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Management Sheep Dip
Friday, March 2, 2012, 8:28 AM

When I was a graduate student in public administration about 20 years ago, one of my professors was the much-published, much-decorated Robert Golembiewski.  He was almost as wide as he was tall, had a terrific head of white hair with accompanying white beard and mustache, and proudly displayed a large poster for Polish Solidarity (SOLIDARNOSC!) on the door to his office.

John Mark Reynolds and Houston Baptist University
Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 9:07 AM

I posted my thoughts over at my personal site, but I think there the Mere Comments community will be interested, so I’m posting them here, as well.

As many of you know, I worked for Robert Sloan as a writer while I was doing my doctoral work at Baylor and then as a director of strategic planning and associate provost at Houston Baptist University.  Those jobs changed my life.  They gave me a vocation.  I have not doubted my calling since it came to me so clearly during those years.

I felt that I had to leave HBU in order to be closer to my parents (for a variety of reasons, mostly a debilitating health condition which has troubled my mother) and found an opportunity at Union University.  Though it was extraordinarily difficult to leave (and I struggled with an outpouring of emotion almost daily), I looked forward with anticipation to learning from David Dockery just as I did from Robert Sloan.  God has been gracious.  Union has been a good place for me.

The years at HBU were tremendously satisfying.  In God’s providence, we put together a strong ten year plan for the university, reformed the core curriculum (in a rigorous, traditional sense), established an honors college, and brought about substantial growth in both the physical aspect of the campus and in the student body.

Change happens.  I left for Union.  Paul Bonicelli (once a key part of establishing Patrick Henry College, too) moved on to an executive vice presidency at Regent University (where he is already doing good things).  And now John Mark Reynolds assumes the title of provost at HBU.  He has exactly the right sensibility about academic content for an institution that seeks to be a truly classical Christian liberal arts university.  I look forward with great anticipation to seeing him establish the same kind of loving and scholarly association at HBU that he brought into being at Biola in the form of the Torrey Institute.

I should add that I hope John Mark does not merely take his gifts to HBU, while Biola loses them.  Rather, I echo his hope that the work at Biola goes on while a new one takes root at HBU.  Let the good work multiply rather than simply transferring.

HBU has dared much these past several years.  It is my prayer that God will bring greater things of it than any of us have dreamed or intended.

A Hyperbolic Claim about the HHS Mandate?
Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 4:09 PM

The LA Times blog referred to my friend Ben Mitchell and his fellow panelists at the hearing on the HHS mandate as “hyperbolic.”  Mitchell, in particular, employed Roger Williams’ famous comparison of violations of religious liberty with “the rape of the soul.”

It is interesting to note that religious people, of a variety of persuasions, tend to naturally understand how serious a problem the HHS mandate presents.  What the department did, deliberately and with full knowledge of the consequences, was to create a very real and urgent crisis for institutions with a religious identity (especially the Catholic ones).  We could call this kind of crisis a “God and Caesar crisis” in which an individual or a community must choose between obeying God or obeying the coercive force of government.  “Rape” is not an absurd metaphor to employ when we are talking about the use of raw power to force an action against conviction.

Now, it is obvious that religious belief cannot command a blank check, but the old standard was essentially that religious belief (and action) would remain undisturbed as long as it did not pose a threat to the peace and safety of the community.  It should be obvious that declining to fund contraceptives in an insurance policy is far from an affirmative threat to either peace or safety.  After all, there are many low cost ways to obtain contraceptives and no one is forced to work for a religious employer.  The coercion being employed is what is hyperbolic.  No one should be forced into a God and Caesar crisis with so little regard for the alternatives and so little regard for conscience.

The End of Secularism and the HHS Mandate
Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 10:23 AM

The primary point of my first book, The End of Secularism, was to demonstrate that secularism doesn’t do what it claims to do, which is to solve the problem of religious difference.  As I look at the  administration’s attempt to mandate that religious employers pay for contraceptive products, I see that they have confirmed one of my charges in the book.

I wrote that secularists claim that they are occupying a neutral position in the public square, but in reality they are simply another group of contenders working to implement a vision of community life with which they are comfortable.  And guess what?  They are not comfortable with many of the fundamental beliefs of Christians.  Regrettably, many secularists are also statists.  Thus, their discomfort with Christian beliefs results in direct challenges to them in the form of mandatory public policy.

Collectivism is often very appealing to Christians who want to do good for their neighbors.  Unfortunately, collectivism is frequently a fellow-traveler of aggressive secularism with little respect for religious liberty.  The veil has slipped.  I hope we do not too quickly forget what was revealed in that moment.  Collectivism gives.  But it also takes.  And what it takes is very often precious and irreplaceable.

Rationality and the Gay Marriage Question
Friday, February 10, 2012, 3:10 PM

Before I begin, I will make an upfront admission that I can certainly understand the reasons why a significant number of people believe gay marriage should be affirmed by the state.  John Stuart Mill’s arguments regarding liberty make enough sense to cause me to look skeptically at any action or policy of the government which would infringe on human freedom without a corresponding argument for restricting a harm.

However, I am extremely troubled by the recent trend of courts finding legal policies against gay marriage irrational and only supportable as a matter of religious belief.  It seems to me that there are ways one could find that the traditional view of marriage is rational.  I am focused on this issue because I was taught in law school that the court would essentially never overturn any law for failure to meet rational-basis scrutiny.  The fact that courts are now overturning laws on exactly that basis leads me to believe that jurists think there is no rational way to think marriage should be confined to male-female pairings.  That way of thinking is, I believe, very dangerous to the notions of self-government and republicanism.

Thinking in terms of what is rational and what is not, I would like to set forth what I think should be considered a rational account of why marriage should remain a male-female arrangement.  My own view might be different in important ways from this one, but I am trying to present something that is non-religious in nature and which I think should be capable of being accepted as rational by any person.  Note:  “rational” does not mean that it convinces you.  It merely means that you could see the argument as a position a person could hold without being, basically, crazy.

So, here is one rational account of why marriage should be confined to opposite sex couples.  As you read, keep in mind that you need only find the account rational (i.e. not crazy) rather than truly persuasive.

Men and women are obviously complementary in nature.  This is not a matter of holy writ.  Without the man and the woman, it is not possible to produce children.  Without the ability to produce children, the political community has no future whatsoever.  It will die out like the Shakers, who chose celibacy.  This interest in the future is clearly a political interest since the political community emerges from families.  Families form villages.  Villages form towns.  Towns grow into cities.  And so on.  Male-female marriage is the basis of the political community.  For that reason, it is obviously rational for the political community to take an interest in affirming, sustaining, and protecting male-female marriage.  

Same-sex pairings are not procreative.  The answer will come back that many heterosexual marriages are not procreative.  That is true, but the marriage is still rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and the complementary sex act.  The man and woman share an intimate relationship based on the way their bodies are made to fit together.  You could say God made this design.  You could say it emerged from evolution.  Regardless, it is clear that the male sex organ and the female sex organ work in harmony in a way that the male sex organ and a non-sexual male organ do not.  This biological fact is the reason for the long existence of marriage between men and women.  Marriage would not exist without it.  

Homosexuality was once considered a disorder.  Looking back on those who thought so, can we say with great confidence that their conclusion was invidious or irrational?  Or was it to some degree a reasonable position to take considering that the desire to engage in sexual stimulation (not intercourse as that is impossible) with members of the same sex is highly atypical for human beings and, biologically speaking, does not make sense?  And there is little question of that.  Biologically speaking, the act of a man attempting to have sex with a man or a woman having sex with a woman makes no sense at all.  

There are a number of atypical behaviors to which some human beings appear to be predisposed.  We do not need to make a list, but I am sure we can agree that such behaviors exist.  Our reaction to these atypical behaviors is mostly to accept without having to positively affirm.  

Given these realities, it is not surprising at all that the history of marriage has been the history of men and women marrying each other.  Marriage is a direct consequence of the biological complementarity of the sexes.  While we should not positively inhibit same-sex pairings, we should not give those pairings the same status as male-female marriage.

Based on what has been written above, is it clearly irrational for the government to favor the traditional and biologically sensible form of marriage?  One might characterize these remarks as insensitive or unpleasant or out of fashion, but would it be fair to say that they are irrational?  One may easily disagree, but would you regard these remarks in the class of comments claiming the moon is made of green cheese?  Could you not easily say, “I disagree with what this person has said, but it is a rational  reason to oppose gay marriage.  If I have a vote on the matter, I will cast my vote against this position.”  To do THAT, to cast a vote in favor of gay marriage, is a fundamentally different exercise than to do what courts have done by simply ruling that the person or institution opposing gay marriage is irrational.

What we are talking about is a few different arguments, some stronger and some weaker, in contest over a social innovation with potentially large consequences (frankly, we just don’t know what they might be).  I do not see what many courts see, which is one highly logical and rational argument squaring off against one that is irrational, superstitious, and religious.  If the standard is merely that laws confining marriage to opposite sex couples merely need be considered rational by some low standard of rationality, then it seems to me that the courts have decided wrongly.

The courts do not have the privilege of filling the law with content.  Marriage laws are already very full of content.  The content is centered around men and women marrying.  There is a very simple way of changing that content.  It involves making arguments in the public square and voting.  Such a process is the natural course of democracy and has the advantage of not turning a group of lawyers into sages capable of determining the moral (or rational) content of law.

The Reversal of Proposition 8: A Dangerous Legal Precedent
Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 9:30 AM

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has acted to reverse the democratic decision of the people of California to confine marriage to its traditional parameters of a man and a woman.  In making this decision, the court decided that it could overturn the will of the people of California on the basis of what is known in legal circles as “the rational basis standard.”

When evaluating the violation of fundamental rights, the court has often used a standard of “strict scrutiny” in cases involving racial or religious discrimination.  By that standard, the petitioner frequently wins.  In cases of gender discrimination, the court has relied on a kind of intermediate scrutiny.

The rational basis standard is a different bird.  We were taught (as have been law students for a long time) that under the rational basis standard, the government would almost always win because the burden of establishing irrationality is so high.  My liberal New York Jewish law professor taught us that the court would only find a state action irrational if it did something like declare that everyone must wear one green shoe on Tuesday.

The Ninth Circuit has now effectively said that to believe marriage is a matter for a man and a woman is to be so irrational as to declare that everyone must wear one green shoe on Tuesday.

Now, I understand that many readers may favor expanding marriage to include same sex unions.  And there are reasons to support that move.  But the case is not so overwhelmingly strong as to render the opposite conclusion nonsensical.

This is an important case.  If a handful of individuals can declare a particular point of view completely irrational (a democratically expressed view), then we are not a republic.  We are an oligarchy.

On L’affaire Planned Parenthood and the Susan Komen Foundation
Wednesday, February 1, 2012, 8:00 PM

Planned Parenthood is busy sending a very clear foundation to every foundation that has ever given it money:

If you stop giving us money, we’ll stalk you like Misery stalked poor James Caan.  

The nation’s largest abortion provider is working hard to make sure nobody ever leaves it AGAIN.

Should Evangelicals Give Up on Christian Politics?
Monday, January 30, 2012, 1:33 PM

The University Bookman asked me to review D.G. Hart’s book on how evangelicals have subverted conservative politics.  While I appreciate his strength of mind and his craft, I disagree with his thesis that striving for something like a biblical politics is a non-starter.  Here’s a clip:

As a professor at a Christian college, I must cede to Hart and his argument in this excellent and provocative book that many of us do live and work inside a movement aimed at extending the lordship of Jesus Christ to politics and every other endeavor of human life. Certainly, I can understand how many Christian political ideas and efforts add up to a “betrayal” of conservatism as Hart sees it. But the call to evangelicals to give up this task of developing a Christian politics and attempting to bring it into being through persuasion, office-seeking, and other work is unlikely to succeed.

The first major barrier is the immense effort (specifically of the last quarter century) that has gone into encouraging Christians to “think Christianly” about every area of their lives, including politics. The second barrier is the related lack of desire that evangelicals have to return to something like the early Falwellian position that the church has no business encouraging activism with regard to matters of domestic (such as race) or international policy (such as the Cold War). That form of church-state separation looks in the rear-view mirror very much like the pitiable refuge of those who were more concerned about intra-congregation conflict than with calling for righteous action.

While Hart likely does not intend to frame exactly this message, in some ways the very civil and erudite complaint against overly ambitious Christian politics comes across as a call for Christians to subordinate their faith (or at least a prominent interpretation thereof) to conservatism. He seems to be encouraging a political secularism of the right at exactly the time when Christians have been working vigorously to do away with it as an excuse for not bringing ideas from the church into the public square.

You can read the whole thing here.

“Love Makes Me Rather Terrible”: A Review of Troll Valley by Lars Walker
Thursday, January 26, 2012, 10:15 PM

My primary complaint with Lars Walker is that I have read all of his books.  He set his hook deep with Year of the Warrior.  I have hungered for more ever since.

Lars wrote his first three books (Year of the Warrior, Wolf Time, and Blood and Judgment) for the well-known sci-fi and fantasy publisher Baen Books.  I’m not sure that Baen ever really knew how to market Lars’ work.  Still, he has a growing cult following.  I am convinced there is money to be made in buying the rights to his work from Baen.

He wrote a fourth volume for Nordskog (a sequel to Year of the Warrior called West Oversea).  I heartily recommend them all, though Year is my personal favorite.  I have read from it to stunned silence from underclassmen and professors alike.  The book has impact.  Gene Veith prefers Wolf Time.

Now, Lars has bravely taken the path of writing a book directly for Amazon and the other ebook formats.  Troll Valley is available for a mere $2.99 at Amazon.  I happily loaded it on my kindle and read it like some guilty pleasure which would occasionally turn my emotions inside out.

The story revolves around a young man named Chris Anderson.  He is the grandchild of Norwegian immigrants living in Minnesota in the early 20th century.  There are three outstanding facts about Chris.  He has a deformed arm he bitterly compares to a duck’s wing.  He has an honest-to-goodness fairy godmother (it is she who is made terrible by her love for him).  And when he feels angry, inferior, or threatened, strange things happen.  Though it sounds like it, this book is not for children.

I am not enough of a student of literature to say what genre this book fits into, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would call it something like Christian magical realism.  Lars has a special gift for writing engrossing stories which also contain many lessons, most of them about the faith.

I urge you to start reading the books written by this talented and wise man.  Troll Valley at $2.99 is not a bad place to start.

The Peter Drucker You Never Knew . . .
Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 12:50 PM

Most readers will recognize Peter Drucker’s name as the author of many books about management.  The Austrian immigrant was revered in that field and sold millions of books.  Few realize, though, that his academic training was actually in international law and that he moved toward business out of his conviction that management is a liberal art.  I have embarked upon a research project to read and understand his social thought.  In the process of reading his first book, The End of Economic Man, I have run into many gems, including this one:

Realization of freedom and equality was first sought in the spiritual sphere.  The creed that all mean are equal in the world beyond and free to decide their fate in the other world by their actions and thoughts in this one, which, accordingly, is but a preparation for the real life, may have been only an attempt to keep the masses down, as the eighteenth century and the Marxists assert.  But to the people in the eleventh or in the thirteenth century the promise was real.  That every Last Judgment at a church door shows popes, bishops, and kings in damnation was not just the romantic fantasy of a rebellious stonemason.  It was a real and truthful expression of that epoch of our history which projected freedom and equality into the spiritual sphere.
This is not the stuff of The Effective Executive, but it is great stuff.

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