January 29, 2019

A Prayer in the Dark

You speak to me at 3:00 AM when it is too quiet to ignore you.
Something outside of me – and yet nearer to me than my bones.
My life is a leaf stirred by the wind of your breath --
               I go as you direct
               A creature not of doing but of seeing.

You are the potter and I am the clay.
You pound me none too gently into the shape of your choosing --
And yet none too harshly either
               I being fashioned from unyielding material.

But we do yield, all of us,
Some are better, some are worse,
Some superbly formed --
               And some grotesque
               Some seeing at least dim glimpses of our destinies
               And some caught in the hell that is merely the reflection of ourselves
                              The cold
                                                            complicated emptiness
                              That is the illusion of the self-creating man.

Thus I am made by your hand
A shadow of your will
                                             unsuited to know the grandeur than has cast it
               And yet
               By your very being I exist
                              As a blade of grass among the millions that all turneth toward the sun
                              Their roots in the clay
                              They grow by their inmost nature toward the sky

               They sayeth
                              in discordant
                              and excruciating longing

               “Make me not in vain
               Oh Lord
                              Make me not entirely in vain.”

June 30, 2017

On the death of a friend

Sitting in the sun on the back of your chair
Paws folded
               Serenely smiling
(Already the cancer ate you from within
(I did not know
               You did not know
Life outstretched in the bright of the day
               (Death hidden
                              under the skin)

Where have you gone
                                             my little friend?
(Where is your spirit
                              in the wide cool universe of stars and galaxies
               (Where the curiosity
                              the impatience
                                             of your wordless little life?
Where among my thoughts
Do you rest easily forever in a sleep
                              Or were you spread thin into nothingness
                              Or cast into the dark abyss
(I too
               am but a shadow here
I have cared for you
               and watched you
                              and been glad for your existence
               (Are you nothing now
                              Or something?

               Am I to see you again
                              Or are you atomized into the ashes
                              and the dust from whence we came

All life loves life

In its smallest breath
               (In the beating of its most unfathomable heart
               God’s handiwork
                              is written in infinities
               Requiescat in pace
                                                            my little friend

I will remember you as long as I can

April 13, 2016

The Defense Never Rests: A Lawyer's Quest for the Gospel – a critique and reflections

My pastor recommended The Defense Never Rests some time ago as a kind of Lutheran alternative (or perhaps supplement) to C.S. Lewis.  I am rather new to Christianity, having spent five decades, more-or-less, as an atheist.  On its face, I was skeptical of the idea that the author, Craig A. Parton, had succeeded in making a substantial proof of the truth claims of Christianity.  If anyone had succeeded in doing that, I presumed, it would probably have made news.  While Mr. Parton’s arguments haven’t entirely shaken me from that initial suspicion, his book is nevertheless a worthy effort.

The book divides into roughly four sections.  The first is a sort of religious biography of the author himself.  Christian readers may find much in this section to relate to.  Even as a recent convert, I found material there that struck a chord.  However, if you are a hardened atheist and looking for the meat of Parton’s arguments, you might do well to tear the book approximately in two, and give the first half to some Christian relative – preferably one that has run away screaming from a liberal church.

The second section is a brief compendium of positions regarding apologetics in the abstract.  If one has an interest in apologetics as a discipline, this section provides some good introductory material.

The third section is the substance of the author’s argument, which I will talk about at more length.

The fourth section consists of ruminations about alternative apologetic material for those more likely to be persuaded by their emotions than their intellects – people whom Parton calls, somewhat awkwardly, “the tender-minded”.

There are also a number of appendices, as one would expect in a scholarly work.

My primary interest is in critiquing Parton’s core arguments and contrasting them with my own experience of faith.  I will summarize Parton’s arguments for those who have no intention of reading the book, but no summary is really adequate.  By all means, buy the book and read it for yourself.  Then you can skip my insultingly brief summary.

Parton begins boldly, making it clear that he is going to make his case for Christianity entirely on the secular naturalist’s terms.  He sets out to prove the reliability of the Gospels as historical documents, showing that their provenance is as good as, or better than, most other documents from the ancient world.  He then examines the writers of the Gospels as witnesses, showing, by various means, that they do not exhibit the characteristics of liars.  On this basis, Parton concludes that resurrection itself is proven to have occurred – by the standard of being reasonable though not beyond all possible doubt.  From the resurrection, he concludes Christ’s divinity, the veracity of his statements, and, by extension the truth of scripture as a whole.  It is a good case, overall.  It might prevail in front of a jury of a dozen average, unbiased people – if such a group of people could be found.

Personally, while I find the arguments reassuring, my own faith springs from other sources.  I give the author credit for attempting to take on materialism on materialism’s own ground, but, having spent a very long time in that camp, I can still imagine the objections from that quarter very clearly.  While I have sworn an oath never to advocate on the Devil’s behalf (as Mr. Parton probably has himself) I don’t believe it is an affront to God to speculate about the Devil’s counterarguments.  With respect, then, I will now dust off my atheist hat and put it on – being careful to remove it again once I am done, and make my closing comments from a much more comfortable Christian perspective.

First, there is a principle in inductive logic, dating back at least to David Hume, that proving extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence.  If I tell my wife I parked the car in the garage it is reasonable for her to believe me based merely on the fact that I do not lie as a matter of course.  On the other hand, if I tell her I parked an elephant in the garage, it would be prudent for her to have a look.  From any non-believer’s perspective, Christ’s resurrection is certainly an extraordinary claim.  By the usual inductive standards it should require a bit more than a lack of evidence of deliberate deceit.  Even if the documents and the witnesses look quite good, the evidence is probably insufficient to overcome the sheer uniqueness of the event.  I say “probably” because, to the best of my knowledge, this standard doesn’t have a quantifiable test.

The way the standard is supposed to work is that the “strange” assertion has to compete against all the existing “knowledge” that its acceptance would overturn.  So, if you want to prove that Santa Claus exists, you have to overturn your audience’s present knowledge about the flight characteristics of reindeer.  You have to persuade them that their parents, who may have eventually admitted to buying them Santa’s Christmas gifts, were either delusional or liars.  Et cetera.  By that standard, an intelligent atheist with what he assumes is a fairly extensive knowledge of how the material world works will simply balk at Parton’s argument.  Evidence just sufficient to convince a jury to acquit or convict will probably not do.

Now, balking at Parton’s argument certainly doesn’t disprove Christ’s resurrection either.  All manner of events occurred in the ancient world that we cannot now prove happened.  The evidence to either prove or disprove them conclusively has eroded with time.  What we are left with in this particular instance is a miserable epistemic dichotomy.  If you begin with a Christian worldview, the body of evidence for Christ’s resurrection looks fairly conclusive.  If you begin with a secular naturalist worldview – it just isn’t enough.1

Another argument Parton offers for the resurrection that falls a bit flat is Frank Morrison’s examination of the respective motivations of the Romans, the Jewish religious leaders, and Christ’s disciples.  Morrison argues that hiding Christ’s body would have been counterproductive for all three parties.  It would have undermined the authority of both the Romans and the Jews (the Sanhedrin) to give credence to the idea of Christ’s divinity.  The disciples, on the other hand, would have only helped to make themselves martyrs to a religion they would have known to be grounded in a lie.  Therefore, since none of these parties would have profited from hiding the body, Christ must have actually risen.  Sadly, this argument is simply a false dilemma.  Since the first of three Jewish revolts against the Romans occurred a mere thirty-three years after the Crucifixion, it is reasonable to assume that there were people in Judea in Christ’s time who would have been well-motivated to undermine the credibility of both the Romans and their Jewish collaborators.  While we have no record that Jewish revolutionaries removed the body, we cannot reasonably expect such a thing to have been carefully recorded.  We have no proof, but the mere possibility is enough the break the power of the dilemma.

Beyond the credibility of the resurrection itself, I would expect determined atheists to have difficulty with Parton’s sudden leap from the resurrection to the veracity of Christ’s words.  It does not follow that a being with supernatural powers (or perhaps a being who has merely been acted upon by supernatural powers) must always tell the truth.  I do not claim the Greek gods were anything but myth, but the people who believed that those gods existed also believed that they were profligate liars.  Here on Earth, power and truthfulness often have quite an inverse relationship.  I certainly do not believe Christ lied, but I do believe there is no strictly logical connection between supernatural power and veracity.  Satan, who has considerable power, is the king of deceptions.  Linking Christ’s resurrection to the necessity of his truthfulness is probably an unintentional instance of begging the question.  Again, I think the whole persona of the trinity is so well ingrained within the lifelong Christian’s mind that he leaps rather quickly from the resurrection to the veracity of Christ’s words, then to the veracity of scripture in its entirety – but for the non-believer new proofs are required at each step.  One can believe in the resurrection without, by logical necessity, believing the whole of Genesis.

I will take my atheist hat off now, take an aspirin, and pray that I have not incurred the Lord’s displeasure.  My final objection fits well enough within the Christian sphere.

Before Mr. Parton begins his case proper, he dispenses with the idea of a sort of “try-it-you’ll-like-it” approach to Christianity.  I will not argue with the cited philosopher, Anthony Flew, because a penetrating discussion of his position would be an essay in itself.2  In any case, I think I can make my point without resorting to that.  I believe that by rejecting the “try-it-you’ll-like-it” approach entirely, Parton is, at least by implication, narrowing the path to belief a little too much.  Although he goes on to discuss alternate approaches to faith for the “tender-minded” near the end of the book (via music or literature, for example) I was left with the impression that he believes the historical/legal approach is somehow better or more complete than any other.  I do not believe this is true.

The reason for my own belief, as best as I can express it, is disappointingly circular.  I believe because I can.  Let me unpack that.  If you told me I had to believe in Santa Claus to make everybody happy and to fit in with the world around me, I could easily pretend to.  I could figure out what reality + Santa Claus would have to be like, and talk to believing adults the way that I currently talk to believing four-year-olds.  But I could not actually believe in Santa Claus.  There are no hoof prints on my roof.  The stocks of toys on the shelves in the local Walmart dwindle suspiciously in late December.  Sure, I could act the part, eventually quite automatically – but belief is not a choice.  My experience of Christianity is nothing like that.  Somehow, midway through the Catechism I attended with my wife, I simply found that I believed.  In the beginning, I had only suspended disbelief – the way one does when one is watching a movie.  Then, there it was, unbidden and unexplained, – faith.  Now, this sort of phenomenon does not fit neatly into either of Parton’s categories.  I had certainly not been “tough-minded,” bowing only to substantial evidence, but I hadn’t been “tender-minded” either – bowing to some aesthetic event.  The Holy Spirit, in my case, planted faith inside my head with all the awe-inspiring drama of a mailman putting a letter in a mailbox.  It was just there – an anomalous presence in an otherwise fairly analytical life.  Now, with guidance this kernel of belief has gone on to make all sorts of far-reaching changes to the way I understand the world, and I struggle with all sorts of problems like any other wretched sinner – but faith itself wasn’t something that I put there or could have put there by my own effort.  This is not merely the regurgitation of Lutheran doctrine – it is my actual experience.

What is important about my experience of faith is that it is utterly worthless as a piece of evidence for anyone but myself.  The contents of my head are not open for public scrutiny.  A materialist skeptic could shrug my statements off as some mild form of mental illness – as a delusion pure and simple.  I could not prove such a person wrong.  It is perfectly possible, too, for a fellow Christian to doubt my faith.  None of that concerns me very much.  If I cared, I could as easily impugn a skeptic’s motives for being dismissive.  It is a common enough human tendency to bolster one’s own beliefs by attributing the beliefs of others to various defects, either in themselves or in their environment.  I believe what I believe.  God is known to each of us individually and in perfect silence – or he is not known at all.

From a broader perspective, the whole project of apologetics is something of an enigma.  Surely it is a good thing to bring people to Christ, and to strengthen our fellow Christians in their faith.  Some are drawn to that work, which can take a variety of forms.  Different people find different obstacles to the possibility of belief, and are amenable to different kinds of argument or persuasion.  Dr. Parton seeks to influence people with rigorous, rational minds, and there is an audience of people who will find his words helpful – myself among them.  Nevertheless, with deference to the author, all attempts at apologetics are attended by an air of pathos.  What, after all, is the apologist doing?  The apologist can ultimately bring no one to faith.  According to the scripture itself, only the Holy Spirit can do that.  Well, then the apologist can prepare the ground – make the work of the Holy Spirit a bit easier.  Without a doubt, apologists, teachers, pastors, friends, and all manner of other people cultivate the soil of faith – playing their deliberate or unwitting roles as the Holy Spirit’s instruments.  Yet, whatever we may do, none of us has any right to the smallest particle of pride.  God can plant faith in the heart of the hardest skeptic in the most unlikely circumstances if he so chooses.  He can grow a rose in granite.  Without our help.  Without breaking a sweat.  The best apologist is no better than a child bringing a badly made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to his father.  God, I imagine, must smile at us and love us – but more for the poignant sincerity of our effort than for our inevitably inadequate assistance.

For all my criticism, I personally think Parton makes a pretty good butter-and-jelly sandwich by the meagre measure of his human capability.  What more do I have any right to ask?

1 The evidence for early human evolution presents the same sort of case in the opposite direction:  To the secular naturalist the anthropological evidence proves the theory – but to the biblically-oriented Christian it is too much to ask to infer a human ancestor, sometimes complete with behavior, from a mere handful of broken and badly worn bones.  The “extraordinary evidence standard” (for lack of a better term) is not a law of nature but simply an acknowledgement of a common heuristic.  Generally speaking, people prefer to live in a world that is reasonably explicable.  If you abandon your worldview at the slightest provocation, or worse – fill it up with contradictions, you doom yourself to a life of unending chaos and confusion.  Thus, people are pigheaded in their own defense.  By their nature, they prefer to “know” a coherent fabric of falsehoods than to “know” nothing at all.

2 Briefly, Flew’s parable is a straw man.  Christians, at least since the Crucifixion, have not asserted the demonstrable, physical presence of a “gardener,” then retreated by degrees as evidence was found lacking.  They asserted the non-corporeal, untestable omni-presence of God from the Church’s beginning.  They did not assert this arbitrarily, to defend their weak position, but asserted it on the sometimes quite uncomfortable basis of immutable scripture.  While this presents its own philosophical problems, it is fundamentally different from Flew’s metaphor.

March 24, 2016

Observations on a Trump Rally, Dayton Ohio

These are a few observations and personal reflections about the Trump Rally on March 12th in Dayton Ohio – the rally at which a protester, Thomas DiMassimo, charged the stage.  While I was there, I didn’t actually see the attack.  The event was held in a large aircraft hangar and as soon as the commotion started everyone stood on tiptoe to see – which meant that only people very near the stage saw anything.  In any case, there is plenty to say about the event itself.
Above all else, it is more than a little notable that thousands of people would gladly come out and stand on a hard concrete floor, crowded together waiting for hours on end, to watch a presidential candidate who, by any objective standards, is no great orator.  Trump likes to say there is “alot of love” at his rallies, and from his perspective he is right.  The man is a political rock star.  He doesn’t get polite applause – ever.  He gets a deafening roar of solidarity.  I saw several people who had obviously come to disrupt his speech simply lose heart and slink back through the crowd to quietly leave.  I did not, by the way, see one of them impeded or threatened.  It is fair to say that Trump supporters are angry, but it is unfair to say they are a mob.  Having been to many Tea Party events where the average age was probably close to sixty, it was refreshing to see a large turnout of people in their twenties and thirties.  I’m not going to say the crowd was a perfect mirror of the latest US census in racial terms, but frankly I am sick of caring.  There were Asians and Latinos here and there.  There were a scattering of blacks, some of whom had actually not come to shout the speaker down.  I didn’t get any sense that anyone who honestly came to listen was unwelcome.
The event really had two salient features.  The first was Trump’s own rambling, off-the-cuff, idiosyncratic stump speech.  The second was the premeditated, periodic interruptions of protesters.  I can fairly say that most of the protests were little conspiracies in themselves because when someone either raised an inflammatory sign or shouted some self-righteous obscenity, there were almost always two or three others in support, ready to capture the event on their cell phone cameras.  The goal, I suppose, was either to become heroes on YouTube or to get extra credit in their multicultural empowerment studies classes.  These people were not beaten or pushed, but ushered off with swift efficiency by the Secret Service.  Usually they went out peaceably and smiling, though one young gentleman left throwing mock punches at the crowd, and hooting like an ape.  I am sorry, but I actually witnessed this.  Most of the protesters I saw were white college-age males with furry faces and glasses – not that I want to be accused of profiling.  Without talking to them, I admit I have no idea with what race or gender they actually identified.  I retain a measure of sympathy for the blind idealism of youth, but it is strained pretty thin when it is treading on someone else’s freedom of speech.  Trump supporters have not performed such antics at Bernie Sanders rallies.
The content of Trump’s speech was an amalgam of things I’ve already heard him say, with a few hard jabs at Governor Kasich who was, of course, Trump’s major competitor in the state.  Not very many thoughtful people like all of Trump’s message, but there is much there to like if you give him a fair hearing.  Trump’s genius is simply to state obvious things that all of the other candidates have been too straitjacketed by consultants and donors to say, and he says these things over and over again to the delight and reassurance of his supporters.  We need a real border.  Muslim immigration is a risky proposition.  Trade deals should be made for economic rather than political reasons.  This makes Trump a reincarnation of Hitler – really?  I looked hard, but did not see the little mustache. 
To be honest, I am truly bothered when Trump reaffirms his advocacy of torture.  Sometimes I wonder if I am ready to vote for a man who does such a good imitation not of Hitler – but of Tony Soprano.  He thinks that we should reinstate waterboarding and worse, on the argument that ISIS is unconstrained by moral qualms and our constraints make it impossible for us to fight them effectively.  George Orwell said it with a bit more eloquence: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”  There is some truth to this species of argument – made all the more credible by the Obama administration’s anemic suggestion that the way to defeat ISIS is to somehow raise employment levels in the Middle East.  I think that torture will always happen in war, and in certain cases really is the lesser of two evils, but I have a problem with introducing it as a legally sanctioned instrument of the government of a republic.  I fear that what is done to terrorists today may be done to ordinary criminals tomorrow, and, eventually, to people who just hold politically unpopular views.  It bothers me.  I worry.  It does not end my support for Trump, however.
It is not as though the choice we have were Trump or Gerald Ford.  We no longer live in a functioning, rational republic – but a thoroughly degenerate kleptocracy.  Apart from Trump, we have essentially two choices.  On the one hand, we have Bernie Sanders – a comparatively honest ideologue who would have more-or-less the same relationship to the US economy that an iceberg had to the Titanic.  Hasn’t the world tried socialism often enough?  Why should we imagine that, maybe this time, it will not lead to chronic economic lethargy at best – and gulags and totalitarianism at worst.  In answer to my own question, most millenials simply don’t know any real history.  They believe in socialism because they’ve been indoctrinated by a couple of generations of frustrated old radicals.  Socialism has always had a pleasant icing of progress and idealism – it’s the rotten or iron-hard cake underneath that always proves distasteful to digest.  On the other hand, behind the other podiums we have – everybody else.  Cruz supporters will probably fume that I would toss their perfectly-branded hero into the same dirty basket with Hillary Clinton, but ultimately the two associate with the same Council on Foreign Relations, the same Goldman Sachs, and they both went to the same elitist, ultra-liberal universities.  They are both surrounded by similar groups of political consultants to craft their messages for maximum effect and minimum culpability.  They are, in short, just members of different family branches of the same corrupt, inbred, politic class.  Kasich is just an awkward uncle of the family – out of touch and past his prime.  I have ceased to listen to what any of these people say because, frankly, their words are empty.  “Conservative,” from the lips of a politician, means about as much as “racist” from the lips of Melissa Harris-Perry.  It’s a nonsense word used solely for effect.  Political consultants have undoubtedly estimated the fraction of the public who will be seduced by a particular lie, what fraction will check their facts, and if the lie will probably net more votes from suckers than it will lose from fact-checkers – any of these candidates will use it.
There is every reason to believe the mother of all monetary crises lurks just over the horizon.  Running crushing deficits year after year is unsustainable.  An elitist, lying, kleptocratic lawyer versus Tony Soprano with some real world experience and an economics degree?  Is that really a hard choice?  Which is more unpleasant – the human suffering caused by an unchecked economic implosion or the waterboarding of a few terrorists?  The latter does raise risks – the former is all but a certainty.  Trump’s detractors may just wish they had a strongman when the banks collapse again.
The ending of the rally was surprisingly calm and quiet.  When the news cameras were put away, the protestors disappeared.  Trump walked the edge of crowd, smiling and shaking hands.  A small cloud of signs bent in his direction for autographs the way that plants bend toward the light.  He signed a few.  From the side he could barely be seen among his federal bodyguards – standing out only because of his distinctive hair.  It is strange to witness the unlikely fulcrum on which history appears about to pivot.  Tens of millions of people watch and pray.

March 10, 2016

Backhanding the public has consequences

It is bitterly amusing to watch the two party establishments and the miscellaneous talking heads recoil in horror over Donald Trump – as though he were some evil titan that the public’s worst sentiments had conjured up.  If there is anyone to blame for Trump’s spectacular rise, it is the very people who now oppose him the most desperately.  Most real conservatives would have been quite content to vote for a second term of Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich – but we were not given that option.  We were given “Mittens” Romney because, I suppose, it was his turn.  The Washington establishment is upset because many Americans want to see every illegal immigrant in the United States deported?  Perhaps if both parties hadn’t cooperated to all but erase the southern border by effectively nullifying the immigration laws, you and I might be able to find a bit more Christian charity in our supposedly racist little hearts.  People tend to have more compassion for others when it isn’t obvious those others are being imported to replace them.  I don’t hate Spanish-speaking countries – but I would like at least a little say about whether or not I am going to have to live in one.  Moreover, importing 1.5 million Muslims in the wake of 9/11 has to be one of the most irrational public policy decision ever made.  It takes a kind of cultivated blindness to see it as anything else.  A virulent strain of Jihadist terrorism is spreading across the Muslim world – and the reaction of our “best and brightest” is to give Muslims not only admittance, but a kind of “preferred immigrant” status.  That isn’t tolerance – it is sheer contempt for the security of ordinary American lives.  When Trump says he will end these things our enthusiasm is not so much a reflection of our trust in him as it is our justifiable distrust of everyone else.
I used to like Ted Cruz – until I had a cursory look at his background.  Most politicians are in bed with the big banks and the globalists to some degree, but Cruz is the only one I know of who is literally in bed with them – his wife Heidi being a former operative at both Goldman Sachs and the shadowy Council of Foreign Relations.  Neither Goldman nor the CFM are exactly known for their conservative principles or their love for American national sovereignty.  Maybe Ted and his campaigning wife manage, somehow, never to discuss potential public policy but, you know, “I’m just saying...”  While Trump’s New York City is not particularly a bastion of conservative thought, Ted and Heidi’s alma mater, Harvard, doesn’t exactly have direct flights to the Reagan Ranch either.  Sure, Mark Levin gives him a 97% liberty score for his voting record, but it doesn’t fully cover up that underlying elitist odor.  Rubio, Kasich, and the others who have fallen by the wayside hardly seem worth the trouble of mentioning.
We have Donald Trump, the last man standing – and the first in a very long time to actually stand up and speak his mind.  He is everything America ever was – good and bad – all rolled up into one big, beautiful, raucous, uncouth package.  What country but America could have made such a man?  I am tired of apologizing for my country or for him.  It is true that Donald Trump will never write the 21st century equivalent to the Gettysburg address, but we’ve just suffered through seven years of a president who believed he could remake the entire world with the vastly overrated power of his words.  We have nothing good to show for either his eloquence or his ideas.  It is evident enough that behind the amazing shotgun blast of language that comes our of Donald’s mouth there lies that formidable talent that we used to call “American know-how” – that force that built the greatest nation on the Earth before we all learned to be so sensitive that we’re afraid to breathe.  We need a businessman with an economics degree more that we need another passive-aggressive elitist with a law degree.  I’m not going to waste time voting for one more candidate whose obvious goal is to manage America’s decline for the benefit of the current political class.  If we are to fail as a nation and as a people, then by God let us fail standing up and being heard.
Yes, Donald Trump is a big roll of the dice.  What worthwhile president in our history has not been?  And, for better or for worse, the die is already cast.  It is now Trump or nothing.  Conservatives looking for the perfect candidate in 2020 or beyond ought to consider that, if Trump fails, the establishments of both parties will do everything possible to insure that no genuinely popular candidate will ever rise to viability again.  In their spectacular dismissal of public anger, the Trump phenomena has caught both parties by surprise – but the train is leaving the station now.  We have to get onboard and hope for the best.  If we do not get on we may never see another train worth boarding in our lifetimes.  We may not be living in a country with a franchise worth the name.

February 22, 2016

What any five-year-old would know was murder

[I wrote this in September of 2015, but didn't find a publisher.  - emc]
The recent videos of Planned Parenthood officials behaving abominably has drawn out an abominably bad argument in Planned Parenthood’s defense.  The argument is that the sale of fetal organs is justified because the organs would only go to waste if Planned Parenthood didn’t sell them, and that the money raised by selling them is used for good purposes.  Now, if one were to take any of the bodies that are big enough to harvest useful organs from and lay it on a table it would be a recognizable human being – not a mere clump of cells, but a baby – with human arms and legs and a human face.  Seeing it would make most other human beings, even most liberals, uncomfortable and sad in the way that seeing any dead child makes any decent person feel uncomfortable and sad.  A five-year-old would recognize it as a person.
Generally, we do not think of dead human beings as scrap material, or as slabs of meat.  We grant them a kind of instinctive reverence – an acknowledgment of the fact that what we see in front of us was once the dwelling place of feelings and a mind like our own, however inexperienced or unknowable.  In other words, we see in a dead human body a reflection of ourselves.  We would not think of our own bodies as something to be chopped up so they could be put to some better purpose than we could achieve by our own lives.  We might be willing to donate our organs for others to use after our deaths – but that is a moral choice we are allowed to make as grown-up human beings.  That is a choice.  We would not want someone else to decide our organs mattered – but that we did not.  We have a certain inner sense that our own lives are sacred, and, if we open our hearts, we know that other peoples lives, no matter how humble or how small, are sacred too.  Our society has a new phrase to express this inner understanding.  In the language of the left, the supreme court, and many well-educated people, this form of compassion is simply known as religious bigotry.  It is our fate to live in such a modern and enlightened age.
The argument Planned Parenthood’s advocates make is much the same as Josef Mengele might have made for performing unspeakable experiments on child prisoners in Auschwitz.  The children were going to die anyway, so why let their little bodies go to waste?  The answer, in both cases, is that the crime began not with an act, but with an idea.  The idea is that a few helpless lives, more-or-less, are unimportant.  That certain people can be arbitrarily declared not persons.  Normal, reasonable practices don’t get built on a foundation of the execution of the innocent.  When a society pretends that a certain kind of murder ought to be engaged in for the greater good, when it de-values the lives of the innocent and helpless, its moral pretensions become an empty joke.  It sticks a knife into the very concept of morality.
At the mere mention of the Holocaust, I imagine the proponents of Planned Parenthood will roll their eyes and accuse me of inflammatory name calling.  I stand by the comparison.  Find another instance of the taking of human life in such a cold, systematic, institutional way.  Legalized abortion is not the unfortunate random bloodletting of war, but a cool, planned, careful implementation of someone’s idea of what is best for society.  It is not merely killing, but premeditated, intellectualized murder.
Nor is the similarity between the Holocaust and Planned Parenthood’s actions a mere coincidence.  Both the Holocaust and Planned Parenthood have their origins in the same eugenics movement of the early twentieth century.  Eugenics, simply put, was the idea that, by the selective breeding of good human specimens on the one hand, and the prevention of breeding by inferior human specimens on the other, the human race might be perfected.  We all know that Adolf Hitler carried this idea to its gruesome conclusion.  Fewer know that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, followed the same idea to a similar conclusion.  Both believed that, to make a better society, some blameless lives would have to be thrown out like so much garbage.  While legal abortion is no longer usually practiced for the misguided purpose of building a better race at any cost, it is still in every way the bloody legacy of that idea.  An idea which, in the case of the Holocaust, cost 13 million people their lives.  Abortions – in the United States alone – exceeded that death toll decades ago.
What the film makers from the Center for Medical Progress has done in its Planned Parenthood videos is little different from what US Army photographers did at Buchenwald and Dachau.  They have simply exposed reality to the light of day.  In neither case was any embellishment necessary.  The only thing surprising is our own surprise.  Did we expect that people who earn their wages by dismembering living human beings would somehow do that ghoulish work with loving compassion and respect?  Were the people who ran Dachau a kind and gentle species of men?  When a person deals, year in and year out, in human butchery and the callous sale of body parts – can he or she retain some moral compass worth the term?  We have only seen what has really always been there, hidden discreetly behind dignified walls.  We have only seen what we should have expected.  What any normal five-year-old would know was murder.

If we can tolerate such things and do nothing we are as guilty as the Germans were.  Or rather we are worse, because at least the Germans could claim they didn’t know, or didn’t know the details, of what was happening around them.  You and I have known all along.  I myself have driven past Right-to-Life demonstrations with their terrible grizzly signs and did nothing but shake my head and wish that they would take their awful images away.  I have quietly accepted this ongoing atrocity as the perverse expression of a civil right, and left it go unnoticed and unconsidered – out of sight and out of mind.  Who am I to condemn the girl or young woman who, desperate and confused, accepts the lies and evil advice of calm, credentialed people in white coats?  We have all been lied to, and most of us have lied to ourselves.  What appears obscene and wrong at first – almost always truly is.  The price of that kind of error, sadly, is often paid in innocent blood.

The war we lack the will to fight

America has developed an unrealistic aversion to losing soldiers.  I do not mean to undervalue, in any way, the people on whom our freedom ultimately depends.  I am saying that, as a nation, we’ve forgotten what a real war is.  On an average day in World War II, America suffered the deaths of 302 combatants.  Not on D-Day or during the battle of Iwo Jima, but on an average day during the conflict.  The current general conflict with Islamic fundamentalism has cost the US about 1.5 combatants on an average day.  If you consider the difference between these two wars on a per capita basis, the ratio is not 200-to-1, but closer to 500-to-1 – since we now have more than double the population.  Nevertheless, the comparatively tiny number of deaths in the current conflict (along with a somewhat more substantial number of wounded) has left America fatigued and gun-shy.  Even conservatives complain bitterly about any hint of “more American boots on the ground.”
We are also much more sensitive to enemy civilian deaths than we were during World War II.  The number of civilian dead the US is responsible for is hard to determine for a variety of reasons, but the qualitative policy differences are plain.  During World War II we heavily bombed both German and Japanese cities with very little political backlash.  Now, we hear public outcries at the occasional smart-bomb that finds its way – quite accidentally – onto a group of non-combatants.  We bomb ISIS oil trucks with reluctance because they might be driven by civilians.
The origins of these changes in the public tolerance for bloodletting would be interesting to examine, but for my purpose it is enough to simply understand that these changes have occurred.  Together, these two essentially sociological factors have forced us to fight our wars the way we do – using tactical air power almost to the exclusion of other means.
Bombing a technologically inferior enemy from sophisticated tactical aircraft has to be one of the safest forms of warfare ever devised.  Drone attacks are even safer.  Though the financial costs of these methods are spectacular, the personnel losses are minimal.  Likewise, compared to the mass, unguided bombing campaigns in World War II, modern tactical bombing kills a minimum of enemy civilians.  The “bad-guy-to-bystander” ratio is quite high, the obvious trade-off being, again, the astronomical cost of smart munitions.  A variable imbedded in the equation is the use of special forces teams to locate targets for the planes.  More teams = more dead soldiers (on both sides).  Fewer teams = more dead bystanders (and lower overall effectiveness).  The overriding consideration in employing air power this way is not the age-old goal of military victory, but the goal of avoiding incidents that journalists might publicize as atrocities.  War, the planners imagine, can be conducted without the mess.  The lives that are wasted through the unnecessary prolongation of the fighting do not seem to bother journalists or politicians as much as individually bloody events.  Their concern is about today’s news cycle, not the retrospective view of history.
Unfortunately, our enemies are rarely either as stupid or as sensitive as our politicians or our press corps.  The experienced jihadist knows perfectly well that the safest place to deploy a rocket launcher is in a populated area – preferably next to a school.  Hamas has used the heightened sensitivities of the western world against Israel and ISIS uses them against us.  Moreover, our enemies also know that the second-tier anti-aircraft weapons they are stuck with don’t have much chance of downing American aircraft.  Unable to fight American soldiers or shoot down American planes, terrorism against our population is the only option left.  It seems to be their preferred option in any case.  I am sure that whatever fraction of our officer corps that has eluded political castration knows all of this and more.  I am equally certain that the progressive politicians now in power consider professional officers untrustworthy and think of warfare as a dirty subject – unworthy of study by sophisticated people like themselves.  We have only to look at the Obama administration’s prisoner exchange policies, their unjustified faith in their own diplomatic effectiveness, and their penchant for releasing militarily significant information to the press, to see their cold contempt for military considerations.  Making war has always been a tragic, wretched business – but many contemporary politicians seem to think the new millennium has somehow made warfare an entirely optional undertaking.  It is not.
No amount of air power is capable of occupying even enough land for the skinniest of diplomats to stand on.  Aircraft, broadly speaking, can only perform two operations.  They can find potential targets and they can destroy them.  The cannot search houses or occupy streets.  The continual call, from presidential candidates of both of our political parties, for a gaggle of Arab allies to do the dirty work of dying for American national interests is a frank admission of our national impotence.  From a foreign policy perspective, it is also desperately shortsighted.  The people that do the dying have an understandable expectation of getting victory on their terms.  Their aspirations and ours are not the same.  Even with our ground troops present, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq showed much interest in rebuilding themselves as modern, democratic, western nations.  Culture has never been that conveniently malleable.  Afghanistan and Iraq are the same tribal, corrupt, politically and morally backward places they have been for centuries.  Eliminating ISIS with a group of proxies will not put an end to Wahhabism, but will merely disturb its focus temporarily.  History has let the caliphate out of the bag, and the destruction of one provisional Islamist state is not going to put it back again.  Unless we are driven to the level of public outrage necessary to either occupy the entire Muslim world or reduce it to a depopulated smoking ruin, the jihadists will continue to rise from their own ashes with a new name and the same old 7th century objective.  Campaign rhetoric is unlikely to arouse that kind of public will.
Donald Trump, to be fair, has a different bad plan from all the others.  He wants to “take the oil.”  There is no way to do this without a massive ground operation.  One cannot exactly fly off with the oil in a special forces helicopter.  “Taking the oil” would mean permanently occupying not only the oil fields themselves, but also enough secure territory to run a pipeline to the closest defensible port – without any pretense of ever leaving.  The “Trump pipeline” would indeed rob the enemy of considerable wealth, at the cost of a slow trickle of dead American soldiers for a very long time.  It is militarily possible but politically unthinkable.
Despite what you might think, I am not a defeatist.  I believe that war and air power have a valid role, it just doesn’t happen to be the role of playing king-maker between competing tribal nations.  It is not a good thing when one tribe of barbarians butchers another, but we have neither the public will nor the responsibility to stop them.  The role of the American military ought to be the protection of the United States.  In our time that should probably include the suppression of nuclear weapons programs in hostile nations, and hard but measured retaliation against the known state supporters of terrorist acts.  It should not concern itself with maintaining familiar borders on middle eastern maps.  In a sane world, nations that chant “death to America” or hold our citizens for ransom ought to be considered enemies.  If they declare themselves at war with us – we ought to take them at their word.  They should be punished – they should not be managed.  If tactical air power is the only tool the public will let our military use, we should at least employ it effectively – more against nuclear facilities and valuable enemy assets, and less against illiterate fanatics with Kalashnikovs. 

While we must react forcefully in the international sphere to re-establish our credibility, the larger problem of terrorism cannot be solved with high explosives or American troops on foreign soil.  The idea of Jihad is simply too widespread.  The greatest supporters of terrorism against the US are not Saudi princes or the Islamic Republic of Iran, but the weepy, hand-wringing advocates of open borders and multiculturalism.  Neither the 9/11 bombers, Major Hasan, the Tsarnaev brothers, nor the San Bernardino shooters lived in places one could use a Hellfire missile against.  Through the power of self-destructive immigration policies – they all lived right here.  That is where our present focus should be.