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Your Turn / Check out the online articles section
« on: November 25, 2020, 01:24:34 AM »
In an effort to use more of the features of this website, I've posted a new article on Thanksgiving 2020 (it was too long to be one post, so I had to post it in halves) in the online articles section rather than in the Your Turn section. Just trying something different. Feel free to take a look.

On-line Articles / Thanksgiving 2020
« on: November 25, 2020, 01:19:47 AM »
When we picture the classic, stereotypical Thanksgiving scene, what are we picturing? The glow of candles, the golden turkey, the large table laid out with the feast, the family gathered in their Sunday best on a Thursday, perhaps with a “kids’ table” in the background—it has always been more of a Norman Rockwell-esque idea than a reality for any particular family. The real pictures of what is going on in tens of millions of homes around the country on Thanksgiving Day would show tens of millions of distinct, unique variations on that theme. They would have a certain, central aspiration in common, as well as a few details, perhaps, like pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce. If there be such a thing as the best of American culture, Thanksgiving gives it a concrete shape.

Thanksgiving is aspirational. Some years the turkey gets ruined, or the flight gets cancelled, or everyone has the flu. And a few people might serve ravioli or roast beef instead. Many people don’t have a large family to gather around the proverbial board, or even a formal dining room table to gather around, much less any gaggle of young cousins to fill out a kids’ table. Many places lack a horn of plenty tastefully overflowing as the centerpiece. In fact, in my personal experience, everyplace lacks such a cornucopia; such things exist only in catalogs and postcards as some sort of platonic ideal of the holiday. Every actual Thanksgiving meal falls short of the aspiration in some way or another, but that is what makes every unique attempt important. Not everybody succeeds in manifesting every aspect of the vision, but everybody sees it as worth trying again and again. The millions of yearly attempts give us a pretty clear picture of a cultural aspiration even as the details differ from place to place.

What are the ingredients of the aspiration itself? What are all we millions of households shooting for each year? What are the particular flavors of the ideal, archetypal Thanksgiving? Set aside your personal reality for moment—what goes into the postcard version of Thanksgiving? What is Thanksgiving supposed to be like? How is Thanksgiving in the abstract a picture of American aspirations?

First, there is more than a dash of religion to the thing. Gratitude transcends any particular church, religion, or conception of God, but every religion must somehow give outlet to gratitude, which is something that mankind can’t help but sense we owe to something higher. Americans are a particularly religious people, as this quintessentially American holiday shows. We have no official, national church or religion, but culturally we are religious in general, and Thanksgiving gives shape to that fact. Families that don’t “say grace” at any other meal of the year instinctively sense that some such ceremonial act befits Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving has an object, even if that object is different in every house. The gratitude goes somewhere.

Another prime ingredient of the holiday, more important even than turkey, is the idea of family. The giant harvest table in the postcards stands ready to be surrounded by people who are related to each other. They fulfill archetypal roles like grandma and grandpa, crazy uncle and widowed great aunt, baby in a high chair and even dog begging for scraps. This family focus is true of nearly every traditional culture of any ethnicity, and America at Thanksgiving simply combines them into one amalgamated celebration of kinship. You have a place at the table where you belong, and it is among your relatives. Many people don’t have much kin, of course, or live too far from them to make get-togethers feasible, but everyone makes do as best they can. The realities vary, but the vision of Thanksgiving is a vision of family. 

The meal aspires to show forth the very best. Not paper plates, but the best tableware, the stuff reserved for company, the heirloom china that makes an appearance only a few times a year. Crystal wine glasses, even if it is fake crystal holding fake wine. Candles. The cynical teenagers in the crowd will complain that dressing up is hypocritical. They’ll say they’d rather be “real” and comfortable than phony and presentable. But that is the whole point of aspirational things. We can’t always look our best, but at least there is such a thing as looking our best. We are capable of it. The house can’t always be decked out like a showcase home. But doing it one time a year shows that it can be done. Dirt may be normal for us, but we are capable of cleanliness. The clutter may be almost insurmountable. But it is not totally insurmountable, because once a year we conquer it. We can’t always eat like kings, but we demand to be people who can say we know what it is like to eat like kings. Once a year may be enough, but we ought not be completely ignorant of feasting. The house itself has its own Sunday best to surround the holiday feasts. For this reason, it is important that the feast take place in the same house that gets lived in normally all year. It is the same house transformed by the holiday. The kids in a studio portrait might look better than they normally look, but they ought to be the same kids, not photogenic stunt doubles. Same with the house on Thanksgiving. It is the dumpy, messy, regular house presented at its best. That’s how aspirational things work. 
Aspirational Thanksgiving nearly always features a strong element of tradition. Not just delicious food, but old family recipes are best. Not just fancy tableware, but heirloom tableware if possible. The platonic ideal of Thanksgiving is a multi-generational event. The picture of this Thanksgiving feast carries with it the blurry memory of Thanksgiving feasts from long ago, before the children were born or some of the oldsters died. Everything that happens glows with the ceremonial gravitas of something that has always been done. Carving the turkey, offering a particular toast, lighting the candles in a centerpiece, whatever it is, we have to be able to compare this year to years past. Changes and innovations grow gradually. One new thing this year becomes the way it has always been at Thanksgiving as the children grow older year by year.

Traditional roles are also allowed to make a temporary comeback at Thanksgiving. Moms who rarely cook may become queen of the kitchen without offending their liberated sensibilities. Dads who need instructions to handle a carving knife nevertheless have permission to play the role of pater familias in the proverbial Rockwell portrait of Thanksgiving. It is okay for men to feel manly and okay for women to feel womanly on Thanksgiving. The throwback, old school, traditional feel of the event confers such permissions. The house so bedecked speaks well of the homemaker, and the feast itself heaps praise on the breadwinner. The real thing may not match the model, but Thanksgiving keeps alive the memory and glory of those distinct roles in a world that has blurred them almost entirely.   

Thanksgiving also echoes with farm life, rural scenery, and connection to the land. At root, after all, it is a harvest festival. Few people live on farms today, but most people have ancestors somewhere in the family tree who lived on farms. Thanksgiving somehow hearkens back to that kind of life with connection to the seasons of sowing and reaping. Postcard holiday meals happen disproportionately in farmhouses and old fashioned small towns in which even non-farmers have strong cultural connections to an agrarian, outdoorsy way of life, usually New Englandy, but sometimes Midwestern or Southern. No matter how many generations of suburban life have intervened, something about Thanksgiving just feels inseparable from the land and hunting wild game in a place with agrarian roots.

Thanksgiving as a national holiday is especially aspirational about America, American history, and American stories. Catholics, Lutherans, even proud atheists and hedonists can have a whiff of Puritan in them at Thanksgiving. The story of the first pilgrims and the natives are part of America’s ideals no matter how or why one’s ancestors came to America. The holiday is about the best of who we are and where we came from. There is a worst, to be sure. Plenty of it. But this day celebrates the best.

Modern detractors miss this crucial point. They think the gauzy, feel-good story is merely propaganda, an attempt to gloss over or hide the bloody realities of American history. But that is the same as the cynical teenager’s complaint that the nice clothes and table-setting are phony because the reality is usually much different. The pilgrims sitting down with the natives and sharing a feast in gratitude to Providence inspires the ongoing story of America. There is time to acknowledge the hideous things; let there also be a time to focus on the good, and let that time be formative. That’s what Thanksgiving gives us. Religious people, people from big, loving families of any ethnicity, traditional people, farmers and rural people, and people who love America for what it is in their hearts despite the flaws—these all sense that somehow Thanksgiving puts it all together to form a mental picture of a cohesive cultural aspiration that is truly glorious and worthy of celebration.

Culturally unifying things are tough to come by in a country like the United States. We’re a nation of immigrants, of various indigenous people and a crush of people from around the globe. Even the flag and the national anthem have become divisive. But Thanksgiving remains as something distinctly American that we have in common. So it matters that people celebrate it at least in some ways according to the pattern. It isn’t just great to have turkey and stuffing. It is great to have turkey and stuffing on a day when practically everyone else is also having turkey and stuffing. Finally, something we have in common. Even people who do variations on the theme by serving tofu burgers or lamb chops recognize the traditional turkey meal with all the trappings as the theme they’re doing a variation on.  At least they used to.

Your Turn / Advent Devotions
« on: November 23, 2020, 01:22:48 PM »
We just got in the mail today a shipment of Advent 2020 devotionals by Will Weedon. Excellent resource! The combination of creativity and substance, depth and readability far exceeds the typical Advent devotional pamphlet.

They're available the asking and any size donation and came to us within about three days of being ordered.  Just search

Your Turn / Down Syndrome babies
« on: November 18, 2020, 10:23:31 AM »

Our daughter Eva Marie had Down synodrome, which we didn't know until after the fact, as complication from it cause her to be stillborn. But this article reads like dystopian sci-fi to me; people who want to acknowledge and celebrate such children while making clear that aborting them because of their condition is also perfectly acceptable.

Your Turn / Forum decorum
« on: October 28, 2020, 04:06:26 PM »
I've just received a complaint from someone who received several unsolicited PMs or emails warning them about the likely bad behavior of some forum participants. That is not acceptable behavior, and people who are new to the forum find it creepy. Don't do things like that. Message people you know or to ask questions about something posted, but don't abuse the member list by taking your hobby-horse topics into private emails with strangers.

Your Turn / The Social Dilemma
« on: October 25, 2020, 12:35:09 AM »
My daughter watched this new Netflix documentary called the Social Dilemma in three different classes in high school (Computer Science, Careers, and, I think, English), so I watched it yesterday. I thought it was quite good and recommend it highly as a conversation starter on the impact of big tech and social media on our society. It just so happened that I watched it soon after my post about CNN and Fox having news websites with zero overlap on the news of the day. This documentary (and yes, it seems designed for high school kids) features interviews with some major players in the development of social media concerning the algorithms they use and they ways they lead to polarization.

Your Turn / Yes, God Yes.
« on: October 24, 2020, 10:50:13 PM »
I watched the first ten or fifteen minutes of a new movie trending on Netflix right now. The gist from the blurb is that a girl in Catholic high school goes on a Church retreat to help her cope with the problem of sexual attraction. So I suspected it was a garbage movie. But I wanted to see how they portrayed Catholic school and teaching about sexuality. I would encourage anyone who wonders why conservatives think pop culture media is a joke to watch the first little bit. Everything is presented in caricature form to such a degree that you aren't sure if this is supposed to be satire. 

Your Turn / Public school funding and education "in loco parentis."
« on: October 23, 2020, 09:00:55 PM »

If you click on the video, you see an MSNBC host in what looks like a promo or campaign commercial format making the case that the problem with getting sufficient funding for public schools comes from the outdated idea that children belong to their parents, who have primary responsibility for them. If only we could disabuse parents of the notion that their children were theirs, we would have better, more comprehensive government-run schools.

I find it to be a chilling argument through and through, and not merely because it begins with the absurd notion that the problem with public schools is underfunding. But even accepting it for the sake of argument, this point of view obviously destroys the "right to privacy." If children belong to the community, then procreative freedom is done for, as is the idea that a fetus may be disposed of if the mother doesn't want it. This is, in fact, the only logical argument for something like the dystopian Handmaid's Tale. But that is the sort of fundamental, philosophical problem that is so large as to be invisible to the people who claim to believe these progressive claims. You can't say that abortion must be legal because my procreative choices are none of anyone else's business, except that raising my children is everyone else's business. And you can't say people are free to be parents if they want to be as long as the community does the parenting.

Your Turn / Students for Life
« on: October 16, 2020, 05:45:11 PM »
I used to be part of the pro-life student group at Valpo. It is myriad cases like this one that ought to inform your views of academia and progessivism.

Your Turn / Solidarity and Unity
« on: October 12, 2020, 07:01:39 PM »
This is the text (it might be slightly different due to the stages of minor editing, so please excuse any typos) of an article I wrote for the current issue of Forum Letter. Subscribers to the electronic version have read it already, but the print edition is still coming in the mail. It has gotten a lot of positive feedback from readers so far, so I thought I would put it here along with an invitation to subscribe to the Forum package or otherwise support the alpb financially.

Solidarity and Unity

“If you were recruiting for a white supremacist cause on a Sunday morning, you’d likely have more success hanging out in the parking lot of an average white Christian church—evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, or Catholic—than approaching whites sitting out services at the local coffee shop.”
That rather startling suggestion comes from Robert B. Jones in his book White Too Long. His harsh but unmistakable thesis is that practicing Christians (of any kind) are more racist than non-Christians or non-practicing Christians. Jones reaches this conclusion by examining responses to various survey questions. For example, one of the statistics that, for Jones, demonstrates the racism endemic among Christians is that “nearly two thirds of white Christians over all [Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline] said that killings of African-American men by the police are isolated incidents rather than part of a broader pattern of mistreatment.” For Jones, that is a sign that the racist view is more common than the non-racist view among white Christians. But is it fair to assume that thinking the police are not systemically racist is itself a racist thing to think?

I have a more plausible explanation for the survey responses. Maybe the worldview promulgated by critical race theory and the larger social justice movement in the United States is not compatible with Christianity, and maybe most Christians instinctively know that. Maybe Jones is simply assuming his conclusions in deciding how and where he will apply the label “racist.”

One need only examine a secular counterpart to this survey to realize that people react to competing narratives almost viscerally. For example, at the first NFL game of the season this year, the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs linked arms at midfield for a “moment of unity” on the issue of racism. The stadium announcer asked the mostly empty stadium (due to the pandemic restriction) to observe a moment of silence. But the intended moment of silence featured a loud chorus of boos from the few thousand fans in attendance. After the game, superstar player J.J. Watt expressed confusion that anyone would be booing a moment of unity to end racism. Well, it could be that many of the fans were racists opposed to expressions of racial unity. Or, it could be that the fans instinctively sensed an alien narrative at work.

What I think the fans understood is that the national anthem, for which many NFL players routinely kneel in protest, is itself supposed to be the moment of unity before the game. That’s why the tradition got started and the only reason to perpetuate it. The bitter rivals on the field, the competing fan bases, the furious coaches and the blind referees might not have anything else in common, but they have their nation in common. The only reason to have a separate moment of unity on the field this year in addition to the anthem was to endorse the idea that the national anthem doesn’t unite Americans. Holding an additional moment of unity only endorses the outlook of those who kneel for the anthem. Two competing moments of unity are actually just one larger moment of disunity. People booing the moment of unity were not expressing racism. They were rejecting the idea that the American flag and our national anthem actually represent ongoing systemic racism. 

Bringing it back from the secular realm to the church, at the heart of the matter for Christians dealing with race issue is the concept of solidarity. By solidarity I mean a sense of personal connection, loyalty, and allegiance to the interests of a larger group. What is your order of loyalties and allegiances? And where in that list do you actually have solidarity with, or owe any particular loyalty and allegiance to people of your same race?

In Scripture we find God calling us to have solidarity in several ways. We have solidarity with creation as distinct from God, with all of humanity as distinct from the rest of creation, with the people of God as opposed to unbelievers and those who are perishing, and with our parents, spouses, and children as opposed to strangers. Our main loyalty is to God to the people of God. All other allegiances, even of close family, must defer to that central loyalty. If they will not, we must dissolve our solidarity with them. In other words, in certain circumstances Christians properly make distinctions based on the solidarity to which they are called. I am right to treat my parents with greater care and attention than I give to all people generally and equally. I am right in some cases to treat fellow believers differently than I treat unbelievers. But am I ever called to treat fellow white people differently than I treat others? No. Not ever. 

Consider just 1 Timothy 5:8. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Here St. Paul sees solidarity and distinctions in matter of Church and family as basic aspects of the faith. But can anyone imagine any him writing a similar verse on the concept of race? St. Paul’s “If you can’t decide whether to provide for your family, you ain’t Christian,” is a far cry from, “If you can’t decide whom to vote for, you ain’t black.” Family is a Christian category rightly calling for solidarity from its members. Blackness and whiteness are not Christian categories and can only deceitfully call for solidarity from their members.   

The idea of having solidarity with your race in the modern sense of the word is not Christian or Scriptural. Not only is it an injustice to presume someone else must have solidarity with people of their apparent race, but no Christian, black or white, even has a genuine call to solidarity with his or her race. There is no such thing as a race-traitor because allegiance to one’s race is a bogus idea in the first place, and it has always had disastrous consequences. White Christians wrongly sought to retrofit the secular idea of race to their worldview in order to justify and make sense of the colonial world and slavery. But any Christian of a prior or later era can see that peculiar eisegesis for exactly what it was.

What we’re left with today is competing worldviews featuring markedly different ideas about the role of racial solidarity. The Christian worldview rejects the idea that anyone has or should have any particular solidarity with anyone else based on race. We’re rightfully ashamed that there was day when race-loyalty was prized and race-traitors reviled. If someone calls me a traitor to my race, I know I am dealing with a non-Christian or very confused Christian. I owe my loyalty to God, the Christian Church, humanity in general, my family in particular, and my wider secular authority. But I have no solidarity with and owe no loyalty to my fellow white people.

The main competing worldview, one with roots in Marx and expressed especially via group identity politics, insists on race-loyalty as a valid survival mechanism of oppressed people. Race becomes an ideology. “Real” black people (or Hispanics or other group) act in solidarity with their race in order to advance the collective interests of their racial group. Those individuals who do not act in concert with the group therefore lose their racial identity. When couched in terms of lifting up the oppressed this worldview can sound very Christian. But it nevertheless rests on the un-Christian presupposition that individuals have a Christian responsibility to show solidarity with their racial group.

The Marxist revolutionary roots of the issue come further into focus when considers that most critical race theorists would agree with me that I owe no loyalty to white people as a group. But they would disagree if I said black people owe no loyalty to black people as a group. That’s because white people are the oppressors and black people are the oppressed. Group-identity politics defines racism in such a way that people in the in-group (the majority, the powerful) are almost by definition racist, while people in the out-group (the minority, the oppressed) cannot possibly be racist no matter how they might hate people of other races. It is about the balance of power between competing groups.

At issue is really group identity and oppression, not race. This is where it gets murky because Christians are called to take up the cause of the oppressed. And everyone agrees that black people have been shamefully oppressed in American history. Slavery, obviously, but also segregation, redlining, and other forms of discrimination necessitated black solidarity for survival. The abolition of those injustices ought to dissolve such solidarity. This is where the competing worldviews come most into conflict.

Christians seek to dissolve racial solidarity among individuals of any color. Such solidarity is based on an irrelevant distinction. I want for people of color the same thing I have for myself—a complete freedom from any sense of solidarity with my race in favor of solidarity based on more important things like allegiance to Christ, or family, or nation. But the social justice movement based in Marx seeks not to dissolve racial solidarity (at least among people of color) but to strengthen it and bring it into clearer conflict.

The central question, then, becomes not whether there is a history of official, inexcusable racism (there is) but whether the current system, having jettisoned every vestige of such formal, official racism nonetheless remains systemically racist with racial prejudice embedded in its very DNA. The Christian worldview would say that racism persists in individual sinners. There may be cops who are racist, but the police as a group or as a concept are not inherently racist. Thus, Christians understandably and apart from any racism see police brutality in terms of the sins of the officer, not the system. Hence isolated incidents, not a broader pattern.

The Marxist worldview, on the other hand, depends on seeing the evil not in the individual but in the system of oppression represented by the individual agent of the ruling power. Thus, it makes sense for people with this worldview to think that anyone who denies ubiquitous, ongoing, systemic racism in America is a racist and part of the system needing to be overthrown. It has to be a pattern. It is has to be systemic. That’s the only way the overhaul of the system can be justified in the absence of any overtly racist policy or law. And make no mistake, it is the whole “system” that needs overthrowing. When you watch race protests, note how often capitalism, private property, patriarchy, and law enforcement in the abstract are treated as the real enemies. Yet, this is the worldview Jones takes for granted when he labels so many Christian racists.

In the wake of the George Floyd killing and the resulting social turmoil, a group of LCMS clergy is seeking signatures for an online petition labelled A Call for Racial Justice Reform in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It currently has nearly 7,000 signatures. I have not signed it for two reasons. It includes declaring “an intent to, by God’s grace, dismantle the systems of racism within our congregations, communities, and church body.” I do not believe we have any systems of racism in our congregation or church body. By adopting that terminology, we wrench the conversation onto the foundations of a worldview I do not accept.

More importantly, the petition insists on treating black LCMS clergy as a separate group with a special solidarity that ought to be reinforced in and by the LCMS rather than dissolved. When I interact with a black pastor, I am interacting with him based on our common faith and common humanity. I am not additionally interacting with blackness as a concept or black Lutherans as an identity group. The call to empower black voices within the LCMS assumes the LCMS has a responsibility to cultivate two separate cultures within it (equitably) based on skin color. We have no such responsibility from God, and I think taking on such a responsibility militates against the responsibility we actually do have from God to dissolve rather than reinforce all false solidarities.
I fully realize that my failure to sign this petition will be considered offensive by many. They might not think I am a racist, but they will think I am misguided for not listening, not honoring other voices, not taking people’s lived experience seriously, and denying the legacy of racism in the LCMS and the United States. That it not my intent at all. I am glad to work together with LCMS clergy, black and white.

The fans were not necessarily racist for booing the NFL’s moment of silence. They instinctively saw through it as an endorsement, by clear intent and design, of a worldview alien to their own. So also Christians answering the survey about police violence are not racist for seeing isolated incidents rather than a systemic pattern. They a sense an alien, non-Christian worldview behind the question and the expected answer. They are expressing solidarity with the Christian worldview that invites everyone in but rejects any demands for solidarity based on race.             

Your Turn / Personal role models apart from political positions
« on: October 08, 2020, 09:35:00 AM »
One of the best ways to work toward understanding in divisive times is to consider people you find admirable but with whom you disagree on policy/politics/religion. Or if you don't find them wholly admirable in every sense, you consider them high character, quality people that you wouldn't mind your children modelling themselves after.

It is easy to find role models with whom you agree politically, and easy to find the flaws in the people with whom you disagree. For example, I have four daughters. I would hold up Amy Barrett as a role model to any of them, but not Kamala Harris. On the other hand, I would not encourage anyone to emulate President Trump, but have always respected Jimmy Carter as a person of integrity despite not caring for his politics (in retrospect-- I was too young to care about his politics when he was president). But it is far easier for me to think of examples like Barrett/Harris, in which my view of the person matches my view of their policy positions, and far harder to find examples like the latter, in which they are mismatched.

This thread is devoted to identifying people the poster opposes on matters of politics/religion/worldview/policy but who the post would say are high character, admirable, or otherwise worthy of being a role model to children.

Your Turn / Gradual revolution
« on: September 26, 2020, 09:39:29 AM »

This is an interesting account from the history of Russia which rings true today.

A few days ago I was in a training session for fostering. It was all about harmful stereotypes and internet memes. That's what it was supposed to be about. It began right off by declaring that it would neither be a lecture nor involve indoctrination. But all it involved was indoctrination in critical race theory, LGBTQIA+ dogma, and so forth.

What's relevant, though, is that I didn't say anything even when they asked for questions. There was no way of pushing back without simply identifying oneself as a potential problem in need of further training, and all I wanted was to get in the hours to keep my license. In that way I found myself sort of like the early 20th Russian trying to go along and get along while other people were trying to bring about massive social change.

Anyway, very interesting read, and very timely.

Your Turn / Not voting
« on: August 29, 2020, 09:38:03 PM »
I recently had a conversation with someone who very much hopes Trump wins reelection but who will not vote for him on moral grounds. I sympathize because I went through the same dilemma last time. But my objection to him was that his answer was simply to leave the top of the ticket blank, whereas my answer, if it came to that, would have been to vote third party on the theory that such a vote would change the dynamics of future races, at least slightly.

I believe Lutherans who live in nations with elections have a moral, religious obligation to vote. It is not their duty as citizens, it is their duty as magistrates. You can't just wash your hands of the matter and claim to have clean hands. You can't fulfill your vocation as a fraction of Caesar by neglecting it. It doesn't matter that you never asked to live in a representative republic where the government was determined by elections; you live in one. The early Christians were never asked about living in the Roman Empire, either. Too bad. That's where they lived. Therefore they were to be subject to Caesar.

I can disagree with their thinking but still respect someone who votes third party in a long game strategy that takes into account that this is not likely to be the last election. It is like trading you best player for better future draft picks. But I have a hard time with someone who has a preference but simply won't vote for that preference so that looking back they can say they never voted for someone like that. That is like someone who refuses to draft anyone because there aren't any good players available. Nonsense. It isn't a question of who is good, it is a question of who is better than the alternative. You don't rise above the fray by refusing to choose. Bonhoeffer would have harsh words for such cleanliness of hands.

Andrew Sullivan had an interesting article recently

He argues that electing Biden is the last, best hope to save America. I think much of his thinking and argumentation is correct, though some of it is wrong-headed or simply based on a false narrative. So I disagree with his conclusion but respect his train of thought. But I have a hard time respecting someone who refuse to vote at the top of the ticket. Unless you genuinely have no preference, which hardly seems possible and must stem from dereliction of duty when you know you have a vocation as a fraction of the magistrate tasked with providing God's people with good government, you ought to acknowledge your preference in the voting booth. Otherwise you're just counting on your like-minded friends to do the dirty work so that you can claim to be clean. 

Your Turn / Mob mentality
« on: July 31, 2020, 06:06:18 PM »
“Lisa, maybe if I’m part of that mob, I can help steer it in wise directions.” Homer Simpson

Imagine this scenario, which is definitely disturbing but in no way farfetched. Using a cell phone, someone has taken a video of a screaming woman being brutally raped and murdered. It goes on for several minutes, so long that many people cannot watch the whole thing. But the perp gets caught, and it turns out he is an illegal immigrant from south of the border. The video goes viral. What would happen next?

I think we can guess. A mob mentality would form nationwide, as would a counter movement that mob. Everyone on both sides would agree that the video depicted something abhorrent and inexcusable. But pre-existing socio-political sides would come into conflict over how exactly that terrible video related to the issue of illegal immigration. Central to both of those sides would be the question of whether the video represented no-longer-deniable evidence of something all too typical, or whether it represented something largely exceptional in nature. The mob would use the passion and raw emotion of the video to demand support for closing the border, and perhaps violence would break out against random immigrants who had nothing to do with the murder. The counter position would rely on reasoning from statistics to show that the mob’s deeply held feelings and presumptions were not backed up by reality. In short, even something everyone agreed on would become politicized and a source of deepening division.
Many people would simply be in the middle, but among those people, the raw emotional power of the video coupled with the growing popular sentiment would likely outweigh any attempt to evaluate the issue calmly and rationally. A calm, rational demeanor would seem detached and cold to people who insisted that not to join the mob was to endorse or ignore a larger pattern of predation and to insult the memory of that poor woman and women everywhere.

Given that even one instance of brutal rape and murder is one too many, but also given that in a fallen world there will never be a violent crime rate of zero, I personally would want to know whether or not objective statistics supported the popular and widespread notion that illegal immigrants especially present us with a violent crime problem. In other words, I would be part of the counter movement to the mob. Data, not passion, would determine what I supported. I would ask things like whether there was there something particularly relevant about the ethnicity or immigration status of the perpetrator, or is that just a pre-existing assumption?

All the above scenario would do is reverse the sides of the current cultural conflict that began with the viral video of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer. In both scenarios, the real and hypothetical video, the rational side to be on is the counter movement to the mob. The heat of the moment is heat with real motive power. But it nearly always motivates in regrettable directions.

Being part of a mob, whether literally or (more likely) metaphorically by supporting a movement running largely on cultural momentum generated by a mob mentality, means sacrificing your particular intent to the group. That is, when you join a mob, the mob’s actions are your actions. What the mob did is what you did, whether you approved of it or not. If you were part of the crowd or recognized as an ally of the crowd, you are responsible for whatever destruction that crowd engaged in. That’s the point of mobs—get the power and safety and numbers behind the few who actually take action. Contra Homer Simpson, you don’t get to steer a mob in wise directions. You add your weight to the momentum, or you don’t. If your goal it to destroy the target of the mob (not your personal target, but whatever target the momentum of the mob is rolling toward) it might be wise to join the mob, not to steer but to lend it strength. If that isn’t your goal, it is wise not to join and wiser still to try to slow it down. The main things that distinguishes protests from mobs is self-policing and respect for law and order. Because the group’s actions are the individual’s actions, movements that don’t want to degenerate into mobs make sure that nobody plausibly claiming or even appearing to act in the group’s name does anything regrettable. And they redress government peacefully, not via threat of violence.

Today, BLM and the larger movement revolving around issues of race in the wake of the Floyd murder is a mob and nothing more. To support it is to support the torching of federal courthouses and the deliberate, permanent blinding of federal agents, whether you think so or not. The mob you join wants the weight of your support, not your opinion or your help steering things in wise directions. Thus, to say you reject the excesses of the movement but support the broader movement in general, I think you are kidding yourself. It is an irresponsible position. It lends moral and cultural weight to a snowballing, utterly destructive movement while denying responsibility for the damage that movement causes. Again, not every political movement degenerates into a mob. But when a mob forms, the time for nuance is gone. There is only being with it or against it. 


Your Turn / VU interim president
« on: July 29, 2020, 03:19:32 PM »
Dear Valparaiso University Alumni,

The Board of Directors of the University met on July 24, 2020, during which it discussed and approved the following matters related to the planned Presidential Transition Process. As you know, the University is engaged in a search for its next President and that search continues to move forward.
The Board is grateful to President Heckler and his family for his willingness to continue to lead the University during a time of important financial decisions, the University’s response to date related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and preparations to resume on-campus instruction for the fall semester. The Board also respects President Heckler’s desire to step down as its President after 12 years of leadership.

Effective Sept. 1, 2020, Colette Irwin-Knott ’81, a member of the Board since 2009, will serve as Interim President-Elect. President Heckler will transition leadership responsibilities to Ms. Irwin-Knott during the month of September and will become President Emeritus after the completion of academic program review matters currently in process. As President Emeritus, he will continue active fundraising efforts for Forever Valpo: The Campaign for Our Future and assist in presidential transition matters. Ms. Irwin-Knott will become Interim President at the time President Heckler becomes President Emeritus.

Colette Irwin-Knott graduated from Valparaiso University with a bachelor of science in 1981. She spent her career in the field of public finance with HJ Umbaugh & Associates in Indianapolis, Indiana, retiring as a partner in the firm in 2014. She worked closely with educators throughout Indiana on hundreds of school and library projects involving the issuance of municipal bonds. She has been an instrumental leader at local, state, and national levels of public finance, and has represented independent financial advisors at the federal level as regulations were developed for this industry. While at Umbaugh she began a women’s initiative for career development, and she has mentored numerous young women and men in their respective professions. She has been active in ministries assisting inner-city teenage youth in Indianapolis. Her interests have also included the arts and serving on the Board of the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation. Among her many professional and charitable activities, the Indianapolis Business Journal recognized her as a “Woman in the Lead for Financial Services.”

Currently, she serves on the Executive Committee of the Board, chairs its Finance and Administration Committee, and serves on the Campus Life and Presidential Search Committees. She and her husband, Gary Knott, are the parents of two adult sons, Aaron and Stefan.

The Board appreciates Ms. Irwin-Knott for her willingness to lead the University during this important time, and I ask for your full support of her efforts.
Thank you for everything that you are doing to see that Valpo continues to thrive as a community of learning during these challenging times.

May God continue to bless each of you in your lives of leadership and service.

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