Answering Objections About Marriage as Higher Calling

I forgot to post it on the blog, but I had a new piece up on The Federalist last week.  It’s a critique of an article by Kylee Zempel in which she argues that Christians today are idolizing marriage.  My response was essentially that marriage really is the higher calling for those who aren’t called to celibacy (i.e. the vast majority of the human race), and we ought to treat it that way.  But it’s only natural that my own critique attracted criticisms of its own.  Here are some answers to the most common objections:

People shouldn’t marry because some marriages turn out badly! Especially for [men | women]!

Sure, but a well-lived life is one that takes risks on behalf of goodness, truth, and beauty. It’s the nature of risk that it sometimes turns out badly. When you lie alone on your death-bed, you’re not going to find much satisfaction in the mere fact that you never got hurt.

This is not intended to trivialize the pain of those who have actually suffered through horrible spouses. It is, rather, intended to point out that as dark as our suffering sometimes is, God’s goodness always shines brighter—we should always hope in the latter rather than despair in the former.

Be fruitful and multiply” only made sense when there were only two people. Now that there are so many people in the world, we can feel free to disregard it. After all, humanity isn’t going to go extinct.

My favorite thing about this argument is that it was made almost 500 years ago at the Diet of Augsburg—back when there were only half a billion people on the planet. The Roman delegation argued that the earth was already too full, so God’s command doesn’t apply anymore. The additional 7 billion people put this foolishness in perspective.

My second favorite thing about this argument is that one of these guys talked about how China was forced to implement its one-child policy as evidence for his contention. It would, of course, be more accurate to say that they are now forced to abandon it due to the easily predictable consequences of said policy.

But ultimately, it’s wrong because its presumptuous. It suggests without any evidence that the only reason God told us to be fruitful and multiply is merely so that we won’t go extinct. And against that pile of absolutely nothing we have to weigh the fact that God designed us for sexual reproduction in the first place, that He gave us a sex drive that still persists when there are a lot of people, that there are additional New Testament commands to marry after the threat of extinction had passed, that Scripture treats children as categorical blessings, and so on, and so on. Gee, I wonder which way the scales will tilt…

If you want to marry; fine. If you don’t want to marry; fine. But keep your nose out of everyone else’s business because marriage isn’t the be all and end all of human existence.

At the end of the day, I believe this represented most of the criticism—which is pretty sad.

This attitude is as normal in our society as it is incompatible with Christianity. After all, where does it put the entire locus for the decision of whether or not a person should marry? It begins and ends with personal wants. Do what you want, and don’t complicate the matter further by considering compelling arguments.

But “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” is the ethic of literal Satanists like Aleister Crowley, not of Christianity. For Christians, personal wants are considered when we make decisions, but they’re a much lower priority than things like God’s explicit commands, biblical wisdom, godly discernment, love for neighbors, etc.

And as a consequence of this, when we speak of reasons to marry or not, we speak of objective reasons that inevitably inform the decisions of other Christians—or of anyone whose concerns extend further than their own personal wants. To those who follow the Satanic ethic, this seems like butting into someone else’s business. After all, one person’s subjective wants truly have no jurisdiction over another person’s subjective wants. But Christians shouldn’t allow Satan to set the guidelines for our speech, and so we speak of more than mere desire.

Like it or not, there are always going to be women called to celibacy in the Church, and you need to give us the recognition we deserve!

First, I’ll note that this doesn’t affect my argument. It’s a true observation (one that I also made), but does not change the fact that these callings are the exceptions rather than the norm.

That said, let’s also look at the substance of this complaint. Does the Church need to make more of an effort to recognize single women? Well, it depends on exactly what you have in mind for “recognition” because we can understand that in two different ways.

The first way of understanding recognition is as accolade—as in, “Look upon all the mighty works that single Christian women have done! Do you not owe us your praises for these things? Stop pretending that creating and loving new human beings is somehow more important than my career and give me my due!”

I’ll be frank: this is precisely the sense of vainglory I get out of most of these calls. There was even a strong element of this in Zempel’s original piece. After all, it starts off with her description of how wonderfully and thoroughly she studied transgenderism before expressing her irritation that someone who appreciated those studies and took the time to say so also suggested that motherhood was a still mightier work. Likewise, she goes on to talk about how the wisdom of her own pursuits is better and more universal than pursuing marriage and family. There’s a powerful attitude among many single Christian women that they are the unsung heroes of the Church and that voices need to start being raised—stat.

There’s no need for me to address demands for this kind of recognition because Jesus has already done so, and I have nothing to add to His words:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

It’s just one more reminder that the concerns of feminism are not the same as the concerns of God.

But can one put a better construction on some of these calls? I do think it’s possible to understand “recognition” in terms of “office” rather than “accolade.” In other words, recognizing single Christian women can mean widely embracing celibacy as an uncommon but legitimate social role to be filled—one permanent enough that there’s no perceived need for anyone to change out of that role. And to be fair, Zempel had notes of this understanding in her piece as well (specifically the irritation that anyone would express hope for her aspirations to change.)

Well, if this kind of recognition can be fulfilled simply by acknowledgment of celibacy, many people already do this—including myself in that very piece. But if it needs more than that, Christians have traditionally done this through monasticism—in which Christians would take vows of celibacy and permanently join a like-minded community that is recognized by everyone as being set apart from the norm. After all, I suspect very few people ask nuns whether or not they have a boyfriend yet.

The thing is, the protestant churches have largely abandoned this concept—and for good reason. It always came with a unhealthy does of elitism—the belief that monks and nuns were on a higher spiritual plane than the “mundane” Christians who were actually fulfilling God’s commands. They generally involved ungodly vows and the elevation of man-made traditions above the Word of God. And more to the current point, the record will show that a great many monks and nuns did not actually have the gift of celibacy at all—sexual licentiousness wasn’t exactly uncommon in many historical organizations. It’s not that monasticism never offered anything positive, it’s rather that the practical negatives proved too problematic for too many.

The Roman and Eastern churches still maintain monastic traditions, of course. Once could look to those as examples. I can’t say much about them because I’m not familiar with contemporary norms in those traditions. All I can say is that the error of spiritual elitism is, unfortunately, still part of Rome’s theology.  And if all the scandals surrounding Rome’s priesthood are any indication, I suspect the not-actually-having-the-gift-of-celibacy issue is probably still around to some extent as well. I know even less about the Eastern traditions.

Ultimately, the call to “recognize” celibate women as holding a kind of special office is going to be a call to reestablish something akin to monasticism. I say this for a few practical reasons. First, it has to be something that is sufficiently organized, visible, and set apart to provide adequate recognition for those who belong to it. Second, it has to have something akin to vows to provide sufficient permanence—otherwise, it just changes the irritating questions of hopeful parents and friends to “hey, when are you going to finally leave the organization and find a boyfriend?” You might be able to trade cloisters and convents for more civic vocations, but many of the key elements are still going to have to be there for it to be functional.

Can this be done without falling into those same historical problems? (Or at least mitigate the problems adequately–it’s not exactly fair to expect perfection in any earthly institution.) The historical endurance of those problems makes me dubious of that. So does the scale of our society’s sexual licentiousness. So does the pervasiveness of single women’s demands for the vainglorious version of “recognition.”

In light of these considerations, maybe the better questions to ask the celibate are these: 1) Are the occasional recommendations to marriage that you receive really so hurtful that it’s worth courting these sins? 2) If the recommendations really are that hurtful, is it possible that you’re a little more insecure about your own calling than you’d like to admit?

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Cultivating Chastity – Part 5

If we’re going to cultivate the virtue of chastity–if we want to be disposed towards right behavior and against wrong behavior on the subject of sexuality–then we need to consider what right and wrong mean. As Christians, our first step in that consideration is to review the Biblical teachings. Join us as we survey some of the key points of what the Bible does–and doesn’t–teach about sexual morality.

Previous Installments:
1) Introduction:
2) The Church’s Failure:
3) Stop Teaching Celibacy:
4) The Virtue of Chastity:

More than a Duty; Not Less:
The Golden Rule Means Having Kids:


On the Unattractiveness of Christian Men

The Chi Files had a great podcast the other day on the perennial complaint that Christian women aren’t marrying so often because there are just no good marriageable men in the church these days. (Check it out here;  it’s well worth your time.) They approach the issue by asking the same question I always ask when software I maintain suddenly stops working: “What changed?” The more complex the system, the less you’ll be able to simply follow cause and effect from beginning to end and find the problem. So knowing what changed can give you a great starting point for analysis.  I once had to debug a problem that occurred inside a top-secret environment for which I had no clearance. I could not see their computers, test with their data, or even direct a user while troubleshooting–all I had to go on was a very generic description during a phone call that the user had to make from outside the environment. But I was nevertheless able to fix it once I learned that they had recently changed the drivers on their printers.

So what changed in the Christian marriage market? It’s a fascinating discussion, but they conclude that the biggest change is that Christian men are generally less attractive to Christian women then they were in the past. They examine a variety of the social factors which contributed to this change before concluding that the only way out of this is for Christian men to make themselves more attractive–and recommend learning Game as a way to do this (The followup podcast in which they unpack what exactly that means is also well worth listening to.)

I think that’s an excellent short term solution. While one could certainly contend that the situation is unfair (and people certainly do a lot of that these days), complaining about the unfairness of life doesn’t really get you anywhere.  Learning about Game is advice that I would pass on to an unmarried Christian young man because it’s something that can help him right now. A person needs to adapt themselves to the world in which they live rather than pinning their hopes on someone changing the world for them first.

At the same time, it got me thinking about longer-term solutions to the issue. After all, becoming more attractive has more limited potential for men in general than it does for one hypothetical man. Consider, for example, the recent OK Cupid data which showed that the women on their site found a mathematically impossible 80% of men to be below average in attractiveness. It’s not unreasonable for an individual man to try to aim for that top 20%, but, by definition, most men cannot find themselves there.

Regardless of how seriously you take that specific data, female attraction remains inextricably tied to social status. It’s not the whole of it–abs are abs whether or not they’re on a nerd–but it’s always a part of it. Sexually barbaric women tend towards hypergamy–their preferred form of promiscuity is to always seek out and trade up to higher-status men because that status is what they find most attractive. But status is relative, so by definition, most men cannot actually be high-status.

But this isn’t necessarily an intractable problem because sexual attraction is more plastic than we might think. We often treat it as indelible (i.e. “you can’t help who you love!”) but in the long-term it really isn’t. We can actually be civilized in our sexuality.

Admittedly, some parts of attraction never really change. Men will always be attracted to physical signs of health/fertility in women. Women will always be attracted to signs of provider status and social esteem in men. But within these elements, culture nevertheless plays a huge role. Even what’s considered a healthy/attractive weight fluctuates with food availability and other cultural factors.  I remember doing crunches in the gym at seminary when a student from Africa asked his friend why I was doing it.  Someone explained to him that it was for getting a flatter stomach.  He was shocked because where he was from, having a modest gut was actually a status symbol.  So if culture plays a role in how we perceive the body, how much more, then, does it play a role in the ways we perceive things like provision and social status?

But although attraction is more plastic than we think, it also changes more slowly than we’d like. So the question is whether we can change things in the long-run. Or, in other words, is there anything Christians can do to adjust the ways that things like provider status and social esteem are perceived by Christian women in general? I think there are; here are a few suggestions that could have modest but positive effects:

1) Be honest about the terrible effects of single motherhood on children and society.

These effects are clear and well-documented (you can find a good summary from Stephen Molyneux here), so I’m not going to go into the details right now. But suffice to say, kids genuinely need their dads. Sure, they can survive without them, but losing a parent should be seen as more akin to losing an arm or a leg–a grievous injury that a person can live with and work around, but never fully recover from.

There’s a flip-side to the way Christians laud single moms.  It necessarily  skews our perception of fathers towards mere labor-saving device for mothers. In other words, the perception is that parenting is harder for single moms the way its harder to do your dishes by hand than it is to use a dishwashers. The truth, however, is that children need their fathers on a far more fundamental level than they need an extra pair of hands in the household or an extra deposit in the bank account. Recognizing that truth adds an explicit element of provision to our perception of men in general.

And yes, I know… we don’t want to discourage single moms, and if we’re too harsh towards them, they’ll be more tempted to murder their babies instead of raising them. We don’t want that, and we do need to be cautious. But at the same time, we can’t let the feelings of single moms hold our families hostage in this manner. So tell the truth with gentleness and respect, but never lie. If the person you’re speaking to comes away thinking that you’ve said single moms are perfectly adequate in every way, then you’ve probably lied.

2) Start showing respect to men–particularly to good fathers–in the Church.

Christians have a really big problem with treating men with contempt. It’s fundamentally because we’re embarrassed by the anti-feminist elements of Scripture and consequently scared of being called misogynists by the world. So we try to overcompensate by regularly taking pot-shots at men. Worse, we refuse to preach the parts of the law which condemn what has become everyday behavior from women. So when women destabilize their families by usurping the father’s authority or obliterate their families by divorcing faithful husbands, we go out of our way to find ways of blaming men for these sins.

How do you think this plays into the way men’s social status is perceived by women? When we regularly paint normal Christian men as contemptible in our churches, should we be surprised that normal Christian women don’t find normal Christian men attractive?

We should change course on this simply because its the right thing to do. But if Christian men begin to hold one another in esteem and deliberately recognize earned respect, it’s going to have a positive effect on the way their status is perceived by women.

3) Make marriage an expectation for your daughters 

(For your sons too, but that’s less directly applicable to this subject.)  Again, this is the Biblical prescription for most people. Some are called to celibacy, but most to marriage, and so we ought to treat the pursuit of marriage as something highly valuable and teach our children the same. But this comes with a blessed side-effect in that when women are deliberately pursuing marriage because they’ve learned to desire it, they’re more likely to see the qualities that make good husbands and fathers as something desirable. On the other hand, when the attitude is that marriage will simply happen to them when the vaguely right time intersects with peak romantic feelings while they deal with more important matters… well, that’s when they wait around for a tall, cut prince riding up on a white motorcycle to sweep them off their feet. If marriage is just a superficial accessory to “real” life, then its only natural to select one superficially and lazily.

4) Learn to regulate and limit media consumption and teach our children to do the same.

In many ways, television, movies, and the like are perceived by the mind as a kind of surrogate experience. We may know that its all fiction, but at the same time, it’s what we’ve seen happen. It has a kind of normalizing affect on our perception by telling us what to expect from people and situations–especially when we don’t have real experiences to fill in the blanks. Naturally, this has a huge influence on the way our sense of attraction develops. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in The Screwtape Letters:

It is the business of these great masters to produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called sexual ‘taste.’ This they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type. The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.

In an age of mass-media, it’s all but impossible to cut yourself off from that small circle that determines fashion. Nevertheless, you can limit their access to your mind by being judicious about the media you consume. You can also balance it out by consuming media from different times and places which directed attraction along different trajectories. Read old books. Watch old movies. Spend more time unplugged. The more we do this, the more we find that our sense of attraction becomes considerably less skewed than the surrounding culture’s.

There are probably a million more small changes like this which could likewise have a small positive effect, but I’ll stop here.  To be sure, young men cannot simply wait around for changes like this to happen. These are long-term changes, and they’ll miss their chance at marriage by waiting on them. If there’s even going to be a long-term, it will be because Christian men rose to the current challenge and overcame it to have families of their own. Nevertheless, it makes sense to consider sowing seeds now for what we’ll need to harvest later. As the saying goes, civilization depends on men planting trees in whose shade they’ll never live to sit. If female attraction changed in a way that makes Christian men less desirable, then it can also change in ways that make them more desirable. We just need to be as diligent about building a healthy culture as our forbears were about tearing one down.

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Cultivating Chastity – Part 4

Now that we’ve covered many of the errors and mistakes that Christians have made, we’re going to start looking at our positive case: How should Christians teach and inculcate Biblical sexual morality in our congregations, our families, and our communities? It would help if we can begin thinking in terms of virtue.

Previous Installments:
1) Introduction:
2) The Church’s Failure:
3) Stop Teaching Celibacy:

You can find more of my material at…
The 96th Thesis:
The Federalist:


Cultural Doggie Bag: Wheel of Time Casting

The Wheel of Time spins. Casting announcements come and go. What is, what was, and what will be may yet fall under intersectionality.
-Unknown blogger, the Sixth Age.

I was a huge fan of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time in my youth. While I see more of the series’ warts now that I’m older and wiser, I still enjoy it, and it retains a special place for me as the first fantasy series I was deeply into. I had read Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia before I ever cracked open The Eye of the World, but I didn’t read them at the right age to become part of a fandom in the same way. In contrast, I was given the first Wheel of Time book right at the beginning of adolescence and at the dawning of internet availability–both of which really transform one’s reading experience.

Even back in the day, I remember anticipating potential adaptations for television that never panned out, so it caught my attention when Amazon recently committed to creating a Wheel of Time series. Such adaptations, of course, can be a spectacular success, an atrocious failure, or anything in-between. But cautious optimism is my default setting on such things until I start seeing warning signs, so I waited for more information to come to light.

The first thing I read about the series strongly indicated that instead of Rand Al’Thor, the narrative would be centered on Moiraine–the Aes Sedai (sorceress) who comes to fetch the prophesied hero from his sleepy village so that he can go save the world. My initial reaction was that it could be genuinely interesting if well done. Especially early on, Wheel of Time uses all the standard fantasy tropes, so seeing the hero’s journey from the perspective of the mysterious wizard who calls the young lad to adventure could be a reasonable way of mixing it up a little. My second reaction was to worry that because it’s a change from a male character to a female character, it might instead simply be Social Justice Warriors at work.

Now that the casting of the main characters has been announced, the race-swapping of 50% of the cast makes a pretty compelling case for my second reaction.

I have to admit, my perspective of these kinds of changes has changed recently–and not because of Wheel of Time. In the past, I never really gave it much thought when characters’ races were swapped in the transition to film or television. Whichever way the races changed, I shrugged it off just as I did the people who whined about it. That is, after all what everybody was “supposed” to do (back in that brief era where colorblindness was taught as a virtue, but before it became racist.) But then… I couldn’t help but notice that while the uproars over “whitewashing” continued to grow, those very same complainers were busily accomplishing it’s inverse–let’s call it “blackfacing”–at an ever-faster clip. Hypocrisy, of course, is much more negative than mere whining, but the whole situation is actually worse than that.

Hypocrisy requires principles, and as I’ve written before, the SJW left has abandoned principle in favor of narrative–stories about good guys and bad guys in which “good” and “bad” are determined by the relative intersectionality ratings of the opposing sides rather than by any objective standard. When SJW’s encounter whitewashing, they see it as an outright attack on an entire race (or gender, sexual orientation, etc) and every individual that group encompasses. They see such casting as the bad guys projecting power against the good guys in order to diminish them as a people. So what, then, does that tell you about how they view their own attempts at blackfacing? Yeah… still as an attack against an entire group and everyone it encompasses. Except they judge that as a good deed when they do it because the targets–whites, in this case–are the bad guys. To put it extremely mildly, that seems like the kind of socio-political dynamic that any member of a “bad guy” group should stand up and take notice of, whether the particular action bothers him or not.

But beyond all that, there’s the simple fact that SJW’s are utterly corrosive to art. As I’ve written before, SJW’s cannot really create; they can only consume what others have created in order to be emotionally evocative for a brief time. It’ll be no different with the Wheel of Time than with anything else. And you can already see it even in the casting choices themselves.

One of the greatest strengths of the series was the world-building and the complexity of the interwoven fates of the various characters through the history that lead up to them. That was ultimately the series’ weakness as well, as Jordan began losing the plot and character-arcs among the minutia of the complicated world. But for those of us who enjoyed The Wheel of Time, the world-building was almost certainly a key part of that enjoyment.

And the world Jordan created was already racially diverse. As I recall, the Tairens, Altarans, and Domani were various shades of brown. The Sea Folk and Sharans were very dark-skinned, as were many who were included under the Seanchan empire. But the original set of central characters weren’t part of those races, so the SJW’s still had to “fix” it. And how did they do that? By taking an isolated, backwater village–a village with exactly one outlander from which barely any of its residents had ever ridden more than a couple days on horseback–and… they made it as racially diverse as New York City. The same collection of families from a homogeneous culture have been marrying each other for hundreds of years, and they’re somehow racially diverse. If they had made all the native Emond’s Fielders a single non-white race, it might have made a superficial kind of sense, but for some reason, Mat Cauthon is still white.

“It’s just a minor detail! Who cares?” Well, that’s precisely my point. They don’t care; the interconnectedness of minor details is irrelevant to them in the face of their political agenda. And so you end up with a scenario which makes no sense from a world-building perspective. Unlike Jordan, the SJW’s never gave a second thought to whether they were portraying a world that could actually exist given the specific combination of fantastical and realistic elements that undergird it. All they care about is whether any of it can be consumed in order to fuel their ideological war. To them, the Wheel of Time project isn’t an adaptation–it’s just another pile of coal to shovel into their furnace.

And so for now, I’ll just sit back and await the announcements that Min will be trans and Saidin a metaphor for toxic masculinity.

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Cultivating Chastity – Part 3

Why have churches in America been teaching celibacy instead of chastity? Why are we so focused on abstinence from sex rather than entering into godly marriages? It’s not because of anything the Bible teaches, but because of everything our culture teaches. There are many reasons Scripture warns us against worldliness–substituting cultural values for Godly values. The broken dreams of would-be husbands and wives are most certainly among those reasons.

Previous Installments:
Introduction –
Part 2 – The Church’s Failure

What Losing My Virginity Taught Me About Faith:

Evangelical Abstinence Culture is a Bust, but the Answer isn’t a Sexual Free-For-All:

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Answering Some Objections About Christian Nationalism

The nice part about having something up on the Federalist is all the feedback you get.  The bad part, of course, is the nature of 90% of that feedback.  But as per my custom, here are my responses to the objections that I found the most amusing, common, and/or personally interesting.

Is a Christian nation going to execute or imprison Bill Nye to prevent him from continuing to debunk Christian apologists?

Yeah, someone actually said this.  Suffice to say, I don’t know a single Christian apologist who is even remotely threatened by Bill Nye. “Village idiot” is normally a social designation rather than a legal one, so he should be safe in a Christian nation.

You want a theocracy! Which denomination will you impose as the state church? Etc.

See, stuff like this is how everyone knows you didn’t actually read the article. There have been Christian nations with state churches, but it’s not a necessity and not what I’m suggesting. Particularly since the subject is y’know, American Christian nationalism.

 The government shouldn’t be making converts!

Mostly more non-readers with this one, but… I do bear some of the blame here as well. I noted the Christian distinction between Church and civil government, but never really explained it. So I’ll briefly sum up the Lutheran version here. The Church’s job is to proclaim God’s Word and administer His Sacraments (Matt 28). Civil government’s job is to punish wrongdoers and commend those who do good (Romans 13). A Christian nation doesn’t have to conflate those two responsibilities within its government, and in the Lutheran view, they mustn’t conflate them. America, in particular, specifically refused to conflate them, and writing that refusal into our Constitution was a good idea.

Nevertheless, the Christian identity of a nation is going to affect the way government responsibilities are viewed regardless of whether they conflate the two kingdoms. After all, it cannot help but inform our discernment between wrongdoers and right-doers as well as our views of what properly constitutes punishment and commendation. And looking at America today, I think we desperately need better discernment on these matters–not for the sake of making converts, but for the sake of better civil government.

Christianity doesn’t need government support! In fact, it’s better off without it.

True, but I never suggested otherwise. You’ve missed the point of Christian nationalism. The point isn’t government making Christianity better but rather Christians making their own government better. The Church doesn’t need government support and certainly not government management. It’s rather the government which needs the Church–not in the sense that the Church manages civil affairs but that the Church feeds the consciences of those individuals whose job it is to manage civil affairs. It’s a matter of providing things like wisdom and identity to the nation which, in turn, makes the nation’s civil government more just and more faithful to those for whom it is responsible.

But this would make non-Christians feel left out of our national culture!

Believe it or not, I’m not particularly concerned about how it makes people feel–not that I have no sympathy, but it doesn’t affect my argument or the reality of the situation. The flip-side of any and every identity is that it excludes the people who don’t share it. That exclusion can take many forms–anywhere from deliberate persecution to simply feeling left out–but it always exists so long as identity exists. Getting upset that it makes some people sad makes about as much sense as getting upset that cloudy days make some people sad. It is what it is. The only alternative is to expunge human identity altogether, and the cost of doing that should make anyone shudder.

When feeling left out is the predominant form that exclusion takes, you’ve arrived at the best-case-scenario this side of heaven.

The governing philosophy of the United States is actually more Jewish than Christian!

Uh, not so much. Jews have been around and made their marks, but this assessment is as transparent an attempt to take credit for Christian accomplishments as Ben Shapiro calling Notre Dame–Notre Dame!a monument built on a Judeo-Christian heritage.

Despite modern bloviating about the West being Judeo-Christian, Judaism is an explicitly tribal religion–inextricably tied to the blood and heritage of the Jewish people. We’re considering a community with very powerful in-group preferences and, often, low regard for outsiders. Now, don’t misunderstand that observation as an indictment. Given what they’ve gone through together, that sense of tribal identity is understandable; I’m not faulting them for it. Nevertheless, there’s no use pretending that it provided our foundation for religious freedom either. On the contrary, the overall tendency of Jews in the West has been to push for the removal of Christian religious expression from the public square because they believe that makes them safer. At present, the Jewish legacy in America has much more to do with the removal of free expression than the establishment of religious liberty.

Your view of Christian nationalism isn’t neutral with respect to the Church of Rome vs other Christian denominations.

This is true, but it’s not so much a error in my argument as an uncomfortable implication for some. America’s heritage is indeed mainly protestant, and my own argument is rooted in Lutheranism (as is my reframing of the question to heavily imply that the Church or Rome is just another denomination.)  While Roman theology distinguishes Church from state, it also makes the latter a subsidiary of the former–civil government is ultimately considered subject to the Pope. Protestants, in contrast, tend to arrange them into different spheres of life that overlap to various degrees. So neutrality on this question is also untenable. If Christian theology is going to inform the way we see government, then the different specifics of those theologies will lead to differences in our view of government and our execution thereof. But again, since neutrality isn’t possible, we shouldn’t really be treating it as though it’s some kind of alternative.

So where does that leave papists and protestants? Well, we’re both going to follow our respective theologies in the public square–that’s a given, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Can we both have religious freedom despite that? It’s certainly possible. We can under some protestant understandings of government, as America has demonstrated. What about a government informed primarily by Roman understandings? Honestly, I’m not the best person to answer this one, since I’m Lutheran, but… well, it’s my blog, so here goes.

I believe it’s possible, so long as such a government refrains from exercising in practice some of the prerogatives that Rome grants it in principle. For example, it would need to refrain from having civil government execute church discipline or from deploying church discipline for the purpose of political coercion (even though political coercion may be an unavoidable side-effect when it comes to things like withholding communion from enablers of abortion.)

Could it show such restraint? Again, I believe its possible–at least I don’t know of anything which would make such restraint an explicit violation of Roman theology. Would it show such restraint? It depends on the people–the specific nation. Contrary to popular perception, the Church of Rome is by no means monolithic in its beliefs and practices. Would such restraint last? I don’t think this is a good question to ask because every government becomes corrupt over time. Nothing “lasts” in that manner. And I will say in Rome’s favor that their theology is less susceptible to the neutrality lie that’s infecting America, even if its more susceptible to other failings.

In any case, I’ll be rigorously pursuing my involvement in civil government according to a Lutheran understanding, and I believe that’s to the benefit of American papists and protestants alike. And it’s also worth pointing out that the smaller government is, the less one side’s privilege is going to burden the other.

Posted in Christian Nationalism, Culture, Politics, Theology, Tradition | 2 Comments

Can Government Be Religiously Neutral?

I take on that question in a new piece at The Federalist today:

The First Amendment forbids the establishment of a state church in the United States, but it in no way imposes the incoherent burden of religious neutrality on our civic institutions, nor demands that the right to free exercise of religion end when one crosses from private life into the public sphere. We are already experiencing the erosion of religious liberties that these erroneous presumptions have caused, with Christian business owners and officials forced to promulgate ideas they abhor and facilitate celebrations that are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Today, when the American left speaks about religious freedom at all, it speaks in terms of “freedom of worship” rather than of free exercise. But freedom of worship is nothing more than the right to go into a private building and follow one’s preferred liturgy on any day of the week so long as it is out of the public view.

The right of free exercise of religion cannot end there, for no religion on earth ends there. Life is a series of choices in which we each decide what’s most important to us. As we order these priorities, every knee eventually bows to something more important than the rest—the “god” we consider to be the Most Important Thing. Whatever the specific details of one’s god, the very nature of a god is that it is supreme—it lays claim to one’s entire life rather than merely one’s private life.

This is true regardless of whether one follows a traditional religion or even refers to one’s highest value as a “god” at all. Even the hedonist, whose god is personal pleasure, does not leave his worship of pleasure behind when he enters the public sphere. If he refrains from certain pursuits in the public eye, it is only because such restraint will net him more pleasure in the long run. Pleasure therefore remains the god that dictates his public activities.

So it is also with the Christian, the Muslim, the secular humanist, and the utilitarian. So when the follower of a god enters into civic life—as anything from a simple voter all the way up to president—he does not and cannot cease following that god. He will instead look to what that god demands of someone who holds the positions he occupies.

Different gods make different demands. One of the reasons theological liberals are so blind on this issue is their ignorant presumption that, at their root, all religions are basically the same—that they all worship the same God, proclaim the same general values and ideals, and merely have different cultural trappings or modes of expression. In such a fantasy, a neutral pluralism is conceivable, but reality is a different matter.

Although there is only one God, there are many gods (i.e., idols) in this world. The extent to which a person will support or even accept things like secular democracy and religious pluralism depends on that person’s god.

What then does that mean for American democracy and religious freedom? It means neither can ever be religiously neutral. Some gods demand such things; some gods merely tolerate them; and other gods abhor them. To embrace these things as worthy of our support and protection and prioritize them over other concerns is to favor some gods and therefore some religions above others.

Read the whole thing here.

Also, for those of you coming here from The Federalist, you might be interested in this blog post regarding the theological rationale for nationalism:  Babel is  Feature, Not a Bug

Posted in Christian Nationalism, Culture, Natural Law, Politics, Tradition | 2 Comments

Cultivating Chastity – Part 2

To say that Christians’ responses to the sexual revolution have been inadequate would be an understatement. Despite all the words spoken and ink spilled on the subject over the past few generations, most Christians look an awful lot like the unbelievers around them. Perhaps that’s because we’ve echoed the false beliefs of our culture more than you might think.

Previous Installments:
Introduction –

Whose Morality Have We Been Teaching?

You can find more of my material at…
The 96th Thesis:
The Federalist:

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Embarrassed by Christ

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
-Matt 25:40

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
-Matt 12:48b-50

When you’re a Christian and you spend a lot of time among other Christians, it’s only natural that you’ll be embarrassed by them from time to time. We’re all sinners, we all make mistakes, and we’ve all been on the wrong side of Scripture at some point or another. I confess that I’ve rolled my eyes at my brothers and sisters in Christ at times. I weakly try to reserve that reaction for the kinds of errors and foolishness that Scripture instructs us to resist, but as in all things, I can only rely on Christ’s mercy.

But there is another kind of embarrassment of Christians. It’s an embarrassment which leads one to set oneself apart from faithful believers. It’s an embarrassment you find in popular phrases like “Lord, save me from your followers!” or famous quotes like “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” In short, it’s an embarrassment that offers lip service to respecting to Christ, but is used primarily to cleave oneself from the very Body of Christ–His Church.

I recently encountered this attitude in a piece by Russ Dean which echoes these popular sentiments, “I’m embarrassed by American Christianity. I’m just not ready to give up on Jesus.” What sets this type of embarrassment apart from others is always a lack of familiarity with the actual Jesus Christ.

After all, much of what Dean complains about are actually Jesus’ teachings.

I hear anti-education views that are dishearteningly narrow. I hear views about women that are shockingly antiquated and reflect distorted interpretations of Scripture. I hear opinions about “homosexuals” that sound as if we’re still living in an Old Testament world (or that we ought to be). I hear evangelistic proclamations that exclude and divide, tone deaf exclusivism in a pluralistic world.

“Narrow,” “anti-education views” could mean just about anything, so I’ll pass over that. But “shockingly antiquated” views about women are essentially belief in America’s most hated Bible verses and the Biblical proscriptions on women preaching. And, of course, his embarrassment over the Old Testament view of homosexuals (which, curiously enough, are taught in the New Testament as well) gives his game away entirely. So does his disdain for the Biblical teaching of exclusivity in favor of the worldly teaching of pluralism.

We also embarrass Dean because we fail to embrace his political program as the Gospel.

I hear support for torture and detention and deportation and preemptive war, and I wonder where the heart of Jesus is in all of that aggression. I hear celebration for The Wall without the slightest irony that the whole movement of God is to unite us, that Jesus showed us that Way “by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us” (Ephesians 2.14).

As to the bloviating about open borders, as I’ve written and spoken about before, Scripture tells us that God established the nations, and the Biblical doctrine of vocation instructs us that we have special responsibilities to our own nation that we do not always have to others. But the most blatant error Dean makes is his contention that the movement of God is to unite us politically rather than uniting us in Christ as the unquoted part of the verse he references makes absolutely explicit.

It is, unfortunately, not the foibles and sins of believers which embarrass Dean–it is the Jesus Christ of Scripture. It is this Jesus who promised his Apostles who wrote the New Testament that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth and tell them only what He hears from Christ. It is this same Jesus who said of the supposedly antiquated Old Testament that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  The Jesus whom Dean has not yet given up on bears little resemblance to the Jesus proclaimed by His own Apostles and given to us through His own inerrant Word. And I fear that it is only an idol designed to be palatable to which he still clings.

All those who finds themselves embarrassed by the teachings of Jesus Christ which are held to by his disciples and would condemn those disciples for their belief would do well to consider Jesus’ warning: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” From whom, therefore, are they trying to distance themselves?

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