In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers #2



The following post is adapted from my post in December

By now we ought to know that below cliché is often the deepest sincerity. This was made evident to me once again after the Parkland, Florida shooting. History has repeated itself on my social media feeds. I see the same people writing the same messages I saw after the Las Vegas shooting last October. After that tragic event, my social media channels filled with people “sending thoughts and prayers.” The next day I encountered several reactions to these “cliché” responses which criticized people for their seemingly trivial and laissez-faire approach to a tragedy which took over 50 lives in Vegas. It is happening again, this time 17 lives in Florida were lost. People are sending thoughts and prayers. And other people are denouncing them for doing it. The sincerity of these complaints I believe deserves an honest evaluation of “sending thoughts and prayers” after a tragedy.

The most creative complaint against “thoughts and prayers” I have seen so far took the form of a game. By clicking on a link you became a player and were instructed to click two buttons over and over again. The buttons were labeled “Thoughts,” and “Prayers.” When the game starts, a number in the middle of the screen begins to increase exponentially indicating the number of deaths in the USA by gun violence. Ostensibly, by clicking the buttons the player is working to stop that number from rising. But, predictably, no matter how many times a player clicks one button or the other, the deaths continue to rise.

The obvious criticism is that sending thoughts and prayers is ineffective and the deeper and more subversive critique is that sending thoughts and prayers is cliché and easy—like clicking a button. Though witty, the critique falls flat in both instances. Continue reading


The Culture War: Why Sexual Whateverism Hurts Me As Much And In The Same Way As Traditional Sexual Morality Hurts Them

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I am perfectly comfortable with being thought wrong by those who think gay marriage a huge moral victory. But they do not seem to be OK with me thinking them wrong. Why is this?

There is a serious imbalance in the way our culture views its own culture wars. Those who promotes traditional sexual morality, including the prohibition against sexual relations outside of dual-gendered marriage, are criticized for promoting ideologies that are hurtful and insensitive towards LGBT and other non-conforming persons. Those who promote the “new sexual morality” (really more of a sexual amorality) are praised for granting those who were previously considered sexual deviants the respect they deserve.

So far so good. I have no problem with the proponent of traditional morality being criticized in this way. I have no problem with the proponent of the new [a]morality being praised in this way either. My problem–and the “serious imbalance” to which I referred–is that I have never heard anybody criticize the proponent of the new morality for promoting an ideology that is hurtful and insensitive towards the nonconforming tradition, and I have never heard anybody praise the proponent of traditional morality for granting tradition and its proponents the respect they deserve. Continue reading

Autonomy as Enslavement

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites . . . . It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

–Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly

I have written several essays critiquing contemporary liberal values such as equality, tolerance, and diversity. This adds to the number.

Autonomy too is a poor ideal to live by. It fails in roughly the same way as “equality,” which is incoherent if it means anything other than the semi-tautological and completely unhelpful proposition that we should “treat likes alike,” as I have argued elsewhere, though it is taken to mean much more, to the confusion of our political discourse. In the same way, there is a huge gap between the proper philosophical definition of “autonomy” and its popular meaning. “Autonomy” can mean mere unconstrainedness (lawless liberty, which is the popular meaning) or conscientiousness (following the law generated by one’s own conscience, the proper philosophical definition). Continue reading

In Defense of Dogmatism

Amazon’s “look inside” feature has preserved intact a perfect little essay from the book, “Things That Are,” by Amy Leach. I have met Amy Leach–I even hiked in Provo’s beautiful Rock Canyon with her, her husband, and my personal essay class, courtesy of Patrick McMadden, my essay teacher, who I think was involved in getting her to come out to BYU and read from her book during BYU’s Friday Reading Series. If you will follow the above link, use the “look inside” feature, and search the word “hoopoe,” you will find a complete, lovely, and very short essay titled “God.”

In this essay, Amy Leach points out that men take the name of God in their mouths, but they do not speak God’s words. “They say it pleases him, to say his name incessantly. They sing it in songs and chant it together and broadcast it loudly on the radio, on signs. Perhaps it pleases him. I do not know. It does not please me.”

These iterations of his name are totally different from his words. God’s words, according to this essay, are his creatures, who “mount up with wings or leap through brambles or swim blackly in ponds.”

I find this essay utterly charming, like the rest of the book, but I also find something lacking in the treatment of how men speak God’s name. Continue reading

How to Argue with Republicans about Healthcare Legislation

*This is an essay co-authored by Matt and Josh

There are a lot of opinions about whether Obamacare is good or bad and how Trumpcare would compare. Typically, these discussions focus on either anecdotes or moral platitudes. A story about a person who is worse or better off—a raised or lowered premium—or else the moral obligation to care for the underprivileged.

Anecdotes and morality have their place in debate, mainly they supply the emotions. But with powerful emotions always surrounding us we sometimes never discuss actual policy. And at some point you might suddenly realize what I recently realized: I hardly know anything about the proposed health care systems. And the bad news is it’s not really something I can just read up on in a few hours and have a grasp of everything. I tried. It’s huge and complicated.

So rather than offering another argument, I’m doing the opposite. I’m going to tell people how to argue with me. I don’t want another story. I just want to spend some time talking about actual policies and the theories behind them. When I’m done talking to you, I want to feel like I understand something about the healthcare system better than I did before. So if you want to convince me about your specific platform, here are eight points that matter to me as a conservative. Here’s where you’ll score winning blows:    Continue reading

What Role Should Religion Play in American Politics?


[We’re happy to publish this guest post, written in response to “Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America,” by John Griffin.]

In his March 20 post, David takes on a hot topic of late: whether religious views should be granted a more prominent and respectful place in American political discussion.  David’s answer – from his opening account of a God-fearing African American taxi driver to his warning that “failing to validate” religious voices will lead to social fragmentation – is an emphatic YES.  Without a place for such expression, David argues, the public sphere would become exclusionary and – with respect to fostering social cohesion – ineffective.

Historically, David would seem to be arguing the obvious. After all, religious elements have always played a major role in American politics, and to deny them significant voice ignores history and reality.  It turns out, for example, that one of the most religious groups in the American polity – measured by church attendance, prayer and members’ own self-identification – is African American Protestants, also one of the most loyal Democratic voting blocs.  Why then should those who champion progressive causes and view such groups as important political allies go to such lengths to exclude religious views from political discussion? Continue reading