Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big Hollywood, and my Usual Fatwa Against Television

So, over at Big Hollywood, Nick Gillespie discusses watching a current television show with his teenager, and finding out that it's "as boring as hell."

Yes. And?

I suppose the underlying question is:

What're all these presumably moral, perhaps even Christian, individuals doing spending their time watching television -- and mediocre television at that? Are their lives so dull, so aimless?

Is there nothing more enjoyable that could be done with that period of time, if one merely wants enjoyment? Nothing more informative, if one wants to be informed? Nothing more relaxing, if one wants relaxation?

I'm reminded of that bit in C.S.Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in which that sly devil boasted of his ability to tempt humans to do, not sinful things they actually enjoyed, but things they didn't even enjoy: " habit renders the once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him." Screwtape boasts of a soul he tempted saying, on his arrival in hell, "I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked."

My usual, oft-repeated Recommendation: Cancel your cable/dish account. Get Netflix or some other subscription on-demand kind of membership which limits you to only a few hours' watching per week, which you must intentionally select from the last 50 years' output instead of passively receiving whatever happens to be on this week.

Result: Less watching, more entertainment while watching, and everything you watch comes from a voluntary prioritization of your time.

My family switched to this method oh, two years ago. We don't miss a thing worthwhile. And I can't remember the last time we had to sit through a television commercial. (That right there, when watching an "hour long" program, gives you back 17 minutes of your life.)

Oh, and it's rather cheaper.

And the only way Meathead's treacly moral puffery can water-torture your brain is if you voluntarily put "All In The Family" in your Netflix queue. (I don't know anyone who would...but if they did, at least they'd have Carol O'Connor to make up for it.)

All in all, it's the civilized, pleasanter way to watch, and only the habitual dullness of personal inertia keeps families from making the switch.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kicking Against The Goads

So, after the Proposition 8 vote, apparently some Christians were praying and singing, and some gay* folk attacked them.

Here is the Video.

Here is the Narrative.

Here is the Anchoress's take.

...and here is mine:

Some Gays In SanFran Find It Hard To Kick Against The Goads

Christianity offers a solution to those who have examined themselves (and human beings generally) sufficiently closely to understand that they have a problem in need of solving.

Humans often fail to do the good they know they should (or even wish they could) do. And humans often do the evil they know they shouldn't do, or wish they could avoid doing. That is the problem.

Now, Christ offers the solution...but He has absolutely nothing to say to those who don't yet know they have the problem. The antiquated way of saying it is that Original Sin permeates mankind, and that the insight that one is a sinner is a prerequisite to understanding the Gospel.

What, then, about homosexuals?

Well, just like the rest of us sinners, some know they have a problem, and others do not. And Christianity has absolutely nothing to say to those who don't know they have a problem.

But here we have some folks praying and singing, and the result is...what? How did this mere sight and sound affect gay onlookers?

Some (not all) gays felt compelled, by something within them, to kick, punch, molest, and steal from these folks who were singing and praying.

That's quite a reaction. What compelled it?

Sign Of Contradiction

The singers and prayers were being what Christians call "A Sign of Contradiction." Where Christianity makes itself noticed and its counter-cultural nature is revealed, it gets kicked.

The excuses used to justify the kicking differ in every age, and I understand well what they are in this age, but they are only excuses, and not the foundation of this rage. The foundation, the motivation to violence, is simple: It is fallen humanity's exasperation that, no matter how long one pushes back against the Truth of God, it adamantly refuses to go away, refuses to change for our convenience, refuses to stay out of sight. It keeps popping up in front of us, to our frustration, like a bubble of air under freshly-applied wallpaper.

As a man named Paul (earlier called Saul) might ruefully tell us: "It is hard to kick against the goads." (Another translation says, "against the pricks," but this leads to unfortunate misunderstandings....)

Some gays have not given in to the emotional urge to express their opposition to Christianity as physically as these described by Malkin and shown in the video. Some have managed to keep their cool, and perhaps as a result they still don't know they have a problem.

But what of those who saw this knot of folk praying and singing, and reacted violently? With jeers? With grabbing at body parts and pulling at clothing? With hurled insults and thrown punches?

With kicks?

They're probably discovering that it's hard to kick against the goads. They expressed what was truly inside them; and now that they have done so, do they like what they see? Do they know they have a problem?

Finding Out You Have A Problem

I think some of them do, now. So perhaps we need more street-corner singing and praying. It's quaint and unintellectual, sure. But one more easily sees that something is crooked by pushing it up against something that is straight. (The pun is unintentional; I don't mean sexually "straight," but morally straight, even logically consistent.)

When homosexuals encounter Christ, they encounter a Sign of Contradiction. They will kick against the goads. And they will find it hard. And if they look, they'll find something crooked in themselves. Not just their sexual problem; that's almost a symptom or manifestation. The something crooked is their fallen-ness.

And only then will Christ have anything more to say to them.

* Note: in the course of this post, I refer both to "gays" and to "homosexuals." In each case, I am referring to people who experience sexual attraction to persons of the same gender, which I hold to not be a sin per se, but a disordered personality trait and a temptation to sin. In no case am I using the term "gay" or "homosexual" as an epithet. Tone-of-voice is difficult to convey in writing but I ask readers to assume that my attitude is one of careful analysis without animosity.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Kill Your TV, again

I think that our moral intuitions are strongly influenced by our sense of what is "normal" in society. (Types partial to High-falutin' language use the term "normative.")

Sadly, that sense is influenced by both those we know, and by popular media. The "peer pressure" aspect of the former has been a part of the human community forever. The influence of the latter has supplanted the oral and ecclesiastic traditions which once communicated cultural content from each generation to the next.

So whereas kids once absorbed the fireside tales of their parents -- who'd seen the difficulties arising from indiscriminate sex and would therefore not glorify it in their storytelling -- now they learn what life is like from popular media.

(They learn that good clergymen are always full of doubt, and clergymen who don't doubt their faith are either molesters or dangerous fanatics. They learn that generals are jingoistic madmen. They learn that newspaper reporters are heroes when they reveal government secrets, which are always dark and nefarious. They learn that Middle-Eastern Muslims never hold any beliefs incompatible with free societies, but that skinheads are the most significant source of terrorism in the world. They learn that businessmen are greedy crooks who'll murder for profit. They learn that Republicans hate the poor and Democrats love the poor. They learn that God doesn't exist and scientists are champions of truth and freedom. They learn that supernatural power, if it exists, exists in pagan magic, not in Christian prayer. They learn that religious people are bigots, wives are always smarter than husbands, teenagers see life more clearly than adults, and homosexuals are more emotionally healthy than heterosexuals. They learn that everyone is extremely thin and attractive, that an unattractive girl is actually just a stunner wearing glasses who'll inevitably become prom-queen after she gets a makeover from a knowing friend, that the prime nerd in high-school will turn out to look like a cover model for Men's Health once he's had a similar makeover, especially once he's undergone a training regimen made quick and painless by an inspiring rock music soundtrack, and that everyone has money to buy new stuff and to live in spacious surroundings, though one rarely sees them having to actually work.)

Anyway, the point is that when all that crap has already influenced one's sense of the normal, only a strong exposure to obviously contrary evidence in the real world will be able to make one's sense of the normal more realistic.

So, it would be one thing if kids absorbed all those skewed lessons from the modern world's equivalent of an oral tradition, only to find, when they talk to their friends, that not one of them has had premarital sex.

It's quite another thing when, after forty years of being saturated with those skewed lessons, kids have pretty much fallen into line with them, so that there is little contradictory evidence to be found anywhere.

Hence, it matters if all our friends are boinking like bunnies. It doesn't override our sense of free will, but it dulls our moral intuitions about what actually matters. It helps makes the grass seem greener on the other side of the moral code. And it reinforces the popular media's claim to be a trustworthy worldview.

Now, one can't kill one's friends for being a bad influence.

One can, however, kill one's television.

Said it before; now I'm saying it again: Netflix. And/or Tivo. By means of technology, be selective, so that all the media-absorbtion of those in your household is heavily edited for content. Stock your Tivo with reruns from the 50's, 60's, 70's, and so on: Why not?

The sole reason "why not" is of course that one doesn't wish one's kids to become the moral equivalent of "The Boy In The Bubble" who had no immune system and could be killed by the common cold.

Therefore, one should consciously introduce the bad stuff. Get some swearing in there, some teen sex, some pedophile priests, some sadistic soldiers, some religious types who overdo it.

But keep it in proportion. This will have the salutary effect of (a.) creating a better sense of proportion in a kid's sense of normalcy, and (b.) constitute sufficient exposure to lies and temptations to thereby activate the moral immune system.

One hopes.

All this, of course, falls under the category of "coming up with a theory of what might help, implementing it, and praying for the best." Which, from what I see, is a large percentage of the experince of being a parent.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama


1. President-Elect Obama deserves the respect due the office, and our prayers. Let us in particular pray for his physical safety.

2. President-Elect Obama deserves congratulations on a well-run campaign, in which he at least remained relatively classy. He was a bit thin-skinned and vindictive when he and his were questioned in ways he didn't like, and he sometimes raised race as an issue by saying that his opponent had done so, when he hadn't. But in the history of campaigning, that's small potatoes. It was in fact a pretty dignified campaign on both sides, and that's worthy of praise.

3. It is an exciting thing that we elected our first black president. And it is gratifying that our first black president is a man with class and good taste, rather than some aging civil-rights-era race warlord who speaks in cadences fit for the pulpit but not the podium. We thereby escaped, for the moment, cascades of race riots and interracial ill will.

In a nation like the United States, which is truly one of the most color-blind nations in the world but publicly gives itself a bad rap because of our tendency to claw at our own bellies over our grandparents' sins, the possibility of putting racial mistrust entirely behind us is something to savor.

Kids of different "races" (I use scare quotes because we're all human) grow up playing together; they work together; they marry and have children; my melanin-challenged five-year-old has no preconceptions at all about the melanin-rich skin tones of her friend from next-door except that it means her friend can get by wearing less sunscreen.

By the time she is twelve, I guess, my daughter will have heard rumors that there are people who think skin-color determines a person's worth, like a rumor of cannibals in the Amazon basin. But in her life, they'll likely be little more than rumors: What a marvel!

4. I hoped Obama wouldn't win, because, tho' I was tempted by the color of his skin, I dragged my mind forcibly back to his likely policies and found them deeply inferior to the alternatives.

But a person can surprise you, by being wiser than you expected. And events can surprise a president (ask G.W.Bush!), preventing him from enacting what he thought he'd enact. I will pray that either or both prove true of the Obama Administration.

5. It was unlikely Obama wouldn't win, because:

(a.) He's black, and there were (I'd guess) five times more people willing to vote for him for that reason alone, who otherwise wouldn't have voted for a man with his policies and history, than there were people who voted against him because he was black, who otherwise would have voted for a man with his policies and history;
(b.) Everyone's tired of the Iraq war, and even though an abrupt pull-out is now nearly the only thing that could possibly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they expressed their impatience by voting for the guy who called for the more abrupt departure;
(c.) The credit crunch is not properly understood by most folks, nor is the limit of presidential power over the economy, nor is the profound impact of state and local government on business, so much of the electorate was likely to blame our economic difficulties, or even their local ones (my own state is doing fine) on the party in the White House; and,
(d.) The MSM voted early and often.

...and so, no big surprises tonight. Which is nice. The surprises came over the last two years, and I'm about worn out absorbing surprises.

6. In his Herculean effort to run a campaign which never came within miles of playing the race card, John McCain did well. He perhaps overdid it, in the sense that Obama's years of regular absorbtion of Jeremiah Wright's racially-divisive and theologically wacko screeds could legitimately have been made an issue by the McCain camp, who instead barely mentioned the topic. But the old war-hero, whose year was 2000 if it was ever his year at all, managed a campaign which, while not a nail-biter, remained pretty competitive until the end, against enormous odds. He deserves kudos, not the usual and more likely post-election blame-game. In that sense, he'll probably get less than he deserves. But from me, he gets my thanks.

Considering how I felt about his performance in the Senate, and how grudgingly he got my vote, it pains me to say it, but: He ran a perfectly decent campaign.

So, in summary:

Congratulations to the President-Elect, and by God's protection may he be kept safe, and by God's generosity may he be made wise, and by God's providence may the 99.9% of events which are utterly outside the control of the President of the United States conspire to help, not harm, the United States of America.