A vanishing breed | Janie B. Cheaney

WORLD Magazine | A vanishing breed | Janie B. Cheaney | Jan 15, 11.

What will happen to society if dismal marriage trends continue? | Janie B. Cheaney

Elizabeth Cole

I once enjoyed the privilege of visiting Greece, where antiquity is so thick even the Athens subway tunnels are museums. But it was at Mycenae that I felt history’s weight. And no wonder: Mycenae, stranded on the rolling plains of the southern coast, is one of the first beachheads of Western civilization.

It was from here that the Greeks sailed to Troy to wage their legendary war. According to Homer, the expedition almost failed before it started: Thwarted by unfavorable winds, King Agamemnon was driven to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to the gods, an act for which his wife Clytemnestra never forgave him. Ten years later, when the king returned, she and her lover murdered him—loosing a chain of events dramatized ca. 500 B.C. by the great Athenian playwright Aeschylus, in his Orestia trilogy.

Orestes is the prince of Mycenae, who feels duty-bound to kill Clytemnestra in revenge for his father. The Furies, ancient earth-­goddesses whose chief function is avenging blood, torment Orestes mercilessly until the sun god Apollo takes the young man’s part. The story becomes a courtroom drama posing this question: Which has greater weight, a blood relationship or a civil contract? Or, is the murder of the husband, not a blood relative, less of a crime than matricide?

The court decides for Orestes. This, according to Charles Hill in his book Grand Strategies, is literary notice of a huge milestone in human progress: the determination that marriage, not blood, is the foundation of civil society. God settled that question in Genesis 2:14, and every civilized culture has followed suit. It’s only in primitive societies that kinship takes precedence, often accompanied by feuds and vendettas.

With California’s Prop 8 under review, we’re rightly concerned about the legal future of same-sex “marriage.” But in the long run, that burning issue may be little more than a side show. The real problem is among heterosexuals.

A study by the National Marriage Project, disturbingly titled When Marriage Disappears, indicates that stable unions are vanishing in the very social strata where they once were strongest: the “moderately educated middle,” or high-school graduates with some college. “In the last three decades,” says project director W. Bradford Wilcox, “nonmarital childbearing, divorce, low-quality marriages and family instability all have been on the rise in middle-American homes. For instance, nonmarital childbearing among women with high school degrees more than tripled in the last three decades—from 13 percent in 1982 to 44 percent in 2006.”

The results are reduced earning power, greater stress, and troubled adolescence leading to a continuation of the cycle: “So the health, wealth and happiness of middle America is taking a serious toll.” The good news is that marriage rates among the more affluent and educated (about 30 percent of the population) have actually improved. But if trends continue, the gap between rich and poor will only widen, with an increasingly hopeless and tumultuous underclass creating havoc outside the gated communities of the happily married. (For more about the National Marriage Project findings, see page 61.)

Years ago, my daughter worked for entertainer Andy Williams in Branson. Part of her job was to be onstage, lip-synching choral background, while Andy sang a medley of his greatest hits. She told me that at every performance, when he segued into “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” she could look into the audience and see gray-haired couples cuddling up in the darkness. Chances are, they were not all soul mates, but they’d molded to each other for 40-plus years. They were the epitome of “middle America” whose grandchildren Wilcox surveyed. Are they also the last of their breed?

We walk around all day with no thought for the ground under our feet. But if the earth turned to Jell-o, we’d notice. While a return to the tribalism and blood feuds of antiquity isn’t likely, social chaos looms. The reformation of our country begins at home.

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Worthy challenge | Marvin Olasky

WORLD Magazine | Worthy challenge | Marvin Olasky | Jan 15, 11.

This year’s big political story was the fall from electoral grace of President Barack Obama. Numerous books attacked his radical agenda—some hysterically, some strongly but reasonably, and one that was particularly well-researched.

I’ll give my recommendations, but let me start with the thought that all of us should start with the biblical admonition to pray for those in authority over us. Roman Christians were to pray for emperors like Nero about whom nothing good could be said either governmentally or personally. We now have a president whose politics most of us rightly disdain, but we should pray for him and thank God that he is faithful to his wife and his children—that’s not something to take for granted.

Respecting President Obama doesn’t mean that he isn’t wrong on just about everything outside his family. His economic policies have led to fewer jobs. His health insurance push, unless overturned, will cost trillions and hurt millions. His foreign policy has heartened America’s enemies. We should concentrate on those tragic errors. We should support authors who do solid research into Obama’s past and develop solid analyses of his policies—plenty to criticize there—while staying away from hysteria and psychological speculation.

Strongly worded books showing Obama’s leftism include Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski, The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency (Lyons Press), and Robert Knight, Radical Rulers: The White House Elites Who Are Pushing America Toward Socialism (Coral Ridge). The best, though, is Stanley Kurtz’s Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (Simon and Schuster, 2010).

Kurtz has done terrific detective work. He documents what the 21-year-old Obama heard at Socialist Scholars Conferences in the early 1980s and charts his activities with leftist groups like UNO (United Neighborhood Organization), the Midwest Academy, the Campaign for Human Development, and the now­notorious ACORN. He documents Obama’s relations with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright and in so doing shows the dereliction of major media in reporting those connections but then dismissing their significance.

Kurtz also reviews Obama’s work in the Illinois state Senate and concludes that “the best way to understand the president’s policies is to see them as a series of steps designed to slowly but surely move the country closer to the socialist ideal.” Kurtz shows how Obama’s “socialist organizing background” trained him in “strategic patience.” Obama’s failure to bring Americans together is a failure only in the gauzy view of political softheads: The evidence supports Kurtz’s view that “Obama’s goal is to polarize the country along class lines, with Republicans marked out as the aggressors.”

This Democratic playbook worked well in 1964, when Barry Goldwater raised the issue of government growth and liberals responded with books like Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics. That book dodged the issues by characterizing the American political right as full of rage at the loss of a mythical past: Status anxiety left conservatives psychologically flawed. The conservative tendency might be to do the same to liberals, but Kurtz shows us the harder and better path.

The conservative goal now should be to resist temptation, keep calm, and carry on: Show what mega-deficits do. Explain why government health care will hurt rather than help. Don’t become a mirror image of the left.

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Pro-Christian atheist | Marvin Olasky

WORLD Magazine | Pro-Christian atheist | Marvin Olasky | Dec 18, 10.

An atheist praising Christianity is like a man biting a dog: It’s news. Atheist Sarah Elizabeth “S.E.” Cupp’s book Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity (Harper, 2010) is attracting second looks because it’s a pro-Christianity book by an atheist. Cupp, 31, is a regular guest on FOX News shows and a much-read blogger and columnist: She was a classically trained ballet dancer, graduated from Cornell, and enjoys fishing, target shooting, and NASCAR races.

Earlier this year you earned a master’s degree in religious studies at New York University, but I gather you made it up as you went along? I did, I made it up. You could design your own curriculum. I did a comparison study on the devotional practices of sports fans and the religious faithful, and that’s what I got a degree in. I call it religious studies.

Now you work with FOX. You must be good because you’re not blonde. Or cosmetically enhanced. It’s true. They all look alike. But I know most of them, and they are great people. It is a good place to work. It might look easy, but it’s not.

Mike Huckabee works there and wrote the introduction to your new book. Did he try to evangelize you? Everybody does. Every time I’m on Sean Hannity it’s “S.E., what do I need to do? You’re too smart for this, way too smart for this.” There are a lot of Christians at FOX, and they are lovely and nice, and I always think, “How nice that someone is thinking about my soul.” Really, it’s lovely.

Losing Our Religion is well-written but puzzling: As an atheist, why are you making statements about media bias similar to those made by conservative Christians? It’s inarguable. All you have to do is have eyes to see that MSNBC and The New York Times are absolutely threatened by Christian America. They’re threatened politically. They’re threatened ideologically. And it’s not just attacks, it’s lies. They’re lying about the genesis of our American beliefs. They’ll tell you, “Oh, the Founding Fathers weren’t Christians, they were atheists.” That’s crazy. It’s a lie, it’s a total lie.

You note that they’re wrong about the First Amendment. You have people saying that the whole point of the freedom of religion clause was to say that you should be doing religious things in private. That’s an absolute lie. The Founding Fathers wanted you to be free to be a public Catholic, to be a public Protestant. The liberal and secular media turn that around, imploring you to be faithful in private and to take religion out of the public sphere. That’s simply not why this country was created.

Many atheists see Christianity as intellectually inferior and see themselves doing a public service by enlightening people. Why don’t you see it that way? They’re proselytizing. I don’t believe in God but I’m not mad at Him. I don’t think He’s dangerous. It’s a really unenlightened view to think that 95 percent of the world doesn’t know what’s going on, but that I am part of the 5 percent of the world that doesn’t believe in God and knows the truth. For atheists to pretend to have all the answers while religion is on the fringe is not only incredibly presumptuous but a lie.

Sigmund Freud saw God as an illusion. Do you think that, or do you think He’s there and you just haven’t noticed yet? I don’t have kids, haven’t lost a parent yet, don’t know what kind of curveballs life is going to throw me. I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow. It’s really arrogant to say that I’m right and you’re all crazy, that I’ll always feel this way and the book is closed and you’re delusional.

You’re very complimentary to President Bush and his allusions to a Higher Power. If the Higher Power doesn’t exist, isn’t he a nutcase? It doesn’t exist for me. I fully believe it exists for him.

You’re saying that subjectively it exists for him, subjectively it doesn’t exist for you. So objectively, do you think there’s a God? No.

So if President Bush acted in certain ways because of his belief in something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t that sound like making policy decisions based on belief in the Easter bunny? No, because when you say you’re a Christian, there’s a value system implied. You may not live up to it, but the attempt is there, and I can look at it and understand your worldview. There is none of that in atheism.

When you say that you might be a sinner, is that subjective or objective? My values are probably very close to yours. They’re Judeo-Christian values. We all agree that murder’s not great. . . . But don’t we define murder in different ways, depending on our values? We do. But I think we agree at the end of the day that murdering people for no reason, not in self-defense but in cold blood, is bad.

What about very tiny people? Doesn’t it depend on our definition of people? Yes.

So how universal are your values? Well, we all have caveats—cultural, logistical, legal—but I think that people generally have the same impulses.

Moving on—I was struck by your answer to a question about death. You said that death was a peaceful thing to you, that the idea of nothingness was a very peaceful idea. That’s unusual. I don’t think anything happens. I’m not worried about judgment. Frankly, life is really hard. The idea that it will end at some point, that this trial will end, is reassuring. The only thing that scared me was I wanted to be published before I die. Once my book got published, huge sigh of relief.

It was important to you because . . . I wanted to leave a legacy, and that was the kind I wanted to leave. For some people it might be having children, or having money, or making contributions to causes. For me, I wanted to at 25 feel like I’d left something in print that captured my beliefs at the moment. That mattered to me a lot. More than anything else.

Tim Keller wrote a book called Counterfeit Gods. Can you make an idol out of publishing books? Oh it was, it was a golden calf. Absolutely. I feel like a good person to a large degree. I feel like I’m good to my family, like I’m charitable, like I give back to my friends. That was the one area I felt like I hadn’t done what I wanted to do, and I was afraid to die before I had the chance to do it. So having that put aside, knowing I had a book out there, was a relief, and I could focus on other things that are important to me.

If there were a God, would He love you more because you’d published a book? Oh I hope not. This was for me. It was a reward for 10 years of school and hard work and sacrifice and not doing some of the things that my peers did, and a private acknowledgment of hard work and discipline. It meant something to me. I was proud of myself.

You’d really like to believe in God? Oh yeah.

What kind of God would you like to believe in? A benevolent God but a challenging one. Someone who challenges you to a fight but is rooting for you to win. That’s who I’d like to imagine God is, someone who wants you to be your best and is going to push you to be your best, but is unconditionally going to be there for you when you fail. That sounds great. That sounds amazing. I’d love that.

What comes to mind when you think about Jesus? I’ve seen some really great movies about Jesus. I collect religious kitschy objects, so I have a lot of Jesus dolls around the house. When I think about Jesus, I think about one of my dolls. It’s terrible.

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Pakistan, blasphemy, and a tale of two women

For all the bad news coming out of Pakistan, you can’t help but admire the courage of two very different women who did what their political leaders failed to do — stood up to the religious right after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his call for changes to the country’s blasphemy laws.

Sherry Rehman is living as a virtual prisoner in her home in Karachi after being threatened over her support for amendments to the blasphemy laws. She has refused to leave the country for her own safety, nor indeed to accept the position adopted by her party leaders — that now is not the time to amend the laws. Their argument appears to be that trying to amend the laws now would just add more fuel to the fire after religious leaders defended Taseer’s killing and organised huge protests in favour of the current legal provisions.

“There’s never a right time,” Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted her as saying. “Blasphemy cases are continually popping up, more horror stories from the ground. How do you ignore them?”

“We know from history that appeasement doesn’t pay. It only emboldens them,” said Rehman.

For background, here is the text of the original law introduced into the Indian Penal Code by British colonial rulers in 1860:

Section 295: Injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class:

“Whoever destroys, damages, or defiles a place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

Here is the version of one of the added clauses which have caused so much acrimony in Pakistan, as amended in 1986 by Pakistan’s then military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq:

Section 295-C: Use of derogatory remarks, etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)

“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”

The amendment loses any acknowledgement of intent. …

At the Express Tribune, blogger Saad Zuberi described her as “the only person in Pakistan’s ultra-holy green-tinted limelight right now who isn’t afraid to say it  like it is.”

“She’s bold, honest and pretty straightforward, which is something I can’t say for many Pakistanis out there. Sad, I know, but true. We’re all busy being pathetic and jealous and confused, while this woman has, as a friend aptly pointed out, displayed something lacking from not only our so-called saviours but the country at large: balls.”

via Pakistan, blasphemy, and a tale of two women | Analysis & Opinion |.

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I'm serious… usually. (Martin Rossol)