Why We Need Social Norms

David Brooks“The health of society,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks, “is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens.” These, he says, are reinforced by social norms that have been “destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism.” Society will not become stronger, he says, “unless we are more morally articulate, unless we have clearer definitions of how we should be behaving at all levels.”

“The Cost of Relativism,” by David Brooks. The New York Times, March 10, 2015.

Malice Toward None

Lincoln's Last Night NGCUS -  Ep Code 4578One hundred and fifty years ago this week, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address. The address, at its core, is a discourse on slavery, war, and God’s justice. The speech, in its entirety, is inscribed in the walls of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln was killed a month after delivering it. The original is presently on display at the Library of Congress.

Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln, March 5, 1865.

Islam, Christianity and Terror

ISIL FlagLess than a week after 9/11 President George W. Bush said, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.  That’s not what Islam is all about.  Islam is peace.” President Obama has argued that ISIL “is not Islamic” at all, but is instead attempting to hijack Islam in a quest for legitimacy. He has also pointed to the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition to argue that religiously-justified violence is not exclusive to Islam. Some, like Robert Tracinski, have recently made a very different argument about Islam.

“Why Islam is More Violent Than Christianity: An Atheist’s Guide,” by Robert Tracinski. The Federalist, January 27, 2015.

“The Two Crises,” by Bill Kristol. The Weekly Standard, January 19, 2015.

Remarks on Islam and Terrorism, George W. Bush, September 16, 2001.

“The Islamic State.” VICE News, August 14, 2014.

DeBlasio Flips on Church Use of Schools

New York City Mayoral Candidates Attend Political ForumNew York Mayor Bill DeBlasio once opposed Michael Bloomberg’s effort to bar churches from using public schools for worship. Now, in office, he has changed his stance.

Then: “Mayor deBlasio stands with religious groups that worship in public schools,” by Corinne Lestch. Daily News,  April 8, 2014.

Now: “DeBlasio asks high court to uphold ban on churches in schools,” by Emily Belz. World, January 15, 2015.

Perpetual Outrage

kim k GQHaving observed that there seems to be a new “outrage” every day, Slate magazine kept track for all of 2014 and produced a year-end piece on the cumulative effect of perpetual outrage. “Over the past decade or so,” write the authors, “outrage has become the default mode for politicians, pundits, critics and, with the rise of social media, the rest of us. When something outrageous happens—when a posh London block installs anti-homeless spikes, or when Khloé Kardashian wears a Native American headdress, or, for that matter, when we read the horrifying details in the Senate’s torture report—it’s easy to anticipate the cycle that follows: anger, sarcasm, recrimination, piling on; defenses and counterattacks; anger at the anger, disdain for the outraged; sometimes, an apology … and on to the next. Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to participate from home. And the same cycle occurs regardless of the gravity of the offense, which can make each outrage feel forgettable, replaceable. The bottomlessness of our rage has a numbing effect.”

“The Year of Outrage,” by Allison Benedikt, Chris Kirk, and Dan Kois. Slate, December 17, 2014.

Conservatism as a Temperament

AngryPeter Wehner writes in the New York Times that a conservative temperament is an important part of conservatism. “Conservatism is famously anti-utopian,” he writes, “understanding life’s imperfections and the limitations of politics. Knowing this, those on the right shouldn’t become enraged or forlorn when the world itself doesn’t fully conform to their hopes. Conservatism considers one of the cardinal virtues to be prudence.”

“Conservatives in Name Only,” by Peter Wehner. The New York Times, January 14, 2015.

The Biblical Origins of Freedom

liberty-bellReviewer Diana Muir Applebaum writes, “We have all been taught that it was the dethroning of revealed religion that produced political modernity.  Everyone knows this, knows that European political thought was not transformed and made modern by reading the Bible (let alone the Talmud); it was remade by a rejection of the Bible in favor of rationalism.” This view that freedom and religion are somehow in conflict with each other is getting long-overdue pushback. In 2011, Harvard political scientist Eric Nelson published The Hebrew Republic, making a compelling case that modern political theory’s roots lie in 17th century Bible scholarship. King’s College professor Joe Loconte has just published God, Locke & Liberty in which he “argues that the single most important defense of religious freedom in the West—John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)—was not a result of Enlightenment skepticism toward religion. Rather, Locke drew inspiration from an earlier Christian reform movement, the Christian humanist tradition of Erasmus of Rotterdam.” Nelson, who is Jewish, and Loconte, who is a Christian, are among those who are reasserting the role of Judeo-Christian thought and the Bible itself in creating free and democratic nations.

“The Dangerous Mr. Nelson,” by Diana Muir Appelbaum. Jewish Ideas Daily, February 6, 2012.

“Under Locke and Key”  (interview with Joe Loconte), by David George Moore. Jesus Creed. Pathos.com, January 10, 2015.

David Barton Wins Defamation Suits

bartonChristian historian and activist David Barton has successfully taken some of his critics to court, including a pair who said he was “known for speaking at white-supremacist rallies” and another who called him “an admitted liar” whose “books have been picked apart time and again and exposed as fallacious.”

“David Barton Wins Million-Dollar Defamation Suit: Christian historian warns more may follow “to protect reputation and livelihood,” by John Aman. WND, December 20, 2014.

Houston Mayor Backs Down on Sermon Subpoenas

antireligionHouston mayor Annise Parker has backed down on her subpoenas for sermons related to homosexuality. Many, however, see the episode as a harbinger of things to come.

“Houston Mayor Tries to Calm Uproar Over Transgender Ordinance,” by Nathan Koppel and Tamara Audi. The Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2014. [PAY WALL]

Why Evangelicals Didn’t Embrace “Calvary”

CalvaryMark Rodgers compares the artistic merits of Calvary to the remake of Left Behind and finds a paradox. “[T]he more a film (or song, or book for that matter) is fine tuned for the evangelical appetite, the less salient it is for the culture at large. Ironically, evangelicals want their culture products to be attractive to the world, to draw people into the truth that profoundly transformed them.”

“Leaving ‘Left Behind,’ Embracing ‘Calvary,” by Mark Rodgers. Clapham Group, October 8, 2014.