Solzhenitsyn’s Critique of the West as a Warning for Our Times

The last few months have been difficult for many Americans. We have watched our nation struggle with a global pandemic, a history of unresolved racism, and violence in the streets. Economic and social turmoil have engendered feelings of helplessness and despair, as events continue to spiral out of control. Many are left doubting the foundations of American democracy, if not western civilization itself. Radical forces are currently seeking the destruction of both. Few seem capable enough or brave enough to defend them.

Years ago, a friend asked me to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard commencement address, a task I only recently got around to completing. Like Orwell’s 1984, Solzhenitsyn’s message is bound to resonate no matter the historical circumstance of one’s reading, but perhaps now more than ever.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a famed Russian novelist, philosopher, and outspoken critic of Soviet communism. He served in the Red Army during World War II only to be sent to the gulag for the crime of criticizing Josef Stalin in a private letter. Even after his release, Solzhenitsyn continued to provoke the ire of Soviet authorities. He was exiled from his native land, ultimately taking up refuge in the United States.

Two years later, when Solzhenitsyn stepped up to the podium at Harvard, the audience likely expected an attack on communism delivered by a grateful exile. Instead, they were treated to a blistering critique of their own supposedly more virtuous way of life. Solzhenitsyn prefaced his speech with the warning that “truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.” Consider these seven points with corresponding excerpts from the text. One need not strain to see their relevance to the present day.

  1. The Impossible Trap of Materialism

“The constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to attain them imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition fills all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development.”

  1. The Limits of Legalism

“(In the West) the limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad… Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody will mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk. It would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.”

  1. Unlimited Freedom Leads to Decadence and Irresponsibility

“Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror… Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil…

“Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones…

“The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It’s time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations…”

  1. The Pernicious Role of the Press

“Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus… we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.”

  1. The Convergence of Opinion around a Few “Fashions”

“Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges.”

  1. Dissatisfaction with Society and Calls for Socialism

“It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development… However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current… Socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death…”

  1. A Lack of Courage

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days…

“No weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower… To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

Soulless materialism, the shirking of responsibility, a pernicious press, a decadent and depraved “mass” culture, a lack of courage. These features have continued to characterize American life in ways that Solzhenitsyn himself likely could not have imagined at the time of this speech (he died in Russia in 2008).

There is an ongoing debate among political philosophers as to whether liberal democracy can withstand the current storm, or if the end is near. The former position can be found in Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West, while the latter is best expressed in Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed.

Solzhenitsyn falls firmly in the latter camp, locating the source of the West’s spiritual crisis at the very root. The humanism of the Renaissance and the secularism of the Enlightenment put man at the center of his own universe, in particular his material needs. Solzhenitsyn decries the folly of making man the “touchstone” of everything on earth — “imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, vanity, and dozens of other defects.” He notes:

We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests suffocate it. This is the real crisis.

America was founded on the Enlightenment philosophy of the likes of Locke and Montesquieu, who inspired our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Solzhenitsyn acknowledges that at the time of the American founding, a strong sense of religious responsibility remained as a check against unlimited human freedom. However, since then we have discarded every limit on the individual’s ability to satisfy his whims. We have lost a proper understanding of freedom, and society has become increasingly materialistic as a result. Communism too developed out of humanism, taking man’s earthly happiness as its highest aim. In this sense, the competing ideologies of East and West have more in common than either side cares to realize.

But Solzhenitsyn points out that “if humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die.” The basic fact of man’s mortality negates it, while pointing to the worthier goal of moral growth. He advises against “attach(ing) oneself to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment,” declaring that “we cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society.” He concludes:

If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: We shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era. This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.

In our quest for spiritual renewal, we cannot simply crawl back into the comfort of the Middle Ages, an era as imperfect as our own. What is needed is a great infusion of the spirit, a moral awakening. Man has both a material and spiritual nature, and the needs of both must be met. However, our spiritual needs are always greater, as they pertain to that immortal part of ourselves. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” has witnessed a recent resurgence in popularity, a predictable development considering the rising uncertainty and unrest. Based on the rule of St. Benedict, founder of western monasticism, Dreher calls upon orthodox Christians to turn inward, seek support from like-minded families and building “arcs” capable of weathering the coming secular Dark Age.

Dreher was criticized for surrendering mainstream culture too easily, after the publication of The Benedict Option in 2017. However, his book contains practical, common sense advice. We can start by taking back control of our children’s education, fighting pornography, limiting smartphone use, engaging in meaningful work, and building real communities. In the battle for hearts and minds, we should never compromise the truth. Perhaps most importantly, we can pray.

Sometimes it seems like we are fighting against forces so large and powerful that it is hard to maintain hope. For conservatives, it can be difficult and disheartening to accept that we have lost the battle to define our nation’s culture: in the arts, in the schools, and in the courts. But no lie can last forever, no matter how widespread; “the truth will out.”

Forty-two years ago, a Russian dissident called Americans out for our lack of courage. Only by reorienting ourselves to the truth can we rediscover the strength of will and self-confidence we have been missing for far too long.

Identity and Morality in The Americans

What is it about The Americans that kept me glued to a screen for two straight days? And now that it’s over, why can’t I stop thinking about Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, fictional characters both in real life and on the show?

The story is certainly compelling: two KGB spies in 1980’s America struggling to complete their missions without getting killed or blowing their cover. They have to keep their true identities secret from their teenage kids and FBI agent Stan Beeman, who happens to move in across the street. They must also navigate the everyday struggles of parenthood and marriage, all as the threat of nuclear war hangs over America and the world.

The stakes could not be higher. The writing and production-quality of The Americans are both excellent, the “period” of the 1980’s brilliantly evoked through wigs, silk blouses, and retro cars. But in many ways the success of the show is a credit to the incredible acting of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. If left in the hands of lesser mortals, I may have been able to sleep more over the past week.

Both actors bring great emotional depth to their roles, and kick some serious butt when the situation demands it. They have an undeniable onscreen chemistry and believability, even in moments of extreme conflict. At times during the show, my attention began to slip, but never when Philip and Elizabeth shared the screen. It was no surprise to learn that Russell and Rhys are a couple in real life (Viva Philip and Elizabeth!).

At its core, The Americans is about much more than Cold War politics; it’s a heightened look at the complex interplay between identity and morality.

What should you do when different aspects of your identity come into conflict? Who is most deserving of your trust and loyalty – your country or your family? Whose good should you prioritize, when protecting one could endanger the other? Finally, what measures are morally acceptable in the pursuit of your ideals? Do the ends justify the means, or are there certain lines that should never be crossed? As viewers, we are rooting for Philip and Elizabeth to succeed somehow. But based on these inherent conflicts, we know their story can only end in tragedy.

Season 1, Episode 1 Spoilers Below (Go ahead and read it, even if you haven’t watched yet):

The conflict between Philip and Elizabeth is initially one of two strangers who must present themselves as the perfect American couple. Even after fifteen years of marriage and two kids together, Elizabeth still considers her relationship with Philip primarily as part of the job. Ironically, it is the intensification of their work together that draws Elizabeth closer to Philip, even as it reveals the second and more pivotal conflict between them.

Elizabeth is a true believer. Though she begins the first season as a devoted mother (if not quite a loving wife), her primary identity is as a KGB officer; her main loyalty is to the cause. She can’t stand American consumerism or religion, and disagrees pointedly with what her daughter is being taught in history class. When Elizabeth refers to “the Americans,” she is speaking of them.

Philip is more of an independent thinker. He mainly wants to do what is best for his family — Elizabeth and their two children. To Philip, America is not so bad: the lights stay on, the food is pretty good, and you don’t have to worry about getting sent to a Siberian prison camp. While Elizabeth’s instinct is to follow orders, Philip questions whether he can trust the KGB or the Soviet government. When it comes to “the Americans,” he could easily see himself as one of them.

The pilot episode introduces this moral conflict in the form of a Russian defector tied up in the trunk of the Jennings’ car. Philip seriously wants to turn him in and defect, something Elizabeth cannot fathom. Then he learns that the defector – a former Russian captain – raped Elizabeth back in the Soviet Union during her KGB training. This revelation is enough to take Philip from wanting to hand the guy over to killing him with his bare hands in a matter of minutes. We learn that Philip is more loyal to Elizabeth than his own comfort or desires. Foreshadowing future developments, we see he will put her good and protection even before that of his own children.

For Philip, it is obvious that their family should come before the KGB or the cause. For Elizabeth, it takes being kidnapped and interrogated by their own people to make her doubt her priorities, but only temporarily. Expressing her outrage at this betrayal, she calls the KGB “the people I’ve trusted the most,” to which Philip replies “and that’s the problem.”

Then there’s the conflict between following orders and following one’s conscience.

Season 2 – 6 Spoilers Below (Stop reading if you have not yet watched and take yourself over to Amazon Prime video where you can stream it):

Philip and Elizabeth’s actions cause untold damage. Through five seasons, their kill count is even at fifteen apiece. Some kills are in self-defense, while many are collateral damage. In the sixth season, Elizabeth’s kill count surges ahead of Philip’s, who is attempting to live life as a travel agent. This includes the most unjustified of all their murders – a couple of Soviet defectors whom Elizabeth slays, (unknowingly) in the presence of their seven-year-old kid.

But to really assess the damage wrought by Philip and Elizabeth, one has also to examine the countless lives destroyed and confidences betrayed. Philip’s biggest betrayal is of Martha, the secretary to the head of FBI counterintelligence whom he seduces and eventually marries, all the while conning her into unwittingly committing treason. Martha’s relationship with Philip, alias “Clark,” costs her everything she has ever had or wanted – love, family, country. Philip is distraught over Martha’s sad fate, but not too distraught to enjoy the company of his wife. At the end of the day Martha is alone, but Philip still has Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s biggest betrayal is of Young Hee, a Mary Kay saleswoman and mother of three whom Elizabeth befriends in order to gain access to her husband. This betrayal saddens Elizabeth the most, as she genuinely valued Young Hee’s friendship and knows her actions have destroyed her friend’s family and happiness.

A big theme here: it’s wrong to use people. It hurts them, and it hurts you too. But using people – manipulating them, seducing them, threatening them – is what the KGB does.

It’s also what FBI agents do. Stan Beeman’s conscience is not clean, as he sleeps with a source, kills an innocent man in retaliation for the loss of his partner, and refuses to do anything to save his failing marriage even as his desperate wife cries out for his attention. Ultimately, his attempts to do right by the people he has jeopardized fail to pay off.

Which brings me to the Jennings’ betrayal of Stan, a ticking time bomb that finally explodes in the last episode. Speaking in an abandoned parking garage, Philip reassures Stan that their friendship was genuine, and he was just doing his job. Despite the betrayal, Stan cannot bring himself to stop his former friends and neighbors; he lets them go. This decision reveals that Stan values their friendship, and perhaps his relationship as surrogate father to Henry, more than the good of his agency and his country.

But the betrayal that stings the most – the one I still can’t get over – is Philip and Elizabeth’s betrayal of their own children, Paige and Henry.

By Season 6, Elizabeth is no longer a good mother in any sense of the word. She mainly ignores Henry, and doesn’t quite know what to say to him when he is around. Back on a school break, Henry jokingly asks to bum a cigarette. After only a few seconds hesitation, Elizabeth holds out the pack to her son, to which Henry asks if she wants to give him lung cancer.

Things are more complicated with Paige, who plays a much bigger role in the show, as she eventually learns her parent’s true identities. The decision to bring Paige into their world and start grooming her for future espionage is a major point of conflict between Elizabeth and Philip. Philip is against it of course, whereas Elizabeth sees in Paige a kindred spirit in search of a just cause. (Yes, Elizabeth still thinks she is fighting to make the world a better place.)

Elizabeth tries to instruct Paige in the new responsibilities that come with this knowledge, but Paige finds it incredibly isolating – a pretty heavy burden for a sixteen-year-old to bear alone. She feels awkward saying the Pledge of Allegiance. She can’t have normal relationships with boyfriends or peers. Then when she confides her family’s secret to Pastor Tim, Elizabeth forces her to keep up the charade of being a surrogate child to him in order to stay in his good graces. (At least Paige’s honesty with her mother saves Pastor Tim his life.)

By the final season, Paige is no longer just keeping secrets. A college student now, she starts going on missions with her mother, mainly as a lookout. Philip is out of the business; Paige is in. But Elizabeth is clearly cracking under the pressure. It’s hard for us – and Philip – to watch Elizabeth deteriorate into a shell of her former self: either working, sleeping, or chain-smoking like a zombie on the back patio.

Elizabeth’s one remaining joy is teaching Paige about the motherland. She and Claudia give Paige lessons on history, culture, and (of course) vodka. But Elizabeth’s growing influence is hurting Paige – figuratively and even literally, as Elizabeth bloodies her lip in a basement sparring session. Paige has to witness her mother kill two men in self-defense – one a back-alley mugger who was threatening Paige, the other a reluctant source who was about to shoot Elizabeth. But the last straw for Paige is when she learns her mother slept with a twenty-one-year-old intern and ruined his life for a piece of intelligence. She calls her own mother a whore and storms off, declaring that Henry was the wiser Jennings sibling for keeping his distance. Ultimately, the never-ending lies have destroyed their family.

Phillip’s loyalty to Elizabeth is put to the test when he is contacted by Oleg on behalf of Arkady. They want him to spy on Elizabeth and stop her, if necessary, from being used by KGB hardliners to undermine Gorbachev. Philip’s ultimate cooperation with them is more of a decision to see the Soviet Union progress than to hurt Elizabeth personally, though of course she won’t see it that way. Then Philip finds another line he is unwilling to cross — hurting Kimmy, the daughter of a CIA agent whom he has been meeting since she was fifteen. Though he does eventually (and regretfully) sleep with her, he refuses to participate in her kidnapping and gives her a final warning to keep her safe. Philip has sacrificed everything for Elizabeth, including the good of their own children, but he cannot see his country fall for her, nor can he surrender his basic human decency.

Elizabeth’s moment of truth comes when she is ordered to kill a Russian diplomat. But this time (thanks to a certain intern), Elizabeth has heard the tapes and knows he is negotiating in good faith. In the end, she does something she never would have imagined – executing a fellow KGB officer – to protect the diplomat and Gorbachev’s mission to change things in the USSR. But just as both Jennings’ find a line they won’t cross, and themselves back on the same side, their cover is blown and they are forced to run.

In one of the most devastating moments of the finale, Elizabeth comes to grips with the fact that she is leaving Henry for good; the Jennings quartet is down to a trio. (For the record, I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to listen to “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits without wanting to burst into tears.) The second moment comes when Philip and Elizabeth see Paige standing on the platform as their train pulls away. The heartbreak is written over their faces as they realize they will be leaving both of their children behind.

In the end, Philip and Elizabeth lose their comfortable existence in suburban America. They lose their friendships with Stan and Young Hee. They lose the integrity of their own consciences, as they have killed innocent strangers and hurt the people who trusted them most. They even lose Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, fake identities that have become real over the past two decades, left to resume (if they can) their lives as Mischa and Nadazhda.

Looking out over the dark Moscow skyline, the one thing they have not lost is each other. We are left to wonder with them if it will be enough.

Giving Up Our Natural Rights for Artificial Ones

It’s been a long time since there has been this much fundamental disagreement in America over the nature of liberty. Judging by recent events, many Americans no longer value our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Where did this disregard originate, what worldview underlies it, and how can we fight it? These are the questions I plan to address in this post.

First, there is a reason that freedom of speech and religion are combined in the First Amendment. While freedom of religion involves the right to pray and worship as one chooses, religion is not a strictly private matter. It is not enough to say, “Believe what you want, just keep it to yourself,” a new twist on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Religious freedom is primarily the freedom to live according to the dictates of one’s own conscience. We don’t surrender this right when we step out of our mosques, churches, synagogues, or private homes. Even atheists and agnostics have the right to come to their own conclusions on moral issues, to not be compelled by the state to participate in behavior they find morally questionable, and to voice their opinions on matters of conscience.

So how can Americans, whose country’s very existence was founded on the belief that we are endowed with rights by the “Law of Nature and of Nature’s God,” be so quick to denounce and even condemn them?

I believe the answer to this question is two-fold. First, a people will only voluntarily surrender a right if they believe doing so is necessary to secure a greater, more important right. Second, one’s conception of liberty depends on one’s understanding of truth itself. There is a deeper moral and philosophical conflict underlying our political debates.

Every high school government class is likely to contain some discussion of how certain rights can often conflict with others. It is the role of the law to define and adjudicate where one person’s rights end and another’s begin. For example, one could reasonably renounce the “right” to steal from one’s neighbor in exchange for the right to be secure in one’s own possessions. But this only shows that the right to steal is not a God-given, inalienable one, or else it could not by definition be forfeited.

What “rights”, then, are so important that a bill entitled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” could possibly become the subject of a national debate? Since when did religious freedom become controversial?

To hear the outcry in the media, one would think RFRA proponents were claiming the unlimited right to religion, but this is clearly not the case. One has only to read the text of the law, going back to the original bill signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. RFRA laws simply state that if the government is going to impinge upon your right to religion, it must have a very good reason to do so, a “compelling government interest.”

For example, it is illegal in this country for people under twenty-one to consume alcoholic beverages. Yet children as young as seven receive Holy Communion at Mass. The government has correctly judged that keeping a child from having a sip of what many would consider wine (but that Catholics regard as Christ’s holy blood) is not a compelling enough interest to prevent the practice of a crucial aspect of the Catholic faith.

On the other hand, it is easy to envision a scenario in which the government might reasonably conclude that one’s right to freedom of religion does not include the right to polygamous marriage (as in the case of Islam and Mormon fundamentalism) or the traditional Aztec practice of human sacrifice. The government has a compelling interest in protecting the well-being of children and the lives of would-be victims.

Again, nothing too advanced here. The reason religious freedom has fallen out of vogue is not its complexity, but rather its apparent conflict with the gay rights movement.

Unfortunately, the focus of the gay rights movement has shifted from defending the rights of gay Americans to embrace a homosexual lifestyle free from discrimination and persecution– to live and love as they choose– to the right to do so without anyone voicing so much as a word of criticism or objection. After considering (and rejecting) a strategy that would have promoted civil unions as a legal protection for gay and lesbian partnerships, liberals now claim the right to redefine marriage, an institution as old as human society itself, to suit the sexual and emotional needs of homosexual adults.

Anyone who so much as breaths a word of caution at what would undoubtedly be one of the largest social experiments in human history is mocked as backward, bigoted, and “on the wrong side of history.” Anyone who dares defend the traditional understanding of marriage is roundly chastised on social media, subjected to intimidation and threats, and targeted for financial ruin.

Despite earlier promises and reassurances, the power of the state is now being used not only to silence religious opposition to the redefinition of marriage, but to require participation in what amounts to government-mandated speech. Baking a cake, photographing a ceremony, and even arranging flowers are forms of speech requiring the creative energies of the baker, photographer, and florist. Declining to participate in same-sex ceremonies, or any ceremonies for that matter, is not discrimination; it is the constitutionally-protected right of every American citizen.

Why is this so difficult for people to understand?

It is a sad reality that college campuses, which should be the most open to debate and even controversy, have instead led the charge in the attack on freedom of speech. Many young Americans no longer see the importance of protecting speech they and their friends in the echo-chamber of liberal elitism disagree with. It is easy to picture the fervent nineteen-year-old student tilting her head in confusion at the notion that even unpopular views deserve protection. “Why would you want to protect the right to be wrong?”

All sorts of excuses are given for limiting unpopular (usually conservative) speech. The first is to label it as “hate,” reducing traditional Christians to the level of Neo-Nazis and the KKK. (In Canada, it is now a hate crime to advocate a traditional definition of marriage or to quote the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality.) The second is to trot out the lie that appeals to traditional morality are dangerous and intolerant, as they may damage the fragile self-esteem of anyone who is not a “privileged” heterosexual white Christian male.

But scratch beneath the surface, and one discovers a radical metaphysical and epistemological shift underlying the culture wars. Traditional Christian morality rests upon an understanding of natural law, the idea that reality is absolute and that objective truth can be discovered outside of one’s subjective feelings using the human faculties of reason and observation. On the other hand, those who share a progressive worldview regard reality as just a powerful illusion, and truth therefore a social construct. It is not fixed or eternal—not handed down by a divine Creator. Rather, we are the collective creators, and truth is whatever the majority of people in a society say it is. To borrow a line from Orwell, using this standard, 2+2 can equal 5.

Because the liberal basis for truth is so tenuous, resting on such a fragile foundation as popular opinion, all dissenting voices must be singled out for ridicule and then silenced, lest they supplant liberalism as the dominant narrative. Inconvenient facts must be suppressed in the name of whatever generally agreed-upon Higher Cause. Dogmas are propagated in the absence of biological or physical evidence (for example, the notion that a man can become a woman, or that a fetus developing in the womb is not a person).

On the other hand, the best conservative and Christian thinkers are not afraid of challenges to their positions. They can rest assured that the truth will not change, regardless of whether they lose this particular debate on this particular day. Moral relativists enjoy no such reassurances, resulting in a cauldron of insecurity and doubt simmering under a veneer of artificial confidence. Tolerance is not enough; all must be active participants in the creation of this artificial “truth.” This metaphysical insecurity explains the paradox of the intolerant Left, which only tolerates relatively insignificant differences in appearance, but not the more meaningful differences in belief. They will accept any combination of sexual and gender identity (hence the diversity designation LGBT-QIA), but not a difference in opinion, especially if it comes from a member of a specially-protected victim group.

In conclusion, our natural rights to life and liberty are being subverted. In their place, Americans are being offered an array of artificial, man-made “rights,” mainly the “right” to engage in any and all sexual activity (pre-marital, homosexual, polygamous, adulterous) while being freed from the consequences of said activities (contraception, abortion). But this is only symptomatic of an erroneous understanding of morality, based not on a rational understanding of natural law, but rather a “might makes right” approach to truth itself.

What is needed now is not just a reordering of the hierarchy of competing rights, but also a proper understanding of where those rights originate.

I began this post by observing that it has been a long time since Americans were this divided on the nature of liberty, but this is by no means the first time. Just over a hundred and fifty years ago, serious individuals actually debated whether a person had the right to own another human being. A slave’s right to liberty was considered by many to fall below the slave owner’s right to own property.

Our rights come not from society or even the law, but from our Creator, as clearly stated the Declaration of Independence. We can discover these rights using our God-given faculties of reason or “common sense”; they are thus “self-evident.” It does not take a doctoral degree in philosophy to understand that people are born and have a right to be free, but it takes a clever perversion of the law to argue that a man can own another man. Even a child intuitively knows that the life of a brother or sister growing in his mother’s womb is a human being worthy of protection, a “baby,” but it takes decades of social conditioning and some very convoluted Constitutional jujitsu to fabricate the right to end that life, often for no better reason than convenience.

Those who today speak with such confidence about being “on the right side of history” would do well to recall that abolition and emancipation were once unpopular and controversial views that many sought to silence. The loudest voices demanding an end to slavery were not secular ones, but Christians who felt compelled to carry their moral convictions into the public square. In the end, the natural right to freedom prevailed; not because it was popular, but because it was right in its conformity to natural law.

We Need More Compassion, Less Government

Compassion is a term that seems to get tossed around with increased frequency these days. We are told to show compassion for Central Americans illegally crossing into the United States and Palestinians being killed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza, as well as the poor and suffering in our own communities. But what does it actually mean to be compassionate? Is it simply giving people what they want? Leaving them alone? “Tolerating” them?

I would define compassion as acting in a way that recognizes the common humanity of others. To embrace the Bill Clinton cliché, it involves “feeling their pain”; we have to both suffer with them and endeavor to alleviate their suffering. Compassion is not tossing a few crumbs from the table and saying, “Here is something to you more comfortable down there.” Rather, it is bending down to pick each other back up.


Compassion is one of the central messages of the Gospel. Christ calls us to serve the poor, the sick, and the marginalized—as He Himself did. Christians understand that this obligation extends into the public and political spheres. We have a duty to elect leaders and support policies that promote our values. But Christ’s message was not intended for governments or kings; it was directed at individuals.

Compassion is not a policy. Policies are the means we choose to achieve our ends. Compassion helps shape these ends, and eliminates certain “means” as immoral and unjust, but to arrive at policies that are both compassionate and effective, we need to realize the limits of what government can and should do. Government can impose taxes and then redistribute income in the form of welfare programs, but it cannot embrace the pain of a homeless man, the desperation of a single mother, or the hunger of a needy child. Neither can bureaucracies, those impersonal agencies that reduce real human beings to numbers and statistics as a matter of course. (See the recent Veterans Administration scandal.)

Only individuals are capable of showing true compassion. Only fellow human beings can break down the material distances that separate our bodies—the superficial differences of appearance and circumstance that make some lives seem more worthy than others. We do this when we give freely of ourselves, sometimes with as little as a smile, a hug, or a home-cooked meal.


I have been overwhelmed with gratitude when people in my family and community have reached out to help me, especially when my son was born with a life-threatening heart defect. But I have never felt this way about government assistance. I have been filled with joy while serving people in my family and community, but never when paying taxes.

Anyone who has ever suffered a serious illness or trauma will tell you that while they needed the experience and expertise of medical professionals, they also needed to be reminded of their basic humanity. The right doctor or nurse can give a patient love and hope, while the wrong one can make them feel less than human, like a piece of malfunctioning equipment on an assembly line.

Very few doctors intend to hurt their patients, yet many do, or we would not have so many medical malpractice lawsuits. Sometimes even well-intentioned policies have the unintended consequences of harming the very people they are designed to help. Foreign aid can prop up corrupt regimes and stifle the development of local economies. Certain welfare programs have been shown to discourage initiative and breed dependency. Opening our borders will invite terrorists and gang members to harm our people and hurt the middle class. Denouncing Israel for defending itself will embolden Hamas to continue their attacks on Israeli civilians and to cynically use their own people as pawns to enflame Anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel around the world.

Typically, the closer we are to someone, the more we will do to ensure their well-being. But we have a responsibility to show compassion even to suffering people in distant lands. Millions of Christians are being killed or forced to flee from all over the Middle East. Since 2003, Iraq’s Christian population has dwindled from 1.5 million to 400,000. Just this month, ISIS purged Christians from Mosul whose ancestors have worshiped there for 2,000 years, burning ancient churches and marking the homes of Christians as targets for looting and persecution.


Yousef Habash, bishop of the Syriac Catholic Church asks, “Where is the conscience of the world? Where is the United Nations? Where is the American administration to protect peace and justice? Nobody has said a word.”

Our government will not speak out until we do. Disasters and crises can galvanize us into action, providing ample opportunities for compassion, but only when we are willing to pay attention to them. Government has an important role in promoting peace and justice, but too many people look first to politics for solutions when they should start by looking in the mirror. Our individual efforts to show compassion are not as limited as our search for effective policies. As Gandhi said, we have to “be the change (we) want to see in the world.”

Pope Francis has shown us how one man’s compassion can inspire millions. When he washes the feet of a Muslim woman and kisses the face of a disfigured man, his actions recognize their common humanity. He reminds us that serving others is an honor and a privilege. What we do for the least of God’s children, we do also for His Son.


When Pope Francis criticizes the flaws of global capitalism or opposition to immigration, he does so not to advocate for the alternatives of socialism or open borders, but to remind us of our common humanity. Poverty, illness, imprisonment, and war are all conditions that degrade the dignity of the individual. We have an obligation to show compassion to those most in need of being reminded of their worth.

Many on the Left sincerely believe their policies are necessary to help the poor and oppressed in the United States and around the world. They may even see it as their Christian duty to support socialist redistribution and amnesty at home and to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. But certain politicians in America and radicals abroad have found that they can win more support by dividing people against each other than encouraging them to unite with a common purpose. They stifle compassion by dividing us into camps, and in its place grow resentment and contempt.

I have stated before that liberals do not have a monopoly on compassion, and neither do conservatives. Neither do Christians. We are just as prone to sin as anyone else, and in just as great need of God’s grace. Even as we defend our borders, we cannot dismiss illegal immigrants as “parasites.” Even as we denounce Hamas, we must empathize with the victims of violence in Gaza. When it comes to helping others, we can never give enough, serve enough, or care enough.

Compassion does not mean using the powers of government to give each group what it wants. Rather, compassion is reaching out to the suffering and having the courage to stand up for the persecuted. It requires us to see people not as members of racial, religious, or social groups, but as fellow human beings. Compassion means accepting that the responsibility to help others rests primarily with us and not with government.

Your Contraception Is Your Responsibility

Women can buy houses on their own. They can purchase cars without help from their bosses. Women can grocery shop, book vacations, save for retirement, and in general run their family’s finances—as most do—without assistance from their employers.

But they can’t purchase birth control on their own.

At least, this is the message of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissenting opinion, following Hobby Lobby’s recent victory in the Supreme Court.

She writes: “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”

But since when does not paying for something mean denying access to it? By this logic, my employer has been denying me access to gym memberships, home security systems, and food, all of which can be viewed as more essential to good health than birth control.

Or are women just uniquely helpless in this, the most personal aspect of their lives? They can’t have it unless someone else pays for it?


Whose responsibility is it to pay for a woman’s birth control: her own, her employer’s, or the government’s? If reproduction and contraception are individual rights, as liberals claim, then they are also individual responsibilities.

Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin; you can’t have one without the other. When I was a child, my parents could prevent me from having certain things simply by refusing to pay for them. Now that I am responsible enough to make my own money, I have the right to use it as I please, even on things my parents might not support.

When you make government or your employer the “parent” by demanding they pay for something you could get yourself, you are also making yourself a child, beholden to their better judgment. “You can’t tell me what to do with my body!” liberals cry. “But you have to pay for it!”

Demanding something as a right while denying it as a responsibility is the essence of adolescent petulance.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has set off a heated debate that appears to pit women’s rights against religious rights, but this narrative overlooks the responsibility side of the equation. Women did not lose any rights as a result of the decision. Congress should never have passed a law (Obamacare) making employers 100% responsible for their employee’s birth control choices, including methods that can be seen as ending a human life after it has already been created. Whether one views certain forms of birth control as moral or immoral, contraception itself remains the responsibility of the individual.

Liberals have been quoting Ginsburg’s blistering dissent, but her arguments miss this basic point. She writes: “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults…

As the woman’s autonomous choice, it is also her autonomous responsibility. It is extremely unlikely that Hobby Lobby’s female employees will be forced to bear unwanted children as a result of this decision. Their policies still cover sixteen forms of contraception, just not the ones with the potential to prevent an already-formed embryo from implanting in the uterine wall. And if they want any of the remaining four, they can pay for them. Hobby Lobby is not trying to stop them.

She continues: Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community…”


The Catholic Church was already granted an exemption as part of the law. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that you do not forfeit your freedom of conscience when you form a business.

There is a reason the First Amendment protects freedom of religion together with freedom of speech. Our Founding Fathers understood that one’s freedom of religion is not confined to worship alone, but extends to other areas of life as well. Hobby Lobby is not taking any action to prevent employees from using birth control. They simply don’t want to be compelled to pay for (and by extension participate in) an act they find morally questionable.

This is their right. Once I turned twenty-one, my parents could no longer stop me from consuming alcohol. But I didn’t demand they supply me with weekly stockpiles of liquor.

Ginsburg continues: “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

Many life-saving surgeries are also equivalent to (or greater than) a month’s full-time pay, but Obamacare does not require these to be covered at no additional cost. Claiming contraception as an essential preventative service requires us to understand pregnancy as a life-threatening condition. This may be the case for some women, who still have many options under this ruling, but certainly not the majority. If pregnancy were an illness to be prevented at any cost, like colon cancer, people would not spend tens of thousands of dollars intending it as a result.

In the meantime, insurance companies have raised co-pays on essential prescription drugs needed to keep people alive in order to cover the costs of providing “free” birth control. Nothing is ever truly “free.” Someone always pays. In the case of contraception, it should be the one using it.

Perhaps Ginsberg’s strongest argument is that people do not have an unlimited right to religion. She writes: “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…

Fortunately, no one is claiming religion as an unlimited right to refuse to comply with the law. In fact, this was specifically stated in the majority opinion. In this particular case, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no compelling government interest in forcing Hobby Lobby to provide four particular types of contraception that can act as abortifacents. It did not grant employers an unlimited mandate to impose their religious views on employees.

“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” Ginsberg worries. A liberal friend of mine concurred, taking to Facebook to express his concern over the “slippery slope” that might allow employers and organizations to pick and choose which services are covered and which are not. They would have the power to become “judge and jury” over the individual’s every health problem. He listed Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes as conditions employers could claim were the result of individual choices, and thus not subject to coverage.

I was amazed at how well this argument summarized the case against government-run healthcare, which remains the real “slippery slope.” If society has to foot the bill for your healthcare costs, they will naturally demand increasing control over your healthcare decisions. When you give government the responsibility to pay for what happens to your body, you also surrender the right to control it.

Lessons on Honesty from Hillary

I don’t often use this blog to lambast the character flaws and shortcomings of individual politicians. There are usually three good reasons to avoid this:

1. It is too easy. (See: Shooting fish in a barrel.)

2. You set yourself up for charges of hypocrisy, as no party or movement can claim a monopoly on virtuous people.

3. It has the potential to detract from the essential questions at the heart of our political process. Challenges like the national debt, the economy, and immigration policy are of far greater relevance to the American people than the private sins of middle-aged men.

But lately two stories have led me to revisit a well-known conclusion: Politicians lie. They do so frequently and knowingly. For many, this will seem as obvious as the assertions that fish swim and birds fly. It is something we have all likely thought before. We see it on the news each time a new scandal pops up. So why bother spilling any more ink over the matter?

Most of my experience with liars comes not from politicians, but from teenagers struggling to pass advanced history. I and many of my colleagues have discovered a troubling pattern.

Even some of the best students—the good kids, the ones you like—will lie through their teeth when confronted with an accusation of cheating. They will swear up and down that they did not copy their neighbor, they did not plagiarize that essay, they were not looking up answers on their cell phone. They even feign outrage, trying to make you feel like the bad guy.

That is, until you present them with concrete evidence of their deception. Even then, I have been shocked when students failed to apologize. Many take an attitude of: “Oh well, you caught me. It was worth a shot.”

The object of the game is to appear virtuous while gaining an unfair advantage over the rest of the field. Machiavelli would be proud. So too, it would seem, would Hillary Clinton.


The first story I read about Hillary recently was truly shocking. You really have to read it yourself to get a true sense of her callous disregard for the truth.

In 1975, a 12-year-old Arkansas girl was raped by two much-older men. She spent five days in a medically induced coma, months in recovery, and was told by a doctor that she was unlikely to ever have children. At the time, Clinton was a young, 27-year-old lawyer looking for her first criminal defense case. She agreed to defend Thomas Alfred Taylor, one of the accused attackers, who had specifically requested a female attorney.

Now, what would you do if asked to defend a child rapist? I think most of us would refuse. I certainly would. There might be some who would accept the case. If not, the court would have to appoint an attorney. After all, everyone is entitled to due process under the law.

But how many people would not only freely accept the case, but then use every tactic, no matter how dishonest, to ensure that a child rapist was let off as easily as possible?

The latter is exactly what Clinton did. She even stooped so low as to accuse the victim of being unreliable—essentially, a liar—with zero evidence to support this claim.

In an affidavit, Clinton writes: “I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing…I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body. Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.”

Clinton referred to a child psychologist who told her that children in early adolescence “tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences,” especially when they come from “disorganized families, such as the complainant.”

The victim, now 52, maintains that she has no idea what Clinton was referring to. But her anger is mainly the result of recently-released tapes of interviews with Hillary for an article that was (perhaps unsurprisingly?) never published.

On the tapes, Clinton, who speaks in a Southern drawl, appears to acknowledge that she was aware of her client’s guilt, brags about successfully getting the only piece of physical evidence thrown out of court, and laughs about it all whimsically. “He took a lie detector test. I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” Clinton says on the recording, failing to hold back some chuckles.


If Mitt Romney strapping his dog to the top of the family vehicle was enough to disqualify him in the eyes of many from holding the highest office in the land, how about helping a child rapist get off easy and then laughing about it, as if an innocent young girl’s life was of no importance? The prosecutors in the case ultimately dropped the rape charge and allowed Thomas to plead guilty to “unlawful fondling of a child.” He was back on the streets in less than a year.

The second Hillary story has to do with the 9/11/12 Benghazi attack, which is shaping up to become an albatross around the former Secretary of State’s neck.

An excerpt from Edward Klein’s “Blood Feud” describes how Clinton “bristled” at the Benghazi deception. She told the president that blaming what was clearly a terrorist attack on an obscure internet video was not going to fly. She debated how to respond with Bill, and allegedly even considered resigning over the matter.

“I’m sick about it,” she said, according to the legal advisor… “That story won’t hold up,” Bill said. “I know,” Hillary said. “I told the president that.” “It’s an impossible story,” Bill said. “I can’t believe the president is claiming it wasn’t terrorism. Then again, maybe I can. It looks like Obama isn’t going to allow anyone to say that terrorism has occurred on his watch.”

Then Bill and Hillary made a calculated political decision, much as they had been doing their entire lives. She could not be seen as harming Obama’s reelection chances.

Obama had put Hillary in a corner, and she and Bill didn’t see a way out. And so, shortly after 10 o’clock on the night of September 11, she released an official statement that blamed the Benghazi attack on an “inflammatory (video) posted on the Internet.”

But if Hillary had any qualms about deceiving the American public on Benghazi, they must have soon evaporated. When the flag-draped caskets of the four dead Americans arrived at Andrews Air Force base, Clinton repeated the lie that the video had prompted the attacks. She even vowed to one of the fallen hero’s mothers that they would get the man who made the video (not the men who carried out the attack).

Everyone recalls Hillary’s famous response when grilled by Congress about the nature of the attack: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

bbc benghazi

This might be the closest any liberal politician has come to revealing their blatant disregard for the truth. Evidence does not matter. The facts do not matter. Any omission or distortion is justified by a Higher Purpose than the truth, which is to gain as much power in the short term so that it can be used for the liberal’s long-term benevolent restructuring of society.

When Clinton was a 27-year-old lawyer, that purpose was to make a name for herself, and to win at any cost. When she was Secretary of State, it was to protect her boss in the hopes that he would return the favor. As First Lady, she called the Monica Lewinsky scandal a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” when she must have known of her husband’s misdeeds. Power has always been the ultimate goal—winning it, protecting it, and growing it, all in the hopes of one day using it for a noble purpose.

All these lies remind me of the first lie, the Big One. In a certain way, every subsequent falsehood has accepted its premise: You can be God.

This was the lie the serpent told Eve, the one she repeated to Adam. They believed that eating the forbidden fruit would make them powerful and all-knowing. Doctors are often accused of playing God, as their actions determine who lives and dies. But politicians are the ones who demand more and more power over our lives, who seek to replace our God-given free will with their master plans. Like the serpent said, they believe themselves to possess superior knowledge of the nature of good and evil. They try to create heaven on earth and wind up doing just the opposite.

This is why honesty matters in politics. It is also why power should remain decentralized and limited, as our Founding Fathers intended. Power leads many good men and women to arrogance and hubris. They start to think of themselves as being above the rest of humanity, like gods. But as anyone who has ever read or watched The Lord of the Rings knows, evil cannot be used in the service of good. We must stand on principle. We must be honest about where we are going and how we are going to get there. We cannot allow ourselves to be led by people like Hillary Clinton, who has demonstrated time and again her disregard for the truth.

In 1969, a young Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, a primer on political immorality to rival The Prince. The dedication is noteworthy:

“Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history… the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.”

There is a reason Satan is called “The Great Deceiver.” Evil only prevails by disguising its true nature. Eating the forbidden fruit did not make Adam and Eve all-powerful; instead, it consigned them to a life of toil and estrangement from God. We all inherit this original sin, a reminder that we too must learn to humble ourselves before the Lord. We must value God’s truth over our personal quests for power.

Support for Traditional Marriage Motivated by Love, Not Hate

This used to be the one hot-button political issue I really didn’t care to talk about. My position on the matter could best be summarized with an apathetic shrug. I had liberal friends in college who fought passionately for gay marriage, convinced their cause was the next great civil rights battle. I had members of my family and church who fought passionately against it. I didn’t really care either way. Could we just change the subject, please?

It’s not that I was afraid to offend someone or uninterested in moral debates. Since I was in middle school, I have been willing to debate the pro-life position with anyone, at anytime, unafraid of how unpopular my defense of unborn life might be. I had the power of the Truth, capital T, behind me. I knew abortion was wrong, and I knew it mattered. Innocent lives hung in the balance, and refusing to speak up for the voiceless was something I wouldn’t contemplate.

But as the debate over gay marriage heated up and the tide of public opinion began to coalesce around the idea, my apathy turned to discomfort. As a libertarian-minded conservative, I didn’t like the government telling people what they couldn’t do. It was hard to answer the question of: why can’t a same sex couple marry?

I had several answers to the question of: why can’t a woman abort her child? The logic was easy, not because I was an expert in ethics, but because the fact that an unborn baby is a human life is obvious even to children and has been proven over and over again by science. One could quote scripture or get into the theology of the issue, but to do so was not strictly necessary. But every argument against gay marriage sounded judgmental or hypocritical or hopelessly dated.

I didn’t come around to the importance of the issue until I myself was married with children, until I learned that love is not a feeling but a commitment that requires sacrifice. Even then, it took a few years for me to be able to articulate my stance on the issue. That’s when I realized that the logic was off because the question was wrong. Instead of asking “Why can’t a gay couple marry?” I should have been asking, “What is marriage, and what is its purpose?”

The first phrasing puts all the burden of proof on the traditional marriage side. Gay marriage is good until you can prove it is not. It also sets you up to deny someone something they want. Once you start denying someone something they claim as a right, you put yourself in the camp of the 1950s segregationists who fought to keep blacks and whites from attending the same schools, much less marrying. It is the wrong way to approach the question.

So let’s return to the second phrasing, the one that should be at the heart of any policy debate. What is marriage, and what is its purpose?

Unfortunately, our culture seems to have forgotten the truth about the essence and purpose of marriage. Many today would answer that marriage is just a committed relationship between two people, the purpose of which is simply to make each other happy.

And what is the result of this misconception? People marry and divorce at will. Some have kids, others don’t. Some live together and have children without marrying. They stay together for a few years, until one party leaves or something better comes along. Our culture encourages the relentless pursuit of each individual’s pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment. When my partner no longer meets my needs, I move on to someone who can. The so-called “modern family” is a hodgepodge of people whose lives are thrown together for the time being by a series of circumstances. Fathers are absent and seem unnecessary. Where there is a breakdown in the ability to provide for women and children, the government steps in to pick up the slack.

So, what is marriage really, and what is its purpose? I would offer that marriage is a permanent monogamous commitment between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating and raising children. This legal definition is broad enough to encompass members of all the major world religions as well as people who are not religious. According to my faith, marriage is also a sacrament made in the presence of God (and thus, God is present in marriage). The purpose of Christian marriage is also to help the other person grow in Christ’s love in a way that only someone of the opposite sex can.

Traditional marriage respects the fact that men and women are fundamentally different in their natures. This is not to say that one is superior and one is inferior. It is not to return to 1950s stereotypes or deny women career opportunities. It merely acknowledges a biological reality. Men help women learn to nurture and care for others, while women help men learn to protect and provide. Without marriage, neither man nor woman can truly develop these gifts to their fullest. The instincts to nurture and protect lie deep within our DNA, but they need to be awakened or activated. Having a wife and a family inspire men to make sacrifices for their well-being and safety. A married man would go to war to defend his wife and children. He would work long hours of hard labor to ensure they are well-fed and sheltered. That same man, in the absence of a family, might decide to pursue his own well-being and pleasure instead.


Now, a few caveats. I mean no disrespect to single people. There are many single men and women who are very nurturing and brave in the absence of marriage. Most of us, however, need a little encouragement if we are to reach our true potential. I was not a particularly nurturing person before I met my husband and had children. I am still independent and strong-willed (and on my bad days selfish and oblivious), but I am now able to recognize and respond to the needs of others in a way that I never was before marriage. Likewise, my husband saw his protective instincts surge after the birth of our sons, and he started working twice as hard.

It used to be obvious that the creation of children required a man and a woman. Modern science has separated sex from procreation in a way that previous generations couldn’t have imagined. A woman can now go to a sperm donor and be inseminated with the DNA of a complete stranger. But even if science has given us the ability to create life outside of the act of love, years of research in the social sciences and numerous studies have failed to deliver a law as well-supported as this: Nothing is better for the long-term mental, emotional, and financial well-being of a child than to be raised by a married mother and father. Here are 30 simple statistics to support this. Also, it is becoming well-documented that growing up without a father is much more harmful to boys than girls. See here and here.

Again for the caveats. There are many couples who struggle with fertility issues and for one reason or another cannot have biological children. Some may choose to adopt, while others may assist in the raising of nieces and nephews. The inability to have children does not make a marriage less valid, as it still serves the first purpose of helping one’s spouse grow in Christ and contributes to society in numerous ways.

To state the basic truth that children do best in households with a married mother and father once again runs the risk of sounding outdated and judgmental. What about all the single moms who are doing their best? President Obama likes to point out that he himself was raised by grandparents and a single mom, and yet he rose to the highest office in the land. Yet he has also acknowledged that he would have liked to have had a father around. What child wouldn’t? Single parents or grandparents raising children are doing admirable work. But they will be the first to admit that there are difficulties in having to be both mom and dad, the nurturer and the provider at once. For a gay couple to make the decision to create a human life outside of the bond of marital love, a child that will never know a mother and/or father, for the purposes of fulfilling their own desires and needs, fundamentally misses the point. The marriage exists to serve the children; the children do not exist to serve the needs of the individuals in the marriage.

So, back to the marriage debate. When people say that a man should be able to marry another man, or a woman marry another woman, they are proposing a radical redefinition of the very understanding of marriage. The burden of proof should be on them to explain how this is even possible. If marriage is understood as a committed monogamous permanent relationship between a man and a woman, then “gay marriage” makes as much sense as a “male girl” or a “married bachelor.” By definition, it isn’t possible. To say so does not reflect “hatred” or “prejudice.”

I decided to finally write my opinion on this for two audiences.

First, for my liberal friends, especially those who are not religious. I do not expect to convince you to support traditional marriage. But you should not look at all traditional marriage supporters as bigots or homophobes. You should not push the Christian religion into the same camp as the KKK. Please respect that our position comes from our deeply held religious beliefs that are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment. We will fight the political battle over what our government should recognize as a marriage, but let’s not demonize the other side or impugn their motives. You should be able to eat a Chick-Fil-A sandwich without feeling like you are aiding the enemy.

Second, for my conservative and religious friends. Don’t get stuck in the trap of trying to explain why gay people shouldn’t be able to marry. Instead, steer the conversation to the essence and purpose of marriage. It makes me sad that a friend once felt the need on Facebook to post something along the lines of “I’m a Christian, but I don’t hate gay people.” When you say things like that, it gives credence to the lie that all Christians are hateful and homophobic until otherwise proven. Surely there are some who are, but they are a minority. You can support your gay friends and still defend traditional marriage. Laws can be passed against discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and allowing committed gay couples to visit each other in hospital rooms without redefining marriage.

Why does the marriage debate matter? I think most of the “same-sex” or “marriage equality” crowd are committed idealists who believe in what they are fighting for. Some have bought the argument that opposing gay marriage is tantamount to opposing interracial marriage (which is false). Some are themselves homosexual and seeking the affirmation of their peers. But I fear that there are some liberals and secularists who seek to use the gay marriage issue to undermine Christianity. The scary truth is, it’s working. And as Christians, this should concern us. Some have taken Jefferson’s prescription for a “wall of separation between Church and state” to argue that religion has no place in our laws or institutions, something our founders never intended. This misreading would pit the First Amendment against itself, as Christians would have their free speech violated. But the idea of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman is not unique to Christianity. It is as old as society itself and predates civilization.

Love is not a fleeting emotion. It is a commitment; it is a sacrifice. Love helps us grow as individuals and holds us together as a society. Love has both a soft and a hard nature, the nurturing love of a mother and the stern at times but always protecting love of a father. Supporters of traditional marriage must base our defense of the institution in this love, and in God’s love for us—all of us, regardless of sexual orientation. Hatred of any kind has no place in it.

More than Just Mammals

“You and me baby ain’t nothin but mammals/ so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” So go the lyrics of the popular Bloodhound Gang song “The Bad Touch.”

As a fun little game, just imagine any film or literary romance. Romeo and Juliet. Gone With the Wind. Jane Eyre. The Notebook. Titanic. Downton Abbey. Twilight. Now substitute these lyrics into the dialogue of either the male or female protagonist moments before they experience each other for the first time.

Jack stares into Rose’s eyes and, instead of pouring out his heart, observes that her powerful sex pheromones have triggered a surge in his testosterone and dopamine levels, so they may as well do it.

titanic-jack-and-rose1       romeo-and-juliet-1968

Suddenly the stories that have captured our imaginations and awakened our souls to the possibility of beauty become vulgar and, even worse, boring. This is the result when attraction and love between man and woman are reduced to mere animal biology.

Yet this is exactly the view Megan Laslocky presents in a recent CNN piece provocatively entitled “Face It: Monogamy is Unnatural.” Laslocky derides monogamy as a “lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration.” It is time, she argues, “for our culture to wake up and smell the sex pheromones.” What our society really needs is not a reawakening of the monogamy ideal or a renewed commitment to marriage, but rather “a greater tolerance toward the human impulse to experience sexual variety.”

Instead of putting that poison to his lips, Romeo should have asked Juliet if she had a sister.

The argument Laslocky makes and the evidence she attempts to muster in its defense is so obviously faulty that it is hard to even know where to begin. But it is important to demonstrate the shaky science and dubious morality of her thesis lest society continue to embrace this dangerous world view.

“Biologically, we humans are animals,” she begins. “So it makes sense to look to the animal kingdom for clues as to what we are built for.”

Whoa. Hold it right there. Are we really to believe that the only thing separating us from the rest of the animal kingdom is our above average intelligence? Put aside for a moment the biblical teaching that we are made in God’s image and given dominion over animals. Common sense is enough to show that humans are fundamentally different. G.K. Chesteron makes this case in The Everlasting Man:

“The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one.

He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself. Alone among the animals he feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame.”

We are the only species that is truly self-aware. We are the only species to significantly alter our environments and create tools to adapt to new ones. We are the only species to create art. We are the only species to worship a higher being.

Yet Laslocky smugly references the mating habits of penguins and prairie voles as evidence that humans should just give up on this whole monogamy thing. Apparently, only 3 to 5% of mammals are monogamous. But what percent of mammals urinate and defecate indoors? What percent of mammals wear clothes, paint landscapes, or build furniture? I can only assume Laslocky is not inclined to meander about the streets of New York in the nude, relieving herself in full view of the public. Yet if we are to employ her logic, this behavior would be more “natural” than having one mate.

animal_love8     animalskissing

Even if humans were just highly intelligent mammals, would it really make sense to let birds and prairie voles serve as our moral guides? Should we tolerate rape because male bears don’t wait for the consent of female bears? Homicide because black widows kill their men after mating?

What makes us human isn’t that we lack the same chemicals and receptors of the animal world. It’s that we try to control and temper these urges, using our reason and God-given free will. It’s not that choosing to do right is easy. It’s that we have a choice to begin with. Laslocky’s error falls into the broader categories of materialism and determinism that have wrought such havoc upon the world over the last few centuries. We humans are not just the sum of our biological parts. We are not just bodies. We have a spiritual nature; we have souls. For all our love of animals, it is still an insult to call a person one.

Like so many others before her, Laslocky succeeds brilliantly in demonstrating that we humans are fallen beings. We generally fail to live up to our ideals. She draws attention to the likes of Kristen Steward, Jude Law, and Bill Clinton as evidence. Monogamy has always been hard for most people, she claims, male and female. In recent years, it has been made that much harder by our longer life spans and decision to marry for love rather than security. So since fidelity is so hard, let’s just abandon the pretense altogether. At least that way we could dispense with all the hypocrisy.

Again, the logic is so bad, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Imagine a defendant sitting on the witness stand. He admits to raping a woman or killing an enemy over an insult, but pleads to the judge that it is just so hard not to do these things. Just look at the animal world where chickens peck each other to death. Look at the history of humanity and all the murders that have taken place from Abel to Julius Caesar to Abraham Lincoln. He can’t really be expected to control his actions when testosterone is such a powerful hormone.

Are we really ready to accept this defense? Or is it reasonable for society to expect individuals to exercise self-control and restraint?

The fact that we fail to live up to our ideals is not cause to abandon them altogether. The world is bad enough with most people attempting to limit their biological inclinations to acting only on those that conform to the moral restrictions of their society. How much worse would things be if those restrictions were abandoned and people were encouraged to just do whatever felt right at the time?

Unfortunately, we don’t have to do much imagining. That world is already upon us, as the federal government sees fit to use an “educational” website to instruct girls aged 10 to 16 on birth control, gay sex, and “mutual masterbation.” After all, teenagers have hormones, and we can’t expect them to use reason and morality to control their bodies. Best to just hand out free condoms and hope for the best. The result of this relativist and materialist thinking are the premature loss of childhood innocence, emotional damage and heartbreak, STDs, and unintended pregnancies. In the adult world, adultery leaves behind broken families and a less productive and moral society in its wake.

Laslocky claims to be monogamous herself, but bases her more “tolerant” views on a “healthy respect for science.” What they reflect is a lack of respect for history, traditional morality, and common sense.

How Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” Is Like The Atkins Diet—And Why Both Should Be Avoided

Maybe it’s no coincidence that my junior year of high school I fell for the two fads named in the title of this post. And while it may seem like a stretch to compare a diet to a political and moral philosophy, the similarities are there; I promise.

ayn-rand-1             DrRobertAtkins

For readers less acquainted with these twin heresies, allow me to provide some background. Ayn Rand was born in Russia in 1905. She experienced first-hand the soul-crushing oppression of collectivism during the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s police state. Her father’s shop was twice taken over by the government and quickly run into the ground by incompetent bureaucrats. After immigrating to the United States in her twenties, Rand formulated her own philosophy, which she humbly titled “Objectivism.” Objectivism promotes reason as the only means of attaining knowledge, rejecting any role for faith and religion. In matters of morality, Objectivism glorifies selfishness as a virtue and condemns altruism as misguided at best and immoral at worst. Rand’s philosophy finds clear expression in her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), where the characters serve merely to illustrate her philosophical points. Her views are best encapsulated in the pledge sworn by John Galt, the enigmatic hero of Atlas Shrugged: “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Now if that doesn’t just throw up a red flag right there, then I’m a wealthy African prince and I have a business opportunity to discuss with you. For starters, how could any family—that unit most crucial to our survival and civilization—have ever developed if each of its members (fathers, mothers, children) followed this principal? Even Rand’s hero, Aristotle, began with the family as the basic unit of society and therefore politics, but not Rand. Instead she elevates the happiness of the individual as the highest moral imperative while ignoring the fact that we are social and emotional beings. Our happiness is bound together with those closest to us, and the most beautiful part of our nature is our willingness to put aside our own desires for something we truly love, be it our children, our community, or our country. Rand’s selfishness principal is also decidedly anti-Christian as Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice. He put aside his love of his own life to save ours, and he asks us to join him in this sacrifice. In 10 Books Conservatives Must Read—Plus Five Not to Miss and One Imposter (Atlas Shrugged being the imposter), Benjamin Wiker convincingly argues that Rand’s so-called Objectivism was really just her own thinly veiled narcissism. She defined “reason” as “whatever I happen to believe,” blasting any and all critics as hopelessly irrational. Worst of all, she began an open affair with a much younger follower, Nathaniel Brandon, and expected her husband and his wife to just accept it. After all, if each man lives only for his own happiness, then wives and husbands have no right to limit the sexual acts of their spouses or saddle them with outdated, “irrational” expectations of fidelity. Yet when Brandon began an affair with another woman, Rand excommunicated him from her band of sycophantic followers.

Readers are probably more familiar with the Atkins Diet than Objectivism. Almost all of us have tried to lose weight at one point or another. Not all of us are tempted to even begin a 1200 page book that contains a 50 page speech as part of its climax. Robert Atkins was unhappy being overweight and unhealthy, just as Rand was unhappy living in Stalinist Russia. Atkins found success after following a low-carbohydrate diet and began recommending the same approach to his cardiology patients, ultimately publishing them in Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution (1972). In the initial stage of the diet, virtually all carbs are off limits, including fruits and vegetables. Deprived of glucose, the body is forced to use fats as its primary fuel source. It is during this initial phase that most dieters experience weight loss, which can be significant.

However, at least in my experience, almost all of its followers end up abandoning the Atkins Diet as weight loss tapers off dramatically after the initial period of success. I have personally suffered under the Atkins Diet, and it is not pleasant to deprive your body of the energy it needs in this fashion. Any weight loss I experienced was as short-lived as the satisfaction I obtained from living my life for myself and myself alone. Incidentally, Rand’s Objectivist philosophy is most popular among young adults with limited real-world experiences.

Hopefully the similarities between the Atkins Diet and Objectivism are beginning to emerge, but let me try to complete the analogy.

For starters, both run counter to the conventional wisdom. For decades, fat was the enemy of any diet, and “low-fat” products from mayonnaise to cookies were the way to go. Likewise, corporate greed and the selfishness of the 1% have proved attractive targets for politicians and movements pledging to rid the world of these evils. The Atkins Diet and Objectivism succeed in illustrating the flaws of the conventional wisdom, especially their inability to achieve the desired outcome. Show me someone who has lost weight eating low-fat mayonnaise and low-fat cookies, and I’ll show you the society that has helped the poor by demonizing and punishing the rich.

Both stand against the right things, whether it’s processed sugars and flour on the one hand or big government corruption and collectivism on the other. Eating a bunch of chemically processed simple carbs is certainly no way to live. Neither is collectivism—whether it takes the form of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or Hitler’s Nazi state. Just ask anyone who’s ever tried. Atkins is correct in defending some amount of fat as being necessary for us to feel full and our bodies to meet our basic needs, especially brain health. Rand is correct in defending the individual against the encroachment of the state. She expertly illustrates how big government liberalism taxes the profits of “evil corporations” in order to fund their generosity while simultaneously vilifying the lifeblood of their supposedly benevolent schemes.

Both are attractive in their simplicity. The Atkins Diet has one cardinal rule: Protein= good, Carbs= bad. Objectivism has one cardinal rule: Selfishness= good, Anything that limits the individual’s pursuit of his own happiness= bad. Yet the same simplicity that makes these heresies attractive is also what makes them dangerous if not impossible to follow. Are all carbs really bad? Surely there is a difference between a sweet potato and a Twix bar, just as there is a difference between a lean cut of salmon and a fatty Porterhouse. In Rand’s case, self-interest can be good. Adam Smith argues in the Wealth of Nations that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” In a free and competitive marketplace, allowing individuals to pursue their own self-interest can benefit society as a whole. But there has to be a limit. Most of us would condone selling cupcakes or flowers for a profit, but not our children’s organs. While self-interest can prove as a useful means to an end—economic growth, for example—it cannot become the end itself. Even a society built around capitalism must also show compassion to the poor and avoid the Social Darwinist mantra of “survival of the fittest.”

A good diet would incorporate the good parts of the Atkins Diet, leave out the bad, and put it all in a comprehensive framework. The best way to lose weight and live a healthy life is to eat real foods found in nature—lettuce, fish, berries, nuts, whole grains, eggs. How many times have we been told that diets don’t work, only lifestyle choices? Michael Pollan states it best in the title of his book In Defense of Food: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple enough, right? So why do we constantly search for quick fixes and follow fad diets when common sense tells us exactly what to do?

Conservatism properly understood is like a healthy, well-balanced diet. It puts self-interest in its proper context and urges moderation and prudence. Conservatives favor limited government and the strong protection of individual liberties because these are the conditions that best allow man to fulfill his moral potential. We must take personal responsibility for our own lives and decisions, relying more on our families and neighbors than a distant, impersonal government. By surrendering our freedom of choice to the state in exchange for the promise it will provide for and protect us, we delegate our moral responsibilities and forfeit the very thing that makes us human to begin with—free will. Big government liberalism keeps us in a permanent state of adolescent immaturity, and it is no surprise that one big side effect is the moral degeneration of our culture.

Conservatives know that we cannot change the basic composition of man’s nature. (You are not going to look like that supermodel on TV after six weeks of using an Ab Master.) We cannot create heaven on earth, and any promised utopia that simplifies reality will quickly devolve into a dystopia. Ideologies like communism, socialism, or modern-day liberalism offer a magic pill to cure society of its ills in much the same fashion that diet pills claim to help you shed 30 pounds in a month without having to exercise or change your eating habits. They prey on our emotions, hooking us with dreams of “hope and change,” but in the end they make us poorer and less healthy, left to chase the next miracle cure in a vicious cycle of disappointment. It’s not that liberals care about people and conservatives don’t. Liberals make false promises that only exacerbate the problems they seek to solve, while conservatives must make the moral case that our ideas are not just expedient and practical but compassionate as well.

The final ironic similarity between the Atkins Diet and Objectivism is that the founders of both heresies suffered profoundly for their misguided beliefs. Rand died miserable and unhappy and alone, having alienated or destroyed those closest to her. Robert Atkins suffered a heart attack in 2002 and died a year later after slipping on icy pavement.

If there is any good to be found in either of these deeply flawed philosophies, it is the danger that comes from taking a small slice of the truth and blowing it out of proportion to the exclusion of everything else. While America seems to have gotten over its momentary infatuation with the Atkins Diet—his company eventually went bankrupt after declining sales—the lure of Objectivism remains. In a 1998 online poll of most influential books of the 20th century, Atlas Shrugged ranked #1. Conservatives would do well to reject Objectivism and make the moral case for a conservatism that respects and benefits the individual, the family, and society as a whole. John Rogers says it best in this famous quote:

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”