The fifth installment of the “Is Religion Good for the World” debate between Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens is up here. Commentary isn’t really even charitable at this point. Wilson captured it well via Tombstone: “You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?”.
2. Despite being a ‘witty’ guitarist (as my friend Davis once described him), Chris’ one time band mate and R.A.T.M. guitarist Tom Morello’s new independent project The Nightwatchman is, unfortunately, pretty average awful. Talk about making it in the industry by resting on your laurels. I feel better about the music I write now.
3. Here is the second installment of the Wilson/Hitchens debate. Though he tries to make a comeback in instalment three, and takes a few dazed swings in Wilson’s general direction in installment four, it appears that Hitchens already has his back to the ropes and is trying to wrap Wilson in a sweaty, desperate bear-hug. I expected a better fight. For all of his (substantial) writing skills, Hitchen’s trash talk looks like it was just that: Talk. He doesn’t seem to be able to follow Wilson’s very basic arguments. Maybe sparring with Kirk Cameron and the Revrund Sharpton have made him soft.
4. I’m currently starting 2 new books: My Antonia and The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (yes, that’s really the subtitle: yikes!). I have to admit, I’m not excited about either, but here I go anyway. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised by at least one.
5. Steve Bishop has an interesting discussion of annihilationism here. Hadn’t really thought much about this topic, but I like the idea that it will ruffle both liberal and fundamentalist feathers alike.
6. Portishead are, by all appearances, still working on their third studio album. The word is that a release date is immanent. In the meantime, here’s a video of a live performance of “Wandering Star”, one of my alltime favorites, sans drums, which gives it a very creepy vibe. Here’s praying they hop the pond for a few shows.
Though conservatives (especially of the Ford-truck-buying persuasion) often use the language of nationalism, I wonder if any Americans really think of themselves as Americans the way an Englishman thinks of himself as fundamentally British, or an Irishman as Irish.
The emphasis on individual autonomy inherent in our very founding seems to have created a situation in which we identify more with, if nothing else, our ideologies than with the nation itself.
Indeed, I would argue that we do not have a nation at all, but a collective of autonomous individuals loosely bound together by law. American culture seeks to avoid definition, and instead is obsessed with ‘diversity’, those things which do not define but rather differentiate.
I find it interesting that if someone asks you where you are from, or about your ‘racial’ heritage (as bogus a concept as that is), Americans will tend to talk about their old-world heritage. I’m not an Idahoan, I’m an Irish-American. Or African-American. Or Scotish, or Latin or…whatever bit of ethnicity you’ve decided to latch on to out of your Heinz-57 family tree.
We are a country of wannabe-expatriates. This partially has to do with the historical formation of our nation, and maybe the memory of that has just not worked itself out yet. But it is interesting that we find being an American so blase, and desire to racially and culturally identify ourselves (in however tenuous a fashion) with some other nation or, failing that, with an ideology. And that is somehow part of the very definition of the American experiment.
In our post-enlightenment world, we can address no topic without coming to the subject of someone or something’s “rights”. All political and social questions come down to this. Women’s rights, Animal rights, consumer rights, the right to bear arms, the rights of a mother, the rights of a baby, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (whatever that is). We define ourselves and delineate the boundaries of our actions and the actions of others in terms of what is owed to us and what may not be done to us.
But this is a bass-ackwards way to look at the world. Defining a worldview in terms of “rights” truncates our lives. It is an anemic and miserly way to approach relationships. Rights look at the minimum required and the maximum owed, and so require an infinitely quantifiable description of whatever aspect of life is being addressed. This is not just inadvisable, or even sinfully selfish: In the end it is nonsense.
Instead of grasping at our “rights”, we should rather define our lives and determine our agenda in terms of “duties“. Duties create positive and outward-looking relationships, which tend to be qualitatively measured.
Practically, this difference of outlook would make an enormous difference in our approach to every issue that confronts us:
How ought we to treat animals?
It is not a question of our rights vs. the rights of other creatures. What are our duties toward our fellow creatures? What are our responsibilities? The dominion mandate is not about what we are allowed to take, but rather how we are required to give, to sacrifice, to nurture and care for the Lord’s other creatures.
How ought we to care for the environment?
Again, it is not a question of what we are allowed to take. As Christians, we understand that it is man’s duty to nurture and care for the world that we have been given. We are to be about redeeming the world: A good king is a king who sacrifices for his subjects. What exactly that looks like down on the ground is another question, but framing the debate in terms of duties changes everything, for conservatives and liberals alike.
How ought we to look at the issue of abortion?
For conservatives, this may seem like a simple question (Murder is wrong. Duh.). But that does not answer the ‘women’s rights’ advocate’s very legitimate objections about considering the mother. What would happen if this debate were no longer about who’s rights are being violated, but about duties and obligations? For that matter, custody, alimony, and child-support hearings might look a little different in that context as well.
How ought we to look at economics?
Hard-core conservatives talk about unfettered capitalism like it is some kind of god (which to many, it is). Big box stores and all of the things that get liberal panties in a twist (and I suspect that this is the principle appeal of such things) is just the natural function of the market. Small business owners get edged out, communities fractured, paradise duly paved, but that’s the way it goes, and I have the right to a free-market. Liberals conversely appeal to the rights of the small business man, the rights of the poor, and some generic socialism-lite principles. I’ll talk more about capitalism, charity, and Christianity soon and in as much depth as my education allows, but it will take us a long way in this discussion if we look at it not in terms of what is owed to us, or what has been earned, but rather what our duties are to others. This changes the whole debate, from both sides.
We have no rights. The greatest commandment is to Love God. And the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself. These are duties, obligations. Every discussion of every issue should be framed in terms of how we can fulfill our duties.
This post is the best so far in a great series of posts by one Doug Wilson on Hitchens’ new book “God is Not Great”. These two gentlemen are also debating the subject online here. And, though probably not as entertaining as the debate between Hitchens and Al Sharpton (For Real!), it seems from all initial signs as if it will be a much more intellectually stimulating affair. Both men’s opening statements pulled no punches, but were at the same time written in an articulate, gracious, and winsom style which is so often absent from similar debates. We hope it will continue as such (and that the commenters will keep their panties un-twisted).
The distinction between relativism and absolute truth is a false dichotomy.