Friday, June 26, 2015

The State of Union

Here is the first non-fiction chapter in the book I wrote three years ago. I predicted social conservatives would lose on gay marriage, and suggested a course of action for when it happens. The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that states cannot prevent homosexuals from marrying, so I felt it was a good time to post this. I normally don't include my original footnotes when I post chapters from the book, but I did this time. I used the 1984 NIV for my Bible quotations, but the links are to the NASB as the NIV went to a gender neutral version in 2011 and the 1984 version is no longer available. I think the NASB is a better version anyway. Here it is:

Imagine being a student at Napoleon Dynamite’s high school. You voted Pedro for class president because he promised to provide free ice cream for lunch every Friday. Pedro signs a law with great fanfare declaring once and for all that ice cream will be provided for free every Friday lunch. All year long Pedro makes good on his promise, and everyone has come to take it for granted that there will in fact be free ice cream for lunch every Friday. Now imagine that in the last week of the school year you go to your Friday lunch anticipating free ice cream. But as you enter the lunch room you notice that no one has any ice cream, but everyone does have an apple with their lunch. When you get your lunch, you get an apple instead of ice cream. An angry cadre of students confronts Pedro about the problem. “Where’s our ice cream?” you ask. “You promised free ice cream every Friday for lunch and every week we got it. What happened?” Pedro replies, “I gave you free ice cream. See?” He points to the apple in your hand. “This isn’t ice cream! It’s an apple!” Pedro looks puzzled and said, “No I gave you ice cream,” in that lilting Hispanic pentameter of his. Pedro then produces the document he signed into law showing the original agreement. You check it and it does indeed say that free ice cream will be provided for lunch every Friday. “See?” You insist. “Now where’s the ice cream?” Pedro again shrugs his shoulders and points to the apple. “That is ice cream,” he insists. “Don’t be so close-minded. This is the twenty-first century after all.” After much discussion, you come to realize Pedro believes that apples are and always have been included in the definition of “ice cream.” He has suddenly and inexplicably changed the meaning of the term in the original agreement after abiding by the original meaning for the entire school year. No amount of argument can convince him this is ludicrous and unfair. So the students must sit down and eat their apples with their lunch, as they plot to vote the clueless Pedro out next year.

“Marriage” is a term which has existed in Western law for centuries, even millennia. Its incorporation into our social contract predates even social contract theory itself. We have inherited the basic understanding as well as much of the legal ins and outs from English common law and even Catholic canon law from the Middle Ages. In all cases it was always, without exception, understood to mean a relationship between a man and a woman. In Western society it was always, without exception understood to be based upon the Judeo-Christian worldview going all the way back to Genesis, which of course means “the beginning” (Gen 2:18–24). One cannot just wake up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and suddenly decide this word has a different meaning after the agreement has already been made. Its meaning is clear, and its inclusion into our legal code is equally clear. An agreement was made between the people and their governments. Government would preside over marriage, as the Catholic church had before it. In return the people expected the government to respect marriage as the bedrock of society and the fundamentally religious institution that it is. If that contract is ever broken, the people have the right to withdraw from the agreement.

In 1896 there was a small civil war in Brazil called the War of Canudos. Canudos was a city which grew from virtually nothing to over 30,000 people, mostly poor Catholic migrants drawn to Canudos’ charismatic rebel preacher, Antonio Conselheiro (Antonio the Counselor). Though this movement was undoubtedly millennial and economic, it was also strongly influenced by the recent Jacobin revolution in Brazil which overthrew the monarchy and with it the Catholic Church. The Jacobin revolution was influenced by the French Revolution, not the American Revolution, and was therefore not just a revolution against the monarchy. It was also a revolution against the power of the Catholic Church. Among the many changes taking place in Brazil at the time was the removal of Catholic authority over institutions such as marriage. Immortalized in the epic novel The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa, the Canudos community launched a counter-revolution against the civilian government, refusing to allow the secular authorities to preside over things such as marriage.1 They were attacked by government forces several times, finally leading to a massacre in which over fifty percent were killed as well as the Counselor himself, who was beheaded and publicly displayed in Bahia province’s capital city of Salvador. These people were willing to fight and die rather than allow a secular government legal authority over marriage. Why do we in the United States feel differently? In fact, religious people in this country are fighting to make sure the civilian government retains control over marriage. What gives?

The difference comes from the nature of the American and French Revolutions. I intend to discuss this topic in greater detail in future writings, but for now it is enough to understand that the American Revolution was not a revolution against the church or any religious authority, while the French Revolution was. The Catholic Church never held legal authority in the colonies which became the United States as it did in the Old World and many other European colonies such as Brazil. In fact American colonists escaped Europe largely to avoid religious persecution from other Christians, such as that perpetrated by the Catholic Church against Protestant denominations. When the American people formed the alliance which was to become the United States of America, there was no uniform religious authority. No church had legal authority in the manner of the Old World, nor did they wish it to. Americans had operated under a principle of religious freedom which allowed people to belong to whatever sect they wanted. If there was to be in existence any legal authority over marriage at all there was only one candidate for exercising that authority: the government.

We gave the government authority over things like marriage, but only on the condition that the government derived its power solely from the consent of the governed. Today we are attempting to maintain that relationship, despite all the evidence that our government no longer has any respect for the understanding which led to it. Civilian marriage was the only option for our country at one time, but what do we have to show for it today? A fifty percent divorce rate, turning marriage from a commitment into a coin flip. A nation of broken homes. A people who believe that Eros is a chemical reaction, and that what God has joined together man can indeed separate. A signature on the dotted line meant to be a legal convenience in support of marriage has instead replaced God’s spiritual authority over marriage. Our government is now attempting to tell us the word doesn’t even mean what everyone knows it means. What more evidence do we need that this experiment has become an abject failure?

When Paul wrote his famous letter to the church in Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire, one of the very first things he wrote was a vicious diatribe against sexual immorality and a reminder of God’s authority over all creation. It is worth quoting in full:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom 1: 18–32)

Today we have made a government, a created thing made by our own hands, into an idol. Paul states clearly the consequences of doing so. Idolaters will be given over by God to “shameful lusts.”2 Homosexuality, then, is not the root issue. The cause of the problem is idolatry, and the “due penalty” is homosexuality and other wickedness. Christians today believe they are defending traditional marriage through legislation and constitutional amendments, but no offerings to idols will ever succeed. The idol must first be torn down. Until then, it is not wise to stand between God’s wrath and its object.

In the United States we were lucky enough to have a revolution which was not anti-religious, indeed just the opposite. In this country we respected religion. The founding fathers lauded its function in society as providing a morality unsustainable through law alone and set up a system to allow religious freedom without forcing it on anyone. The relationship between the American people and their government has always depended on keeping this sacred trust, and our willingness to allow the civil government authority over marriage has always been one of the key indicators this trust is still alive. Today this sacred trust lies in ruins. There is only one thing left to do.

To the State and all its supporters,

We will allow you your deviations, because that is what God has advised us to do. Call it whatever you want, a “civil union” or whatever. It matters not. In return for granting your request we ask only that the term “marriage” be stricken from all laws and contracts presided over by you. We don’t need you. We never did. It is a simple request. Like Daniel when he was told to eat the royal food, we know what you say isn’t so. So we propose a test. You do your civil unions however you think best, and we will adhere to God’s Word and the Biblical understanding of holy matrimony. In fifty years, when civil unions have become the laughingstock of the world and the butt of every joke, and you come crawling back to us, we will laugh at you. We will say you did us a great favor, and we will never make that mistake again.

The Church of God

1. Mr. Vargas Llosa recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature, one of the rare right-leaning authors to win it, and it was justly deserved. I read this book for a college course on Latin American history and I highly recommend it.

2. The clear teaching of Scripture is that homosexuality is a sin. I will have more to say in chapter seventeen about whether or not Science should have authority over Scripture, but here Science unequivocally agrees with Scripture. Technically speaking, there is no such thing as homosexuality in humans. “Sex” means reproduction. In fact the very term “sexual reproduction” in science implies two different genders. Let me know when two male humans or two female humans mate naturally and produce offspring.

Nor is there any such thing as a “gay gene.” I can tell you the name of the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis and its location in the human genome (CFTR, chromosome 7). I can do the same for genes linked to Lou Gehrig’s disease (SOD1, chromosome 21), Huntington’s (Huntingtin, chromosome 4), Down’s syndrome (extra 21st chromosome) and many others. Research into genetic diseases is going on all the time. I can even tell you what some healthy genes do. For instance the hemoglobin protein is a combination of two gene products found on chromosomes 16 and 11. But I cannot tell you the name or location of any supposed “gay gene” just as I cannot tell you the name or location of any alcoholic, cocaine, heroine, marijuana or caffeine addiction gene. My suspicion is I cannot tell you this because those genes do not exist, but feel free to try and prove me wrong. I will want to know the name and location, so have that ready before you talk to me about this mythical “gay gene.”

There is certainly much we still don’t know about the human genome. Some have suggested that different mutations in a gene called DRD4 on chromosome 11 may be involved in promoting certain risk taking or addictive behaviors, but that could be almost anything depending on an individual’s circumstances. But there is no scientific reason to believe that these sorts of human behaviors are the inevitable result of our genes, nor is there any reason to believe this will ever be the case regardless of how far scientific research in this area progresses. It is certainly possible that there might be genetic mutations which affect certain receptors for natural hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, etc., but these sorts of biochemical mechanisms are not specific enough to discern whether one’s genitals are being stimulated by a woman, a man, a hand, your imagination, or a blow-up doll. Exposing oneself to excessive amounts of these natural hormones can become just as addictive as narcotics, perhaps even more so. One can become chemically and psychologically dependent on sex, and if one so chooses, sex with something or someone other than the opposite gender can easily be substituted. The human mind, as well as the brain, is quite malleable, which is why we need God’s guidance and authority over our lives. Without Him, we wander into dangerous territory.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Terrorism under Westphalian Foreign Policy

In my previous two posts on what I call Westphalian foreign policy I've skirted around the issue of modern terrorism and focused mainly on more conventional types of conflict. However, one can read between the lines and conclude that I'm excluding terrorism from the rules of engagement progression, which means that terrorism, at least the sort we are currently dealing with, is not part of anything I'd call a "war". Let me explain why.

Terrorism could potentially be included in "special operations warfare" because the tactics involve small units operating undercover attacking specific targets and then fading away. However I made it clear we should be categorizing a conflict based on the method of conflict resolution. Tactics are a secondary criterion. The terrorism strategy attempts to change an opponent's behavior through violence and the threat of violence. This puts it in either the conventional or total war categories, as these are the only two which attempt to change the opponent's mind. It is clearly not conventional warfare, as there is no attempt to take territory and force a decision by direct control. Therefore terrorism would potentially fit under the category of total war because it is a direct attack on civilians in an attempt to change the political stance of the enemy.

However, all of the four categories must also fill another criterion if they are to be considered for the progression in the first place: they must be conflicts between governments of states. If a state used terrorism then it would be an immediate escalation to total war and total war would be justified in defense. However the type of terrorism we are currently dealing with is not perpetrated by a government, but rather international Islamic organizations. This means there is no target for a state to attack and no potential for conflict resolution by attacking a specific state. We cannot solve this problem by attacking other countries, because countries are not perpetrating it, at least not directly. In the years since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I should think we have learned this lesson. If we want to attack foreign governments for harboring or aiding terrorists, that would define those conflicts as war, but we have not been very good about defining the nature of those types of conflicts. Harboring or aiding an international terrorist organization should be considered a minor offense by a foreign country, regardless of the number or type of casualties we've sustained due to terrorist attacks. The vast majority of the time conventional or total war would not be an appropriate response, as these levels of the progression are primarily reserved for use against territorial aggression and direct state action. Special operations warfare is the clear response, and in recent years we have used this method very well. But let us not forget that if we are engaging in special ops warfare against a state, then that is one thing. The targets should be state targets; the success of the mission defined by damage dealt to an enemy state's ability to support of terrorism. If special operations are used directly against the terrorist organization itself, it does not count as war and falls under a different category.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but I believe it's very important for the success of a policy to carefully define one's terms, define the goals of the mission and define what "success" means in those terms. If the target is a state, then the success or failure of the mission must be defined in terms of the enemy state. Can the enemy state's ability to support a terrorist organization be reduced or eliminated by the operation? If we honestly ask this question, it becomes obvious that in most cases the answer will be "no". I will leave the possibility open that the answer might in some cases be "yes", but the default attitude towards this type of operation should be extreme skepticism. The situation is less ambiguous if the state directly participates in a terrorist act. If the Islamic State, for instance, directly attacks the United States using suicide bombings or the like, that is an immediate escalation directly to total war and total war in response would be completely justified. But an international organization like Al Qaeda is not such a simple situation. As we've seen, they can simply disperse and relocate. It becomes impossible to consider war as an effective response when it would be required against all the states currently harboring terrorist elements.

So I intend to treat terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorism of the Al Qaeda strain, as outside the definition of "war" because it is not perpetrated by a state. I have attempted to explain why, at the risk of alienating many conservatives, I do not believe terrorism counts as war nor should efforts against it be pursued as if it were a war. It certainly should not be called a "war". I have been very critical of Obama's foreign policy, but Obama campaigned vigorously on the idea that terrorism should be treated as a law enforcement problem. The only difference between my view and Obama's is that Obama clearly means to treat it as an "international law" enforcement problem when there is no such thing as international law. Terrorism should be treated as an international, law enforcement problem, if you catch my meaning. It is a law enforcement problem for our country that requires international action.

I have read and respect Andrew C. McCarthy's opinion on this. He vigorously argues for the war footing. He is a lawyer attempting to use the war footing to skirt around legal problems. I am a theorist attempting to explain how we should go about engaging in successful conflict resolution. There is a problem with our legal system if it does not allow us to prosecute international criminals in a timely or just manner. This is a major problem if it exists, and it needs to be fixed, but using war as a shortcut around a legal problem will not fix the legal problem nor the immanent problem. We must consider whether war has the potential to resolve the issue on its own terms and not immediately assume it can just because certain things are allowed under the war footing that would not be allowed under the law. This is a perfect example of what I've been saying all along about the U.S. understanding of war. We tend to view war as potentially the solution to every problem, because every problem is primarily a question of how to use absolute power over human action when there is no absolute power over human action. We think war represents the maximum capability we can direct towards a problem, and therefore when other methods fail for whatever reason, we automatically begin to consider war as a solution without understanding that war has its own natural limits for conflict resolution, just as every other method. My primary purpose in outlining Westphalian foreign policy is to remind everyone that war has its own limits. It is not guaranteed to solve every problem, nor is it an appropriate solution for every problem. War is a tool in our toolbox, and we should use it as we use every other tool: for its purpose. War is a method of conflict resolution between states. If states are not in direct conflict, it is not a war, regardless of what we wish to call it or what we wish to do. Using the methods of war to solve a conflict that is not a war is a recipe for failure and frustration. If we have a legal problem with prosecuting terrorists, a problem Mr. McCarthy expertly outlines, then that legal problem must be fixed, or we will end up spinning our wheels.

Now that's whack.