12/11/18

"The Land We Love" by Boyd Cathey, a Review

By: Jonathan Harris

Dr. Boyd D. Cathey, a first-rate scholar whose expertise ranges from European and Southern history to philosophy, religion, and music has finally published an anthology of his “greatest hits” in “The Land We Love: The South and Its Heritage.” Essays on traditional conservatism, Southern culture, Western heritage, as well as movies and books fill up the 44 chapters of this intellectual gold mine. To say Cathey has been around the block, when it comes to Southern conservatism, is an understatement. Cathey was a personal assistant to Russell Kirk, an editor of Southern Partisan, and has filled multiple positions in the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Included in this wonderful work is Cathey’s widely circulated expose of Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center—an action that got him blacklisted when the “anti-hate” group focused their guns on him. Dr. Cathey’s explanation and understanding of neo-conservatism is worth the price of the book itself. Of course, Cathey also defends his homeland, the South and North Carolina, from progressive attempts to remake it; especially against the purging of all things Confederate. Standing with Robert E. Lee, Robert Lewis Dabney, and Mel Bradford; and against Abraham Lincoln, Victor Davis Hanson, and Dinesh D’Souza is Boyd Cathey.

Personal stories, intellectual essays, religious meditations, and even an interview with Eugene Genovese make “The Land We Love” stand the test of time. From 1983 to 2018 Dr. Cathey has faithfully interpreted and defended his place of birth. It turns out that loving “home” is not for the fainthearted, a charge Boyd D. Cathey will never be accused of.

12/4/18

A Compassionate Argument for a Strict Border Part 2: Incentives

By: David Harris

In the previous installment we looked at the some of the issues that arise for immigrants to the US when assimilation does not take place. In this installment we will further develop the idea that strict border policy is 1) more compassionate than loose policy and that 2) incentive is the key to understanding this.

Let's consider the incentive to
illegal immigration specifically. Why is the border policy advocated by those on the left cruel to illegal immigrants? It’s not just because illegals are afraid to use public services (they do, especially in sanctuary cities/states), it’s not just because of the risk they take in “sneaking in.” It’s because those advocating a less strict border policy generally don’t actually care about the people 1) who already live in the US or 2) those in other nations desiring to come here. How do we know?  

It’s actually very simple when you turn off the emotional overdrive for 5 seconds. Let me break it down: Immigrants who come to the US are not the poorest of the poor. We know this because they are able bodied enough to migrate, work and often travel back and forth between two countries. The extremely poor and sick are not able to move from where they are, and thus must be helped where they are. This can be done 3 ways: 1) a migrant comes to the US, works and sends money home; 2) people from the US or other more wealthy nations send money or go and personally assist the poor and needy themselves or 3) the situation in that country improves and people are less incentivized to leave. When the US government relaxes border policy it follows that an incentive to physically abandon a nation is created – those who cross the border illegally may be responsible for breaking US law in coming the way they do, but they are not responsible for the incentive that was created by the relaxed law, sanctuary cities and worst of all, entitlements that destroy personal industry. We typically only hear how illegal immigration hurts US citizens, but if we really cared about all people, we’d also talk about how it damages the illegals themselves, and worse, their countries of origin.

Once someone comes across, they are often separated from their family for long periods of time – often leading to a breakdown of the family structure. Marriages destroyed, children growing up with profound insecurity (I would know, I work with these families). But worse than that, the incentive to leave the mother nation means that there’s no incentive to stay and try to improve the situation there – “staying’s worse than leaving.” No argument has to be made for the problem of criminals coming to the US illegally, but what about the consequence of drawing productive members of society who now will never improve their own? You should be able to see that incentivizing for example, an El Salvadorian to come to the US illegally, has nothing to do with compassion for the people of El Salvador. Furthermore, it’s well known and observed that the multi-cultural “culture” of nations like the US render the cultures of immigrant children after two or three generations to be little more than a smattering of words from the first language and a few “ethnic” recipes, and therefore is culturally destructive (NOTE: I’m not arguing that this is a bad thing, but it would/should be for an ardent and honest multiculturalist).

Again, this is not necessarily meant to blame those who come – those who want to work hard to make a better life for their family should be respected, but would it not be more desirable for the immigrant to be able to stay in the country that he/she loves, if possible? Many, possibly most immigrants would prefer to stay in their countries (after all, many choose to keep displaying the flag of their home country when they make their home here) – their homeland is the place they’ve been born into, their grandparents were born into, that represents their culture, etc. – the land and culture are immensely important. Why incentivize individuals from other countries to come to this one and call it “compassion?” It’s hard to think of something less compassionate than to incentivize people with free stuff (sanctuary cities, entitlements, etc.) to abandon their struggling country for another one, the only benefit to the mother country being money sent home to family still in that country.

As the impact of illegal immigration on US citizens and those trying to come to the US legally is usually the focal point of conservative narratives on immigration in general, there is little point in reviewing them. The fixes to this broken system are fairly simple– build the wall, enforce immigration laws and most of all, and terminate entitlements, especially for “undocumented immigrants.” Enacting these polices would be good for those living and coming to the US, but as indicated above, they would also benefit those currently incentivized to come to the US illegally. In the next installment we’ll consider ways to show legitimate compassion to immigrants, both legal and illegal.

A Short Review of Every Good Endevour by Tim Keller

By: Jonathan Harris

It's a bit difficult to review this book and here's why: Keller says a lot of good things, but he also says some bad things. The good things he says are not unique to him at all. In fact, others have said them much better. Nancy Pearcey does does a much better job explaining the issue of compartmentalization (the sacred/profane distinction). I would recommend her book "Total Truth," five days of the week and twice on Sunday before recommending "Every Good Endeavor." In fact, I cannot see myself ever recommending "Every Good Endeavor." Keller's progressive leanings subtly infiltrate his message far too often. Having said this, I still think there's a lot of good that can come from this book.

I'll start with the positive. The best thing about this book is Keller's characterization of the Christian worldview as a story. It is not a top down ideological system (though it has elements of this, it is more than this). Unfortunately, Keller, after presenting this goes on later in the book to contrast a "Christian Worldview" with love and human flourishing. It's almost like he forgot about his own definition. A Christian worldview should flow from the story of God's love. Ok, so that did not sound very positive. Let me try again. There's a lot of good in this book in regard to destroying the idea that a job should be for the pursuit of idols instead of the pursuit of God's purposes. In fact, purpose is found when aligning oneself with God. This is all good. At least half the book focuses on this point.

Here's the rub. Keller is not much of a sophisticated intellectual (if this book is any indication), which is absolutely fine. The problem is he seems to fancy himself one. The categorical errors he makes expose him. For one thing Keller confuses the standards that ought to be in place for individuals with the standards that ought to be in place for organizations. Are people held to the same standards as corporations in a moral sense? Keller seems to think so, at least he navigates paragraphs that way. He'll be talking about Murdock and a company making money as a prime reason for existence and an example of idolatry while praising Hershey's benevolence. There's an apples and oranges problem here. Murdock could/should have a personal purpose for his company that connects with divine principles. This does not mean the corporation itself does not have the purpose of making a profit. In fact, without making a profit all the employees are out of a job. This does not help human flourishing (a phrase Keller loves but does not seem to want to define very clearly). Could not Hershey be paying employees to build an amusement park or give charitably out of a personal idol that longs for the praise of man etc.? Of course, but Keller seems to save his harshness for what most see as the excesses of capitalism.

He talks about "sociological idols." This is a modern idea very difficult to find in Scripture. Idols come from individual hearts. There can be a whole lot of individuals with the same idol, but they are still individual issues with spiritual solutions. He also goes as far as to say "family" can be an idol in a discussion on Christian conservatives withdrawing from the enjoyment of entertainment choices from the world. Yes, it can. But so can anything. Why pick on that particular thing, which in a rightly ordered universe should be a legitimate concern? Why are non-Christians praised for helping human flourishing etc.? They're engaged in idolatry as well, by definition. It's strange.

Keller's discussion of cultural engagement is borderline terrible. He says there are always idols and always aspects of redemption in every piece of art because of common grace. Scripture does not use this kind of language though. Scripture does not apply the image of God to pornography. There's a problem here. There is art that is objectively evil and art that objectively good. The Scriptures are obviously objectively good. Our problem as humans is a problem of recognition. We are limited and can't always see how God sees. But, to make an argument for an "eat the meat, spit out the bones" type of lifestyle is dangerous. Most art in the modern age compromises one's soul. Yes, someone may be using God-given skills (to spit in His face), but that's not really the point is it?

Ok, so Keller conflated individual and corporate responsibility/purpose, and potentially gave some license to engage in tempting forms of entertainment. Is that such a big deal? I mean, it's not the end of the world if the reader has discernment. But a discerning reader should be able to find the useful information in this book from other places. A little on the capitalism thing, since it sticks in my craw---Without a synthesis that marries cost/benefit and the well-being of the community (two things Keller juxtaposes) there will be no human flourishing. Making a profit is not a bad thing. I don't think Keller would go as far as to say that it is, but he approaches the cliff and seems to peer over the edge. Companies and individuals both need to be in the red. This is actually what helps them take care of others (Eph 4:28).

Back to Keller's perceived sophistication. The whole worldview analysis thing is weird. Keller tries to tie specific idols to three different worldviews (traditional, modernist, and post modernist). Of course traditionalists get to take responsibility for the racists. No shock there. Even though, anyone with a scintilla of historical understanding knows modernists and postmodernists have the same issues. In fact, that's where his whole model seems to break down. The same idols that have always plagued humans are reintroduced in different forms but they always remain (i.e. Dianna the temple goddess and pornography). None are unique to a different time period/world view. Keller compares the Christian story to these three worldviews. The issue here is that it's such an oversimplification it becomes a cartoon. Traditional worldviews are vast and varied (He talks about Asian cultures too?). Modernist and Post Modernist values are worldviews that make sense in the Western context, but are ideological and not traditional. They belong in a separate category. It's just unusual.

This book is written on a lower highschool level. Keller uses language common to a lot of pop Christian publishing endeavors. For instance, instead of saying "The enlightenment," he'll say, "This thing called the enlightenment." It's a bit overly simplistic, but feels like he's oddly talking down (This is probably where I got the impression he thought himself sophisticated. Well, that and trying to tackle Greek thought and worldview analysis in the manner he seems too). Keller overuses "human flourishing" and "love" without providing great Christian definitions for what he's talking about. This is an opportunity for readers with other worldviews to smuggle in their own concepts about what those things mean.

The end of the matter is this: Keller seems to be writing to postmodernists who are disenfranchised with modernism and capitalism in particular. He's writing from NYC. Once this is understood the whole thing makes sense. He's catering to the perceived needs of people around him. He's making a Christian worldview a palatable escape hatch from modernity. The issue here is that there's really not much about the Lordship of Christ. That ought to be the emphasis, but it's really not. Yes, there's a few verses here and there, but not what one would expect at all. Those coming to Christianity for the benefits will read this and perhaps love it. Maybe some will be saved as a result (that's my hope). But it's the wrong draw card to use. The beauty of, Lordship of, power of, etc. of Christ must be the draw card. Sin is also a disgusting pile of dung, not merely an impediment to "human flourishing." I'm not sure why anyone would flee to the Savior because they wanted to flourish in this life. It's not much of a rallying cry.

12/3/18

The Benedict Option: A Short Review

By: Jonathan Harris

So here's the uncomplicated, obvious, and simple strategy for Christian cultural renewal (the author admits this): Live like a Christian. That's it.

A reader may be wondering, "Why wonder my way through an entire book to tell me that?" The reason is that Rod Dreher has an accurate pessimism when it comes to the state of affairs in modern Christianity. Most professing Christians have completely lost any sense of integrating their faith with their life. They passively accept whatever the culture throws at them ethically, technologically, and artistically.

To be fair, Dreher fleshes out his strategy a little more. The Benedictine order has something to do with his premise. He thinks we can learn something from the life of a Christian monk. We can. But, we must be very, and I mean, very, careful here. I would never recommend this book to someone unless I was completely assured that their level of discernment was high. Dreher makes some excellent points (mainly in his critique of modernity), but also says some potentially harmful things.

Here are some of his better points: Toward the beginning he offers a jet-tour through Western civilization and, much like Richard Weaver, blames nominalism for our current cultural ills. He's right about all this. His section on technology at the end is great. We are addicted. It's sucking our humanity away. Monks definitely don't have the same problems (it helps when you give it up!). Dreher endorses the classical school model. More kudos coming from me. In addition, he suggests a life of prayer and reflection. These are lost disciplines, and yes, they need to be rekindled. There are more things the author says but these are the main take aways in my opinion.

Now on to the dangerous stuff: The greatest issue I see is Dreher's endorsement of "mere Christianity." Not the book, but the movement. He sees denominational barriers as a problem. We ought to have fellowship (Catholics, Orthodox, evangelicals, etc.) around the fact that we hold some basic truths and the secular world is persecuting us for them. This is a slippery slope. Scratch that, it's a leap off a cliff. The gospel must be the basis for any kind of fellowship. There is no Christian fellowship outside of it no matter how many common enemies or beliefs we may share. I'd be curious if Dreher invites Mormons into this sphere? He actually gives praise to the Mormon's sense of community while distancing himself from their theology. I don't think Dreher is thinking two steps ahead on where this kind of stuff eventually goes.

There is much more than can be said, but everything else is of lesser consequence. This may be a good book for someone interested in navigating technology and education in the modern age. Even then I think there are better books. This book is not revolutionary and eventually even Dreher's strategies are unlikely to work completely. He hints at a principled pluralism. I'm not sure if he'd ever use the term but the bottom line is that a secular government if left unchecked will not allow Christians to carve out these Benedictine "safe spaces." Still, Dreher makes some good points that are worthy of being heard. One of them I was already pondering, but he reinforced, was the need to incorporate liturgy in personal and church life. I think most of his good points Nancy Pearcey made in "Total Truth." If you read Francis Schaeffer sprinkled in with Neil Postman there's really no reason to read "The Benedict Option."

12/2/18

A Few Thoughts on Hillbilly Elegy

By: Jonathan Harris


Overall, this is a good book. It's not necessarily an entertaining one though. J.D. Vance does a great job narrating, to the point that you feel like you are with him in his stories. However, the stories are not always so nice. Vance describes a world of honor, bravery, and patriotism, but also of drugs, abuse, and poverty.

Here are a few good things about this book.

1. It sticks a needle in the eye of identity politics. The myth of "white privilege" completely disintegrates. It's not J.D.'s point to get overtly political. He's just telling his story, but his story does not comport with the concept of systematic racism or white privilege.

2. J.D. has a lot of optimism and hope. He is not writing as one who gripes about his family or culture. He is proud of where he came from though he can see the flaws in "Hillbilly" folk ways. Vance's solutions are not government solutions. He cares for his people, and he knows they can achieve more stability. He's not the savior lighting the way, but he is the humble example of what can happen when other's help.

3. It focuses on a marginalized culture often left out of mainstream discussions. Awareness is raised.

4.  This was written before President Trump was elected, but it explains perfectly why people elected him. Again, Vance isn't trying to write a political book, it just so happens that his story intersects with political questions. How can a professing Christian vote for a guy who has had all the affairs Trump has had etc.? Here's your answer.

Here are a few not so good things.

1. There's a lot of language. I mean F-bombs, etc. throughout the entire book. Vance's point is to make things as real as possible, but he goes a little overboard. Sometimes it's unnecessary. If it were a movie I likely would not watch it. For the purposes of study I was able to get through, but found the language annoying at times.

2. Vance's portrayal of hillbilly culture is accurate to a point. He is reading a culture through his experience. They are the descendants of Scotch-Irish mountain dwellers who spread out over the Midwest and upper South. I'm fairly skeptical that Vance's experience is the experience of all hillbillies. Northern Kentucky and Ohio are going to be different than Western North Carolina and Ozark mountain dwellers. In the same way, many of the issues Vance describes can be applied to western New Yorkers. My own experience as a repairman in upstate New York, Connecticut, and both Carolinas is what makes me a little bit skeptical. I feel as though I've met exactly who Vance describes in every place (perhaps not as much in CT) I've worked. I've also met the more committed church-going straight and narrow types as well. The rust belt and Appalachia, as well as the Deep South, contain mixes of Dale Earnheardts and Jeff Gordans, Hank Williams Jr.'s and Alan Jacksons. The people who indwell these regions are usually somewhere between "raising hell and amazing grace" to quote a Big and Rich album. Vance seemed to have been in an area, and in a family, that were a little more on the raising hell side of things. It's his story so this is not a bad thing, it just needs to be understood.

3. In Vance's sociological I wish there was a little more about the effect of modernity, Reconstruction, etc. This is because I have the history bug. Vance was under no obligation to do this, I know I would have wanted to insert something about how historically hillbillies got to the point they're at now. What happens when you break the pride of "dueling culture" through war, outsourcing, and persecution? (i.e. the War Between the States, Factories shutting down/poverty, and anti-Christian and anti-Southern rhetoric). What happens when a culture that takes pride in family names is now more confused genealogically, through hanky panky etc.,  than they ever have been? Sure these things are their own fault. Vance is right about that, but how did they get here? That's a story for another book perhaps. Oftentimes, the Great Society is blamed for the demise of the black family. It would be a true statement to say, "The black family collapsed because of internal moral failings." It would also be true to say, "The Great Society had something to do with it." Both are true in this case as well.

I would still recommend the book for those who want to understand how Donald Trump came to be where he is (his mother is Scottish you know), or what kinds of real solutions impoverished people need. (Hint: They don't come from the government).

12/1/18

Gay Girl, Good God: A Short Review

By: Jonathan Harris

The title makes it sound like it's for "Gay Christianity," but it's not. This is a great story of deliverance from homosexuality. It's a story, not a book on homosexuality specifically. It's also more descriptive than the standard fare popular Christian publishers are cranking out these days.

I would recommend with two cautions.

The first caution is this: Make sure you do not fall into the trap of thinking Jackie Hill Perry is a spiritual guru. She's not. This is the story of a layperson, and it's a good one. It glorifies God and the gospel. However, Perry is no theologian. She's very correct about the power of the gospel, but she's also on the social justice train when it comes to cultural Marxism. None of that comes out in this book. Her story though is what informs her. What God did in delivering her is very real. She's not writing a theology though. Someone could easily read this and use her story to justify her theology rather than using theology to justify her story. None of this takes away from the point she makes in the book. It's valid. But, in an age of celebrity preachers and spiritual gurus this needs to be said.

The second caution is this: Toward the end of the book Perry talks about "the gospel of heterosexuality." Much of what she said is true. Yes, there are Christians who have assumed the gospel is meant to make gays straight, etc. The problem is that Perry reads her perception through the lens of her experience. She seems to universalize her experience toward the end by saying "the church" has this issue. Well, perhaps in some quarters, but overall it would be very difficult to find sources to back up such a claim other than personal experiences, etc. Mainstream Christian ministries have not been known to crank out anything remotely similar to what Perry calls "the gospel of heterosexuality." The only concern I have is that people from the "let's hate the church" crowd could easily use what she said and perhaps take it farther than she even does. The fact is, the gospel should order our desires which includes making someone with same sex desires someone who now is attracted exclusively to those of the opposite sex. That's not a bad thing. It's a healthy thing. Perry makes a separation where there should not be one. It's not either/or. It's both/and. It's not either Jesus or straightness as a pursuit. Homosexuals who want to be Christians should pursue Jesus and in pursuing him pursue ordered desires.

This all being said, again, I recommend this. It's a great antidote in the pop Christian world to books like "Single, Gay, Christian." It's a great story of redemption. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...