Our Developing Culture

Surely you have noticed how we are living in an upside-down world lately. Today, I thought I would simply offer some wonderful examples of how our culture has been developing.

Since we have a reality TV person now as the Republican candidate for president, I thought this might be fitting for some of his supporters:

Gov't Funding

That speaks to the reality of “reality” programs as well as the idea that government has some kind of stockpile of funds to pay for virtually anything and everything.

Which leads me to this:

Popular with Kids

And speaking of liberals:

Liberals Who Believe

Here’s the solution for liberal thinking on the gender front:

Bathroom Problem Solved

There’s no way I can leave out my own profession in this litany of what’s gone wrong in America:

Director of Admissions

When College Is Free

Well worth pondering today.

Salt, Light, & Truth

I’ve spent the past two days writing about the drift of our culture into acceptance of a type of sex God forbade. For many people, this whole issue is simply a matter of “democracy”—let the people decide what they want. When you introduce the moral element, they tell you that’s irrelevant. All that matters is that we are devoted to popular sovereignty. As a historian, I know that term well. The last time it was front and center in the political debate was prior to the Civil War. Popular sovereignty was supposed to solve the quandary of slavery. Let the people of the new territories decide for themselves if they want slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who championed this approach, infamously said slavery was not a moral issue.

Well, I can’t help but frame it morally. At its foundation, the push for same-sex marriage is a clear indication of our rebellion against the righteousness of God and His law. It is a perversion—and I use that word advisedly and with forethought—of the gift of sex. Only a people firmly rooted in Biblical truth can prevail against this headwind. Are we no longer that people?

Liberals/progressives, whose outlook is primarily secular, think opposition to homosexuality is foolish. Unfortunately, they are joined in this view by a growing number of those who continue to call themselves Christians. They adopt most of the progressive political agenda and attempt to stamp it with God’s favor. They are doing a disservice to the gospel, and the God, they claim to represent.

Then there are some conservatives who are abandoning the field of battle. Most often, that’s because they are little different than their erstwhile foes at the other end of the political spectrum. How can that be? They are basically secular also; their conservatism is not based on solid Biblical principles. So when the culture shifts, they have no anchor to hold them to their position. They attempt to mix political conservatism with moral relativism. It’s not a good mixture.

One particular strand in the conservative movement is more libertarian than conservative. That group has never been wedded to Biblical morality anyway. They don’t want the government telling anyone what to do in the moral realm. Many of them support the mislabeled pro-choice position on abortion and have no problem at all with homosexuality. Their presence in the conservative coalition waters down its moral foundations.

The only saving grace in modern American conservatism, and in our politics in general, is the part of our populace that brings its Christianity to bear on our culture and government. They are the ones Jesus was referring to when He said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Salt preserves; light shows the way. Those in the church who have succumbed to the spirit of the age are the tasteless salt; they are no good for anything in this struggle. The responsibility therefore falls on those who still understand that truth is truth in all ages, and that it never changes. We need to preserve whatever remains of goodness in this land, and we need to be the ones who shine a light on the right path to take. Are we up to the challenge?

Presidents, Polls, Professors, & the Public

Young America’s Foundation is an organization devoted to conservative principles in culture and government. While it doesn’t claim to be openly Christian—other conservatives are welcome—the concepts it promotes are consistent with Biblical principles. In the last few years, it has established the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, where it holds a number of significant seminars and conferences. The organization also bought the Reagan Ranch in the mountains outside Santa Barbara, and is keeping it as Ronald Reagan had it when he lived there. I’ve visited with some of the leaders, both in Virginia and Santa Barbara, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to go to Reagan’s ranch. The last time I was there, I was told to just let them know ahead of time, and on my next trip, they would arrange a visit. Unfortunately, I haven’t been back since; not sure when I’ll be able to go again.

Recently, the Foundation commissioned a poll of college and university professors. They took the opinions of 284 professors on the ranking of presidents. Which presidents did they consider to be the most influential and/or most effective? What grade would they give each president? The answers may not surprise you.

Not one of these professors considered Reagan as his/her top choice. Sixty percent didn’t even put him in the top ten of all presidents. Overall, they gave him a C+ for his achievements, apparently overlooking the tremendous economic resurgence during the 1980s, his pivotal meetings with Gorbachev, and the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, stemming from the combined efforts of Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II. In fact, when they were asked to state what they considered to be Reagan’s greatest accomplishment, nearly 1/5 of them could come up with nothing.

Here are some other indicators of how college professors view American presidents:

  • When asked to list their picks for the three greatest presidents, they mentioned FDR more times than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison.
  • They mentioned FDR four times as often as Reagan.
  • FDR ranked in the top three presidents for 54% of these professors.
  • Overall, Bill Clinton received six times as many favorable mentions as James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.

From where does this stem? Well, three times as many professors identified themselves as liberal than as conservative. The review of this poll that I read doesn’t break down the professors by discipline, but I would suspect that most of them were history or political science professors, and the fact that there were three times as many liberals as conservatives only surprises me in the sense that I thought the divergence might be even greater, given the stance taken by national leadership for these disciplines.

Now for a counterpoint. In February of 2011, the Gallup organization polled Americans nationwide to determine their idea of who should be considered the greatest presidents. In that poll, Reagan came in first, 5 points ahead of Lincoln. Reagan also topped the list in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and ranked first or second in eight of the ten “Greatest President” polls conducted by Gallup since 1999.

I have my own critique of public opinion polls, and how they seem to fluctuate based on the public’s feelings rather than facts. I don’t always consider the majority viewpoint to be the most accurate. Yet I find this poll fascinating. What it indicates is that as time has gone by, people are looking back at the Reagan years with increasing fondness. I think they remember them, when compared to today, as solid, strong, and patriotic. They believe that America came back from the brink in the 1980s, after the disastrous events of the 1960s and 1970s. Reagan was the antidote to LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. He called us back to our roots, and that led to revitalization.

I believe America can be called back again, and I believe we can overcome the national disgrace of the Obama years. The only question is: will we do so this November? The future is not fixed; our decisions can redirect the ship of state as well as the drift of the culture. One more thing: Christians need to take the lead in this redirection. Now is the time to call us back to a humble dependence on the One who will bless if we come to Him in genuine repentance and a sincere desire to do His will.

Comics Day Today

There are some days I just want to do comics. Congratulations, you’ve stumbled across one of those days. Enjoy these [in no particular thematic order]:

Unless I can replenish my comics supply, I’ll actually have to think of things to say tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Marriage & Family: They Really Do Matter

Back to Rick Santorum’s book It Takes a Family.

Chapter four, entitled “Families and the Common Good,” is probably the foundational chapter for the entire book. Up to this point, Santorum was describing the general divergence of the liberal and conservative visions. Now, with laserlike focus, he establishes healthy families as the key to the success of the entire society. And by “success,” he doesn’t mean just economic success. That will be part of it, as another section of the book relates, but he’s talking about genuine happiness and security, especially for children. Here’s how he explains it:

Marriage matters because children matter. Without marriage, children suffer. There is simply no better investment parents can make in their children’s future than a healthy marriage. For my wife Karen and me, marriage is a sacred vocation. We give ourselves to each other: mind, body, and soul. Nothing in this world is more important to me than the happiness and well-being of my wife and children. It is my most important job. All of my strength comes from my love for them and God’s love for me. When children live with parents who love each other, sacrifice for each other, and are committed to each other, they are given a real head start on life.

He then gets into some statistics that reveal the following:

  • Children, ages one to four, born to unmarried parents are at greater risk of dying from an injury
  • Children living in single-parent homes are twice as likely to suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect
  • The rate of child abuse rises in a single-parent home, is lower in a home where there are two parents who are not married, but much lower in a home where the parents are married
  • Children in single-parent households have poorer grades, poorer attendance records, and higher dropout rates

Santorum concludes,

The social science evidence, four thousand years of human history, and common sense have long settled the question. In a decent society, every child should have the best shot at growing up to be a healthy and successful adult. That opportunity is found in healthy, married, mom-and-dad families. The traditional family is not about some “special interest.” It’s about the rights of parents and children, and ultimately it’s about the common good.

Government policy works against marriage. If a couple has a child out of wedlock and then is considering marriage, they learn they can’t get the same help from social workers that they would if they stay unmarried. He also points the accusing finger at churches who have given up hope on salvaging the institution of marriage, particularly in the inner cities. Many don’t even try to help anymore.

At the end of the chapter, Santorum returns to the problem of the liberal visionaries, but also takes aim at conservatives as well:

We’ve wasted decades and countless lives under the direction of the village elders trying to build bureaucracies to aid the poor and marginal in our society, while ignoring the central importance of the traditional family. We must stop pretending that the health of the mom-and-dad family isn’t really important. Conservatives always knew this was a mistake, but, to be quite candid, failed to offer an alternative vision; now, thanks to the social science evidence, we all know that this was a mistake. We need to spend the coming decades working to build up traditional families. What is it that stands against us in this effort? The village elders and their well-funded special interests—and they will not go away quietly.

For Rick Santorum, the centrality of the family is not merely a political prop to win higher office. This comes from his own experience. If he should have the opportunity to attain that higher office, those of us who believe as he does about this can be secure that the nation is in good hands.

No-Fault Freedom vs. Responsible Liberty

“Conservatives,” says Rick Santorum in his book It Takes a Family, “are the caretakers of a precious inheritance.” That inheritance rests on stable families. Yet the “village elders,” a name he gives to the liberal social engineers who operate in the spirit of Hillary Clinton’s tome It Takes a Village, don’t really care about stable families. It the family structure were to prevail, it would rob the village elders of their self-appointed role as the redesigners of America from on high.

Santorum confesses that one of his fundamental beliefs about American politics was wrong. He had always believed “that conservatives and liberals had the same vision of America, but just had different ways of getting there.” Both wanted the poor “to achieve economic self-sufficiency,” but, he admits, “I don’t believe that anymore.”

Liberals, he notes, have an entirely different definition of freedom. He calls it “No-Fault Freedom” where people can do whatever they want, practically without limits—“all the choices, none of the responsibility.” Conservatives, on the other hand, prefer the word “liberty,” which couples freedom with responsibility “to something bigger or higher than the self. It is the pursuit of our dreams with an eye toward the common good.” This is a definition based on Biblical roots.

The foundational social unit that instills a devotion to such liberty and that stands against No-Fault Freedom’s toxic effects is the traditional family. Strong families generate values and virtues. They are moralistic, and so they are moralizing. They teach right from wrong. Healthy families are our first strike for what is right and our first defense against what is wrong in America today.

The crux of Santorum’s argument is that only through selflessness as learned in families will this nation be strong and liberty protected. What he offers is the opposite not only of liberalism’s big government approach, but also of libertarianism’s atomistic individualism that promotes selfishness. Santorum doesn’t throw libertarianism into the mix at this point in the book, but I added it because I believe it is also a major problem, although not as pervasive as liberalism. Liberals, he explains, “don’t believe in the importance of strong, traditional families.”

For a raft of reasons, the village elders view the strong, traditional, married-mother-and-father family as contrary to their social agenda. They think of society as fundamentally made up of individuals guided by elite and “expert” organizations like government, not the antiquated, perhaps uneducated, independent family. The village elders want society to be individualistic, because a society composed only of individuals responds better to “expert” command and control. Your father or your grandmother (or your priest or rabbi) may give you advice that contradicts the latest “expert” wisdom. The village elders just don’t want such competition.

I like Santorum’s perspective here, and I will come back to it, and to a fuller discussion of the significance of families, in a future post.

Santorum: Liberal & Conservative Visions Contrasted

I said yesterday that I would begin analyzing Rick Santorum’s book It Takes a Family. I’ve completed about one-third of the book already because I’ve found it to be a compelling read. Before getting into specifics, I have some general comments:

  • First, I am finding this book to be a serious discussion of principles and policies related to those principles. It is not a piece of campaign fluff. In fact, since it was published in 2005, it hardly was written as a campaign biography for this year. It instead is a thoughtful evaluation of the cornerstones of a vibrant and successful society, what is eroding those cornerstones, and what we must do about it.
  • Second, Santorum clearly sees the family as the primary cornerstone upon which the entire societal edifice is based. This certainly resonates with my own views, but I find Santorum’s enunciation of this thesis to be one of the strongest statements of this principle that I’ve ever read.
  • Third, it is clear to me that Santorum is not simply repeating old nostrums in a mechanical manner. He truly is dedicated to his theme of recovering societal health via building strong family bonds. This is more than an academic exercise for him; he is speaking from the innermost man, sharing his heart and soul.
  • And finally, I’m rather surprised at the effect reading it is having on me. I expected to agree with most of what he would be sharing, but there has been a stirring in my spirit as I read. The essential truths he is communicating, truths I’ve long believed, seem fresh and more vital than I anticipated. I thought I would have to trudge through a book that repeats everything I know already, but I find myself eager to continue reading as he lays out his argument step-by-step.

Santorum does hit at the liberal failings, quite understandably so, as those failings are an essential part of his argument. Yet he devotes far more space to the positive solutions and to anecdotes of successful individuals and organizations who are tackling societal problems. His first chapter begins with a clear contrast between the liberal and conservative visions of the good society:

The liberal news media, Hollywood, and the educational elite in America tend to portray political liberals as the courageous champions of the average guy—and, of course, the poor. It is simply assumed that their more “enlightened” economic policies are all about helping the poor and middle class. Conservatives, on the other hand, are portrayed as fundamentally selfish, self-interested individuals, whose economic policies are crafted to protect or advance their (or their golf partners’) “special interests.” I will argue in this book that liberal economic policies have not only been devastating to the poor and the middle class economically, but have actually undermined the basic structures of our society. I will also argue that both conservative economic policy and conservative efforts to help the poor help themselves are more genuinely compassionate—and effective—than the liberal alternative.

Santorum’s focus on policies that help the poor becomes a primary theme of the book as it progresses, undercutting the liberal mantra that conservatives don’t care about anyone but the rich. His contrast between the two visions of American society continues:

Another view the media echo chamber promotes is that liberal social policies are rational, tolerant, progressive, and caring. Social conservatives, on the other hand, are portrayed as irrational, ignorant, rigid Bible-thumpers obsessed with prophesying woe. In this book, I hope to show that this all-too-common caricature of conservatives and their social policies by the liberal elite can be attributed to liberals’ fundamentally different vision for America—a vision that is completely at odds with that of our nation’s founders, and with the views of most Americans today. Liberalism is an ideology; conservatism is common sense.

Even those who don’t consider themselves conservatives, Santorum believes, can sense something is wrong, seriously and foundationally wrong, with the direction of the country. Our problem is that we tend to think government is the source of the solutions:

We too readily look to those wielding power and influence to solve society’s big problems for us—in particular, we look to the government. And why not? They are “society’s” problems, and the government is society’s representative. But over the past generation we have been learning that governmental, cultural, social, moral, and intellectual power brokers in far too many cases have made our problems worse. This has created a vicious downward spiral in which the more the public relies on the powerful elite, the worse it gets, which leads to the public relying on these elites even more.

That doesn’t sound like a man who wants to increase the government’s oversight in our lives, as some of his critics contend. In a couple of days, I’ll continue this analysis. Hope this was a good start that makes you want to know more.