Category: Reflections of the Fall

The murder of 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX has already gained notoriety as the deadliest massacre in a house of worship in the U.S. (More information on this is available here and currently tops the news programming of most news outlets).

The motives behind this appear to be as senseless as can be imagined. Apparently this was an “intra-family feud” involving a man described as “deranged”, in which the intended victim wasn’t even there.

Words can ill-express my shock and horror on behalf of the victims as well as all of civilized humanity. Our prayers go out to all who have been affected by this tragedy.

Hugh Hefner was a man who unabashedly dredged sexuality out of the private corners of life and into mainstream thought. One person I spoke to today noted, “He won; He remade us into a culture in which the libertarian approach is dominant.” I think there are a lot of others who could share the credit for this, but Hef’s impact is not a small one.

Though Hef didn’t invent hedonism, he has been one of its most famous recent proponents. Hedonism is a philosophy and way of life that is rather at odds with certain aspects of Christian faith, and this is not new–This has been the case since antiquity. But let’s be clear that Christianity also isn’t inherently ascetic. The sensual pleasures are properly seen by the faithful as a gift from God to be enjoyed, as a garden of delights (just go read the “Song of Solomon”, some of the raciest prose ever written, and it’s purely from the Bible). However, it is inside of a covenant relationship, a complete and full giving of two people to each other–not just bodies, but minds and hearts–that sexual pleasure is a garden. Those who pursue sensuality as an end in itself, often find that the fullness of the experience is diminished and twisted. The garden is instead a mire and bog, infested with dark and lonely things. The waiting rooms of psychologists and divorce attorneys are full of the human wreckage of unrestrained sexual appetites. Jail cells are full of perpetrators whose lusts reached into the bathroom windows of strangers, or even the underpants of school children.

Christian publications, such as Christianity Today point out the dark legacy of an explosion of addictive pornography left in the wake of Mr. Hefner’s revolution. They cite surveys such as Barna, which show the destructive impact of porn on Christian life:

…most pastors struggle with porn—57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors. These numbers equal the national average of 64% of men who admit to viewing porn at least monthly, according to a survey done by Proven Men…And it’s impacting all of us. According to a 2011 Lifeway Research survey, when presented with the statement, “Pornography has adversely affected the lives of our church members,” 69 percent of pastors surveyed agree. And an additional 14 percent did not know or preferred not to answer.

Even some of those who would be his natural allies on the left, have been critical. A CNN article which praised Mr. Hefner for bringing sexuality into the open, and for hiring blacks when others wouldn’t, still faulted his objectification of women, treating them as second class citizens whose main role is to sexually satisfy men:

His legacy is full of evidence of the exploitation of women for professional gain. In creating Playboy, and maintaining its brand over six decades, Hef championed a world in which women serve to delight and entertain men, where their bodies are objects, where modification to appeal to male senses often took precedence over comfort (because who really wants DDDs?).

Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, asserts that “Hugh Hefner Did Not Live The Good Life”:

We can’t, though, with his obituaries, call his life “success” or “a dream.” Hefner did not create, but marketed ingeniously the idea that a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions and of his orgasms. To women, he marketed frenetically the idea that a woman’s value consists in her sexual availability and attractiveness to men.

Only God knows the ultimate state of his soul, of course.

When I say that evil has to do with killing, I do not mean to restrict myself to corporeal murder. Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life — particularly human life — such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may “break” a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head.

Erich Fromm was acutely sensitive to this fact when he broadened the definition of necrophilia to include the desire of certain people to control others-to make them controllable, to foster their dependency, to discourage their capacity to think for themselves, to diminish their unpredictability and originality, to keep them in line. Distinguishing it from a “biophilic” person, one who appreciates and fosters the variety of life forms and the uniqueness of the individual, he demonstrated a “necrophilic character type,” whose aim it is to avoid the inconvenience of life by transforming others into obedient automatons, robbing them of their humanity.

Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”
― (M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil).

On Sept 26, 2010, a man was discovered hanging in the basement of the D.C. home he shared with his new wife. The man was an ace attorney who had been part of the botched government prosecution against Alaska senator Ted Stevens, and he was now facing a long investigation of his own role in the fiasco. In a fascinating article entitled “Casualties of Justice” the New Yorker magazine detailed the tragedy of Nicholas Marks:

Marsh woke up and went downstairs to the basement. At around three in the afternoon, Bermudez went to check on him, but he wasn’t in front of the television. He had hanged himself near the washer and dryer. There was no note.
Bermudez still lives in the home she shared with Marsh, and his voice still greets callers on the answering machine. “I don’t think I understood the depths of how the allegations affected him,” she told me. “He took his duties and his ethical obligations very much to heart. Even thinking that his career would be over was just too much for him. The idea that someone thought he did something wrong was just too much to bear.”

I find myself quoting pastor and author Tim Keller perhaps a bit too often these days, but this tragic story reminds me of some wise words he has said about work:
One of the scary things to me about this whole approach is that the culture’s approach weirdly enough is supposed to be liberating but it’s actually quite crushing. … But today in our modern culture, your work becomes your identity. How much money becomes your identity. It’s not just what you do but who you are! And that will crush you. (sermon transcript available here).

By all accounts Marsh was a very smart young attorney who had a bright future. He allowed a singular focus on career to become the entire locus of his identity, and when something went wrong it derailed him. This temptation to make an idol of career, to pin godlike hopes on it, is a common temptation, particularly in our culture. This is a tragic mistake. We are of course to work, and furthermore to “work as for the Lord”, giving our best efforts, striving for excellence; work is a good thing, but we shouldn’t let it become an ultimate thing. Our identity doesn’t come from what we do: “Our identity in Christ is received, not achieved.” (Keller)

The article about Nicholas Marsh concludes:

… Although Marsh’s reputation had suffered a severe and largely deserved fall for his actions in the Stevens case, skilled lawyers have rallied from far worse professional disasters. There is every reason to believe that he would have gone on to a distinguished career, and perhaps even to the judgeship he sought. But something in Marsh could not let the official system for discipline play out, and instead he imposed an unfathomably harsh punishment on himself.

Read more at The New Yorker.

Tired of the oversold flights, cancellations, and bad customer service that seem to be an unpleasant part of traveling by air? The airlines, their employees, and executives certainly have the most proximate responsibility over their day to day operations. But they are also dealing with a distant and menacing power that pressures everything they do. Like most of the corporate world, the airline industry is suffused with the infernal odor of greed, which emanates from Wall Street and permeates like a heavy and ever more stifling gas:

Relentless pressure on corporate America is creating an increasingly Dickensian experience for many consumers as companies focus on maximizing profit. And nowhere is the trend as stark as in the airline industry, whose service is delivered in an aluminum tube packed with up to four different classes, cheek by jowl, 35,000 feet in the air.
“There’s always been pressure from Wall Street,” said Robert L. Dilenschneider, a veteran public relations executive who advises companies and chief executives on strategic communications. “But I’ve been watching this for 30 years, and it’s never been as intense as it is today.”

Read it all at New York Times.

An interesting conflict has recently erupted within the hallowed halls of Duke University Divinity School. As I understand it, a renowned professor of Catholic theology, Paul Griffiths, was driven to resign, after daring to question the usefulness and political motives of a weekend workshop on racial reconciliation, to which all faculty were invited.

The problem began when he responded to an email circulated by a junior faculty member, Anathea Portier-Young, which sang the praises of the upcoming workshop: “Dear Faculty Colleagues, On behalf of the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee, I strongly urge you to participate in the Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training planned for March 4 and 5. … Those who have participated in the training have described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing. We recognize that it is a significant commitment of time; we also believe it will have great dividends for our community. Please find the registration link below. Details about room location will be announced soon.”

Professor Griffiths apparently rolled his eyes and fired off a provocative, sarcasm laced email that exhorted his colleagues not to “lay waste their time”:

“I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.

We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to thnk, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession. This is a hard thing. Each of us should be tense with the effort of it, thrumming like a tautly triple-woven steel thread with the work of it, consumed by the fire of it, ever eager for more of it. We have neither time nor resources to waste. This training is a waste. Please, ignore it. Keep your eyes on the prize”

Almost immediately he was in hot water with his Dean, Elaine Heath, who fired off her own email, praising the upcoming Racial Equity training and warning all faculty:

It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements–including arguments ad hominem–in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.

The Dean then insisted on a meeting with Griffiths in which he would not be allowed a representative, and he declined, prompting sanctions that include restriction from faculty meetings and no access to research funding.

Subsequently, the junior faculty member, Dr Portier-Young, lodged a complaint of harassment against Griffiths, via the University’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE). He is accused of “use of racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace.”

More information is available at the New York Times and elsewhere. The initial breaker of this story, and principle source of leaked documents is the blog The American Conservative.

This story has begun to reverberate around the web as an example of an ongoing purge of conservatives from higher education, though I’m not sure whether Professor Griffiths fully fits the mold of “conservative” based on other controversial stances alluded to in the New York Times piece. I also see this being mentioned as a parable of the chilling effect of “social justice warriors” on free speech and academic freedom, and this is certainly disturbing. It should be noted that Professor Griffiths wasn’t actually fired, or directly pressured to resign; he could have fought on for his right to express his opinion, rather than quitting and publicizing the emails. Still, he seems to have accurately described the situation when he criticized the far Left’s “illiberal and totalitarian tendencies.” It is dismaying what an intellectual straitjacket one must wear in academic circles just to survive.

Reflecting further on the express purpose of divinity schools, which is to train pastors, it is also dismaying to consider the potential spiritual wreckage of rampant political correctness. How many intellectually and spiritually eviscerated seminary grads are emerging from places like this and being foisted upon the churches of our land?

The tragic and mysterious demise of a beloved child star is still under investigation. Erin Moran was adored by millions as “Joanie” in the 1974-84 sitcom “Happy Days”, and its spin off show “Joanie Loves Chachi”. The web is full of stories today about her troubles following the end of her sitcom TV family.

One lesson to learn here is that fame and stardom don’t guarantee a good life or a happy end. Those who reached out to her have said that she rebuffed their attempts. Paul Peterson, a former child star and child-actor advocate, has been quoted as saying, “Erin had friends and she knew it. Abandonment was not the issue… We did our best with the resources available to us, but it was a very dark room. Some don’t find the light switch in time.” (Fox News). Her inner demons apparently included hard drinking, and it was partly drinking and partying that led to her becoming destitute.

Also, there appear to have been issues with her husband. People magazine reported in 2002 that “Moran later married Steve Fleischmann, a Walmart employee, in 1993. The couple moved into Fleischmann’s mother’s trailer in Indiana so Moran could act as her caregiver.” On the surface this might appear to be a compassionate act, but a 2013 public altercation reported by a tabloid calls this into question:

Steve was so angry he stormed out of the bar, and an intoxicated Erin hurled insults at him, like “Get the hell out of here, you big crybaby! Go home, crawl into bed and suck your thumb as you cry yourself to sleep, you mama’s boy!” (National Enquirer)

If this incident truly happened then it raises a question whether she may have been the victim of a “MEM”, or a “mother-enmeshed man”. (Of course this would be but pure speculation here).

What are we speaking of? A mother enmeshed man is the human wreckage left of someone raised by a narcissistic or otherwise domineering mother. A MEM is a man who in many ways is “married to mom”–some of these ways are obvious (particularly if she still calls the shots) and many are much less so (manifesting perhaps as emotional distance, or difficulty with trust). Such a man may be emotionally eviscerated and still controlled by the first great relationship of life–the mother-child relationship. (This can happen to daughters also). By the way, full disclosure here, it hurts me to speak of this, because I may have a whiff of this in my own life, my own marriage.

If you are in a relationship with a MEM, or if you are a man who feels that this may be you, then seek professional help. A helpful 2007 book on this subject is When He’s Married to Mom: How to Help Mother‑Enmeshed Men by Kenneth M. Adams.

Of course, we at this site would remiss if we did not advocate much prayer. And if you are in a covenant of marriage, the closer each of you grows in your relationship to God, the further and dimmer will be the other troubles, and the easier it will be to set healthy boundaries and overcome dysfunctional influences.

If it seems like certain viewpoints on college campuses are being enforced with a zeal that is almost religious, that’s because they are. Even as Christian student groups have been getting booted off campuses, a new and intolerant religion has been rising, complete with zealots and a rigid dogma.

NYU Psychology professor Jonathan Haidt has been studying the phenomena. In an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, associate editor Bari Weiss discusses Haidt’s view that it is natural for humans to create “quasireligious experiences” out of secular activities. This is having the downside of wreaking havoc on intellectual freedom and freedom of speech, and ultimately releasing students into a workforce that they are ill equipped to handle.

These believers are transforming the campus from a citadel of intellectual freedom into a holy space—where white privilege has replaced original sin, the transgressions of class and race and gender are confessed not to priests but to “the community,” victim groups are worshiped like gods, and the sinned-against are supplicated with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”.

Unfortunately, this can also lead to violence. True believers are agitating to purge dissenting viewpoints and punish those who violate the norms.

“What we’re beginning to see now at Berkeley and at Middlebury hints that this [campus] religion has the potential to turn violent,” Mr. Haidt says. “The attack on the professor at Middlebury really frightened people,” he adds, referring to political scientist Allison Stanger, who wound up in a neck brace after protesters assaulted her as she left the venue.

The article is worth a read.

In a shocking study published in 2015 by Princeton University economists Ann Case and Angus Deaton, it was shown that mortality has been mysteriously rising for an unexpected swath of the populace, high school educated whites. The authors of that earlier study have further elaborated on their work, as reported today in the Wall Street Journal:

Driving the uptick are increases in “deaths of despair”—from drugs, alcohol-related liver diseases and suicide, as well as a slowdown in progress against death in middle age from heart disease and cancer, the nation’s biggest killers, wrote Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, her husband.

By the numbers we are looking a tragedy of proportions that would spur the nation into a froth if we were talking about terrorism victims, or casualties of a battle. Questions naturally arise: Why this is happening, and what can be done about it? Here are my initial reflections.

Globalization is partly to blame, as it has brought wage stagnation and loss of manufacturing jobs to middle class workers without a college degree. However, this disaster is not purely economic, but is also associated with social disintegration:

Those changes have come along with trends such as a decline in marriage, more temporary relationships and children out of wedlock, and a rise in social isolation that have made life less stable, they said.

Looking at the age cohort graph it is startling to see how abruptly things changed, beginning with the Baby Boomer generation, a group who really revolutionized society. Poverty–grinding and crushing poverty–has existed for whites before and after the 1960s. It exists for other racial and ethnic groups. Somehow, people have been able to cope better at other times. They had something that is missing now.

The Baby Boomers came of age at a time of postwar prosperity, when manufacturing blossomed and the “American Dream” came to include a good paying job, suburban houses with TVs in every room, multiple cars, and mostly the optimistic sense of permanent upward mobility. The old cohesive forces of family, community, and church were simultaneously dealt a body blow–for a variety of reasons beyond the scope of a short essay–thereby kicking aside a crucial support needed later when the “Dream” proved to be illusory.

But the problem goes deeper than merely lacking social support at a time of greatest need. A Sunday School teacher of mine was fond of saying that each of us has a “God-sized hole” that only God can fill, though in God’s place we try our best to fill that hole with other things–idols of our own devising. This may be part of the problem. Making an idol of work and a particular kind of lifestyle can only shatter you when those things are yanked away. Christianity doesn’t call people to be rich and successful, nor does it endorse the heretical view that wealth and status are the guaranteed symbols of a life blessed by God. Success that is merely an external papering over of an existential void will only be an illusion. It is like Jesus’ parable of the two builders, where the house built on the sand eventually collapses.

Work success and the illusion that this provides–take it away and what is left? A life that is not integrated with God at the center will be more likely to yield to identity crises. There will be a tendency toward loss of community, and fragmentation of relationships. It may be the culprit behind that overwhelming despair that is driving the suicides, cirrhosis deaths, and drug overdoses.

Of course, this is a lot of conjecture. It would be interesting to drill down deep into the data to see exactly what going on in the spiritual lives of these victims of despair. Only God knows.

Whatever the reason for this despair, it suggests a tremendous need for assistance, assistance that is not merely economic, but existential. This is a mission field. This is a wake up call to Christians reach into that void with God’s love.

Rachel Dolezal now styles herself Nkechi Amare Diallo. The white civil rights activist and former NAACP leader had lied about her past, claiming to be African American, which allowed her to rise to become a lecturer in Africana studies at Eastern Washington State University, and president of the Spokane chapter of of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She lost both of these positions, and gained a heap of notoriety, when she was outed by her estranged parents in 2015 for passing herself off as black. (Subsequently, investigations have suggested that 8 hate crimes she alleges to have been perpetrated against her when she was living in Idaho are also fraudulent).

Defiant to the end, Ms. Dolezal has borrowed from the debate about gender identity, insisting that race isn’t purely biological, but can be chosen.

For her part, Diallo is doubling down on her insistence that she is “transracial” — a woman who is the product of two white parents but identifies mentally, emotionally, physically and culturally as black. “I feel that I was born with the essential essence of who I am, whether it matches my anatomy and complexion or not,” Dolezal told The Guardian earlier this week. “I’ve never questioned being a girl or woman, for example, but whiteness has always felt foreign to me, for as long as I can remember. I didn’t choose to feel this way or be this way, I just am. What other choice is there than to be exactly who we are?”

Read more at NPR.

Ms. Dolezal now has taken to heart the idea of “making a name for yourself”, and has legally changed hers to something else. She feels that this name reflects her true self. Identity trumps biology. Biology is therefore something malleable, to be altered, rather than accepted. We are self made.

Christians believe that we are not self made, but rather that our identity comes from God. Of supreme irony here is that Ms Dolezal’s new West African name means “what God has given.”