Issues from Race and Religion to Burkinis, Empiricism, and Trump Prompt Letters and More


Introduction and Contents

Chimp writing a new Pious Eye site post. It’s time for another letter drop and general update. As has been the case in past “X prompts letters” posts, references to the “U-T” are to my local paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, referred to in various posts on the site as the “U-T,” the “SDUT,” and the “Union-Tribune,” as well as (without malice) “liner for birdcages.” A linked content list follows for your convenience.

Prejudice against a Religion May Be Bad, but It Isn’t Racism ^

Emailed to U-T: 04 June 2019
Subject line: Letter re June 4 column
Status: Printed but not posted

This letter was printed in the U-T’s “Community Dialog” in the local section for my region of San Diego County. I wrote it in response to a Hoda Kotebi column from The Washington Post. As usual when an item’s been printed, I quote the printed version, noting changes from my original. (Bracketed remarks that do not begin with “original:” were in my original submission.) Also as usual, I do see the sense of the U-T editors’ changes. While I often disagree with the positions the U-T Editorial Board takes on issues, its members do seem to be competent (though not infallible) editors.

“What were they thinking?” is often my response to the San Diego Union-Tribune’s [original: “the UT’s”] choice of syndicated columns. This is especially so re “More than a burkini” (June 4). What made U-T [original: “UT”] editors think this column that confusedly conflates race and religion was worth printing?

The columnist’s concept of “anti-Muslim racism” is nonsense: Islam is not a race. If I said I was tired of our cultural elites’ “anti-Christian racism,” I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Neither should this columnist.

Christianity and Islam originated in the Middle East and have since been embraced by people of various races in a variety of cultures. Neither is a “white” religion or a religion “of color”; neither has anything to do with race.

If the U-T [original: “UT”] wants to present Muslim thought to its readers, surely it can find something better than this columnist’s confused conflation of race and religion and tiresome repetition of PC cliches.

On the subject of burkinis (for which the last paragraph of this Britannica article notes a use beyond swimming), though burkas (which most Muslims don’t advocate) seem excessive, the Islamic concern for modesty, insofar as it can be detached from the misogyny of certain groups, should not be dismissed as prudish and repressive nonsense. The pervasive lack of modesty in the post-Christian West should not be seen as a good thing, nor should new immigrants and people around the world be urged to imitate it. Alas, entertainment modeling this lack of modesty is among America’s most popular and successful exports.

Rather than Clamoring for Higher Taxes, Rich Should Make Donations to Prove Generosity ^

Emailed to U-T: 26 June 2019, circa 4 pm
Subject line: Letter Re Eli Broad’s Call for Tax Hike
Status: Not printed or posted

Concerning the calls by extremely rich people for Congress to raise taxes on extremely rich people: Does anyone take these calls seriously? My local paper seems to.

Re “Billionaire [Eli Broad] joins call for higher taxes on the rich” (June 26): Am I missing something? Does some law prevent generous souls like Mr. Broad from giving the government more than they owe? Can they only act on their desire to bestow more funds upon our bureaucracy if the law demands it?

Possibly biased by my lack of wealth, I doubt the sincerity of Broad’s ilk. If they really cared about unequal wealth distribution, they’d demand the Federal Reserve stop transferring wealth from the work-and-save to the borrow-and-invest class, wouldn’t they?

Still, if these tax-me-more rich aren’t being disingenuous, if they genuinely believe bureaucrats do such a good job managing money, if they really think government can spend their riches more wisely than they can, they should feel free to cede more of their wealth to Washington.

They needn’t wait for new laws.

Does Warfare Make Men Better or Worse? I Suspect the Latter. ^

Emailed to U-T: 26 June 2019
Subject line: “Your Say: Warfare” submission Status: Not printed or posted; condensed into a letter that also wasn’t used

This and the next piece don’t get my unqualified endorsement, though I find the line of reasoning in them, which perhaps channels that of Anabaptist pacifists, plausible enough to be worth exploring.

I wrote this first piece rather rapidly the morning submissions for this “Your Say” were due, in response to an article in that morning’s U-T. The whole Gallagher trial seemed to me aimed at punishing someone who’d just managed to alter himself into the sort of callous character soldiers need to be if they are to be effective in an always-at-war-with-someone military such as we have. Soldiers who don’t acquire the sort of dark humor and callousness that lets them think it appropriate to take hunting-trip-style trophy photos with dead enemy combatants probably fare less well in protracted combat. The effort to punish Gallagher for having adapted better than most to war failed, the court rightly finding that only the dark and callous picture taking and texting could be proved, but the disconnect between civilized mores and battlefield adaptation that the effort highlighted should not be ignored.

Since God himself had his people wage some pretty brutal wars that even today’s rules of engagement would deem intolerable (wars of a sort that God nowhere authorizes any human individuals or governments to pursue without his direct order), it cannot be the case that war is always wrong and always to be avoided. Still, Scripture does indicate that, though war may sometimes be necessary, having been involved in war is not a good thing (1 Chronicles 28:3). By now, enough people have heard about soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to realize that readjustment to peaceful civilian living, getting over the influence of the war in which they’ve been involved, can be a difficult task for many soldiers. Apparently, our warfare state’s solution is to keep soldiers in some sort of combat as continuously as possible so that there is never any need for them to readjust to peacetime. This doesn’t seem like a great solution.

I have heard leaders, including Christian leaders, who opine on ideal masculinity point to examples of martial discipline as illustrating what they believe should be the male ideal. (I recall Rambo’s sewing up of an injury to his own arm being used as such an example.) I can’t disagree entirely: self-discipline, stoicism, and a willingness to place yourself in danger to defend others are all praiseworthy characteristics worth striving to acquire. (The ability to give oneself stitches when needed could also be very handy.) I like to believe, however, that there are non-martial contexts where one can acquire these qualities without also learning to be callously at ease with killing others among God’s image-bearers. Then again, perhaps this whole line of reasoning a misguided exercise that I’ll abandon later.

As for torture, I can think of no biblical justification for the practice, and I’m a bit disturbed that anyone professing Christianity thinks pragmatic calculation can justify it. I suspect the moral and emotional effects that torture has on torturers are considerably worse than those that war has on soldiers. Chief Gallagher, then, is probably fortunate to have become a soldier rather than an intelligence operative. (My possibly mistaken impression is that it is intelligence operatives rather than soldiers who are called upon to conduct torture.)

Navy SEAL Chief Edward R. Gallagher’s defense attorneys have called his “trophy photo” with a dead ISIS fighter and related text message “dark humor” typical of “SEALs being SEALs” (“Defense up next in trial of Navy SEAL,” June 26).

Supposing this is true (I find it plausible), it is a good illustration of why our government’s longstanding policy of military intervention abroad is a bad one. Effectiveness in war requires just this sort of callousness. Gentleman soldiers who feel remorse for every life they take, if they existed, would make terrible SEALs.

Just as torture alters those who perform it in undesirable ways, so does warfare alter the warriors who conduct it. Given this, the eagerness of people like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to get the U.S. involved in conflicts everywhere is very ill advised.

Economic sanctions, by the way, are not a way to avoid foreign wars. As peaceable sorts like Ron Paul have noted, sanctions are just an economic form of warfare, differing from warfare with bullets and bombs only in that, whereas bullets-and-bombs warfare focuses on military targets, sanctions warfare harms mainly civilians. And once a sanctions war is underway, live-fire warfare often follows.

As one of our nation’s founders might have put it (but, so far as I know, never did), “the cardinal principle of a sound foreign policy is to butt out of other nations’ business.”

Can One Kill for Living without Becoming Callous? I Suspect Not. ^

Emailed to U-T: 29 June 2019, circa 4 pm
Subject line: Letter Re 26 June Gallagher trial update
Status: Not printed or posted

This is a 150-word abridgment and rewrite of my 26 June 2019 “Your Say: Warfare” submission (directly above), which, like this abridgment, wasn’t used.

Defense attorneys call SEAL Chief Gallagher’s “trophy photo” with a dead ISIS fighter and related text message “dark humor” typical of “SEALs being SEALs” (“Defense up next in trial of Navy SEAL,” June 26).

Supposing this is true (it’s plausible), it’s another reason to oppose our government’s constant military interventions abroad. To be effective in war, soldiers must learn such callousness. As torturers mustn’t feel for those they torture, warriors mustn’t feel for those they kill. While national defense may always require some to learn callousness, at least a military only tasked with defending the homeland, not with punishing every foreign nation’s misdeeds, could get by with less of it.

Targeting whole populations for the misdeeds of nations’ leaders, as with sanctions, hardly seems a great alternative to war, which can at least focus on military targets. Besides, sanctions presage and provoke wars rather than prevent them.

Racial Identity Politics, When It Works, Makes Everyone Racist ^

Emailed to U-T: 17 July 2019, circa 4:30 pm
Subject line: Letter re Trump-remarks furor, identity politics
Status: Not printed or posted

My point in this letter was that Trump’s remarks, understandably (even if incorrectly) perceived by many as racially motivated (Why might someone born in America be invited to “go back” to a foreign country? Because she doesn’t “look like” a member of the “white” racial group Trump prefers), if indeed racially motivated, grew out of the same sort of group-identity thinking that politically correct cultural elites have been vigorously promoting for years.

So, Trump told some often-foul-mouthed American citizens, females who happen not to be white, only one of whom wasn’t born here, that they should go back to the poor, crime-ridden nations they came from. Idiotic, true, but not out of accord with contemporary trends.

Professed advocates of “diversity” have worked for years to get members of every group—at least, every group that isn’t white and male—to identify with and feel unshakable allegiance to “people who look like” them. They’ve made racial, ethnic, and gender identities far more important to many people than united allegiance to the American nation and its founding principles.

If Americans want to stop hearing these sorts of idiotic remarks from their leaders, they need to reject the politics of group identity and get back to assessing individuals individually, based on their beliefs and behaviors, not on what groups they fit into.

Tangentially Related Personal Update: Nihil est Magis Album ^

Cause: Advancing DNA-Testing Science
Effect: If I wanted to trade my individuality for a “white” group identity, I’d qualify
Relevance: None whatsoever, as with racial information in general

On the subject of race and the contemporary obsession with it, the one or two people who were reading my tweets back in August 2017 will recall that an Ancestry DNA test that someone gave me as gift disproved the family tradition that someone not too far back in my father’s family line had been a “squaw man”—to use the racially insensitive language that would have been popular in that man’s time, and to borrow part of the title of episode 5 of season 2 of one of the greatest television series ever made, or at least a series based on one of the best television-series concepts of all time, Kung Fu (starring David Carradine, Keye Luke, Philip Ahn, and others; created by Ed Spielman and Herman Miller [Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers, 1972–75]).

That initial test proved that my rumored Seminole ancestor had never existed. At the same time, it opened up the possibility, albeit with a low probability, that some ancestor in the age of exploration had brought back a wife with him from an island in the Pacific. (Though I’m sure there must be one, I don’t what racially insensitive term would apply to this ancestor. Sorry.) This forced me to acknowledge in a prior post that I was potentially “less purely European [aka “white”] in my ancestry” than Elizabeth Warren—no small feat. (I put “white” in quotation marks because I find the division of Adam and Eve’s descendants into “races” a pretty useless exercise. Though races do represent different lines resulting from God’s scattering of people from the Tower of Babel, association of the term with evolutionary storytelling has typically made it more harmful than helpful.)

In a society where anyone who’s white is supposed to feel guilty and do lifelong penance, any bit of non-white ancestry seems to offer relief from an intolerably heavy burden. Alas, though, Ancestry’s improving methodology for testing DNA, as they informed me back in April, allowed them to retest my DNA and get more precise results. Those results show that I am in fact about as purely white as one can be:

Ancestry.com image of David M. Hodges's new (April 2019) DNA results.

So, when do I start experiencing some of that “white privilege” I’m always hearing about?

Foreign Intervention Isn’t What Makes America Great: Initial Thoughts Recorded ^

Written: between 13 July and 17 July 2019
Topic: Preliminary thoughts in response to “America Not ‘Just OK’” column in the U-T (July 13)
Status: Not sent anywhere. Background preparation for the letter following it.

I jotted down these remarks after reading one of my local paper’s syndicated columns. The author, a conservative of the interventionist variety, tends to write columns I find more agreeable than most. Aspects of this one didn’t work for me, however.

Columnist Marc Thiessen holds that America is great due, not only to the principles of individual liberty and popular sovereignty (with the latter being derived from, and constrained by, the former) upon which it was founded, but also to its extensive interventions abroad, which he holds have created a “Pax Americana” enabling freedom to thrive in foreign nations where it otherwise would not exist. Since the American military only took on this activist role as the world’s police force in the twentieth century, abandoning the constitutional constraint requiring a legislative declaration of war only after World War II (“America Not ‘Just OK,’” 13 July 2019), does this mean that America wasn’t great either at its founding or in the eighteenth century?

If America was great before its national government burst out of the constitutional limitations placed upon it to ensure it served only those functions for which that founding generation of “We the People” ceded to it a portion of the powers it was their God-given right to withhold—“to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves [founding citizens] and our Posterity [succeeding citizens]….”—wouldn’t that greatness have been lost when the limitations based on its founding principles were abandoned?

Since our national government exists solely to protect the God-given rights of the “We the People” who established it and succeeding generations of citizens—to, stated more expansively, “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”—I’ve naturally assumed that the purpose of our national military must be the same. When either our national government or military works to bring about justice or tranquility in foreign nations, therefore, I’ve seen them as violating their constitutional mandate.

Given my assumptions, I was of course troubled by aspects of Marc Thiessen’s recent column (“America Not ‘Just OK,’” 13 July 2019), since it proposes that one of the things that makes America a great nation is the way its national government and military have benefited other countries by serving as the tranquility-enforcer for the globe, creating a “Pax Americana” that has allowed liberty to to flourish where (Thiessen holds) it could not have flourished absent American hegemony. This unconstitutional use of the U.S. military to create a de facto world government (or at least a police precinct) run out of D.C. (though, to my knowledge, our legislators have not issued a declaration of war as required* by the Constitution since World War II, the U.S. military has been actively engaged in conflict someplace or other more often than not since then, and has established bases all over the globe) seems at odds with the other, more important thing, that makes America great, the philosophy of individual liberty (primarily) and popular sovereignty (secondarily) upon which the nation was founded. [* As it turns out, it was U.S. courts rather than the legislature that ended the long-held American belief that Congress must declare war before the nation can engage in protracted conflict abroad. I reworded my letter to suit that reality.]

Since one aspect of that philosophy is that government is dangerous and must be carefully constrained by being granted only such limited powers as it must have to perform its rights-protecting function, else it will inevitably grow into an entity that itself infringes upon rather than protects the rights of citizens, the idea that the nation made great by its founding principles of liberty is also made great by its government’s ongoing violation of the Constitution those principles made necessary—well, I can’t see these as so nicely compatible as Theissen does. The greatness resulting from activist American hegemony (typically called American “empire” by detractors) seems to me a different and contrary form of greatness from that which grows out of our philosophy of individual liberty and personal responsibility.

Neither our government nor military has been granted the authority to ensure the liberty or fulfill the responsibilities of foreign nationals. American citizens may freely offer assistance to those seeking liberty in other nations, but the U.S. government has no constitutional basis for doing so, and it violates the rights of the citizens who fund it whenever it goes beyond the powers granted it by the people whom it serves.

Foreign Intervention Isn’t What Makes America Great: Word-Limited Letter Sent ^

Emailed to U-T: 17 July 2019, circa 10:30 pm
Subject line: Re “America Not ‘Just OK’” (July 13)
Status: Not printed or posted

I sent this letter in response to a Marc Thiessen column from The Washington Post. Judging from this article alone, Thiessen is somewhat conservative, an advocate of U.S. intervention in the affairs of foreign nations (so probably a neocon), and a majoritarian who thinks America is about “popular sovereignty” (which, if unconstrained, equates to “the majority always gets its way”) more than anything else.

America is indeed made great by her founding principles of individual liberty and popular sovereignty, provided the latter’s not allowed to violate the former. “America Not ‘Just OK’” (July 13) was right about this. [Actually, the column failed to point out the liberty-constrained nature of American popular sovereignty, but I gave Thiessen the benefit of the doubt.]

The column, alas, traced American greatness to something else, too: America’s extensive interventions abroad, particularly her service as international peacekeeper and police force, service she’s performed with rising fervor since abandoning the founders’ intent that our military serve solely for national defense, and since increasingly broad authorizations have replaced formal declarations of war.

No doubt foreign nations freed from the need to defend themselves should think our interventions a great thing, but American taxpayers and lovers of America’s founding principles should not. For Americans, our costly interventions around the world, including many costly military bases abroad and much more costly ordnance than needed for national defense, isn’t such a great thing. It’s not even OK.

Label You, Label Me: Unforgivable ^

Emailed to U-T: 27 July 2019, circa 9 am
Subject line: Letter Re contrasting July 27 opinion pieces
Status: Printed 30 July 2019. Does not appear to have been posted to the U-T Web site.

This was printed among the U-T’s opinion-page letters on 30 July 2019, under the editor-assigned title, “Labels and quotas just perpetuate problems.” I originally placed the “July 27” date after the first article title rather than after the page title. Any other editorial modifications are noted below.

Interesting contrast. On the “Your Say: Racism” (July 27) page, a reader shows awareness that today’s obsession with group assignments and labeling is a bad thing (“Let’s be a society that shuns labels”). On the facing page, U-T’s editors show they lack such awareness and want group identity to play a larger role (“Redistricting panel must address diversity”).

The editors quote approvingly a Common Cause representative’s [original: “rep’s”] call for “differing views on the [redistricting] commission, and not just [so including] ethnic views.” [Bracketed emendation within the quotation were in my original.] I’ve met many individuals with individual views, but I’ve never met an ethnicity, nor have I found that individuals assignable to one have a reliable set of matching opinions. Ditto gender and race.

If your goal’s to maintain the tribalization of America fostered by identify politics, picking people for a commission based on group assignments is a great idea. It’s not so great otherwise.

So Far, the Only Thing Worse Than Trump Is Everyone Running against Him ^

Emailed to U-T: 29 July 2019, circa 9:30 pm
Subject line: Your Say on Election 2020: Whomever I Vote For, No Issue Will Make Me Feel Good About It
Status: Printed 03 August 2019 and posted

The U-T printed and posted the edited version of my submission under the editor-assigned title “Neither party has the moral high ground.” The post to their Web site went live on 02 August 2019, appearing on the same page as other accepted submissions for the week; the printed copy appeared in the U-T on 03 August 2019. Since the standard for contemporary newspapers is to break up materials into more paragraphs that I naturally favor, my paragraph breaks were of course altered, but that was not the limit of editorial modifications this time around.

Maybe readers whose concerns are purely practical can find an issue that lets them feel good about voting for one of the major parties’ 2020 presidential candidates. Voters who share my concerns, which are more fundamental and moral, won’t find it so easy to feel good about their selection. [This paragraph matches my original.]

I and voters like me see at least one issue as so central and fundamental that we can’t possibly vote for any candidate who gets it wrong: the need to honor and protect the right to life that all humans possess by virtue of their humanity alone. The Democratic Party professes to care most about people and has long been the most willing to spend public funds “helping” those in private difficulty. [This paragraph break is courtesy the U-T editors. It’s a sound insertion given the style preferences of newspapers.]

Since caring about and for people better comports with the right-to-life (care for the helpless unborn) than the right-to-abortion (kill the inconvenient unborn) position, you’d think at least one Democrat running would support the right to life. But the party today places freedom from responsibility for sex’s consequences far above the right to life. [This paragraph break was also missing in my original. This break strikes me as unnecessary—the next two new paragraphs seems sensibly combined with it, but I do understand that newspaper preferences differ from my own.]

Its position has become so extreme that presidential candidates face ostracism if they merely question whether all taxpayers, including right-to-lifers, should be forced to pay for abortions. [This editor-introduced paragraph break strikes me as overkill. I would have kept this sentence attached to the two that follow.]

A let’s-have-a-few-restrictions moderate couldn’t win the party’s nomination, much less a right-to-lifer. We who honor the right to life could never feel good about voting for one of the Democrats. [This is where my original paragraph ended. In retrospect, I think I should have broken it into two parts before sending in this article.]

But being unable to vote for one party doesn’t mean feeling good about voting for the other. Voters like me only feel right voting for a presidential candidate with good character and a dignified demeanor. Our leaders, particularly our president, should set examples worthy of imitation. Following them should make us better, not worse. This is especially true now, when so many of our nation’s problems, such as burgeoning public and private debt, are at least in part due [original: “owe at least in part”] to character weaknesses in our leaders and ourselves. [I like my original “owe at least in part” better than the editor-substituted “are at least in part due,” but the latter is a common sort of wording I might well have used. The paragraph break added here by the editors seems reasonable.]

Sadly, the Republican Party abandoned concern for character and demeanor in 2016, shunning longtime allies who wouldn’t do the same. At the same time, concern for good character, traditionally understood, doesn’t favor the Democratic Party, dedicated as it now is to unfettered abortion access and to public celebration and promotion of things that traditional values and faiths condemn. We adherents of traditional faiths with traditional values can, and as Americans typically do, favor legal tolerance of consensual sins, in the name of liberty, but we cannot celebrate or promote such sins, nor can we vote for those who do. [I had unwisely placed this last sentence in parentheses, a lapse in judgment that the U-T editors corrected. They also added a paragraph break here, which well serves the function of separation that my unwise parentheses sought to fulfill.]

We who care most about the good character of candidates believe in eternal verities and unchanging moral truth. We can’t support a party that defines good character in terms of whatever novel values and experimental morals happen to be trending. Should one of the party’s presidential candidates display a dignified demeanor, that will hardly compensate for the party’s defects.

So voters like me won’t feel good about voting for either major party’s candidate in 2020. It’s 2016 all over again. [My original had a comma after “So.” I intended the pause and wish the comma had been retained, but I’m still pleased with how the published piece correctly communicates my intended sense.]

The Republican candidates who have so far announced primary runs against Trump do not make me hopeful that the GOP will improve upon Trump before 2020. When radio-show host Joe Walsh appeared on the PBS News Hour to discuss his run, he emphasized his strong opposition to Trump’s sensible transgender ban. (Do female soldiers really want to bunk with a male soldier claiming to be female? Do American taxpayers really want to pay to have such male soldiers mutilated and given hormones so they can pretend for the rest of their lives to be the opposite sex?) Bill Weld, meanwhile, matches the most radical Democrats in his extreme support of women’s “right” to choose to murder their unborn children, even shortly before birth. And now Mark Sanford has joined the race—as if what the GOP needs is someone even more chaotic and unpredictable in his behavior than Trump (Sanford disappeared while serving as a governor in order to spend some time in Argentina cheating on his wife).

A Free & Open Society Requires Neutral, Not “Woke,” Companies ^

Emailed to U-T: 20 August 2019
Subject line: “Your Say: Boycotts” Submission
Status: Printed and posted.

This was printed and posted along with other items on the U-T Web site and printed in the U-T’s 24 August issue with the editor-assigned title “Firms should stay out of controversies.” As usual, I’ve noted editorial changes below.

If we value a free and open society of the sort most compatible with this nation’s founding principles, we should hope that companies engaged in commerce will remain neutral toward, and will abstain from, involvement in ideological debates [original: “will remain neutral toward, and will abstain from involvement in, ideological debates”] among America’s citizens. [The U-T editors’ change to my punctuation here makes the point less precise, which is unfortunate. I believe companies should remain neutral about ideological debates and should abstain from involvement in them. The U-T revision suggests I only want them to be neutral about “involvement in,” which is a less broad neutrality than I meant. Ah, well.]

Free and peaceful interaction in the marketplace between people holding different convictions cannot survive in an environment where commerce ceases to be ideologically neutral. [In my original, this sentence was the final sentence of the preceding paragraph.]

Sadly, most boycotts undertaken today aim to remove rather than establish such neutrality. [My original lacked this paragraph break.]

Either they seek to force commercial entities to take sides in ideological debates, something today’s “conscious” or “awakened” (or “woke”) [original: or, if one cares less about good English, “woke”] companies seem too comfortable doing anyway, or they seek to punish companies for the private ideological activities of citizens who happen to be affiliated with them (as owners, executives, or just employees).

Sorry to interrupt. I hope that the U-T editors do not mean by there edit in the preceding paragraph that they consider “woke” something other than ungrammatical slang that we should all lament has so caught on in the media. Who first introduced this grimace-inducing modifier? Usage examples in the Merriam-Webster entry for “woke” (accessed 29 August 2019) suggest it was probably left-liberal activists who first started employing this “chiefly US slang” as an adjective. I seem to recall a debate some years ago over “Ebonics,” advocates of which argued that requiring urban youth of color to learn long-established standard English was unjust and exploitative. I don’t know how or if “woke” relates to Ebonics, but perhaps both show a tendency of some to think even usage standards must be defied if one is to be truly free.

A few people like myself do engage in boycotts of companies because they have failed to remain neutral — a payment processor, for canceling a planned expansion to punish a state’s failure to act in accord with transgender ideology; a video-hosting platform, for closing a Christian group’s account for offering counseling services at odds with the ideology of sexual orientation. [This paragraph break was introduced by the U-T editors.]

But such pro-neutrality boycotts are rare, often just one-person matters of conscience, and have no influence any pollster cares about. [In my original, this is where the preceding paragraph ended.] The overall trend of contemporary boycotts is to force upon everyone an ideology that our constitutionally constrained system of government doesn’t allow to be forced upon the people by law. [The U-T editors introduced this paragraph break. Sensible.]

One reason such boycotts appeal to many is that they replace tiresome and slow voluntary persuasion through free and open dialogue [original: dialog] (or, for people of my faith, they replace reliance on God’s sovereign direction of human affairs) with simpler, quicker, superficially more effective coercion.

Though the Libertarian Party applies the principle where it shouldn’t — such as to support legal abortion — libertarians’ “non-aggression principle” seems worth applying here. [The U-T editors introduced this paragraph break.]

People with different ideologies should feel free to exercise their free-speech rights to persuade those with whom they disagree, but no one should feel free to coerce anyone else to do anything, or to stop doing anything that doesn’t violate the rights of others. [At this point, the U-T editors added a paragraph break.]

And in case this isn’t obvious, one never violates the rights of others by believing differently than they do. [At this point, the U-T editors removed a paragraph break.] Boycotts aiming to use commerce as a tool of coercion should be boycotted.

Clearly, I’ve yet to master the preferred paragraph-breaking conventions of the U-T’s editors. No doubt the very short paragraphs they prefer do fit better with the paper’s narrow-columned layout than would longer paragraphs—much as older-style line breaks after each verse, combined with a separate mark noting where each new paragraph begins, work better in columnar Bibles than breaking only after paragraphs in the modern style. Still, even when I submit items with suitably shortened paragraphs, the U-T editors often prefer different breaks than I do.

Freedom of Contract & Association Only for Some? ^

Emailed to U-T: 27 August 2019, circa 10 am
Subject line: Freedom to marry but no freedom to not hire?
Status: Not to be printed or posted

I was informed upon submitting this that I had already submitted a letter for the in-progress 30-day period. I assumed this was because my 27 July letter had been printed in the 30 July U-T, making this new letter a few days early. I wrote back letting the U-T know that they should feel free to print this letter after the 30 days from 30 July had passed. I was then informed that the new “Your Say” essays are being counted against the one-letter-per-user limit. Alas. This probably means that the letters section will contain mostly paired “I love Trump” / “I hate Trump” letters until at least 24 September. Since I typically remove some clarifying materials when condensing to the 150-word limit for letters, I’ve added some clarifications in brackets.

As a Bible-believing Christian, I necessarily consider “gay marriage” a nonsense concept. I will never see homosexual couples as genuinely married because marriage is a one-flesh bond between someone born biologically male and someone born biologically female. [As I noted in my initial, too-long draft, polygamy and polyandry, which remain illegal, in fact have a much better claim to be actual marriages than do homosexual “marriages,” which our judicial system has made legal nationwide. As I noted back in 2014, “a nation that says homosexual marriage is a ‘right’ owes a big apology to fundamentalist Mormon sects for denying both their right to define ‘marriage’ how they like and their right to freely exercise their religion.”]

As a liberty-loving American, however, I can see how legalization of same-sex “marriage” might be a defensible application of freedom of association and contract. [Note that I say “might be”; I’m not entirely sold on this idea, but I have come to share the usual instinct of small-government people, namely, that government should butt out of marriage altogether, except insofar as it may legitimately act to punish those who violate marriage contracts.] It isn’t government’s role to limit individuals’ ability to associate with whomever they choose and to enter into whatever contracts they and other parties mutually consent to.

Yet those who most support our judicial system’s legalization of same-sex “marriage” contracts, such as this paper’s [The San Diego Union-Tribune’s] Editorial Board, also support applying rules that violate freedom of association and contract to the hiring practices of privately owned companies (“Of course Civil Rights Apply to Gay Workers,” August 27). [Though how public agencies funded by taxpayers should approach hiring may differ, private companies ought to be free to use whatever wise or unwise criteria they like when hiring. That American courts have long since rejected this aspect of personal liberty for people doing business does not mean that the right to do what one will with one’s own (Matthew 20:10–15) has gone away. Like other genuine rights, this one is God-given and inalienable unless forfeited after due process for the conviction of a crime.]

Am I wrong to think this inconsistent?

A Quick Harmonization of Some Prior Posts ^

No, I did not contract myself. Here’s proof.

I wrote the following in a July 2018 post: “Whereas I thought it [the Fourth of July] 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.”

In an August 2019 post, however, I wrote this: “For my part, I would much prefer he [Zuhdi Jasser] call governments that honor the right to religious freedom ‘religiously neutral’ rather than ‘secular,’ but that is an issue for another time.”

So, which is it? Was our constitutional republic founded as “Bible-based” or “religiously neutral”? Well…both. Our nation grew out of a culture that was so pervasively influenced by, and in that sense based upon, the Christian Bible that even the least religious of our founders were influenced—directly, indirectly, and quite thoroughly—by scriptural principles. David Barton has spent decades demonstrating this. Much Enlightenment thinking, in fact, recast Christian moral and rational principles in a secular guise that more truly secular existentialism and postmodernism would see for the self-refuting mixture of incompatibilities that it is. People who want to ground American liberty in Enlightenment secularism are badly misguided.

That said, the exclusion of references to God from our republic’s charter, the U.S. Constitution, and the wording of that charter’s First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…,” show clearly that our founders intended for our federal government to remain permanently neutral in matters of religion. They never suggested it must strive to be secular or irreligious, just that it should not take side in religious conflicts by supporting one religion or opposing another. Though they were mostly of the opinion that civil order and self-government could only survive if the morals taught by religion (in particular the Christian religion based on the Bible, with which they were naturally most familiar) remained prevalent among the nation’s people, they did not see the national government as the institution properly tasked with promoting any faith or choosing among faiths.

Our republican form of government, then, came into being in an environment pervasively influenced by Christian and scriptural principles. This is the sense in which it is a Bible-based republic. Since Christian principles include a belief that different authorities under God should hold sway in different spheres—heads of household in one sphere, church officers or their equivalent in another, elected officials of government in still another—that a government founded under the influence of such principles should honor religious liberty by remaining religiously neutral was an inevitable, though admittedly long delayed, development in the Christian West.

Empirical Reasoning Provides Tools, Not Truths ^

Emailed to U-T: 06 September 2019, circa 12:30 pm
Subject line: Still too soon for opinion-page placement, but perhaps you could use this in the Community [Dialog]
Status: Just sent, but unlikely to be printed or posted

In our empiricist and scientistic age (when even many professing Christians think evidence or experience is the ultimate foundation of their belief system), suggesting that empirical reasoning, of which science is the most refined and effective form, doesn’t reveal truth seems heretical. It will certainly be judged so by journalists at my local paper, since journalists are some of the most empirically minded people out there, so I doubt this item will get printed in that paper. This, however, is my belief, one I may hold in common with the late Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark. Empirical reasoning provides pragmatically useful tools that let us act upon, perform operations on, the world around us. The practical and probabilistic information it reveals to us doesn’t deserve to be called “truth” or our awareness of it “knowledge,” however, since it is not on par with indubitable premises, notable those revealed in Scripture, or with sound deductions therefrom.

The “cognitive error” to which conspiracy-theory believers are prone (“Conspiracies ‘R’ Us,” September 5) isn’t unique to them. All empirical theories, not just conspiracy theories, make fallible inferences from incomplete data—and shouldn’t be “believed.” [The only way to base empirical inferences on complete data is to be omniscient, since anything short of that means there may be relevant data out there that one hasn’t yet discovered. That relevant new data may continue to arise throughout time adds to the problem.]

If well grounded in available data and subjected to ongoing testing that could falsify them or force their revision, theories make great practical tools. But what makes them great is how readily they can be modified or replaced, a quality they lose when you start believing them.

How can you tell if you’ve stopped approaching a theory with the critical distance and pragmatism it deserves and started believing it? If you call people skeptical of it “deniers of science” and label advocates of alternatives “liars,” you’ve done so.

Though unhelpful with non-empirical questions, the skeptical mindset of “doubters” is central and essential to sound empirical reasoning.

Use theories while they prove productive. Don’t believe them.

This earlier version, which exceeds the U-T’s word limit and is in certain respects inferior to the preceding, might add clarity to a couple points:

“Conspiracies ‘R’ Us” (September 5) asserts that people who believe conspiracy theories are prone to cognitive errors. I’d suggest that anyone who “believes” any theory commits a cognitive error. If well grounded in available data and subjected to ongoing testing that could falsify them, or could force their revision, empirical theories make great practical tools. When these best-we’ve-yet-found sets of working assumptions come to be believed, making theory users into theory adherents, their utility can diminish significantly.

How can you tell if you’ve stopped approaching a theory with the critical distance and pragmatism it deserves and started believing it? Well, if you call people skeptical of the theory “deniers of science,” that’s one good indicator. If you call people who propose alternatives dishonest and immoral, that’s another.

It was with good reason that a prominent producer of educational materials for the general public titled a course on scientific or empirical reasoning “Skepticism 101.” Whatever this mindset’s flaws when applied to non-empirical questions (epistemology, morality, the laws of logic, God-given rights, etc.), the skeptical mindset of “doubters” is central and essential to sound empirical reasoning.

Use theories while they prove productive. Don’t believe them.

End of Post ^


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