On Contemporary Life & Culture

Motives matter.  Upholding “political correctness” can be motivated by respect and kindness for others, and it can be motivated by desires to discourage diversity, to appear sophicated or superior, and to engineer society.  Upholding “free speech” can be motivated by desires for honest and interactive inquiry, and it can be used to justify rhetoric with hateful and hurtful intentions.  This is why it’s too simplistic to pit political correctness against free speech.  Both have value and both can be corrupted.  Someone who foolishly wishes to trash political correctness completely underappreciates the value of positive social expectations and taboos, whereas someone who mindlessly adheres to social rules underappreciates how codifications of behaviour can become subtly or not-so-subtly used as tools of social control and manipulation.  We must recognize the ways polical correctness and freedom of speech can be corrupted by harmful motives. And we must see the good and necessary impulses that support upholding political correctness and free speech at their best: kindness, respect, openness, honesty, and truthfulness, to name a few.

Such virtues cannot be legislated.  Nobody can be forced by law to genuinely respect another person, nor can anyone be forced to be honest or truthful.  All of these virtues are are voluntary acts.  Laws may be used to discourage certain behaviours, but mere laws cannot create authentic internal virtues.  Real respect and kindness and honesty arise from the depths of a person’s soul.  If we wish to truly create a more respectful, kind, truthful culture, we’ll need to rely on much more than the power and persuasion of legislative reforms.  What

On Contemporary Life & Culture

Truth can withstand scrutiny.  Truth can weather debate.  Anyone who says or acts otherwise should be questioned.  Whenever “the truth” needs to be protected from scrutiny, it likely isn’t the truth that’s being protected.  Whenever “the truth” needs to defended by shaming or silencing questioners, it likely isn’t the truth that’s being defended.  Red flags should go up whenever “the truth” is protected by taboos or fears, whether in religion or society or politics.  Insults should never substitute for arguments, nor learned prejudices for careful reasoning.  Some hide idiosyncratic preferences behind an apparent banner of “TRUTH” because they wish to justify forcing something on others that is, in the end, unjustifiable.  The truth can stand for itself.  This is not a diatribe against kindness or empathy either.  Real truth, real kindness, and real empathy are not at odds.  To think they are would be a terrible mistake.  An ethical pursuit of what’s true will be done with real kindness and empathy.  To suggest “kindness” or “empathy” should limit an honest pursuit of truth is a non-sequitur that also happens to obscure what kindness and empathy really are.

Empathy and diversity can become buzzwords without substance.  Sadly, it is possible to extol the virtues of empathy and diversity without really practicing empathy or welcoming diversity. There is something ironic whenever a proponent of empathy and diversity cannot stand listening to others express opinions that deviate from their own. What some advocates of “empathy” and “diversity” paradoxically want is for others to homogenize around their preferences, viewpoints, and values.  Selfishness is called empathy and uniformity is called diversity in some confused vocabularies.  Image and reality become estranged, with potentially tragic results.  This should trouble anyone who genuinely wishes to understand and welcome and celebrate other people without manipulating or forcing them to conform to oneself or one’s group as a prerequisite.  And it should likewise trouble anyone who cares about naming illusions in seeking what’s true.

If we don’t actively pursue the truth, individually and collectively, we may become “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching,” to use some words of the Apostle Paul.  Someone will always come fill whatever voids can be found in our minds and public spaces.  So for the love of truth, carefully question, honestly listen, critically discuss, and please speak your mind with all the integrity and conviction your heart can summon.

On Contemporary Life & Culture

Ethically speaking, I am pro-life and pro-choice.  I think that human life should be preserved and protected, because I believe that life is incredibly valuable, even sacred.  In other words, I am pro-life.  And yet I also think that human beings should be allowed to live in freedom, allowed to make their own decisions in accordance with their own conscience, because I believe that every human being has inherent dignity.   So I am also pro-choice.  Notice that I am not talking about abortion or about what I think should be legal or illegal.  I am just talking about two basic ethical principles which I happen to hold to be true in life in general.

That said, the issue of abortion is obviously where these principles often clash most dramatically today, not just in terms of what is ethical but also in terms of what should or shouldn’t be legal.  So there is an ethical dilemma and a legal dilemma.  Ethically speaking, should I defend the rights of unborn babies to live or should I defend the rights of pregnant mothers to make their own decisions?  Or is my ethical obligation, as a man, simply to not have an opinion and to not get involved in the issue, one way or another, since I will never have to personally decide whether to have or not have an abortion?  These are the only possibilities that I can come up with.  And honestly I struggle to come to a clearcut opinion.

Legally speaking, how can the aforementioned ethical principles be translated into public laws?  Should the rights of unborn babies take precedence over the rights of pregnant women, or should the rights of pregnant women take legal precedence over the rights of unborn babies?  Some would say that we shouldn’t attempt to legislate ethics in the first place.  But I think this entirely misses the point, at least as far as abortion is concerned.  The legislative interests of both those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice are justified on the basis of ethical convictions. So the issue is not about whether we should or shouldn’t legislate ethical principles whatsoever; the issue is about which ethical principles should have legislative precedence.  For both sides, this does not merely involve a legislative choice.  It also involves an ethical choice.  And again, I personally struggle to know how the two aforementioned ethical principles should be translated into laws on this issue.

Theologically and generally speaking, I am inclined to think that God is pro-life and pro-choice.  It is likely unsurprising to suggest that, from a Christian point of view, God desires us to protect and preserve life.  This does not need further explanation here.  But what about God and human freedom?  In a world that is overwhelmed with suffering and evil, one of the simplest and most compelling theodicies in defence of God’s goodness can be summed up like this: God is pro-choice.  Affirming this definitely does not mean that God would necessarily approve of whatever choices we make.  It simply means that God has chosen to allow us to make real choices, whether he approves of them or not, because he respects our freedom.  Indeed, if God’s essence is unconditional and uncontrolling love, then God has accordingly created us with the capacity to make real, free choices for the ultimate purpose of sharing love with us—because real love cannot exist where there is not mutual liberty and devotion.  A convoluted way to put this is that God wants us to want him, and God wants us to want each other, all for love’s sake.  It means that God’s greatest desire is that we would be partners, not puppets.  It means that God’s love is not coercive or controlling.

So where does that leave me on the issue of abortion?  And where does that leave us?  I’m still processing this one, honestly.  I have not been able to find any easy answers.  I think that any thoughtful stance on this dilemma will have to have its nuances and balances; it will have to consider the whole issue and not selectively attend to those parts, or perhaps I should say persons, that we may passionately prefer to ally with.

On Contemporary Life & Culture

“We are living in the greatest revolution in history—a huge spontaneous upheaval of the entire human race: not the revolution planned and carried out by any particular party, race, or nation, but a deep elemental boiling over of all the inner contradictions that have ever been in man, a revelation of the chaotic forces inside of everybody. This is not something we have chosen, nor is it something we are free to avoid.

This revolution is a profound spiritual crisis of the whole world, manifested largely in desperation, cynicism, violence, conflict, self-contradiction, ambivalence, fear and hope, doubt and belief, creation and destructiveness, progress and regression, obsessive attachments to images, idols, slogans, programs that only dull the general anguish for a moment until it bursts out everywhere in a still more acute and terrifying form. We do not know if we are building a fabulously wonderful world or destroying all that we have ever had, all that we have achieved!

All the inner force of man is boiling and bursting out, the good together with the evil, the good poisoned by the evil and fighting it, the evil pretending to be good and revealing itself in the most dreadful crimes, justified and rationalized by the purest and most innocent intentions.”  —Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

On Contemporary Life & Culture

One of our most precious personal resources is our attention.  We only have so much of it, which means we can’t take in everyone and everything around us.  This can be a real irksome thing for wanna-be know-it-alls, much like gravity would be an irksome thing to someone who dreams of flying.  So we must choose what people we will listen to, what writings we will read, what videos we will watch, what things we will contemplate.  In other words, each one of us is personally responsible for deciding, every day, in every moment: who/what will I intentionally give my attention to?

We live in the Too Much Information Age.  Our time and our culture is filled with an incredible amount of things that clamour for our attention.  So, not surprisingly, we often spread our attention far too wide and thin.  This is an increasingly common problem.  It is a problem because it’s quite easy to end up perpetually tired and mentally frayed if one doesn’t exercise some considerable self-restraint these days.  What’s more, attending to too much and being constantly busy and exhausted has even become a desirable status symbol, at least to some.  It can be incredibly tempting, if not expected, to constantly multitask.  And it’s so convenient to fill every spare second with reading or hearing or watching or browsing or posting or playing (sometimes multiple) things.  Yet each of these activities, no matter how undemanding, takes up some of our attention.

Sometimes the multiple currents of people and things that we allow to flow through our minds might seem to be too powerful for us to resist, as if they’re far stronger than any will power we might be able to muster up to fight against them.  But we do have control over a great deal of what we allow to flow through our minds.  We do make many, many choices for what we will decide to give our focus to (though what once was a free choice may have turned into a habit, which may have turned into an instinct, which may have turned into an addiction).  But the point is, regardless of our choices, habits, instincts, and addictions, we are not totally helpless individuals who are mere victims of our excessive surroundings.  We have, to at least some degree, the power to choose what we will attend to.

Making this decision can be hard because we often feel like we would be missing out on something great if we’re not constantly on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.  That we would be missing out if we don’t listen to an endless stream of podcasts, and watch an inordinate number of TedTalks, and fact-check every single flash of curiosity that enters our mind against Wikipedia.  But what if we’re actually missing out on something even greater when we choose to indulge ourselves in every available distraction?

The bottom line is, we will always be missing out on something.  We will always miss out on something because we are limited people with limited attention spans, which is to say we are not omni-present and omni-scient creatures.  What we decide to miss out on is simply the negative side of our positive choice.  Though it can be a tough choice to make—perhaps, when taken to it’s most profound level, the toughest choice of our lives—it’s much better to strive to make it and be intentional about what we devote ourselves to.  Otherwise we will likely indulge ourselves with whatever or whoever is loudest or funniest or most demanding or most popular (which, however surprising, will not always or even often be the same as what will most fulfill us).

What we choose to devote our lives to is a decision that deserves plenty of thought and consideration; a decision that we will often make and re-make throughout our lives.  But this big decision is formed by all the little decisions we make in our daily lives.  What we will become in the future will develop out of what we will choose to be now; what we do with our lives will develop out of what we do with each present, ever-passing moment.  And all of this is inextricably tied up with what we devote our minds to, whether passively or actively.  So it is so important, so worthwhile, to be in the habit of asking ourselves, what will I intentionally give my attention to?  In the age of Too Much Information, one of the most uncommon and even rebellious decisions one can make to actually choose to ignore some popular people and things that clamour for one’s attention for the purpose of being devoted more fully to one’s deepest passions.