Salvation and Ornery Conservatives

Have you ever wondered why devout evangelicals get up in arms about stuff like getting up in arms? Or raising their children the way they want to? Or not letting the government handle their money? I mean, we tend to be pretty darn touchy about our individual liberties. Hence the Tea Party movement. Have you ever wondered why that is?

Well, I’ve got a theory.* it could be personal salvation. We derive our ultimate meaning in life from our relationship to God. And that relationship is, ultimately, individual. Sure, you can read the Bible or listen to the way we talk and know we do actually believe that groups of people get blessed or cursed and whatnot. But at the end of the day, you die as an individual, you go before God’s throne as an individual, and you are saved solely based on your individual relationship with him.

Now think about that for a minute. Ultimate meaning is derived from an individual’s relationship to God. This means you are primarily responsible for your actions as an individual. You–individually–have been given commands, and you–individually–must obey them. Corporate obedience, while important, is secondary.

Translate that to political terms. You have individual responsibilities, therefore you have the rights to whatever you are responsible for as an individual. Individual liberties take precedence over participation in society. Now, I’m not saying every devout evangelical has worked this out and uses it to justify their political views. What I am saying is that since we believe we are personally responsible for most of our choices, seeing people take away our power to choose regarding those things really rankles us.

Flip this around. A lot of non-Christians in America today, especially those who simply don’t identify with any religion, derive meaning from the human experience. What is important in life is how we interact with others. If there is a way of transcending ourselves and achieving greater meaning, it is in being to good to humanity in general.

Put that in a political context. If greater meaning comes through our participation in the greater collective, you are going to have less of a problem trusting society, or its hired hands, with things like self defense, raising children, or helping the poor. Rather than taking away our God-given rights/responsibilities, that sort of thing is a way of transcending ourselves and participating in something larger and more important.

Often these issues get dealt with by both sides throwing insults around and calling each other names. Liberals might not have any sense of personal responsibility, or conservatives must just be greedy and antisocial. Because if someone disagrees with you, they must be either evil or stupid. Can’t you feel the love? The empathy? The human kindness? The neighborliness? Me neither.

So I’m suggesting that while we continue having these discussions, we keep in mind the fact that our political differences may be powered mostly by differing views of the world. That is a major underlying issue, and realizing that can help us come to more reasonable compromises, if such a compromise is possible. At the very least, it will help us understand one another.

*No, it couldn’t be bunnies.

POST SCRIPTUM:

I do want to qualify this real quick. We Christians, even us hardcore evangelicals, do think in terms of loving one’s neighbor and in being part of a community. But because that is not the ultimate thing from which we derive meaning, the way in which we do is going to be a bit different than the way a secular humanist would. And keep in mind that we will have the same misunderstanding when you place those things above individual responsibilities, since that would be counter-intuitive to us.

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Wolfman and the Curse of the External Stimuli

The werewolf is an interesting critter. Through no fault of his own, he is placed under a curse. Now anytime a full moon breaks out of the cloud cover, our mild mannered family man turns into a ravening beast that slaughters everything in arm’s reach. Tragic, really.

This is not how the story always went. Early on, werewolves tended to be witches who made a pact with the devil to earn their transformative powers. If not that, then they were people who had skipped out on Lent, or committed some other taboo, and got cursed. In fact, even when the occasional innocent was cursed, he did not become a ravening beast so much as a run-of-the-mill wolf for seven years or so until he went back home having lost little more than time.

The change in mythos is striking. Like a lot of curses in scary stories, you originally got in trouble for doing something wrong. Nowadays, the curse is incurred simply by dumb luck. And now that curse doesn’t just mean fleas and poor living conditions, it means you become a wild-eyed killer at least one night a month.

The first time I noticed this, it bugged me because I thought of it in terms of shifting blame from the one who committed the offense over to external stimuli. The curse was no longer the fault of someone sinning, and the mindless slaughter was now the fault of the moon or bumping into gypsies. Our society already spends so much time shifting the blame away from sinners, so I just considered this one more iteration of the same bad philosophy.

After a while, though, I realized that there was some truth to it. On the one hand, you cannot blame your sins on the external stimuli. The beast must pay for his crimes, because the problem is in the beast and the moon is just the occasion of his lunacy. On the other hand, fallen man is not exactly free. Quite the opposite. However hard he tries, just like the werewolf in the movies, whenever the full moon rises he will howl.

Grasping the hopelessness of man’s fallen state, however, is not exactly unusual for the horror genre. What is missing is a solution. Take either angle–wolf brings the curse on himself, or curse as inescapable tragedy–and you still have a man under a curse. But how do you kill the beast and keep the man?

A lot of the time, you simply don’t. The wages of sin is death, so the wolfman has to die. But in our world the sinner had a substitute, a perfect God-man who died for him. Now the sinner, though he might get a little loony from time to time, is free of the old man and the guarantee of death that comes with him. I have still yet to see a good werewolf flick that does the same. Here, as elsewhere, there is a lot of material for a solid Christian artist to work with.

Responsibility and Gun Rights

I have quite a lot to say on the topic of gun rights, because there is quite a lot to be said. I may end up saying a great deal about it on here over the next little bit. But for now, I have one point to drill home.

When people talk about rights, it is often in the form of “I get to do this” or “You can’t make me do that.” That is not a bad way to talk about it, necessarily, but there is, perhaps a better way. The way I view it, men have rights because they have responsibilities. We are called to do certain things, and because we have those duties we are given the authority over things pertaining to those duties.

This is not a hard concept to grasp when it comes to government. Our governors are meant to punish the wicked with the power of the sword and to reward the righteous with praise. As a result, they are given the right to determine the finer points of what constitutes wickedness in the society they govern, and how the wicked are to be punished. The “necessary and proper” clause exists because we know the government must have certain powers in order to perform its functions.

But governors (federal, state, or local) are not the only people with duties to perform. The church government has duties, schools have duties, businesses have duties. As a result, elders have a certain amount of authority, as do teachers, principles, employers, and managers. Again, I think we all understand this.

But before all that, God made a man and a woman, and he bid them be fruitful and multiply. The family unit is natural to man, perhaps more natural than any other social unit. And (questions of gender roles aside) the head of a family has some very basic duties–to provide for and protect his family. If he must provide for his family, we must concede that he has the authority, and therefore the right, to do so. Furthermore, if he must protect his family, he has the right to do so.

The next step is not exactly a leap of logic, though I perhaps take it farther than some are willing to. A man must protect his family, including from other men. In defense of his family, a man must sometimes use lethal force. From the beginning, this has been true. If you read the Bible, and don’t skim, it’s obvious that God is far less squeamish about people using lethal force than we are.

So far, many conservatives are willing to go. Sure, they say, let’s allow men to have shotguns or rifles or pistols for home defense. If someone breaks into your home, you need to defend your family. That’s your duty, regardless of how you feel about it. And amen. But that’s not where it stops.

Not every enemy is just a burglar. Sometimes the enemy is as well-armed as you are, and better. Sometimes he has professional thugs and the power to attack you in broad daylight. Understand that America is pretty special, that we live in a land of peace in a time of peace, and that is unusual. Governments, local, national, and imperial, go bad. And your duty to protect your family does not stop because the threat is bigger. Neglecting your duty when the going gets tough is not reasonable, it’s cowardice. And mincing words about it is further cowardice.

I understand that saying this will earn me the “nutter” badge. Do I really think one lone guy can oppose a vast corrupt government? Maybe not, but I’m not talking about some lone guy gunning down corrupt officials. This isn’t Shooter, and it’s not the wild west. But I am talking about citizens resisting their government. That can work, that has worked. Even an army like America’s, the best funded in the world, can be resisted. You don’t think so? Look at what Afghans are doing with ancient weapons and no real artillery. Nobody is invincible.

It’s funny that we tell each other all these stories about the War for Independence and how brave those men were, but when it comes down to it, we freely call what they did “stupid.” If you really think a bunch of backwoodsmen opposing the greatest military of the day is ridiculous, either stop calling what your ancestors did honorable, or else admit that sometimes our duty is to do the improbable.

So do I think we have a right to own assault weapons? Yes. I believe we have the right to own them, because I believe we have the duty to own them. Not because the government is out to get us (it’s not) or because we’re under threat of invasion (we’re not). I believe we have that duty because those things are real possibilities, possibilities which prudence and responsibility dictate we be prepared for. We ought to be as well armed as is necessary to confront the greatest potential threat to our families and our neighbors. We are men with responsibilities, and we ought to fulfill them. Even if the government does not like it.

Lunacy

 

Even a man who is pure in heart

and says his prayers by night

may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms

and the autumn moon is bright.

 

I’ve been on a werewolf kick lately, and so my mind’s been on that mythical beast for a while. What is it about wolfmen that terrifies us so much, and that can inspire the culture (not to mention me) with such a morbid fascination?

Now there’s a lot to werewolves, but you have to start with a basic definition. The most common form they take in our stories is that of a man who involuntarily turns into a ravening beast every full moon. Some variations alter the time when the transformation occurs, and others give the accursed some level of control after the shift. Either way, key themes are either hidden power or loss of control.

Whenever the werewolves have some control over their wolf form, the key theme is hidden power. An unassuming individual can, if the circumstances are right, be granted superhuman strength and eerily keen senses. This idea is appealing to folks who feel like they have no power, or else to folks who are afraid that others might secretly be stronger than they look. It’s either liberating, or unsettling.

But when the werewolf has no control over his shifting or his wolf state, we find something I think is far more terrifying: complete loss of control. The human side is just trying to live in peace and to protect those he loves. But occasionally, he loses control and his peaceful life unravels and those he loves are hurt or killed by his actions. This sort of story is about a terrifying lack of self-control and the consequences that result.

Liberation, hidden threats, self-discipline, responsibility. These are powerful themes, and it’s no wonder they can fascinate. Each of these issues can be approached rightly or wrongly, skillfully or poorly. I do of course have opinions on how that should be done, but I would rather show them to you one day than just tell you about them. But regardless of tastes and opinions, it can’t be denied that the werewolf is a powerful tool in the writer’s arsenal.