Category Archives: Things that will piss somebody off

Two Cheers for the Electoral College

It’s over. Again. Probably for good this time. On Friday, Georgia certified its official election results with Joe Biden winning the state. Today, Michigan followed suit. And after a Trump-appointed judge in Pennsylvania threw out Trump’s lawsuit over the weekend, Pennsylvania counties today started the process of doing the same.

Nevada certifies tomorrow. Arizona’s counties have all certified their results, with statewide certification set for November 30. Wisconsin will do so on December 1. But Biden doesn’t need them to win.

And now that we’ve reached this point, I want to offer up a measured, but enthusiastic two cheers for the often-maligned electoral college.

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Movie Review: 13 Hours [SPOILERS]

So last night, my wife and I made it out to see the movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. I’ve been asked by numerous people for a review of the film, so here it is. If you’ve read anything in the news about Benghazi, you know how it ends, It’s impossible to tell this story without a few minor spoilers, so while I’ve tried to keep the. to a minimum, if your intent is to go into this movie with an absolutely clean slate, this is one review you might want to skip. You have been warned.

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Planned Parenthood: The Enemy of both Life and Choice

I’ve been waiting to comment on the recent drama surrounding Planned Parenthood until more information became available, but with the release of the fifth video this week, there’s not a lot more that can be said. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the group behind these videos, says it has released less than half of the videos the organization has in its possession, and in fact some of them may never see the light of day given that a LA County Superior Court Judge and a Federal Judge who bundled $230,000 for President Obama’s last campaign have both issued temporary restraining orders against releasing videos involving certain Planned Parenthood business partners, based on the time-honored legal standard of: “you can’t do that because it might make the people I support look bad.”

These orders have not, though, prevented the group from releasing footage of Planned Parenthood staff themselves. Perhaps there’s worse footage waiting in the wings, but it seems as though any additional footage can only confirm what we already know from these first five releases.

And what, precisely, is that? In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll note here that I haven’t gotten through the several hours of unedited footage yet. I tend to be Boehner-esque in my lack of control over my lacrimal glands, so watching things like this make me start bawling, not to mention turning my stomach and just being flat out horrifying. I also have young kids at home, including a 9 month old baby, so my already-weak stomach is considerably more so when violence against small children is involved. What I have seen is incredibly difficult to watch, and would be even without a baby of my own at home. Watching it while thinking of her sleeping upstairs is next to impossible. So I haven’t watched everything. But what I have watched thus far is bad enough.

Here’s how bad . . .
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40 Questions: Asked and Answered

I’ve stayed fairly quiet in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same sex marriage nationwide in the United States. My views on same-sex marriage are hardly a secret, but there are several things about the way this case was decided and the likely (and already beginning) aftermath that have me concerned. As a result, my feelings on the topic are very mixed, and I simply hadn’t found the right forum in which to share them.

Until now.

I’ve seen an article going around the Internet from Kevin DeYoung, writing at The Gospel Coalition, entitled “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags.” I’ve had a number of friends post this article and ask for thoughts and responses. I’m not much of a flag-waver myself, but I am happy for the people who can now get married, and have been vocal in supporting their ability to do so. That being the case, I thought I’d share my answers to DeYoung’s questions. As always, in sharing these thoughts I am speaking for myself, and myself alone. Your mileage may, and probably does, vary. I’m sure there’s plenty of material below for those on all sides of this issue to find offensive, so if your preference is to read only things you agree with, I’d advise you to stop here.

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The Day I Met My Daughter

I had a brand new experience this past Friday. I met my daughter for the first time. It was exhilarating . . . unbelievable . . . mind-blowing. It was a thousand different adjectives for which the English language doesn’t have words.

When Heidi was pregnant with Tristan, we decided to be “surprised.” We never had an ultrasound and didn’t know whether he was a boy or girl until he was in our arms and we could check all his parts for ourselves. We never regretted that decision, but this time we decided for a variety of reasons that we wanted to know in advance, and seeing that little girl on the screen this morning, I’m so very glad we did.

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How Far Fallen?

Any “regular readers” here will know that I’m a graduate of Patrick Henry College, a small, Christian liberal-arts college here in Northern Virginia. Since my time at the school, they’ve established the Faith & Reason Lecture Series, described on the school’s website as a semiannual, “day-long shared experience that involves a presentation by a faculty member or guest, lunch with the speaker, small-group discussions, and an afternoon question-and-answer session with a faculty panel.”

The most recent such lecture occurred on Friday, September 13, 2013. It was given by faculty member Dr. Stephen Baskerville, and was entitled Politicizing Potiphar’s Wife: Today’s New Ideology. I was not present at the initial lecture (though I plan to attend a follow-up session for alumni later this week). However, after reading the content of the lecture, I am left with grave concerns about the state of education at my alma mater.

It’s long, but if this is a topic that interests you and if you have not already done so, please read the above link before you proceed. I fear what follows will make little sense otherwise, and I dislike presenting only my perspective on an issue without the reader having an opportunity to become familiar with the other side. If a discussion of academic rigor, logical argumentation, and what it means to have a “Christian education” does not interest you, you probably won’t care to read further, though you’re certainly welcome to do so.

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Why THIS Millennial Left the Church

. . . and why he has no intention of going back anytime soon . . . 


Rachel Held Evans wrote a blog post at CNN recently that set off a miniature firestorm among those interested in spiritual things and the state of the Christian church in the United States. Her post, entitled, “Why millennials are leaving the church,” has elicited strong reactions. Most of the ones I’ve read have been largely negative.

Unfortunately, both Evans’ original article and every response to it that I’ve encountered, suffer from over-generalization. The assumption at work is that there is A Reason for millennials leaving the church. Detractors fill in terms like “narcissistic” or “consumerist” to try to explain the emotions that drive young people out of the walls of church buildings . . . as if everyone who leaves does so because the church isn’t catering specifically enough to their own individual whims. What has largely been lacking in the discussion – particularly from the “anti” side, but even from Evans’ perspective – is the stated viewpoint of an actual millennial who has actually “left the church.”

Having been what I like to call a “post-congregational Christian” for the past seven years, I thought I’d offer one. I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself – like I said, there is no single reason for the phenomenon Evans observes. What follows are my reasons.

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Where we are. Where we’ve been.

I woke up this morning deeply discouraged about the future of our country. Conservatives like to say that we are a “center-right nation,” but in a country where the challenger can win independents handily and still lose the election that is clearly no longer the case. Many, myself included, thought the polls showing Obama ahead based on 2008 demographics couldn’t possibly be right . . . that 2008 was a historical anomaly centered on the man himself, and that after the pendulum swung the other way in 2010, everything would revert to the norm in 2012. We were wrong. I was wrong. 2008 was a realignment, and the face of the country changed. That being the case, it’s worth looking back at the country we left behind us four years ago.

Four years ago, I wrote a post on this blog intended to calm the fears of readers on the right who were worried about the fate of the nation in the face of what everybody knew would be an overwhelming victory for Barack Obama. It’s never as bad as it seems, I wrote, and the election of a staunch far-left liberal masquerading as a post-partisan moderate is not the end of the world.

I will not be writing any such comforting words this time. This time the electorate’s rose-colored glasses were off. The far-left liberal ran as exactly what he is. He ran a small, vicious and mean campaign based on character assassination, and was reelected anyway. It really is as bad as it seems. It may be worse.

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Stepping Back from the Ledge: On the Obamacare Opinion

Let me preface this by saying that I am no legal scholar, merely a long-time hobbyist and sometimes court-watcher. That said, I wanted to share some unorthodox thoughts on today’s PPACA decision and the man who authored it. I’ve deliberately avoided reading much in the way of commentary on today’s opinion from either side, choosing instead to read the opinion itself and formulate my own thoughts on it. And here they are, for any who care to read them. Take them for what they’re worth . . . which is roughly equivalent to the amount you paid to read them here.

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Books, Films, Wars, and Adventures in Missing the Point

So there’s been a lot going on in the world of late – both in my own personal world and in the larger world around me. Oddly, a lot of them seem connected in my mind (which occasionally also means that they are connected in real life).

In a lot of places this weekend, the first of three movies based on the wildly popular objectivist novel “Atlas Shrugged” was released, to either wide acclaim or harsh criticism that is only partially dependent on one’s political viewpoint.

In Africa, the U.S. and other countries continued to engage in what people who think the word “war” is too icky are calling a “kinetic military action” in support of rebels who seek to unseat meglomaniacal dictator Moammer Qadhaffi . . . or Moamar Kadafi . . . or Muammar Gaddafi . . . one of those guys.

Meanwhile, the evangelical world was rocked to its core recently when Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill – a well-known megachurch – released a book called “Love Wins,” which is either a testament to the love of God or a heretical embrace of universalism depending on who you ask. Actually, the evangelical world began rocking well before the book was ever released, since theological luminaries like John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Al Mohler took Rob Bell to task for his heresy based solely on a promo video he put out before it was even published.

Finally, in my own personal life, I’ve been reading a series of fantasy novels I’ve recently discovered: Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series.

Believe it or not, all these things seem related – at least to me – by more than the fact that they all seem to be happening at the same time.

As far as Atlas Shrugged, I’m hoping to see the movie in the very near future since it’s based on one of my favorite books, and from what I’ve heard the movie does a pretty good job living up to the book at least in this first installment.

In reading reviews, I came across this assessment – not so much a review as a political essay from a commentator who is something less than a fan of Ayn Rand. He, in turn, points to what he calls the “definitive repudiation of Rand,” written by Whitaker Chambers in 1957.

The commentator laments Ayn Rand’s influence on the Tea Party movement, and says that “No one who, as a mature adult, espouses [the philosophy of Atlas Shrugged] without reservation should be taken seriously” (Personally, I have a hard time taking seriously someone who espouses anything without reservation). Chambers, on the other hand, seems to use Rand’s rabid atheism to reject her entire philosophy out of hand . . . without reservation, so to speak.

As far as Libya, we’re mucking around seemingly without a clue as to what we’re doing there. Our objective is to help the Libyan rebels, or unseat Qadaffi, or defeat his hired merceneries, or bomb the crap out of some desert, or secure the nation’s oil supplies, or . . . whatever. Sometimes it seems like our entire purpose there is to just do something already! Ultimately, the absolute best-case scenario is probably a democratic government that is not hostile to the U.S. or its interests. How close we’ll end up to that best case is anybody’s guess.

I have yet to read the book Love Wins, so I won’t speak on what I don’t know . . . but I will say something about the controversy that’s brewing around the book. More on that a bit later.

As far as the “Sword of Truth” series, I’ve recently discovered that this series I’m enjoying has actually been made into a TV show as well, called “Legend of the Seeker.” The TV show is fairly boiler-plate fantasy/sci-fi stuff: Hero on the run from evil villain flits from place to place lending aid to random helpless strangers in passing. The characters and the stories they find themselves in are fairly accurate to the books, with some necessary alterations making it fit better on the small screen. But it really loses something in the broader scheme of things.

What it loses, is the same thing that connects all these random strings.

Unlike the TV show, the “Sword of Truth” books tell a sweeping, epic story of a brilliant, courageous young leader whose most earnest and sincere desire is to bring about a world of peace, justice and equality . . . and that’s just the story’s villain. That last sentence is not a typo.

His vision of “peace” is a world under the rule of one empire with him at its head. His idea of justice entails severe repercussions against any who stand in his way or dare to voice a countervailing opinion. His view of equality is that those who are successful are only so through avarice and greed . . . and that such success is therefore evil. Because everything one has is undeserved, in this worldview, misery is virtuous and charity is an obligation. The hero combats this view relentlessly, noting in one of the books that “Charity, if you have the means, is a personal choice, but charity which is expected or compelled is simply a polite word for slavery.”

In the TV show, the hero runs around helping those too weak to confront a difficult destiny. In the books, the hero shows people that they are strong enough to forge their own destinies. In that way, the TV show manages to miss the point rather comprehensively, almost turning the entire point of the books on its head at times.

Here’s the connection between all these random things: I think we’re suffering from a fundamental misunderstanding of freedom. In the TV show . . . in Libya . . . in the reviews about Atlas Shrugged . . . in the way we think about Hell . . .

The problem is that we think freedom is an end in and of itself. It’s not. Goodkind gets that fact in his novels. For Goodkind . . . for Rand . . . for me . . . freedom is a valued ideal, but one that only has value because of a greater ideal: self-determination.

Aren’t those the same thing, though? I don’t think so. I think freedom is merely a pathway that makes self-determination easier. Freedom is a circumstance controlled externally, whether by a government or another entity or individual. We can be free or not free, based solely on factors we cannot control.

When it comes right down to it, freedom is simply a variable in the number of choices available to me. Self-determination, on the other hand, is the act of making those choices, rather than having them made for me. Only I can decide whether to be self-determined or not. Nobody can take that away from me. Either I decide my own fate or I let somebody else do it. Even someone who has no freedom has this choice . . . even if it is the martyr’s choice between surrendering what one believes or dying for it. This quality that none can take away is that which makes me, me. It is my core. My character.

It is my soul.

And what about Rob Bell? How does all of this relate to a book about Hell?

Here’s how: One of the themes of self-determination that runs through both Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series is the theme of personal responsibility.

Some would say that Hell is, itself, the incarnation of personal responsibility . . . that it’s not a conscious decision of a vengeful God to cast people there, but that they choose to go there on their own accord as a natural consequence of their choices. C.S. Lewis, for one, seems to take such a view of Hell in his writings. I can’t speak for Rob Bell’s view because I haven’t read the book, but that’s not the point I want to make anyway. I want to make a similar point about his critics. Namely this:

What are they so spun up about?? If Bell is wrong, he’s wrong. So what? Who cares?? Presumably, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler and all the rest believe themselves to be “in the club” . . . so the only logical reason they could have for being so wound up about Bell is that they’re afraid to conceive of what a universe without hell would mean for them.

And what would it mean?? Simply that their beliefs, their actions, their every thought and word and deed would have to come from the core of who they are . . . and not from a fear of eternal damnation, fire and brimstone.

Self-determination, in other words.

After all, if I’m doing what I’m doing . . . If I believe as I do . . . simply because someone else is threatening me with a gun (or a lake of fire), then that’s just another external factor like freedom, or the lack thereof. I’m not really determining anything in and of my self.

Here’s how Matt, from the blog “Church of No People” puts it:

I might know why Universalism pisses off so many evangelicals. For most of us, if we were standing in line at the heavenly security checkpoint and God let in a drunken wife beater right before us, we’d whine because that’s not fair. We tried all our lives to walk the walk. We said the sinner’s prayer, we went to church, we fed the hungry, we followed God’s will. Why should a bunch of heathans and wife abusers, and Democrats and homosexuals get to go when they didn’t do one blasted thing they were supposed to? Does all the obedience and believing we did count for nothing?

If you are struck by the unfairness of everyone getting into heaven, it just shows that somewhere in your mind, you are still banking on the things you did in life to get into heaven, not God’s grace. Who am I to tell Jesus what the limits of his grace are? But that’s exactly what we do. Universalism always gets one reaction from reformed types and evangelical types: “There’s no way in hell those people are getting into heaven, and you’re going to hell just for suggesting otherwise!”

I have never heard a reformed or evangelical say to a Universalist, “I hope you’re right.”

There is something absolutely, painfully wrong with that.

The thought Matt puts words to here is the reason why, personally, I don’t think the whole Rob Bell controversy matters two hoots – simply because my relationship with God doesn’t depend on whether hell exists or not. I just can’t bring myself to care. I choose a relationship with God, regardless.

Others are free to do so – or not – as they choose, and to deal with whatever consequences arise from their choices. I’ll be more than happy to talk to them about my choice and share my reasons for it, but at the end of the day, what they choose is up to them.

This misunderstanding about self-determination also extends to how we think about situations like that in the Middle East. We set up new democracies who vote in new governments, and we call it a win as long as they’re not shooting at us.

What we never do is get to the heart of the matter. Take Iraq, for example, or Afghanistan. It is wonderful that these nations have the ability now to elect their own leaders and write their own

laws. But has anybody told them that each of them is free to draw his or her own destiny? For that matter, how self-determining can a person be when their culture tells them that it is more important that they are a Sunni, or a Shiite, or a Kurd, than it is that they are an individual??

If we’re going to support rebels against tyranny, that’s what we should be telling them. Not “you now have the ability to elect your own leaders from your own sect or ethnic group” but instead, “you have always had the ability to write your own future!”

And finally, this misunderstanding extends to many of those who read (or see) Atlas Shrugged. In the Whitaker Chambers “takedown” of Ayn Rand that I linked earlier, Chambers essentially asserts that Rand’s libertarian philosophy shares a logical conclusion with the Marxism she loathed. Where Marxism’s end result was a totalitarian regime that attempted to control every bit of life through force, Chambers asserts that Rand’s end result is a technocratic regime that controls every bit of life through a shared view of what is “rational” and ostracism of anybody who does not share that view. I can see how Chambers might reach that conclusion, but in order to get there, he has to ignore one thing. He has to ignore self-determination.

Yes, Rand believes in freedom. Yes, she believes in the superiority of the “men (and women) of mind.” Yes, she believes that reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth. Yes, she believes that people who fail to choose these things is in the wrong. But what she never does is deny them the right to make that choice.

Think whatever you wish about each of these beliefs of hers. Just realize that they are not the point. Each of these flows from a deeper belief. The belief that each of us is, by definition, a self-determined being. I think it’s possible to hold to that deepest belief, and not reach all of the same conclusions Rand did. So I think Chambers misses the point.

That point is simply this: We may be a fractured culture composed of different traditions from hundreds of different histories, but the thing . . . the ONE thing . . . we all share is the ability to make our own rational decisions. That is what sets us apart from animals. It is even, if we look at the way they are portrayed in Scripture, the thing that sets us apart from angels. For those of us who are Christians, it is something that is so innate in us . . . so important to the core of who and what we are . . . that God was willing to allow us to exercise it in Eden, even with the full knowledge that we’d choose wrong, and that our choice would cost the life of His Son.

When we miss the point . . . when we get hung up on lesser goals, even such laudable goals as freedom or democracy or charity . . . we betray who we are. Let us pursue these lesser goals, but let us always do so out of our own self-determination . . . not because we ought, but because we choose to.

It’s not that freedom doesn’t matter. It’s just that self-determination matters so much more!

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