Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What Trump Knows that the Establishment Doesn't and How it Explains Why He's Winning

One of the problems with the national Republican Party today is that they don't know why people vote the way they do. This problem has been on clear display in the complete miscalculation of the strength of Donald Trump, not to mention the miscalculation about how well Jeb Bush would do.

Here's the problem: The Republican Party thinks that people vote with their heads, when, in fact, they vote primarily with their hearts—or, we might say, their gut.

The trend in the national Republican Party has been to increasingly shun the kinds of issues that are helping Democrats to win. As Democrats ramp up their social agenda, Republicans are dialing theirs down. Their increasing inclination to downplay social issues means that they are knocking out the third leg from the set of political pillars that Reagan established: smaller government, stronger defense, and traditional values. 

This is where the national Republican Party seems bent on going wrong and why they will continue to lose elections. They now sit on a two-legged stool, and wonder why it keeps tipping over.

The Republicans increasing tendency to abandon the field on social issues leaves only one party with any gut appeal—with the exception, of course, of one candidate: Donald Trump. Trump is an anomaly because not only does he emphasize gut issues, but they're about the only ones he does emphasize.

Aristotle devised a whole lexicon for this. In his book Rhetoric, he spoke of the three modes of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. These are the three ways in which we are persuaded: the first is that we accept what the speaker says because of the speaker's character, his ethos. We believe him because he convinces us that he is good, or trustworthy, or knowledgeable, or credible in some way. This appeals to our wills. We believe in the man; the second is that we accept the rational appeal of the speaker, his logos. His arguments are rational and his evidence convincing. This is an appeal to our intellects. We believe his logic; the third way is that we desire to believe him—we are drawn by his pathos. H excites our passions. We believe in him because we want to believe in him. This is an appeal to our hearts, to our emotions

Aristotle, like the Christian thinkers who followed him hundreds of years later, believed that man's soul was made up of an intellect, a will, and an imagination. Each of the above appeals targets one of these, but it is the last one, pathos, that seems to give the speaker the greatest advantage. This is the lesson of Antony's funeral oration in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: The ethos-based appeal of Brutus is completely overcome by Antony's appeal to his audience's emotions.

It is a principle that goes way back. St. Augustine said it over 1,500 years ago: Most people do what they want to to do. It is not rational arguments that determine their decisions. They don't do what they do because they have come to a logical conclusion that that's what they should do. Nor do they do what they do because they should do it. They do what they do primarily because it is what they desire to do.

This is why Bill Clinton, who felt our pain (pathos) beat the sturdy, dependable Bob Dole, a war hero (ethos). This is why Obama, the first Black president, who stressed social justice (pathos), beat Romney, all of whose rhetoric consisted of abstract argumentation about economics (logos).

In other words, pathos Trumps both logos and ethos. Pun intended.

Ronald Reagan implicitly understood this, which is why, while he offered arguments for his positions and exploited his affable, seemingly sincere personality to impressive effect, he never shunned emotional appeal. The introduction into the State of the Union address of the hero in the audience (which also exploited ethos) is just one example of this. I don't know that it is true to say it, but it at least seemed as if Reagan made mention of the abortion issue in almost every State of the Union speech. Abortion for him was a heart issue, and it was only one in an array of ways in which he was able to capture the hearts of his listeners.

The reason Reagan was the Great Communicator is because, rhetorically, he didn't leave anything out. 

Contrast Romney, the response of whose spokesmen was to change the subject whenever social issues like abortion came up, with Obama, whose party wore their social issues (a woman's "right" to abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage) on their sleeves.

One could argue that the Democrats talk about economics as much as Republicans, but it works for Democrats in a way that it doesn't work for Republicans because, for the Democrats, economics has been converted into a social justice issue (support for a minimum wage and welfare programs, opposition to predatory lending, capital accumulation in the 1 percent, etc.).

In other words, even economics, traditionally a logos issue, is a pathos issue for Democrats.

This is why Hillary, who is fundamentally a boring technocratic liberal (similar, in her way, to Jeb Bush), is able to gain the benefits of pathos politics: Because the Democrats have positioned themselves on the moral high ground on even economic issues at a time when now equally technocratic Republicans aren't even contesting the moral high ground.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently drew attention to a study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir which found that moral words are slowing being eliminated from our political vocabulary and being replaced by economic words.

The study found that

general moral terms like “virtue,” “decency” and “conscience” were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like “honesty,” “patience” and “compassion” were used much less frequently.

... Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.

Yet in spite of this Democrats have retained a moral vocabulary while Republicans have abandoned their own moral voice. This allows them to push forward on their social agenda, often by taking positions that are ahead of their constituency. Republicans, on the other hand, almost never get out in front of their voters on heart issues, but almost always stay behind voter sentiment. Democratic leaders lead their voters when it comes to social issues; Republican leaders, fixated on abstract economic issues, follow theirs.

A case-in-point of this was a recent vote in the state legislature of my own state of Kentucky. A socially conservative bill was passed by the more conservative chamber. But while opponents of the bill spoke out openly and strongly against it, only the bill sponsor and one other lawmaker spoke up in its favor. It passed by a relatively wide margin, but an opportunity to articulate why such legislation is needed was missed. Next time, such a bill might still get by, but the liberal voices against it will get louder, and the conservative voices in its favor will get quieter. And when the voter sentiment for it appears to diminish (because no one is making the public case for it, even in victory) the voices in favor will finally be silenced completely, until finally such legislation will stand no chance at all.

Or ask yourself about the last survey you received in the mail from your Republican congressman or state lawmaker. Of the issues it gave you to choose which was the most important to you, did it include a single values issue? Did it even include the abortion issue?

Compare the Democrats fortitude in passing Obamacare, a vote that many Democrats had to know would cost them their seats—as well as pushing feminism and gay rights—to the continued conservative retreat on marriage, religious freedom, and traditional values in general.

Democrats move ahead and their voters follow them. Republican voters, in response, move backward and their political leaders follow in retreat. This creates a backward ratchet effect (to use George F. Will's analogy) for Republicans.

This is why the abandonment of pathos-based traditional values by the national Republican Party is a mistake, probably a fatal one. Which brings us back to Trump.

Trump is the Republican's pathos candidate. There is very little that is appealing about his arguments. In fact, he hardly seems to have any. His rhetoric is fractured and many times nonsensical. He is almost a logos-free candidate. Likewise,  his personal character is plainly not his strong suit. He shifts positions, insults his opponents, demeans women, and smears whole racial and religious groups. In short, he seems devoid also of ethos.

Trump's allure is pure pathos. His appeal is almost exclusively to the gut. As Mary Anastasia O'Grady recently pointed out, Trump has numerous similarities with the caudillo, the Latin American strongman, whose appeal is purely visceral. He's strong, fearless, seemingly independent of all outside control, and expert at exploiting the passions of his audience.

By comparison, the other Republican candidates have seemed bland and dispassionate. Bush is the best exemplar of this. He is boring. And even Cruz, who still talks about social issues, does not feature them prominently in his rhetoric.

For several election cycles, Republican voters have experienced pathos deprivation, and since the moderate/libertarian Republican establishment is doing nothing to cure it—and, in fact, seems bent on enhancing it—Trump is exploiting his own party's weakness to take control of it, and to put it in a better position to defeat the Democrat he will face in the fall.

Trump is like the monster in the movie Alien: He has insinuated himself into the body of the Republican Party, and after feeding off his political host, has now dramatically emerged onto the national stage, killing the Party in the process.

Unfortunately it is Republicans themselves who created the Political Immune Deficiency Syndrome (which I hereby deem "PIDS") that Trump is now exploiting. They destroyed whatever immunity they had from such a candidate through their own abandonment of the kinds of social positions that could have protected them. Yes, they vote for prolife bills when they come up. But try to get them to actively push back on the marriage issue or fight for religious freedom laws without conservative voters looking over their shoulders and see what happens.

There are some brave souls still out there (the State Senate in my home state of Kentucky, for example, has them in abundance). But the unwillingness of many of today's Republicans to fight for the traditional values positions that have characterized the Party since the Civil War is killing them. While liberal political leaders fight for the heart issues—even when they are unpopular and out of the mainstream, ostensibly conservative leaders tend to cut and run at the faintest whiff of opposition. 

Liberal leaders will fall on their swords for their cause if necessary; conservatives abandon theirs in their panicked flight from the front.

Now they are faced with a candidate for their own party's nomination who—even when he makes what to any political analyst (or common sense voter) would be considered a fatal mistake—never backs down. What Trump lacks in intellect and character, he more than compensates for in sheer audacity. His lack emphasis on logos and ethos will eventually catch up with him, but right now his pathos-fueled campaign has captured a pathos-starved voter base.

Had the Republican leaders had half the fortitude in fighting for the heart issues they inherited from Reagan that Donald Trump is now displaying in doubling down on politically toxic positions, they wouldn't be in the position they are in.

God help them.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is the LGBT Revolution eating its young?

In the Age of Revolution we are in, in which every convention, every custom, every fixture of traditional culture is being swept away, you begin to wonder what will be left to rebel against once we have done away with every good thing.

The answer? Once every traditional boundary and every ancient landmark is gone, the revolutionaries start to fight among themselves. 

The Revolution is always followed by the Counter-Revolution, the original revolutionaries are always followed by their more ideological and patricidal children, everyone is equal--until the people who proclaim that everyone is equal take control, in which case the people who proclaim that everyone is equal begin to consider themselves more equal than others.

The LGBT movement, which is take its place at the head of the revolutionary mob, seems to be experiencing just this.

From Pink News (via Rod Dreher's blog at the American Conservative), we have the following from what appears to be the LGBT version of Animal Farm

The National Union of Students’ LGBT Campaign has passed a motion calling for the abolition of representatives for gay men – because they “don’t face oppression” in the LGBT community.

At the event, delegates passed a motion that blames “cis gay men” for “misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia”.

It says: “Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies. This is unfortunately more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men.”

Yes, the LGBT revolution is now eating its young. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Lindisfarne Option: A Celtic Interpretation of the Benedict Option

Now that Archbishop Charles Chaput has proposed, in response to Rod Dreher's Benedict Option, what amounts to the Augustine Option, I'm reticent to offer another Option, since there's just way too many Options going around.

I'm for fewer Options, not more. That's why I don't like Subway, where they give you so many options that you basically have to construct your own sandwich. After I have answered about the fifth question about what I would like on my sandwich, I'm ready to ask them to pay me for it. It's also why I don't like going to the Cheesecake Factory: The opportunity cost is just too high.

So maybe we should call it the "Lindisfarne Interpretation" of the Benedict Option.  But for convenience sake, we'll use the shorter title.

The Island of Lindisfarne became the center of the Church's evangelical operations in Britain in the 6th century. And I think the nature of the island contributed to the effectiveness of what the Church did there.
Lindisfarne is a tidal island. This means that it is an island when the tide comes in, but connected to the mainland when the tide goes out. It is therefore isolated half of the time, and engaged the other half. 

I have never been completely clear on the exact nature of Dreher's idea. There seems to be an element of retreat in it, but, as he recently said in response to Chaput's remarks (and has said before), "the Benedict Option is not really about actual, physical withdrawal (though it could entail that), but about learning how to live as orthodox Christians, resiliently, in an anti-Christian culture."

Actually, I think that withdrawal is not a bad idea if done the right way. It certainly didn't seem a bad idea to Our Lord, who was wont to practice it on frequent occasions.

An army needs a rest. A painter or a writer sometimes just needs a walk in the woods. I write for a living, and when I get stuck, I'll go pick up my guitar and play for a couple of minutes. Ask my wife (who has to listen to it, but sees its tonic effect on me): It works.

I think the PR problem with the Benedict Option is that people don't know how to view it except as a proposal to retreat. And the people for whose ears it is intended don't want to retreat, since retreat means they have to unwillingly pick up their cultural things and move further back and they have been doing too much of that recently. And a plan to do the same thing willingly doesn't seem like much of a solution.

I know that my friend Rod is working on a more extensive explanation of his idea, but in the meantime I would propose the Lindisfarne Option as a way of clarifying this.

I think cutting ourselves off from the culture about half the time--and engaging it the other half--would be a great idea. And the reason is that we get so involved in our culture that we live our entire lives on the cultural mainland. 

I see it all the time among socially conservative people. They get so caught up in the news cycle (Which is what now? Hourly?) that they lose all historical perspective. This is largely due to the prevalence of technology. It certainly has many benefits, but it has the tendency to speed everything up. It traps us in the Now. And it's hard to see, from the perspective of the Now, that there was also a Then, and that, very soon, there will be another Then.

But in the technological Tyranny of the Now, everything looms large. Every good event is a final victory, every bad event a hopeless defeat. If we win, we celebrate, and if we lose, we panic.

I helped pass Kentucky's Marriage Amendment. I'm the one who walked in into the state senator's office, who then filed it. It passed and was ratified by voters. And when the Supreme Court struck it down (it was one of the cases decided in Obergefell), I wasn't too happy about it. Not only do I not like to lose, but I don't like to be cheated. And that's what the Court did to me and to the voters of a number of states who put these laws in place through the agreed upon rules that the Court changed ad hoc and ex post facto.

But I didn't panic. And the reason I didn't panic is because of my front porch. That's where I sit on summer afternoons, away from the television. Away from the Internet. Away from my smart phone.

Away from the World.

I sit in my oak rocking chair looking out on about 20 miles of corn fields and cattle pasture. After a day of enslavement at my computer, I sit there free, with a glass of bourbon, and I read. I read a lot of different things--novels, literary criticism, philosophy, poetry. But one of the things I read a lot of is history. And when I read history it makes realize that things change, sometimes, historically speaking, very quickly.

History tells me that the victories that seem so definitive now will last for a day, and the defeats that seem so crushing and permanent today will be forgotten tomorrow. It is the lesson of Shelley's "Ozymandias." Every ruin testifies to it.

History tells me that what seems to permanent today is always temporary, that the course of history can change in a historical instant--with a death, with a word, with a mistake, with a rallying cry, with the single act of cowardice or courage of one man.

In fact, what strikes me most is how a battle can be lost with the mere loss of one man, and can be won by the mere return of another. If you read history, you see this again, and again, and again. This is what the so-called conservatives who have bailed on the marriage issue don't see in their Now-induced panic: that with the mere application of a little courage, even one of them could change the course of history.

But, again, this requires courage, and courage is hard to come by in the Now, where our leaders have let themselves be trapped.

In fact, this is one of the reasons I do not trust any politician (not to mention anyone else) who does not take his leave of the Now and give himself time to read. Books. With actual pages. On their porch (Computers or Kindles don't count).

There are few porches on the mainland, where the houses have only basements in which to hide.

And yet the answer to the problems of our time isn't to abandon the mainland. It is to get away from it for a while, so we can understand it better. If we decide to leave it completely, if we retreat to an island, we give up on it. But if our lives are a tidal island--"an image," says Richard Foster, "of withdrawal and engagement, of the base and the field, of prayer and action"--it will increase, not diminish, our influence.

We will not have our base in the middle of the battlefield (if we can vary the metaphor), where it is vulnerable, but behind the lines, in a place from which we can see the whole battlefield and know better what we should do.

Perhaps a porch would serve the purpose.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Is science based on faith?

Once again a scientist has wandered into the Land of Philosophy, thinking he knows his way around, and has instead become disoriented and confused. And not only that, but the person doing this is a repeat offender.

In a recent post, Jerry Coyne criticized Matt Emerson, whose essay "At it's heart, science is faith-based too," was recently published in the Wall Street Journal

Coyne is best know for his book Why Evolution is True. But he also frequently makes forays outside his field of expertise, some of which have proved embarrassing. His new book is Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. There have been several great take-downs of this book by people who actually know what they are talking about, one of which is Ed Feser's review of the book in the most recent issue of First Things magazine.

In his criticism of Emerson, Coyne employs the same fallacious reasoning that characterizes his books and that has become a fixture of his blog.

To Emerson's assertion that scientists have "faith in reason," Coyne responds by quoting his piece in Slate magazine:

Scientists don’t have “faith in reason.” As I noted in Slate:

What about faith in reason? Wrong again. Reason—the habit of being critical, logical, and of learning from experience—is not an a priori assumption but a tool that’s been shown to work. It’s what produced antibiotics, computers, and our ability to sequence DNA. We don’t have faith in reason; we use reason because, unlike revelation, it produces results and understanding.

Sorry, but this is just nonsense.

It's not completely clear what Coyne even means by the term "reason," but I'm going to take leap in the dark and assume he means something like logic in particular and rational thought in general. To say that reason in this sense is not a priori and that we only accept it because it "works" is just ignorant.

All reason in this sense is based on two axioms: the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-contradiction. To say that a belief is a priori (meaning, literally, "from the prior") means that you accept it without any prior reasoning or evidence. Maybe Coyne would like to explain what evidence or prior reasoning supports the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-Contradiction. 

In fact, there is no evidence for them. That's why they are axioms. We accept them purely on the basis of intuition: They make sense that's all. That's the problem with any system of thinking: it is based on beliefs which cannot themselves be proven. All we can conclude about a scientist who says he accepts reason because it "works" is that the scientist saying that doesn't know what he is talking about.

Science too is based on reasoning that is based on a priori assumptions. If it is based on deductive reasoning, then you have the two assumptions (and a few others) above. If it is based on inductive reasoning, there is another a priori assumption. As the philosopher David Hume pointed out, all inductive reasoning involves the premise that the future must be similar to the past. If copper repeatedly and uniformly conducts electricity in repeated experiments, then we conclude--on the basis of the assumption that the future will always be like the past--that it will always do this. But although we believe that the future will be like the past, we have no rational basis for believing it. Again, it's intuitive: It just makes sense.

In other words, at bottom, science too, insofar as it makes logical inferences, is a priori, since its fundamental tools of inference are based on a priori assumptions. 

The only question left is whether this is equivalent to faith. Coyne himself seems to think it is, since he responds to Emerson's claim that scientists have "faith in reason" by claiming (erroneously) that science is not a priori, a claim made more ironic when consider the additional assumptions science makes, in addition to its purely rational assumptions, about the reliability of our own senses.

In fact, Coyne is just proving, once again, that he needs full time philosophical care.

My response to the Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial against the Rights of Religious Conscience Act, SB 180

The following is my response to the Lexington Herald-Leader in its original. The published version, printed in the paper last Friday, is here.

It is easier to tell the truth than to lie because when you lie you have to make stuff up, and making stuff up is hard. So perhaps the most positive thing to say about many of the criticisms of SB 180 The Freedom of Religious Conscience Act, is to congratulate the critics on the effort and imagination it must take to misrepresent it so badly.

The Lexington Herald-Leader, acting in its usual role of mouthpiece for liberal groups, said the bill would "let businesses refuse to serve gay customers for reasons of faith" and, in its editorial several days later, would "overturn local ordinances" that ostensibly protects gays from "discrimination."

You would really have had to work up a sweat to think up a mischaracterization that bad. 
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article62548582.html#storylink=cpy

SB 180 was written specifically to stop anti-religious bullying. It focuses on the protection of rights of cosncience of business owners very carefully and limits these protections solely to those services that involve the service provider personally in the event for which the service is being provided. This would cover only a very small number of cases.

Not only would the bill protect the Christian photographer who is asked to provide his creative services for a gay wedding, but it would protect the Black T-Shirt company who might be asked to print a T-shirt with White Supremacist messages.

SB 180 has nothing to do with a waiter serving a meal at a restaurant or a cashier at Wal-Mart, as the Herald-Leader coverage implied. All it does is to stop the increasingly aggressive bullying of people of faith who would be forced to provide a service that would directly involve them in an activity that violates their religious convictions.

The critics of SB 180 in and outside the media don't seem to want to actually read the bill--either that or they diliberately misrepresent it. 

While the Herald-Leader and the groups apparently feeding it its lines claim to be opposed to discrimination, they adre instead promoting anti-religious hatred and encouraging the bullying of people who are minding their own business and simply trying to do the right thing according to their religious beliefs.

SB 180 would provide a very small safe space for religious people whose livelihoods are increasingly being threatened by those who preach tolerance, but who seem to have very little idea about how to practice it themselves.

The critics ought to issue a retraction. That would be the honest thing to do. And the nice thing about honesty is that it requires very little effort and no imagination at all. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Family Foundation press release on today's passage of the Freedom of Religious Conscience Act

LEXINGTON, KY--The Family Foundation said that today's passage of a bill protecting certain businesses from anti-religious discrimination by a chamber of the state's General Assembly was a victory for religious tolerance. "SB 180 will hopefully prevent at least some of the extreme forms of anti-religious bigotry we are starting to see directed toward people of faith who own businesses that offer creative services," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for the group.

SB 180 passed the Kentucky State Senate 22 to 16. The bill now goes to the State House.

"The increasing climate of intolerance toward people whose religious beliefs don't accord with the narrow dogmas of Politically Correctness makes the passage of this legislation imperative. It applies only to very specific kinds of businesses whose services require involvement in the events for which the services are being sought."

Cothran said that because of the limited scope of the bill, lawmakers should recognize that its protections do not violate the spirit of anti-discrimination laws that seek to protect certain groups.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Here is my process for determining who to vote for in tomorrow's Republican caucus in KY

Here is my process for determining who to vote for in tomorrow's Republican caucus. A candidate gets one point for "No," a half a point for "Mabye" (or the equivalent), and zero for "Yes":

Does the candidate discuss the size of his own or other candidates' intimate body parts?
Does the candidate think that the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision on marriage is "the law of the land"?
Does the candidate give evidence that his mother failed to wash his mouth out with soap on appropriate occasions when a child?
We're beginning to wonder
Is there evidence that the candidate's pro-life position is politically contrived?
Does the candidate have a tendency to quote Italian dictators and, on occasion, act like them?
Is the candidate an ideologue on free trade, even if it costs American jobs?
Does the candidate have a penchant for schoolyard taunts of the "neener-neener" variety?
He's on  his way
Does the candidate believe that gay rights trumps religious freedom?
No (but also wants the right to shut down Mosques)
Depends on the day of the week
Does the candidate have a problem following basic rules of decency and decorum to the point of evincing a need for the administration of some kind of electric shock to be administered practically every time he opens his mouth to speak?
Did the candidate think Iraq was was a good idea (when it mattered)
Not certain
Not certain


Thursday, March 03, 2016

The Establishment revolts against the revolution against the Establishment

If you were a mole in the Republican Establishment and you wanted to cement Donald Trump's takeover of your party, what could you do to remind everybody what it is that they hate about the Establishment that Donald Trump is so successfully exploiting? 

How about trotting out the guy you nominated last time who has become symbolic of the kind of hollow mediocrity that characterizes the Establishment and putting him on national television to denounce the guy who you've got to know will point to this very television appearance as one more piece of evidence of how utterly incompetent and out of touch the Establishment is?

That's a long sentence, I know. But the short version is this: Putting Mitt Romney on television to try to explain why Donald Trump is bad for the country is about the best gift you could give to Donald Trump and I can't believe anyone--even the boneheads making the decisions for the national party (a rather low standard, I admit)--would think it was a good idea.

The Establishment is going to beat Trump, who is popular precisely because the Establishment doesn't like him, by telling everybody that it doesn't like him.

I just keep reminding myself that all of this is just a reality show written by Donald Trump.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Is the magic in fairy tales and fantasy books a problem for Christians?

Someone wrote me recently about being admonished by a friend for recommending that her friend’s daughter read the fantasy books of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The books contained magic and witchcraft and her friend felt that this would only encourage an interest in such things.

I told her about a man who came up to me at our exhibit booth at a conference and asked me if I knew of any good educational computer programs that taught certain subjects. He clearly thought that education technology was a good thing. Near the end of our discussion, he looked down and saw that we carried The Hobbit. “Oh,” he said, “I would never use that book with Christian students.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it has magic in it,” he said.

“But you approve of technology?”

“Of course.”

“Well, books like The Hobbit have what I call ‘fairy tale magic’ in them, which is just using some process, the exact nature of which is a mystery to you, to manipulate nature. What’s the difference between magic in this sense and technology?”

Fairy tale magic is the fanciful kind of thing that happens in many fairy tales. When the pumpkin and the rats in Cinderella are turned into a coach and horse, and six lizards into footmen; when the prince kisses Sleeping Beauty and she awakens from her deathly sleep; when Jack plants his magic beans and they grow into a giant bean plant that reaches the clouds; when Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold.

It is this kind of “magic” that Chesterton declares—in his great essay, “The Ethics of Elfland”—if imbibed as a child, helps to inoculate us against the scientific materialism of our age because it helps us to see that what lies behind the world is not a “law” (as the scientific materialist would say), but a Will.

Arthur C. Clarke once famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What he meant was that advanced technology does the very same thing that fairy tale magic does: manipulate nature using a process which you do not understand.

The man I was talking to said something about the fact that even though technology may be a mystery to us, it is not a mystery to scientists who have a natural explanation for it. I responded that that does not change the fact for those of us who are not scientists who use technology: It’s still magic to us.

And besides, even scientific explanations are not explanations, but descriptions―descriptions which themselves appeal to an order which even to scientists is still a mystery. Using an incantation to open a door in a fairy tale is no more magical than using copper to conduct electricity in the real world. And to say that copper conducts electricity because its outer electrons are not localized just begs more questions, since we have only explained one mysterious procedure in terms of another (Why do materials whose electrons are not localized conduct electricity?)

In other words, not only is any advanced technological process magic for us, but ultimately it is magic even to the people to whom we appeal to explain their magic. In the final analysis, it’s even magic to them.

So one way of responding to this objection to fantasy literature is to ask the person if they have a microwave oven in their home or a cell phone in their pocket. If there is a problem with fairy tale magic, then there is a problem with technology. But there is no problem with technology, therefore there is no problem with fairy tale magic (the logical rule of Modus Tollens).

In addition, the kind of “magic” you find in fairy tales―and in fantasy literature like that of Lewis and Tolkien―is not the kind of magic that is prohibited in Scripture. What is prohibited in Scripture is necromancy in particular and fortune-telling in general. It is the consort with specifically demonic forces that is prohibited, as when, at the behest of King Saul, the Witch of Endor calls forth the spirit of Samuel from the dead in the First Book of Samuel.

Again, if you interpret demonic forces too broadly (the occultic), you indict technology. Any definitional net with holes small enough to capture fortune-telling and demonology and large enough to let technology through will also be large enough to allow fairy tale magic through.

Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf does not have dealings with evil spirits, nor does Lewis’ Aslan.

The holes in the net are going to have to be so small as to capture fortune-telling and necromancy, but large enough to let through Joseph’s interpretation of dreams and Daniel’s prophecies. All of which is to say that the problem is not the manipulation of natural things, but the demonic itself. And there is nothing demonic about fairy tale magic of the kind that you find in Lewis and Tolkien. They are simply not calling upon evil spirits to do what they are doing.

And, in fact, it is clear that necromancy is portrayed as evil in The Lord of the Rings, as evidenced by the references to the evil character Sauron as “The Necromancer.” Tolkien certainly seems to recognize this distinction.

The problem is that the people who make this kind of argument want to go way beyond what the Scriptures prohibit. There is a distinction between the use of the word “magic” (in any sense) that is broad enough to encompass fairy tales and fantasy on the one hand, and witchcraft proper on the other.

People who protest Lewis and Tolkien need to have these distinctions pointed out to them.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Gay rights groups hurt their cause by supporting anti-religious bullying

Today's press release from the Family Foundation:

LEXINGTON, KY--A spokesman for The Family Foundation said today that he thought that it would hurt the gay rights movement to continue to support anti-religious bullying. "If groups like the Fairness Alliance continue support the aggressive bullying of religious people who are just trying to mind their own business and live out their religious beliefs, they're going to lose some of the sympathy they've been able to gain in recent years," said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the group.

"To use the LGBT label to mask a malicious vendetta against religious people is not going to help you win friends and influence people. These groups need to start practicing the tolerance and diversity they are always preaching."

"The live and let live philosophy they espouse does not go well with their search and destroy tactics when it comes to dealing with religious people who disagree with them," said Cothran. "To threaten people's livelihood and even send them to jail when they can't force them to deny their religious beliefs is just not a good PR strategy for their movement."

The comments came after an aggressive campaign by The Fairness Alliance and the ACLU to oppose Senate Bill 180, which would ensure that businesses owned by religious individuals are not forced to provide a service that would directly involve them in an activity that violates their religious convictions.

Cothran said the Fairness Alliance had blatantly misrepresented the bill in its public statements, say the bill. "The leaders of these groups need to look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether it's really worth distorting the truth to prevent the passage of a bill that protects just a small handful of businesses that just trying to do the right thing."

"We need to stop anti-religious bullying," he said. "SB 180 will do that."