Manliness: A Contest

One of my former students, Nathan Martin, had worked with Reagan culture czar Bill Bennett on his sequel to The Book of Virtues, a collection of classic and contemporary readings entitled  The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.

It explores the traits and virtues of manhood, some arguably lost in our feminized and gender-neutral age, using stories, poems, and reflections from authors ranging from Homer and Shakespeare to Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan.  (Luther even makes an appearance!)  The book is divided into chapters  dealing with Man at War; Man at Work; Man in Sports, Play, & Leisure; Man in the Polis; Man with Woman and Children; Man in Prayer and Reflection.

The Acknowledgements credit not only Nathan but also a slew of other Patrick Henry College products:  Christopher Beach, Olivia Linde, Brian Dutze, Shane Ayers, and David Carver.  That’s virtually the whole research team, drawing on their background in the Great Books, their perceptive thinking about these issues,  and their writing and editing skills.  So I’m very proud of them.

Nathan is also a fan of this blog (you might also recognize some of those other names as occasional commenters) and of the discussions that we have here.   He sent me two copies of the book, one for me and one to give away on my blog.

So I will celebrate my birthday Hobbit style:  Instead of getting a present, I will give a present.  Well, actually I’m not giving it; Nathan is.  And it won’t really be a gift.  Unlike God, I am making you earn it.   I’d like to start one of our famous discussions.  And the person deemed to have made the best comment will receive the free book.  (I haven’t quite determined how this will be decided yet.  Maybe it will be obvious.  Maybe we’ll vote on it.)  The comments, for the purposes of the contest, will be closed at midnight Eastern time on Sunday.

So here is the topic for discussion:  What is “manliness” in your thinking and in your experience?

I’d like to hear from women (what are the masculine traits that you look for in a man?) and men (when did you have to “act like a man,” and what did that entail?), and from people in various stages of life (boys, youth, husbands, fathers, and old guys like I have now become).

By the way, if you don’t want to hold out for a free book, you can buy one by clicking the links.

 

Individualism vs. collectivism

Here is how George Will answers Elizabeth Warren’s statement that we posted yesterday:

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds. . . .

Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.

Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

via Elizabeth Warren and liberalism, twisting the ‘social contract’ – The Washington Post.

The choices are individualism or collectivism.  Or is there something in between?

The genius of Steve Jobs

I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website.  I’ll link to that when it goes up.  In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s  genius.

It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S.  Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones.  People were looking for matters of appearance.  But look at the reality of what this new device can do:

The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.

That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.

Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.

If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.

Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:

Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”

Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”

Me: “Change the time.”

Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”

After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.

More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.

via Apple Siri: the next big revolution in how we interact with gadgets? – The Washington Post.

It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace.  Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success.  Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of.  He led the marketplace.

There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact.   Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much.  Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs.  Don’t just imitate the dominant styles.  Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant.  Don’t follow the culture.  Lead it.

This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.

Radical thinker praises Christianity

Jurgen Habermas is a prominent European intellectual–an influential neo-Marxist, a postmodernist critic, and more recently a neo-Enlightenment philosopher.  But now, surprisingly, he is singing the praises of Christianity.  Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger tells the tale, drawing on some recent scholarship about Habermas:

[Philipe] Portier distinguishes three phases in Habermas’ treatment of religion. In phase one, lasting up to the early 1980s, he still viewed religion as an “alienating reality”, a tool of domination for the powerful. In good Marxist tradition, he thought that religion would eventually disappear, as modern society comes to be based on “communicative rationality” and no longer needs the old irrational illusions. In phase two, roughly 1985-2000, this anti-religious animus is muted. Religion now is seen as unlikely to disappear, because many people (though presumably not Habermas) continue to need its consolations. The public sphere, however, must be exclusively dominated by rationality. Religion must be relegated to private life. One could say that in this phase, at least in the matter of religion, Habermas graduated from Marxism to the French ideal of laicite—the public life of the republic kept antiseptically clean of religious contamination.

Phase three is more interesting. As of the late 1990s Habermas’ view of religion is more benign. Religion is now seen as having a useful public function, quite apart from its private consolations. The “colonization” of society by “turbo-capitalism” (nice term—I don’t know if Habermas coined it) has created a cultural crisis and has undermined the solidarity without which democratic rationality cannot function. We are now moving into a “post-secular society”, which can make good use of the “moral intuition” that religion still supplies. Following in the footsteps of Ernst Bloch and other neo-Marxist philo-Godders, Habermas also credits Biblical religion, Judaism and Christianity, for having driven out magical thinking (here there is an echo of Max Weber’s idea of “ the disenchantment of the world”), and for having laid the foundations of individual autonomy and rights.

Habermas developed these ideas in a number of publications and media interviews. The most interesting source (not discussed by Portier in the article) is a 2007 publication by a Catholic press, The Dialectics of Secularization. It is a conversation between Habermas and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (at the time of this exchange head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, subsequently Pope Benedict XVI). Habermas here gives credit to Christianity for being the purveyor of a universal egalitarianism and for an openness to reason, thus continuing to provide moral substance for democracy. Not surprisingly, Ratzinger agreed.

I am not sure what Habermas’ personal beliefs are. But I don’t think that his change of mind about religion has anything to do with some sort of personal conversion. Rather, as has been the case with most sociologists of religion, Habermas has looked at the world and concluded that secularization theory—that is, the thesis that modernization necessarily leads to a decline of religion—does not fit the facts of the matter. Beyond this acknowledgement of the empirical reality of the contemporary world, Habermas admits the historical roots in Biblical religion of modern individualism, and he thinks that this connection is still operative today. Yet, when all is said and done, Habermas now has a positive view of religion (at least in its Judaeo-Christian version) for utilitarian reasons: Religion, whether true or not, is socially useful.

via What Happens when a Leftist Philosopher Discovers God? | Religion and Other Curiosities.

HT:  Joe Carter

What would a theocracy look like?

Joe Carter looks at the “theophobes” who are all worried about America becoming a theocracy, as if evangelicals who don’t even believe in a central church authority would institute a central government authority.   He tries to calm their fears, pointing out that the number of “Reconstructionists” who might be interested in going for a theocracy is so small they could all fit into the conference room of a Holiday Inn in Helena, Montana.

But then he launches into a thought experiment, wondering what such a theocracy would look like:

What would the nation look like if we became the Dominionist States of America?

Here is the most plausible scenario I can imagine:

• After agreeing that it’s no longer applicable to a country that was founded by Unitarians and Deists, the term “Christian nation” is forbidden from being used in reference to the pre-dominionist era (i.e., from 1776-2012).

• The Marriage Protection Amendment is added to the U.S. Constitution, setting gay rights legislation back to the regressive year of 2003. The Human Life Amendment is stalled in Congress as pro-life factions fight over which of the 330 previously submitted proposals should be implemented.

• A revision is made to the First Amendment in which the words “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise of religion” is underlined and put in bold font. High school valedictorians—whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew—are extended the same right to pray at graduations as Supreme Court justices and members of Congress have had throughout our country’s history.

• A national ban on pornography is implemented. The prohibition has a negligible effect since there is already more porn on the hard drives of computers in Christian homes than was produced from the death of Caligula to the birth of Hugh Hefner.

• Creationism and Intelligent Design theory are included alongside the theory of evolution in school curricula. Students are forced to learn three theories, the details of which they’ll have forgotten about by graduation day.

• Congress passes the Christian Television Act which requires (a) every show must have as many Christian characters as homosexual characters, (b) Catholic characters must not be limited to elderly Latino women, Irish priests, and lapsed nuns, and (c) CBS must bring back Touched by an Angel.

And . . . well, that’s about the most that could ever happen.

Perhaps my ability to imagine a more robust form of Christian theocracy is dulled by the fact that I know so many actual Christians. The average Christian in America isn’t all that radical, which is why I think my list is a fair representation of the worst-case scenario. We would not have a zombified R.J. Rushdoony returning from the dead to stone men who lie with men and children who lie to their parents. We’d merely have average Christians acting much like average Christian acts now.

Most Christians merely want a return to the standard of public morality that prevailed during the country’s first two hundred years. As Ramesh Ponnuru has said about the “values voter” hysteria of 2004, “Nearly every one of these policies—and all of the most conservative ones—would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.”

Indeed it is not. America was not a theocracy in 1950 and it won’t be a theocracy in 2050. Everyone, even the theophobes, knows this is true. The fact is that the journalists behind God Scare 2011 really aren’t concerned about dominionism. They aren’t really afraid that America is hurtling toward theocracy; they merely fear that our nation is drifting away from their goal of a secularacracy.

They need not worry. We’ll get there soon enough. And many Christians will be leading the way.

via What If America Did Become a Theocracy? | First Things.

Good new words:  Theophobe!  Secularacracy!

Seriously, do you think this is anything the left or anyone else really needs to worry about?  What are the prospects of us conservative Christians taking over the country and dismantling the Constitution?  (I thought we were the ones trying to defend the Constitution!)  To be sure, there are  theological dangers of a social gospel of the right, but aren’t those  far greater than any political danger?

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.


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