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I know you must often wonder: what is polyamory? Well here's a (nonsensical) guide: "Polyamory - What it is and what it isn't." Aside from being awkwardly written (avoiding some common contractions, but using one in the title, for instance), the essay is dull and boring. Plus, it's not based the slightest bit in reality. Anyway, what is "polyamory"?

Polyamory has been defined as the philosophy and practice of loving more than one person at a time with honesty and integrity. Synonyms for polyamory are responsible, ethical, and intentional, non-monogamy. Because those descriptions are somewhat clumsy, the term Polyamory was coined in the late 80's by a pagan Priestess, Morning Glory Zell, and defines a range of different lifestyle alternatives. In most cases, but not all, this involves some sexual or at least intensely intimate sensual behavior.
Let me summarize: you have sex with lots of people, but there won't be any complications if you all love each other.

The authors purposefully confuse all sorts of different meanings for "love".

Polyamorists say that love is an infinite, not a finite commodity. An example of this is with children. When my oldest daughter was born, I loved her with every ounce of my being. When my son was born, I found that I didn't have to give them half a love each, I could love them both fully. My third child is loved as much, if not more, than the other two.
It's absurd to assert that people love their children in the same way they love their spouse/whatever. You may as well say "I love pizza and I love hamburgers; in the same way, I can love both Jill and Heather." There are all sorts of different kinds of love, as I think we're all well-aware.

The authors also appear to have no understanding of what love really involves.

This also applies to friends - when you meet someone new, you don't have to think about who you are going to drop off to make them fit. As a woman said when explaining why she chose polyamory - "I refuse to accept the myth that I have to stop loving one person before I start loving another."
There's only so much time in the day. I'm sure we've all lost contact with friends due to lack of time. It's absurd to think a person could invest the amount of time necessary for a truly intimate loving relationship with a large number of people. In fact, most humans can't even maintain one healthy relationship (judging from the divorce rate).

And then, "falling in love".

Polyamorists say that love should be unconditional, rather than the monogamous proposition that "I will love you on the condition that you will not love anyone else" - "forsaking all others" is how it usually is put. And as shown by history, monogamy and marriage are no safeguards against falling in love with someone else.
And there's no way we can possibly control our feelings, is there? We're doomed to fall in love with other people and destroy our marriages! Except, of course, that loving someone is far different from "falling in love" (as we say). Loving someone involves a conscious choice, whereas "falling in love" is merely an emotional phenomenon.

The authors blather on a bit and then try to refute the idea that polyamory might displease God by quoting two atheists.

It is sinful - God doesn't like it.

"Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others." Oscar Wilde Chameleon.

"Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error." George Bernard Shaw

The sinfulness and wickedness of sex is based on the assumption that God doesn't like sex. This poison has its roots in Ancient Assyria, and the religions of Mythra and Zoroastrianism, which first put forth the idea of "the obscenity of the flesh." The sex drive, being one that cannot be denied, becomes a rich source of implanted guilt and shame, used to manipulate and degrade the individual. Therefore any sexual (natural) feelings need to be accompanied by shame, and therefore kept secret.

Of course, there's no real indication that God dislikes sex, so they're beating up a straw man. As they note, much of the Bible was written by polygamists. However, the authors aren't advocating polygamous marriage, they're advocating committment-free sexual liasons. The Bible makes it pretty clear that God wasn't thrilled with the idea of polygamy (see Solomon's downfall and Paul's instruction that church elders have at most one wife), even though he doesn't condemn it, but polygamous marriages laid responsibilities on all parties involved identical to the responsibilities in monogamous marriages. They weren't sexual free-for-alls.

Ok, there's a bunch more stuff I won't address directly. It's repetitive.

Their last point is the most absurd. After discussing jealousy at great length, they then ask an apparently rhetorical question that implies monogamy has no biological basis.

If monogamy is so natural and hardwired, why is there such a large relationship industry - the "How to make it right" of magazines, books, TV shows, marriage guidance, etc.?
Hm, could it be because we want successful monogamous relationships, but have trouble making them work? Maybe because we keep "falling in love" and never make a real decision to actually love someone in spite of our frequently fluctuating emotions? Could it be because nonsense like this polyamory paper twists and distorts people's understanding of love?

(HT: Random Walks.)

Speaking of movie scripts, Aaron Haspel has a nice disection of how Hollywood protrays the business world.

The anti-business movies deal overwhelmingly with schlock purveyors: yellow journalists (Citizen Kane), swampland peddlers (Glengarry Glen Ross), penny stock hustlers (Boiler Room), shady aluminum siding salesmen (Tin Men), and out-and-out gangsters (The Godfather). It's a Wonderful Life gestures half-heartedly toward the notion of quality as good business, as in the scene where Mr. Potter's rental agent lectures him on how all the nice houses in Bailey Park are killing his real estate business. But mostly it's more people vs. profits hoo-rah.

In a "pro-business" movie like Executive Suite, our hero, William Holden, is the research chief for the furniture company, and in his big speech, as he ascends to the chairmanship, he tells the board that the company will never sacrifice quality, profits be damned. That it might actually be more profitable to manufacture good furniture does not cross the screenwriter's mind.

Incidentally, if I ever hear an executive of a company I own stock in say "profits be damned", I'm going to immediately sell.

Most people don't understand capitalism, and think profits are evil. The root of the misunderstanding is that many people want companies to be "nice", but companies don't exist to benefit humanity any more than you as an individual do. Companies consist solely of the assets of people who have invested (shareholders), and those people expect their money to be used for their own benefit, just like you expect your money to be used for your benefit. As Neal Stephenson hammers home in his excellent
Cryptonomicon, people who invest in corporations are interested in one thing: increasing shareholder value. Every corporate executive should realize that increasing shareholder value is the only moral use of company assets.

Individuals should be charitable and generous with their own money, but no one has any business giving away money that belongs to other people.

Plus, the very existence of profit (absent monopolies and other market distortions (which are never entirely absent)) demonstrates that a company is providing a beneficial service to its customers as well as it's shareholders. As I explained here, trading in a free market is generally profitable for both parties -- otherwise one of the parties would refuse the trade. The economy isn't a zero-sum game; wealth is created through trading by redistributing resources to those who value them most.

Director Mitch notes that there just aren't any good bad guys left. But there's always someone richer than you to be jealous of!

Donald Sensing has a post denouncing the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (in response to a post by Rosemary on Dean's World), specifically American use of nuclear weapons as a response to the detonation of a nuclear device in an American city by terrorists. The term "Mutually Assured Destruction" isn't really apt anymore (and Rev. Sensing doesn't use it), because there are no other nations (Russia included) with the power to annihilate the United States. What MAD has morphed into is a promise to respond to a nuclear attack with the maximum possible force, rather than "proportional force". We have no desire to trade cities one-for-one with terrorists; as soon as they show a willingness to nuke us, game over -- we will respond with enough force to end the war immediately.

Rev. Sensing claims such a response would be immoral, but this quote makes me wonder if he understands MAD:

I reject a nuclear response that seeks simply to lash out at presumed enemies and make Arabs suffer for suffering’s sake. Killing just to kill would not be warranted even under such grievous circumstances.
There are two parts to MAD: the threat, and the follow-through. The threat is intended to convince our enemies that using nuclear weapons against us simply isn't worth it. Terrorists can't get nukes without the aid of some rogue nation (as Rev. Sensing points out -- North Korea or Iran, most probably), and the threat of MAD should serve to deter those nations from helping the terrorists.

It sounds like what Rev. Sensing most objects to, then, is the possibility that we'd actually follow through on the MAD threat if we were nuked. We've never had to before, but there's no guarantee that the threat itself will deter everyone forever. The threat itself is brilliant and costs no lives, but if we're ever nuked we'll be put in a tough position. Do we retaliate with overwhelming (non-proportional) force, as we threatened to do, or do we back down? If we back down, our future threats will be powerless and we won't have any means to deter future nuclear attacks. If we don't back down, and we actually obliterate a city or two in the nation(s) we determine were involved, we'll be responsible for killing a great many people who were only peripherally involved in the attack against us.

However, contrary to what some of Rev. Sensing's commenters claim, such retaliation would not be "murder" or "revenge" -- such terms have no meaning in war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed when we nuked Japan, but that action probably saved millions of lives (Japanese and American); it wasn't murder it was a strategic use of force calculated to end the war, and it did. Furthermore, since the utility of the threat wholly depends on our willingness to make good on it, it's not revenge to respond to an attack in the exact manner we guaranteed we would. If a thug pulls a knife on a cop, and the cop tells the thug to drop the knife or he'll shoot, it's not "revenge" for the cop to shoot the thug if instead of dropping the knife he charges to attack.

Far from being immoral, MAD is the only moral policy I've ever heard of that has a chance of deterring nuclear attacks against the United States. Rev. Sensing proposes some other possible methods in his post, but they'd all take years to implement, and would do nothing to prevent future nuclear attacks in the mean time. Rev. Sensing's proposals are all excellent long-term policies (most of which we should be doing now), but such possibilities will not be sufficient to deter our enemies from using nuclear weapons against us. You can't correct a child's behavior by threatening to send him to military school in ten years.

Rev. Sensing has updated his own post in response to mine. First, I'd like to say that I'm sure he's more familiar with MAD than I am -- it was his characterization of deterrence as mere "lashing out" that made me wonder.

By rejecting the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent, Rev. Sensing seems to leave no real purpose for their existence at all. We certainly won't use them pre-emptively, and if we won't use them in retaliation either then there's no reason to have them. We can't even threaten to use them if our enemies know we will never follow through.

He describes many dire consequences that may follow from our retaliatory use of nuclear weapons, and he's probably right about many of them. But are those possible consequences worse than seeing another US city nuked by terrorists? I'm not sure that's the case.

We could continue to deter Russia and other nuclear nations with the rest of our arsenal, and withdraw our soldiers from around the world if need be. It would obviously be a Bad Thing all around, but would it be worse than losing another US city to another nuke?

Would our retaliation prevent another attack? No guarantees, but it could sure motivate some of our enemies to clamp down on the terrorists in their midsts right quick. If not -- if they're determined to fight a nuclear war -- then we have no alternatives anyway.

As for furthering the cause of Christ... I'll have to consider it. Off the top of my head I can't think of an effective nuclear deterrence policy that would also win people to Jesus if it had to be used. War in general doesn't tend to turn people to Christ, but does that mean we should never fight? Some pacifists say so, but their positions aren't convincing.

In Candace's comment on "Banishing the Ugly" she brings another metaphor to mind.

Humbly, Michael. It's nice to at least feel understood, even more so to feel that one's words resonate with another.
Words are the bait, and ideas are the hook. What does anyone want more than to know and be known? As Paul wrote, knowing is the essence of love.
1 Corinthians 13:11-13

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I wish I could tell you everything I'm thinking (whoever you are). I wish you could know every stray thought that flitters through my mind. I've loved before, and felt the deeply painful need to know and be known, to lay myeslf utterly bare before some other miserably flawed human being and to be loved in return for exactly who I am. It's a longing that sex offers to fulfill, but cannot. God's perfect fellowship will complete it someday, but even when Adam walked in the Garden with his creator God knew it wasn't good for him to be alone.

I know a lot of beautiful women, but what catches my eye more quickly and surely than a pretty face is a knowing glance or tiny smile that tells me she gets it. Some off-hand remarks or inside jokes -- some strung-together words -- that show we're on the same page, that prove my thoughts aren't bouncing off the surface but penetrating the dark, secret place wherein she hides.

Wise counsel; subtle wit; easy laughter; sly, sparkling glances that scream I know! -- these are love to me.

Words are the bait, ideas are the hook. Take a look around, you might find something you like.

Will Baude says that premarital sex is virtuous:

I think it's generally unwise for people (particularly people who view monogamy as generally desirable and divorce as generally undesirable) to get married before they've begun having some sort of sexual relations.
Although he says "some sort of sexual relations", it's pretty clear from further text that he's referring to sexual intercourse itself.
The second part of Ms. Morse's view that I think is bad is her view that sex ought to be kept between spouses, or that sex's job is to bring spouses closer together. I think this is a cause-effect confusion.

Sex shouldn't be used to bring people close together-- it should be used to help us find people with whom we're compatible enough to be or grow close. (And marriage, as I said earlier, isn't always relevant to this closeness-- plenty of pairs unmarried people love each other as much or more than plenty of other pairs of married or ex-married people. Especially in a world where some of these unmarried people are legally forbidden marry the other unmarried the people they love.)

I've heard this argument before, and I'm not at all convinced. First of all, go read my dissection of a non-married love relationship which very clearly is not as intimate as a marriage; your mileage may vary, but I expect that the vast majority of "long-term relationships" are quite similar (maybe even many marriages?).

Secondly, I find it very easy to learn a great deal about women without having sex with them, or even "dating" them. I'm not particularly fond of the whole modern concept of "dating", for a whole host of reasons. To keep it short: I don't think it's possible to build a healthy relationship on romantic emotions. The foundation of dating is romance, and as most of us are probably aware it's quite easy to become attracted to someone we wouldn't particularly care to be friends with. Physical and emotional lust are powerful forces, and we're often eager to be tricked into thinking we actually love someone when it's all just emotional smoke and mirrors.

As I've written before, my strategy is pretty simple:

Mostly, I just live my life and try to make myself into a person that will be "A One" for the type of girl I hope to attract. I've probably got a long ways to go, but I'm working on it.
Dating and sex obscure and confuse the real issues involved with finding a mate in ways that "mere" friendship doesn't. Dating and sex lead to jealousy, lust, pride, selfishness, materialism, conflict, impatience, manipulation, cruelty, resentment, and uncountable other complications. Friendship has its pitfalls as well, but is generally much freer from such distractions.

Friendship allows me to see a woman for who she truly is, when she's not trying to impress anyone; friendship lets me be myself without needing to make an artificially-sculpted good impression. Dating, on the other hand, is all about creating a pretty show, complete with scripted dialogue and special effects. You tell me which is more conducive to really getting to know someone.

Mr. Baude writes further:

Marrying somebody without knowing whether they behave in a good or evil manner in bed is like marrying somebody without knowing what their favorite book is, or what their religion is, without knowing what they think constitutes moralvirtue [sic]. These things are too important, and too central to our very identies, to simply hope that they will work themselves out later like the question of whose parents get the first Christmas.
I agree it's an important issue, but there are a myriad of similarly important topics that are discussed before marriage, but deferred in action until afterwards. How will the children be raised? How will we spend our money? Who will work at what job, when? All of these are critically important issues to a marriage, and all of them (including sex) should be discussed frankly and openly beforehand. But I see no reason to doubt that the question of sex, just like the others, can be explored effectively and sufficiently without actual implementation.

I'd like to add that, although I've heard many married couples express regret over extra-/pre-marital sexual escapades, no couple who has waited has ever told me that they wish they hadn't.

Candace muses on why she writes, and she speaks for more people than just herself, whether she realizes it or not.

Writing jerks the hopes and dreams of our imaginations into the Real World and shoves them into people's faces. It's hard to say whether words or weapons have done more to set the course of history, but maybe the distinction isn't that important. "The pen is mightier than the sword" misses the point: words are weapons, and every strung-together collection is another battle waged to banish the Ugly and to conform the world to our peculiar vision.

In response to my "An Open Letter to Hawthorne Police Chief Stephen Port", Barry left a rather poetic comment about why he doesn't want anyone to carry concealed weapons. In part:

If I were to take a live, armed weapon and carry it on my person, in public, it would eat away at my sanity just as if it were emitting lethal radiation. To know that I carried an instrument of sure and certain death on my person, available and ready to be pulled out and used at a moment's notice to possibly kill...a child. A homeless person. An innocent.
Lots of other commenters jumped on him, probably for two reasons: they thought his fears were irrational, and they thought the language he used was a bit over the top. I also think Barry's fears are unfounded, but I'm sure that his beliefs are widely shared by a minority of the general population. Many people simpy don't like guns, and wish they'd all go away.

Barry defends himself later on, and has now responded at greater length on his blog, Inn of the Last Home. Apparently, lots of people on other blogs were attacking him, or at least disagreeing with him in a determined and forceful manner.

I would feel uncomfortable carrying a loaded weapon. Very uncomfortable that I would possibly have the means to end a person's life within arm's reach. That doesn't mean I'm going to do it, or would ever be tempted. Just that fact makes me uncomfortable.

I also would feel uncomfortable knowing that anyone on the street, in the theatre, at a restaurant, at the supermarket could be carrying a loaded gun on their person. And here's why - despite training, despite temperament, despite the best of intentions: I don't trust you. That's simply it, I don't trust you. I don't trust a person who is not a licensed law enforcement officer of some kind - someone who, by virtue of their job, I would assume they have proper gun training - to carry a weapon. You may be a great person, love your kids, go to church, would never pull a gun in anger at another person - you may be supremely confident of that fact in your own mind, but I'm not. To me, you would be just as likely to be the one sticking up the fast-food clerk as the one defending him, or - in your possibly untrained and excited state - could be the one who with the best of intentions attempts to intervene but misses and hits someone else. Or you could be the one who gets pissed off at me in traffic and, instead of the flipping me the finger you pop off a few rounds at my back window.

I understood Barry's fears before, and this later explanation reinforces my earlier comprehension. Barry doesn't trust anyone (except, apparently, for some reason, police officers) and doesn't want anyone to carry lethal force around with them.

The problem is that it's precisely because of this lack of trust that other people choose to carry weapons. I sure as heck don't trust the people around me either, which is why I want to have means available to defend myself from them. In particular, the very people most likely to hurt me (violent psychos) are the people least likely to be restrained by laws prohibiting concealed carry.

All you have to do is watch the news and you'll see stories every single day about nuts shooting up schools, churches, movie theaters, bus stops, hospitals, work places, &c. That scares the crap out of me when I think about it! The police don't show up to draw chalk outlines until it's all over, but if I were there and I had a gun there might be something I could do. Maybe not, depending on the circumstances, but maybe yes. At least I'd have the best possible chance.

Furthermore -- and more importantly -- my right to carry a weapon does not in any way depend on Barry's comfort level. As I wrote yesterday, the freedom to keep and bear arms is the foundation of liberty. Without the means to exercise physical force it's impossible to be free: you're a slave to anyone who can overpower you. Others can like it or not, but that's morally irrelevant. Those who think like Barry would prefer to live a perfectly safe, perfectly enslaved life than a life filled with both freedom and the risk that inescapably accompanies it.

Bertrand Russel writes about obsessive love (in relation to Fitzgerald and Nabokov), and it reminds me of a previous thought I'd had: that no man is complete without some unobtainable love.

Those two authors write mostly about obsessive romantic love (or lust), but their characters stand for far more than mere sexuality (or even humanity). All men and women need an object of desire -- moral, spiritual, philisophical, material? -- to yearn for and strive after, knowing it can never be obtained. This is the essence of tragedy, and the foundation of greatness.

No one accomplishes anything great by aiming at the attainable. Greatness is achieved in incremental steps, to be sure, but the ultimate goal must stand forever out of reach or it's not even worth the effort. Greatness springs from tragedy; tragedy puts the accomplishments of life into scale, and reveals their greatness.

As a banal example, consider the SAT. If everyone received perfect scores, what significance would the test have? It would tell us nothing about anyone's abilities, intelligence, knowledge, or determination. Tragedy serves the same purpose; by highlighting the failures and disappointments of life, success can be elevated to the level of greatness. By striving for impossible goals, through obsession with the unattainable, a man is stretched to his fullest extent and his greatness can be rightly judged.

Donald Sensing mentions that web-hostile Bill O'Reilly thinks the internet needs to be made "safe for democracy", but that opinion belies a profound misunderstanding of democracy. As the Iraqis are discovering, democracy doesn't need to be safely provided for: democracy itself constructs a safe environment to exist within by making it hard for the elites to hold power, and by distributing power to the masses.

Democratic power is primarily established by the right to keep and bear arms, and secondarily by the rights to private property, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of association, &c. These rights are the foundation of a liberal democratic society, and they don't need any external management to protect them. Naturally, the self-styled "elite" would like to administrate these rights -- for the benefit of all! -- but top-down interference actually ends up making democracy and freedom less secure, rather than more. The "elite" are well-aware of this fact, and they seek to make us all less free so as to accumulate power for themselves. It's fine that they try (that's the essence of competition), but it doesn't mean they're right or that we should let them succeed.

I have an acquaintence -- let's call him "T" -- who had been receiving diability payments from his "job" for over a year because he found a psychiatrist to write him a note claiming he had a psychological malady called "stress" that prevented him from working. I don't know the exact nature of T's "stress", but seeing as how it stemmed from managing a retail clothing store I find it hard to believe that it kept him from doing any sort of work for over a year. Nevertheless, due to California's absurd workers' compensation system, his employer had no choice but to continue paying T while he sat at home drinking and playing video games.

This type of forced coverage of nonsensical claims is part of what makes California so unattractive to employers, and refomring the workers' compensation system was one of Governor Arnold's top campaign priorities. Republican state Senator Ross Johnson is introducing a bill to implement some changes, and is particularly targeting intangible psychological claims.

Claiming a psychological injury is already the most-difficult kind of disability to prove. But Johnson says because the pain is literally all in the workers' mind, they should have to offer better proof that their employer caused it.

Psychiatrists don't like the sound of that. They say it smacks of discrimination against their field.

Uh, yeah. I'm not a psychologist, but I play one on TV and I've taken a good number of graduate-level psychology classes. The field is 50% BS and 50% "we don't know what it means, but when we do A we get B". Heck, maybe that makes it 100% BS. Anyway, the point is that I have no problem discriminating against a field that has just about as much legitimacy in my mind as palmistry. I'm exaggerating, but you get my point.
His bill would also restrict the reasons for which a worker might claim a stress disability. Pressures that are common to all fields of employment, for example, would not be allowed as cause for a psychological injury. A worker also could not be compensated for a psychological illness that arose from the stress of disciplinary action, job transfer or being fired.

"It is equally sensible to ensure that the everyday stresses we all experience in the workplace do not give rise to a claim for benefits," Johnson said.

Well, duh. It's an unfortunate sign of the decadence of our culture that this even has to be said and coded into law.

Strangely, the California Psychiatric Association doesn't approve of the bill, which would drastically reduce their prestige and clientele.

"We felt that it would create an incentive for an intrusive investigation of patients that would increase costs without benefiting the worker," Hagar [the director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association] said. "Psychiatric injury already has a higher burden of proof. And the bill seems predicated on the assumption that there is some sort of evidence of over-utilization of psychiatry, which is absolutely untrue.

"And, it is discriminatory against the field and against the patients who have legitimate injuries."

The problem is that workers are being unfairly benefitted at the moment; this bill tries to level the playing field, and reduce the cost to businesses of absurd claims. Hopefully, those with "legitimate injuries" will still be able to get treatment. However, people like T who get stressed out from folding clothes and adding up numbers should be prevented from leeching off the system.

The Hawthorne Chief of Police Stephen Port has denied my application for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and I'm going to deliver a Public Records Act Request this afternoon to gather information for a possible lawsuit. According to the text of the law, it looks like the Hawthorne Police Department will have ten days to make the records available (or at least to make a determination as to their availability). Ten calendar days from now is Christmas, but as you can imagine I'm eager to see that my rights as protected under the national Constitution and the constitution of the State of California are enforced.

I submitted the PRAR without much fanfare, and had my brother go with me to witness it. Now we'll see what happens....

I'm skeptical of Donald Sensing's description of Jesus' instruction to "turn the other cheek" as an admonishment to resist oppression. Here's the passage in context:

Matthew 5:38-42
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
It seems very clear to me that Jesus is not advocating resistance or even civil disobedience. This passage comes right after the Beatitudes, where Jesus says "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

Rev. Sensing writes:

In the culture of the day, backhanding someone was a gesture of contempt. It was how you treated someone who was beneath you in class and status. To give someone the back of your hand was to say by gesture, "Remember your place! I am superior to you!" It was how a father rebuked his son, a brother his sister, a husband his wife and a master his slave or servant.

That being so, Jesus’ advice to turn the other, or left, cheek to be struck is loaded with symbolic meaning. It is certainly not advice to be submissive to evil. It has at least two loaded meanings:

- I deny that I am inferior to you and I demand you acknowledge me as your equal by striking me a forehand blow, and

- as your equal, I have the right to strike you back.

Turning the other cheek actually could well have been Jesus’ admonishment to the people under oppression by the Romans and class structures to stop being passive and start resisting, but never to be the aggressor and to provide an opportunity for the oppressor to ponder the evil of his ways.

It's not that I disagree with Donald's conclusions, I just don't think this passage is implying what he says it does. Taken in context with Jesus' other teachings, I don't see any way to infer that he was advocating any resistance to Roman power. Jesus' main concern was spiritual warfare, and he never seemed to worry about physical oppression on this fallen earth.

The use of the word "also" seems significant to me as well, since it implies "in addition to" rather than "instead of".

Donald posts more, and comments on my post here as well.

My main disagreement with him isn't on whether the social order should change (it should) but rather on the method. Let's look at Ephesians 6 for more insight.

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

First, consider the slaves Paul writes about. Does this passage imply that slavery is good? Of course not. But Paul also doesn't tell the slaves to flee -- rather he instructs them to serve their masters in a Godly way, so as to be examples of goodness. Liekwise, masters were reminded that they too had a Master in heaven who would hold them accountable. Paul's focus wasn't on changing the social order, but rather on changing the hearts of those involved.

Secondly, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our battle isn't against this world order -- the sinful world we live in is only a symptom of the greater spiritual illness that infects our species. Fighting to change the system isn't bad, but treating the symptoms directly is ultimately useless if the disease isn't cured. Only by fighting in this spiritual battle can hearts be turned to Christ, and the material world will follow. All the equipment Paul lists is spiritual in nature, and this is the front where the real battle for souls is fought.

Thirdly, Paul himself was a prisoner of the oppressive Roman Empire, and he never railed against it. On the contrary, he took every opportunity to work within the system and to subvert the hearts of those he came into contact with. In the book of Acts, he says that while he was held prisoner in Rome many of the emperor's personal guards listened to him and became Christians. Eventually, Paul was put to death for his beliefs, and he never resisted the fate God had in store for him (in fact, he counted it a joy). If he had fought, he might have brought about some change to the government system, but at what cost to the cause of Christ?

Finally, we know the end of our world and everything in it: destruction. The day will come when every man and woman will stand before God to be judged, and on that day our civilization will come to an end. There's no purpose in trying to save it, because it will eventually pass away. The only things of any value are people, because people last forever.

Injustice is bad, oppression is bad, and the Bible constantly warns those in authority to use their power for good, but if we Christians allow ourselves to be distracted from our spiritual war by the battles of this world, we're falling into a trap.

Update 2:
Some further thoughts:

1 Corinthians 7:20-24
Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
Paul says it here pretty clearly: if you can relieve oppression, it's good to do so -- but don't be overly bothered by it. He recasts the physical situation in spiritual terms, and points out that no matter what our earthly circumstances are, they're of far less consequence than our spiritual standing before God.

James 1:17-18

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for such a warm and beautiful day. It's been a long year, but we're almost to the end of it and you've shown yourself faithful every step of the way, in every detail of my life.

Thank you for my family, and that my brother can be home with us over Thanksgiving. Please take care of my dad and step-mom who are up in Reno now, and thanks for letting them buy a house and find a place they really like. Thanks for my mom and step-dad here in Los Angeles, all my brothers, even though they're frustrating sometimes. Thank you for our health and happiness, and all the good circumstances you've blessed my family with. Please comfort my grandmother in this holiday times for the first year she's facing them without my grandfather. Work in the lives of my family to bring them to a saving knowledge of your son.

Thank you for my job and my ability to go to school, help me to work hard and honestly in everything I do, and to make the most of every opportunity you give me. Thank you for all the success you've given me, none of which would have been possible if I was working under my own power. Thank you for giving me tenacity and determination, and a modicum of wisdom. Help me to be wise and generous, caring, compassionate, gentle, kind, and humble in spirit. I have nothing to boast about, because every good thing I have is a gift from you. Use it all to glorify yourself.

Thank you for my amazing church family, who have always been there for me even when my real family hasn't. Thank you for my friends, my small group, my pastor, and all the people I serve with. There's nothing more enjoyable than serving you with people I love, and it's a great blessing to be a member of Venice Baptist Church. Give our leadership wisdom and humility, and keep us from making any decisions or pursuing any course of action other than according to your will. Thank you for all the wonderful kids and college students I get to work with. Thank you for all the wise advisors you've given me to keep me on the right path. Help our church to be a blessing to our community, to those in every kind of need, spiritual and material. Show your love for the world through us.

Thank you for my country, and all the tremendous blessings that come from being an American. Thank you for all the people who make the country possible, from the soldiers to the politicians, all working as ministers of your common grace to the world. Thank you for our President Bush, all our Senators and Representatives, the Governor and Legislature of California, the Mayor and Councilmen of Hawthorne, and everyone who labors to make the country run smoothly. Give them all wisdom and self-control, show yourself to them and make your will clear; give them to courage to do what's right. Protect our soldiers all over the world, and give them peace of mind and comfort even when they're in danger. Comfort their families as well, and give them courage. Use all these people to preserve the peace, and restore it, and to punish evildoers and protect the weak and the innocent.

Lord, I know that my innermost desires are evil and destructive, thank you for lifting me out of the pit of my own sin and depravity. Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to live and die as a sacrifice, to pay the penalty for my sins. Thank you for reconciling this sinner to you, for adopting me and making me your son. Thank you for loving me even when I hated you, and for calling me to be your own. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who lives within me and seals me, who sanctifies me and empowers me to do your will. Thank you for your word the Bible that teaches me, guides me, and corrects me. Thank you for the glorious hope you've given me that surpasses all earthly troubles, the knowledge and security that even when this world passes away, your love for me will never pass away. Thank you that nothing I do can ever make you love me less, and thank you that I don't have to work to earn your love, and that nothing I do can make you love me more. Give me the strength and humility to serve you all my days. Forgive my rebellion, my pride, my impatience and selfishness. Give me the power to overcome my base desires and to be an example of Christ's love to the world. Protect me and preserve me, use me however you will but never leave me. I am yours, bought with a price and redeemed from slavery to eternal freedom; no words of thanks will ever be enough to profess my love for you.

Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O LORD ,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 O LORD my God, I called to you for help
and you healed me.
3 O LORD , you brought me up from the grave;
you spared me from going down into the pit.

4 Sing to the LORD , you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

6 When I felt secure, I said,
"I will never be shaken."
7 O LORD , when you favored me,
you made my mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.

8 To you, O LORD , I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
9 "What gain is there in my destruction,
in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD , and be merciful to me;
O LORD , be my help."

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

I've seen the question tossed around before, and James Taranto says the following, in the context of quoting President Bush:

Last week in Britain, a reporter asked President Bush if "Muslims worship the same Almighty" that he does. Bush replied: "I do say that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every person. I also condition it by saying freedom is not America's gift to the world. It's much greater than that, of course. And I believe we worship the same god." The Washington Post reports that the president's ecumenism prompted a kerfuffle among evangelical Christians. ...

Bush is right. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all monotheistic religions, united in the belief in a single God. (Muslims often call God by the Arab name Allah, but then so do Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews.) The three religions conceive of God differently, and Muslims and Jews do not share the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. A Christian may well believe that Islam's conception of God is wrong, but if you believe in only one God, it makes no logical sense to describe a fellow monotheist as worshipping a "different" God.

To an unbeliever, that may be a perfectly satisfactory answer -- since he wouldn't believe in any God, the details are inconsequential. It's true that as a monotheist I believe there is only one God, but it doesn't follow that anyone else who is also a monotheist worships the same God I do; the alternative is that they don't worship God at all, but rather a construct of their own imagination. For example, someone who woships a rock or a tree and claims it is the one and only "god" may also be a monotheist, but the characteristics of their "god" are entirely different from the characteristics of mine; we may both be monotheists, but at least one of us is wrong in believing that our god is the one and only.

Similarly with Muslims and Christians. Both are monotheists, but the two concepts of "god" are so completely divergent that they cannot both be true, and both "gods" cannot exist as conceived. At least one of the religions is wrong (and both think it's the other guys', whereas unbelievers think it's both).

Typically, only unbelievers (and functional unbelievers) are willing to make the claim that Jehovah and Allah are "the same". Why? Because they don't believe in either, and it's convenient and "enlightened" to lump everyone together. Why quibble about differences between two imaginary beings?

In the next day's Best of the Web, Mr. Taranto continues:

A Bush supporter's conception of Bush's "constitutional makeup" is utterly at odds with that of a Bush hater. Not all conceptions about Bush are equally true; Paul Krugman, for example, is totally wrongheaded, while this column generally is the model of verity. But whether Krugman is writing about him or we are, George W. Bush is the same man.

By the same token, to say that all monotheistic religions worship the same God is not to say that they are all equally valid. Indeed, since Christianity and Islam make competing claims about the nature of God, it would be logically incoherent to argue that both are true. Yet to say that they worship the same God does not contradict either religion's claim to be the one true faith. As to which religion is true, that is beyond the scope of this column.

Mr. Taranto is still not seeing the big picture, because he isn't recognizing what Christians and Muslims see to be fundamental attributes of their gods.

To carry my rock-god and tree-god example further, if I believe that some specific rock is the only god, and you believe some specific tree is the only god, it's meaningless to say that we both believe in the same "god" just becuase we both believe there's only one. If you're right, then the rock I believe is god is really just a rock and my god doesn't exist; I'm so fundamentally wrong about tree-god's nature that I'm worshipping something entirely different, something that isn't real.

The belief that there is only one god is one fundamental characteristic of that god, but not the only fundamental characteristic.

The Muslim claim that they worship the "God of Abraham" is fallacious; the origin of the Muslim religion can be seen in its modern symbolism: Allah was originally the fertility-/moon-god of Muhammad's tribe, and Islam carries the crescent moon symbol even still. In my (limited) experience, most Muslims are not aware of this aspect of their history, but it is pretty well supported by official Islamic historical records.

Update 2:
Donald Sensing gives more details, with all of which I concur. ["with all of which I concur"? ick -- Ed.]

I have no idea whether or not this pseudononymous account is true, but GeekPress links to a story by a self-proclaimed mafia programmer who sets up and runs illegal book-making operations in New York City. The narrative is interesting, but what stood out most to me was near the end:

The fact remains that I could be pulling in $150,000 as a programmer on the open market. But I make a third of that. So why am I risking a prison sentence or the potential of a lifetime in witness protection for a job that doesn't make me all that rich? Simple: When you start making a lot of money, you get noticed by the biggest bullies on the block - the cops and the IRS - and I don't want that. I like living below the radar. I sublet a friend's apartment and pay his utility bills with money orders that I purchase at the post office or at one of those check-cashing storefronts. Because I get paid entirely in cash, I don't fork over any taxes. When you get right down to it, I'm an idealist. I don't condone the actions of the US government. By refusing to pay taxes, I withhold my financial support. And, truth be told, I like mobsters. They're more willing to accept you at face value. They aren't hung up on college degrees, or where you live, or how many criminal convictions you have.
The police and the IRS are, in a sense, the big dogs on the block, and this final paragraphs illustrates that they're performing their jobs adequately. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of law enforcement isn't to completely eliminate crime -- it's to make crime unprofitable, in the aggregate. People such as "Simson Garfinkel" may still break laws due to "principle", but that's because their sense of profit is non-standard; the satisfaction they get from breaking the law is more "profitable" to them than the money they're sacrificing. Most people, however, are in it for the money, whatever it happens to be.

When society outlaws some behavior, it attempts to increase the transaction costs of that behavior and thus render it unprofitable. The purpose of law enforcement is to make the cost of breaking the law times the chance of getting caught and convicted higher than the benefit of breaking the law times the chance of getting away with it. That an illegal bookmaking operation is forced to give better odds than can be found in legitimate gambling (according to the story), and that the operator makes less money than his skills would otherwise earn, is a testament to the effectiveness of law enforcement.

Similarly, consider the War on [Some] Drugs, which props up street prices for chemicals that are relatively cheap and easy to manufacture, and thus arguably reduce their consumption. That's the theory anyway, and as long as prices are kept high enough it'll work. Obviously there are other factors involved in this form of prohibition, and as with any law society needs to weigh the costs and benefits of the law itself (but that's a different issue).

On the other hand, think about the enforcement of traffic laws. Because of the way they're enforced, it's obvious that most traffic laws are designed more as a source of revenue than for the protection of the public. For example, the vast majority of drivers decide that the benefits of speeding outweigh the costs of getting caught; almost everyone speeds. The explanation for this is pretty simple: everyone sees their time as valuable and not-to-be-wasted driving more slowly than necessary, and everyone knows there's only a miniscule chance of being caught in any particular instance. Thus, laws against speeding are ineffective and disrespected, and everyone knows it. The only reason they're kept around is to provide revenue for cities -- in a sense, they're an arbitrary, randomly collected tax. For this reason, I think speeding laws are unjust. If society really thinks it's important for people not to speed, we need to vote to increase the penalties enough so that the laws will be effective, even with sparse enforcement. For example, if the penalty for speeding was spending a year in jail, I expect speeding would be reduced dramatically.

Of course, this will never happen because no one thinks speeding is a big enough problem to punish effectively. We live in a democracy, where social right and wrong are defined (generally) by the will of the majority. If the majority doesn't believe speeding is worth discouraging effectively, and speeding laws are widely ignored and disrespected, there's no moral compulsion to obey them -- because the laws themselves are unjust. I believe we have a moral duty to drive safely, but the more restrictive legalistic details depend on the form of government any particular individual happens to live with.

In contrast, consider illegal book-making. According to the story, accepting 5 illegal bets in a single day is a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison. That level of punishment (times the level of enforcement) apparently leads to such ventures being unprofitable, which in turn indicates that society takes the crime seriously. Therefore, we have a obligation to obey the otherwise morally neutral restriction of our freedom (not that I think it's a great restriction).

Jacob Levy asks an interesting question which I'd like to involve myself in only tangentially.

Suppose that a state legislature forbade recognition of, or even (on the model of the polygamy statutes) criminalized, marriages between persons at least one of whom was known to be infertile. Suppose that it did so for the stated purpose of affirming the societal commitment to marriage's cerntral function as the primary site of childrearing.

Would such a statute be constitutional (under the federal or most state constitutions), according to the jurisprudential theories of those most strongly opposed to the Massachusetts case?

(All spelling/grammar mistakes are his.)

Rather than address the legal issue (or the gay-marriage issue), I'd like to disagree with anyone who believes that the primary purpose of marriage is to have children. That's a commonly-held conservative/Christian position (apparently), but I think it's absurd. For one thing, the first mention of marriage in the Bible says nothing about children whatsoever.

Genesis 2:18-25

18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,

"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

I find it difficult for any Christian to argue that marriage is all about having kids.

What's a family? A family is a husband and wife. You don't need children to be a "family" -- a husband and wife are a family all on their own. Children are great, and get added into the family later, but the primary and most important familial relationship is that between the husband and wife. In all cases their first loyalty should be to each other, not to their parents, not to their children, not to their siblings.

Husbands and wives should always be in public agreement on every issue, all the time. That doesn't mean that there won't ever be internal disagreement and discussion, but a unified public front should always be presented to all outsiders, with no exceptions. "Outsiders" include children and other family members, as well as friends, and everyone else. Each partner should subordinate all their other earthly relationships to their marriage.

If the purpose of marriage isn't children, what is it? Well, the passage above makes it pretty clear: the purpose of marriage is provide helpers to assist each other in serving God.

The Bible talks a lot about faith, and hundreds of books have been written on the subject. The results of this survey might prompt someone to ask: how can I be sure that my faith is genuine? That's a good question, and God gives us a good answer.

Faith is more than mere knowledge, and more than plain belief. For example, I may know that a chair is going to hold me up were I to sit in it, and I may say I believe that it will -- but if refuse to sit down I don't have faith. Faith is putting our belief and knowledge into action.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Faith is not built entirely on logic, reason, and facts. You can't prove it; on the contrary, once something is proven there's no need for faith. Logic, reason, and facts can be important for confirming our faith, and reinforcing what we believe, but in the end they alone will be insufficient if we want to know God. Our limited, human minds are incapable of comprehending God in his full glory, and to bridge the gap between partial knowledge and full certainty requires faith.

How do we know, then, if we've got genuine faith?

I John 5:1-5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is love for God: to obey his commands. Obedience is hard, because in our sinful state we often don't agree with what God wants us to do. We may not understand the purposes behind his commands or what he's trying to accomplish in our lives and the lives of people around us.

When I think of faith, I always remember an incident with one of my little brothers. He was 4 years old at the time, and wanted to play with a set of shears I was using to cut cardboard. They were sharp and spring-loaded, and far too dangerous for a child to play with, so I told him no. He cried like you wouldn't believe, because he really wanted to play with those shears. I knew it wasn't a good idea, but he simply couldn't understand it. The analogy is obvious: we're the little children, and sometimes God's plan for us is quite different than our own. Do we throw a fit, like spiritual infants, or do we obey what God our father has commanded us?

It's easy to obey when someone tells us to do something we want to do; the real test of love is obeying God when he tells us to do something we don't want to do. Do we have faith that God's way is better than ours? Do we trust him to lead us in the right path? Or do we rebel and do our own thing? God gave us that option when he gave us free will, but when we disobey God we're basically saying that we know better than he does what's good for our lives, and we tell him to get lost.

James 2:14-18 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Such faith isn't faith at all -- it's just words. Real faith is an action (just like real love, incidentally). Faith isn't something you feel, faith is something you do.

A startling number of "born-again Christians" apparently hold heretical beliefs.

All told, 81% of Americans firmly believe in some type of life after death, with 9% considering it a possibility and only 10% believing that death brings utter finality, the survey found. And while 43% of respondents said that Christianity is their passport to glory, 15% say that they will get to heaven because they "have tried to obey the 10 Commandments." Another 15% expect to gain admittance because "they are basically a good person." Among the others, 6% believe that God is letting everyone in, no matter what.

Verily, this optimistic and expansive spirit is prevalent among born-again Christians. Earlier Barna surveys found that 26% of born-agains believe it doesn't matter what faith a person has because religions teach pretty much the same thing. Its recent survey found that 50% believe a life of "good works" will get you through the Pearly Gates. "Many committed born-again Christians believe that people have multiple options for gaining entry to Heaven," explains firm president George Barna. "They are saying, in essence, 'Personally, I am trusting Jesus Christ as my means of gaining God's permanent favor and a place in heaven--but someone else could get to heaven based upon living an exemplary life.'"

Besides rejecting the notion that Christianity is the only way to heaven, a large portion of born-agains (35%) do not believe that Jesus experienced a physical resurrection, according to Barna surveys. A majority (52%) reject the existence of the Holy Spirit as a living entity, and 45% deny Satan's existence. In the meantime, 33% accept the concept of same-sex unions, 10% believe in reincarnation and 29% think it's possible to communicate with the dead, a belief shared by a third of the population, which is very good news for the séance industry, if not for the keepers of the orthodox flame.

What does Jesus say on the matter?

John 14:6
  Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Luke 13:22-30
  Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
  He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.'
  "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'
  "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'
  "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'
  "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."

Dean Esmay says this is why he renounced Christianity, and I respond here.

Lileks has a lengthy Matrix 3 review up (in which he blasts Harry Knowles, of AICN fame), and he describes something many people noted about the series: it tries very hard to build a secular spirituality, but falls amazingly flat without any concept of God.

I took away something else from the Matrix trilogy: it is a product of deeply confused people. They want it all. They want individualism and community; they want secularism and transcendence; they want the purity of committed love and the licentious fun of an S&M club; they want peace and the thrill of violence; they want God, but they want to design him on their own screens with their own programs by their own terms for their own needs, and having defined the divine on their own terms, they bristle when anyone suggests they have simply built a room with a mirror and flattering lighting. All three Matrix movies, seen in total, ache for a God. But they can’t quite go all the way. They’re like three movies about circular flat meat patties that can never quite bring themselves to say the word “hamburger.”
One of the best ways to view the Matrix trilogy is to deconstruct it (argh) and examine what it really says about our culture. As Lileks describes, every note it strikes is philisophically discordant, and every morale pontification is conflicted and contradictory.

I haven't seen number 3, but the orgy scene in number 2 stands out particularly. Zion is the philisophical culmination of secular culture, with free, crazy sex, but Neo and Trinity don't partake -- instead they go off on their own and ick up the screen for 5 minutes. It's as if the writers really wanted an orgy, but then decided that a bilateral love scene would be more fulfilling... for some reason. Why?

As Lileks asks, why did the humans bother fighting the robots, rather than submit to the Matrix? What could they hope to accomplish, other than to eventually, after hundreds of years, raise their civilization back up to the level they could instantly experience in the machines' simulated world? There's an innate understanding that humans shouldn't be the slaves of robots, but within the mythos of the movie, why not? If there's some fundamental human dignity at stake, what's the source? Why struggle, fight, and die, just so your kids can be more miserable? What's wrong with living in a pleasant illusion?

The movies don't answer that question other than with some hand-waving, because they simply can't -- and modern secularism don't have an answer either. Survival of the fittest and evolution are praised academically, but no one wants to carry them to their logical extremes. Why bother helping the Iraqis, rather than just nuking them and taking their oil? They're obviously less fit than we are, and eliminating them would be good for the species. Doubly true for Afghanistan, since they don't even have oil. Nukes are cleap, compared to soldiers.

Why worry about healthcare for the poor? If they can't compete, let 'em die. Instead of an expensive medical system, we could form a Corpse Patrol to keep the dead bodies off the street. Abortion? Who cares! If a fetus can't fend for itself, too bad. Same for the handicapped, the insane, and so forth. Why try rehabilitating criminals? Just shoot them. Sure, some might be innocent, but on average we'll improve the population by weeding out as many deviants as possible.

All of these ideas are ludicrous, of course, but try to explain why from a secular standpoint. Social contract? Do you think society would fall apart if we let all the poor die? Nonsense, that was the policy of civilization for thousands of years. Besides, as long as it would be economically valuable to have a supply of poor people, capitalism would work to preserve them without the need for government intervention. (If you comment, please make sure your secular argument isn't simply a variation on the "social contract" idea.)

The point is that without God -- without some supernatural imposition of value from the outside -- a human is instrinsically worth nothing beyond his usefulness. And useless humans are therefore worth nothing. Most people (except extreme environmentalists) reject these conclusions, but with little rational basis. As Lileks said, we want the benefits of God, but we want to create him ourselves, to suit our purposes. We want to "discover" what "'God' means to me" and such. But a human-created God cannot reciprocally give value to his creator, and any philosophy built on such a construct will ring entirely hollow.

In response to this post about adults getting more involved in Halloween, my friend Craig passes on a Time Magazine article titled "Boo, Humbug! Call me a Scrooge, but why can't adults leave Halloween to the kids?" by Michael Elliott. Mr. Elliott writes a lot I disagree with (and some I don't), and I don't think he gets Halloween, any more than he gets the reasons behind the current wave of Francophobia sweeping the America. But anyway, let's take a look at what he says.

Still, if companies want to sell even more masks, lanterns, witch hats and the like, good luck to them. It's the gullible consumers who fall for the pitch whom I detest — the employees who insist on decorating sensible cubicles with orange and black streamers and littering the office with bowls of candy, the folk who dress up and throw pumpkin parties at country clubs, the hundreds of thousands who will come to work next week in costume. Chris Riddle is the Halloween trend spotter at card-and-decorations giant American Greetings, which estimates that 25% of the American work force will observe Halloween in some fashion this year. "It's a release," Riddle says of the way people deck out their suburban yards, "a way to say, 'I can still act like a kid.'"

That's my problem. Halloween, for me, is the gaudiest example of the infantilization of American culture. It's up there with other classics like McDonald's Happy Meals or Hollywood's post — Star Wars decision to concentrate on making kids' films for grownups. These aren't just the mutterings of an old curmudgeon. I like parties as much as the next guy (so would you if you'd grown up in a house where the Messiah was considered light entertainment), though I've never quite seen why you needed a specific date on the calendar as an excuse to let your hair down. There's a larger point. In time, infantile societies become degraded, unable to meet the realities that face them.

However, in the article I linked to in my previous post, York University history professor Nick Rogers points out that, "The notion that Halloween is simply for kids is a misconception based on the centrality of trick-or-treating in the 1950s, when there was an attempt to take the mischief out of Halloween and 'infantilize' it." So perhaps Mr. Elliott should be rejoicing that adults are de-infantilizing the holiday? After all, if his main objection is that the holiday is too childish, then one of the best things he can hope for is that Halloween will return to its more historical role as a community-wide harvest festival. Of course, most communities don't actually harvest anything anymore, so it's only reasonable that the holiday take on a different focus. I hate to break it to him, but adults have worn masks and dressed up in costumes for thousands of years, all around the world and in every culture, and such behavior is not generally seen as uniquely childish. That perception appears to be the product of late 20th-century America, more than anything else.

Further, I fail to see the connection between Happy Meals, "Star Wars", and the infantilization of culture. Happy Meals provide parents a cheap and easy way to feed their kids, and give the kids a fun toy; the food may not be healthy, but that has nothing to do with infantilization. Would he rather that kids be forced to eat gruel from a burlap sack with a shard of glass for a spoon?

"Star Wars" is a great movie, and nearly everyone in my generation loves it (even Europeans I talked to while traveling) -- so what's his point? Does he object to "Star Wars" and similar films because he thinks they cause his so-called infantilization, or because they cater to it by entertaining people without *gasp* literature?

How did cultural infantilization creep up on us? In The Disappearance of Childhood, a wonderful little book first published in 1982, Neil Postman, a New York University professor who died this month, identified a shift from a culture based on literature — on reading — to one based on the image. In a preliterate world, there's no distinction between children and adults. Look at a Bruegel painting, and you see adults eating, drinking, groping, necking, together with their children. Literacy changed all that. Reading has to be learned; it separates the world of the child from that of the adult. But children can absorb images — from TV, say — just as easily as their elders. Postman worried that a postliterate culture would be one in which barriers that protected children from the perils and temptations of the outside world would be torn down.
Oh brother. So, Halloween is connected to Happy Meals and "Star Wars", which in turn keep people from reading, which leads to illiteracy, and the infantilization of the culture. Ok, got it.
Halloween shows that the process works in reverse. We now have to be worried not just about children acting like adults but about adults behaving like children. That doesn't mean adults have to be serious all the time. It does mean that they should recognize when it's time — and what it means — to grow up and let the kids run their own holiday.
Sorry, in my world the kids don't get to run their own anything, because they're kids. I think it's important to separate the roles of children and adults, and I think that adults should be in charge of everything -- and I'm surprised that Mr. Elliott thinks otherwise. Even if adults don't dress up, who do you think is buying all the costumes and candy? Who's going to build the haunted houses for the kids to creep through? Who's going to walk the little ones door-to-door collecting treats?

Do I really need to expound on the bizarrely out-of-context Bible quote at the end of his article?

When it comes to the infantilization of culture and adults acting like children, I think there are far better targets than Halloween. Mr. Elliott briefly mentions TV, but doesn't mention the vast quantity of nonsense that inhabits most of our airwaves -- of course, New York intellectuals have railed against TV for years, so maybe he wanted to try something new. Or maybe that position is just wearing thin, considering that there are some truly great shows on TV these days. Similarly, there are a lot of terrible movies, but there are also some great ones. Oh yeah, there are some pretty awful books too, and some are even considered "classics".

If one wants to discuss the infantilization of culture, why not mention professional sports? Why not mention the sensationalism that runs rampant through our news organizations? Why not mention the grocery workers who are striking because they think putting boxes on shelves entitles them to $40,000 a year and free health care? Why not take the whiny, self-righteous Bush-haters aside and explain to them that there's more at stake right now than the next Presidential election? Why not condemn the welfare state that exists solely to create a childish constituency who will vote in favor of its own expansion?

Mr. Elliott may just not like Halloween -- and that's fine -- but he shouldn't try dress up his personal opinion as high moral virtue built on care and concern for our collapsing civilization.

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