So for the past week, I’ve been neck-deep in teaching a two-week intensive Introduction to Philosophy course (go figure) at Moody Bible Institute (go figure), and having a blast with it. And apparently so are some of my students—when I learned (very belatedly) that there would be no class on MLK Day, and thus had to cut the “Political Philosophy” unit out of the syllabus, several of them suggested meeting today at a local donut shop for an informal class anyway. And so we did. So with just two hours to introduce them to fundamental questions in political philosophy, here’s what I came up with: Read More
After spending two chapters, “The Way of Weakness” and “The Way of Renunciation” tearing down our idols of power, prestige, and possessions, Doug Jones turns in the next two chapters of Dismissing Jesus—“The Way of Deliverance” (ch. 4) and “The Way of Sharing” (ch. 5)—to provide their positive complement, attempting to give some sense of our mission as Christians. This mission is a glorious one, in which we, like Christ, “preach the good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind,” and in which we do this in real-world here-and-now terms, rather than spiritualizing all this into mere soul-winning. It is a mission in which we are called to call none of our possessions our own, but to share sacrificially with all those in need. Although I will press for greater clarity and specificity at certain points, I would agree that this is a central part of what it means to live as a Christian. But the important question is why? How should we understand what it is we are doing when we do this and why we are doing it? I’m worried that the way Jones answers these questions will actually undermine the practical vision in profound ways.
Let me put this provocatively: I’m not at all sure that the themes of these chapters ought to be described under the heading of “the way of the cross.” The cross is central to Scripture, yes, but it’s not all there is. It’s not even all there is to Christ’s work. The cross is God’s “No” to sin, it signifies all of the brokenness and pain that sin involves and the great cost necessary to cast away that sin and bring healing and restoration; the cross is God’s wrenching rejection of everything that has distorted his good creation. When we take up our cross and follow Christ, this is our sharing in this dying to sin, this is our painful renunciation of everything that stands between us and how we were meant to live. While no Christian ethic, designed for sinful human beings, can afford to neglect this central moment in redemptive history, without which lives of Christian discipleship would be impossible, it should be clear at the same time that this moment cannot be in itself the ground of a Christian ethic. To live as a Christian ultimately means to live as a true human, to live as God created us to live, following in the footsteps of our Head, the Second Adam. Read More
Here, Kent and I continue the conversation on gun control and American conservatism (see Part One and Part Two). In this exchange, we go deeper into the question of to what extent policies like gun control may sap the civic fiber of a nation, and whether this loss of active citizenship is worth the increase in safety. (This may, or may not, be the last publicly-posted installment.)
Well, it seems we’re close to an impasse of agreeability. I’m with you on the lesser magistrate deal. By taking up arms in the last resort I was thinking more of the outright murder-by-government that the twentieth century saw so much of. Such cases would seem to me to fall under the individual right not to get slaughtered if he can help it.
If the purpose of civil government is basically to promote the peace and liberty of the commonwealth, then we have to rule out standing armies and omnipresent police forces as instruments of the magistrate (there is a pretty respectable body of thought that regards them as ready-made tools of war and slavery, respectively). Without those instruments, a society must instead rely on a spirited and independent body of citizens, who collectively respond to the call of the magistrate to defend the commonwealth, and individually interpose between the innocent and their would-be predators. Hence, in England and America, the concept of citizens as comprising the militia of the commonwealth, as well as individual defense doctrines such as the Castle Doctrine. I don’t see any way to uphold such civic and communal responsibilities except through the general duty that able citizens have to own death-dealing weapons. Is the responsibility great? Yes, but civic responsibility is the bedrock of free societies. Read More
Following on from my last post, in which I shared the first two missives of a correspondence between my friend Kent Will and myself on gun control and American conservatism, I offer the next two sections of the correspondence here.
Thanks for your reply. Actually, I agree with you on almost every point you raised, including your assessment of American culture (though I think you’re looking at only part of the story).
Although frontier conditions have largely disappeared, I think there is still a legitimate (even necessary) place for citizen-owned firearms in a settle land. Sport, food provision, and land management are probably the most common and culturally important, but also the least provocative instances. The two most important and controversial instances are surely 1) home defense and 2) retaining the ability to check tyranny in extreme circumstances.
Especially with regard to those two points, I’ll grant everything you could say, and probably more, about how deficient and irresponsible the American Right’s expression of them has been. However, Peter Escalante made an insightful remark in a recent TCI article that comes to mind here: he noted that the average American retains a traditional sense of disapproval toward homosexuality, but is confused how to translate it into policy because his predominant political vocabulary is pop-libertarian. You could extend that observation to almost everything contemporary American conservatism has tried to defend: in most cases our instinct is sound (as an instinct, it was most likely inherited from pre-libertarian days), but the philosophical tools we turn to are ill-suited for the purpose. Read More
Although two weeks have now passed since thesis submission, this blog remains depressingly silent, a victim of a frenzied rush of packing and shipping, and a dizzying international and trans-continental itinerary that will continue for another couple of weeks.
However, I do have some material to share here while the travels continue, drawn from a dialogue I have been carrying on in leisurely fashion for the past couple months with a very smart, old-school Southern conservative friend of mine, Kent Will. In the aftermath of the failure of modest attempts at gun control legislation in the Senate in April, and a subsequent online discussion that generated more heat than light, my friend Kent sent me a very thoughtful email articulating, as he saw it, why gun control opponents felt as passionately as they did. With his permission, I have decided to commence posting here almost the full text of our ensuing dialogue, in installments.
So here is Part I, comprising his initial email and my first reply:
I’ve followed with some interest the conflagration on your Facebook page regarding gun control. I know you’re busy with your dissertation, so I don’t expect a response, much less a thoroughly reasoned one, but here are some thoughts anyhow, and you may take them or leave them for what they are worth.
I think [one of the interlocutors] was pretty much accurate that non-American observers have a hard time understanding our attachment to gun rights, and our particular phobias about tyranny, more because they lack understanding of the American context that our political debates take place in, than because our particular phobias are especially bizarre. It might be somewhat analogous to an Italian or Greek scoffing at an Englishman for his inherited cultural sense that the right to trial by jury is the holy grail of legal theory. Such a critic of English laws would gain little credibility without first endeavoring to grasp how this right developed–its historical antecedents, the circumstances that gave it rise, the ways it has been tested, assaulted, and defended throughout history, and ultimately how it has entered the culture and identity of English society as a priceless birthright. If he doesn’t take the time to appreciate this, and account for it in making his critique, then in plain words he is just being an arrogant ass.
You have the qualified advantage of having lived for several years at some removal from the cultural air that we breathe over here, and that does grant you a potentially useful platform from which to reflect on American culture. But I get that sense that for a variety of reasons you no longer greatly care for your American identity, and the severing of some of these ties may have induced an absence of empathy that disqualifies you from the role of cultural physician.
Because, of course, the gun control debate in America has everything to do with culture, and very little at all to do with bare questions of expediency. From its inception, the American identity was based on sensibilities that arose from the immediate and concrete necessities our forefathers were under to provide the basic trappings of life in an unsettled wilderness. While the attitude of self-sufficiency and independence is certainly open to abuse, in its basic form it is a legitimate expression of certain values that developed out of the Reformation–the elevation of household and domestic economy, the duty of men to provide for their dependents, the civic responsibility of the member of society, the freedom that is the corollary to this responsibility, etc. (I’m sure given your area of concentration you could amend and qualify this summary; consider it just a hazy attempt by a layman.) As an accident of our place in the timeline of history, firearms became a critical tool and symbol of our effort to establish independent freeholds, to provide for our families, to protect ourselves against famine and hostile forces. That these exigencies are still alive might be illustrated by the fact that I have depended on hunting to keep my family fed through some very lean winters over the past five years.