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Item 1: Our Drunken Culture
While running a few errands on Friday 22 June 2018, I passed by the BevMo! store in Santee, California. (This is in San Diego County, where this alcohol-sales chain participates in a local economy whose other notable industries include tribal-land casinos and craft-beer brewers.) Outside this store I saw the following written on a black-background dry-erase display: “Time to get star-spangled hammered!” (Unlike 90 percent of the population, I don’t carry a camera-equipped smart phone with me at all times, so I couldn’t take a picture.) Ah, it’s good to see not everyone has forgotten the true meaning of the Fourth of July holiday! Whereas I thought it a somber day to remember the Bible-based constitutional republic that today’s relativistic, homosexual-marriage-celebrating social democracy has replaced, or perhaps to celebrate how the recent batch of conservative judicial appointments might allow the remnants of that republic to hold on a little longer against the dominant democracy, true Americans like BevMo!’s Santee marketers have shown us that it’s really about getting plastered. BevMo!’s service to the cause of patriotism should never be forgotten.
Not long before this I had overheard someone mentioning “getting a beer” with a new acquaintance in what has become the standard way males in our culture interact. Apparently, men today find each other too difficult to tolerate without a little alcohol in their systems. Maybe the fact that most of them have been convinced they are the evolved kindred of monkeys and apes, who must always compete to determine who will be the commanding alpha-male and who the subservient not-so-alphas, has something to do with it. Then again, I think the routine use of alcohol at male gatherings probably predates Darwin. In any case, while Scripture clearly condemns drunkenness, Christians do not agree about the acceptability of alcohol consumption that doesn’t lead to drunkenness. My own tendency is to part ways with most of my fellow Reformed, who are pretty permissive, and to side with the fundamentalists, who see no justification for Christian consumption of the Devil’s beverages. The extreme position of Pastor Mike Hoggard 1 seems to me sensible, and to be buttressed effectively by his earthy wisdom, though I think Scripture might not permit going beyond the more moderate position of Justin Pierce.2 (If you still think this is a decision to be based on scientific research without reference to revelation, because scientific research has proved itself so good at providing reliable and unchanging dietary guidance upon which all experts agree, you may find the conclusions of this 2016 study interesting.3) I probably respect and see wisdom in the thinking of fundamentalists much more often than most Reformed people do, particularly in some matters of personal conduct like this one. Whether this means I’m not really all that Reformed I’ll leave to the Reformed gatekeepers to decide, since I don’t see much value in trying to satisfy group labeling requirements anyway.
By the way, fundamentalists also show uncommon wisdom in their tendency to be “anti-intellectual.” Now, I don’t mean to say there is anything bad about intellect; neither do I support refusal to use one’s intellect to understand and apply Scripture, including all that it says or implies (“by good and necessary consequence”4) about any subject, and to assess extrabiblical materials and disciplines: no Bible believer should be anti-intellect. However, given the superior attitude the typical “intellectual” has toward Scripture and traditional Christian doctrines, and given the ego-driven conduct that even many evangelical “intellectuals” engage in (such as calling biblical creationism “an embarrassment” or “a scandal” 5 or identifying the fact that so many evangelical pastors believe what the Bible says “hugely embarrassing” 6), there is a certain amount of wisdom in the faithful Bible believer’s adoption of a stance that is anti-intellectual. I realize, of course, that when most people say “anti-intellectual” they really mean “anti-intellect,” but I think it’s time to separate the terms. Intellect is a faculty God has given to all his image-bearers so that they may study and understand the Bible and, with all the Bible says as their foundation, study, understand, and master the creation over which God has made them stewards. No Bible believers should oppose properly utilized intellect. Intellectuals, on the other hand, more often than not place more faith in their own mental equipment than in the very words of God in Scripture. At least this is the case today. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, things might have been different. But today, being anti-intellectual is more often correct than not, though perhaps it is better to be cautious about and skeptical of intellectuals than to be against (anti-) them.
Item 2: Our Suicidal and Licentious Culture
This item concerns related sets of articles in my local paper’s opinion section that no one at that paper seems to realize are related: (1) “Has Legislature Failed Its ‘Me Too’ Test?,”7 which revisits #MeToo accusations in the context of California legislation; and (2) three articles under the shared heading of “Despair in America,” namely, Sidney Zisook’s “Suicide Doesn’t Discriminate,” Rachel Tung’s “Suffering with Depression,” and Ghada Osman’s “Support Needed for Those in Pain,”8 all reflecting on “depression” in light of the recent suicides of worldly successes Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. As one might expect, these latter articles do not challenge our secular-therapeutic culture’s assumption that “depression” is a “mental illness” that, it is hoped, some purely secular form of “therapy” or some human (as opposed to divine) intervention might be able to improve or correct. Thus, none of the authors put any of these terms in ironical quotation marks as I have done.
I don’t mean to suggest that the depression articles are all the same, however. Two are by therapists, Zisook being an M.D. and psychiatrist, and Osman a Ph.D. and psychotherapist, and one is by a depression sufferer, Tung. As someone who has probably spent more time than not in a state that most in today’s culture would call “depression,” I appreciate Tung’s article more than the others, since it mostly just describes the subjective quality of her experiences, not imposing on them (at least not in a rigorous way) a secular-therapeutic understanding. (Since her results with secular therapies, including drug therapies, were mixed, she seems never to have acquired the enthusiasm for them that some have.) Even so, she nowhere explicitly questions, much less does she reject, secular-therapeutic presuppositions. One cannot legitimately question the experiences of other people; one may only question their interpretations of them. Since Tung leaves most of her experiences uninterpreted, there is little to challenge in her article. I do wonder, however, whether applying the label “depression” to her experiences, or to the similar experiences of others, is at all helpful. How we benefit from sticking labels on any set of subjective experiences that don’t match what the majority thinks normal or desirable has never been clear to me. As well, such labeling could be misleading. If some people are afflicted with a physical illness that degrades mood and mental function, something quite possible in our sin-cursed world, shouldn’t we have a name for their diseased state that differs from the name we use to describe people who, absent any physical illness, have similar emotional and mental experiences?
Though a psychiatrist who has spent “more than 40 years” studying “depression and suicide prevention,” Zisook can only lament “the mystery” of the recent celebrity suicides and assert that “There is no clear answer” to why suicide rates in this nation have “jumped more than 30 percent” since 1999. Surely the facts that Spade’s success was about “fashion” and Bourdain’s was about travel and “gastronomic adventures” could have no relevance, even though the Bible-believing perspective would tell us that lives centered around these things, mere varieties of meaningless self-indulgence, fail to pursue the truly meaningful (Matthew 6:28–33). No, the solution, Zisook asserts, must be stricter gun control laws and other external hindrances to easy suicide, combined of course with suitable therapies and supportive friends and communities. (Supportive friends and communities are the main focus of Osman’s article, though Zisook also brings them up.) Though Spade’s and Bourdain’s suicides might have nothing to do with the self-indulgent meaninglessness of their claims to fame—I’ve granted that physical illness is a possible cause of “depression” experiences, and I also grant that countless other influences may be involved—surely a 30 percent rise in suicides in two decades indicates that something has gone awry in the culture where this steep increase has taken place. Doesn’t our shifting (degenerating) value system seem a likely culprit? To my knowledge, gun control laws have not become more lax in that time, nor have other external hindrances that once existed gone away.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against friends and communities being supportive. Nor do I oppose setting up external hindrances to easy suicide, such as barriers to prevent jumping off bridges or onto train tracks. I even like that nets have sometimes been put in place to catch people who jump off bridges. I do have to oppose infringing on the God-given rights of the many (law-abiding gun owners) in order to prevent misuse of those rights by the few (suicidal gun owners), however. And I think one errs badly if one accepts the secular idea that mere social brainwashing can make friends and communities reliably supportive of those having difficulties. A thorough steeping in biblical and Christian values, through lifelong exposure during schooling, not just at some homes and in some churches, is needed to do that, along with God’s gracious provision that many so exposed will experience true conversion and the Spirit’s greater influence.
The Spirit exerts some influence on all those exposed to God’s value system, witnessing to the truth of it and urging compliance. Though this has mixed results among fallen and rebellious humans (Romans 7:8), history shows that cultures where Christian values dominate (permeating education, public discourse, and law) have citizens who, on balance, behave in more desirable ways than people in cultures where those values are absent or on the wane. For instance, people in Christian-values-dominated cultures kill themselves less often. The presence of the truly regenerate in these cultures is essential, of course (Matthew 5:13–16), but God has shown a willingness to exert significant influence on the behavior and morals of unregenerate people exposed to proper values (hence the belief of some in “godly pagans”). The villain in The Book of Eli 9 was not mistaken to think that an earthly ruler, though himself an unbeliever, could profit from using the Bible. (Because this movie contains a great deal of foul language and other unsavory material, I don’t recommend viewing it in order to understand this reference. I offer the reference only for those who’ve already made the mistake of watching the film, as I have done.)
Since biblical values would require friends and communities to, for example, support individuals’ efforts to resist and overcome inclinations to commit sodomy (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:27), and would require lawmakers to at all times discourage and condemn the indulgence of such inclinations, a state that outlaws charging for therapies that aim to assist individuals’ efforts to overcome same-sex attraction, as California has done (or is in the process of doing), cannot expect to foster the biblical values essential to success. (I’m not saying I think these therapies work. I know little about them. Because I’m skeptical of modern “therapy” in general, even when it calls itself “Christian,” I’m not particularly excited about evangelical defenses of these therapies in terms of psychological research.10 But surely people who want to try these therapies should be free to pay for them. Before agreeing to pay for such therapies, clients should of course receive all the information they need to give truly informed consent, such as details on the evidence for and against the therapies’ claims to efficacy. Legislation making clear what information must be provided to potential clients might be legitimate. Forbidding therapists from charging for such therapies because the every-imaginable-perversion lobby wants the therapies to stop is not legitimate.) The secular values driving the policies of California’s politburo are the mind-your-own-business values of self-centered apathy, the values that have led to such things as drug addicts being left alone as they shoot up in a public transit station in San Francisco.11 Apathetic, “well, it’s their life; they ought to be free to do as they please,” values cannot produce the sort of supportive behavior that directs those in need to a God whose revealed values show humans the only standard according to which they can lead meaningful, abundant lives (John 10:7–10 ; Proverbs 8).
Since God permits few to wholly escape his internal witness to true values, few can genuinely believe that things like homosexual activity are harmless and morally acceptable, no matter how successfully secular brainwashing has inclined them to say so when pollsters call. The God-given disgust at sodomy’s sin against God and created nature cannot be eliminated by the efforts of public schools and popular entertainment; it can only be suppressed, pushed out of conscious awareness but always present, demanding assent and threatening punishment (Romans 1:18–19). The God-given sense that lives for which fashion and culinary exploration are central foci lack meaning is similarly inescapable for all but those few whom God has wholly given up to “the lusts of their own hearts” (Romans 1:24)—acceptable though either fashion or culinary exploration might be as harmless recreation in a properly Christian context, and though in that context the crafts of food preparation and clothing design might well be the vocations of some. This would require a pretty radical change to fashion, of course, since proper Christian modesty and decency are quite at odds with most contemporary clothing design.
Returning to the homosexual-activity example for a moment, the fact that some with homosexual inclinations seek out ways to change these inclinations, such as through the Christian therapies for which California’s Communist Party leadership believes it should be illegal to charge, proves that God has not wholly given up all such persons to their lusts, though Romans 1:24–27 should warn those persisting in homosexual activity that God might at any time give them up wholly and finally. As well, the passage should warn our culture, which has pretty well committed to celebrating homosexual unions as good and right, what it might expect if it continues down this path. The multiple large corporations who have decided to deploy their corporate power in support of the God’s-values-are-hate-speech position should know that they are helping to doom the nation whose destruction they are unlikely to survive—unless operating under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, or under the direction of the victorious jihadis 12 ruling the future caliphate, counts as survival. From the Christian perspective, by the way, it is the large anti-Bible corporations that are acting hatefully. One who understands how much God opposes sodomy, including all forms of homosexual activity, could do nothing more hateful and vicious than let those engaged in or inclined toward such activity believe it to be anything but the profound abomination God holds it to be.
So, what does the #MeToo editorial have to do with all this? Here again, thinkers who analyze the problem in purely secular terms fail to offer any solutions that might succeed. Problems arising out of the debauched disregard of God’s infallible standards cannot be solved through means that do not call for a return to those standards.
The Union-Tribune editorial staff remains true to the secular approach, proposing to control the problem of sexual misconduct by imposing external rules—without changing the sexually permissive cultural environment that makes sexual misconduct more natural, more to be expected, than sexual propriety. If you fill television shows and popular music with sexual content, fill advertising everywhere with the same, and get many women in many places to dress in ways that bring this same sexual content to mind (Who first thought it was a good idea for women to start wearing tights everywhere?), men’s thought patterns are not going to be pure and proper, and men’s actions grow out of men’s thoughts. You may, if you like, hold to the idealistic fantasy that men exposed to titillating stimuli 24/7 can still choose to think and behave at all times like gentlemen, but I think you’ll find that only two men in history, Adam before the fall and Jesus Christ, could live up to this ideal. This isn’t a matter of bad stimuli causing men to behave out of accord with their basically good nature. Rather, it is a matter of bad stimuli appealing to and enlivening aspects of men’s corrupted (fallen) nature. The first thing Adam and Eve knew they had to do after they fell was to cover themselves up. God not only accepted this course of action but improved upon it by providing better garments (Genesis 3:7, 21). Alas, it seems that back-to-nature nudists and designers of immodest clothing, lacking a biblically sound understanding of fallen human nature, have chosen dangerous and damaging paths. It also appears, tragically, that exposing humans’ “glorious nakedness” in art may not be as sensible and safe a course of action as one portrayal of Michelangelo suggests he thought it was.13
A lack of good rules for dealing effectively with accusations of sexual misconduct isn’t what made men who’ve behaved badly do so (however many of those accused have in fact done as they’ve been accused of doing), nor do I expect that such rules will much decrease the bad behavior if our society remains committed to its sexually licentious values. A culture-wide system of Christian values, with all the people trained from youth to discipline themselves in accord with that system, and with the external environment or public space, including everything from entertainment and advertising to personal attire, likewise brought into conformity with those values—this alone could produce real and lasting improvement. I don’t know that any past culture has come to be dominated by Christian values again after abandoning them. The norm for apostate cultures seem to be to disintegrate and be overrun, so I tend to think our society is doomed. Still, what has happened in the past places no limitations on what God might do in the future. Surely the transformation of a celebrity who long epitomized everything bad about post-Christian values into a reliable defender of religious liberty and the right to life, and possibly even into the savior of the Constitution, shows that God may direct events along paths that no sensible person would think plausible if told about them in advance.
That said, I note that the Union-Tribune editorial does not say that some of the accused are likely guilty because more than one witness has agreed to the facts of some specific incident. Rather, those whom the editorial suggests are likely to be guilty have been “credibly accused,” apparently by no more than a single witness of any specific misdeed. Alas, it seems that this biblical standard continues to be ignored: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). Whether “credibly accused” means something more than “accused by someone we happen to believe” isn’t clear to me, but God’s thinking seems to be that subjective human judgment of witness credibility should not to be trusted and must not replace the requirement of two agreeing witnesses to any misdeed. Though few of the instances of sexual misconduct alleged by #MeToo-ers may satisfy the Bible’s standards of evidence, it is probably reasonable to assume that the great numbers of these accusations do indicate that actual sexual misconduct is prevalent out there. We should have suspected as much given our culture’s decadence, after all.
One final note. The most ridiculous thing about the #MeToo movement is that those most vocal in supporting it—and in suggesting that women who accuse men of sexual misconduct should always be believed, even if they say nothing for many years and offer no supporting evidence or confirming witnesses when they get around to speaking—remain committed to the nonsensical idea that abortion is a vital women’s right that must be kept “safe and legal.” (The “safe” in “safe and legal” means safe for mothers. Obviously, abortion is never safe for the unborn children whose mothers decide to have them killed. Even an atheist libertarian can see that viewing abortion as a right is nonsense, as is calling it “health care.”) One can’t help but be amazed that people claiming to care about women, and claiming to want men to behave better, embrace a procedure whose primary purpose has always been to free promiscuous men from any sense of obligation toward either the sons and daughters they create or the women with whom they create them. If you want men to stop viewing women as objects for their sexual gratification, one of the first things you need to do is stop treating the unborn children such men create as mere disposable objects to whom neither these fathers nor the mothers bear any responsibility.
Thus ends today’s rant. I mean, today’s reflection. Thanks you for reading.
1 “Drunk, Part 1,” 03 June 2012, Bethel Church on Sermon Audio, available from https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=63121034160 (accessed 22 June 2018). Pastor Hoggard at one point speaks of wine being “distilled,” which is inaccurate. He correctly says wine is only fermented in “Drunk, Part 2,” but that message is not actually about alcohol but about what Hoggard considers the spiritual equivalent, which isn’t relevant to this post.
2 “Sobriety, Intoxication. The Drunken Deception of Alcohol,” 19 November 2017, Grace Life Church Tri-Cities on Sermon Audio, available from https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1213171828486 (accessed 22 June 2018). Pierce at times uses the phrase “imbibe in” when he should use “indulge in.” His point is usually clear in spite of this, but some may find it confusing.
3 I specify “the conclusions of” this study because only the abstract, which includes a description of the conclusions, may be read without a paid account or institutional access. If you wish to read the study, however, you can probably find a college library near you with access. For your reference, here is the full citation: Tim Stockwell, Jinhui Zhao, Sapna Panwar, and others, “Do ‘Moderate’ Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality,” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 77:22 (2016), 185–198, published online 22 March 2016, available from https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2016.77.185 (abstract accessed 04 July 2018).
4 Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, 1:6 (chapter 1, paragraph 6), in Westminster Confession & Catechisms, Westminster Sword module, version 1.0. Sadly, the The Baptist Confession of 1689 replaced Westminster’s highly quotable “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” with the less quotable “necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture” (BaptistConfession1689 Sword module, version 1.0.1, 1:6).
5 “They [self-styled evangelical intellectuals] think this position [biblical creationism] is an embarrassment (one has even called it a ‘scandal’) to evangelicalism.” Henry M. Morris, “Old-Earth Creationism,” Institute for Creation Research online, 01 March 2009 (accessed 04 July 2018).
6 “William Lane Craig: Young Earth Creationism is Embarrassing,” remarks dated 20 January 2013, posted by YouTube user Theology, Philosophy and Science on 26 January 2014, available from https://youtu.be/VHye8EABbEc?t=1m52s (accessed 04 July 2018). Somewhat over half of the pastors surveyed affirmed belief in the biblical view of creation, specifically in what the view indicates about the age of the earth. Craig thinks it is embarrassing that so many pastors believe their Bibles.
7 San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 June 2018, B8. This is an editorial agreed to by the editorial staff, so it carries no byline.
8 San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 June 2018, B7, B9.
9 Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, and others, The Book of Eli, motion picture, written by Gary Whitta, directed by The Hughes Brothers (Albert and Allen Hughes) (Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers, 2010).
10 I’m also not excited about the approach to activism against indecency that tries to deploy the secular-therapeutic perspective in service of decency objectives, such as by claiming that “addiction” to pornography is a “health crisis” that should be addressed by government health regulators. Leftists have adopted this same strategy, calling the violent actions some commit with guns a “health crisis” that makes medical professionals appropriate monitors of gun ownership and, it is hoped, makes health regulators suitable gun-control operatives.
11 Wilson Walker, “Drug Users Take Over Corridors of San Francisco Civic Center BART Station,” 25 April 2018, CBS SF Bay Area online, available from https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/04/25/drug-users-san-francisco-civic-center-bart/ (accessed 04 July 2018).
12 Sebastian Gorka, “New ISIS Magazine Explicitly Targets Christians,” 02 August 2016, originally posted on The Gorka Briefing (showed as “for sale” 03 July 2018), available from https://counterjihadreport.com/category/dr-sebastian-gorka/page/2/ (accessed 03 July 2018). Astute readers who know biblical values will have to admit that some of the flaws jihadis perceive in the West are real, and are much of the reason that the West lacks the moral conviction to stand effectively against this variant of Islam. For example, no one can deny that secularized Western culture does indeed suffer from harmful “hedonic addictions,” and that it exports the materials that feed these addictions to the world. (In most cases, of course, it would be better to speak of hedonistic habits or proclivities, since genuine addiction is usually not involved.) Given the filth that certain segments of our society churn out for world consumption, one shouldn’t be surprised if decent people in other parts of the world, people with no ties to jihadi cults, feel that Western culture is a hostile force they need to oppose. As for the jihadis, that they are targeting Christians, who oppose the filth of Western culture as much as the jihadis profess to, makes one doubt that decency is really something the jihadis care about. Nonetheless, their criticism remains valid.
13 Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, Diane Cilento, and others, The Agony and the Ecstasy, motion picture, written by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by Irving Stone, directed by Carol Reed (Los Angeles, CA: Twentieth Century Fox, 1965). The “glorious nakedness” wording is from memory.
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