Wednesday, March 23, 2005
A Sporadic Quote Of The Day

Today's entry arrives via The New Criterion's blog Armavirumque:

The point here, of course, is that passion--like patriotism, benevolence, free speech, etc. etc.--is nothing by itself; indeed, it is often very bad by itself. It must serve some end other than noisy self-aggrandizement...
- Stefan Beck, "Passion as Fashion," 3-22-05
Friday, March 18, 2005
Another Controversy!

Sort of.

So Law Professor @ UCLA Eugene Volokh examined the Iranian system of capital punishment and came up with some startling statements vis a vis cruelty and its use in punishment. (That's a collected post page - just start at the top and read your way down). Now that the back-and-forth over Same Sex Marriage has subsided a little, I propose we move on to the topic raised by the professor - should make for some lively discussion!

[HatTip to Jeff Goldstein, who makes an interesting point in his response, as well.]

Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Political vs. Spiritual Continued...

Whew! Sorry this is so late in coming, but as you can see, I've got quite a bit to say, and it took a while to get it all together...and readable.

To begin, a recap: Jason clarifies his side of the argument in response to Brian's post on the subject. Go ahead and read 'em both. I'll wait.

Back? Let's begin.

First, a point I haven't seen either Jason or Brian touch on: the Christian faith is a relational faith. This means that my relationship with Christ, my relationships with fellow believers, and my relationships with unbelievers are the core of my faith. Whatever influence the Christian faith has is meant to be exerted through those relationships, as exemplified by Christ's interactions with those same groups. Working from this premise, it seems that enacting legislation relating to sinful behavior is the diametric opposite of that toward which Christians should be working. (There is a lot to hammer out and clarify on this too-wide generalization, but it does not directly apply to the topic at hand.) I'll let C.S. Lewis make the point better than I could hope to:

"Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realised that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power - it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk."
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

This is not to say that unbelievers are not sinful (of course they are), nor that we should ignore their sins (of course we shouldn't). Just that we can't expect them not to be sinful, nor to appreciate the true difference between sin and righteousness without the revelation that comes upon every believer at the time of belief. As put by St. Augustine:
"I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe."
- Sermo 43, 7, 9: PL 38, 257-258.

Here, then, is point 1: Christianity is primarily, and perhaps wholly, relational. Any influence it will have is on those who come into contact with it directly. Those who do not believe, by internal definition, do not understand - for to understand, they must believe. And as we can derive from Lewis (and as he later spells out), as human beings, we can no more expect an unbeliever to understand the "Moral Law" than we can expect an infant to understand quantum physics. Do we hold infants responsible for this lack of comprehension? Of course not. Neither can we (God is another matter) hold unbelievers responsible for that which they cannot know ("How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?").

Corollary: I want to spell this out, just so I'm not misunderstood. I'm not saying that there is no point to conversing with nonbelievers about moral issues. Quite the opposite. I'm saying we must converse with them about moral issues (and primarily about the single most important issue that faces us: who is Christ?). What I'm trying to get across, however roundabout the manner, is that we cannot expect them to agree to the imposition of the Moral Law as codified secular legislation without some argument from outside the spiritual realm. Unless, of course, we engage them in discussions about the spiritual first.

On to the second point: virtue enforced is no virtue at all. If you have no choice but to tell the truth, how is that commendable? If you only love those who love you, how is that virtuous? Doing good is only virtue if there is some other thing that one could do instead. This is, at its centre, the nature of a free will.

By preventing sin through government power and penalty - by attempting to remove free will from the picture - we are no more "saving" unbelievers than if they were able to go about sinning freely. Indeed, it is not the government's place to ensure that its citizens do not sin (more on this later), even in a Christian nation (if such a thing exists). How much less so in an unChristian or antiChristian nation?

Working to change people (and not just their behavior) through government is not only impossible and undesirable, it is antithetical to the Christian experience.

Point three: In democracies, the government is a reflection of the culture. Therefore, to change the government, one must change the culture. And what defines the culture? Its people.

Do you want to protect marriage? Great - make sure your own is doing well, and do all you can to help your friends. You want to protect the legal definition of marriage? Okay. Then you've got to start convincing people that you have the right notion of what marriage should and should not be, and that doesn't begin with the marriage issue. You must convince them that there is a "Moral Law" out there, set down by a Higher Power, and that that Moral Law has very clear guidelines for the joining of a man and a woman. It starts with evangelism, the foundation of which is set by living out your relationship with Christ through your relationships with others. Then, once the terms are defined (so to speak), we can begin discussing the legal definition of marriage.

This is a massive undertaking and a slow one. It's also the way to ensure genuine cultural change.

Point four:
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
       And what does the LORD require of you
       But to do justly,
       To love mercy,
       And to walk humbly with your God?

- Micah 6:8.

As Christians, we are commanded to do justice, and to see justice done. So the question posed is: is marriage, in this instance, an issue of justice for which all of Christendom must be roused? Certainly the Civil Rights Movement in the US was such an issue. People were being horribly treated, and change was too slow in coming. But as I'm so quick to point out to any who will listen, the differences between Martin Luther King, Jr.'s peaceful marches and the push for Same-Sex Marriage are vast. There is no issue of justice here on the side of homosexuals seeking recognition under the law - but neither is there injustice against heterosexuals. This is not an issue of justice at all. (See: all individuals are treated equally under the law).

So what is the argument against Same-Sex Marriage? As Jason mentions, it is an issue of social stability (in this case, it is also a matter of preserving religious rights and rites, but that's another issue entirely). The definition of marriage as between a man and a woman has been the bedrock upon which the structures of society have grown. To disrupt them is to tinker dangerously with things about which we have little knowledge. Now, social stability (that is, "the public interest") is what government is all about; and, as just stated, we Christians will find arguments from the basis of revealed truth ultimately futile. We can include it to inform our opposition, but in a pluralistic society (or one that makes handwaves toward such status) it cannot and must not be the whole of our position. Therefore, those against the redefinition of marriage must argue from historical experience and prediction, rather than spiritual condemnation.

This is why I do not feel that the movement against Same-Sex Marriage is one that should rally Christians everywhere to its cause (though I am sympathetic, and would, if given the opportunity, vote like Brian suggests). It's not that we are to let the sinful world shuffle slowly into Hell. It's that we are to pull it back from the brink through relationship and dialogue, rather than with legislation. Argue before the Larger World about social constructs and legal structures, but our primary function is to witness to individuals. It is the individuals who matter; and it is the individuals, en masse, who hold the power to change the larger world.

One final point: marriage is a social foundation, but it is also much more than that. In the Christian experience, marriage is a spiritual construct that has social implications, rather than the other way 'round. It follows, then, that for Christians, it is more important to have God's recognition of your union than it is to have the State's. (One could argue that having the State's recognition is irrelevant, but I'm not going there). While those tax credits and legal exceptions are nice, they aren't what validate a marriage. Assuming I ever find "wedded bliss," I don't need the State to rubber stamp it.

Now, there's a lot more to say about Christian involvement in and duty to the legal and social aspects of a democracy (and Brian has promised to look into it - personally, I feel that most of it is centered around the commands in Micah 6:8), but as far as SSM is concerned, I think I've exhausted my argument.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
The Political And The Spiritual

Brian has a thoughtful post up with his take on the Same-Sex Marriage situation here in Canada. He and I had a great discussion on this (and other issues) last Sunday, and I have to say that his post fairly closely mirrors my own position. I feel, however, that there are some areas in which we diverge slightly (or rather, where he emphasizes things that I would not and vice versa), and I want to address those. Unfortunately, I don't have the time at the moment. I hope to come back to the issue this evening or tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005
The Third Annual Int. Eat an Animal for PETA Day coming on March 15th. Meryl Yourish has all the details.

Unintended consequences, and all that...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Stealing A Bit...

...from Nick over at Quotulatiousness: this quote of the day (QotD) is from Jason Van Steenwyk of CounterColumn.

Sometimes reading reporting in the paper has got to be like reading some reporter's commentary on the Kasparov v. Deep Blue matches or Fischer v. Spassky chess matches.

The reporter can know the moves. And he can even know the openings. But chess played at the professional level is deeper, more layered, and more profound than the reporter comprehends.

A webjournal of ideas, comments, and various other miscellany from a Texan university student (with occasional input from his family) living in Toronto, Ontario. Can you say "culture shock?"

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