT people from loving and committing to whomever they want, or forcing anyone to do anything. We’re simply not going to agree to the redefining of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Call it “civil unions” and this all goes away.

“Progressives” have said that non-compliant Christians are imposing their beliefs on gays by discriminating against them; that this amounts to theocracy. But it’s not true. These Christians are seeking non-participation, and it’s important that Christians not allow their motives to be redefined by the Left’s massive redefinition campaign.

There is no comparison here to America’s racial discrimination of the past. NO ONE is arguing that gays are subhuman, or that they are the property of heterosexuals, or that they should be denied fundamental civil rights. The proof is that these same people have been happy to serve gays so long as their service doesn’t require them to comply with the Court’s redefinition of marriage. The “right to marry” cannot be a fundamental civil right, because if marriage has any definition, then it necessarily excludes certain people. In fact the Court’s new definition is arbitrary and also excludes many U.S. citizens.

If there were ever an issue big enough, profound enough, and consequential enough to merit conscientious objection, the redefining of marriage is it. Bible believers are simply not going to go along with it, just as they have refused to be a part of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. In the same way that promoting the sanctity of human life has nothing to do with being “anti-woman,” so promoting traditional marriage has nothing to do with being “anti-gay.”

People of faith are going to act according to their consciences whether the government accommodates them or not. Fortunately, our Constitution’s first amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 limit the reach of government coercion in matters of conscience, within the confines of American citizenship.

Why It’s Impossible for Followers of Jesus to Hate Gays

T-shirt design by Scott Freeman

Because gays are people.

Several years ago I stopped referring to myself as a “Christian” because I felt the term was too broad. It simply doesn’t communicate very well. So I started referring to myself as a “follower of Jesus” because it’s descriptive and actually communicates something that anyone can understand: a follower of Jesus tries to follow what Jesus said and did. Simple.

On the other hand, “Christian” is such a broad label that it can encompass pretty much anyone who wants to claim it, which can be confusing. It includes me, but it must also include:

  • Cults of unorthodoxy such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, whose extra-biblical authoritative writings depict Jesus as a created being, among other things. Yet, I think we have say if the central figure in a person’s religion is a version of Christ, then their religion is a Christian religion.
  • Members of liberal Christian denominations, who don’t believe in the virgin birth or the miracles of Jesus, and who discount many statements of Jesus in the Bible. Same as above.
  • Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, whose message is that God hates the world; especially gays, apparently. Same as above.

All of these people can be said to be Christians in some sense, but none of them can be said to be followers of the Jesus of the Bible.

It’s impossible for followers of Jesus to hate gays, because if they hate gays, then they’re not following Jesus. Boom. Jesus simply doesn’t give His followers the option of hating people.

Jesus inseparably linked loving both God and people with following Him. He stated that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and then to love people (Mt 22:35-40; Mk 12:28-31.) He said those who keep His commandments are the ones who love Him (Jn 14:21.) The Apostle John says that he who does not love does not know God, for God is love (I Jn 4:8.) He also equates loving others with following the commands of Jesus (2 Jn 1:5,6; 1 Jn 5:2,3.) In a definitive statement, Jesus claimed that all people would know who His followers are by their love for one another (Jn 13:34.)

Furthermore, Jesus is like no other moral teacher in that He didn’t merely talk about love in His teachings. He demonstrated love in an ultimate way, and in doing so He literally created a new option for humanity: He made it possible for us to freely love each other by creating the possibility of internal change through spiritual rebirth (Jn 3:1-7; 1 Pet 1:23.) By spiritual rebirth we receive a new identity as children of God, receiving His very Spirit into our hearts (Gal 4:4-7; Ro 8:9, 14-17.) By His redemptive death and resurrection, Jesus made possible for us a restored, unified, and loving relationship with our Creator, whose image we bear. Thus we are motivated to obey His commands, not out of fear, or guilt, or to earn points. Instead we obey from the best possible motive: that of wanting to please someone we love. “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19.) It’s a brilliant plan.

So, no. Followers of Jesus can’t hate gays, even if the natural, redneck part of them wants to.

But then, what about all of those stories in the news about Christian business owners discriminating against gays out of anti-gay hatred and bigotry? Aren’t the Christian butcher, baker, and candlestick maker discriminating against gays simply because they’re gay?

Actually, no – they are not discriminating against gays simply because they’re gay. The proof is that these businesses had been knowingly serving gay customers for years. Here’s the issue: These businesses all drew the line when they were asked to essentially become participants in a ceremony that would violate their religious beliefs.

The same Bible that defines all people, including gay people, as bearing the image of God also defines marriage as a heterosexual institution designed by God having something to do with sexual complementarity (and therefore, the probability, at least, of procreation and child-rearing.) These businesses often explained to their gay customers that they would be happy to provide other services for them, just not wedding services. In other words, they were not willing to become a party to the redefining of something they consider sacred; something that had already been defined by their God.

So these cases are about religious liberty, as guaranteed in the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. They have nothing to do with “anti-gay hatred,” or even personal dislike of gays.

Underneath it all, for these business owners it’s a question of authority.

A True Story About Lying
I once joined a respectful, online group discussion about gays and the church. An older gay participant frequently claimed that an average of one gay person per week is assaulted, raped, or murdered by evangelical Christians. He repeated this in the discussion several times. This was news to me.

I finally called him on it, told him it was ridiculous, and asked him to provide some proof. I told him it was like saying most vegetarians eat raw squirrel once a week. Or that two thirds of Mormon housewives home brew their own beer. His claim was self-refuting. He immediately provided a link to the US government annual FBI hate crimes statistics.

The FBI. That certainly sounded credible. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the church of Jesus Christ was actually a hate organization after all, and it had somehow escaped my notice.

I thought of the evangelical families I knew. I pictured the dad coming home after work, exhausted. I pictured the mom, also exhausted after simultaneously homeschooling 7 kids all day, and then preparing a nutritious meal for 9. They all gather around the table, say grace, and then talk about the day over dinner. Afterwards, the kids clear the table and load the dishwasher. Then the dad announces, “Okay kids! Everyone into the mini-van! It’s time to find some gays to beat-up, rape, or murder! Hurry up – we still have to do baths tonight before bedtime!…”

I don’t think so.

I checked out his FBI link. Um…first of all, the FBI does not track the religious identity of perpetrators of hate crimes, only the racial identity. My gay acquaintance was simply assuming the offenders must be evangelicals. Second, in 2006, (the latest year that completed stats were available when I had this discussion,) there were 0 rapes and 0 murders of gays recorded in the FBI stats. That’s rare – the next year there were 0 rapes and 5 murders reported. That’s still too many, but it certainly isn’t a weekly occurrence, and if it was, I guarantee we’d be hearing about it. As always, there were hundreds of assaults reported across the board, including verbal assaults. Of all hate crimes reported each year, nearly 50% are still racially motivated, with the remaining crimes divided up between the categories of sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and disability. It turns out you are still far more likely to be a hate-crime victim in America if you are black than if you are gay. Here is THE LINK to the latest FBI hate crime statistics, for those interested.

Was That Guy an Exception?
Perhaps you’re wondering what my point is in telling this story. Obviously the guy falsely accusing Christians was an unscrupulous butthead. So what am I doing? Painting all “marriage equality” supporters as liars because of one exceptionally dishonest guy’s propagation of a vicious lie?

But was he exceptional?

I don’t see how. It has now become routine for the media to characterize any opposition to redefining marriage as motivated by hatred. Disagree with the politically “liberal” position on this topic and you are “spewing anti-gay hatred and bigotry.” If you believe that marriage is a uniquely heterosexual institution, you are a hater, period. My question is: Really? And what do people who hate people do? Well, we can look at groups around the world who actually do hate people, and see what they do. They assault, rape, purge, and kill the people they hate. Think ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and Hamas.

I suspect that most of the Left knows better than to believe that Christians hate gays. I think repeating these accusations of hate is a political tactic intended to manipulate and shame Christians into shutting up and leaving the field. Fortunately, the if-you-repeat-a-lie-often-enough-people-will-believe-it tactic has its limits. In this case the Left is lying about too large a percentage of the population. It’s like trying to convince the nation that all brown-eyed people smell bad. Except that a lot of us are brown-eyed, and we all know lots of brown-eyed people who smell nice.

I get why my liberal friends support “marriage equality.” I think you honestly believe you are standing for civil rights and equality. I totally understand how it seems bizarre, backward, and hateful to you that anyone would think otherwise. But the fact remains that there are some very stubborn problems around the issue, and the interests of adult gays do not trump the interests of everyone else. We’re going to have to all settle for the freedom to respectfully disagree. Liberal bigotry and intolerance is no more virtuous than conservative bigotry and intolerance.

For further non-hateful reading, here’s a great non-religious case for marriage as a heterosexual institution.

Art from The Swimsuit Lesson-Scott FreemanOn a lighter note, check out my newly released storybook, The Cocky Rooster, available only through MY WEBSITE.

Religious Freedom & Hobby Lobby: Who Is Imposing What on Whom?

Hobby Lobby Religious Freedom
Hobby Lobby is a privately owned, for-profit, arts and crafts business that has always provided contraceptive coverage in its insurance plan for employees. It continues to do so. However, the owners of Hobby Lobby objected to ACA (Obamacare) requirements that they cover four contraceptive options which may act as abortifacients. Complying in this manner would violate the owners’ sanctity-of-human-life beliefs, which are rooted in their biblical worldview. Hobby Lobby initially was denied a preliminary injunction from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. When Hobby Lobby was eventually granted a preliminary injunction, the government appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Without the Supreme Court’s recent intervention, Hobby Lobby would’ve been subject to fines of $1.3 million per freaking day.

On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court announced its decision that the US government cannot force Hobby Lobby to pay for contraceptive coverage that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs. The Court ruled in accordance with the bi-partisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. This was primarily a religious freedom case, not a contraception case.

The Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision brought into the spotlight a reality that will not be going away anytime soon: In “secular” American culture, there is going to be an inevitable clash with religious freedom around the issues of abortion and human sexuality, because, embarrassing as it is to secularists, America is still the most religious developed nation in the world. Secular and religious worldviews will continue to collide.

I’ve argued here that the best we can hope for in America is freedom and pluralism. Creating a homogenous utopia always comes at too high a price. We must all put on our big boy pants and accept that we’re not all going to agree with each other, even on life’s most fundamental issues. Issues like the sanctity of human life and human sexuality. It’s okay if we disagree, so long as we respectfully allow other viewpoints to co-exist alongside ours. The deal-breaker is when either the Right OR the Left attempts to use government to force compliance on such fundamental issues. Everyone is free to ignore the Church. None of us are free to ignore the State, and everyone must recognize that government necessarily always entails force. This is what the Hobby Lobby case was about.

It’s simply not a question of whether you think you are right, or whether you think your view is the most fair and compassionate, or whether you think your political opponents arguments are stupid or misinformed. I’m pretty sure we all think something like that, or else we would change our opinions. The point is that we must never allow one side to take the step of violating by force, the civil rights and autonomy of those with whom it disagrees. The Supreme Court essentially ruled that this was, in effect, what the Obama administration (Sebelius/Burwell) was attempting to do in the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

In their decision, the Justices referred to the *Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Court ruled that the US Government could find a less restrictive means of accomplishing its interest in the matter, which is precisely what the RFRA requires. In the midst of all the hysterical, vitriolic, and often flat out dishonest media reaction I’ve heard around the Hobby Lobby decision, I heard precious little reference to the RFRA. I thought it would be helpful to address some typical objections in light of the RFRA:

Objection: Hobby Lobby is forcing their religious views on women…denying women access to birth control coverage…waging a war on women…carrying out a thinly disguised anti-woman agenda…imposing something on women…hating women, etc.

Such statements, honestly, are baffling to me. The only party having something forcibly imposed on it in this situation was Hobby Lobby. The choices were: abandon your reasonable foundational beliefs, or else pay $1.3 million a day until you either comply or go out of business.

In America, when an employer and an employee wish to enter into a consensual, contractual agreement, each party agrees to provide something for the other. If the prospective employee doesn’t like the benefit package for whatever reason, she is free to walk away. An Employer refusing to pay for something is not the same thing as banning it, or denying access to it.

I couldn’t find the numbers on this, but I’m pretty sure that if there were ever a business that caters mostly to women, it’s Hobby Lobby. From what I can see, their workforce is mostly women as well. I would be very surprised to learn that the Green family hates women. Until I see some rational reason to believe they do, I’m going to assume they are grateful to women for making their business a success.

Objection: What’s next, if “religious” people can pick and choose which laws they want to obey? Now anyone will be able to use “religious freedom” as a pretext for not obeying the law…Pandora’s box…minefield, etc.

The RFRA squarely addresses this concern. It begins:

The framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution…”

However, the RFRA was designed to strike a balance between this inalienable right of the people and the interests of government. The law states that, in general, “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” but then it provides an exception:

Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person-

  • is in the furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
  • is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
    (See the RFRA in its entirety here.)

So, if a person’s religion requires them to not pay taxes, or to own slaves, or to conduct weekly human sacrifices, the Court will almost certainly find that government is justified in burdening those religious practices. (Here’s a great article on the RFRA)

Senator Ted Kennedy, together with Senator Orrin Hatch, led the bipartisan passage of the RFRA in the Senate (97-3.) The House unanimously passed it. Kennedy claimed that, under the RFRA, “not every free exercise claim will prevail.” The RFRA does not predetermine the outcome of any religious liberty claim.

Objection: The 4 contraceptives in question are not abortifacients.

1) Depending upon how one defines pregnancy, they may indeed act as abortifacients. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties chose to err on the side of not being a party to ending a developing human life, as is their right.

2) This objection is irrelevant anyway. Even if a company were religiously opposed to covering any birth control whatsoever, (which is not true of HL,) the RFRA still requires the government to “strike a sensible balance between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.”

 Objection: With this decision, America is heading toward a Christian theocracy…the end of the world as we know it…back to the Inquisition, etc…

 A guy seriously tried to argue this with me.

No. Just because the Supreme Court recognized that it’s illegal for a liberal administration to use governmental power to force conservatives to behave like liberals does not mean we are heading toward a theocracy. It means we’re heading back toward freedom. Anyway, it’s also unconstitutional for the American government to have a state church, so no, there will be no theocracy. Plus nobody wants one. Especially Christians. My guess is that such hysterical statements stem from the Left’s tendency to conflate Christianity and Islam.

And speaking of not understanding religion…

 In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made this statement: “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations.”

 With all due respect, she’s wrong. Her statement is certainly not true of the many faith-based universities, hospitals, and national and international relief organizations which shape the world we live in. One could even argue that her statement isn’t even true of many churches! Religious belief, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, provides a motivating, transcendent basis for valuing, loving, and helping all human beings, regardless of distinction. Such organizations do not screen refugees, earthquake victims, and starving people to make sure they “subscribe to the same religious faith” before serving them. In fact many “religious organizations” intentionally seek out people groups of other faiths to do good to them.

 Her statement mirrors the Obama administrations arbitrary (and incorrect) definitions of what religious organizations are, and what they do. Administration attorneys have been arguing in court that religious people give up any claim to a right of religious liberty when they choose to start a for-profit company.

Think about that.

Can the free market not sort most of this out? Do we really need the heel of government coercing people of faith to abandon their fundamental beliefs before they can incorporate a business? As if a secularist worldview is somehow less biased than a religious worldview. And anyway, is it really a good idea to keep people who may be religiously motivated to not be self-focused, cut-throat, money-grabbing dirt bags out of the business world?

Bigotry is bigotry. Just because it’s liberal bigotry doesn’t make it good bigotry.
‘Just sayin.’

I’m reading between the lines just a bit here, but I’m getting the impression from the Left that it is content to let “religious people” exist, so long as they stay out of the public square, outside of government, outside of the sphere of public influence, and squirreled away in their own churches. In fact the “new atheism” explicitly encourages this.

If I may close by putting this idea into perspective, let’s make some comparisons:

Many Islamic nations claim to have “religious freedom.” This means they allow Christians to live among them, so long as they do not build (or repair) churches, “make converts,” or criticize Islam. Should a Muslim decide to “convert to Christianity,” the consequences can be quite severe for everyone involved.

Similarly, China, an atheist state, claims to have “religious freedom.” Christian churches are allowed to exist, but only if they are registered with and controlled by the government. They must stay out of the public square and outside of government. The assumption is that religion will eventually die out as the public becomes more enlightened.

I’d be interested in hearing from someone on the American Left as to how the Left’s perspective on religious liberty is substantially different from that of China, or even from theocratic Islamic nations. In your answer, please tell me why you feel more threatened by the (non-compulsory) Church, than by the (compulsory) State. I’m genuinely curious.

A Humongous Mural Project Outside of My Comfort Zone

 

Lake Providence mural 1
Can public art make a difference in a town’s identity? I think I now believe it can play a part.

I certainly don’t think that painting a huge mural on an old building is going to solve anyone’s problems. However, perhaps living alongside inspiring words and images can help to create a climate favorable to positive change. Perhaps it can announce that there are those present who are willing to see change come, and even willing to do something to make it happen. Perhaps seeing a life-enhancing message every day may work on a person’s spirit, at least raising the possibility of new possibilities.

If there were ever a town that could use an identity change, Lake Providence, Louisiana, would be a good candidate. This town has gotten more than its share of bad press. Here is just a sampling of national and regional news stories singling out Lake Providence and the county where it is situated:
–  In 1994, Time magazine designated Lake Providence the poorest place in America.

–  In 1996, the Shreveport Times reported that East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, had the highest rate of child poverty in America.

–  In 1998 George Magazine named LP as one of the most corrupt cities in America.

–  In 2013 CNN called East Carroll Parish “the most unequal county in America.”

This northern Louisiana town of under 4000 people is a Mississippi River town, situated around a lake.  80% of the population is black. Traditionally there has been a white side, and a black side of the Lake, (although this is beginning to change.) There is a public school with no white students, and a private school with no, or few, black students. Though the town is filled with churches, they tend to be either black or white.

When I say these things to non-Southerners, they tend to be appalled, incredulous that such a situation would still exist in 21st century America. I admit that it’s taken me some time to wrap my head around the situation. I was born in 1960 in St. Louis, Missouri, and my siblings and I grew up assuming that racism was stupid and backward, despite having close relatives who sometimes made racial slurs. As a young parent, when my family lived in the inner city of Kansas City, my wife and I sent two of our boys to an all black charter school, partly because we thought it might be good for them to experience how it feels to be a minority. Especially before moving to Loveland, Colorado.

But despite the demographics in Lake Providence, it would be wrong to assume that LP and other towns like it are brimming over with racial hatred today. At this point it seems to be more a matter of ingrained patterns and inertia, especially with younger generations, who haven’t lived with the actual acts of hatred that the older generations have seen. Political power is no longer held by whites. For the past 20 years, LP has made great strides in pulling itself out of the ashes of a nasty history. There are concerned citizens working to turn the town around, and making improvements. I spoke at length with an older gentleman, who grew up in Lake Providence, and who is an agent of change. It’s interesting to hear him describe his upbringing:

By way of background, segregation in the South meant there were two of everything. Two entrances to the only movie theater in town, for example, & two seating sections…Blacks sat upstairs in the balcony; whites sat downstairs. That’s the world I grew up in & I didn’t think much about it at the time. That’s just the way it was…In a small town like Lake Providence, we associated with blacks. Our family had a black maid and I grew up around black folks, played with blacks as a child. In the army I roomed with a black man. Once in TX, we were denied service at a diner because he was black. Though he “took” it, it was my first experience with bigotry and it made me angry on his behalf and helped me to understand a little of what he went through.  

In the courthouse here, there were two drinking fountains – one for whites & one for coloreds. I drank out of the one labeled “white” and didn’t think anything about it. Three restrooms – one for white men, one for white women, one for coloreds (men & women). I went to the one labeled “whites”. That’s just what I did. No one made a “to-do” about the separateness of it…Of course, that’s all changed and you’d never know it even existed now. Everybody shops together at Walmart now.”

Today, I think people still tend to assume racism and hatred where it may not exist. One of my white Lake Providence friends told a story of going to the black section of the mall to have her hair done. She was totally well intentioned, trying to build bridges, and wanting to support a black business. She was met with cold stares, and was refused service. She insisted, saying, “but I want you to do my hair.” The hairdresser refused, saying she had never done a white person’s hair before. My friend insisted again, but the hairdresser said she didn’t have the right supplies, and told her to go the white salon. Is this racial hatred?

Not necessarily, though it probably felt like it to my friend. I don’t know the hairdresser, but I do know that black people hair is really different from white people hair. My wife had dreadlocks for ten years, and she definitely had to go to way more effort to make that happen than black do people. I once had a friend in Kansas City tell me that it was kind of a hassle for her to come to Colorado because the stores didn’t carry the right products for her hair and skin. These is not an insurmountable problem, but it illustrates the point that it’s just more work to accommodate differences. That is not to say it’s not worth the effort.

I can tell you from experience that it is way more work to racially integrate a church congregation than to remain separate. This is partly because integrating involves figuring out how to bring together different, sometimes very personal, cultural aspects such as dress, speech, music, and worship styles. Again, it’s just more work. It requires humility, forbearance, and cooperation from all sides. The multi-racial churches I’m familiar with specifically have a vision to be multi-racial, and are committed to making it work. Yet this is only fitting for any New Testament church that claims to believe the biblical call to love and unity under a universal Savior.

A Brief Word About Hate
Leaving the specific topic of racism for a moment, let’s consider the topic of hate-blaming-and-shaming in general.

I assume everyone has noticed by now the political left’s current tactic of assigning hateful motives to those who hold views it doesn’t like. This is not helpful. Assuming hatred where it doesn’t exist has a polarizing effect on the culture – it promotes a false picture of a society consisting of people who are politically liberal versus people who are motivated by hate. As if the picture is that simple. It’s a lame political tool used to manipulate and shame those with “incorrect” opinions into getting in line. This tactic is being used to shut down honest dialogue, so desperately needed between those whose opinions differ. But accusation is much easier than dialogue. It promotes sucking up to popular opinion over actually thinking about the issues. It’s also blindly arrogant: “If you disagree with my viewpoint, it is because you hate.” End of discussion.

And, by the way, if you’re a liberal hate-shamer, this business of broad-brushing people’s motives isn’t ultimately going to work. Those relative few who actually are haters don’t care what you think (because they hate you,) while the majority of us whose views differ from yours resent having our motives maligned by you. We know we’re not motivated by hatred, we’re not ashamed of our beliefs, and we’re not going to be manipulated or forced into silence.

Racial hatred, homophobia, misogyny and other types of irrational prejudice exist, but probably not to the extent that the ankle-deep news media would have us believe. For example, if you think the millions of people who oppose gay marriage are necessarily motivated by hate, I am thrilled to inform you that you are simply wrong. We’re actually motivated by truth, love, and tolerance. If you think opposition to abortion-on-demand and to Planned Parenthood constitutes a “war on women,” you should be relieved to know that we’re actually motivated by a desire to create a culture that upholds the innate value of all human life; in other words, truth, love, and tolerance. Disagreement does not equal hate.

Attempting to shame people into conformity ultimately won’t work because it doesn’t change people’s hearts. Government force does not change people’s hearts. There is simply no easy substitute for the hard work of building relationships.

The Humongous Lake Providence Mural
Resurrection Fellowship, whose pastor was once a worship leader at a church in Lake Providence years ago, has committed to building a long-term relationship with the town of Lake Providence. This Loveland church sponsored the LP mural project. A local black business owner in LP agreed to let a bunch of (mostly) white people from Colorado paint on his building. The team consisted of 9 adult artists and their families. Most considered themselves to be amateurs or non-artists. As the only full-time professional artist, I headed the project along with my wife and our leader, Eric Holmlund. Our team had one week to paint a very complex design on a huge, already primed, old building. I had my doubts that it could be done in a week.

Lake Providence mural 2
The design, which Eric had named “Destiny Words,” consisted of a crossword puzzle-like grid with interlocking words. In the spaces between we were to paint images reflective of the town and region, based on input from local citizens. Eric created the basic design for this using photos .

I felt that giving inexperienced artists photographs to paint from on such an ambitious project would probably not have ended well. So Mollie and I translated the photos into basic flat shapes, with gradated color, and incorporated heavy line work. We used the design approach of poster artists David Lance Goines, and Michael Schwab as inspiration. We felt that this would unify the overall look of the mural despite the large number of people involved, (some of whom were children.) I also felt that the simplicity of the shapes and flat color would give us a chance of actually finishing in one week.

Lake Providence mural 3
This was uncomfortable, but good for me. When it comes to art, I don’t see myself as a person who is naturally great at collaborating with other people, but for this project I determined to do the upfront design work and then “let it go.”

We arrived in Lake Providence at night in a freaking downpour, but for the rest of the week we had great weather. Our first morning there, Mr. Brock, an LP local took us on a bus tour of the town and impressed on us how different Lake Providence, LA was from Loveland, CO:

Scott Freeman painting mural

The author working on the trumpeter.

Population: LP – 3,991, Loveland – 66,859
Median hh income: LP – $16,900, Loveland – $47,119
Poverty rate: LP – 55%, Loveland – 4%
Race demographics: LP – 16% white, 80% black; Loveland – 91% white (2010)

Wow.

Then, we were off and running, working hard from morning ‘til night. The LP locals were very generous hosts and fed us extremely well all week. Even strangers fed us: one night, a black lady, dressed all in white and wearing a big white hat, was on her way home from a revival meeting. After stopping to talk with us, she went home and brought back the remains of a cheesecake for me! Really?!

The whole week was a big, crazy, colorful party with people stopping by throughout each day, many of whom joined in to paint. We were on the corner of a very busy, very close intersection, so we painted to a serenade of honking horns and encouraging shouts.

Lake Providence mural gator

Rene, Sandy, and me hard at work. The gator is my favorite.

In the end, we went right down to the wire and got the mural done with the help of many hands and much support. (Well, there is this one little area that didn’t get painted, but I’m not going to point it out.) On the very last night Eric and I went up and painted the url to a website that Eric had set up that day, so that passers by can look up the meaning and inspiration behind Lake Providence’s newest downtown public art addition. You can read about it here: www.LPmural.com.

 
Title: “Destiny Words”
Artists: Sandy Beegle, Mollie Walker Freeman, Scott Freeman, Aubrey Grieser, Margie Gray, Eric Holmlund, Sabrina Peterson, Rene Prinsloo, Marcus Robinson
Opinions expressed here are not necessarily the views of the other artists or Resurrection Fellowship.

Lake Providence mural 4

At the center of the mural is a depiction of two recent high school graduates. These girls, both prom queens from their respective LP schools, agreed to appear on the same parade float for the first time in LP history. Both were members of Providence Church in, which supported our team while we were there.

 

LP Judah

The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Literature

Image

This week I want to share an article with you that I think is well worth reading:

The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books
— by Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children’s Book Reviewer, The Wall Street Journal

The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 12, 2013, sponsored by the College’s Dow Journalism Program.

On June 4, 2011, the number one trending topic on Twitter was the Anthony Weiner scandal. I happen to remember that, because the number two topic on Twitter that day—almost as frenzied, though a lot less humorous—had to do with an outrageous, intolerable attack on Young Adult literature . . . by me. Entitled “Darkness Too Visible,” my article discussed the increasingly dark current that runs through books classified as YA, for Young Adult—books aimed at readers between 12 and 18 years of age—a subset that has, in the four decades since Young Adult became a distinct category in fiction, become increasingly lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly.

Books show us the world, and in that sense, too many books for adolescents act like funhouse mirrors, reflecting hideously distorted portrayals of life. Those of us who have grown up understand that the teen years can be fraught and turbulent—and for some kids, very unhappy—but at the same time we know that in the arc of human life, these years are brief. Today, too many novels for teenagers are long on the turbulence and short on a sense of perspective. Nor does it help that the narrative style that dominates Young Adult books is the first person present tense—“I, I, I,” and “now, now, now.” Writers use this device to create a feeling of urgency, to show solidarity with the reader and to make the reader feel that he or she is occupying the persona of the narrator. The trouble is that the first person present tense also erects a kind of verbal prison, keeping young readers in the turmoil of the moment just as their hormones tend to do. This narrative style reinforces the blinkers teenagers often seem to be wearing, rather than drawing them out and into the open.

Bringing Judgment

The late critic Hilton Kramer was seated once at a dinner next to film director Woody Allen. Allen asked him if he felt embarrassed when he met people socially whom he’d savaged in print. “No,” Kramer said, “they’re the ones who made the bad art. I just described it.” As the story goes, Allen fell gloomily silent, having once made a film that had received the Kramer treatment.

I don’t presume to have a nose as sensitive as Hilton Kramer’s—but I do know that criticism is pointless if it’s only boosterism. To evaluate anything, including children’s books, is to engage the faculty of judgment, which requires that great bugbear of the politically correct, “discrimination.” Thus, in responding to my article, YA book writers Judy Blume and Libba Bray charged that I was giving comfort to book-banners, and Publisher’s Weekly warned of a “danger” that my arguments “encourage a culture of fear around YA literature.” But I do not, in fact, wish to ban any books or frighten any authors. What I do wish is that people in the book business would exercise better taste; that adult authors would not simply validate every spasm of the teen experience; and that our culture was not marching toward ever-greater explicitness in depictions of sex and violence.

Books for children and teenagers are written, packaged, and sold by adults. It follows from this that the emotional depictions they contain come to young people with a kind of adult imprimatur. As a school librarian in Idaho wrote to her colleagues in my defense: “You are naïve if you think young people can read a dark and violent book that sits on the library shelves and not believe that that behavior must be condoned by the adults in their school lives.”

What kind of books are we talking about? Let me give you three examples— but with a warning that some of what you’re about to hear is not appropriate for younger listeners.

A teenaged boy is kidnapped, drugged, and nearly raped by a male captor. After escaping, he comes across a pair of weird glasses that transport him to a world of almost impossible cruelty. Moments later, he finds himself facing a wall of horrors, “covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises. Where the f— was this?”

That’s from Andrew Smith’s 2010 Young Adult novel, The Marbury Lens.

A girl struggles with self-hatred and self-injury. She cuts herself with razors secretly, but her secret gets out when she’s the victim of a sadistic sexual prank. Kids at school jeer at her, calling her “cutterslut.” In response, “she had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.”

That’s from Jackie Morse Kessler’s 2011 Young Adult novel, Rage.

I won’t read you the most offensive excerpts from my third example, which consist of explicit and obscene descriptions by a 17-year-old female narrator of sexual petting, of oral sex, and of rushing to a bathroom to defecate following a breakup. Yet School Library Journal praised Daria Snadowsky’s 2008 Young Adult novel, Anatomy of a Boyfriend, for dealing “in modern terms with the real issues of discovering sex for the first time.” And Random House, its publisher, gushed about the narrator’s “heartbreakingly honest voice” as she recounts the “exquisite ups and dramatic downs of teenage love and heartbreak.”

The book industry, broadly speaking, says: Kids have a right to read what- ever they want. And if you follow the argument through it becomes: Adults should not discriminate between good and bad books or stand as gatekeepers, deciding what young people should read. In other words, the faculty of judgment and taste that we apply in every other area of life involving children should somehow vaporize when it comes in contact with the printed word.

I appeared on National Public Radio to discuss these issues with the Young Adult book author Lauren Myracle, who has been hailed as a person “on the front lines in the fight for freedom of expression”—as if any controversy over whether a book is appropriate for children turns on the question of the author’s freedom to express herself. Myracle made clear that she doesn’t believe there should be any line between adult literature and literature for young people. In saying this, she was echoing the view that prevails in many progressive, secular circles—that young people should encounter material that jolts them out of their comfort zone; that the world is a tough place; and that there’s no point shielding children from reality. I took the less progressive, less secular view that parents should take a more interventionist approach, steering their children away from books about sex and horror and degradation, and towards books that make aesthetic and moral claims.

Now, although it may seem that our culture is split between Left and Right on the question of permissiveness regarding children’s reading material, in fact there is not so much division on the core issue as might appear. Secular progressives, despite their reaction to my article, have their own list of books they think young people shouldn’t read—for instance, books they claim are tinged with racism or jingoism or that depict traditional gender roles. Regarding the latter, you would not believe the extent to which children’s picture books today go out of the way to show father in an apron and mother tinkering with machinery. It’s pretty funny. But my larger point here is that the self-proclaimed anti-book-banners on the Left agree that books influence children and prefer some books to others.

Indeed, in the early years of the Cold War, many left-wing creative people in America gravitated toward children’s literature. Philip Nel, a professor at Kansas State University, has written that Red-hunters, “seeing children’s books as a field dominated by women . . . deemed it less important and so did not watch it closely.” Among the authors I am referring to are Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Ruth Krauss, author of the 1952 classic A Hole is to Dig, illustrated by a young Maurice Sendak. Krauss was quite open in her belief that children’s literature was an excellent means of putting left-wing ideas into young minds. Or so she hoped.

When I was a little girl I read The Cat in the Hat, and I took from it an understanding of the sanctity of private property—it outraged me when the Cat and Thing One and Thing Two rampaged through the children’s house while their mother was away. Dr. Seuss was probably not intending to inculcate capitalist ideas—quite the contrary. But it happened in my case, and the point is instructive.

Taste and Beauty

A recent study conducted at Virginia Tech found that college women who read “chick lit”—light novels that deal with the angst of being a modern woman—reported feeling more insecure about themselves and their bodies after reading novels in which the heroines feel insecure about themselves and their bodies. Similarly, federal researchers were puzzled for years by a seeming paradox when it came to educating children about the dangers of drugs and tobacco. There seemed to be a correlation between anti-drug and anti-tobacco programs in elementary and middle schools and subsequent drug and tobacco use at those schools. It turned out that at the same time children were learning that drugs and tobacco were bad, they were taking in the meta-message that adults expected them to use drugs and tobacco.

This is why good taste matters so much when it comes to books for children and young adults. Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave—what the spectrum is. Books don’t just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms—and as the examples above show, the norms young people take away are not necessarily the norms adults intend. This is why I am skeptical of the social utility of so-called “problem novels”—books that have a troubled main character, such as a girl with a father who started raping her when she was a toddler and anonymously provides her with knives when she is a teenager hoping that she will cut herself to death. (This scenario is from Cheryl Rainfield’s 2010 Young Adult novel, Scars, which School Library Journal hailed as “one heck of a good book.”) The argument in favor of such books is that they validate the real and terrible experiences of teenagers who have been abused, addicted, or raped—among other things. The problem is that the very act of detailing these pathologies, not just in one book but in many, normalizes them. And teenagers are all about identifying norms and adhering to them.

In journalist Emily Bazelon’s recent book about bullying, she describes how schools are using a method called “social norming” to discourage drinking and driving. “The idea,” she writes, “is that students often overestimate how much other kids drink and drive, and when they find out that it’s less prevalent than they think—outlier behavior rather than the norm—they’re less likely to do it themselves.” The same goes for bullying: “When kids understand that cruelty isn’t the norm,” Bazelon says, “they’re less likely to be cruel themselves.”

Now isn’t that interesting?

Ok, you say, but books for kids have always been dark. What about Hansel and Gretel? What about the scene in Beowulf where the monster sneaks into the Danish camp and starts eating people?

Beowulf is admittedly gruesome in parts—and fairy tales are often scary. Yet we approach them at a kind of arm’s length, almost as allegory. In the case of Beowulf, furthermore, children reading it—or having it read to them— are absorbing the rhythms of one of mankind’s great heroic epics, one that explicitly reminds us that our talents come from God and that we act under God’s eye and guidance. Even with the gore, Beowulf won’t make a child callous. It will help to civilize him.

English philosopher Roger Scruton has written at length about what he calls the modern “flight from beauty,” which he sees in every aspect of our contemporary culture. “It is not merely,” he writes, “that artists, directors, musicians and others connected with the arts”—here we might include authors of Young Adult literature—“are in a flight from beauty . . . . There is a desire to spoil beauty . . . . For beauty makes a claim on us; it is a call to renounce our narcisissm and look with reverence on the world.”

We can go to the Palazzo Borghese in Rome and stand before Caravaggio’s painting of David with the head of Goliath, and though we are looking at horror we are not seeing ugliness. The light that plays across David’s face and chest, and that slants across Goliath’s half-open eyes and mouth, transforms the scene into something beautiful. The problem with the darker offerings in Young Adult literature is that they lack this transforming and uplifting quality. They take difficult subjects and wallow in them in a gluttonous way; they show an orgiastic lack of restraint that is the mark of bad taste.

Young Adult book author Sherman Alexie wrote a rebuttal to my article entitled, “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood.” In it, he asks how I could honestly believe that a sexually explicit Young Adult novel might traumatize a teenaged mother. “Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?”

Well of course I don’t. But I also don’t believe that the vast majority of 12-to- 18-year-olds are living in hell. And as for those who are, does it really serve them to give them more torment and sulphur in the stories they read?

The body of children’s literature is a little like the Library of Babel in the Jorge Luis Borges story—shelf after shelf of books, many almost gibberish, but a rare few filled with wisdom and beauty and answers to important questions. These are the books that have lasted because generation after generation has seen in them something transcendent, and has passed them on. Maria Tatar, who teaches children’s literature at Harvard, describes books like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Books, and Pinocchio as “setting minds into motion, renewing senses, and almost rewiring brains.” Or as William Wordsworth wrote: “What we have loved/others will love, and we will teach them how.”

* * *

The good news is that just like the lousy books of the past, the lousy books of the present will blow away like chaff. The bad news is that they will leave their mark. As in so many aspects of culture, the damage they do can’t easily be measured. It is more a thing to be felt—a coarseness, an emptiness, a sorrow.

“Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as if it does not matter.” That’s Roger Scruton again. But he doesn’t want us to despair. He also writes:

It is one mark of rational beings that they do not live only—or even at all—in the present. They have the freedom to despise the world that surrounds them and live another way. The art, literature, and music of our civilization remind them of this, and also point to the path that lies always before them: the path out of desecration towards the sacred and the sacrificial.

Let me close with Saint Paul the Apostle in Philippians 4:8:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

And let us think about these words when we go shopping for books for our children.

 

Copyright © 2013 Hillsdale College. “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”
Imprimis (im-pri-mis), [latin]: in the first place – SubsCriptiOn free upOn request.

More About Mores (and Morays)

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Webster defines mores (pronounced MOR-aze – like the eel,) as:
“the fixed morally binding customs of a particular group.”

I’m no expert on morality and ethics, but then, who among us is? However, I have been paying attention. There is an idea about morality out there that seems to be not going away, despite the fact that it’s completely unhelpful to the discussion. It’s like the high fructose corn syrup of discussions on morality – self-serving people have put it in everything, even though it’s really bad for everyone.

I’m speaking of the idea that, regarding human behavior, if something is natural then it must be good; if an impulse is natural it must be in us for a legit reason.

May I delicately point out a couple of things about this idea that might be stupid?

First of all, what does that even mean – a “natural tendency,” or “natural behavior”? If we’re merely material animals, as secularists claim, how could anything we do not be natural? Maybe some of you can answer this for me, but I come up empty.

I mean, if animals do it, doesn’t that automatically make it natural? Can we really say that killing other people is unnatural? Couldn’t I argue that it’s perfectly natural to make snow angels in a bed of poison ivy, or to rush off a cliff to my death like a lemming? How is this helpful in determining what is moral behavior? Couldn’t someone plausibly argue that it’s natural for the larger, physically stronger, and more aggressive sex to dominate the other?

Or, on the other hand, I might look around at the world of nature and conclude that wearing clothing isn’t natural, since we’re the only animals doing it. I’m also pretty sure we’re the only ones cooking food, using electricity, and making art. I don’t get it.

Second, pundits seem to be using evolutionary theory as their basis for thinking this way, as if they actually know anything about our so-called evolutionary past. Evolution explains everything for secularists because they believe that it must. If we truly evolved from scum, then everything that is here is the result of natural evolutionary processes, whether or not it seems plausible. And yet, our evolutionary past is not observable or testable, and is therefore not falsifiable.

Is this sounding familiar?

This is what secularists say about God, whose existence is also not falsifiable. Nonetheless, we now have highly educated materialists, speaking as dogmatically as any Sunday School teacher ever did, teaching utterly speculative things like, “Men are more sexually promiscuous than women because, in our evolutionary past, sexually promiscuous behavior increased the odds of passing on one’s genes.” I can hardly imagine a worse basis from which to derive morals and ethics.

Thirdly and most importantly, the equating of what is natural with what is acceptable completely misses the point of what morality is. Here I must make the observation that moral behavior is always at odds with our “natural” tendencies – that’s precisely WHY moral behavior is revered and respected!  Call me Master-of-the-Obvious, but isn’t a reason we value truth-telling precisely because we know we all have a natural tendency to lie? Do not stories of love and self-sacrifice move us to tears precisely because we know we all have a natural tendency toward self-preservation? Don’t we celebrate couples who have lived their entire lives together in marital sexual fidelity precisely because we know that people are naturally inclined to be sexually promiscuous?

Let’s stop there for a moment: In other words, marital monogamy is not natural – rather, it is the high bar for relationships. But in fact we are now hearing “marriage equality” secularists arguing precisely against marital monogamy in their quest to redefine marriage. Because monogamy isn’t natural. (See examples here, here, & here.)

Right. By definition, moral behavior is not natural. If anything, I’d say it’s…well, kind of…supernatural.

What it’s like to be a human being
Our polarized postmodern culture now carries two prominently clashing views of humanity, morality, and freedom – the secular view, and the biblical view. I find the comparison endlessly fascinating. Both sides see a problem within human beings, but both see the problem and solution in profoundly different ways. Both see human beings as split apart. But each understands this disunity differently:

1)     The secularist believes only in the material reality. No spirit apart from the body. No mind apart from the brain. No truth apart from observable matter. The physical nuts and bolts of the human machine is all that objectively exists. Anything beyond that – values, morality, spirituality, culture; even gender and ideas of human worth – are fluid, squishy, subjective, arbitrary, illusory, and  ultimately disposable. So within man, the secularist posits a separation between what can be observed as fact (the material,) and the unseen realm of values (the non-material.)

2)     The biblical view understands human beings as creatures who were created to be a unity of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thes 5:23.) We were created to be relationally united with our Creator, who objectively exists apart from our physical reality. (Therefore, mind, personhood, and worth can all exist objectively apart from physical reality.) However, human beings now exist in a fallen state of spiritual separation from God; we’ve lost an essential part of what we were meant to be. So within man, the follower of Jesus sees a separation between God and man, which has consequently left man struggling to find the lost unity – body, soul, and spirit – that he was created for.

The secularist believes that the material universe contains the only pieces of the puzzle that exist. The follower of Jesus believes there are critical pieces missing that must come from outside of ourselves, and outside of the material universe, and that our loving Creator took it upon Himself to provide those pieces. So the goal of the spiritual rebirth of which Jesus spoke is about restoring us broken creatures back to wholeness and relational unity. It was never about religion, or “going to heaven.” (I welcome any argument from the whole of scripture that shows otherwise.)

Regarding social mores, both views can agree that morals are not natural in that they go against our natural impulses. But one perspective views this as negative and limiting, while the other sees it as positive and helpful

1)     The secularist approach says that we accidentally evolved by mindless, natural processes, and that “artificial” social constructs, such as religious moral codes, are tools of oppression that may keep our true selves from being expressed. Our natural impulses are what brought us to our present evolutionary state. Social constructs such as gender limit our choices and potential.

2)     The biblical approach says we all bear the image of a loving God, but that our nature has been corrupted. “Artificial” social constructs serve as one imperfect way to keep our corrupted nature from spiraling downward, keeping our natural tendencies in check, and preserving societal order. Our fallen, natural tendencies tend to be selfish and destructive.

Clearly, a person’s ideas about freedom will be shaped by which idea of reality he or she buys into. It might come as a surprise to some that the teaching of Jesus and His apostles deals squarely with these issues of wholeness, freedom, and a unified life – unity between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.

A view of freedom that has been cutting-edge for 2000 years
In writing this, I am not advocating religion or politics or social mores as some sort of solution, nor does the Bible put forth this view. At best these things are more like a holding pattern. Personally, I am generally annoyed by religion, and I find some religions to be downright nasty and oppressive. Accordingly, in my last post I said that I don’t live by sex taboos at all, even as I was defending them. Secularist readers may be wondering how I can say these things since I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus.

That’s a fair question. My answer is that Jesus is a person, not a religion, and that Jesus made possible an entirely new and better way to live, transcending cultural mores and religion. He opened the possibility for a life that couldn’t have existed before He came, and He was able to do this because He was more than merely a “great teacher.” Following is His good news, according to the Bible, as brief as I can make it:

The whole human being was created both a spiritual and a physical being, created for companionship with both God and men. God declared this relational unity to be “good.” When this relational unity with God was broken, humanity consequently experienced a spiritual death, or separation, and humanity slid into dysfunction and violence. With God’s covenant people Israel, God established a written body of “low-bar”, temporal social mores in the Torah. Similarly, all civilizations develop externally enforced bodies of mores, customs, and laws designed to maintain societal order. However, uniquely (and supernaturally) embedded within the Hebrew Torah and prophets was a promise of a coming freedom and salvation. God Himself took on human flesh in order to fulfill these promises for humanity. His salvation is total – freeing humanity from bondage to imperfect, externally enforced moral codes, but also freeing us from bondage to sin, death, and decay – the consequences of our fallen-ness. In making spiritual rebirth possible, Jesus uniquely made possible a real, internal change, and a new and better life in the Spirit as opposed to living under a written code (Ro 7:6&7.) All of this was an act of love on our behalf, and it comes with an invitation to everyone (Acts 13:47; Titus 2:11.)

This is not to say that the follower of Jesus is above the law, or that he is without law. God’s standard fulfills and surpasses the law. We see this illustrated in statements by Jesus such as, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery [Torah.] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat 5:27,28.) Yet the Spirit-led person is no longer motivated by fear or guilt, but by the highest motivator, which is love – Love for God and love for people.

If you are a parent, or were raised by one, perhaps you will agree that there is no greater motivator than love. Accordingly, Jesus stated that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like it – to love one’s neighbor (Mat 22:36-39.) In keeping with this the apostle Paul stated that “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law/Torah” (Ro 13:9&10.)

This better life in the Spirit made possible by Jesus surpasses the mores of each given culture.
In contrast, the non-spiritual life of the secularist rejects the cultural mores to follow “natural” impulses.

Ironically, from a biblical perspective, the secularist can be said to have the right idea in recognizing the insufficiency, artificiality, and even restrictive nature of externally enforced mores. But to dump the mores without replacing them with something better, (such as spiritual rebirth,) would be to turn our corrupted selves loose against forces too great for society to bear. This is akin to putting the inmates in charge of the prison.

For several years now, Evangelicals have been accused, both from within and without, of “harping on social issues like abortion and homosexuality.” As if Evangelicals are simply interested in returning to a nostalgic 1950’s America. As if these issues are simply a matter of a lack of intelligence and education on the part of Evangelicals. As if the issues of human personhood, gender, and sexuality do not affect us all at the most fundamental level.

But this is now no longer a theoretical debate. America currently has a presidential administration that is forcing the issue. Social and political engineers are now dumping cultural mores and actively attempting to use the force of government to coerce otherwise law-abiding citizens to violate their “fundamental religious beliefs” over the issues of abortion and gay marriage.

I understand that the political left’s ostensible reason for forcing everyone to submit to its political views is that its agenda is correct, just, good, & better for everyone. But really? I wonder if other totalitarian regimes have ever thought that. (I’m kidding. I don’t wonder. The answer is “yes.”) Must we be reminded that it is not okay to force people to submit to our personal political views just because our intentions are good?

It’s hip and trendy now to accept the materialist story and its implications – that you have the heart, mind, and destiny of an animal, and that human life has no unique, innate, or transcendent value. If you call yourself a Christian and you are buying into these materialist ideas, I urge you to get your head in the game, because this stuff matters. To  secularist and the Christian alike I offer a gentle reminder that there is no falsifiable evidence establishing as true the dogma of materialism. There is merely the same old pendulum of human bias and peer pressure, now imposing a materialist perspective onto reality. The issue for all of us is about the true shape of reality. Until that can be tested and proven in a laboratory, we had best cut each other some slack and err on the side of freedom of thought. Both sides of the worldview spectrum are going to have to find a way to respectfully disagree and co-exist, because neither side is going away.

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

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