In Defense OF DEVILS

How’s this for a lighthearted proof of the devil’s existence: there is no reason that a person cannot at one and the same time have a robust moral code and charity towards those who fail to satisfy its rigors. That is in fact what Christianity has always demanded. Likewise, there is no reason one cannot have both a commitment to systematic foundational doctrines and openness to other perspectives and even to revising one’s own most basic beliefs in response to new evidence or insights. Yet for some mysterious reason, despite numerous individuals and even small sub-cultures demonstrating that these ideals can be achieved, they have never been realized by any society in recent recorded history, nor have any of the ancient societies that have claimed to have achieved some utopic vision at some point in their history been able to maintain the achievement.

Western society before the Enlightenment had a comparatively exacting moral code and a strong commitment to certain doctrines, including but not limited to those of Christianity, yet it was decidedly unchristian in its responses to moral infractions and religious dissent. There is no reason it could not have progressed towards tolerance and openness while keeping its faith. That is exactly what Christianity’s law of love required, and I think it was desire for power far more than for truth or for God that caused intolerance and dogmatism to be so dominant for so long. Martin Luther King Junior’s message, though not all aspects of his life, perfectly demonstrated the possibility of remaining fully Christian while moving away from dogmatism and intolerance, and he is only one prominent figure within a multitude of whom the same could be said. Their stories are the leaven within the story of civilization. “I have seen the promised land,” he claimed–and for my part, I believe him. 

But we have not followed Martin Luther King’s message of brotherhood. Instead, we now have a society that is relatively tolerant and open to all opinions (as long as they don’t purport to be more than opinions)–but deeply suspicious of any moral or doctrinal system that claims any transcendent authority. We have attained tolerance at the cost of morality; we have achieved open-mindedness at the cost of conviction; we lack any unity worthy of the name of brotherhood. Our society can no longer be called a Christian society in any rigorous sense.

What but some malevolent force bent on humanity’s misery could prevent the natural progress of mankind from grace to grace by using our momentum against us, and casting us from one extreme to another, exacting as the apparent price of progress towards virtue in one area a concurrent regression towards vice in another. Once the majority of people lived in what we would now call poverty but knew exactly where they belonged in the world and in the cosmos; the majority of people now live among luxuries unimagined by the kings of former centuries, but they languish spiritually without any sense of place or identity within the larger order of things. 

All history seems to bear out similar patterns. We first traded freedom for security–the move from nomadic flocks to farms and then to walled cities with kings–from Caanan to Egypt. We then regained freedom and obtained wealth and ease but lost our souls when these became our idols. Many poor children in Africa today dance and sing and are happy but are also stuck in poverty, while rich children in America play video games and are miserable with the wide world before them. The one has not enough food to eat; the other contemplates overdosing on the mind-altering drugs prescribed by the doctor. The devil exacts his price for progress and laughs as we congratulate ourselves on our newly acquired virtues–our tolerance and diversity and equality. The least part of hell’s inside joke is that every monument we erect to our progress is initially shiny and beautiful but destined to be sullied by wickedness, worn by time, and ultimately replaced by other monuments with the same fate. Ozymandias is their father and their type, and they will sink through the sands of time to join him and all the golden calves of history in hell, as the devil slowly lays claim to all that is his own.

I offer this “proof” half jokingly: it is really only one theoretical reading of history that I find convincing. But truly I can see no reason why progress must inevitably entail regression, and why humanity keeps slipping back in a thousand different directions from the promised land that so many have glimpsed–no reason except that the forces of evil are real. The scriptures teach that history will not obtain the promised land until the forces of evil are violently conquered–not by man’s “progress,” but by God’s final, decisive intervention in history. And for my part, I believe them.

Ambiguity and [Un]healthy Sexuality in the World and in the Church [4]

PART 4: UNHEALTHY SEXUALITY IN THE CHURCH

While the World’s sexuality belongs properly to hell, the Church is too often caused to lift up its eyes in torment because of sexual guilt. If sexuality’s main effect in one’s consciousness is to cause guilt, it is not healthy, albeit still preferable to the drunken sexuality that is past feeling the tug of morality.

I have previously defined the Church broadly enough to encompass any religion that recognizes that God rightfully regulates human sexuality, and I assume that the experience of the practitioners of other religions is comparable. But I do not actually know that, and for the remainder of this essay, the Church will refer more specifically to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where I know from personal experience and by report that the problems I identify are not uncommon. I will designate this as the (lower case “c”) church.

The prevalence of excessive sexual guilt is understandable, especially given the toxic cultural environment in which the church operates, where sexual desire is intentionally and incessantly stimulated by advertisers, media, and peers alike. Lucretius once theorized that the male sexual response to the visual stimulus of female bodies is a strictly automatic, glandular event. While I can positively affirm that this oversimplifies the matter, I see where he was coming from. It is perhaps strictly impossible for most men to avoid being attuned to the sexual. It is interesting as well as fraught—an object of curiosity as well as desire. While a man may be enabled to choose a chaste response to a beautiful woman immodestly advertising her availability, he cannot choose indifference. And yet those who align with the church are taught that they must not intentionally stimulate or condone the intentional stimulation of sexual feelings in their own bodies or those of anyone else except within marriage—and even then only when it edifies. Anything outside this context violates the law of chastity. Continue reading

Is It Possible To Transition Genders?

There are two competing claims in the debate on transgender issues. The first is the historical norm of Western culture: one’s gender should be considered the same as one’s objective biological sex. The second is the core assertion of the transgender movement: a person’s gender should be viewed by others and by the law as a matter of subjective identity. Both claims are defensible, but both cannot be right. I will refer to these two views as the objective and subjective views even though I admit these terms are problematic. My conclusion (spoiler alert) is that both views should be respected, since (among other reasons) there is no possibility of any public proof that either is right or wrong.

The clearest thinkers on both sides of the debate acknowledge a valid distinction between (1) the mere fact of biological differences between males and females and (2) the things that culture and psychology do with the concepts of “male” and “female.” This culturally and psychologically generated construct has come to be distinguished from biological sex and called “gender,” though the terms are still often used synonymously. Acknowledging this theoretical distinction, the practical issue of what to do about the possibility that an individual’s gender identity may differ from the individual’s biological sex remains entirely unresolved.

Continue reading

Amy Barrett’s Confirmation And The State Of The Union

I am personally thrilled with Amy Barrett as the newest Supreme Court Justice, though far from thrilled by the process by which she became such (including the Republican-controlled Senate’s procedural hypocrisy in deferring Garland’s hearing but rushing Barrett’s). But amid the discouraging signs of the politicization of the Supreme Court confirmation process, the decline of political discourse in general, and the nation’s increasing polarization, I read one article that I found very encouraging: a self-proclaimed liberal writer who personally knew Justice Barrett back in her days as a clerk for Scalia and who, though anticipating that he will disagree with many of her opinions, is glad that the court is getting a brilliant legal thinker who is also a good person. The nation deeply needs this kind of capacity to recognize goodness and merit in people who are on “the other side,” and I want to recognize and honor that when I see it. Continue reading

A Modified Theory of the Atonement: The Human Condition

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The Human Condition In One Sad Story

If the Atonement was the completion of a task necessary for man’s reconciliation with God and with his fellow man, then we need to first understand the nature of the breach that the Atonement was meant to heal. If the “good news” of the Gospel is salvation through Christ, we need to comprehend what he saves us from before we can speculate about what metaphor best expresses how he accomplished it. 

My cousin saw a young man from his high school walking on the side of the road, and he felt he should pull over. My cousin was a successful scholar, athlete, and member of the student government, well-liked and looked up to by many of his peers. This young man was at the opposite end of the popularity spectrum. He was occasionally bullied and constantly given reason to understand, through subtle exclusions and other signs familiar to most of the high school population, that he was not “cool” or “successful.” My cousin, for his part, had tried to be nice to this young man, as to everyone else, by such simple kindnesses as saying hi with a smile before class started. My cousin thought he seemed dejected and wanted to offer a ride, but then thought, “I hardly know this guy. It would be weird for me to offer him a ride. Besides, I will already be up late doing my homework.” So he ignored the generous impulse and kept on driving. He got to school the next day and found out that the young man had died the evening before by suicide. Continue reading

Why Multiculturalism Fails As A Primary Lens For Viewing Culture

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There are several reasons that I am an attorney instead of an English professor (my original plan). A relatively minor reason that I don’t usually mention is the dominance of multiculturalism in the academy as a lens for talking about and judging literature and culture generally.

What I mean by “multiculturalism” is a particular kind of intense focus on race, gender, class, nationality, sexuality, and other categories that might make a person a minority, and the ways in which cultures construct and deploy these categories (generally in ways that disadvantage the minority). Anyone who has studied English literature at today’s universities should understand what I mean. But so should anybody familiar with the rhetoric of certain liberal politicians, some of whom (for instance) have recently assumed it unnecessary to make any substantial explanation of why they deem it deeply wrong for Joe Biden to have had collegial relationships with segregationist senators. Continue reading