Seeking Simple Answers

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

– H. L. Mencken

It happened again.

Once again, a heavily armed teenager has walked into a public school with loads of ammunition and a grudge. Again, mothers, fathers, and friends are lamenting the taking of so many young lives. Again, politicians and talking heads are pointing fingers and assessing blame. Again, the Internet and social media are awash with loud opinions and angry condemnations in both directions.

Again.

The events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida—and others in Kentucky, California, and numerous other locations across the country—are just the most recent in a long string of violent outbursts in public spaces. Parents are understandably on edge, wondering if their kids are safe when they leave the house in the morning, and if all is being done to protect them from a risk that most of them wouldn’t have even considered when they were in school. And virtually no one believes Stoneman Douglas is going to be the last such sad occurrence.

The initial response to such senseless loss of life is usually outrage, followed by a demand for a strong and meaningful action that will prevent future pain and suffering. Not only is such a response understandable, it is, I believe, the correct one. A failure to express anger and frustration at the murder of innocents bespeaks either a failure to completely grasp the situation or an utter lack of compassion. A moral people should be outraged by violent acts, and grasping for answers and solutions shows a desire that no one else go through what the current victims are experiencing.

That said, it needs to be acknowledged that solutions birthed during times of extreme pain or intense anger are rarely the best answers to tricky issues. They are often more fixed on assessing blame or punishing those who are perceived to be at fault than actually solving the problem. And in some instances, the cure can be worse than the disease.

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Transforming the Political Culture

In a previous blog post, I lamented the current state of the republic, and the complicity of many Christians in the debasing of the political culture. The tone of that piece might be described as pessimistic, expressing my frustration in where we currently are and how we got here.

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In general, however, I am a “silver lining” kind of person, finding possibility in the face of frustration, and glimmers of hope when hope is in ill-supply. In that vein, I would like to offer my thoughts as to how Christians can actually reclaim their role as salt and light in the culture. The following saws are intended to form a framework in which Christians of varying opinions and ideologies can actively and effectively use to engage the broader society. They are not a list of specific issues or causes on which Christians should rally. Rather, they should be seen as a sort of prerequisite—a self-searching of attitudes and beliefs that should color our conversations and debates, both in matters of policy and beyond.

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Bigger than Ideology

The American political system is broken. This has been the case for quite some time, but recent elections and events have served to lay bare the dysfunction which has become the norm in Washington. The balkanization of the nation into micro-tribes has been thorough, with utter enmity evident between political parties, within political parties, and between the administration and the media. If democratic politics is the art of compromise, then politics, as we have known it, is dead.

The combination of rank partisanship, angry and unrestrained rhetoric from the highest positions of power, and the seeming inability to acknowledge even a modicum of virtue or sincerity in those being opposed is a recipe for disaster. No representative government is designed to survive such rigid inflexibility.

All of this is distressing for someone who believes deeply in constitutional republicanism. But even more disturbing to me is how many Christians have bought into the current climate, adopting the tone and tenor of the most strident partisans. They violently attack the perceived opposition, often personally and on matters that once might have been viewed as outside the boundaries of political debate. Yet these same individuals will be the first to defend “their guy” from similar (or worse) charges simply because of affiliation.

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On “Toxic Masculinity”

A term that that has been popping up on news feeds and television screens more and more frequently of late is “toxic masculinity.” It has been identified as the root of everything that is wrong with modern America—from mass shootings to the rise of Donald Trump to the recent slate of sexual harassment charges. It has been uncovered as the dark underside of the Jedi Order in the Star Wars movie franchise, and is said by some to be inherent in carnivorism.

HAZMAT_Class_6_Toxic.svgThe basic premise behind the phrase is that masculinity, taken to its natural conclusion, inexorably leads to boorish behavior and the systematic subjugation of the disenfranchised in general and women in particular. It is implied (or occasionally overtly stated) that it is only by eschewing normal male behavior and intentionally becoming more feminine that men can move forward and bring an end to societal ills.

It is important to acknowledge up front that the issues being raised by those condemning “toxic masculinity” are real. The constant revelations of sexual manipulation of men from different arenas and across the ideological spectrum are deeply disturbing, and the ferreting out of such behaviors—especially when those acting abhorrently are in positions of power—is a major step in the right direction.

But masculinity is not the problem, and the solution to what ails the culture requires men acting more like the men they were created to be, and not less.

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Of Blood, Soil, and a Kingdom Worth Defending

By now, pretty much every political pundit, social commentator, or dude with a computer and a Facebook account has commented on the violence that surrounded last weekend’s rally/riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.* I’m not sure there is anything that I can add to the conversation that hasn’t been stated more ably or eloquently elsewhere, but I still feel that I ought to say something—if for no other reason than to get myself on the record, and to sort through some of the things about the events (and the aftermath) that have been cluttering my mind.

The violence and identity politics on display in Charlottesville should be deeply disturbing to all who observed it, regardless of creed, politics, and ethnicity. For a county “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” what happened in central Virginia must remind us all that those values need to be actively preserved and defended, especially when challenged by those who claim superiority simply because of their race or heritage.

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The Great Trump Debates of 2016, Part Two

The following is a continuation of an ongoing email discussion between my cousin Mark (semi-reluctant Trump supporter) and me (unabashed Trump basher). (For part one of the discourse, click here.) In this week’s installment, we delve deeper into the repetition of past failures of the Republican Party, and the general competence of one Donald Trump to serve as chief executive of the United States.

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Exchange #3

Mark (via email, 6/29/16)

Where to begin?  Well, let me start here.  I’m just happy that I can have this discussion with you, and that we can share our viewpoints.  It rarely happens anymore.  In fact, I think it is part of the reason for the fractures we are seeing in races around the globe, elections around the globe, and in the two major parties here.  Let’s start with that.

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The Great Trump Debates of 2016, Part One

As we approach the presidential elections, much (okay, pretty much all) of the conversation has centered on the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Conservatives in particular have struggled with their opinions about and obligation to their party’s candidate.  Some of us (and I am on record as being a part of this camp) find the candidate so reprehensible that we cannot and will not, with good conscience, cast a vote on his behalf. Others, while less than enthralled with the idea of a Trump presidency, see the alternative of President Hilary Clinton as significantly worse, and are willing to hold their nose and vote along the party line.  Still others are excited about having an outsider candidate crashing the party and shaking things up a bit, and are looking forward to voting for Trump in November.

Recently, I started a conversation with my cousin Mark (technically, second cousin, but we’re all family) about the merits and demerits of Donald Trump, with Mark voicing the “pro” side (with significant reservation) and me the “con.”  This started on Facebook (in the comments of another family member’s post), migrated to email, and now—with Mark’s permission—is being shared here for the world to see. I thank Mark for his willingness to share this conversation, and for proving that there is still room for discourse even when opinions diverge.

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