The Best and Worst of 2018

It’s been another exciting year, and we want to thank you all for reading and, if applicable, posting comments on our blog. Once again, we would like to close out the year with some summary remarks about good and bad stuff related to film, music, books, sports, food, and family.

Film Experiences:

Jim:  This year I saw numerous films and few of them were disappointments. My expectations were low going into several of these, which contributed to my delight at their quality. One of these was Solo: A Star Wars Story, which wonderfully matched the Star Wars campy humor aesthetic at its best. Another was Incredibles 2, which blew me away in terms of how naturally it followed and even improved upon the seemingly unmatchable first film. What took them so long?! And my expectations were especially low with regard to A Star is Born, but under Bradley Cooper’s superb direction, combined with some strong acting and singing performances by Cooper and Lady Gaga, what seemed from the start to be a really bad idea (why remake such a bad film?) became a stunning triumph—an authentically portrayed tragic tale at a time in Hollywood history when tragedy seems to be a dead genre. Bravo! Two other highlights for the year for me were Phantom Thread (Daniel Day-Lewis is truly a master of his craft) and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (the Coen brothers—directors of the film—are masters of theirs).

Amy:  Jim stole a few of my choices for great film experiences, but here are a few others he didn’t mention. I spent a lot more time watching the small screen than the big screen this year. However, two highlights among blockbusters were Avengers: Infinity War and Mission: Impossible-Fallout. Neither was the best movie ever, but once you have committed to a series, you have to see it through, right? The Searchers and My Life as a Zucchini were two small screen gems we enjoyed as a family. I discovered Sneaky Pete which is a brilliantly produced con series and Patrick Melrose. The kids and I devoured The Great British Baking Show and all I can say is it was scrummy! We also made sport with several Hallmark movies this Christmas (one point if you can predict upcoming dialogue, two points for predicting plot developments) which are a bit like your Aunt Betty’s cheese ball: unoriginal and bland but for some reason you can’t stop yourself from consuming it.

Jim’s Best Musical Experiences of the Year:  One of the highlights of the year was taking my daughter, Maggie, to see Taylor Swift in concert at Lucas Oil stadium in September. Maggie cried through much of it, while I simply enjoyed the show. Seeing Bailey, Sam, and Andrew develop as musicians (guitar, drums, and piano, respectively) has been wonderful. As for new music that I’ve especially enjoyed, by far my biggest discovery of the year was the Avett Brothers. I have been vaguely aware of them for years but I never really dug into their stuff. Then I discovered their song “No Hard Feelings” at a time in my life when I really needed it. This prompted a deep dive into their catalogue and I’ve been astounded by the musical beauty and lyrical wisdom of their work ever since.

Amy’s Best Food Experiences of the Year:  This summer, a friend and I catered two weddings, with our husbands and kids playing supporting roles.  So much work, so much time, so much fun. Kind of like marriage, actually. Being trusted to play a significant role in one of the biggest days of a couple’s life is a true honor . . . not to mention the joy of discovering homemade pickled beets and chicken shawarma. Yum yum.

Jim’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  The Chicago Cubs had a strong regular season, but I’ll leave it at that (see disappointing sports moments below), and the New Orleans Saints have been dominant in the regular season as well, and I’m hopeful that their season this year won’t end in a crushing last second defeat like last year (see below as well). Sam’s Eastbrook high school soccer team won sectionals again, which was fun.  And his first year on a travel team was great for him as well.

Amy’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Ironically, my favorite sports moment involved watching my team lose. We had a challenging spring semester and making a run for the border (to Canada) with Jim for our anniversary was a much-needed break. Attending my first NHL game (Detroit vs. Montreal) was icing on the cake. Go Red Wings!

Jim’s Most Disappointing Sports Moments of the Year:  The Chicago Cubs early dismissal from the playoffs via a loss in the wild card game against the Colorado Rockies was disappointing. But it wasn’t terribly surprising, as all season long they seemed to lack the timely hitting that great teams consistently come up with. And the New Orleans Saints’ sudden ousting from the playoffs in January due to the “Minneapolis Miracle” TD pass reception by Stefon Diggs was one of the most difficult moments in my life as a sports fan. Oh well, there’s always next year, and I’m hoping this year will be it for my Saints.

Amy’s Most Painful Sports Moment of the Year:  I really thought (and hoped) the Cubs would make a deep run in the playoffs, but I enjoyed watching the Red Sox win it all. On a more personal note, Andrew’s travel basketball team lost in double overtime despite the other team going down two players and he ended up with a concussion, a first for the both us.

Good and Bad Reads of the Year:

Jim:  One of my favorite reads this year was Christian Faith and Social Justice: Five Views, edited by Vic McCracken. The book displays just how widely varied are the perspectives on social justice, even within the Christian community. And it doesn’t even include a chapter on the natural law perspective, which is probably the book’s main weakness. Here is my full review of the volume. Another superb scholarly text I read this year was Linda Zagzebski’s Epistemic Authority, which explores the role of authority in belief formation. Next to Alvin Plantinga, Zagzebski is probably my biggest contemporary hero in Christian philosophy and, more specifically, virtue epistemology. Everything she does is lucid and profoundly insightful. The worst book I read this year (and probably for many years) was Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination. It is a work which is unfortunately highly touted in many circles, but which lacks anything like a coherent argument for its thesis. I also read many superb (and a few not so good) scholarly articles pertaining to hell and open-mindedness, my primary scholarly projects these days.

Amy:  I read so many great books this year, some for pleasure, some I had to muscle through, and some that were a little bit of both. Mindset by Carol Dweck and A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman were two that challenged my narrative-oriented brain but were well worth the effort as was Reflection on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis, though in a more spiritually edifying way. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin and Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington were sobering reminders of the history of prejudice in our country which both, ironically, left me hopeful about the potential of our future. The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger is one of the best books I read this year and one I couldn’t stop recommending to people. Our family entered the world of the Enneagram with The Road Back to You and I have loved all things P. G. Wodehouse this fall and winter. Lethal White, the next in the series by Robert Galbraith, aka J. K. Rowling, did not disappoint.

Best 2018 Family Memories:

Amy:  Our 20th wedding anniversary trip in March was wonderful especially our trip to the Toronto Museum of Art and hiking around Montreal. This year was full of transitions for us as a family. Bailey graduated from high school started at Taylor this fall. His absence is felt by us all and yet we are excited to see him moving on to bigger and better things. I wrapped up homeschooling with Maggie and Andrew and with their entrance into our local public school, I have taken on the role of cheerleader rather than teacher, a role I quite enjoy unless it means explaining linear equations, to myself and Maggie, at 11:30 at night. The kids and I took a trip over fall break with my folks and enjoyed beautiful scenery and one another’s company. We have all also loved having my niece, Rachel, living with us this year.

Jim:  Our trip to Canada in March was a rewarding and timely excursion. On the way home, we visited Ausable Chasm, the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,” which we both enjoyed immensely. Also, seeing our sons Sam and Andrew develop as athletes (soccer for Sam and baseball, basketball, and soccer for Andrew) has been a lot of fun. And having Bailey as a student in my History of Philosophy class at Taylor was also a memorable, if sometimes strange, experience. Also, building a chicken coop and acquiring some chicks (which are now full-grown, ready-to-lay, hens) has been quite the adventure. Lastly, taking part in a two-day retreat of silence at the Abbey of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky two weeks ago with my father-in-law, brother-in-law, and our six sons was a highlight as well. The extended time of prayer, Bible study, and silent meditation was spiritually enriching and cleansing. And the bourbon chocolate fudge made by the monks was a nice bonus!

Best Kids’ Quotes of the Year

Here are some of the best quotes of the year from our kids, which come from Maggie (14) and Sam (16):

  • Maggie: “I wish cancer would get cancer and die.”
  • Sam: “The worst things happen to people when they forget how small they really are.”
  • Maggie: “Moms know. Dads understand.”
  • Sam: “No one is anonymous under the divine eyes.”
  • Maggie: (in a conversation about sexual ethics) “Truth does not have an expiration date. It’s not frickin’ milk.”
  • Maggie: “If someone kidnapped me and held me against my will but gave me ice cream regularly, I would stay.”

New Year’s Resolutions:

Amy:  I want to strive to be more disciplined in scripture reading. I am working on turning worries into prayers and with my career as a homeschooling mom coming to an end, I am figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

Jim:  Once again, my primary goal this year is to be more regular with posts on Wisdom and Folly. But I really mean it this time!

 

Happy 2019 everyone!


Viewpoint Diversity and the Academy

Generally speaking, we all value—or ought to value—diversity.  Be it ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, aesthetic, methodological, culinary, or human developmental (i.e., age), we know—or should know—that human diversity is a good thing for a community and a good thing for us as individuals to experience.  On this much, hopefully, we can agree.  And it is appropriate for any school, business, or organization to cherish and pursue diversity.  But why this is a reasonable value is seldom explained or defended.  What is it exactly that makes diversity a human good?  Why, in particular, is diversity a valuable thing at a university?  And why is this especially true for a Christian university?

As cognitive creatures, humans are inherently doxastic beings, naturally forming beliefs all day every day about all sorts of things.  And for beliefs to be rational they must be adequately informed.  Humans are also social animals, as Aristotle famously noted.  Human societies are inherently plural, so our operation within communal atmospheres is fundamental to our existence.  As doxastic social beings, then, we rely on others within our communities to instruct, challenge, and correct us as we form beliefs about a whole range of subjects.  And if all members within a given community believe the same things about all issues, then there may be instruction, but there won’t be challenges or corrections to our beliefs.  Given that all of us hold some false beliefs that need correction, a lack of doxastic plurality would leave us with little hope for escape from the grip of these falsehoods.  Any further enlightenment would be limited by the confines of the already agreed upon set of beliefs that everyone in our midst already affirms.

If this is true for any community, then it is especially the case in an academic community. Diversity of views is inherent to the original and on-going purpose of the university, as a place where many different perspectives and belief commitments co-exist and integrate in creative, cooperative, and innovative ways.  Of course, it is not enough to have the “versity” without the “uni” of “university.”  Something must unify us in the midst of the plurality of perspectives and convictions.  And this is what distinguishes the Christian university, which regards Christ as the star of the academic solar system.  As the Apostle Paul says, “in Christ all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  So in the Christian university, Christ is the hub and focal point of everything we learn, teach, and practically implement.  At least that is our goal, even if we constantly fall short of attaining this ideal.  This conviction is rooted even in the creative order itself.  God is the maker of all things, and the universe is inherently diverse, so if we are to properly worship and understand God, we must appreciate the diversity within his creation.  So the good of diversity for the Christian university is grounded both in Christology and divine creation.

But notice that this diversity good is essentially doxastic—it has to do with the variety of beliefs, viewpoints, and perspectives.  Yet when diversity is promoted and celebrated in academic communities these days, it is not the first thing many people think of.  Rather, we often think of racial or gender diversity (and, perhaps, to a lesser extent, diversity of age or physical ability).  This is not to say that these forms of diversity are not themselves valuable, but these biological differences have no communal value in themselves any more than other biological factors, such as eye color, height, or the shape of one’s bicuspids.  We properly value racial and gender diversity only because they are somewhat reliable indicators of the deeper essential value of viewpoint diversity.  But they are not infallible indicators of diverse perspectives.  Biological diversity (plurality of races, genders, etc.) does not guarantee viewpoint diversity.  Nor does the lack of such diversity within an academic community guarantee a lack of viewpoint diversity.

So is the current obsession with biological diversity in the American academy misguided?  To the extent that it ignores or fails to appreciate the deeper value of viewpoint diversity, I think it is.  After all, if the end in view is plurality of perspectives, then racial and gender diversity are, as just noted, not infallible indicators of the achievement of that end.  Of course, one might point out that biological diversity within a community is important for another reason, specifically as an indicator of fair hiring procedures.  But, important as that is, it is a separate issue.  And here, too, biological diversity or the lack thereof is not by itself an infallible indicator of fairness in hiring or the lack thereof.

So, again, diversity of biological attributes such as race and gender within an academic community is valuable, but only secondarily or derivatively.  My contention is that they are not valuable in themselves but valuable because of a deeper good, namely viewpoint diversity, the plurality of perspectives which is so crucial to the advancement and enhancement of learning, which of course is the ultimate good of any academic community.


Book Notes

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin: This was just what the doctor ordered for many reasons. Hearing of Griffin’s experiences as he traveled through the south in the late 1950’s disguised as a black man was a powerful and grief-filled reminder of our nation’s past sins and the historic burden blacks have carried. It was also an uplifting reminder of how far we have come. While I did feel conflicted reading from the perspective of someone merely pretending to be black, I certainly admire Griffin’s courage in seeking to bring to light the injustices suffered by so many.

I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe: I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Set on the campus of an elite, fictional Ivy League university, it tells the story of the title character and the many ups and downs of her freshman year. Tom Wolfe is a master storyteller, creating characters who feel genuine and yet act as perfect stereotypes of their demographic. The innocent country girl who wants to fit in. The frat boy who wants to get laid. The athlete who wants to keep his starting place on the team. The journalism nerd who wants to make his mark (and get laid). Wolfe captures them all and writes a story which is simultaneously personal and yet emblematic. This was why I loved Charlotte Simmons. What I hated was the deluge of profanity and moral perversity filling the pages from cover to cover. I am sure it is absolutely authentic, but it was so profoundly filthy that at times I had to step away from reading in order to give my sense of propriety a chance to catch its breath. I seriously doubt anything would have been lost had Wolfe dialed back the vulgarity, but it still one of best books I have read in recent years.

A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman: There are only a few books in life about which I can say “Reading this changed my life.” A Failure of Nerve is one such book. In many ways, it seems an unlikely candidate. It can be rather dry and reading it was slow going given the number of times I had to double back and reread sections in order to be sure I understood them. But the profound insights into human nature I have gained from Friedman are ones to which I have come back to over and over in recent days. I now give myself pep talks, saying things like “Don’t triangulate here! Don’t triangulate!” or “Quick, self-differentiate!” Just as I believe that God has woven universal truths in the arrangement of the stars and the design of a single cell, I believe He has created patterns and complexity within our psychologies, both personal and interpersonal, which are waiting to be discovered. Friedman has taken a microscope to those patterns and laid out his discoveries for all to see. Whatever your vocation in life, you will find this book to be a game changer.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing:  I actually meant to read a different book by the same title but enjoyed this one nonetheless. While it filled me with a deep gratitude for the fact that I am not an explorer, nor do I intend to become one, I gained new found respect for men like Ernest Shackleton and the twenty-seven men who traveled with him in 1912. I think what struck me most regarding this story was the fact that not only did they all survive, but in their will to live they never seemed to sacrifice their humanity. I did wish the book provided more of an education regarding the technical aspects of the voyage but it’s a good introduction to an amazing story. Perfect for reading from the comforts of your climate controlled environment.


Defending Daniel Murphy’s Freedom of Thought

In his August 21 Chicago Tribune column Steve Rosenbloom calls into question the “character” of new Chicago Cubs player Daniel Murphy simply because Murphy has declared his disagreement with the homosexual lifestyle of former player Billy Bean.  Rosenbloom never bothers to explain exactly why Murphy’s convictions should be considered problematic, much less why his character should be called into question.  Apparently, Rosenbloom was content to use cheap innuendo, which of course is irresponsible and lazy journalism.

Since when did it become morally objectionable to disagree with a person’s lifestyle choices?  And given the fact that historically orthodox devotees of all three Abrahamic religions—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—have the same conviction as Daniel Murphy, Rosenbloom is effectively

NY Post

questioning the character of billions of people.  And all without a single argument.  That is closed-minded dogma.

Perhaps Rosenbloom would insist that it is irrational or wrong to oppose homosexual conduct because same-sex orientations are innate, based in, say, a genetic disposition.  There are two major problems with such reasoning.  First, there is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, for this claim.  The notion that people are “born that way” is a cultural myth which has taken hold only because it so conveniently fits the LGBTQ narrative.

Secondly, even if it turns out to be the case that homosexual attractions are innate for some people, it does not follow from this that homosexual behavior is morally appropriate.  Not all desires need to be acted upon.  Human beings are free to resist particular sexual desires, regardless of how strong they might be.  We are not automatons or animals.  To say that a person must act according to their same-sex desires is to affirm hard determinism, which is a deeply problematic view, since it implies that all of us are slaves to our strong desires and not culpable if we act on them.

Or maybe Rosenbloom would say that Murphy’s belief is somehow dangerous or threatening to LGBTQ people.  But if mere disagreement with a person’s lifestyle is dangerous or threatening and therefore grounds for moral censure, then shall we also impugn the character of those who disagree with other lifestyle choices, from pot-smoking to NRA membership?  This is a slippery slope to an Orwellian world.

In short, however Rosenbloom might try to rationalize his assailing of Daniel Murphy’s character, it is indefensible.  And he owes Mr. Murphy an apology.

It should be obvious to everyone that our culture has turned decidedly in the direction of a gay-affirming stance in recent years.  But the mere popularity of a view does not show that it is true.  To reason from popular opinion is a basic logical fallacy—a fallacy that much of our culture has sadly embraced.  And the tacit assumption that consensual sexual behavior should be exempt from moral assessment is not only historically aberrant but ethically foolish.  It is indicative of a culture whose idol of sexual license has become its most ascendant god.  Every culture ultimately makes sacrifices to its gods, and American culture is no different.  Evidently, we are now even prepared to offer up our freedom of thought.


Five Smart Recent Albums

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on music, so I’ll do a little catch up here by highlighting some of my favorite albums of the last couple years, all gathered under the descriptor “smart,” because, well, that’s exactly what they are.

Panic at the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

What if the Killers and Duran Duran had a baby and you injected it with ten ounces of adrenalin and the lyrical wit of Morrissey?  That’s right, you get Panic at the Disco.  This stuff is lyrically clever, melodically addictive, and danceable (if you’ve had plenty of caffeine).  And the title track features the most impressive lead vocal performance I’ve heard since Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”  Brendon Urie (lead vocalist, multiple instrumentalist, songwriter, and stage acrobat) is a wonder of nature.  Wow.

Avett Brothers – True Sadness

I’m just now getting on this band’s wagon and am happy to be late to the party, since a wealth of great music awaits me.  This latest offering is poignant, earthy, witty, wise, and stylistically eclectic.  My favorite song on the record is “No Hard Feelings,” a powerful musical resolution to hold no grudges or resentments toward people.  This is one of many Avett Brothers songs which dare to make mature statements about personal virtue which are extremely rare in the world of popular music.

Foxygen – Hang

After three interesting but somewhat sprawling albums, this innovative California duo settled down to create a lushly produced and fully orchestrated song set, and Hang is the fascinating result.  Though clocking in at a total of just 33 minutes, the album explores several genres in a way that leaves the listener feeling like s/he is attending a Broadway musical.  And these guys have a great sense of humor, as evidenced by this video for the song “Avalon.”

Stephen Malkmus – Sparkle Hard

This former front man of the legendary Indie-rock founders Pavement has been making high quality solo records for seventeen years, and this latest offering maintains his high standards of unpredictable musical adventures combined with quirky lyrics and unpredictable melodic flourishes.  Here are some performances of songs from Sparkle Hard on Live at KEXP.

Arctic Monkeys—Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

These guys have been around for a while, but they refuse to make the same album—or even an album within the same genre—twice, evolving admirably from a gritty garage rock through progressive rock to their current reinvention, which is spacious, atmospheric, and loungy musical palate surrounding Alex Turner’s mesmerizing stream-of-consciousness lyrical puree.  Joe Strummer meets Paul Weller meets Tony Bennett.  Or something like that.


Risk Takers

Great artists and intellectuals take risks.  They dare to challenge prevailing paradigms of thought and popular practice, which guarantees they’ll receive resistance and ridicule.  Gregor Mendel’s pioneering work in genetics was ignored by his peers.  Claude Monet endured abuse by both critics and the public.  Marcel Proust was rejected by publishers more times than he could count.  Galileo’s and Einstein’s insights were profound and eventually world-changing, but they were strongly opposed before their ideas eventually took hold.  Aldous Huxley and Bob Dylan were hated by many even after they were established in their fields.  And Socrates, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King were killed because of the risks they took.

Risk is a standard feature of innovation.  This guarantees opposition, an unfortunate deterrent to proposing new ideas.  So along with the fact that innovation demands strong imagination and intelligence, the innovator must be courageous, willing to be hated or humiliated for the sake of the truth or beauty they pursue.

HistoryCollection.com

Risk also guarantees occasional, if not frequent, failure, as illustrated in the lives of Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, and the Wright Brothers.  So eventual success requires persistence and even an obstinate personality.  The innovator, then, must be a well-differentiated person, defining him- or herself by a standard beyond public opinion.  To many s/he will necessarily appear insensitive or even insane.

The oft-repeated exhortation to “be a risk-taker”—a favored bromide at graduation ceremonies every Spring—is almost never fully serious or else it is hypocritical, because most people only like risk-takers in the abstract.  They resent and are annoyed by the real, concrete risk takers in their lives (though all of us have benefitted from them).  This is one more sad fact about the human condition.

Perhaps a better or more realistic exhortation is “be patient with risk takers” or “be open to new innovations.”  Not everyone has the disposition to be a genuine risk-taker, so why encourage everyone to do so?  But all of us encounter risk-takers and are forced to decide whether to ignore, resist, ridicule, or even hate them because their ideas cut against the cultural grain and challenge our own beliefs or values.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t subject their ideas to rigorous critical review.  On the contrary, rational critique is the mature, responsible response to new challenging ideas.  It is good for the world of arts and ideas and good for risk-takers themselves.

So if you’re not a risk-taker in the sense of pursuing innovations in your field, then at least take the risk of patiently considering and perhaps reasonably responding to the risk-takers in your life.  Their latest risk might be one of their mistakes, but your demonstrating this through rational argument will help them and the rest of the world more than empty ridicule or blithe dismissal.


Jesus Christ, Our Celibate Lord

Our culture treats sex like its oxygen or food—as if it were something one needs to survive.  In fact, sex isn’t necessary for survival, nor is it even necessary for the good life.  Even the philosophical father of hedonism, Epicurus, understood this.  But, alas, American culture is far more hedonistic than even the ancient Greek hedonists.

What sex is necessary for is procreation and marital unity.  But one need not participate in either of those things to live and to live well.  This is most evident in the life of Christ.  Jesus lived as a virgin.  He died a virgin.  He rose again a virgin.  And he lives forever as a fully exemplary human being . . . as a virgin.  Jesus Christ is our eternal, celibate Lord.

Let that sink in.

From this it is clear that the celibate life is not unhealthy or even less than ideal.  Rather, the Ideal Man lived a thoroughly celibate life.  We live in a culture which constantly contradicts this by insisting that sex is necessary for a happy and fulfilled life.  In fact, it tells us that the choice for celibacy is somehow unhealthy or unreasonable.  (Ironically, that view itself is unhealthy and unreasonable.)  And because that claim implies Jesus was unfulfilled, unhealthy, and unreasonable, it is deeply anti-Christian.

Yet many Western Christians give sexual pluralists a pass on their assumption that we all need sex.  That we all must have sex to be happy.  Why?  Probably because we have lived so long in a hyper-sexualized and pornified culture that we’ve interiorized some of its assumptions, including this one.  Consequently, in public discussions of sexual orientations and same-sex marriage, you seldom hear Christians confidently declare that celibacy is a reasonable and positive option.  It’s as if we are ashamed to admit this biblical and anthropological fact.

But refusal to stand by this truth is to deny that Christ himself was the Ideal Man.  It is to deny that the Apostle Paul spoke the truth when he declared celibacy to be a gift (1 Cor. 7:7-8).  And it is an insult to millions of Christians around the world who practice celibacy either by choice or by necessity (due to physical disability or lack of a marriage partner, in spite of their desire for such).  So let us be careful to respect Jesus, respect Scripture, and respect our celibate fellow Christians by honoring the high calling of celibacy.

Please keep this in mind the next time you hear someone talking about sex as if it were a basic human need or a necessary ingredient in a fulfilled life.  Even if you lack the courage to correct them on this important point, at least remind yourself that they are rejecting an important biblical teaching.

In many ways, ours is a post-Christian culture, and nowhere is this more evident than in the area of human sexuality.  As Christians, let us remain true to Scripture and the plain facts of human nature regarding this issue and thus honor Jesus Christ, our celibate Lord.


My Debates with John Loftus

Last week I twice debated atheist author John Loftus.  The first debate was hosted by Brookville Road Community Church in Indianapolis.  Approximately 600 people attended the event, and you can view it here.  The second debate, which was held the very next night, was hosted by the Free Thought Fort Wayne group at the Allen County Public Library auditorium.  The audience at this event was smaller—about 150—and consisted of a higher concentration of religious skeptics.

At both events Loftus and I debated the question “Is Religious Faith Rational?”  I took the affirmative position while Loftus defended the negative thesis.  John is a veteran debater, having gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Dinesh D’Souza, Randal Rauser, David Wood, and others.  Spiegel at Indy DebateThis was my first experience at formal debate, so I was curious to see how it would go.  I certainly enjoyed Loftusit, and I found the time constraints to be the most challenging aspect of the experience.

There was an interesting wrinkle regarding the first event.  John’s van broke down in Muncie on his way to the Indy debate.  So the organizers contacted me to ask if I would pick him up on the way to the church, which I was happy to do.  Consequently, John and I were able to spend about an hour together getting to know one another before the first event.  We actually hit it off, and I think that helped set the tone for a cordial debate both nights.

Here is a piece about the Indy debate that appeared in the Daily Reporter.

I am interested in doing more debates with other atheists and religious skeptics.  In addition to the topic of the reasonableness of religious faith, I am happy to debate such issues as the problem of evil, the existence of God, the prospects of ethics without God, and other issues related to philosophy of religion.  So if you or someone you know would like to partner with me to do that, let me know!

 


Politics Gone Viral

For many years, as a mother of four, I dreaded this time of year. The excitement and cheerful decorations of Christmas are long gone. The green and sunshine of spring seem a still distant hope. When the kids were little, these were long and grey winter days with no snow spent wishing for sledding and igloos to help burn off some of that seemingly endless childhood energy. The long and grey days with lots of snow were spent stuffing kids in and out of snow pants and wishing they would just stay inside. But my greatest dread was sickness. Inevitably, we would schedule a playdate, spend several lovely hours with friends only to have someone throw up all over one of the kids as we were saying goodbye. Okay, that never actually happened, but there did seem to be a proportional relationship between the frequency of playdates and the chances of my kids getting sick. In order to avoid whatever gut-spilling, bowel-emptying plague which was currently laying siege to our circle of friends, I would become hyper-vigilant regarding contact with others. If I saw the slightest hint of illness, runny nose, sneezing, unidentified ooze leaking from any orifice, I would yell “Retreat!” and hustle the kids off as quickly as possible, giving the offending orifice a wide berth large enough to drive the Titanic through…sideways.

This season of political divisiveness and strife has me living in the same nerve-fraying state of alertness. Politics has become a virus from which I would like to be immunized or, better yet, simply avoid all together. I know this is not the way of the informed citizen and might seem a complete shirking of my civic duties, but I’m ready to at least use a few sick days. It isn’t that I don’t care about the issues being debated. Quite the reverse. The stakes have never seemed so high: illegal immigration which encompasses national security, our legacy as a nation of immigrants, and the fate of those caught in the middle; racial equality; issues of religious freedom and tolerance; abortion; gun control; and the list goes on. All matters of vital importance and deserving of our attention. Nevertheless, on a fairly regular basis, I dream of leaving others to solve our problems and packing up husband, kids and dogs (sorry cat, you are on your own) and heading to hill country with a lifetime supply of dehydrated beef stroganoff and the complete works of Sir Conan Doyle.

I know that in the last two hundred plus years of our nation’s history there have been times of greater political division (e.g., the Civil War, Vietnam, etc.). But what I find so maddening about our current political divide, beyond the character assassinations and untethered vitriol on both sides of the aisle, is its ever-pervasive presence. Go to the movies or turn on the television and you’ll have some high school dropout lecturing you about the environment or gun control or the “wage gap.” Try to watch sports and you’ll have it turned into a political exercise about racial prejudice. You can’t even shop for school supplies or buy a cupcake without declaring your support or disapproval of one side or the other. Every corner of our culture has been infected with politics. In other words, there is no common ground. There is no place to meet in the middle and enjoy a laugh or well-played game. Everywhere is a pulpit and everyone a preacher.

I’m not denying anyone’s right to use whatever platform they have been given to propagate their particular perspective. I only ask they consider the context in which they do so. We watch movies for their artistic and entertainment value, not to be indoctrinated but to be enlightened and uplifted. We watch sports to be amazed and inspired, to feel a part of so larger than ourselves, not to be lectured and subdivided.

Maybe if we spent a little more time on common ground, rooting for the home team, laughing together, enjoying the same musical or theatrical experience, we might find the road to political compromise a little less rocky. Maybe those moments of shared experience will be just what the doctor ordered.


Civil Public Discourse and the Virtue of Open-mindedness

 

This past weekend I gave a presentation at the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics in Chicago.  My presentation was entitled “Civil Public Discourse and the Virtue of Open-mindedness.”  Here I will summarize the content of my talk.

Today there is a lot of anger and division about political and moral issues.  How do we demonstrate civil discourse in the midst of this? Our natural responses to conflict are essentially fight or flight.  We either withdraw from those with whom we disagree or we challenge them to show them where they are wrong.  But neither approach is constructive because withdrawal kills dialogue and challenge makes people defensive.  In neither case is civil discourse achieved.

I argue that the proper alternative is open-minded engagement.  I affirm Jason Baehr’s definition of open-mindedness as a willingness to transcend one’s default cognitive standpoint on an issue (The Inquiring Mind, Oxford, 2011).  A person who is open-minded in this sense displays a readiness to take seriously alternative perspectives and a willingness to welcome new evidence that could overturn their current beliefs.  Although people generally admire those who display such open-mindedness, it is difficult to do so because our current belief set is comfortable, open-mindedness challenges our intellectual pride, and open-mindedness requires moral work, specifically development and application of the virtues of self-control and patience.

Obviously, we should not be open-minded about everything (e.g., being open to the idea that my spouse is actually an alien or that rape is morally acceptable).  We should be foreclosed about many things.  But regarding issues where reasonable people disagree, we should strive to keep an open mind.  I argue that in such cases open-mindedness is an intellectual duty.  This is because each of us has many false beliefs, as evident in the fact that we all disagree with many people who are at least as intelligent and responsible as we are.  Other factors also guarantee that I have false beliefs about various issues, including the fallibility of my reasoning skills and perceptual abilities, as well as the fact that I don’t have the time or ability to thoroughly vet all of my beliefs.

Some other reasons to be open-minded are that this trait is critical for learning, and open-mindedness follows from the Golden Rule: I want others to seriously consider my truth claims and welcome the evidence I present to them, so I should do the same regarding others’ truth claims and arguments.

So how does one become more open-minded?  Here are three practical tips for transcending one’s default perspectives: (1) intentionally build your moral imagination, (2) practice active listening—resolve to speak less than your conversation partner, and (3) be Socratic—develop the art of questioning (which can also expose problems in others’ views).

Finally, it is important to remember that open-mindedness is effective for changing others’ minds.  This is because open-mindedness is disarming; it prevents others from becoming defensive.  It can also be contagious.  If you display an open mind, then your neighbor is more likely to do so also.  But even where minds don’t change, open-mindedness improves civility because it makes us less defensive, makes us feel less threatened by those with whom we disagree, and enhances our capacity for calm and patient dialogue.