Cultural Doggie Bag: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

Hugely polarizing movies are always interesting to me—whether I love it or hate it, there’s always something interesting to think about with respect to films that sharply divide audiences. The new Star Wars movie certainly falls into this category, what with its lofty 92% critics rating and dismal 54% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I finally saw The Last Jedi the other night, and I went into the theater with high hopes. The trailers sold it very well and The Force Awakens had set up a number of mysteries that I was looking forward to exploring.

Unfortunately, though I started out enjoying myself, I found myself landing squarely on the hate side of the division by the time the credits were rolling. If you want to know why, keep reading, but there are MASSIVE SPOILERS from here on out, so be warned.

  1. The film is internally incoherent

    You can think of The Last Jedi as a bad movie wearing the skin of good movies—Buffalo Bill style. There is definitely a lot of awesome stuff in there: cool moments, some great action set pieces, legitimate drama and so forth. But all these pieces are just loosely stitched together and they just don’t make sense in what is supposed to be a larger tapestry.

    Half the movie concerns the last remnants of the rebellion that are on the run from the First Order. (You might have thought that the good guys won at the end of The Force Awakens, but you would be mistaken. The Republic was apparently inconsequential enough that it could not survive the loss of a a few planets, the First Order basically controls the entire galaxy, and the resistance has become a rebellion that’s down to a handful of ships and the people on board.) The First Order is mysteriously tracking the Rebels through light speed, and the Rebels are forced to barely stay ahead at sub-light speeds because they only have about 18 hours of fuel left. The odd strategic bread from The Force Awakens aside, it’s a setup that could create some good tension—if the movie weren’t so sloppy about it.

    Take the intriguing mystery of how they’re being tracked. Tracking ships at light speed is apparently thought to be impossible by most people. Leia treats it as a mystery. Snoke is impressed enough that he refrains from killing the space Nazi general in charge of his fleet. How are they doing it? Did they get a homing beacon aboard the ship? Is there a traitor in the ranks? No. The First Order just has a scanner than can track a ship at light speed. The movie sets it up as significant and curious, but it’s ultimately nothing more than “they just can, I guess.” Apparently Snoke didn’t read the memo about inventing that and installing it on his own ship.

    It was awesome when Leia got blown up and blasted from her ship into the vacuum of space, only to use the Force to fly back on board like freaking Superman. Except that it’s literally the only time she ever does anything at all like that in any of the movies. Yeah, Return of the Jedi set her up as a Skywalker who has the same kind of potential with the Force as Luke, but there is no other indication anywhere in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi that she ever developed that potential. There’s not even any throwaway line like “oh, it’s just something my brother taught me” to hang a lantern on it or a comment from other rebels about her doing stuff like that on occasion to set it up. It just comes out of nowhere to the point that it almost becomes comical.

    It was totally awesome towards the end when—after having to abandon their last big ship in order to escape—the last remaining rebel on board (who momentarily forgot about the existence of auto-pilot) points the ship at the enemy fleet and takes it to light speed, obliterating a bunch of star destroyers and causing massive damage to even the huge capital ships of the First Order. It was expertly animated and extremely satisfying. At least it was until you remember that they had to ditch several other big ships earlier in the film and just let them get blown up instead of using them in exactly the same super-effective way that would have let the rest escape. It was so awesomely effective that it makes me wonder why this isn’t a normal tactic in the Star Wars universe—building giant torpedoes with hyper-drives and launching them at enemy ships.

    And I was already filled with this same kind of “wonder” in other respects. Why is it that fully fueled First Order ships capable of light speed can’t catch up with ships forced to go slower? Why they can’t send half the ships ahead of them to stop them from staying outside of effective weapons range? Why they can’t call in other ships to come out of hyperspace ahead of them—they control the whole galaxy, they must have more ships. And they had plenty of time. After all, Finn & Rose were able to go off and have an ultimately pointless mini adventure on the Evil Rich Person Planet, get knocked out and thrown in prison, free some animals, find a code-breaker, give the 1% their comeuppance and then come back while this slow chase was going on.
    Everything cool about the movie is there simply for the sake of being cool—but very little of it is an organic part of the setting and circumstances. It’s as if every scene came from a different writer thinking “wouldn’t it be cool if ______ happened?”

  2. Most of the mysteries from The Force Awakens are just written off.
    I left The Force Awakens wanting more. For example, who is this supreme leader Snoke fellow? Where did he come from? He is a mysterious and powerful figure who was never hinted at in the other six movies, so what’s his deal? Well, I still don’t know and since he died like a chump 2/3 of the way through the movie, I doubt I’ll be finding out any time soon. He was set up as so mysterious and powerful and conniving and so forth by J.J. Abrams, but there was absolutely no payoff. He came out of nowhere and went right back where he came from when his narrative role was finished.

    What about Rey’s parents? Is she a Skywalker? A Kenobi? A Palpatine? Fans were abuzz with theories about this one, but nobody could have guessed the real answer: Nobody important. Just some lazy junkies who sold their daughter for drugs. After the last movie, a lot of people pointed out that Rey was a Mary Sue—a stand-in character for female viewers who was inexplicably good at everything and loved by everyone except the villains. She could immediately pilot and repair the Millennium Falcon better than Han and Chewie. She could use the Force to great effect and dominate Kylo Ren with a lightsaber—all without any of the training from Jedi Masters, hard work, and sacrifice that Luke needed in the original trilogy. Unlike Luke, Leia, or…. anyone, gruff old Han Solo took an immediate shine to Rey. And when Han died, Leia walks right past her old friend Chewbacca to embrace Rey, who had known Han for all of a day or two. I was skeptical of the assessment because I assumed that her mysterious backstory would give a reasonable explanation for all of this. It did not. She has no real backstory, and there was no reason to make it appear mysterious. There’s no reason for skepticism any longer. Rey is the most blatant and shameless Mary Sue character I’ve ever seen outside of fan fiction—which basically means that Last Jedi retroactively ruins Force Awakens.

    And there’s a thousand other tiny plot threads from Force Awakens that are just abandoned. What kind of training was Snoke going to give Kylo? Who are the Knights of Ren? We left off with Finn seriously injured and unconscious, but he immediately wakes up fine. It really reminds me of the first season or two of Lost—setting up mysteries that seemed cool but had no real payoff. Only I don’t think it’s J.J. Abrams fault this time. The impression I get is more that Rian Johnson found episodes 1-7 to be a burden rather than a foundation and was simply eager to get away from it all and do his own thing.

    But what about the mystery surrounding Luke? Why did he disappear to find the first Jedi Temple? Why did he abandon his friends in their fight for freedom? Why did he leave behind a map to find him in a mysteriously deactivated R2D2? Well, that leads us to…

  3. The character of Luke is crapped on.

    There was a lot of potential here. After Luke’s falling out with Kylo, did he want to explore ancient Jedi writings to find out where he went wrong? Why did he think the Jedi needed to end? Because he found a deep flaw in their philosophy or uncover some dark secret?

    Well, here’s the actual explanation: As indicated in Force Awakens, Luke was trying to start a new Jedi Order and was training a number of students, including his nephew, Kylo Ren. He sensed the dark side growing in young Kylo (apparently because of Snoke… somehow.) So Luke visited him at night and scans his soul for the dark side. Astonished at how deeply Kylo was into it, Luke impulsively decided to straight up murder his nephew—the only son of his twin sister and best friend. But Kylo woke up scared and angry, and knocked Luke out, destroyed his training temple, and ran off to join Snoke. Luke, knowing he had failed Kylo, ran off for the sole purpose of dying alone in despair.

    What does that have to do with R2, the map, and the first Jedi temple? Not a damn thing, apparently. Yet more teases with no payoff.

    But more importantly, how is this the same Luke Skywalker we know from the original trilogy? I seem to remember his hero’s journey reaching a climax when he went on a suicide mission to the Death Star because he refused to give up on the idea that there was good inside his evil mass-murdering space tyrant father. He even refused to kill him in their last duel. But his nephew—who is still conflicted about the whole light/dark thing—was just beginning to fall to the dark side, and his knee-jerk reaction is to immediately give up on him and kill him? I seem to remember Luke refusing to abandon his friends even when Obi Wan and Yoda were both begging him not to. I seem to remember Luke never giving up despite his failures and persevering till the end. What happened to him? Was what happened with Kylo a tragedy? Sure, but he’s already overcome bigger things than that. It trashes Luke’s legacy and obliterates his entire character arc from the original trilogy.
    And the same is true for Luke’s death.

    After a pep talk from Yoda, Luke decides to join the fray after all—or so it seems. He shows up when the rebels are making their last stand, and he goes out alone to face the First Order’s army. He takes all sorts of fire from their walkers and just shrugs it off—goading Kylo Ren to come down and face him. They sort of duel, but Luke is only dodging and their light sabers never make contact. Eventaully Kylo Ren cuts him down… only to find that Luke was just doing some kind of force astral projection thing the whole time—he wasn’t really there, just projecting an image of himself from his temple. So he basically tricked the First Order into focusing on him while the rebels escaped all from the safety of being light-years away. But then Luke dies anyway—I guess from over-exerting himself. So Luke Skywalker, who once took down the Empire dies alone from doing an elaborate Jedi mind trick. And the point of doing it all remotely was…. what exactly? The movie made a point of showing Luke’s ship on his planet. There is absolutely no reason he couldn’t have been there in person and had a heroic send-off that was actually real. It’s just one more injustice done to the character.

    Mark Hamill is on the record as fundamentally disagreeing with everything they chose to do with his character, and I cannot blame him one bit. We all wanted to see Luke at the height of his powers, but all the creators did was inexplicably take him down a dozen notches just so that the new characters have a shot at being interesting in comparison. It’s lazy, disrespectful writing and there’s no excuse for it. And that brings us to #4

  4. The new characters are largely uninteresting

    I do like Finn. He has enough dimensions to be interesting and John Boyega brings enough charm to the role that he’s likable. And apart from all the SJW posturing in his story arc regarding the evil slave-owning animal-abusing weapon-selling rich people, I thought his side story was fun enough (even though it turned out to be worse than meaningless to the movie as a whole; more on that in a minute.)

    I still don’t know why the movies want me to think Poe is important. He’s a hot-shot pilot whose also impulsive and hot-headed (yawn.) But he’s still hanging around Leia all the time so he can seem central to the rebellion. I like the fact that he actually has something of a character arc in this one where he learns that being hot-headed isn’t always the best approach to challenges. However, the lesson is learned at a truly awful cost that is just glossed over. Once Leia is unconscious after her superman episode, Poe distrusts the rebel leadership because they’re seemingly not doing anything to save the fleet and the rebellion—and to be fair to Poe, they give every impression of this being the case. That’s why he sends Finn off on his side-quest and ultimately mutinies against the Rebel leadership. But they did have a plan that they kept secret for no discernible reason (and this was a really easy mistake to avoid; they established this mysterious tracking of their ships and they could have easily used that to create distrust among the rebels because they’re afraid of a traitor.) Poe’s mutiny ends up turning their secret plan into a disaster resulting in the deaths of roughly 75% of the remaining rebels. He learns his lesson, but the gravity of this monumental screw-up is never really acknowledged.

    Kylo Ren is still an angsty putz who can’t really be taken seriously as a villain. Except now we’re stuck with him as the sole main villain because Snoke is dead.

    Rey, as we already mentioned, is just a zero-personality Mary Sue. Her interactions with Kylo in this movie are genuinely interesting, but other than that, her only real struggle is trying to find her role in everything—which in her case, just comes off as “what am I supposed to do with all this incredible awesomeness I have?” And I wholly expect that Episode 9 is just going to tell us she should just be following her heart and creating her own role—making her hero’s journey nothing more than coming to realize how incredibly awesome she always was.

In some ways, this is the worst of the Star Wars movies. As a self-contained film, it’s certainly not the dumpster fire that Attack of the Clones was, and sufficient suspension of disbelief might cover up enough of the plot holes to make it a good, fun movie. But none of these films are self-contained—they’re part of a whole whether we like it or not. And in that respect, its casual disregard for the entire canon whilst being part of that canon does a whole lot of damage to the Star Wars mythos. I don’t think it’s impossible for Episode 9 to make a comeback if handled properly. Time heals a whole lot of wounds, and I would actually suggest a 10-year time skip as a way of creating a better starting point than we were left with (Kylo can grow up, Rey can train, the rebellion can be rebuilt, etc.) Nevertheless, The Last Jedi creates a whole lot of disappointments—a lot of which cannot be erased from the Star Wars saga.

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Babel is a Feature, not a Bug

It’s not exactly rare for the Bible to clash with modernism. The six days of creation, the global flood, and Jonah’s fishy situation certainly upset our philosophy of science—the rules under which scientists analyze data which forbid any consideration of the miraculous. The 10 Commandments and all the accompanying details don’t really mesh with our amoral utilitarian ethics. Even the Atonement—God’s greatest act of love in which he gave his Son to die for us—is written off as divine child abuse. These issues are typically the meat and potatoes of the various controversies between the Church and the modern (and therefore the postmodern*) West.

And yet, if there’s one story from the Bible that goes right for modernism’s jugular, it’s really the Tower of Babel. This is not merely because it conflicts with contemporary theories on the development of language. Neither is it because it implies that the universe is three-tiered rather than Copernican. (Mainly because it doesn’t. “Reaching the heavens” wasn’t precisely the point anymore than “scraping the sky” is the goal when we build our own tall towers.) It is not primarily science which rejects Babel, for even science is subservient to a deeper part of modernistic philosophy—the progressive ideal of the perfectibility of man and civilization through iterative collective effort.

Science’s place in modern thought largely results from the violence and chaos coming out of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. With the dissolution of the Roman monopoly on reading the Bible, the theological issues that had been festering untreated for centuries all came out at once. It seemed like no two theologians—even the ones shouting Sola Scriptura—could agree on what Scripture actually said. Neither could those shouting tradition or patricians or bishops agree on whose traditions or patricians or bishops to follow, for the Great Schism had long ago shattered that form of unity. As those theological conflicts got caught up in politics, they quickly became bloody as well. In the end, it became too difficult for European elites to look to religion for any kind of unity or coherent worldview by which to navigate life.

At that same time, science was really starting to come into its own. Superstitions were being overturned, our understanding of the world was growing by leaps and bounds, and material benefits were beginning to emerge from that understanding. Better yet, science was thought to transcend the religious and political differences that had torn the continent apart. If a Papist, a Lutheran, and a Calvinist walk into a bar and perform a scientific experiment, they should all get the same result. The same should be true of a monarchist and a revolutionary. Combined with the burgeoning humanism that saw man as able to do solve all mysteries and achieve all things, the hope for unlimited unity, peace, and prosperity was placed on the shoulders of science by Enlightenment thinkers. This attitude is the reason that today’s progressives still rhapsodize about how much they “f***ing love science.”

Of course, time and hindsight have revealed just how ridiculously naive that hope was. These were the same folks who seriously called World War I “the war to end all wars,” a hope that the 20th century didn’t exactly bear out. As for human knowledge, it’s become increasingly clear that science is no more immune from the various human foibles that cause disagreement than theology is. Large swaths of gold-standard science are being found to be invalid. Issues like global warming have become hopelessly politicized. Peer review can become nothing more than peer pressure when entrenched paradigms are threatened. The “self-correcting” parts of scientific methodology fail to be carried out because they don’t earn scientists grants, tenure, and publication. Blind to all of this, modernists sneered at the Queen of the Sciences; but setting up a naively optimistic view of science against a maliciously pessimistic view of theology is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison.

It is precisely that blindly arrogant self-optimism that is confronted at the Tower of Babel. In this story, God goes straight for that progressive conceit that tried to make science the whole mental toolbox rather than accept it as the fine hammer that it is—this “Star Trek” idea that by setting aside our differences, humanity can resolve all of its problems and accomplish its wildest dreams. After the Flood, God commanded the survivors to disperse and fill the earth. Instead, they decided to stay in one place. Being enamored with their new discovery of bricks, they sought to build a tall tower—not to make a ladder to climb up and have tea with God, but because the taller the tower was, the more people could live within sight of it. It was both a monument to and the mechanism for their own strength, unity, and accomplishment.

When God visits and sees what’s going on, he makes a peculiar observation: “This is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them.” If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because the sentiment is the cornerstone of contemporary progressive hopes and dreams—the idea that if humanity can be unified, there’s no problem we cannot solve and no limit to what we can achieve.

But what modernism holds as an ideal to which we must aspire, God declares here as an indictment. He deliberately breaks their unity and therefore their capacity for accomplishment by confusing their languages, at which point humanity does what he told them to do in the first place and disperses over the face of the earth. They were now too different to work together.

While the modernist might be confused or incensed at the prospect of God striking humanity down at their greatest moment of triumph, the history of the 20th century demonstrates what a united humanity for whom nothing is impossible is really like. The major unity movements of the early 20th century were communism and fascism—two heads of the same modernistic progressive hydra. Communists sought to break down all “artificial” distinctions between different people to create a single commune, while fascists sought to bind all people together (using the image of a fascio, or bundle of sticks) and thereby make them unbreakable.

Both movements, of course, were characterized by mass-murder and totalitarianism—for one must do something with those who refuse to unite with the vision—and both of them violently sought world domination lest any person be left outside of their beneficence. But these efforts failed precisely because of the divisions gifted to us by God at Babel that prevented them from spreading further. Fascism, of course, was explicitly nationalistic; and while Communists officially eschewed nationalism, they leveraged it when they had to and used customs, language standards, and cults of personality to pursue a unity that aped nationalism to a large extent. But mankind was not united with a single language and culture, and so other nations were not altogether willing to let themselves be swallowed up by them. While some submitted, others fought back. While some individuals resigned themselves to tyranny, others had somewhere to which they could run. And so, these movements failed in their aspirations. Thank God that not everything we propose to do is possible for us!

In name, at least, Communism and Fascism are both largely defunct today, but it’s worth pondering God’s gift of Babel as Western society is ever more threatened by the new heads of the progressive hydra that are still springing up where the old ones were lopped up. Now that globalism and multiculturalism are picking up the same old program, there are a few lessons from Babel that we ought to consider:

  1. Diversity is not a strength. At least, it’s not a strength in the granular sense that the left proclaims today (i.e. that America’s or any other singular nation’s strength correlates positively with its internal diversity.) God gave us different languages (and consequently cultures) specifically to curb sinful humanity, make us weaker, and break us apart.It’s not hard to observe precisely that happening in America today. Mass migration has done what it has always done throughout history and put the different interests of native & migrant (and migrant & migrant) at odds with one another. Our exponentially growing list of identities has fractured us into a mess of special interests who cannot agree on how we want to live together, how we want to be governed, or how we want to be educated.The Biblical and the empirical reality is that diversity divides rather than unites precisely because we are less capable when a mish-mash of different cultures and ideologies are forced together into the same mold.
  2. Having different nations in the world is a good thing. Diversity is a weakness for a nation, but a strength for humanity as a whole. As has already been mentioned, when one nation succumbs to evil, others can defend themselves against it. Even in the worst cases, there’s at least somewhere to run.But even apart from the times when tyrants arise, not everybody in the world wants to live the same way—and that’s ok. There are a multitude of ways to restrain wickedness and form a civilization, but some work better than others—and some work better in different circumstances and for different people. Having many different nations means that we have many different attempts at exploring these possibilities and different options for different people.And this is the work of generations, not just the work of a few social programs and orientation classes.  One cannot simply take a people who have trained themselves in one way and expect them to immediately adopt another. Neither can one expect a mishmash of people trained in radically different ways of life to effectively live together.  There are certainly moral values and shared characteristics that are universal to humanity, but they are expressed and pursued in different ways. Some do so well, some do so poorly, but having different ways of doing so is a blessing in a fallen world.Globalism, in contrast, proclaims that humans are fungible—that an American can be replaced by a Mexican, a Swede by an Arab, etc. Though it wears the happy face of peace & unity, it is an anti-human ideology that attempts to expunge all of the particulars—heritage, culture, identity, religion, and family–that make us who we are. Because a truly diverse assortment of people cannot effectively join together at one, globalism has no choice but to attempt to dissolve those differences and undo Babel.  You see this same dynamic at work on a large scale in communism and fascism and on a small scale every time multiculturalists celebrate diversity by annihilating culture.
  3. We should be thankful for the resurgence of nationalism taking place in the West. If having different nations is a good thing in this world, then we should welcome the preservation of those differences.Nationalism’s reputation is tainted mainly due to our endless history of war between nations. When different nations have conflicting interests, then these conflicts will sometimes erupt into violence. The naive progressive will compare this sorry state of affairs with an imagined nationless world in which there are no remaining differences over which to fight—and they will then wonder why anyone would want to preserve the nations at all. The wise man, however, will not compare gritty reality with ephemeral utopia—he will compare one gritty reality with another.When it comes to violence and human misery, wars between nations pale in comparison to what utopians have done to their own people in the past century or so. Progressive unity movements ruthlessly slaughtered tens of millions of people for the sake of annihilating humans distinctions like race, class, and culture that prevented the kind of human cooperation they sought. Progressivism was and remains an attempt to undo God’s work at Babel and rebuild Nimrod’s Tower out of corpses in the hopes of finally reaching the heavens.Nationalism is by no means perfect, but it is the golden mean between tribalism and globalism. It allows for the unity of some portion of compatible tribes to work together for the sake of civilization without demanding the conquest of the incompatible tribes.
  4. Pentecost is for the Church, not the World. On the first day of Pentecost after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon Christ’s Apostles and everyone heard them in their own language. God Himself undid the confusion of Babel so that the Gospel would be proclaimed to all nations. Paul likewise tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. The book of Revelation describes a great multitude from every tribe and nation who stand together before the throne of God. The division of humanity for the sake of restraining our sinfulness is the middle of the story, but not the end. In the end, it is God who unites us all through Jesus Christ, for he died for the sins of the whole world.But although the Church transcends the nations, she does not replace them. Jesus told us in no uncertain terms that his Kingdom is not of this world and that this is why his followers did not fight to save him. The Church’s task is to deliver the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to the entire world, not to exert temporal authority over it. In contrast, the task of temporal authority is that of civilization—to punish wrongdoing and commend right-doing so that we can live in relative peace with one another instead of living in constant fear of being raped, robbed, or murdered. These are two different missions, and Christians need to take care not to confuse them.It is therefore not our job to try and dissolve national boundaries anymore than its the job of civil authorities to dissolve the boundaries between different religions. We should not be insisting that our nation open its borders to the world anymore than our nation should insist that Muslims, Hindus, and Satanists have equal representation in our various organizations. When we conflate these two kingdoms, we do nothing but increase human misery and deprive people of God’s gifts to us.

By Christian reckoning, God, like any father, disciplines those whom he loves for their own good. Babel is one example of such discipline, and it is a gift. Discipline comes to an end when it has run its course, and so God has promised an end to war, conflict, and division when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. In the meantime, however, we ought not try to bring a premature end to God’s discipline. And whether one believes in God or not, one can still look at history and easily observe the consequences of progressivism and ponder the blood that has been spilled for utopian ideals. One can still observe the utility of nations and the dangers of globalism.

It’s time we stop trying “fix” Babel.


*For all postmodernism’s valid criticisms of modernism, none of them really upset the apple cart on the big conflicts between contemporary philosophies/worldviews and Christianity. For the most part, it just accepts the major errors of the Enlightenment and compounds them by removing objectivity from the mix altogether. From a premodernist perspective, postmodernism is in many respects just another flavor of modernism rather than a replacement.  Even the name implies as much, as its defined solely in relation to modernism.

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On ‘The Narrative’

Conservatives are well aware of certain tendencies in the way that mainstream media outlets twist and distort the facts. And so, when we learn about important details missing from stories or relevant stories that largely go without coverage (e.g. hate crimes against whites or scandals involving Democrats or well-connected liberals) we often say that the media is trying to preserve the narrative by excluding any facts that don’t fit. But what exactly is “the Narrative?”

The Narrative is a form of prejudice employed by the left—particularly SJW’s—that arises out of a progressive mythology of oppression. It tells a story of good guys and bad guys where the heroes and villains are identity groups rather than individuals. For example, one of the most well-known narratives is Whites vs. Blacks. According to this narrative, evil whites enslaved innocent blacks and treated them as subhuman chattel. Even after blacks gained their freedom from whites, the oppression then continued through segregation and now through both the economy and the criminal justice system as whites portray blacks as gang bangers, drug addicts, and welfare queens.

I described this as “mythology” because these charges against whites aren’t exactly false, but they’re only true in a kind of Hollywood based-on-a-true-story sense. After all, the narrative ignores some really important facts that don’t fit in with the Evil Whites vs. Good Blacks theme: Hundreds of thousands of whites gave their lives in order to free black slaves. Black slaves were sold to whites by the blacks (and sometimes Middle-Easterners) who enslaved them in the first place. Slavery has been a fixture of most races and civilizations throughout history (even, our word “slave” comes from “Slav”) and the more unique aspect to the enslavement of blacks by whites is that whites eventually fought to end it. To be sure, none of these facts make American slavery any less of an abomination or slavery in general any less immoral, but they do spoil the simplistic good guys against bad guys narrative used by BlackLivesMatter activists, social justice warriors, and the left in general.

Critical thinkers recognize this kind of narrative as propaganda, and so it is. However, while it may have started as the left using propaganda as a tool to achieve its agenda, it now goes far deeper. The left has been drinking its own Kool-Aid for more than a generation now, and today Narrative represents an entirely different way of analyzing the world from what conservatives are typically familiar with. Conservatives analyze facts in light of principles, and we expect the left to do so as well—even if their principles are different, we expect them to have the same style of thought. And indeed, the left used to think this way (and some of their older thinkers still do.) However, this is clearly no longer the case for the social justice left.

Consider the way rape accusations are often handled on college campuses. The big push from feminists has been to demand that everyone should automatically believe all accusations made by women; and colleges have largely obliged them in this. The logically necessary corollary to this, of course, is that accused men must be automatically considered guilty, and colleges have largely embraced this as well. The kind of unaccountable kangaroo courts that our higher education use to adjudicate these matters lack any sense of due process or even fairness and have created plenty of new victims.
The principled thinker will look at a situation like this and recognize that it’s unjust, for he knows the value of due process. Even the pragmatic thinker will recognize that it’s unwise to create a system that’s so easy to abuse. The narrative thinker, however, is untroubled by it. By their analysis, men have been oppressing women for nearly all of human history, and now that women are finally making some headway, it’s absurd to start worrying about the possibility that life is unfair to the occasional oppressor. Some rich white frat boy gets bumped out of school? Boo-hoo! He can dry his tears on his huge pile of daddy’s money—which was basically stolen from women and minorities anyway. And yes, people really do think this way. Whether an individual man is technically innocent or not doesn’t really change the fact that men are the bad guys and are just getting their comeuppance. Who cares if the bad guys suffer so that the good guys can win?

Or consider Rotherham (or Cologne or other instances of sexual abuse brought about by importing rape culture into Europe.) In case you need a refresher, a sex-slavery ring in Rotherham, England that entailed the rape of around 1200 girls was actively covered up by city officials. Why? Because the perpetrators were mainly Pakistani immigrants, and the city officials didn’t want to create an anti-immigrant backlash. Again, a principled thinker would recognize that rape is abhorrent no matter who is committing it and work to rescue the victims. Narrative thinkers, however, show partiality based on the Narrative—which in this case, tells a story of Western imperialism and racism. According to the Narrative, Muslim migrants are the poor oppressed good guys whereas white Westerners are the oppressive bad guys—even when they’re being raped by said good guys. It’s a sub-narrative that supersedes even the men vs women sub-narrative, for the current migrant crisis and ongoing issues with Islamic terrorism make it more timely.

And that is how the narrative evolves. Being an element of leftist thought, the story always changes according to the notion of progress—that humanity is on a path towards improving ourselves and gaining freedom from oppression. Progressives believe that in general, the next generation of humans is always smarter, better, more moral, and more enlightened than the one that preceded it. This creates what I’ve occasionally called the “liberal hierarchy of grievance.” Once they gain critical mass, movements seeking to fight against oppression are prioritized according to their current relevance in the public consciousness—newer is generally better. When the Narrative picks heroes and villains in current circumstance, it is usually done according to the relative priority of their grievances.

For example, all other things being equal, fighting for the rights of an otherwise generic poor underclass—peasants, slaves, etc—has become a very low priority, for the various leftward political revolutions in Europe were a long time ago at this point. You can see this in the now-dawning realization that the African slave trade has resumed in Libya and weird lack of coverage by the more left-leaning news outlets. One whose principles inform him that slavery is such a great evil that even the ancestors of those who owned slaves still need to receive retribution in the form of reparations, affirmative action, and so forth would make an even bigger deal about slavery that is still going on right now. But what is inexplicable according to principle is explained by narrative. After all, the slave traders who are once more selling Africans are Middle Eastern Muslims rather than White Christians.

The same kind of reasoning explains why being ‘trans’ now trumps all other considerations. When Bruce Jenner decided to openly pretend to be a woman, actress Alice Eve complained about him adopting her gender without having experienced all the oppression that goes along with it. It was a very feminist thing to say, but she was roundly denounced by the left for being transphobic—after all, mere misogyny is old news in comparison. Indeed, the way the trans movement commodifies womanhood on behalf of men has been making quite a few feminists uncomfortable, but the Narrative rolls on regardless. Women are falling further and further down the hierarchy—you can’t call out men who adopt their sex, nor can you call out Muslim nations for their treatment of women. Even our institutional bastions of the far left like Hollywood and the mainstream media are turning out to have been systematically abusing women all along. Straight White and East Asian males are the really the only remaining groups that are always the bad guys when placed in opposition to non-minority women.

I’ve often heard conservatives claim that if the left didn’t have double standards, it would have no standards at all. This is, unfortunately, a bit of an understatement when it often seems that most leftists are now ideologically bound up in the crusades of SJW’s, even if they’re not personally out there protesting, rioting, getting political opponents fired, etc. It’s hard to even call them hypocrites, for a hypocrite at least has principles to betray. Narrative thinking has far more in common with children who are caught up with their favorite TV show—the hero gets the bad guy, and any comeuppance that the bad guy receives is cause for celebration. You can’t argue rationally with children about their favorite stories, and neither can you argue rationally with the social justice left, for narrative thinking is no less childish.

The reason that the alt-right is ascendant in comparison to conservatives is that conservatives are still trying to argue with the left. We think that if only we can show liberals how they’re being hypocritical and betraying their own principles, then they’ll finally see reason. But this is a futile endeavor when targeting narrative thinkers for they have abandoned principle altogether. The alt-right, in contrast, is fighting the left by creating a counter-narrative through bold rhetoric—and its working because their narrative is far closer to observable reality than the left’s is (admittedly, that’s not a terribly high bar when you consider the left’s current fanaticism surrounding men pretending to be women, but still.) It’s not always a good narrative, and I can see why conservatives are uncomfortable with it, but in terms of overall approach, it’s far more effective than what we’ve been doing. Despite decades of culture wars, we have practically nothing to show for it. Arguments are great for equipping the right, convincing the principled, and making sure that one’s own narrative conforms to reality. But even Aristotle recognized that most people are persuaded only through rhetoric.

Posted in Culture, Politics | 4 Comments

A Brief History of Gender

In 1955, sexologist John Money borrowed a term from linguistics and used it for a new concept in the study of human sexuality. “Gender” thereby became the go-to label for what is essentially a bundle of stereotypes associated with biological sex. This bundle includes roles in home and society (e.g. men go to work and earn money while women tend the home and children,) patterns of speech (e.g. it’s not ladylike to curse), fashion (e.g. in formal settings, women wear gowns while men wear tuxedos), and innumerable other other social touchstones for men and women. Feminists in particular bought into the concept of gender as it was a useful way of highlighting what they believe are unfair social restrictions designed by men to oppress women.

Naturally, in subsequent years, people began to realize the blatantly obvious fact that stereotypes are fluid. After all, some cultures have different stereotypes than others; stereotypes in the same culture change over time; and everywhere you look, you find people who do not conform to some (or many, or most) of the stereotypes associated with their biological sex. Again, this transformation was adopted and stressed by feminists in particular, as establishing fluidity of this sort would make it much easier to change what they considered to be repressive social norms.

Today, of course, this recognition of fluidity has been emphasized to a truly extreme degree. Some have multiplied the number of genders by orders of magnitude beyond the original two. Others have gone so far as to assert that there is no real difference between masculinity and femininity and thereby abolish the original two genders for all practical purposes. What’s more, many have altogether disassociated gender from biological sex while simultaneously attaching all sexual referents in our language (he, she, man, woman, etc) to gender instead of sex, deliberately leaving sex in a linguistic no-man’s land.

To progressives, of course, this brief history of gender is necessarily a brief history of progress. By their reckoning, people used to think that there were male humans and female humans, but science has now advanced to the point where we realize that this distinction–so fundamental to not only human history and civilization but also to continued human existence–was really just an illusion all along.

But even this brief history makes that conclusion a hard sell for non-progressives who examine it critically–and recognize the fact that half a century is a pretty tiny slice of human history rather than an indelible upward trend. For if gender has become so fluid that male and female are essentially meaningless categories, then the concept of gender has utterly failed at the purpose for which it was invented–to help describe the various social structures associated with males and females. In other words, this recently invented notion of gender has now become a fundamentally useless concept. Is doubling-down on a useless concept really worth the kind of ridiculous social upheaval being carried out by social justice warriors?

And so, there is a choice before us: On one hand, we could accept both the chaos that accompanies the idea that men who think they’re women are actually women and the consequent authoritarianism that requires anyone who disagrees to be deemed a dangerous science-denying bigot who must be punished. On the other hand, we could accept that the concept of gender turned out to be a failure–a thought experiment that ultimately fell apart–and return to the very real concept of biological sex. A blind ideological faith in human progress requires the former; but wisdom tells us that sometimes when you have made a wrong turn, true progress requires you to retrace your steps until you can get back on track.

Posted in Culture, Feminism, Science | 2 Comments

Making Christianity Heresy Again

How many outfits is the corpse of Theological Liberalism going to wear before it finally stops twitching?

Apparently the future of Christianity now rests on the collective backs of Woke Young People Trying to Make Christianity Cool Again according to Vice (an aptly named forum for this story if ever there was one.) It’s a quick profile of a half a dozen fashionable young folks raised in American evangelicalism—each with an issue that’s near and dear to them—whose pursuit of worldliness under the guise of Christ has earned them some attention. But make no mistake, it’s the same old song and dance that Christianity must change or die that we’ve been hearing for almost 200 years. And in its characteristically rigid adherence to current political trends, this means that Christianity needs to fight climate change, racism, and the death penalty whilst engaging in LGBTetc advocacy and promoting open borders.

Quite tellingly, the big “issue” is not Christ crucified for a single one of these trendy little minions of the Spirit of the Age.

But those of us who prefer to be well-informed rather than “woke” all realize that Christianity was never cool in the first place. Christ was so popular and in line with the political trends of his time that he and almost all his Apostles were put to death. These were the same guys who recognized that their own message was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, promised persecution and hatred for their followers, and recognized that few of those followers numbered among the wise, powerful, or noble people of the world. Anybody who is trying to make Christianity cool is trying to make it into something other than Christianity.

And perhaps the most pathetic part of the whole deal is that theological liberals have been sacrificing the Gospel to receive worldly acclaim for centuries now and it’s never actually worked. In terms of numbers, Christianity in general has been on the decline in the West for awhile now, but its the theologically liberal mainline denominations that are hemorrhaging members faster than anyone else—to the point that many of them may not even exist in a generation or two. As much as they scream “change or die,” the reality has turned out to be “change and die.”

And good riddance to them. Co-opting pulpits to preach leftist politics isn’t going to make Christianity anything except the social justice version of Pelagianism.

Posted in The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism | 3 Comments

The Reformation Never Ends

Today, Lutherans and protestants celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. They were not an act of defiance, but an attempt by a faithful servant of the Pope to start an academic debate on a terrible abuse of indulgences by Rome that fell heavily on the Christians he was called to serve. It was at much the nature of Rome’s response (which was basically “shut up; how dare you question us”) as it was Luther’s perseverance in God’s Word that lead to the Reformation as we know it and both the recovery of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the fracturing of the organizational unity of the western church.

In all these groups of Christians coming out of the Reformation, the temptation is to say that our job is done—that the Reformation happened (past tense.) For some, that takes the form of their theology having already been definitively declared, whether in the Book of Concord, the Council of Trent, the Westminster Confession, or some other record. For others, its a matter of a sensitivity to division that exceeds their sensitivity to false teaching, and so the calls to set doctrine aside in order to unite on some social issue or another are legion.

But the Reformation never ends any more than it really began in 1517. The entire history of the Church is one of Satan planting errors and God raising up faithful men to oppose those errors and return us to the Faith once and for all delivered to the saints—a task that spans denominations, whether we try to find that Faith in Scripture or in tradition. It is a task that still falls to us today, for false teachings both new and old still threaten to overwhelm and overtake us.

Nearly every major ancient heresy is alive and well: Gnosticism among those who despise their embodied existence; modalism among those who think the god of every religion is just a mask worn by a hidden god; Pelegianism among the droves who still think that salvation is a matter of being a good enough person. The issues that plagued the church 500 years ago are likewise still with us: Rome still offers indulgences; most Evangelicals believe we contribute to our own salvation in some way or another; people search for God’s Word in dreams, visions, and traditions where he never promised to be and neglect his certain Word. And we’ve collected our fair share of new ones as well: theological liberalism, the word-faith movement, feminist neo-paganism, and so forth.

Who will stand against the devil and the world as they confront us today? Who will stand on the Truth of God’s Word even as the whole world rises in condemnation?

Seek the Truth. Contend for it zealously. Suffer the divisions that are always caused as truth is divided from error. Pray to God to aid us all in these darkening times. The Reformation is not over, for our task does not end until we rest in eternity with Christ.

Posted in The Modern Church | Leave a comment

On Acolytes and the Sexes

When addressing the feminist rebellion against God’s ordinance in creation, conservative Christians have typically sought to run right up to the line and stay as close to it as possible without crossing. Women can’t be pastors and can’t marry other women, but every other male space or trait or responsibility must be immediately surrendered to the world.

But this was never the wisest course of action when Scripture tells us to avoid temptation rather than courting it. It has not protected us from the world’s scorn, nor has it made us more pious, nor has it given freedom to anyone. It has served only to rob the younger generations of our identities as men and women.

Dr. Peter Scaer, a professor of mine when I attended seminary, wrote a great post on Facebook concerning the consequences of ceding the role of acolyte to feminist ideas of gender equality.

While we’re at it, now would be a good time to think about what we’re doing in the church. As we consider the demise of the Boy Scouts, which coincides with the War Against Boys, and the devaluation of manhood, we might rethink how we train and treat our acolytes. Has it really been a good thing to have our girls join the acolyte corps? Now, I know, we could say that this is not all that significant a matter, that it’s all candle lighting, but that would be dismissive of what our children recognize is a sacred task. The flame has symbolic meaning, as do the robes which our acolytes wear. They are doing something special in the house of the Lord. I admit, I still remember how nervous I was when I first lighted those candles back in 7th grade.

As the Duke of Wellington noted, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eaton.” So, also the future of the church will depend on our Christian boys developing in strong Christian men, the kind of men that can stand up and speak out, the kind of men who are trained to be the kind of leaders who recognize their duty, and the nobility of their calling, and are willing then to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary for the sake of their families and their church. Take these boys, and develop their manhood, and you will never regret it. They will be your defenders, may even lay down their lives for you. They will speak the truth, because it is the truth. Put them in submission to God, give them the tasks that are noble and fit their nature and aspirations. Make them your acoltyes, and make a big deal out of it, as a noble service. Not again, as a law, but in accordance with Lady Wisdom, whose voice is so desperately needed.

Read the whole thing.

Adiaphora (things neither commanded nor prohibited by God) are not matters of “do whatever you want” or “do whatever the world says,” but rather “do what is wisest.”  Dr. Scaer’s wisdom on acolytes is a small and wonderful way for the Church to learn to live out its repentance.

Hair can be all sorts of different colors–some natural, some artificial, some beautiful, some ugly, some modest, some garish.  Nevertheless, hair has to be some color, or it’s not hair at all.  Something similar could be said of masculinity and femininity.  There is a legitimate variety to gender roles, though some variations are certainly more sensible than others.  Nevertheless, men and women must have some roles.  There is no Law that says only boys can acolyte, just as no Law says that pink is a girl’s color and blue is a boy’s.  But once you’ve taken everything exclusive away from boys and girls alike, you’ve implicitly rejected God’s ordinance and embraced the lies Spirit of the Age.  The Church should know better.

Posted in Christian Youth, Feminism, The Modern Church | Leave a comment

On the Nashville Statement

If you haven’t already, you can and should read it here (it’s not long), but the summary is that its a statement drafted by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that affirms orthodox Christian teaching on the current controversies around homosexuality, transgenderism, and the like. It has gathered quite a few signatures from prominent Christians (and quite a bit of ire from others.)

I signed it. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the CBMW—too often, conservatives conserve old errors, and they very often do so with respect to feminism. Nevertheless, as odd as it may seem, the willingness to recognize men as men and women as women has become a clear dividing line between orthodoxy and heresy in the postmodern West. Christians should be looking for ways to loudly and publicly confess Christ’s teachings, and the Nashville Statement provides a means of doing so. (And really, Christians, we are way past the time where silence will save you from the wrath of the world. Whether you sign it or not, if you are faithful to Christ’s teachings, then there is always a paper trail. They will find you.)

Naturally, it has drawn a lot of fire—from theological liberals of course, but also from pusillanimous conservatives looking for excuses to remain aloof. So I thought I would take a moment to address a handful of the common objections:

It doesn’t cover all the pertinent issues.

This is true. But neither did the Apostle’s Creed, which is why we have the Nicene Creed. And neither did the Nicene Creed, which is why we have the Athanasian Creed. And neither did the Athanasian Creed, which is why we have the Augsburg Confession. You get the point. We need to confront the errors of our time, and while I don’t think the Church can truly handle the issues of sexuality and gender without explicitly rejecting feminism, there’s no rule against addressing error in bite-sized pieces either. And really, if you can’t bring yourself to openly and unequivocally come down on Biblical side of the gay/trans issue, there’s no way you’ll be bold enough to address feminism (and the associated issues of divorce, serial monogamy, rampant fornication, etc), which is far more culturally entrenched.

It should have been written more nicely.

Frankly, I thought it went out of its way to avoid needless antagonism, but that’s not really the point. Any piece of writing could be endlessly tweaked to be a little more X and a little less Y, and any author knows that this is a task with no conclusion. If we wait for perfection, we will never speak at all, and so we release imperfect documents.

More importantly, there is no way to put the Bible’s teachings nicely enough to avoid offense. At the end of the day, LBGTETC activists are offended purely because we openly disagree with them on something that’s near and dear to their hearts. To avoid offense is to refrain from speaking the truth altogether (which is exactly what they want out of faithful Christians.) You’re never going to be more loving than Jesus is, and He was executed. Christ promised persecution to His Church precisely because the world hates us just as much on His account.

The always-salty Martin Luther had a keen insight when it came to matters of tone. From his open letter to Pope Leo X:

I have, to be sure, sharply attacked ungodly doctrines in general, and I have snapped at my opponents, not because of their bad morals, but because of their ungodliness. Rather than repent this in the least, I have determined to persist in that fervent zeal and to despise the judgment of men, following the example of Christ who in his zeal called his opponents “a brood of vipers,” “blind fools,” “hypocrites,” “children of the devil.” Paul branded Magus as the “son of the devil… full of all deceit and villainy” and he calls others “dogs,” “deceivers,” and “adulterers.” If you will allow people with sensitive feelings to judge, they would consider no person more stinging and unrestrained in his denunciations than Paul. Who is more stinging than the prophets? Nowadays, it is true, we are made so sensitive by the raving crowd of flatterers that we cry out that we are stung as soon as we meet with disapproval. When we cannot ward off the truth with any other pretext, we flee from it by ascribing it to a fierce temper, impatience, and immodesty. What is the good of salt if it does not bite? Of what use is the edge of a sword if it does not cut?

For those eager to flatter every group in the liberal hierarchy of grievance, there can be no statement tepid enough not to make them flinch

It singles out homosexuals and transgenders as special class of sinner.

People have this one strangely backwards; it is not orthodox Christians that single out these groups, but theological liberals. The Church is full of sinners just as a hospital is full of the sick and injured. Nevertheless, we don’t have a movement saying that God made them a gossip. We don’t have people claiming that their desire to have sex with people other than their wives and husbands is a gift from God that should be celebrated by the whole world. We don’t have people arguing that the existence of covetousness implies that God favors theft. But we do have progressive Christians saying that Christ’s teachings must be redacted specifically to accommodate these groups. THAT is singling out the LGBT crowd as a special class to whom God’s word only selectively applies.

As for those of us who are orthodox, we don’t have the luxury of choosing our false teachers—just the responsibility of resisting the errors that Satan plants in the church.

It excludes homosexuals and transgenders from the church.

This is one of those “I didn’t actually read the statement because I’m a good little drone” complaints. The matter is explicitly covered in several of the statements:

We affirm that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.” (Article 8)

We deny that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.” (Article 12)

We affirm that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure. (Article 14)

We deny that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach. (Article 14)

That’s pretty cut-and-dry on the matter.

But perhaps you would argue that one’s illicit sexual desires or gender confusion are so intrinsic to personal identity that expecting repentance negates the LGBT individual altogether—that a salvation from sin would amount to destruction just as liberating a triangle from its three sides would eliminate it.

Well, neither God nor His Church were the ones who decided that your favorite sin is a part of your identity; that was you. You might not be able to choose your temptations, but you do choose whether or not to embrace them as righteousness. Once again, this complaint is entirely backwards. It is the LGBT lobby that tries to exclude their constituents from the Church—robbing them of faith by teaching that God can only be trusted when he affirms their sin and robbing them of repentance by teaching that they have no need of it. They are the ones teaching that your sin is the very core of your identity—not the Nashville Statement, and not the Church.

But the good news is that you don’t have to have blind faith in spirit of the age when it tries to define you. For freedom, Christ has set you free. For about five years, I attended church alongside a repentant homosexual. And he wasn’t just gay, he was also a pedophile—as in he had done time for what he did to little boys. And it was a joy to worship with him, commune with him, and learn God’s word with him, because he understood the depths of God’s grace better than anyone I’ve ever known. He didn’t need forgiveness more than anyone else, but he knew it better. Grace is there. Grace is free. Christ has won it for you. In the Church, just as in heaven, there will be more joy over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Posted in Chastity, Culture, Heresy, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism | Leave a comment

More Than a Duty; Not Less

Conservatives love to mock liberals for despising God’s word. Whether it’s the parts of the Bible that say Christ is the singular Way to salvation or the parts that condemn homosexuality or anything else that doesn’t mesh with liberal sensibilities, we are quick to wag our fingers and shake our heads at such godless heathens.

But if you want to find the parts of the Bible that are truly hated by our culture, then you have to go to the verses that are despised by conservatives and liberals alike—and yes, there are a lot more of these than conservatives would like to believe. As I’ve said before, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as unto the Lord” is probably the most hated Bible verse in America. Following close on its heels, however, is Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 7 that husbands and wives owe sex to one another—that we have no right to deny it except by mutual agreement for a short time.

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control

There isn’t a whole lot of ambiguity to that text (unless we bring it there ourselves.) In other words, when we use old-timey phrases like marital duties, we are simply speaking in alignment with God’s word.

And a whole lot of people—conservatives and liberals alike—hate that. Upon reading it, the self-righteousness who either do withhold intimacy from their spouses or would simply like to reserve the option of doing so immediately go into damage-control mode. They try and figure out a rationale for why this instruction can be kept safely sequestered from their lives and requires no reformation of the way they treat the one promised to have and hold in all circumstances until death. Most often, this word from the Lord is warded off with the intuition that sex shouldn’t be a duty.

It really is a compelling objection—particularly today when romantic feelings are held up above so many other aspects of human life. When we hear “duty,” we think “chore,” and neither spouse really wants their sexual intimacy to be toil and drudgery bereft of passion. More than that, who wants yet another chore in their already busy schedule? If there’s a way out of doing chores, most people take the opportunity, and our modern sexual ethic of dehumanized consent (i.e. sex is morally right when I feel like it and morally wrong when I do not feel like it) provides a ready excuse to decline. And indeed, when Christians spouses (usually but not always wives, for we live in a feminist culture) hear that they owe their bodies to their partner, they are quick to call this divine instruction a selfish demand, abuse, or even rape when they are exhorted to conform themselves to Christ’s teachings on the matter.

But here’s the “problem”: God loves us (and isn’t that just the worst thing ever?) God loves us, and so if God tells us that sex is a duty, then sex should actually be a duty. God’s Word cannot be broken, and so it is our objection that must be flawed. And really, it only takes a subtle adjustment to properly bring this natural intuition about sex under the authority of God’s instruction—but the difference makes a huge difference. The problem isn’t really that sex shouldn’t be a duty; the problem is that sex should be more than a duty.

As Christians necessarily keep pointing out, we live in a fallen world. Things are not operating according to their original design, and sex is no exception. There’s a reason that sex is so closely associated with romance, passion, intimacy, and pleasure—sex is a wonderful gift created by God for his beloved children to encompass all those things and more. There’s also a reason that sex is only closely associated with romance, passion, intimacy, and pleasure—we have taken God’s wonderful gifts and abused them until they are less than what they once were. We can have gorgeous sunlight that burns us, wondrously made bodies that break down, and sex that’s pretty “meh.” We cannot always have the full package deal no matter how much we may want it. But we still want it because sex was designed be all those things and more—not merely a duty.

“Ah-HA” replies the frigid and loveless spouse seeking to justify herself. “Even you admit that sex should be more than a duty, so I will continue to guiltlessly withhold it until such time as I feel like it becomes more than a duty like its supposed to be.”

Not so fast.

What we have in this world is not perfect, but that does not authorize us to destroy it even more. One cannot make sex more than a duty by making it less than a duty. When a spouse is withholding sexual intimacy, they are making it less than a duty and blatantly disobeying God’s command to them. It’s part of the problem, not part of the solution. And if we take the trouble to look outside of ourselves, we find that this matches a different moral intuition. After all, when someone gets married, they are promising to be with that person and only that person for the rest of their lives. Their sexual needs can only be fulfilled by their spouse. That is why virtually no one would get married at all if there were no expectation of sex. That is why it’s right there in the marriage vows. It is a great cruelty to put yourself in the position of being a person’s exclusive sexual partner for their entire lives and then refuse them sex.

And it is a double cruelty among Christians (in contrast to the broader culture,) for we should know that it is marriage rather than romance that legitimizes sex. Fornication and sexual impurity are constantly warned against in Scripture, and out in the world, our temptations to these things are just as constant. Guarding against these temptations is precisely the reason Paul gives for commanding spouses to serve one another in this fashion. Christian spouses are not simply partners in love and family but are partners against evil and temptation as well. Those who have not been given the relatively rare gift of singleness have needs that only their spouse can help them with. And if you’re tempted to label that kind of reasoning as too cynical for someone like you who believes in “true” love, then check your self-righteousness and stop trying to be holier than God has asked you to be—especially when your supposedly lofty standards require you to deny things God tells you. It is a great tragedy that we hold moments of passion as greater than loving kindness, family, and resisting evil in service to God.

And yet we do. As C.S. Lewis observed in The Screwtape Letters, “Yes, [humans] think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life as something lower than a storm of emotion.” And this mindset is not exclusive to spouses who withhold sex, but is also found among the spouses from whom it is withheld. It is only natural to want to please one’s spouse and provoke that kind of passion, but that is difficult in circumstances when sex is no more than a duty. In pride, some will avoid seeking the mutual help and preservation of chastity promised in their marriage vows because it does not afford them the opportunity to rock their partner’s world. And efforts to humble oneself and ask for what was promised at the altar are often further sabotaged by the scorn of the world (and worldly Christians) who will mock those who would “stoop” to accepting duty sex.

But as great as God’s gifts of passion and romance are, they become toxic when bereft of loving kindness, chastity, and family. For proof of this, one need only look at the bleak sexual landscape of the modern world in which few are satisfied, and fewer still are satisfied for any length of time. Such gifts are not ends in themselves.

But when both husband and wife humble themselves and accept the good works that God has called them to do for one another in marriage, it can create a fertile field of genuine love out of which passion and romance can one day grow. Indeed, this is far more likely to happen in a dutiful marriage in than in marriages in which spouses violate their vows, disregard their partner’s needs, and pridefully reject the command of God. It is not wrong for husbands and wives to want passion and romance in their proper context. But while duty sex may not be an ending point that anyone wishes for, sometimes it’s the only starting point we have.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Feminism, Natural Law | 1 Comment

Not Peace, But a Sword — Sermon on Matthew 10:34-42

Grace, mercy, and peace to you—from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is this morning’s Gospel reading.

For the last few weeks, our Gospel readings have come from the book of Matthew—from what is often called Jesus’ missionary discourse. It begins at the end of chapter 9 when Jesus tells his disciples to pray that God would send laborers into the harvest. In chapter 10, Jesus answers the very prayer he commanded, and He sends twelve of his disciples to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.

Now this was a mission specific to the Apostles at that time, for most of us haven’t been given authority to cast out unclean spirits and heal every disease and affliction (10:1) just as we haven’t been instructed to avoid the Gentiles at this time(10:5). But as Jesus continues to teach the twelve to prepare them for that mission, he gives instruction that does apply to the entire church throughout time and space and to the mission that is shared among each one of us.

We can see it in the way his language changes. At first the discourse is mostly made up of fairly specific “you’s” “They will deliver you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues.” “You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” But as Jesus continues—particularly starting with verse 24—we find much broader statements: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

So it is with our Gospel reading this morning, in which Jesus tells all of us:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother… And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

Not peace, but a sword. It’s an odd way of thinking about the One we worship as the Prince of Peace—whose birth was heralded by angels proclaiming “peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.” For that matter, about 30 verses earlier, Jesus was telling his Apostles to give peace to those who receive them. And about 60 seconds earlier, I began this message by declaring peace to you from God. So what gives?

Well, when we speak of peace, we speak of a reconciliation or an end to hostilities between two parties. And Christ did indeed come to bring peace between God and Man. For we were enemies of God—we hated Him. Oh, most people like the idea of God well enough—an all-powerful creator who loves and cares for us when we need Him and quietly goes back to the servants quarters when we don’t. But the reality of God… that’s different: That perfect love that we in our selfishness don’t even recognize; That holiness that doesn’t budge an inch for our favorite sins no matter how much we demand He make room for them; That unerring justice under which every last one of us rightly stands condemned. That God, we’re not so fond of. That God, the natural man hates.

But the end of the story is not our hatred, but God’s love. As Paul tells us in Romans, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You see, despite our hatred, he took our guilt and sin upon himself and replaced it all with his perfect righteousness. And Paul goes on to say “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” No more hostility. No more guilt. No more condemnation. Just peace and abundant life in Christ given freely to everyone who believes.

But this unfathomable gift of peace between God and man is not the same thing as peace between one man and another. Despite our peace with God… or rather because of it, we who believe… now have conflict with the world. Being reconciled with God, we are now on His side against those who still hate Him the way we once did—the way we often still do. And in that sense, Jesus does not promise us peace, but rather persecution.

And this has always been the normal state of affairs for the Church. As soon as it was founded, the Church was persecuted first by the Jews and then by the Romans until Christianity was finally legalized by Emperor Constantine. From the 7th century onward, a warlord named Mohammad and his followers put the once-Christian Middle East to the sword for more than a thousand years and counting. During the Reformation, we often persecuted one another because different groups of Christians insisted on rejecting different parts of God’s word. And it continues today, as all over the world Christians face penalties, imprisonment, and even death. Though the severity of persecution may wax and wane in different times and places, it is nevertheless business as usual for the Church.

And yet, we’re somehow surprised when it starts happening in front of us—when the targets are the Christians around us or even ourselves. We’re shocked when the latest florist or baker is sued into oblivion for refusing the celebrate sodomy. We’re aghast when a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate publicly argues that accepting Jesus’s statement that those who don’t believe in him are condemned makes a person unfit for public office. It catches us off-guard when people call us bigots for nothing more than believing things that were common knowledge until about five minutes ago.

We’re surprised because most of us grew up in a rather exceptional time and place—one with extremely broad religious liberties. What’s more, it wasn’t that long ago when America could at least plausibly be called a Christian nation. It was a wonderful blessing for which we should be thankful, and within our vocation as citizens, it is a blessing that’s worth contending for. After all, we should be in the business of loving and protecting one-another. But this blessing is not the norm for the Church. And what we see beginning around us today is simply a return to form.

And so, the time has come once again when the world demands our loyalty—to prove to them that when the going gets tough we are on their side against the unsettling reality of God. What proof do they require? Well, that’s always changing. In the 3rd century, Christian citizens of Rome were obligated to obtain a certificate proving that they had made an animal sacrifice in honor of the gods for the well-being of the Empire. Today, you’re more likely to be asked to pretend that a man wearing a dress is actually a woman or that two women are married to one-another. It’s weird, sure, but not any weirder than setting a cow’s guts on fire to honor the god of thunder. The specifics change, but the world’s only real requirement is that we deny Christ and the things he has clearly taught us. The other details are circumstantial.

We’re also surprised because we still labor under the illusion that if only we mind our own business, phrase things the right way, or try hard not to offend, the world’s hatred will pass us by. But do not be deceived. You’re not going to escape this by being quiet and unassuming. Faithfulness always leaves a paper trail. Maybe it’s a comment you made at dinner. Maybe it’s a tweet or a blog post. Maybe its a donation to a Christian charity. The world isn’t going to just forget you’re there if you keep your head down. And even those who escape the notice of judges and senators may yet have to face coworkers, friends, and even beloved family members as Jesus warns us.

Neither are you going to escape it by being nice or sensitive. There is no amount of sensitivity that will save you from the world’s hatred of God. Now, don’t misunderstand: when we confess God’s word, we are to do so with gentleness and respect. Likewise, whatever enemies we make, we are to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Though, to be sure, gentleness and respect are not always the same thing as being nice, nor is love and goodness always the same thing as sensitivity. But however well or poorly you love your neighbor, you’re never going to be more loving than Jesus was, and he was put to death.

So there’s no escape for us, but why should we be concerned with escape? Remember who we are in Christ! Why should conquerors retreat from the field of victory? In his first epistle, Peter tells us, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” For if we suffer with our Lord, how much more will we be raised up to eternal life with Him. Oh, the world can do some cruel things to us, but the one thing the world can never do to us is defeat us, because our victory is in Christ. We have absolutely nothing to gain by being timid; but we have every reason to be bold.

So heed our Lord’s warnings. For Jesus says,

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

In other words, don’t seek the approval of the world—even when mother or father or son or daughter are counted among them. Don’t seek safety and security in this life by taking the world’s side against God and His Church. Instead, bear your cross, for this kind of suffering isn’t something we can lay aside without also laying aside Christ.

We must indeed heed these warnings, but boldness comes from laying hold of our Lord’s promises. For though Jesus warns that “Whoever finds his life will lose it” he also promises that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” No matter how hard they try, the world cannot truly take our lives because we are alive in Christ. Though we are sent into the world to die, nevertheless we shall live eternally.

And of those he sends bearing the Gospel, Jesus also promises:

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.

The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

So who are these prophets and righteous persons, and how do we receive them? Christ goes with those he sends into the world—they bring Him with them. The Apostles brought Christ to the Roman Empire and beyond. Pastors bring Christ to their congregations. Fathers and mothers bring Christ to their children. Christians bring Christ to those around them—even those who persecute us. And we have received such people by believing the Word of God that they brought to us. After all, receiving a prophet because he is a prophet means you believed his prophecy and receiving a disciple because he is a disciple means having faith in his teacher.

And having received Christ from those he sent, Jesus now goes with us as well and we bear him to our neighbors. Oh, we may all be poor excuses for prophets, disciples, or righteous men, but the reward is borne by Christ and received by faith alone. And the world cannot take it away. So pick up the cross that’s been entrusted to you, and confess Christ boldly, for our lives rest in Him.

And may that peace of God—that peace with God—that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

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