Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Neoclassicism, Belles Lettres, and Epistemological Rhetoric.

Coming to terms with Neoclassicism, Belles Lettres, and Epistemological Rhetoric.

Friday, February 17, 2017

To my liberal friends from a conservative.

Coming to terms with working with liberalls

I'm a conservative

I generally see myself as a "conservative" although that term has become so contested, so controversial, and so tribalized that I don't know if the fact that I consider myself that means that any other person who uses the same appellation would ascribe the label to me. That's okay.

What I mean by that is that I espouse most traditional Judeo-Christian values regarding individual morality and family roles. I usually think free markets work better than regulation for most people. I espouse virtue in an Aristotelian and Aquinian sense. I value the Western Tradition. I believe in American exceptionalism, but don't believe it is inherent or something up to which our country has lived, rather that it is put forth as an ideal in our founding documents. I see the government as untrustworthy, yet I still try to follow the laws in most cases mostly because I don't see much value in making waves. I try to be extravagant in my respect to people who serve this country in the military or police. I think that the tried and tested generally functions better than the latest fad. I wear a button down shirt and a tie to work usually. I like "everything at the right time –dinner at dinner time, lunch at lunch time, breakfast in time for breakfast, and sunrise at sunrise, and sunset at sunset," the description of a conservative in the classic work of political philosophy, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged To Himself. I hesitate to say this, since if I do I will undoubtedly make grammatical mistakes in this blog, but I generally try to use standard grammar and proper verbiage. I make errors in all these ideals, but I try.

I don't particularly like President Trump. I did not vote for him. I have liked some of his decisions, even controversial ones. I liked the choice of Betsy Devos for secretary of education because I believe in the very conservative idea that parents should raise their children, not the state. While an education is essential in that rearing, I don't think that the government, especially the national government, should have much say in how that education is accomplished. I have liked Neil Gorsuch as a pick for Supreme Court Justice because I think that the Constitution is supposed to be a document that constitutes our government and guides our politics rather than our politics being used to constitute the document. 

I have strong disagreements with the President Trump, however. First of all, the man has shown himself to be a cad, which is a word we need to bring back to the English language as a means of policing men's improper foibles rather than decrying "misogyny" or "rape culture" both of which exist, primarily because we don't keep our cads in check by calling them cads. Secondly, his blustery language and apparent lack of self control in tempering his responses are not conservative virtues. His populism flies in the face of conservatism catering to certain people through demagoguery rather than appealing to them philosophically. His foreign policies seem to smack of the idiocy of Smoot-Hawley and a fear that Western culture cannot stand up against the barbarism of contemporary west Asia and the militant forms of Islam that have established themselves there. Much like the identity-politics of the left, he has rejected the melting pot and thinks that people who come cannot be Americanized within a few generations. I hate that kind of thinking. It is not "conservative," at least not by my definition. 

So it is from this point of view that I offer my recommendations to my left-leaning friends (which I think would describe most of my friends). I am a conservative, so I have a different point of view than you. Still, I think in my disapproval of President Trump might mean people like me are someone with whom you can work, if you are willing to work.  You don't like Trump because he's not a liberal. I don't like him because he's not a conservative. Here's a list of things you have to do, however, so we can join forces to limit the damage he can do.

First of all, you have to accept that Trump is President.

I am well aware that he did not win the "popular vote." I don't care. The popular vote is not a measure of legitimacy. The Constitution wisely developed a system of Representatives and Senators which correspond in numbers to an electoral college that would create a balance between the desires of the majority of the country and the majority of the people in the country. The former being spread out throughout the nation, the latter being clustered in a few geographically small urban areas. The majority of the people is taken into account, but Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota (the least populace states) do not have to accede to the will of California, Texas, and New York (the most populace). This is a good and fair system. If you don't shut up about the popular vote, your open anti-rural bigotry is going to push people into Trump's flailing arms. Acting like the popular vote matters is insulting to anyone who lives in a rural state. 

Furthermore, he is likely to stay President for the next several years. Feel free to look for 2020 candidates, but more and more of my liberal friends are calling for President Trump's impeachment. That hope is foolishness just as it was for many of my right leaning friends who wanted President Obama impeached. It is simply not going to happen.

While many elected conservatives feel much the same way I do about President Trump, there are partisan constraints. Furthermore, none of the disagreements about which I have are actionable. They are personal. From what I have seen from my liberal friends their disagreements are political or personal but not law breaking. Those few cases where there may be legal issues don't rise to the level to which they would need to rise to overcome partisan loyalty. In other words, there is nothing being alleged about President that, if true, would make a Republican want to impeach him. Conflicts of interest, if proven, could be divested before any impeachment proceedings. Ties to foreign governments can be mitigated in a variety of ways. Even allegations of fraud are not adequate to make a person vote against a member of his or her own party. 

Right now you are simply not going to get the Republican-led House of Representatives to file articles of impeachment. That could change in 2018. It is possible that the Democratic party could capture the House. There are more than the necessary 14 seats in play. Traditionally the party of the President loses seats during midterms. You might get enough people to file articles. Okay, then what?

Then it goes to the Senate where 2/3 of the Senators are going to have to vote to remove him from office. It is not going to happen. Right now Republicans control 51 seats and are barely hanging on to a simple majority. The mid-term elections, as I said earlier, normally go against the President, but the 2018 elections will not. There are only eight Republican Senators coming up for reelection, none of which are listed as "toss-ups" by any of the three major raking agencies (Cook, RothSabato). Whereas there are Democratic seats that are. This means that unless something unforeseen happens, Republicans will control the Senate and unless he's done something that will cause felony charges to come against him, they aren't going to remove a President of their own party from office. Give up on that dream. Party loyalty is not what it is in some countries, but there is enough that you'll never hit a 2/3 majority in the opposition with this President in four years. So, give up. As long as you're working against him you are not working for anything and there are things for which we can work.

Don't be too freaky to be someone with whom I can work.

I certainly admit that "liberal" and "conservative" are as much lifestyle choices as political boundaries. I don't expect you to be like me. Liberals and conservatives both like camping, for instance. I'd love to invite you to go camping with me.  I'm probably going to be roasting 89¢ per pack hot-dogs over my fire and you'll be eating organically grown kale mixed with non GMO nuts. We can offer each other some and accept or decline. I don't care. Actually, 10 years ago I would have been like you. I would say I've grown up. You might say I've sold out. I don't care. I can still go camping with you. You can even beat your Djembe and sing songs that express Hindu principles in a Native American style at the fire. Afterwards, you can talk about how uncomfortable you are with the juxtaposition of needing to experience authentic spirituality while not wanting to appropriate. I don't mind. There are a lot of things like that. We can do them together and as long as you let me be me, you can be you. You might be surprised just how "liberal" I am in these areas. I'm a bit of a crunchy con, but even conservatives who are not won't mind you. We have actually a lot in common.

Still there is a line I'm going set. If you condemn me for eating hot-dogs, it won't make a good camping trip for me. If you think being out in nature means that you need to be au naturel, I am going to be pretty uncomfortable. If you decide to bring along a partner and make love while sharing a tent with me, I'd have to excuse myself. If you decided this space away from the auspices of law enforcement was a great opportunity to enjoy some recreational pharmaceuticals, well, look, I'm not at that place in my life socially anymore nor do I wish to go camping with those who are right now.

Most of you would say, well, Dr. Cline, Rhetorical Questioner, I would never do those things if I went camping with you. Those are cruel liberal stereotypes. Of course they are! That's why I invited any liberal who happens to be reading my page to go camping with me two paragraphs ago. We'll have fun.

But the thing is, political action is a lot like camping. Conservatives can protest President Trump's inappropriate comments about women that point to actions even more inappropriate. However, for me to join with you, wearing a knitted hat designed to look like a vagina is just not going to fly. Good for you for having one, I guess, but you're not going to bring any conservatives to your cause. You are going to look like a nut (or, I suppose, the female equivalent). Many conservatives feel that legal immigration should be expanded and that immigrants who came here illegally as small children unable to make their own decisions and who have grown up basically Americanized should hardly be "deported" to a country they never knew. That's silly, which is why there's never been Republican consensus (or Democratic consensus for that matter) for or against the D.R.E.A.M. act. The act was sponsored by fricken' Orin Hatch and you don't get better conservative credentials than Orin Flippin' Hatch. This is an area where we can work together, like camping. If you're carrying an "amnesta para todos" sign, well, that's a sign we can't sign on to. Of course we believe that Black Lives Matter and want reform of the criminal justice system. Rioting and burning, however, makes us distance ourselves from your cause.  Do you get this? My mom in rural Nebraska is not swayed to any political action in favor of people wearing vagina hats.

Pray with me. Love one another with me. 

If you're an atheist liberal, probably you won't pray with me. Atheist conservatives like Austin Petersen, George Will,  or the various followers of Ayn Rand's objectivism won't pray with me either. I won't say then "let me pray" because while I've heard of atheists who won't let theists pray around them, I've never met them. They're generally like, "knock yourself out, and wish on a star while you're at it." So, how about this? Agree with my prayers.

Lots of liberals I know, however, are led to a liberal position by their faith. The idea of setting the captives free, caring for the poor and sick, aiding widows and orphans in their affliction, and standing up for the foreigner and the alien seem to fit better with the Democratic party than with Republicans. That makes sense. Most conservative Christians see these as personal commandments and not something we accomplish through the government, but we get where liberal Christians are coming from.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted by sources whose veracity I cannot gauge as having said "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." So, let's pray we are on God's side. So, let's pray for our leaders. Let's pray they be filled with temperance and wisdom. Let's pray they make the right decisions. Let's ask that our own lives be made beacons of light to a world, we both agree, needs it badly. Let's pray for God's will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Let's pray for a growth of love and truth in our country. We can do that, can't we? I am not a fan of President Trump, but I'd rather he experience repentance than that he be impeached. Honestly, wouldn't that be your preference too?

And we can be kind to each other. We have disagreements. But let's generally assume that those disagreements both come from a place of goodness and if we can't accept that, that it comes from a place of pain. We need to care about each other's pain. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Aristotle, Plato, Audience, and Truth.

Coming to terms with Aristotle, Plato, audience, and truth.

Fun class on Wednesday

I had a really fun class on Wednesday that I recorded. Here it is to share.

Oh! And check out my book!

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Coming to terms with Candlemas, tradition, syncretism, and purification

Today is Candlemas

Traditionally, this is the day, 40 days after Christmas, when we celebrate the time of purification for Mary and Jesus' presentation at the Temple.

The Old Testament clearly outlines why Mary did this:
Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.
“And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons,a one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
Since we pretend Jesus was born on December 25th (no one really knows), we would then pretend that forty days later, February 2nd is the day Mary would have been purified and she and Joseph would have brought Jesus to the temple where Simeon and Anna prophesied over him (Luke 2).

Traditionally, this has been a big thing for Christians. According to Wikipedia, many Christians take down their Christmas decorations on this date. The lights of the home are blessed. Christians focus on their own purification and "bringing light into the world."

This is a Christian tradition. I would say I was raised Christian. Still, for at least the first two decades of my life I had no idea about this holiday, it's importance, or even that it existed. It was groundhog day. Some years we may have had biscuits and sausage gravy (ground hog), but every year we joked about it. We'd guess in school if the groundhog had seen his shadow. I had no idea the day had more important symbolism. I knew nothing of the tradition. 

The Dangers of Tradition

The New Testament is pretty clear about the dangers of tradition. Jesus warns that by focusing on tradition we can "break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition," (Matt. 15:3), it can cause us to neglect "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness" (Matt 23:23), that you can "leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8). The entire book of Galatians is a written by the Apostle, Paul, basically as a warning against people who try to force traditions on the believer. He is concerned that by following traditions, one can be trying to be "perfected in the flesh" where we can only be perfected in the Spirit. Paul is mostly concerned about circumcision but also mentions that the believer should "let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Col 2:16-17).

So, it is no wonder that many of the (ahem) traditions which have heavily influenced the development of my theology have shown a distrust of tradition. The Reformers are concerned about Roman "superstition" and that in the attempt to follow Christian tradition, many are aiming at a "salvation by works" rather than "by grace throug faith" (Eph 2:8-9). The Restorationists want to "call Bible things by Bible names," and restoring "New Testament Christianity." If a tradition was not specifically named in the New Testament, therefore, it is treated with distrust if not contempt. The Pentecostals are often concerned with what they call "a religious spirit," which to them represents abject legalism and a faith which 'holds to a form of Godliness, but denies it's power" (II Tim. 3:5).

Because these three have been the primary influences on my theology, I never much thought about the various traditions and where they come from and what they represent. In my family, we celebrated Christmas and Easter as holy days and every Sunday we went to church (my Dad is a preacher, so it really isn''t an option). We took "the Lord's supper" and I and all my siblings were "baptized by immersion" when we were at a proper age. Still, the thousands of other traditions which historically supported Christianity were not really discussed. I was in my teens when I found out that "the Day of Pentecost," for instance, happened every year, not just one time, in Acts.

Still, I saw other traditions develop that were insidious even without the --- traditional traditions. I remember the tussle around having guitars in the church. I have seen open anger at those who would sing "off the wall" rather than from a hymnal. And if the veterans who attended church were not acknowledged on the Sunday before Independence Day, and Memorial Day, and Veteran's day, there would be much grumbling and complaining. I've been told I'm going to Hell for going to "so-called 'Christian' rock and roll shows." I've seen downright superstitious fears of fantasy novels, He-Man toys, and Dungeons and Dragons. I've watched with a combination of amusement, disgust, and a chilling fear of expressing either as people ritualistically burned Harry Potter books, Mötley Crüe albums, and stuffed plush Smurfs.

I saw exactly what Jesus, Paul, and the more contemporary influences on my theology warned about as arguments surface over whether or not there should be coffee in the sanctuary, about how much and where girls should be allowed to show skin on their bathing suits, or if Bob Dylan was "really saved." Doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly (Micah 6:8), loving God with all your hear and soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself, (Matt. 23:37), all these take a backseat to the important things like making sure the pastor doesn't eat at a cheeseburger restaurant that serves beer. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27) but the former takes a back seat to the latter which means "not wearing baggy clothing."

So, even though there was an abhorrence of tradition, traditions developed nonetheless and put their strange stranglehold on faith.

Worries over Syncretism

Traditions such as Candlemas were seen by many influential people in my life as being especially problematic as they seemed to place a Christian veneer over archaic pagan rituals. Greek, Roman, and Celtic religious practices seemed to poke their scaly heads from beneath the rocks of these traditions. Many people objected to Christmas trees and Easter eggs because of their pre-Christian symbolism. Still, it was hard to fight those as cultural phenomena. Those traditions that were Christian but were not part of the culture at large, were even easier to disdain for people already nervous about a mistletoe over a threshold. They weren't even discussed except perhaps as mockery of Catholics or Lutherans who still practiced these "demonically inspired" holidays.

The worries were not without basis. Most Christian rituals and holidays have their counterparts in pagan culture. There is a cycle to the year and any agrarian culture is going to notice that certain things happen in certain parts of the year and engage in activities that notice it. Thus, any religion of the northern hemisphere is going to have a holiday at this time where the days begin to noticeably lengthen and the promise of spring hesitates in the air. Spring is coming, but when is a real question for people who didn't arbitrarily mark a day on a calendar as the "first day of spring."

So, there are rituals about animals breaking their hibernation, briefly, to check the weather. There are rituals about light. There are rituals about preparing the ground to be fertile. These are going to exist in any culture that pays attention to the weather and the changing of seasons.

So, the pagans had them. So, the Christians who came later copied them. Does that make them evil?

Certainly, there are traditions associated with this holiday that no Christian could condone. Pagan acts such as ritual drunkenness and rape really couldn't be tolerated by a people defined by temperance and chastity. Still, does that mean that "light coming into the world" cannot be appreciated by Christians?

I'd make another argument. That argument is that God's "invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20). Part of God's story was clearly shown to the pagan, pre-Christian people and they recognized it and marked it. Certainly, Satan perverted it (and ritual rape is definitely a perversion) but it was God's to start with and it is God's now.

To me, the concept of redemption is an important one when dealing with things that have pagan aspects. Is this a perversion, or is this part of what was holy and there from the beginning?


And that is the entire point of Candlemas. Mary had to be purified, even after giving birth to the perfectly pure Son of God. We also need to be purified. Light needs to be brought into our homes. By celebrating the holy day of Candlemas we recognize that need for redemption. We recognize that in our impurity, we needed to be bought at a price of God's purity. That "for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). We can be purified. Light can be brought into our lives.

Also, maybe we'll have biscuits and sausage gravy tonight.