Policing the Purity Police

As someone who is generally sympathetic to the ideological quadrant from whence arguments like this one come, I am slow, usually, to critique writers who call for more purity, more clarity, and more protection for men and women in the church. That said, I think telling brothers and sisters in the local church that they ought not communicate ever over text message is an unhelpful burden that probably causes more issues with church unity (which is as just as much a command as sexual purity) than it solves.

But let me say one thing. Every time a piece like this one makes waves on social media, I honestly can’t figure out which is more discouraging: The original, misguided argument, or the patronizing, vaguely antinomian response. No, I don’t believe a wholesale prohibition of texting is wise or helpful. But I also don’t believe that such an idea is inherently worse than its opposite, or that the so-called “purity culture” which it represents is actually a more live threat to the lives and marriages of believers than adultery is.

I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again. It just feels like whenever the same anti-purity culture personalities pile on a sentiment like the one in the article, what they are really protesting is far more than just the article, or tweet, or policy in question. It feels like they are protesting the motivation behind it. It feels like what is really offensive in this scenario is the notion that men and women have moral obligations of sexual purity on them and that these obligations might actually matter more–for them, their families, and for the church–than convenience or fun. I’ve never been able to shake this suspicion when I see conversation about how harmful the “purity culture” can be. I absolutely agree that virginity and chastity aren’t the chief values of the Christian life, and that a person without either is no further from the gospel than a person without kindness or patience. 100% correct. But the Christian faith demands holiness in our sexuality, and it’s not shy about suggesting drastic measures to pursue it–such as, say, excluding a person from the fellowship because of who he is sleeping with.

Is there a point to be made about unnecessary sexualization of male-female friendships in the church? You better believe it. A church body that looks like a middle school dance, with boys on one side and the girls on the other and awkwardness in the middle, is a deeply sad sight. When the Bible says to love, serve, prefer, forgive, bear with, rejoice with, admonish, and care for one another, it is not addressing only males or females. And evangelicals have often failed to grasp this. I heard a man once advise single guys in the church not to date the girls there because a breakup would cause awkwardness on Sunday morning. That kind of advice reinforces all kinds of bad ideas about how men and women should relate to one another in the body. We can, must, do better.

But I’ll be honest. I don’t think we’ll get there if we make critiquing purity culture a priority. The article about texting was written by a man who sounds like has some ill-formed notions of what the church community should look like. But that doesn’t mean all of his notions are wrong. He is absolutely right that 1) adultery is wicked, 2) sexual sin begins way before the clothes come off, and 3) preventing sin, abuse, and devastated families requires active obedience, not just passive. Do many of the people calling his article “outrageous” and “sexist” and “ridiculous” agree with these 3 points? If so, why the outrage? Why the scorn? Why can’t we admonish someone for following his noble intentions to an ignoble end? Why is the reaction to an article like this so fervent, so incandescent in its sarcastic dismissal of the very idea that we ought to fight for sexual purity, rather than merely hope for it?

Perhaps you think things like the Billy Graham rule are too far and not helpful. You could be right. But if such a rule makes you angry, perhaps you should ask yourself why. Does it make you angry because it seems to get in the way of sexual obedience? Does it make you angry because it seems to undermine faithfulness to the covenants we make with our husbands, wives, children, and church members? Or, is it possible that it makes you angry because it cuts at your sense of freedom, happiness, autonomy, and fun? Is it possible that your resentment of “purity culture” is rooted less in the (real) damage that it does to the cause of Christ and the kingdom, and rooted more in resistance to the idea that God could make counter-cultural demands of us?

If your right arm offends you, cut it off, even if you’re holding your phone.

The Ignore Button

So let’s recap:

Milo Yiannopolous’s career thus far consists entirely of a rhetorical con. He insists that he is a champion of free speech and that people only shut him down because they are scared by the correctness of his ideas. Meanwhile, he is silly, flamboyantly offensive, needlessly cruel, hopelessly recalcitrant, and endlessly self-absorbed. But that’s the trick, you see. He has already stacked the deck. If you turn off his mic, he becomes right! If you leave his mic on to debate him, you probably can’t, because out-trolling a troll is difficult and usually ends up making the original troll look reasonable by comparison (this is what happened on Bill Maher’s show to Larry Wilmore, when he couldn’t control his temper and ended up cursing Milo out like an insecure middle schooler).

Because our culture has somehow imbibed the idea that ignoring ridiculous, powerless people is out of the question, and that we must respond to trolls rather than simply mute them or leave them alone, Milo’s platform has flourished. And in almost every instance, Milo’s con–that the people who control society are too frightened by him to let him speak–has appeared, in some way, vindicated. Now let’s be clear: People who destroy property and inflict violence on others because of words should be condemned. Free speech means nothing if it doesn’t include speech you dislike, and part of growing up is learning not to follow your anger to its physical consummation. All that is true. But it’s equally true that Milo’s con is guaranteed to work, because trolls are good at exactly one thing: Getting people to react to them. And reacting to a troll whose entire troll is that if you don’t engage him you concede that he’s right is nothing more than a “heads I win, tails you lose” gimmick. If you agree to play, you will lose.

So now, because we can’t help but play, Milo has received a book contract–and lost it. He’s also received an invitation to speak at CPAC–and lost it. Imagine for one moment you’re not a Milo fan, but you are sympathetic to his free speech mantras. What does this look like to you? Why, it looks like Milo is exactly right! The cultural gatekeepers can’t handle him. They have opted to suppress his free speech because they can’t debate him. Doesn’t this look like someone who understands his opponents so well, he must be on to something?

And so, irony of ironies: In trying to make it clear that  Milo isn’t right about his free speech’s being suppressed, CPAC and Simon & Schuster invited him to build a bigger boat. Well, oops: It turns out Milo says some really nasty things, things that would outrage normal, morally sane readers and listeners. So no book, and no conference. And now what? What started as an effort to say, “Look! We can engage him, we aren’t deserving of his scorn,” now results in Milo looking prophetic. Man.

Why do we engage trolls? Because clicks. There is so such thing has a “hate click” in the online economy. A click is cash. Trolls get clicks. Trolls get cash. You can’t monetize the Ignore Button. Heads they win, tails you lose. The only way to not lose is to not play.

4 Requests to Young Evangelical Writers

  1. Please don’t believe, or write as if you believe, that your personal experiences are a fully reliable path to understanding. Everyone who has life has experiences, and those experiences do shape us in meaningful ways. But here’s the problem: Different people have different experiences, and different experiences can yield wildly different, even contradictory, notions of reality. You may have been bullied and wounded by a fundamentalist church. That experience is valid and means something, but it doesn’t mean that every fundamentalist is waiting to hurt someone, nor does it mean that everyone who sounds to you like a fundamentalist is someone who would bully you given the chance. We can be honest about our experiences and how they form us, but making experience authoritative–especially when it empowers broad assumptions and animosity toward others–is deeply deceptive.
  2. Please make your theology more than language games. If you describe your faith as “welcoming,” “authentic,” and “open,” explain what those words mean using ideas and examples. Don’t merely use the words to gain leverage over those who disagree with you about Scripture or the church. This verbal violence happens to the word “legalistic” all the time. Legalism has a specific meaning which implicates certain specific attitudes and beliefs. It’s not a catch-all term to describe anyone who has a conscience issue about entertainment.
  3. Be willing to critique your “tribe.” This is not hard to do when your friends are doing it too. It’s only hard when you’re the one doing it and your friends/fellow writers are the ones at the receiving end. A lot of young evangelicals are more than willing to critique, harshly even, their parents’ tribe or their pastor’s tribe. This, unfortunately, is not necessarily the same as critiquing your tribe.
  4. Remember that “love hopes all things.” Write, think, and love as if the church is beautiful, because she is. Beware the temptation to demand that other Christians be good to you before you love them and hope the best for them. Don’t ridicule or shame the very thing for which your savior died merely for the sake of some clicks, follows, or a book deal. Honestly, “I Got Burned By the Church and Now I’m Out For Revenge” is the lamest, least-interesting genre of writing out there today. Be brave enough not merely to deconstruct but to say, “This, flaws and all, is valuable, and I love it, and you should too.”

Michael Novak & Me

Michael Novak passed away today. I owe this remarkable Catholic intellectual a debt of gratitude, because his lecture “Awakening From Nihilism” was crucially formative for me. At the First Things blog, I’ve written a brief reflection on Novak’s insights and why they are so relevant right now.

Here’s an except from the blog:

What I found in “Awakening From Nihilism” was (at last) a coherent, fully-formed case for truth. In my evangelical education, every teacher I learned from cared about and loved truth, but few could explain why truth mattered to freedom. My evangelical teachers stressed, rightly, that without regard for the truth, Christ and his kingdom were inaccessible. But for many of my peers, the pursuit of truth was—and is—diametrically opposed to the pursuit of freedom. “Truth” is often received as a frozen, cerebral word; “love,” “justice,” and “authenticity,” by contrast, are the words of the artist and humanist. Even those in my life who knew that truth mattered seemed resigned to this mentality, appealing to truth over and against freedom in the name of religious obligation, not human flourishing.

In his lecture, Michael Novak destroyed this false dichotomy.

Read the whole piece here.

On Moral Equivalency and Xbox

A friend of mine got a (predictably) hostile reaction on Facebook when he recently posted this status:

If you are a young man wishing he had a young woman with whom to spend Valentine’s Day, the single biggest thing you can do to improve your prospects is to stop playing video games. I am not suggesting video games are inherently wrong, I’m just stating a fact. To the *vast* majority of women, they scream “feckless man-child.” They are the single biggest turnoff.

Now, the post, taken literally, is probably untrue. Anyone, man or woman, who claims to know what the “vast majority of women” feel on a topic should be treated with suspicion. Further, most men who are stuck in unwanted singleness are probably not stuck in it primarily because of their video games. Even if my friend is correct that many women find gaming unattractive, it doesn’t take 40 years of life experience to know that few things are unattractive enough to keep a man in perpetual bachelorhood if he has a job and at least passable hygiene. Hobbies can be annoying, but people live with annoying hobbies in their significant others all the time.

So I’ll chalk my friend’s advice up to a moment of hyperbole. But does he have a point? The reason this question matters to me is that last year, I wrote a piece for First Things called “America’s Lost Boys.” The blog was a reflection on data from sociologist Erik Hurst, who told an interviewer that single men without a college degree were spending an enormous amount of time and capital on video games. In my article, I wondered whether this phenomenon could be related to the socioeconomic struggles of American males, many of whom seem to be behind their female peers in terms of education, career, and relational connections. While I explicitly refused to wholesale condemn gaming, I did draw a contrast between young men who live emotionally connected lives with others, and those who seem trapped in their own fantasy worlds.

While most of the response to the piece was positive, I did note that the critical reactions were virtually identical. They went something like this: “This is an unfair caricature of gaming; I am a married man with two kids and I regularly play video games. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Any hobby can be addictive if a person has no self-control.”

I completely agree. As a husband and father who owns an Xbox One, I would only be condemning myself if I argued that video gaming is categorically immature or beneath “real” manhood. But as I saw with my friend’s Facebook status, and with the response to my own article, it sure seems to me that most people who respond thusly are assuming a moral equivalency between video games and, say, reading, that I don’t think holds up. What I mean to say is this: It can simultaneously be true that there is nothing wrong or harmful about playing video games, and that video gaming as a hobby is intellectually inferior and psychologically more risky than other kinds of hobbies. In order for gaming to be “OK” to do, it doesn’t need to be more or less the same as reading novels, or playing chess, or hiking–because it’s not. There are unique aspects to gaming that do make it a more insular, less personally enriching activity. That would be bad news for gamers if Christianity categorically condemned any and all activities that were more insular and less enriching than others. But it doesn’t. And that’s OK.

It seems to me that this kind of argument always exposes a human tendency to mix pleasure with pride. It’s not enough to enjoy our activities and be thankful that we get to experience them. We want others to assume that our activity is just as good as theirs. When we hear someone argue to the contrary, we reach for moral equivalency, out of pride. If you’re trying to lose weight, it may be a good idea to have an apple with your lunch instead of some Cheetos. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few Cheetos. But a Cheeto isn’t an apple, and trying to say that it is the same is far, far worse than eating it.

So yes, my friend is guilty of exaggeration. But, if you’re a single guy who would love to marry a good woman, but seem to spend far more hours per week answering the Call of Duty than trying to know and be known, maybe consider shaking your lifestyle up. You may be surprised at how much fun you can have without batteries.

The Coming Polygamy Showdown

Critics of legalized same-sex marriage have often made the point that many, and perhaps all, of the arguments in favor of what the Supreme Court in Obergefell can also be applied to the legalization of polygamy marriage and plural marriage. Proponents of marriage redefinition have often responded by dismissing this claim as slippery slope scaremongering; Andrew Sullivan’s “conservative case” for gay marriage explicitly repudiated such “open” marriage contracts. For years leading up to the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the idea that redefining the relationship between marriage and gender would precede a similar redefinition between marriage and persons was scorned out of court.

But I don’t think all the scorn in the world can ignore what’s going on in this essay in Chronicle of Higher Education. Moira Weigel (yes, the Moira Weigel who recently entered The Atlantic‘s “We Regret the Error” hall of fame) has written a profile of Carrie Jenkins, a philosopher at the University of British Columbia who lives in an “open” marriage. In case you’re wondering what that means, the article helpfully includes a photograph of Jenkins, her husband Jonathan–and her boyfriend, Ray. Jenkins and her husband identify as polyamorous, meaning their marriage is not exclusive and that both husband and wife may be and are sexually active outside it.

Before you dismiss this as just another, relatively insignificant example of absurdity in the lives of professional philosophers, consider also reading this Atlantic piece from 2014 on the “trend” of polyamory and open relationships. Even if this practice is now more or less at the margins of American social life, these two pieces in tandem clearly indicate a mainstream fascination with “nonmonogamy.” It’s real, and it’s happening now.

What makes, I think, the profile of Jenkins more interesting than The Atlantic’s piece is that, whereas the latter essay is framed more or less as an on the ground examination of a lifestyle still surrounded by social stigmas, the former clearly aspires to something more like normalization. Jenkins is, after all, a prestigious academic, and as Weigel notes, she and her partner(s) carefully weighed potential blowback to their careers before, to use the term Weigel does, “coming out.” In this essay, Jenkins (and Weigel) makes a clear and positive case for polyamory, with unmistakeable reference to the recent legal battle over same-sex marriage.

Listen to how carefully Jenkins articulates the moral reasoning of her menage a trois:

Take, for instance, the claim that it’s unhealthy to have multiple sexual partners. Jenkins and (husband Jonathan) Ichikawa pointed out that this was simply untrue. It is perfectly possible to maintain sexual health with multiple partners; indeed, a person who has openly discussed the pros and cons of opening a relationship with a partner is more likely to practice safe sex than is the frustrated partner who resorts to “drunken flings, clandestine affairs, or other ill-considered hookups.”

What about the assumption that nonmonogamy is psychologically damaging? “Different people are different,” Jenkins and Ichikawa wrote. Many nonmonogamous people report that they come to feel less jealousy over time; conversely, many monogamous people complain of experiencing sexual jealousy. In response to the charge that nonmonogamy is “unnatural,” Jenkins and Ichikawa pointed out that virtually no species are sexually monogamous, even if they are socially monogamous or pair-bond for life. (“Not even swans.”)

For a moment, let’s just brush aside the content of the moral claims being made here (the argument about nonmonogamy and jealousy reminded me of a line from True Detective: “People incapable of guilt usually do have a good time”).  The immediate takeaway is that Jenkins believes in a philosophically positive case for the inherent goodness of polyamory and open marriage. This isn’t mere personal narrative. It’s an objective claim about the nature of love, the purpose of marriage, and the good life. It is, in other words, a fundamentally political idea.

Jenkins goes on to acknowledge that her case for polyamory intersects with the political trajectory of same-sex marriage. She says: “We are creating space in our ongoing cultural conversations to question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.” Jenkins believes the case for polyamory is historically significant, clearly implying that she hopes to see its legal and political ramifications:

“Let’s not forget that it took many years of serious scientific research to convince (most) people that there is no biologically superior race or gender,” writes Jenkins. “Getting a proper grip on the biology of love may help us unravel the idea that there is one biologically superior way to love.”

Doesn’t this sound exactly like the rhetoric of same-sex marriage? This connection isn’t incidental; it’s foundational. Jenkins isn’t merely some hedonist, thumbing her nose at the culture and its oppressive strictures. She is instead making an intellectually serious case in the public square, a case that she knows is politically potent in a post-gay marriage era. Her arguments are going to be reckoned with.

And the question is, of course, what could a culture that no longer believes in the inherent value of male and female possibly say to this kind of reasoning? Are there any people left who endorse the legalization of same-sex marriage but would oppose the legalization of plural marriage? If there are, on what grounds? I’m afraid there aren’t any. After all, you love who you love. If it doesn’t matter whether that’s a man or a woman, why would it matter if it were 2 men, or 4 women? A fundamental right to human self-determination, at any and all costs to transcendent moral reasoning, does not simply end at #SameLove. The “right side of history” is much longer than the eye can see.

A (Very) Brief Word About the Education Debate

For the last two weeks my social media feeds have burst with punditry on Betsy DeVos. Probably the majority of my feed think her appointment as Secretary of Education is a mistake. The rest wonder aloud when it was that so many people suddenly became education policy wonks overnight. As the conversation around DeVos has continued, however, it seems to have expanded into a more theoretical debate over the merits of public schools, the wisdom of school choice programs, and, least interestingly, Why This Writer’s Personal Narrative Proves Your Political Opinion Is Wrong.

Truthfully, I don’t have a horse in the DeVos debate. I don’t know much about her or the Department she now leads, and I don’t care enough about either topic to learn more. I do though have something more of a perspective on the public school-school choice subjects. Here’s a bullet point summary of what I think:

  • What a person believes about public education in this country is shaped largely by their own personal experience and the experiences of those close to them. That’s OK. It’s OK to have your opinion formed by experience. As far as I’m concerned with education, results matter more than ideology. The effects the rules have on people is absolutely part of the conversation.
  • That being said, a person’s personal experience is personal, which means it describes what happened to them and not necessarily what happens/has happened/will happen to others. Being able to draw knowledge and perspective from one’s own experience without making that experience the sole basis of how one understands the world is a mark of intellectual maturity. Intellectual maturity, alas, is not social media’s strong point.
  • Those who have a more sympathetic perspective toward American public schools should not behave as if public education is really ever on the line here. Public schools will never disappear from this country. No serious person wants that to happen or is working toward it. Construing criticism of the current system as a wholesale assault on the ideal of public education is hysteria, not serious thinking.
  • It seems to me that those who resist school choice programs often misunderstand where the other side is coming from. I’ve seen a lot of friends on social media belittle homeschooling and private schooling families for “white flight,” for not caring about poorer students or inner city students. What I haven’t seen yet is an honest explanation from an anti-school choice evangelical of why Christian families who send their children to public school should not be concerned about the upcoming Supreme Court case concerning school bathrooms and transgendered students. What I haven’t seen yet is a validation of the concerns many parents have about gender ideology in the classroom, or about the dissemination of pornography in school halls. What I haven’t seen yet, in other words, is an evangelical critic of school choice who takes seriously the mistrust that many Christians have toward the public school system. I have to conclude that either A) these evangelicals don’t know how seriously many of their fellow believers take these issues, or B) these evangelicals do know how seriously they take them, but don’t agree that they should take them seriously. Either way, the lack of understanding from school choice critics that I’m seeing is disheartening.

Why Do Liberals Love Harry Potter?

My favorite read of the day is this article on understanding why progressives, especially millennials in the Obama to post-Obama era, are so in love with using the Harry Potter stories as metaphors for America’s current cultural moment. The author has an interesting theory, one that I (mostly) agree with: American liberals love Harry Potter because of Hogwarts. To be specific, they love the idea that schools are reliable bastions of legitimate authority.


High school movies of the 80s were obsessed with the illegitimacy of schools’ authority; Matthew Broderick hacks into his high school’s computer in both Ferris Bueller and Wargames, to make a mockery of the so-called permanent record, and John Hughes’s movies in general are always focused on the improvisatory genius of children and adolescents and the dull brutish obsessions of school personnel…

This is a remarkable contrast with the Harry Potter films, which (partly due to the superfluity of British acting talent available to the various directors) often make Dumbledore and the various Hogwarts teachers far grander and more impressive than the teenage protagonists…

From an outside perspective, Harry Potter is a funny fantasy for liberals to cohere around. Going off to centuries-old boarding school where your mum and dad were Head Boy and Head Girl, where tolerance and broadmindedness consists of admitting that  lower-class Muggles can occasionally have the same genetically-mediated gifts as the gentry, where the greatest possible action for a woman is to let herself be slain so her son can grow up to revenge himself on her killer…all sounds more reactionary than progressive. But if contemporary liberalism is the ideology of imperial academia, funneled through media and non-profits and governmental agencies but responsible ultimately only to itself, the obsession with Harry Potter makes a lot more sense.

This is an interesting take, and I think the author rightly connects the romanticism of Hogwarts to the self-perception of the educated, technocratic progressive class. Hogwarts is attractive to liberals not mainly because they desire the world it depicts, but because they sincerely believe the world it depicts is the one that they (via the university) have created. The contrast the author draws between the cruel, dimwitted authority figures of the 80s high school comedies and the near saintlike teachers at Hogwarts is perceptive. Cynicism toward established authority was once considered a liberal rejection of conservative social order. Now, reverence toward the academy–and those who work it–is non-negotiable.

But I have another theory. In John Granger’s indispensable book How Harry Cast His Spell, Granger persuasively demonstrates how Rowling’s Harry Potter novels appropriate the most important narrative traditions of Western history. The 7 books tell a unified hero story that deliberately evokes Western mythology (I’m using that word to mean both fairy tales and historical narratives, such as Scripture, that become significant literary developments in Western thought). The gospel, the Odyssey, Camelot–these and more myths are the narrative mold around which the Potter stories are formed.

As the author of the blog notes, much about the Harry Potter series seems conservative. Harry Potter is culturally conservative in ways that don’t seem to bother liberal presuppositions. Voldemort and his followers are enemies of diversity–that much is clear. But it’s also true that Hogwarts is not exactly a factory of self-determination. Everyone gets sorted into houses–notably, students can desire a particular house, but they do not determine it–and these houses impose a preexisting shape of life onto the students. This doesn’t seem to upset the modern progressive reader, perhaps because in the course of the story, the students who most stridently do their own thing end up consistently being the biggest heroes. What gets lost in the glorification of the Boy Who Lived is the fact that he lived because of the actions of another (his mother!!), and that his heroic journey is empowered not by self-authentication, but by the wisdom and traditional forms of his mentors (Dumbledore chiefly).

So why do liberals love Harry Potter? I think it may be because Harry Potter is a reminder, however dim, of what a world that ennobles human aspiration without the shadow of the sexual revolution would look like. The American Left is deeply mired in its own self-destructive contradictions. Its aspiration for a truly self-authenticated existence is eviscerated by its insistence on cutting the legs out from under community and tradition. Rowling’s tale is a of a world where this tradeoff is unnecessary.  What’s true of Hogwarts is true of Harry Potter as a whole: This is a place where people and choices matter, where you really can be a hero–just not alone.

4 Reasons to Skip the Super Bowl Half-Time Show

Unless you’re living under a rock–in which case, well done on getting wi-fi reception–you know the Super Bowl is tomorrow. The odds are good that you are either throwing a Super Bowl party or attending one. For readers in the first group, I’d like you to consider a minor but meaningful step: Consider tuning out of the broadcast when the half-time show begins. I have four reasons.

  1. The Super Bowl halftime performance has a history of unnecessary sexual suggestiveness. Even artists who aren’t typically known for strutting their sex appeal seem to try to salt things up at their halftime performance. Most of the time, of course, TV regulations prevent things from getting explicit. But a part of me thinks that actually makes the halftime more harmful. Most audiences would turn away in anger and disgust at something genuinely pornographic. The danger, I think, is in the “I’m at the line but not crossing it” stuff that gets stuck in the head. Preventing this is absurdly easy: for 15 minutes, watch something else.
  2. It’s widely assumed that this year’s artist, Lady Gaga, will make some sort of political statement with her performance. Hear me: Even if you are someone who is likely to be sympathetic to whatever statement gets made, aren’t you at least somewhat depressed by the aggressive omnipresence of politics in every aspect of pop culture? Do you, informed citizen, really need Lady Gaga to authenticate your views? Do yourself a favor: Make the big game about football, food, and friends. Leave politics at the door.
  3. The vast majority of halftime shows are incredibly lame, even by television concert standards. Perhaps you’re the kind of person who enjoys lip-sync, advertisement-centered choreography, and poor sound quality. If that’s you, yeah, you might get a kick out of the halftime show. If on the other hand all that sounds annoying, then you might wanna contemplate that the most interesting thing the halftime show has produced in recent years was a shark that didn’t know how to dance. Bottom line: You’re not missing anything.
  4. Halftime is a great chance to jumpstart your party. I’ve been to enough Super Bowl get togethers to know that the non-football people generally give up on the game a little before halftime, and the football people tend to be more invested in the action in the second half. Play a rapid fire game with your party instead of watching the halftime show. Get the fans and non-fans hanging out for just a few minutes. This is more fun, and it also will decrease the likelihood of seeing your guests whip out their iPhones and spend the evening on Twitter, seeing what people are saying about the halftime show.

These suggestions I commend to you that your Super Bowl joy may be complete. No shame for those who disagree.

About Those Violent Campus Protests

I like what National Review’s David French has to say about the recent violent protests at UC Berkeley. Though I would probably be more sympathetic to the difference between protesters and rioters, I think French is exactly right on two important points. First, no rhetoric, no matter how incendiary, no matter how offensive, merits physical violence against innocent people (note: the question whether violence is ever defensible against real-time acts of aggression and injustice is a much different question).

Second, the response to riots and public violence from the Left has been pathetic. Of course, nobody important actively endorses the kind of thing we see in this video. But as French notes, key public responses to the rioting from people like the mayor of the city and the state’s lieutenant governor are far too whimsical. The idea that unequivocally condemning destruction and violence in your city somehow compromises your political integrity or makes you complicit in policies you oppose is ridiculous. Yet it seems that more and more American public discourse is eaten up with this kind of zero-sum tribalism that makes censure of the bad done by one’s own side virtually impossible. If assaulting people at a political rally or injuring innocent bystanders at a protest aren’t worth condemning even if they happen in one’s own ideological camp, then I genuinely worry we’ve reached a point of no return.

Whatever happened to the rules of debate? I took a speech and debate class in high school, and one thing that was emphasized regularly was the difference between ideas and people. Ideas were what we were fighting for or against. They had to built up, knocked down, exposed, and argued. People, though, were to be respected. Saying something about your opponent that you should have said about their idea was a debate crime called ad hominem, “attacking the man.” Committing ad hominem wasn’t just poor form; it was almost always a sign that you were losing the argument.

But here’s the thing about ad hominem. The concept of ad hominem presumes that there is a difference between things talked about and the individuals talking about them. That’s what “hominem” means. If it’s wrong to attack a person in a debate, but debate is still possible, that means that’s there’s something else being talked about in debate than a person. There is a difference, in other words, between ideas and people. To argue concepts, principles, and philosophies is not the same as arguing the worthiness of your opponent. If it were the same, then “ad hominem” wouldn’t be a fallacy; it would be our only mode of discourse.

I think this concept of a difference between people and ideas is endangered right now. What many of us in American culture are becoming acclimated to is a radically deconstructed identity politics, wherein we think of the clash between Left and Right not as a contest of ideas by mutually well-intentioned people, but as a culture war between good people (=my side) and bad people (=your side). This way of thinking stimulates activism and solidarity, but it also necessarily reduces individuals to their worldview.

This is one area where I think the contemporary evangelical focus on “worldview training” has served the church poorly. Worldviews are certainly real things, and it’s important that we understand how what we believe affects every aspect of our life. But people are not their worldview. You cannot divide the world up into “secularists” vs Christians, or “traditionalists” vs progressives. Those words can be useful shorthands, but they also obscure the fact that ideas are not people. True–to be against secularism is in one sense to be against the unmitigated acquisition of power by people with a secular worldview. But secular people are not secularism, and identifying human persons with an ideology category doesn’t allow enough space for differentiating between ideas and the persons who talk about them.

I believe one reason that violence and cruelty in our cultural discourse seems to be on the rise is that we do not feel a differentiation between people and ideas, and thus, failing to attack someone personally feels like a failure of conviction, or even a tacit admission of defeat. Because we identify ourselves so closely with our ideological in-groups, hearing a critique of our ideology sounds like a threat. In the case of what’s going on in American campus culture, deconstructive theories of language have, I think, culminated in students’ frustration with the liberal inconsistencies of universities–which teach that the world is sorted by oppressor vs oppressed in the classroom, but then expect civility and politeness on the weekends.

If you have no category for why people who disagree with your basic assumptions about life, God, and the economy may be as well-intentioned as you are, then you may not see the difference between them and their ideas. And if you don’t see the difference between ideas and people, then what you believe is threatening about the former now becomes true of the latter. And then you burn stuff.