Culture: December 2004 Archives

Endorsing Myths

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In commenting on this Pseudo-Polymath post, it occurred to me that, even though it's stupid to call this sort of thing persecution (as Mark does not) and probably false to conclude that it means Christians and those of Christian influence don't have much of a voice (as Mark does), it's pretty dumb to say that singing Christmas carols in a public school or putting a manger scene on government property is somehow an endorsement of religion. Why? Well, is an image of Santa Claus an endorsement of the Santa Claus myth? Is it an endorsement of the Holy Grail myth to show Raiders of the Lost Ark in school or an endorsement of the Robin Hood stories to have a play about Robin Hood? How, then, is it an endorsement of any Christian doctrine or practice to have a play about the story of Jesus' birth, to display a scene of that birth, or to sing Christmas songs about that birth, if the purpose is simply to relate the significance Christmas has to many people? That doesn't mean the people running the show agree with all that.

Not too long ago I witnessed five people enthusiastically singing classic Christmas hymns. As far as I know, not one of them believed a word of what they were saying. One of them was the chair of my department. I know nothing of his religious views, if he even has any. Another was a professor I once worked for and her husband. They're Unitarian Universalists. I didn't know the other two. They obviously weren't endorsing anything about the message of Jesus, the doctrines people might hold about him that these songs expressed, or the moral views such doctrines entail. A publicly-funded chorus singing Handel's The Messiah does not endorse the content of what they sing. They merely sing it. This is just something I don't understand about the secularists' complaints here.

Kevin Drum complains that Christians have so successfully spread the stupid claim that saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is somehow offensive to some degree worthy of being called persecution. I think it's dumb that someone who isn't Christian would be offended by someone saying "Merry Christmas" given that Christmas is not a Christian holiday as generally practiced in the United States. It's a secular holiday, and anyone who considers is persecution to be told "Merry Christmas" needs to grow up. At the same time, those who consider it persecution to be told "Happy Holidays" is even more immature. In that I agree with Kevin. I think he goes too far in talking as if Christians are comparing this to the Holocaust. I've never seen anyone do that. They do call it persecution, though. Rush Limbaugh's brother David has a whole book claiming that, and it's just silly. This kind of victimology is just plain insulting to the Christians who are genuinely persecuted around the world today and to those who have been persecuted throughout the history of the church.

What's really funny, though, is the first comment on the post, who says: The moniker "Christian Taliban" is becoming more apt by the moment. Isn't it ironic that a post complaining about exactly this kind of absolutely ridiculous exaggeration and dysphemism receives as its first comment someone pretending to agree while doing exactly the same thing!

Justice Miscarries

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I've been ignoring the Scott Peterson trial as much as possible. How many hundreds of cases like this occur all the time? Why do they pick this one out and analyze it to death as if we should care about it more than any other? Of course they did it so much that many people turned out to care, but the entertainment circus over this thing has been really sad. Still, it was hard not to catch most of what was said. They repeated it so often, at least once an hour most days. What struck me as so obvious in this case was that they had absolutely nothing on the guy except some relatively suspicious circumstantial evidence and clear proof that he's just a total jerk. I don't know how any of that should be enough to alleviate a reasonable doubt that he killed them. I was never able to be convinced that he did it from what I've heard all along. I wouldn't put it past him. He's completely amoral. Still, that's no proof, not to the level of removing a reasonable doubt. Unless there's something that's been buried by the media, he should never have been convicted.

The fact that they're giving him the death penalty is now going to stand as evidence of how easy it is to get the death penalty, which will support those who want to remove it entirely. The use of such an argument is a baby-bathwater situation, of course, because one decent enough solution to trigger-happy juries is to raise the standards again for applying the death penalty, or rather enforcing them where they're supposed to be. That was supposed to have happened after the Supreme Court temporarily banned capital punishment in the 1970s because of its unequal standards in application, and those were supposed to have been greatly improved by the time they allowed its reinstitution. Compare the O.J. case, though, and it's easy to see that there's still great inequity, at least in the high-profile cases. He got off because he was a famous football player. Peterson didn't because his jury voted with their entrails and not their minds. We also know that the race of the victim affects juries' decisions on whether to institute a capital sentence. With white victims, the chance is much greater (regardless of the race of the convict, which turns out to have little effect either way overall, though some parts of the country lean one way and some lean the other, presumably because of residual racism in some places and P.C. restraint in others).

This is the biggest problem with the American system of peer juries. It's the same problem with Democracy in general. One impartial judge is always preferable to a whole bunch of jurors untrained in how to evaluate evidence or how to recognize bad arguments and appeals to emotion. Christians, of course, believe that there is that one impartial judge, and all will be set right in the end. Unfortunately for us at the moment, we'll have to wait until we die for that. Until then, we'll just have to observe the government wielding its God-ordained sword imperfectly.


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I took a break from the internet from a few days (and should, in theory still be on said break), and when I surfed the liberal blogs this evening they were awash with invective regarding John Stott. Clearly I missed something because I have no idea what brought that on. What did I miss?



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