Thursday, December 18, 2003

Advent Insights

In the midst of the rush to the malls or the websites, it is good to remember the two great traditions of the Holiday Season. A valiant band of freedom fighters resisted tyranny in 164 BC and celebrated the Hanukkah miracle. A small town called Bethlehem can only provide a barn for a baby who would split history in two and continue to inspire billions.

In 167 BC Emperor Antiochus IV "Epiphanes" made it his aim to destroy Jewish culture and faith, slaughtering a pig on an altar to Zeus in the Holy of Holies - the "abomination of desolation" that the books of Daniel and First and Second Maccabees record in gruesome detail. Peaceful protests and prayer vigils were met by massacres and Antiochus ended years of Jewish autonomy and enforced his hellenization program.

Fortunately, a brave band of reluctant but faithful warriors arose, lead by Judas "The Hammer" Maccabeus. By 164 BC the Temple had been reconsecrated and Antiochus was in retreat. It took a few determined and devout people to change history.

The birth of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, was not the saccharine event noted by such ditties as "Away in the Manger". Joseph and Mary were caught in the "census traffic" and the only lodging was in a cave-like barn, with a feeding trough for their baby's bed. The circumstances of Mary's pregnancy, though supernatural to the couple and the watchful shepherds, were undoubtedly suspect to the village gossips.

An audience of shepherds is an ignominious beginning - they were not the elite of Palestinian social life. When the Magi arrived more than a year later, it was a cause for political unrest and the massacre of scores of infants and toddlers. The psychopathic King Herod would tolerate no rival - especially one revered by foreigners!

So Jesus went into exile - just like his ancestors in Babylon and his bretheren after the tragedy of Roman destruction in AD 70.

Judaism and Christianity at their core are not religions of power and wealth. Yes, the Kingdom of David and Solomon had its brief day in the sun and the Church (every branch) has often been corrupted by money, power and sexual scandal. The message of Hannukah and Christmas is hope through humility and a thirst for holiness. It is a message that one person with the favor of God can change the world.

Let's go "back to the future" this Advent and recover the determination of the Maccabees, the devotion of Mary and the delight of the humble shepherds. Herein lies our present and future salvation.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Sexual Politics - Revisited

Sex sells. Sexual innuendo is used to sell cars and clothing, dances and dolls, mashed potatoes and movies. Men and women are assaulted on all sides with loudspeakers proclaiming endless ecstasy and forever fulfillment through pills or purchases.

Now that I am over 40, I am bombarded with email spam and snail mail messages urging me to improve my virility a hundred ways. It is not just "sex" that is alluring me to think and act foolishly. The direct and implied messages that my present condition and experiences are not good enough is what is most heinous to the soul. Such salesmanship is the enemy of inner contentment and family harmony.

What does any of this have to do with politics?

Quite a lot, actually, when we pause to think about it.

Sexual advertising is all about sizzle and temptation and the evocation of false images and fantasies.

Much of modern politics has been reduced to the same. Politicians - male and female - spend inordinate amounts of money polishing images so far removed from reality that they often lose their integrity in the process.

"Journalists" comment on Hillary Clinton's latest look and wardrobe. Without judging her political positions, it is interesting to observe the many "looks" needed to campaign for continual attention - and the 2008 nomination.

Presidents love to appear rugged, enhancing their appeal among both genders. Again, without evaluating policy at all, consider Reagan's woodcutting and the Bush's penchant for military appearances.

Sexual politics goes deeper than image and is more subversive than the superficial image-making of campaign experts.

Women face inordinate pressures to be physically enticing while demanding gender-neutral social and work policies.

Men have to evoke "strength" and "sensitivity" and never feel secure if they are sending the right signals.

"Women's issues" always seem to focus on abortion, with the "pro-choice" cabal claiming exclusive representation of progressive females.

Meanwhile, various men's motivational groups will charge thousands of dollars to help men find "the way of the warrior."

Is there any way through the confusion?

Yes, if we are willing to "tune out" cliches and timeworn ideologies and "tune in" to lasting values and the latest legitimate research.

We need to tune out the media assault on our moral sensibilities and tune in to self-respect and relational fidelity.

We need to tune out the omnipresent lust for more unreachable experiences and tune in to contentment with the blessings of home and hearth.

We need to tune out the spinmeisters who treat us like intellectual imbeciles and tune in to sources of accurate information and enduring insights.

We need to tune out gender stereotypes and tune in to our divinely-bestowed humanity.

What would happen if we all "fasted" the internet and television for just one day and read some timeless literature and enjoyed intelligent conversation?

What would happen if men and women chose to "love the one you're with" and found satisfaction through finding new ways to bring happiness to their present partners?

While we think about such noble thoughts, delete all the emails and toss all the pitches from the mailbox and go out and take on the day with gusto!

Next time: Advent Insights

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Why Does the Definition of "Marriage" Matter?

I know you are expecting an answer to the Bambino and Billy Goat curses...But recent events demand a thoughtful response to an issue more important than politics or sports.

Recent court decisions seem to be opening the door for an unprecedented redefining of marriage and family.

Gay activists and civil libertarians hail these decisions as further progress in the struggle for equal justice for all.

Religious conservatives are outraged at what they see as the demolition of moral and social stability.

Is there any way forward that is more than a muddled middle that pleases no one? Once again, history may help us consider the future.

Sexual practices vary widely across cultures and time periods. Heterosexual and homosexual activity has often been a part of religious rituals as well as an outlet for human passions. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the most "radical" in history with its bold assertion that sexual intimacy is only for heterosexual couples in a lifelong covenant relationship.

Other cultures honor the bond of heterosexual marriage as the key to social stability, even while allowing "indulgences" outside the social contract of clan and community.

There has never been a significant world civilization that has promoted homosexual unions as equal in social status as the bond of a man and woman.

"Wait a minute!" the activists say. "Just because something is unprecedented does not mean it is wrong!"

I will concede this point, with one qualification. If all cultures at all times have seen the heterosexual bond as the most significant, isn't this at least a cause to pause and reflect before we elevate an exceptional situation to a normal and approved one?

We are treading on thin ice here. Slavery has existed in most cultures...It is now almost universally condemned (at least in theory, unless you go the Bangladesh or the Sudan). Oppressive oligarchies have ruled the world until the past two centuries (and still may, if the global corporations are involved)...and their control balanced by democracies.

Well, let's add psychological research to historical precedent. For three generations, therapists have been treating patients who suffer from the failure of one or more parents to love them and create a safe place for them. Recent books like "Fatherless America" and the popularity of various voices calling for parental responsibility all serve to remind us that "Johnny needs a Mommy and a Daddy". This does not mean that single-parent households are doomed to failure or that one can not recover from poor parenting.

Boys and girls need male and female role models in order to establish a secure sense of self and face a world awash in rejection and image-projection.

What do these thoughts mean for the future of "gay marriage" in the USA?

We should not rush to approve a change that ignores historical fact, multiple religious sensibilities and solid psychological insight.

This does not mean that any domestic partner arrangements are impossible or that the private acts of consenting adults should be persecuted. To redefine marriage is to take a step over a precipice for political purposes rather than morally sound reasons.

Those who oppose gay marriage are branded as fearful and intolerant, lacking in compassion and love. In fact, the opposite may be the case. Upholding enduring values for sound reasons is one of the most loving things we can do! Refusing to give in to political fads that ignore the faiths (yes, notice the plural here!) of millions of freedom-loving people is more courageous than promoting an agenda of the exception.

The real issue remains the same - what will we permit, prohibit or promote as a society?

Next week: Sexual Politics - Revisited

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Immigration Secrets

The crisis of illegal immigration will not go away by denial or more airport inspections of my birkenstock sandals. There are some not-so-secret agendas at work that touch both sides of the political spectrum. Let's focus on the crisis in the Southwest. Thousands are crossing over from Mexico each year. Here are some of the "secrets":

Conservative agribusiness and manufacturing owners like the present situation - in ensures low-cost labor and happy consumers.

Liberal political groups see present and potential voters beholden to their socioeconomic policies.

Radical groups are pandered to in Mexico and on US college campuses, dreaming of a future "bronze nation" and conveniently forgetting the oppression, slavery and human sacrifice of the Pre-Columbus era.

Some overzealous "patriots" want to seal the borders and create a Fortress America where the "good old days" (that never were) can be restored.

The "secret list" could go on for pages. What should we do?

The following questions will make no extremist happy, but perhaps the thoughtful among our nation can begin a movement toward 21st century sanity.

First, can we agree that the words "legal' and "illegal" need to matter, or the rule of law is in jeopardy? Should driver's licenses and significant benefits and opportunities be offered to only to legal residents, and not proffered for cheap votes?

Second, will we muster the wisdom to create a real guest worker program that regulates and releases people to come and work without fear and without all the same privileges as citizens?

Third, will we honestly confront history? Will the conservatives among us admit that The USA grew into a continental power through warfare against the Native Americans and Mexicans? Will the liberal consider that the way forward is not destroying the present borders, but creating mutual understanding, trade and cultural exchanges that allow the US, Indian nations and Mexico to cooperate without the loss of sovereignty?

The way forward requires moral courage. If we want to rid our hearts and land of prejudice and xenophobia, we must find guiding principles that will continue to allow the USA to be a beacon of hope.

Next time: The Bambino and Billy Goat Curses - How the Red Sox and Cubs can finally win.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Post-Recall Realities - After the Party

This is an unusual year. Both the Red Sox and the Cubs have a chance to play in the World Series. They will probably break our hearts, but you never know...the curses of the Bambino and Billy Goat may be lifted.

California offers the world another actor-turned-politician. Let's see...George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson (oops, he is from Tennessee!)...and now - Arnold Schwartzenegger.

What happened? Is it all a right-wing conspiracy funded by Enron? Maybe it is a deep-cover operation orchestrated by the Left to discredit Gray Davis' replacement. Or maybe, just maybe, the leaders of the recall tapped into a raw nerve of frustration. Recalling the entire state legistlature was not feasible. Davis, like a baseball manager of a losing team, takes the fall for a system subverted by short-sightedness and corruption.

What is next for Arnold and California? Gridlock? More cliches and posturing? Or is there an opportunity for the powers in Sacramento to make wise decisions for the future?

The post-recall realities are just as harsh as the pre-recall ones. Bloated budgets, infrastructure crises, immigration controversies and the climate for economic growth remain paramount issues obscured by politically-correct social legistlation (driver's licenses for illegal residents and domestic partner laws deserve real thought, not just impassioned polemics) and backroom deal making with casino owners on the Left and agribusiness on the Right.

There are two guiding thoughts that should inform the way forward for California. The first is the fact that individual Californians must bear most of the responsibility for the current crises. Voters elect politicians, feed off the pork passed into law and abuse benefit programs. Voters make bad economic decisions (dot-bomb) and then expect the government to rescue them. The solution? A call to personal integrity, sacrifice and community support.

The second thought is derived from the first - government administration must be made efficient and excellent, delivering necessary service is a cost-effective way. We CAN cut money from a variety of programs without cutting essential services, if we are willing to take on certain entrenched powers, like public employee unions and some educational establishments.

Do teachers deserve more money and smaller classes? Yes, if they teach well and we cut administrative overhead. Do we need improved parks, roads and sewers? Yes, if the process is streamlined and fewer "boards" are involved. Should all qualified students have a shot at college? Yes, if we focus on programs and schools that educate broadly and well. Even though I have a humanities background and am a champion of academic freedom, I do not think my tax dollars need to fund the political agenda of academic elites who are still living in the late 1960s.

Personal responsibility and administrative efficiency are not popular solutions, but they are essential to the future of our state.

Next week - The Immigration Crisis

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Unholy War - Is There Hope for the Middle East?

The violence in the Holy Land seems unrelenting. A suicide bomb kills Jewish civilians. An Israeli military strike follows. Radical Islamic groups swear "Death to the Zionists" and Israel vows to fight for her survival.

Meanwhile, the American "Road Map" for a two-state Palestine is in tatters and European nations begrudgingly acknowledge that Hamas may be a terrorist organization. Waves of Anti-Semitic propaganda and violence grow in the West and the politically-correct in the academy and the media ask for balance, fairness and understanding concerning the plight of all parties.

History is helpful for stimulating hope...Or at least giving us a more objective view of the present and the possibilities for the future.

In the mid-19th century both religious and secular leaders began to dream and plan for a safe Jewish homeland in Palestine, which was under the oversight of the aging Ottoman Empire. Small Jewish groups began legally purchasing and painstakingly transforming the land, with at least the tacit approval of some Arab and Turkish leaders.

In 1917 the Balfour Declaration offered England's support for a Jewish homeland. This would be abrogated less than 20 years later in light of Arab pressure.

Competing claims for the land, Arab rivalries, British waffling and local outbursts of Arab and Jewish violence made the 1920s and 1930s challenging days indeed. Jewish groups continued lobbying, Arab nations vied for control and geopolitical events conspired to delay the homeland issue until after World War II.

The Holocaust created enormous pressure for a Jewish Homeland. The United Nations, led by the USA and the Soviet Union, created two states, Israel and Jordan, during the momentous days of 1947-1948.

Four wars (1948-49, 1956, 1967 and 1973) and one long "intifada" later, peace is still elusive.

Israel traded land for peace with Egypt in 1978, returning the Sinai and agreeing to Palestinian autonomy.

The Oslo Accords offered the Palestinians a pathway to statehood.

The American "Road Map" pleases no one completely, but it offers yet again another two-state solution.

It is 2003.

Is there any way forward?

Yes, but only if every side shows courage and perseverance.

A Palestinian leader must unequivocally affirm Israel's legitimacy.

New Jewish settlements on potential Palestinian land must be stopped from expanding.

A joint Israeli-Palestinian Task Force must be mobilized to quell the violence and arrest the leaders of any group that vows to subvert peace.

The good offices of the US, Russia and the EU should play a supportive role.

Arab nations who support peace must come forward and offer economic aid so that both states can resettle populations and create viable economies.

These are first steps. The real issues are moral courage for the Palestinians, patience for the Israelis and support from the West.

Next week - California Chaos - Post-Recall Realities

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Why "Family" Matters

Recently someone heard me express concerns about recent "domestic partner" legistlation in various states and asked me what "was I afraid of" concerning a loosening of our sociopolitical definition of family. I was indirectly accused of homophobia and intolerance. My "enlightened" friend told me to step out of the "Dark Ages" and accept "progress".

In my first article on Social Morality I argue that a society must have tacit agreement on what is prohibited, permitted and promoted in order to prosper. These same terms apply to the issue of what we will affirm regarding the family.

A little anthropology and history may enlighten us.

Most great civilizations have had some social order regarding family. Often these were economic and political agreements for the clan to survive and thrive. In many cultures, extramarital sexuality, polygamy and even homosexual behavior were tolerated or even promoted as religiously significant.

The Jewish belief in lifelong heterosexual monogamy was a revolutionary idea in a world awash with sexual experimentation. The Christian faith reaffirmed the Torah and intensified it with the sanctification of marriage and celibate singleness.

Speaking historically, it is the Judeo-Christian belief that is "non-traditional" or "radical"!

The discipline and fidelity required for such a moral standard redirected the energies of millions toward productive, transforming labor that has made the West the envy of the world.

Please pause with me and catch what I am NOT saying so far. Yes, I am arguing for heterosexual monogamy as the best choice for the foundation of family and society. I am NOT prohibiting private activity between adults or squelching public debate. My only request is that we be honest with the evidence.

So, where do we go from here with social policy? I suggest three thoughts to guide our search:

1) There is considerable research that promotes the importance of healthy female and male input for a child to be healthy. Let's look at the implications...

2) There is a difference between permitting certain relationships and promoting all domestic arrangements as the basic unit of our culture. What will we choose?

3) Any forward course involves a recommitment to personal responsibility. The decisions to marry and have children must be positioned as positive but sobering wake-up calls to integrity and life-long commitment. Domestic failures create new generations of broken lives.

Next week - Is there hope for the Middle East?

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Future of the Family

What is a "family"?

Is it a Mom, a Dad, Kids, pets and a SUV?

Is it any multigenerational group that lives under the same roof?

Today's tumultuous political climate makes this a "hot potato" for everyone. Deeply held convictions are masked by public promotion of flexibility and tolerance.

Serious psychological research unveils the importance of positive female and male role models for all children.

So a healthy family must mean a heterosexual couple committed to each other and their children.

Hold it!! Why can't Johnny have two Moms or two Dads?

Are homosexual partnerships just as healthy for children and long-term social cohesion as the "traditional" marriage?

In my next article I will answer this directly - for now, some questions to ponder:

How we answer the question on the family is foundational for the future of social harmony and public policy. What do we do with our deep differences? Will it be considered "hate speech" to speak out against non-heterosexual partnerships? What is going to be "normal"?

Our future rests on the answers.

What About Radical Islam?

The presence of thousands of religious zealots who work for the demise of the Israel, the USA and the West is a cause for more than hand-wringing concern. On the extreme left, residual historical guilt prompts the delusion that negotiation will bring peace, if we are patient, kind and financially generous. On the right, calls for more military action or sealing the borders find a home in hearts angry that such "barbarians" would be tolerated even for a moment.

There is no simple solution to the current crisis; however, there is way forward, if the West has the courage and stamina.

Radical Islam finds a home in angry, disenfranchised and moralistic souls who want to overthrow the corrupt West and establish Islamic Law in every nation. The first thing the West must do is put her own moral and social house in order by reaffirming transcendent ethics, the importance of religious freedom and piety and calling her citizens to personal responsibility. If the citizens of Europe, Israel and the USA are in some fashion, "doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly" there is less fuel to feed the fire among the populations who feel alienated. Honest legal processes, economic opportunity and respect for God are powerful counterweights to Radical Islam.

In addition to 3000 years of legal and moral insights, the West also has two other powerful weapons in her arsenal: democracy and economic opportunity. With the exception of the modern, secular state of Turkey, there has never been as Islamic democracy in its 1500 year history. Whether by accident, exhaustion or divine illumination (or all of the above), all branches of Christianity have repented of their historic wrongs and no longer promote intolerance or violence as a means of propagating their message. The demise of Communism opens the door for a new expression of ethical capitalism. If people are called to responsible behavior AND given economic opportunities, there is less kindling for Radical Islam's pyrotechnic terrorists.

The third facet of this plan is intelligent, strategic military action free from ideological or religious jargon and focused on bringing the perpetrators of terror to justice. All nations who love democracy must unite in this strategy. Israel-bashing is fruitless - the survivors of The Holocaust are not going to keep negotiating with groups dedicated to their destruction. The West faces a new Nazi-like threat and, like the 1930s, she must decide to either appease it with wishful thinking or oppose it with moral and military strength.

As we debate freely (and isn't is wonderful to be able to do so?) the policies of governments, we must take personal responsibility for our attitudes and actions and realize that hundreds of millions of ordinary people can turn the tide if they will find the courage to do so.

The future of freedom depends upon us.

Next week: The future of "the family"

Please email comments to:

Monday, September 15, 2003

After the Post-Modern

For nearly a generation, "post-modern" has come to describe a mind-set, a world-view that captures the hearts of the generations after the Boomers. "post-mod" is a catch-all for a range of ideas, feelings and movements for the under 40 crowds.

In order to be post-modern, one has to be reacting or responding to the "modern". Here are some ways of capturing the post-modern ethos:

The modern world believed in unlimited progress through science and technology;
post-moderns enjoy the benefits, but no longer worship at the altar of Progress.

Moderns were skeptical of traditional religions and rigid moral strictures;
Post-moderns want spirituality without religious absolutes.

Moderns extolled the virtues of individual freedom unrestrained by anything but "love";
Post-moderns are just as chaotic, but they are searching for community.

Moderns saw the values of the West - democracy, capitalism (modified by some socialism when there is $$ around) and freedom - as a beacon of hope for the "Third World";
Post-moderns are more likely to look to the "Majority World" for better or complimentary values.

The contrasts are many and meaningful - but why is any of this important?

We are currently embroiled in an epoch-determining debate about the ideas, morals and values that will determine the future of the global community and every culture and nation that is part of the tapestry of humankind.

The Boomers continue to echo the cliches of the 1964-1974 (the "free speech" in Berkeley to Watergate era), determined to undermine anything akin to "traditional" moral and religious values, especially Judeo-Christian ones. The generation represented by the Clinton Presidency champion themselves as revolutionaries...But they are actually "modern" conservatives, trying to keep old conflicts alive in order to stay in academic, cultural and political power.

The generations under 40 are often swayed for a brief time by this rhetoric, only to realize that they have been left nothing to stand on as they confront unprecedented crises and opportunities.

To quote Bugs Bunny, "What's up, doc?" What is next? Are we destined for more polemics between the "radical right" of talk-radio and the "liberal left" on NPR and PBS? Must we choose a world choking in SUV exhaust or confined to hydrogen-powered scooters? Do we seal our borders or allow a new nation to conquer the Southwest USA?

What comes after the current post-modern fad?

Let me suggest three rules for the coming debate - if indeed there are thoughtful persons willing to discover solutions beyond the current public posturing.

First, we must face all issues directly and refuse to revert to the tactics of the personal insult and the sweeping generalization. Not all proponents of universal healthcare are against capitalism and not all pro-life advocates want to return to the "coat-hanger" days.

Second, values matter and the debates about ethics, morality, the nature of the family and personal responsibility are important. Social cohesion rests upon shared "first principles." In the USA, those principles are found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Third, the way forward may include looking back sometimes. Ancient pathways properly distilled for the 21st century provide rich resources for reflection.

Over 2,500 years ago a prophet asked what was expected of a good person. His answer?

"Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly..."

Maybe this is what comes after the post-modern.

Next week: Confronting Radical Islam

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Title: "Social Morality: Three Questions"

The venerable preacher E.V. Hill once said, "Some are for the left wing. Some are for the right wing. I'm for the bird flying." Today's American public square is full of large egos on the left and right each yelling so loud that serious thought is drowned out by a cacophony of cliches, hyperbole and insults.

In this first installment of my cyber-thoughts, I want to follow Socrates' modus operandi and ask three questions to get our world-wide web chat started. For all who choose to reflect rather than react, I offer the following as a place to begin. Social stability requires both explicit and implicit agreement on some values, such as fairness, justice, respect for others, etc. When it comes to social cohesion, we are in the midst of a half-century of rancorous and even subversive debate.

Simply put, what are we going to 1) prohibit as destructive to the social order and on what basis do we penalize infractions? Second, what behavior are we going to permit regardless of the personal preferences of various groups? Finally, what will we promote as necessary and valuable to continued progress as a society?

Prohibit, permit and promote give us a way to organize our thinking as ponder the implications of our often glib dismissals of others' opinions. Pick your category or topic and these words come in to play. Economic policies, sexual morality and the relationship of religion and culture all cause us to pause and consider our opinions and policies.

Next week I will tackle the tangled web surrounding the word, "tolerance".

Meanwhile, let's have some intelligent fun and apply my "P-3" questions to the burning issues of the day. Remember, we live in a pluralistic society...but we have to agree on some "first principles" to have reasonable order. In 50 words or less, feel free to email me at your thoughts on social morality. I will publish a variety of responses and we will be off and running together.