Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Oh Be Careful, Little Mouth, What You Sing

I write this from an uncomfortable place -- I'm afraid right now. Our church’s excellent music leader recently announced that he’s leaving for another ministry. I’m very hopeful that his new ministry will expand the borders of his influence for the kingdom, but, perhaps selfishly, I’m afraid for our church. Our present music director is impeccably trained and musically talented. It shows in his work. He also exhibits some affinity for music with theologically rich lyrics. I know these traits are not all that common in worship leaders. Not long ago, my family spent a few months visiting many churches around the area. We saw enough to know that there is reason to be afraid, very afraid. With one or two exceptions, the music ministries at the several churches we visited left very much to be desired. It's clear that our present music director will not be easily replaced. I’m afraid he’ll be impossible to replace. I tend to trust the powers that be at our church, but I’m still afraid. Here are three characteristics I’m hoping they’ll look for in a replacement, in order of importance to me.

1) Theologically rich lyrics. First, I want a music director who is committed to theologically rich lyrics. For the few people who pay attention to my Facebook page, you’ve seen me ride this hobby horse before. I favor songs like one of my favorites, "Arise, My Soul, Arise." Every time I sing this song, I am enriched by the profound soteriological concepts beautifully expressed there. If you wonder why I sometimes bemoan some contemporary Christian worship songs, I challenge you to try this experiment. Take a week or two teaching your way through "Arise, My Soul, Arise" with your child. Then take a week or two teaching your way through today’s most popular 7/11 chorus. See the difference?

I can’t help but see a connection between the present popularity of “substance-lite” lyrics and a diminished view of God. My view of God was developed, in part, by singing songs like “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes, Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.” (That’s just the first verse.) My kids learn about God by singing “You're a good, good father, It's who you are, it's who you are, it's who you are.” There’s more of the same to this song, but that pretty much covers the theological content. Perhaps I should not be surprised that I now see the “big man upstairs” attitude toward God (which used to be limited to the world outside the church) finding its way into evangelical Christianity when we are diminishing the language that we use to describe Him within the church?

I understand that I am swimming against the current here, but I am convinced that the “dumbing down” of corporate worship parallels the debasing of our broader culture. Many worship songs tend to be purely emotional, stripped of any substantive doctrinal content. Similarly, modern American political campaigns are emotional affairs, denuded of any policy substance. "Kasich seems like a nice guy." "Cruz's smile creeps me out." These are real "reasons" real people have given for supporting a political candidate. And should we be surprised? Fox and CNN have for decades been peddling an infotainment product that is long on pretty faces and short on substance. They get us riled up, but they don't teach us anything. And so we see the rise of substance free candidates who engage voters on a purely emotional level. That’s bad for politics. I think it’s worse for worship.

Let me clarify a couple of things that I am not saying. First, I am not saying that worship should be stripped of emotion. To the contrary, I challenge anyone to sing and engage with “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” and not feel the emotion. The choice isn't between emotion and no emotion. It's between emotion along with doctrinal engagement and pure emotion stripped of anything that appeals to the mind.

I also am not saying that all contemporary songs are bad, clearly they are not. If you are tempted to reject what I’m saying as “chronological snobbery,” I would respectfully suggest that you check your own commitment to chronology, because I am not merely an old guy who likes old music. I would cite "In Christ Alone" and "His Robes for Mine" as good examples of content-heavy contemporary worship songs. On the flipside, it's also the case that not all "old hymns" are content-laden. The debasing I'm talking about didn't start in the 21st century. Many early 20th century "hymns," including some of the old favorites, are sappy, emotional, and shallow, imho. It's just more striking today because content-free worship songs tend to have fewer words and more repetition now, having given up any pretense to content. I'm not against contemporary music. I prefer more substantive contemporary music to less substantive music. (The same goes with old songs -- I like to sing old songs that mean something.) To prove that this is just another rant by an old guy against CCM, here are three links to contemporary Christian music ministries that I’ve found tend toward theologically rich lyrics: Church Works Media, Getty Music, and Watchsong.

This also is not about musical styles. I can enjoy various styles of music, but this is not about what I enjoy. I do prefer a more dignified style in my worship music since I think a certain seriousness is necessary to the best worship, but that is not what I am talking about here. I am talking only about the substantive content of the lyrics.
Finally, I don't deny that relatively shallow, somewhat mindless, very sentimental worship can be "good." But I think substantive, thoughtful, meaningful, and heartfelt worship always would be "better." My beef, if I have one, isn't with shallow worship. It's with worship leaders who should, imho, be leading from the "good" to the "better." I believe that, before any new song is sung by the congregation, the lyrics ought to be reviewed by a pastor to discern whether they have a message and whether that message is biblical. If the song fails either of those two tests, it should be relegated to being sung on the radio and excluded from congregational singing. Better yet, the message of any new song should be taught by a pastor (perhaps on Sunday or Wednesday night) before the song makes its debut on Sunday morning. I think this requirement would discipline song selection. And I imagine some would be surprised that many popular songs are strings of cliches without any real meaning.

2) Musical training and competence. The second thing I’m looking for in our new worship leader is a level of musical competence. I think a college degree in music is essential. In my limited experience, I’ve found that trained musicians avoid one of the great mistakes of many “worship leaders” – trying to use popular recordings for congregational singing. As it turns out, many of the top tunes on the CCM charts are “unsingable” by a normal congregation. This should not be surprising. Those songs were written, arranged, and recorded to sound good and to sell records when sung by professionals (after a lot of studio production), not for congregational singing. It seems to me that trained musicians tend to understand this better than amateurs. I also would be more confident that a trained musician would understand, for example, when hammering the djembe fits with the style of a particular song, and when it doesn’t.

3) Talent. I put this last because I think it may be the least important. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important. Our current music director is a huge talent, and that’s a big help. I’ve suffered under worship leaders who are always singing just below the pitch being played by the piano. It’s jarring to the ear. But I put vocal talent last because I’ve found that when a congregation is led in worship by a talented singer who lacks the first two qualities I’m looking for, the song service tends to devolve into a performance. The leader stands up there singing out with his eyes closed, neither knowing nor caring whether the congregation is with him. His sweet, melodious voice fills the room, and that’s all that matters. Reducing the congregation to an audience is not what I’m looking for in a music director.

Having said all of that, I am trying to learn through this to trust. Ultimately, the church is God’s church. I trust Him to give us the gifts we need to live the corporate lives He’s called us to live.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crucify Aragorn! Give us Jar Jar Binks!

As I was watching the local news interviewing students who participated in the “walkout” protest yesterday, I couldn’t help wondering: “Are all high school students this inarticulate?” I know – that makes me a horrible person. It’s obvious that we’re all supposed to be praising these students for “making their voices heard.” Never mind that they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re speaking up, and that’s what counts. I guess the news coverage of these protesters is the media equivalent of the participation trophy. Excellence in knowledge or speech is unnecessary to be an opinion winner. Just show up, and you also make a valuable contribution.

The same popular sentiment applies to voting. We are told that we all have a duty to vote. All voters are praised. And yet we’ve probably all seen those cringe-worthy exit interviews that demonstrate that the people who just voted had no idea what they were voting about. Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think everyone should vote. I don’t think we need more people voting. I think we need more people who know what they’re doing voting. Mike Rowe famously said, "Encouraging everyone to vote is like encouraging everyone to own a gun." I don't want gun democracy -- I'd prefer that gun owners know how to shoot straight. I feel the same way about opinion leaders and voters. Either the pen is mightier than the sword, or it isn't.

I frequently use the hashtag #democracyisoverrated. The Founders of our country understood this, which is why they gave us a republican form of government, not a democracy. We have made that government more democratic to our own hurt. Colorado's republican caucus process in the last presidential election cycle demonstrated the superiority of the republican form of government over democracy. In Colorado, each precinct was open to all republicans. The precincts elected delegates to the state convention. The delegates to the state convention then elected delegates to the national convention. This added layer of winnowing produced ultimate decision makers who had been vetted by the political process and were more informed and engaged than the person on the street whom they represented. The result was to select an informed and qualified candidate instead of the uninformed and disreputable demagogue. I know that what I am writing is contrary to the spirit of our age, but it's true: Most of us just aren't qualified or equipped to select our own leaders directly. We all would be better off if we selected qualified and trusted delegates who could then select leaders on our behalf.

This brings me to the rise of President Trump. I don’t mean to pick on President Trump, I think he’s actually been a better president than I had hoped and certainly better than he is portrayed in the popular media. But that doesn’t change my conviction that the rise of Trump is a symptom of the degradation of our culture by popular media. Popular culture has taught us that "articulate" equals "evil." Think about it. Watch a movie, and the character who appears to be the smartest and the smoothest talker in the first twenty minutes is the villain. If a character somehow seems flawed, then that character will likely have some nobility about her.  That's one reason that I read Tolkien and Lewis to my children. Those writers gave us the anti-Trump, virtuous heroes who are moral, intelligent, wise, and articulate. Consider Aragorn before the Black Gates: "I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!" Imagine President Trump delivering those lines. Can’t? Neither can I, but I do remember presidents delivering memorable lines. We won’t tolerate that now. Our popular media have conditioned us to be suspicious of those who appear to be smarter than we are. We’re so afraid that all of the articulate candidates might be Palpatine that we’re willing to put Jar Jar Binks in the Oval Office.

I’ve learned through years of life experience on a law school admissions committee, hiring committee, and as a voter: These days we all want to admit, hire, and vote for ourselves. I'm afraid this explains Trump's electoral success. I doubt whether it's always been this way. I think there probably was a time when voters wanted someone better than them to manage things they weren't equipped to handle. But now that all of our opinions are worthy of news coverage, now that we all get participation trophies, no matter the quality of our effort, we now understand that nobody's better than we are, so we might as well elect someone just as uninformed, just as inarticulate, just as flawed as we are.

Friday, February 2, 2018

#ReleaseTheMemo: CLS, the Rule of Law, and the Nunes Memo

The Critical Legal Studies (CLS) movement was born in the American legal academy in the 70's and reached the pinnacle of its importance in the mid-to-late 80's when it turned the Harvard Law School (the de facto capital of the movement) into "the Beirut of legal education." (I actually benefited from the mess CLS made of Harvard because at least two of my best professors at Chicago were refugees from Harvard, at least temporarily seeking shelter from the CLS movement there.) Adherents of CLS (Crits) are hostile to the traditional western concept of the rule of law. In fact, they think there is no such thing. Law is merely politics, they say. Critical Legal Scholars seek to destroy (they say "deconstruct") law from the inside. This led the Dean of Duke Law School to question in 1984 how those who do not believe in law can teach it. Good question.

At the law school where I teach, we tell our students about CLS (even though the movement is much less prominent today than it was about thirty years ago), and I'm glad we do because it has had a profound effect on our country. One of the CLS writings we have our students read is a piece by Paul Butler on jury nullification. Butler argued that "the idea of 'the rule of law' is more mythological than real," that his audience "should embrace the anti-democratic nature of jury nullification because it provides them with the power to determine justice in a way that majority rule does not," and that they should "serve a higher calling than law: justice." Butler learned this philosophy at Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1986, near the apex of the CLS movement. 

What does all of this have to do with America today you ask? Guess who else graduated from Harvard just five years after Paul Butler? That's right, President Barack Obama, and I'll bet dollars to donuts that there's a 70% overlap between Butler's and Obama's course selection, surely dominated by Crits. (I would even guess that the real reason President Obama always refused to release his transcripts wasn't any of the reasons imagined by online conspiracy theorists. I'll bet he refused to release his transcripts because he would be embarrassed by his course selection at Harvard.) 

The main reason I would bet that President Obama studied at the feet of Crits is that the Obama administration was CLS philosophy implemented on a grand scale. (The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say.) We saw it over and over. President Obama refused to enforce laws that he did not like, and he acted in the absence of law when he thought it was desirable to do so. And why not? He was taught in law school that there is no such thing as law. What passes for law is merely politics. Law is what you can get away with politically, and that's how President Obama ran his administration.  

But President Obama is so 2016, you might say. What does that have to do with America today? I'll tell you. Parts of our federal government are supposed to be political. The Senate and the House of Representatives are the prime examples. Politics is the rule there, and that is the way it is supposed to be. But other parts of our government are supposed to be legal, not political. The Justice Department, the IRS, and the Federal Courts are supposed to be such non-political examples. Those branches and limbs of the federal government are supposed to be bound by the laws created by the political parts of government, but their work is supposed to be free of politics. This is part of the reason that President George W. Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, was pressured to resign for allegedly improperly firing US Attorneys for political reasons. The Justice Department is not supposed to be political.

But what happens when the President himself, who appoints all the high ranking officials in these non-political limbs of the federal government, has been taught and believes that there is no distinction between law and politics? Then you get the Obama administration. The Justice Department, IRS, FBI, and even the Federal Courts become law-free zones. Politics is everything. The attorney general does not enforce the law, she protects her preferred political party. The IRS persecutes political opponents. Lifetime appointees to the federal bench issue transparently political decisions with no basis in law. This is Obama's lasting legacy, the eroding of the rule of law within the institutions of our federal government.

Many of President Obama's legislative and executive legacies likely will be quickly dismantled by President Trump, but Obama's hundreds, maybe even thousands, of appointments and hires have revolutionized the Justice Department, the judiciary, and, apparently, the FBI. While many, maybe even most, of President Obama's appointees probably are not Crits, if there are even a couple hundred high ranking Justice Department officials and/or lifetime federal judicial appointees who are not committed to the rule of law, we could be in for decades of lawlessness. We've never seen anything like this before. Not from Bush, not even from Clinton. A liberal employee of the federal government can still be fundamentally committed to the rule of law, but those who share President Obama's philosophy threaten law itself. That lasting influence of the Obama administration must be rooted out, not covered up. #ReleaseTheMemo

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Reflections a Year After the Stolen Gorsuch Supreme Court Seat

I've heard many times that the seat occupied by Justice Neil Gorsuch is a "stolen" seat on the Supreme Court. Let's break that down. The Gorsuch seat is stolen only if someone else was entitled to it. Was anyone else entitled to it?
That's not a hard question. We know what's required to be entitled to a Supreme Court seat -- nomination by the President and confirmation by the Senate. Was anyone else nominated and confirmed for the Scalia vacancy? No. So the seat didn't belong to anyone else and wasn't stolen by the republicans when Gorsuch took it.
Of course, I know what the democrats and their allies in the mainstream media mean when they say this is a stolen seat. They mean Garland should have been confirmed. But that's wrong, too. Is the Senate obligated to confirm every qualified nominee? Has the Senate always confirmed every qualified nominee? The answer to both questions is "no." The republican Senate was under no obligation to confirm Garland.
"But he didn't even get a hearing," you say. I tend to agree that the republicans should have given Garland a hearing. As I said at the time of his nomination, I thought the republicans should have given Garland the Bork treatment. Slow walk his confirmation and then reject it. For political reasons, they decided to skip all that and simply say "let's leave this seat up to the people in the election." Even though I think this was a less than ideal way to reject Garland, that doesn't change the fact that the republican Senators were perfectly entitled to reject him, which they did.
Here's the fundamental point that the democrats and their allies in the mainstream media seem to miss -- elections have consequences for the makeup of the Supreme Court. That principle applies to both elections for President and elections for the Senate. I say democrats "seem" to miss this point because they merely pretend to miss it. They actually understand it all too well. In fact, that was the very game they were playing with the Garland nomination.
You see, they know that the only sure way to move the Court either to the right or to the left is to control both the White House and the Senate. When control of the White House and Senate are split, then there might have to be compromise, and it's much harder to move the Court very far. The democrats learned this lesson very well during the Reagan administration. President Reagan appointed Robert Bork, who would have moved the Court to the right. The democrats controlled the Senate, so they rejected Bork, who was eminently qualified, on ideological grounds. Reagan was forced to nominate Kennedy, who turned out to be the quintessential moderate. Imagine how much different our Supreme Court precedent would look today if Reagan could have forced Bork instead of Kennedy on the democrats. That's the importance of controlling the Senate.
So when the late great Justice Scalia died unexpectedly late in President Obama's second term when the republicans controlled the Senate, all of the players had political decisions to make. President Obama had the first decision to make. He could either nominate a liberal or a true moderate (like Kennedy). If he nominated a liberal, the nomination almost surely would be rejected, one way or another, and the open seat would become an issue in the upcoming election, during which the democrats felt sure they would retain the White House and hoped to regain the Senate.
If Obama nominated another Kennedy, the republicans would have had a tough choice. They could either accept another Kennedy to replace Scalia, which would move the Court incrementally to the left, or they could reject the moderate nominee and roll the dice on the election. If Clinton were elected (as most expected) and the republicans retained the Senate, they'd be right back where they started when Scalia passed. But if the republicans lost the White House and the Senate, then a moderate would be off the table. They would get another Sotomayor. Replacing Scalia with a Sotomayor would be a drastic shift to the left.
President Obama made the key decision. He decided to appoint a liberal. I know a few of you will say "but Garland is a moderate." Please, don't even. I know the left says that, but he's a moderate like Roberts is a moderate, not like Kennedy is a moderate. Obama intentionally chose to nominate a jurist he knew the republicans would reject. And why shouldn't he? Clinton was sure to win, so, worst case scenario, the liberals would be, after the election, right back where they started from. Why should Obama agree to appoint a moderate as Reagan had been forced to do?
Of course, we know what happened. Scalia's open seat became, perhaps, the most important issue in the presidential election. I say that because it welded the right wing of the republican party, especially the religious right, to Trump in a way that perhaps nothing else could. Trump masterfully put out his list of potential conservative nominees and promised to nominate from that list. And he delivered.
I understand that this is the unimaginable worst case scenario for the democrats. They rolled the dice on the election and the dice came up craps. But this was the risk that Obama took when he decided to nominate a liberal. It looked like a good bet at the time, the odds were in his favor, but he lost his bet. 

So did republicans steal a Supreme Court seat? No, the democrats gambled it away.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

MLK's Beautiful Christian Dream

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a beautiful dream of a colorblind society in which people are judged based on important things like what they do and in which unimportant details, like skin tone, are irrelevant to how we interact with each other. This is a distinctively Christian vision. One of the great innovations of the Christian religion is that it is a religion for all. The world had long known societies that accepted all gods. But the Christians may have been the first to see their God as accepting all people.
The Apostle Paul had to fight hard for that. The first Christians were Jews who believed that Yahweh was the God of the Jews. So to follow the Christian God, you had to become a Jew. But Paul, with the direct intervention of a divine vision, erased this error at the Council of Jerusalem. As Paul powerfully explained in Galatians 3:28, in Christ, "[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is true equality. This is unity. This is love. This is the vision of MLK, a world, but especially a Church, in which irrelevancies, like skin color, are irrelevant.
Unfortunately, Satan has successfully transmogrified Dr. King's beautiful dream into a dystopian nightmare. Now our elites insist that we see first the color of our skin so that we can properly categorize each other and practice "diversity," and "tolerance," and "inclusion." Racists focus on race so they can exclude. The elites focus on race so they can include. Neither of these is MLK's dream, and neither is Christian.
As a Christian, when I see another man, I shouldn't see a white man or a black man to be excluded or included. I should see a fellow bearer of the image of God, and, if he's a Christian, I should see a Christian brother. The color of his skin is no more relevant than the color of his shoes. Where Christianity demands unity, the elites substitute diversity. Where Christianity demands love, the elites substitute tolerance. If you've accepted what the elites are peddling, you've accepted a sorry substitute for Christianity and a sorry substitute for MLK's beautiful dream.
In honor of the vision of MLK, I determine to spend this entire day ignoring the color of the skin of my fellow divine image bearers. Going forward, I vow to oppose any movement that seeks to force me to see my fellow humans, and especially fellow Christians, first as a skin color.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Halloween and the Reversal of the Great Commission

Everyone is free to read this, but this is particularly addressed to Christians.

One of my adult daughters and I took my ten-year-old son out trick-or-treating yesterday evening while his mother manned the candy bowl at home. As we wandered around the streets with many of our neighbors whom we rarely see and knocked on many doors that are never otherwise opened to us, I was struck by how many more points of contact we had with our neighbors than we have on any other day or even any other month. Seeing all of my neighbors smiling and opening their doors (as we were doing the same), it was hard to imagine that many evangelical Christians struggle with how we might reach our neighbors with the gospel.

Reflecting on those ideas made me afraid. I fear we evangelical Christians may be reversing the Great Commission. Jesus commanded His disciples to “go” and teach and make disciples. But I am afraid that we evangelical Christians have developed a tendency to “stay” in our churches and invite the world to come in. I fear that this reversal of the Great Commission from “go” to “stay and invite” is not good for evangelism and is not good for edification within the church.

Peter gave us a blueprint for outreach in 1 Peter 2. He begged his readers as “strangers and pilgrims” to remain “honorable” in their “conduct” so that when unbelievers speak against them (not if, but when), those unbelievers may see their good deeds and glorify God. And how did Peter follow up this exhortation to glorify God through good deeds before unbelievers? Did he say “invite them to your solemn assemblies” so they can see your good works? No. Take note, Peter told his readers to submit to “every human institution.” The word translated “institution” is quite broad. The examples given relate to human government, but the exhortation is broader. Peter goes on to say that “so is the will of God, that with well doing you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Then Peter sums up with “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

Here’s why that passage came to me last night. We came to one house that had a long table set up in the driveway with several bowls of candy, each with an address in front of it. One of the adults standing there explained, “When you come to some of these houses on the street with their lights off, they’re not being ‘jerks’ (his word), we’ve just combined in this one spot.” (Others of our neighbors also had gathered together in the street to pass out candy together.) Then it hit me. Do they think people who don’t participate in trick-or-treat are “jerks”? What about all my evangelical Christian brethren who are trunk-or-treating at their churches right now? Is their testimony sullied? Is Halloween a “human institution” to which we must submit for the sake of our testimony?

Note the question marks at the end of that paragraph. I’m not being dogmatic about participating in Halloween. I know some in good conscience cannot participate, and to violate conscience is neither wise nor safe. But I am saying that when we withdraw from ordinary human institutions we run the risk of running afoul of 1 Peter 2. Peter (and Jesus) told us to go into human society and live the gospel, not retreat into our churches and invite unbelievers to come in. I know that there are things we simply cannot do with unbelievers. But there also are things we can do, and we should do. What message does it send when we isolate ourselves in our Christian enclaves?

And here’s the other, equally disturbing, side of the isolationist coin. When we withdraw from society, we still know that we have an obligation to reach the world with the gospel. So what do we do? We invite the world to come into our churches. Well what unbeliever wants to sit through a careful exposition of Scripture? What unbeliever will want to participate in a deep and meaningful song service? No problem, we’ll just add flashing lights, smoke machines, electric guitars, and simple, repetitive lyrics. That will make the song service tolerable. As for those expository sermons, we’ll just tell moral stories instead. We’ll work in “biblical principles.” We’ll make the sermons both entertaining AND good moral teaching. Then unbelievers will tolerate them. This is the way of the “seeker friendly” church.

What is sacrificed? The full-orbed worship and teaching of Scripture that we need as believers. We sacrifice our own edification to make our churches tolerable for unbelievers. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we must assemble together to inspire each other to love and good deeds. Our assembly is for our edification, not for outreach. The Bible doesn’t tell us to make our churches comfortable for “seekers” – we’re supposed to be the “seekers,” going out into the world and living lives before them that are above reproach. When we bring the world into the church, the unbelievers aren’t reached (no matter how entertaining, church can never compete with HBO), and we’re not edified. The church becomes stagnant and ineffectual.

Here’s what I’ve concluded. When it comes to evangelism, I need to consciously keep myself in the world whenever possible. I might have to withdraw sometimes, but my prejudice should be to hang in there and live the gospel. (Even writing that is convicting.) But I must come apart from the world from time to time for mutual edification and support with my believing brethren. I must do both, go and withdraw. I shouldn’t blur them together, because then I’m doing neither. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Death to the False Dichotomy!

The false dichotomy is a menace. According to Google, a false dichotomy is a [binary division] that is not jointly exhaustive (there are other alternatives), or that is not mutually exclusive (the alternatives overlap), or that is possibly neither. In other words, one form of the false dichotomy presents only two options when in reality there are more.

Many of us were bludgeoned with the false dichotomy during the last election cycle: “Failing to vote for X is a vote for Y.” Because I swim in conservative waters, I was assaulted with “If you don’t vote for Trump, it’s a vote for Hillary.” That’s a false dichotomy. I had other options. I didn’t have to choose between a corrupt candidate and a debased candidate, despite what my Facebook friends kept trying to tell me. I proved the dichotomy false in the voting booth when I cast my vote for a third party, and neither of the supposedly binary options got my vote.

Now the false dichotomy is rearing its ugly head again. I’m being told that if I condemn Antifa, then I’m supporting neo Nazis. I have to remain silent about the lawlessness and violence to which Antifa is committed, or I’m branded a white supremacist. Well, I didn’t fall for that fallacy in the election, and I’m not falling for it now. There’s a third option – I can condemn both groups as evil and dangerous. I don’t have to choose between the vile, hateful racists and the violent, lawless criminals. I can (and do) say “A pox on both your houses.” I don’t have to take sides in the raging uncivil war between armed camps of extremists.

Here’s why I hate this particular false dichotomy: If people are pushed to believe that they must choose sides here, some people will. Some borderline racists, who might otherwise keep their mouths shut, will be pushed into the waiting arms of the white supremacists. And some gullible students steeped for four years of college in the propaganda of the extreme left will decide to join Antifa. After all, who wants to support neo Nazis? And if you don’t support Antifa, then you’re supporting the white supremacists, or so some would have us believe.

This is a dangerous game our elites, especially in the media, are playing. In trying to stamp out the false idea of white supremacy, they’re refusing to condemn lawlessness and violence on the extreme left. Worse, they’re trying to bully the rest of us into taking sides and supporting the criminal enterprise that is Antifa. Well, I’m not buying it. Say what you like, but I’m not taking sides between these two tiny camps of despicable extremists. I reject them both, and I won’t be cowed into remaining silent. Even though I did not vote for President Trump, I’m glad that he has condemned in explicit terms both the hateful white supremacists and the violent criminals on the extreme left who clashed in Charlottesville and temporarily turned that quiet college town into a killing field. Both sides deserve condemnation, and both will have it from me.