Archive | Politics

The Problem with “Bully Bob”

BullyBobSeveral months ago the NY Times ran an article entitled “Publishers Revel in Youthful Cruelty,” describing how the topic of bullying has ignited a book bonanza on the subject over the last few years. This probably isn’t news to anyone since the ubiquitous nature of the subject is evident way outside of old fashioned print media. Many are the awareness campaigns about bullying, ads with celebrities, special emphases within the schools, anti-bullying surveys and petitions across social media, etc.

Bullying applies to every kind of potential victim: the overweight, the mentally challenged, the religious minority, the socially awkward. Frequently it is associated particularly with the gay issue. Bullying is no longer the straightforward thing we once took it to be. Now it can be subtle, nonphysical, a particular feeling one gets from another person. And of course there is cyber-bullying, a word nobody would have understood in my school days.

I will admit readily that anytime something like this leaps out of obscurity and onto the radar of political correctness, my knee-jerk reaction is negative. I can’t help it. I have such little faith in and respect  for contemporary popular culture that I just assume that whatever captivates all of its attention at the present moment is probably idiotic. But that’s not really fair, so I have to back off and take a closer look sometimes. And even though the issue of bullying has popped up like a trendy ‘cause of the month’, if I think about the issue for what it is, disregarding some of the silliness that is currently written about it, I can’t deny that it is an important subject.

Bullying is necessarily a moral issue, since the word itself, like “murder” or “rape,” is morally slanted. It isn’t a neutral word. It is implied that you are doing something wrong if you are bullying. And as with any moral discussion, we have to make judgments about things that are right and things that are wrong. My specific interest here is not with bullying in the schoolyard but with bullies in the contemporary public discourse. These are the forceful voices who come strong with their opinions and use illegitimate bully-style tactics in order to twist the philosophical arms of people into agreeing with them (or at least into saying that they agree with them). My contention is that this kind of “Bully Bob” is problematic and needs to be confronted.

Bully Bob is a Big Talker

The first problem with the kinds of bullies I’m talking about is of a verbal nature. The general rule is that the bully in the yard with the biggest mouth is likely to cower the first time he’s confronted by someone whose toughness is more than talk. That’s why, when Wyatt Earp looked over & saw ‘Bully’ Bob Thornton as the belligerent Faro dealer bossing people around & doling out the threats (after having abused the regular customers and chased off all the high class play, according the bartender), Earp saw right through Bully Bob & realized immediately that he didn’t need to “go heeled to get the bulge on a tub” like him. A  typical loudmouth, this bully – a “madcap” identified as “Johnny Tyler” by Doc Holliday (and based on a historical figure)- was all noise, too cowardly to “skin that smokewagon and see what happens” when stood up to by a confident and unarmed stranger.

If you don’t get the above reference, never mind the specific names & quotes (but seriously, how can you call yourself an American?). The point is that when someone talks too big a game it is an indicator of the high likelihood that the situation is exactly the opposite. And the odds continue moving in that direction with every additional bit of verbal abuse he adds to his swagger. When I hear someone using verbal and ideological bully tactics in a modern day debate, it automatically weakens that person’s position for me. I hear weakness masked by the noise of a bully megaphone.

And while the big talkers who bring the noise can be intimidating, a certain calm confidence on the part of someone who questions the verbal bully can cut right through his bluster. The worst thing you can do in response to his or her noise is to play the same game and try to talk more trash and louder. The best thing you can do is to ignore the petty stuff and go right to the heart of the person’s point of view. Ask her pointed and penetrating questions that require her to articulate and defend the view she is trying to bully people into accepting. It is sometimes surprising how quickly someone who seemed so sure of herself will back off once critical questions are put to her.

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Orientations, Identities, Disorders, and Future Possibilities that Might Make you Squirm a Little

DSM-IVRecently there was a stir about something in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. A couple of headlines were saying that this fifth and latest version was identifying pedophilia as a “sexual orientation.” Not long after those headlines registered their requisite shock and response, the APA issued a retraction and clarification.

Watching this unfold I was reminded again how seemingly confusing is the use of terminology by this group, especially when it comes to key words like “orientation,” “identity” and “disorder.” A first principle of critical thinking is the clear and precise use of important terms. Failure to define these words with clarity and consistency in this case includes an ominous potential to carry our society down a moral and logical river that runs straight into a sewage pond. To see what I mean, consider more carefully the definition and use of each of these strategic words.


The APA & similar organizations describe “sexual orientation” as persistent attraction to those of a particular type or group. The attraction is of a sexual (in some cases they add “emotional” or “romantic”) nature. Sometimes you see, along with “attraction,” other words such as “tendency,” “proclivity,” “interest” & “preference.” So in essence a person’s sexual orientation, according to this characterization, amounts to his or her feelings of attraction toward a given group.

Usually the emphasis of the ‘group’ to which a person is attracted is along the lines of gender (i.e., attracted to males, females, or both), but there is nothing in the definition to prevent other things besides gender from defining the parameters of the group. There is no reason given, for example, why such an orientation would not instead have to do with age (e.g., attraction to the elderly or to children), body type (e.g., attraction to the obese or to “little people”), or something else.

Clearly a person who does experience one of these peculiar kinds of sexual attraction (or interest or preference) based on something other than gender would have a legitimate case for his or her attraction being an “orientation” by the definition commonly used. So the description of pedophilia as an “orientation,” for all of the reaction it evoked, would nevertheless, by the reasoning of the APA, be perfectly sensible. I don’t see any argument they could make against that application of the word as it has been loosely defined.


Now a safe bet for why many people were so uncomfortable with notion that pedophilic attraction could be an “orientation” is that there is another (seemingly added on) aspect of “orientation” that is often mentioned when the term is being discussed and explained. This aspect is basically a sense of one’s identity being in some way tied to the sexual attraction one feels toward the given group. Like the feelings of attraction themselves, this sense of personal identity is entirely 1st person  and subjective. I have the specific orientation if I say that I do, and thus it is part of my identity if I say that it is.

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Beware of Images that Make You Look More Pathetic than Cool

zoolanderquoteWhen did we make it our obsession to be liked by everyone so that we go out of our way to project images that will please them? I speak not of the youngsters here. I’m talking about grown people who, like shallow adolescents with feeble self-esteem, take special pains to present images of themselves (their views, priorities, attitudes) that conform slavishly to the latest trends of a fickle culture. The nervous pressure to “fit in” or belong to the right crowd has always been a rite of passage and to some extent to be expected in young people. It becomes astronomically more pathetic in adults.

What do I mean? Well we can start with the wider view and then narrow it down to the confines of the Church. In my lifetime thus far a massive ongoing revolution in technology has fueled the advent of a kind of new world. In this world, unlike the one of your grandparents, everybody is easily and readily connected, can communicate at once in real time from any place, and thus is more transparent to the world than ever before.  Cameras catch what we do and say, billions of pieces of our correspondence are recorded minute by minute. The saying that “image is everything” has new meaning now. It’s not just the famous who project and maintain an image. Everybody has some kind of online image, culled from all of their photos, likes, tweets, friends, reports of their daily activities, etc.

This new world has also seen the growth of an unfortunate trend that has usually gone by the name of “political correctness,” referring to heightened sensitivity about what you say and whom it might offend. With image being so important, and every word being recorded, the landscape has become a dangerous minefield. Public persons – esp. politicians – say less than ever, just to avoid stepping on a mine & seeing their reputations blown apart in the instant it takes for the report of it to travel across the world.

What this has to do with being “cool” may not be immediately apparent. You may think of “cool” in more specific ways that date back through the years. I’m being more general about it. Don’t think of “cool” the way the Fonz used it on Happy Days (for those old enough).  Ideas of what is hip or cool (or whatever other word you choose to employ) are usually associated with images, from archetypal images like James Dean to farcical ones like the fictional Zoolander character. But I’m referring to an image we present that is not so much about appearance and style of dress. Think of being cool or hip more simply as being in the flow of current ways of thinking, as not in any way standing out or going against the present prevailing views of things. It is subscribing to or agreeing with all of the positions that all the “cool kids” take on the questions or issues of the day.

This kind of pressure causes people who come from more conservative social backgrounds to repudiate the ways of their upbringing once they’ve entered a social climate in which those ways are deemed old fashioned (or worse). The fear of uncoolness in this regard makes some people fall all over themselves in the desperate attempt to seem like they’re on the right side of things. Witness the regular parade of self-flagellating public figures in the last several years, doing penance by way of a public statement or press conference, forced to undergo the pitiful walk of shame because of something they said in passing, a joke made in poor taste, something overheard by somebody twenty years ago. Imagine what an incredible force of nature is required to cause people of such towering arrogance to humiliate themselves in this way, whether their penance is sincere or not. Alas, the terrifying risk of falling out of favor with the cool crowd is a fate worse than the public shame they are willing to endure.

People in entertainment are especially susceptible to these forces. Notoriously anxious about their images, usually deriving their insatiable drive for success in large part from a vacuous deficit of self-esteem, entertainers are generally the kinds of personality-types with the highest sensitivity for the perception of cool and the degree to which they are measuring up to the standard. Any time I learn of a prominent entertainer (in television, movies, the music industry, etc.) whose views do not square with those of the majority cool crowd, I take note. I typically assume that those individuals, as exceptions to the rule, possess a kind of self-assurance that is rare in their circles.

But why should it be rare? Isn’t part of maturity just the very sort of self-actualization that allows a person to begin to perceive things for him/herself, to make judgments and decisions based on reasons of better substance than social pressure, and to bear the responsibility and consequences for those judgments and decisions, regardless of what social pressure or cultural flack it brings? The great social reformers that command so much respect and nostalgia were of just this sort. They were confident enough in their positions to withstand the withering heat of public backlash. Most of them were completely uncool by the majority opinions of their time.

This should tell us something. The neurosis to be accepted by our culture and to maintain an image that keeps up with current coolness standards is a sign of weakness. It shows us to be people who are not comfortable in our own skin, who cannot make up our own minds and maintain convictions based on the truth or rightness of those convictions (rather than based on social pressures to conform).
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Changing Our Thinking About Same-Sex Marriage


I don’t expect to contribute anything substantial to this issue. Haven’t we already seen this thing from every possible angle? I am not saying that people need to silence themselves, sit back, and let the chips fall where they may. I am saying it is hard to imagine that someone is going to bring some new powerhouse argument which changes the tide. I don’t expect this to be any different. But I do expect it to get me in trouble with both sides.

Let me be clear: I do not recognize gay marriage. Whether the government does or does not, does not affect me.

I will attempt to defend the thesis that the government should NOT make homosexual marriage illegal (not that this is precisely the issue). Actually, I am convinced that the government should stay out of the marriage business altogether.

(As I delve into this issue, please understand that what I propose is not necessarily a possibility. We are likely way past this point. Therefore, I am not suggesting any action steps at this juncture.)

Government is Not Involved in What Defines a Church

When we started “Reclaiming the Mind Ministries” (the parent ministry of Credo House Ministries), we had to go through a rigorous process of getting approved for our 501(c)(3) tax-deductible status (translation: where people can get a tax writeoff for money or items they donate to us). I think we had to wait a full year until our government-certified approval letter came. Our attorney who filed all the paperwork informed me (in jest) that if we just became a church, we would not have to worry about this. Why? Because churches are automatically approved for tax exemption. Why? Because what hath Jerusalem to do with Washington? In other words (and listen carefully), the government cannot define what a church is. So if you say you are a church, then you’re a church! (at least from the government’s standpoint). The government is not in the church-defining business, and am I glad about that!

This should be easy for any American to understand (should being the key word). This is especially the case when we talk about American Protestants. We don’t like people in our business. We take a lot of chances in the name of freedom. We know the risks, but they are worth it to us. As Protestants, we have a long tradition of independence from any sort of institutionalized governing authority. We don’t trust them. We tried that and it did not work. In fact, it suppressed a lot of stuff that was pretty important. Therefore, we don’t want any religious institution or governmental authority telling us what a church is.

Too early in my argument? Okay, then join me on an imaginary journey:

Imagine that for the past two hundred years of American history, the government has had a slight hand in defining a church. Let’s say that for all of US history, the government said that in order to be recognized as a church (and get the tax benefits) the church must 1) hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, 2) believe in the inspiration of Scripture, and 3) baptize people. Continue Reading →

If procreation is part of marriage, are infertile couples unmarried? And if human beings walk on two legs, are amputees not human beings?

Simple logical errors sometimes pass by undetected, and in a few cases a persistent fallacy becomes so frequent in the wider public conversation that we don’t even think to analyze and question it. One such mistake that I’ve noticed involves definitions of things and a kind of mistaking of the exception for the rule. Before you stop reading because this just seems like uninteresting academic nitpicking, let me assure you that this rational error is relevant in some of today’s most heated topics of debate. It makes a difference whether we recognize it or not.

To explain:  definitions of things are basic to all of our understanding and communication. In any debate on any subject, terms have to be defined. Additionally, things have natures, which is part of why we define them as we do. In other words, there are things that are generally true about, for example, a tree. It is part of the nature of a tree to have roots, to have branches, to grow upward, to have foliage, to use the sun and water for growth, etc. I wouldn’t say those things about a dolphin, since it has a very different nature. Some people may deny that things have natures, since they may not like the implication of design (teleology) that this idea implies. But such objectors are a minority and I will not deal with them at present.

Nothing I’m saying here is novel. We could go back through the centuries all the way to the Greeks and let Aristotle explain this, but I want to be brief and succinct so I’m trying to give you the Cliff’s Notes (Clint’s Notes, to be exact). Christian thinkers have certainly always understood this, and all the more since they recognize that the natures to which things conform are definitely by design. Think, then, about how definitions of things involve their natures, and ask yourself: Are there ever exceptions? And of course you will recognize that there are. Rarely does a definition of something in this world apply to every member of the class or category being described. When you think of birds, for example, you think of flight, since it is generally in the nature of birds to fly. BUT there are a few exceptions.  There are a few species of flightless birds. And even if there were no species of flightless birds, there will always be the individual cases of birds that cannot fly because of developmental deformities in their wings or having been wounded.

Human Nature

This brings us to one of the examples in the title of this post. One thing we usually talk about as having a nature is a human being (as in the term “human nature”). When discussing the definition of human beings, we do our best to consider what is part of the nature of humanity – physically, mentally, and otherwise. Our definition of what it means to be human is, like others, general. It is not meant to say that every single human being will always have all of the traits we ascribe to human beings. It is meant to say, rather, that, all things functioning properly and in accord with what is the nature of a human being, the definition will apply.
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Is this the End of America?

There are so many ways to look at this. There are so many ways to spin it. There are so many things people say that turn my hair grey. Many conservatives are saying this is the “end of America.” It stresses me out.

Stressors include the fact that nations rise and nations fall. In tragedy and loss of hope, nations morph into something that they were not before, and start down a road that is hard to come back from. I have to deal with this fact. That is the value of studying history. For many, this latest election evidences the beginning, middle, or end of this shift. The freedom we once aspired to may be soon traded for the supposed “stability” Big Brother can provide. And the more people become dependent on the government dole, the more difficult it will be to pull them away. I don’t think the majority of the country understands or cares about what it all means and by the time they do, it may be too late. But that is just my anxiety talking.

On the other side, I am hard pressed. You would think the above expresses the opinions of only the most conservative in America. You would think this is the Christian far right talking. But not really. Not even close. You see, there are some out there who are even more conservative. While those above fear the decline of Christendom (a nationality ruled by Christian principles and leaders), there are many Christians who believe that the fall of Christianity came when Christendom in the West began. They blame Constantine and the favor he gave toward Christianity for the fall of the church. They are continually trying to get back to a pre-Christendom state of affairs so that the church might be pure again. After all, the rise of Christendom facilitated the rise of the Holy Roman Empire (800) and the eventual corruption of the church and the Gospel. We had to have a “Great Reformation” to even begin to recover from this.

And you don’t even want me to start on those who are advocates of a theocracy, where God is the king and the government is run by a law informed only by the Mosaic system. These are so far to the right that they may have even looped back to the left. I just don’t know how to classify them.

The odd thing is that the Great Reformation dethroned much of Christendom. The Enlightenment replaced the Pope, teaching a new hope in man, science, and technology. The shortcomings in the church in the Papal Schism, the Plague, and the lack of Gospel preservation left a vacancy which was replaced by nationalism. We began to trust our nation to provide for us. Nationalism paved the way for the separation of church and state in a way that had yet to be seen in the Christianized West. Many feared what this could mean. No more pope? No more church-state collaboration? Who could run a country but God?

Ironically, America was founded during this turmoil. Those who fled to America wanted freedom from the tyranny of the church, believing that when any organized religious force had definitive political teeth, true faith was less accessible. “We are children no more.” It was time to graduate to something new: democracy. In this, neither the church nor the government had the power; the people did. Democracy is always a risk, but we had learned enough from the tyranny of the church and state to take them out of the driver’s seat of our lives.

I want neither the church nor the state running things. And, until Christ returns, sin makes a theocracy impossible (not to mention that God left that building a long time ago). I don’t want human dictatorships and I don’t want Christendom. But every time we break free from one, the other seems to step in. This is why I love the idea of America, even if we never fully achieve the ideals of America. America ran from both. America ran toward freedom. Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Reflecting on the Election

Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, JJ Seid and Sam Storms as they reflect on the presidential election.


On God’s Election of Obama

I have kept an eye on what people are saying in my circles about Obama’s re-election. Things don’t look too good there. Fear, anger, frustration, and hopelessness are filling the thoughts of those of us who are supposed to have the most hope. There are few times when the sin of idolatry is revealed more clearly than after a Presidential election. One person I know says they are taking off a week of work to recover. Another says they are leaving the country. Yet another says this is the downfall of America. It is the end. The downfall of America? The end? Really?

It is hard for me to get too upset about these elections. Sure, there are implications. These implications extend to my family and my job. They make me look at the people in my country and think, “Really, is this who we are now? Is this what it has come down to?” Were I to place the full weight of my body (which is getting lighter every day!) on the chair of human achievement, I suppose I would feel less secure today than I did yesterday. But I don’t and I can’t. In fact, I found myself rejoicing once the results came in.

Obama is our president for the next four years. How bad is that? I suppose I could talk about all the issues involved, both economic and moral. I suppose I could talk about how much worse it is now going to get. I suppose that I could get ready for the bleakest outcome: increased unemployment, higher taxes, lower pay, fewer donations to Credo House, waiting in line for health care, homosexual marriage, increased toleration of the death of the unborn, decreased toleration of Christianity, and a thousand other things. But this would demonstrate a lack of perspective. Whether the winner had been Obama or Romney, I still pause and take account of this fact: I live in the most secure, free, and moral country that has probably ever existed. And we are a long way from giving up this title. Are we heading toward a “fall”? Maybe, but we are still a long way from the cliff. In fact, it is not even in sight yet. Continue Reading →