Monday, June 24, 2019

American Christianity Does Not Have A Racist Past

Sometimes I hear, even from Christians, the sentiment that the USA, and the American church specifically, has a racist past. History is told like this. Europeans came to the Americas and displaced and killed most of the Indians. They then went to Africa, kidnapped black people, brought them back to America and enslaved, raped, and beat them. It was a holocaust of sorts with millions of black people being worked to death in the fields. And when the constitution was written, the founding fathers (a bunch of racist slave owners) declared that black people were 3/5 of a person. After almost a century of slavery in the US, it took a brutal Civil War to end the terrible practice. After it ended, Jim Crow laws were put in place to separate the races and oppress blacks. And another century passed. Finally, thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Act was passed and several important Supreme Court decisions were made to end Jim Crow. But, this was not the end of racism. Racism went underground. Whites continued to benefit from the centuries of slavery and oppression. This White Privilege coupled with continued structural racism in the schools and legal system continue to cause problems for minorities. Throughout all this, the church (strongest in the slave owning and Jim Crow promoting south) was complicit.

This is the terrible terrible racist history of America. This is the terrible terrible history of the church.

Well.... not really. Telling it that way is a lie. But it is worse than a lie. By telling it that way, we do damage to people today by encouraging them to think of their neighbors, government and churches as racist institutions with racist leanings, racist pasts, and ongoing structural racism.

So... let me provide a very brief overview of how it really happened.

As with all things, context matters. Let's start with some context on slavery. Every major empire in the history of the world had slavery. The Chinese did. The Egyptians did. The Romans did. The great Muslim nations did. The great African nations did. Every single one.

And I have often heard people write that the slavery of the Old South was in some way worse than these other forms of slavery. This is simply a myth. Almost all forms of slavery in every region were at least as bad if not worse. Because slaves tended to be achieved as the spoils of war, there was usually a racial/ethnic bias to slavery. There also tended to be harsh treatment, beatings and killings. And there almost always was widespread sexual abuse. For just one example, let's look at the slavery of the Roman Empire. The Romans enslaved prisoners of war en masse. It was one of the primary reasons for going to war. Bringing back slaves from their campaigns in Northern Europe would make generals such as Julius Caesar wealthy beyond compare. The Gauls and Germanic tribesmen and women he brought back made him rich. These slaves had zero rights. One of the primary uses for slaves was sexual. Roman citizens were somewhat limited in what they could do sexually with fellow citizens (no adultery, pedophilia, etc) but these strict rules only applied to Roman citizens. A Roman citizen could certainly do anything he wanted with his slaves. This was taken as a matter of course. It was considered quite normal to use female slaves for sex but it was also considered normal to use male slaves for sex as well (so long as you were dominant in the relationship). But what was particularly horrifying was that pedophilia was also considered socially acceptable and anything was permissible with slaves of any age. Slaves were raped, abused, and had zero rights whatsoever. If a slave attempted to kill their master, all the slaves in the house would be put to death. Slaves literally had no rights whatsoever. And this model was not unique to them. Similar practices in slavery were common in China, in Africa and in every other major empire.

Until Christianity came along. Nancy Pearcy, quoting a historian's analysis of the spread of Christianity notes that, "The most reliable index of how deeply Christianity had permeated a society was whether it outlawed sexual slavery." In other words, we can track the spread of Christianity based on whether sexual slavery was legal or not. Further, Christians also spoke out against the mistreatment of slaves. Soon, as slaves converted, Christians spoke against the enslavement of fellow Christians. Within a few centuries of Christianity coming to power in the West, slavery, once ubiquitous, had faded from the European scene.

I started off by saying that every major empire in history had slavery as a major component of its life and economy. But Christendom, the Holy Roman Empire, did not. This is the first known instance of an Empire without any substantial use of slaves. Slavery did not rear its ugly head in any substantial way again until the discovery of the New World. We will look at that in a moment but let us first look at the claims of genocidal murders of the American Indians.

Articles such as this History Channel article speak of the genocidal efforts of the White Europeans as they came to North America. Others speak of the intentional spread of small pox. Others speak of the stealing of land and the driving out to the edges of society.

It is certainly true that American Indians died in mass numbers after the appearance of the Europeans on their shores. Estimates vary on how big the population was before Columbus arrived but it is thought that the population dropped by more than half at least. But the cause of this horrible death was not genocide. It was disease. Smallpox specifically. And this was not intentionally spread. There are no known successful attempts to spread smallpox and the disease swept through the Americas much faster than the Europeans did. Jared Diamond in his groundbreaking "Guns, Germs and Steel," recounts stories of conquistadors showing up at cities ready for battle only to find them empty and abandoned. The fact that the small band of Europeans was able to rout the great empires of the Americas should show that there was something else going on.

The Europeans had been living with smallpox for centuries. Plagues and diseases had decimated Europe and as a result the survivors were heartier and healthier and more likely to survive diseases when they came. Diamond argues this was probably due to the close proximity they lived with animals.Whatever the reason, Europeans showed up to a surprisingly empty New World. Far from stealing the land, they were able to settle in areas that were sparsely populated or empty. When wars did happen, it was often the American Indians that were the aggressors. In the excellent book, "The War that Made America," author Fred Anderson argues that, lacking women thanks to the damage of smallpox, Indians would raid frontier cabins, kidnap the women and children and take them back to their tribes.

Now, you might say that the land belonged to the American Indians and Europeans had no right to take it even if it was sparsely populated. But a few things need to be considered here. First, lumping together all American Indians as though they were monolith is sort of racist and historically inaccurate. Many tribes lived in North America and large areas of the land changed possession between tribal nations on a regular basis. It is unlikely that any particular tribe was the original owner of any particular piece of land. Another consideration must be thought of is that almost every nation throughout the world and throughout history took their land from someone who was there first. This is true for almost every American Indian tribe. True for every European nation. True for every African nation. Like it or not, wars of conquest are how the story of human existence has unfolded. Singling out Europeans as any worse than any other group in history in this department should not be done. And it is further important to note that the English did wars of conquest on people of all races. Ask the French. Ask the Dutch. Ask the Irish.

So, the displacement of the American Indians was not the result of racism. It was the result of the tragic spread of a disease coupled with some smaller wars of conquest that were not unique to people of color.

Now, let's get back to slavery.  As I mentioned, slavery had faded from Europe with the advent of Christianity. When Columbus and other Europeans discovered the New World, there was suddenly a renewed interest in slavery. The reasons for this are unclear but one reason might be that farmers unlike in Europe had huge properties arable properties but very limited labor. These land owners were willing to examine options that were previously not needed. Further, it is worth noting that those in North America were further away from the eyes of the church or authorities that might restrict or oppose the trade. While we often think of the early settlers of Americas as devout Puritans, in reality a large majority of those that came to the US did so for financial not religious reasons. Church membership in the early days of the US was very low. Historians Roger Fink and Rodney Stark argue that in the early days of the sentiment of North America, the percentage of people adhering to a religion was below 20%. They argue that it was not until the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries that Christianity started to be widely adhered to and practiced.

So, perhaps it is not a surprise that when, in this age of exploration, a solution presented by traders visiting the coasts of Africa appeared, it was greeted with receptivity. Farmers realized that there was a thriving slave trade in Africa and countless hands that could, for a price, help tend those large farms.

Despite the common misconception (wrongly portrayed in the miniseries Roots) that Europeans would go raiding through African villages kidnapping and killing but instead they simply went to the market and bought slaves from an already well-established slave trade. North Americans would bid along side Africans for the slaves in coastal slave markets. The fact that the slave trade was already in place, of course, does not what those North American farmers did. Reintroducing the slave trade was terrible. They helped the slave trade flourish and kept the terrible slave traders in business. Slave traders were almost without exception monsters. The trade was bloody, abusive and murderous. Slavery was ended by Christians the first time for good reasons and this reemergence of slavery was certainly a horrible thing in the history of the Christian world.

But the reason I bring up the existing slave trade is to note that by engaging in the slave trade, the Euro-Americans were not doing something uniquely evil in the world but simply mimicking the evil already ubiquitously practiced throughout the world including in Africa.

But, thankfully, Christians almost immediately started speaking out against the slave trade. The Catholic Church made several statements against slavery. Pope Paul III in 1537 declared that enslaving American Indians was not allowed. In the 17th century, as the African slave trade was ramping up, Pope Innocent XI declared the African slave trade immoral. But it was the evangelicals in England that had the greatest impact in the world on slavery. Starting in the early 18th century, evangelicals led by William Wilberforce and John Wesley (among others) led one of the most remarkable campaigns in human history. One that would have effects far beyond England and far beyond the Christian world. At the time, the United Kingdom was the largest and most powerful empire on the planet and English colonies employed countless slaves. But Wilberforce and company appealed to the Christian morals of loving your neighbor, caring for the stranger and doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves to convince the government of England to ban the slave trade and then eventually slavery outright from every province and colony in English control. This remarkable campaign would be singular in itself but what is shocking is what happened next. England, at great national cost, spent much of the 19th century actively working to end slavery throughout the world. They pressured trading partners. They used their military to hunt down slave ships. They fought and fought both literally and politically to end slavery in every nation they came in contact with.

And the effects of their efforts on North America were not lost. Slavery was deeply ingrained in the highly agricultural economy of the south but despite this fact, many southern farmers opposed slavery. These opponents included many slave owners. George Washington, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson among them. You may wonder how a slave owner could honestly be against the slave trade. If they were, why would they not just immediately free them? The answer was that many, such as Jefferson, inherited their properties and with their inheritance came mortgages that included the slaves as property. To free them would be illegal. Further, many thought that just freeing slaves would be inhumane. Congressman John Randolph explained his reasoning on this point by saying that he had "200 mouths looking to him for food." He stated that it would be, "easy to rid himself of them," but considered this not a moral option. Finally, many slave owners had seen the violence that had happened in Haiti when there was a slave revolt. The streets flowed with blood and many wondered if freeing the slaves en masse might not cause disruption, violence, and death. This fear was proved wrong when slaves were finally freed after the Civil War but there was no way of knowing this before doing it.

Now, you can view these reasons with skepticism but it is always easier to say that people should do bold potentially dangerous and illegal things than to do them yourself. But the evidence that there was at least some genuine distaste for the slave trade came in the actions that were taken. Not the least of which, in 1807, the slave trade was banned. No new slaves could be brought to America ending the horrors of slave ships.

But perhaps the greatest way in which the founders hurt the slave trade is in the much maligned 3/5 clause of the constitution. Many think that this clause was meant to diminish the humanity of slaves. But the real reason for this clause was to diminish the power of slave states. You see, it was the slave states that wanted slaves to be counted as full citizens and it was the north that wanted them not to be counted at all. The reason for the debate was this, if slaves were counted then the south would get more congressmen and more votes in the electoral college. More people more power.  By preventing the counting of slaves as full persons on the constitution (coupled with the Northwest Ordinance that limited the expansion of slave states), the founders set the groundwork for the limitation of slavery in the future. Without these efforts, the south would have been able to protect slavery much better, the north would have been marginalized, and Abraham Lincoln would have never been elected president. One of the very things that people call "racist" about America's founding was perhaps the single greatest factor in protecting minorities and ending slavery. 

And then there was the Civil War. While England gave up slaves freely, America had our most bloody war to do it. Some deny slavery was the cause behind the Civil War but this is simply not true. It was the largest and most obvious issue at hand. Many argue that slavery would have ended without the Civil War but regardless, it is hardly a racist nation that goes to war to free minorities from slavery.

What about the church's role? As I have already mentioned, it was Christian concerns about slavery that sparked the unprecedented global push to end slavery. Many Christians in the US helped to end slavery. It is true that, sadly, some Christians defended the practice but I don't think that should distract us from the remarkable fact that the debate happened at all. Christians were debating slavery when everyone else was taking it for granted. And while there was debate, the anti-slavery arguments ultimately won the day and Christianity universally rejected slavery. Without Christianity, there never would have been a debate about the slaves.

That brings us to Jim Crow. Shortly after the emancipation of the slaves, the south and areas of the north started to institute laws to hamper, restrict, separate, and oppress the former slaves and their children. For the next century, these laws, in various forms, remained in place. These laws were terrible and unjust. But Thomas Sowell of Stanford (incidentally a black man), in his Black Rednecks and White Liberals, argues that they were primarily the result of cultural differences not race. He provides a convincing argument suggesting that where black people adopted the social and cultural norms of the white community surrounding them, Jim Crow laws were lessened or removed.

Whether this is true or not, what is true is that the church was instrumental in the ending of Jim Crow laws. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement were all leaders in the church. When Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from a Birmingham Jail, he addressed it to white Christian pastors and appealed to Christian values. To the extent that southern Christians did not help the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King argued it was a failure to follow Christianity close enough not the result of the Christianity itself.

Finally, if you look at church attendance and religious adherence over the history of the United States,  Roger Fink and Rodney Stark argue that these numbers crept up throughout the 19th century and reached a peak in the middle of the 20th century. Some of the highest numbers for church attendance in the history of our nation came at the very moment that the Civil Rights movement was having the greatest impact. I don't think this correlation is coincidental.

 So, we have looked at slavery and shown that the American church, far from being a force for racism and slavery, was the very means of bringing an end to this racist practice. We have seen that Christianity was also a force for ending Jim Crow and that the Civil Rights movement was led and assisted by Christians.

So, this brings us to today. Many argue that racism is present structurally and that this is the reason for the differences between the races.  But there are many reasons that can contribute to disparities. You can take different groups of white people and see broad differences as well (read the excellent Hillbilly Elegy to see this principle) which obviously are not the result of racism but the result of cultural difference. And this is what Thomas Sowell argues. He maintains that the primary reason for economic disparities in society are cultural not racial.

And finally, it should be noted that equality is not a good societal goal. We should seek freedom and let every individual choose his or her own path. Freedom necessarily leads to many different outcomes and therefore much inequality.  Instead we should seek to end any sort of hatred, racial or bigotry. But we should not work for equal outcomes. You can read more about my thoughts on equality here.

I have here of course emphasized the non-racist course of our American Christianity. This is not to say that there were not many many racist individuals. There have been terrible things done based on race that cannot and should not be defended. This is not to say that there does not continue to be many racist individuals. There are many people still holding prejudices and biases based on race. But my point and the case making is that generally Christianity in American has been a force against slavery and racism. To tell the story of American Christianity as a story of shameful racism and hatred is simply wrong. It is wrong on every level. It is bad history. It is the opposite of true. And it does ongoing harm today.

American Christianity does not have a racist past.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

8 Ways Men and Women are Different

Lion pride memberships are determined by the females and it is only when new females are born or die that the makeup of the pride is altered. Most prides contain about five females, their cubs and one or two males. The females do most of the hunting in the pride because they are smaller, faster, and do not have the heavy mane that is both heavy and conspicuous.  On the other hand, male lions tend to be the more effective guardian of the pride against intruders. When male cubs reach maturity at the age of two or three, they are excluded from the pride by the females. The males then go and live their lives for a time on their own as nomads but often find other prides to be a part of another pride later in life. 

Female elephant groups are lived in a tight community of about ten. They are led by a matriarch (who is usually the oldest female) and when she dies her eldest daughter usually takes her place. Male elephants live a quite different life. As they grow, they are slowly moved out of the community (the women act aggressively toward them to hasten this movement). The males then go an either live alone or with other males.

Chimpanzees typically have a hierarchy where a dominant male is the highest-ranking male that controls and keeps order in the group. This alpha male charges at others to seem as threatening and as powerful as possible. Other males show deference by reaching out their hands and grunting. Female chimpanzees present their hindquarters. There is a hierarchy for females as well. 

I could give short overviews of the behaviors of males and females in countless other species. I wanted to start with these three examples simply to note that the animal kingdom has males and females and in almost every species there are genetic and conventional behaviors that dictate how these animals organize themselves.  

But somehow when it comes to humans, people get nervous talking about differences. There is a famous video of biologist who triggered students by stating that men and women are different sizes. But I think those students are not the mainstream. I think that, when really cornered, even the most dedicated feminist will acknowledge there are some differences. But when differences are noted, typically they are said tentatively and in very limited areas (size, reproductive organs, etc). Everyone gets uncomfortable when we start thinking in terms of social behaviors. Interactions between the genders. The sort of things we do with lions, elephants, and chimpanzees.

I would like to take a crack at it here. 

But let me start with this preface. Anytime you talk about the differences you are talking about generalities you have to first acknowledge that there are exceptions to the rules. For example, it would be a true statement to say that German Shepherds are bigger than Beagles but I have no doubt that if we searched the globe for German Shepherds that were particularly small and Beagles that are particularly large, we might be able to find a few examples of the opposite being true. If I say that women are smaller than men, I am speaking generally. I am fully aware that some women are larger than some men. What follows will be these sort of generalities. 

Why, you may ask, is this exercise worthwhile? Well, if you were going to buy a guard dog, you would want a German Shepherd (despite the fact that there are some particularly small ones that would not make great guard dogs) and if you were going to buy a small dog that was safe around strangers, you would want something more the size of a Beagle (despite the fact that there may be some particularly large and vicious Beagles that might not be great around strangers). The generalization is a short cut. Rather than having to buy a bunch of puppies and withhold judgment as to which one is your guard dog until they are fully grown, you can buy a German Shepherd puppy with some confidence that it will work (understanding that you might get unlucky and get a particularly small one). 

1- Physical Size and strength
In 2017, retired tennis great, John McEnroe, was being interviewed about the still active female tennis great, Serena Williams. He stated that she might be the greatest female player ever. He was then asked by the host if the qualifier, “female” was needed. His answer was that yes it was needed because if she played with men, she would be ranked 700. His response was met with widespread horror for stating that the greatest female tennis player could not compete with men. But the outrage is insane. Of course the greatest female player cannot be compared to men. This is the whole reason we have different categories for men and women in sports.  But in today’s world, this simple fact must be denied in the interest of gender denial and John McEnroe violated this agreed to rule.
I have started with what should be the least controversial difference between men and women: size and strength. Men are, on average, much taller (in the US the average man is 5 foot 10 inches tall and the average woman is 5 foot 4).  Men are able to run faster, throw harder,  lift more, and jump higher.
Is this an area of superiority for men? Not unless you assume that bigger is always better. The simple comparison of cell phones from the 1980s to today would tell us that there are times when smaller is better. The smaller size of women means that they require less calories a day (a great skill for survival). The smaller size of women means that they are more easily carried when injured (another good survival skill). And the smaller size is more aesthetically pleasing. Women are able to enjoy plane trips better than men. They are able to give the kids more room in the back seat. They are able to enjoy twin sized beds. In short, there are many many cases where being small is a good thing. There is no better. Sometimes it is good to be small and sometimes it is good to be large.
Understanding this difference is very important because there is a lot of danger in denying it. Feminists are upset that men think women should be protected. They laud movies where the female lead is able to karate kick men and dominate them physically. But if we start with McEnroe’s simple truth: women are physically much much weaker than men, we have to then build a society where men do look out for the physical well-being of women. Women need to be protected from male predators by giving them separate bathrooms, not letting them go out alone at night, not letting them go to places where they could be physically or sexually assaulted. 

2- Sexual Behavior
Well… women might say, that is a bunch of crap. Why should women be restricted in their mobility. Should we not just teach men that they should control themselves? The answer is that of course men should not assault women. Men that assault women should go to jail. Women never deserve to be raped or assaulted. The problem comes from the sort of immorality men have. When women are immoral, their immorality looks certain ways, when men are immoral, their immorality looks other ways. Immorality is always bad but it manifests differently for men and for women. And for men, that immorality manifests itself in creepy ways. Men are weird sexually when they get immoral. People talk about morality laws being meant to ‘oppress women’s sexuality’ but I am pretty convinced that morality laws are almost always there to stop men from being creeps. Immoral say creepy things,  stare at private parts, follow women, and make crude jokes. Immoral men that are also criminals take all of these things to the horrific next level by grabbing, flashing, and raping.  
There are plenty of immoral women out there but their immorality rarely manifests itself in this way. They might be promiscuous.  But rarely do they act in the particularly creepy way that men do.
Why is this so? Because inherently, men operate differently from a sexual standpoint. I remember an old sketch comedy from my childhood (I have been unable to remember what show or I would reference) that had a man and woman explaining the different sexual attitudes. The woman asked the man a series of questions. 

"Do you know me very well?"
"Not really," he responds. 
"Do you think I am attractive?"  
"Not really."
"Do you like my personality?"
"Not really." 
"Would you have sex with me?"
"Because you said I could!" 

The bit was funny because everyone knows it is true. Men without the Christian sexual ethic, are happy to have sex with almost any woman who consents. In contrast, a woman is typically much much more picky. She requires a man with a good job, who is funny, and reasonably attractive. Often she wants more than a one-night stand. Despite 50 plus years of society telling women to be "sexually liberated" by rejecting the Christian sexual ethic and to act like men sexually, women still do not act the same. 

I explain why in this article but for our purposes, we can just admit this is true. 

3- Emotional stability
Every married couple realizes that at certain times of the month there are going to be different emotions, different family dynamics, and often more stress. My wife and I laugh about all our fights happening during this time period. This is basic knowledge. Now, I get that women do not appreciate men pointing to the monthly cycle every time they get mad or emotional but I think it is a basic and self evident fact that if you wanted to find someone that is going to be roughly stable in terms of emotions over the course of a month, you would choose a man not a woman.
Does this mean that men are better? No. We live in a culture where emotion is looked down upon and Spock-like calm is viewed as a good thing. If feminists were really pro-woman, they would argue that all this Spock like love for emotion free communication is silly. They would embrace the communication styles of more traditional ethnic societies and reject the English stoicism. I am not saying I agree with this but if they did that they might have a point. Sometimes having a burst of emotions is a good thing. Sometimes having someone that gets fired up about something helps move the family forward, forces issues that were once bubbling under the surface to the top, and keeps things interesting. For every Spock, you need a Dr. McCoy to keep things good. 
Men and women are different with emotional stability and that is a good thing. No one is better. No one is worse. But both are different. 

4- Emotional sensitivity
Jerry Seinfeild has a bit where he says to women, “I bet you would like to know what men are really thinking. Would you like to know? Alright, I will tell you. Nothing.” His joke is that men tend to be oblivious and take things as they are. This, of course, is a generalization (as everything I am writing here) but it points to another general rule. Women seem to be sensitive to how others are feeling and thinking in a way that men are not. Most kids know that when they are hurt or sick, they should go to mom, not dad because they will get more sympathy. 
Does this mean men are bad? Nope. Sometimes being numb to the emotions of others is a good thing. It is especially important in war or in business when hurting others (via guns or layoffs) is important for the common good. But neither is it bad for women to have this sensitivity. It is a beautiful thing that everyone around women appreciate. This is not a difference that is good or bad. The differences are just reality and they make the world beautiful.  

5- Communication capability
My wife and I often have the problem of her being able to tie multiple lines of thinking and conversation together in one conversation while I get lost if we get beyond one single line of discussion. This is true for men and women more generally. Women often get frustrated with men because men cannot tell what they are thinking. Men, if you come home from work, think your wife might be upset, ask her if she is okay, and she answers "I'm fine," please know that she is not fine. And she will be upset that you cannot tell that she is not fine. Women communicate well and want to communicate. Many married couples have problems when women insist on talking and men want to go back into their den and be alone. This general principles is seen clearly by watching how men and women talk on the phone. Men typically have terse and short conversations. One word statements and short phrases. Yes. No. I will pick you up. Okay. Bye. In contrast, women are comfortable with long conversations and rarely have such short interactions (especially with other women).  

6- Defensiveness
CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity, discusses the fact that mothers often are more defensive of the family. He notes that wives often think one of the primary problems with their husbands is that they do not stand up for their family enough. If someone slights the family (by rude behavior, a neglected invitation, or outright insult), the mother is prone to want the husband to stand up to the offending party. If a boss is rude, if a schoolteacher is gruff, or any other person besmirches justice and due respect, the mother tends to demand that the husband stand up for the family honor. On the other hand, the father tends to want to keep things as calm as possible and is only be prone to confront in the most extreme situations. Think about your typical family dynamics. How often does the mother ask the husband why he is not standing up for the family (versus the other way around)?  Again, this gender difference is a good thing. Both are needed. The husband is prone to allow every sort of slight. The wife is prone to jump on every sort of slight. The back and forth that often goes on in healthy marriages is a needed tug of war that prevents either extreme from dominating.

7- Ability to win arguments
One thing I council young men getting ready for marriage on is the ability to apologize quickly. Why? Because as every experienced husband knows, continuing a fight, especially when you have any fault at all (and sometimes when you have none) is a losing proposition. Wives have this amazing ability to not only win an argument but to leave a man bruised and battered as a result. I have never met a man that regularly wins arguments. And even when men win, they often find themselves regretting the argument. 
Women are better at family arguments than men are. It is like me playing Lebron James in basketball. I might get lucky and hit a shot on very rare occasions but the score at the end of the day will be very one-sided. 
So, what do we do with this one sided nature of male/female relationships? The answer is that we ask for mercy. The only solution is to appeal to a holy book. Women, respect your husbands. Please. Please. Without that, there is no hope for fairness in a marriage.
8 - Life Goals
HL Mechen once said, "Man is always looking for someone to boast to; woman is always looking for a shoulder to put her head on." Our society bemoans the lack of women in the sciences. Engineering schools wonder why they do not get more female applicants. In the corporate world, programs need to be pushed to recruit and promote women and still there are a surprising lack of women in the higher levels of the corporate world. Many assume that all these differences are due to some sort of structural sexism. But Steven Pinker, in The Blank Slate, argues that these differences are due to genetic differences. Women are certainly capable in these fields but choose to do other things. They prefer other fields. They prefer fields with relationships and social interactions. And they prefer to have children and while many enjoy working, they tend to place a much heavier emphasis and to get purpose from things outside of work. It is not that there is structural sexism but that men and women choose different fields by free choice. Jordan Peterson has a famous video explaining this that you can watch here

So, in these seven areas and probably hundreds more. The faster our society stops being so afraid to acknowledge that there are inherent and genetic differences between men and women (as there are with lions, elephants, and chimps), the sooner we stop trying to force men to act more like women and women to act more like men. And the sooner everyone will be happier.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Racial Healing and Why Focusing on It Doesn't Help

Mandatory watching in schools and completely historically inaccurate.
Whether during black history month or the recent remembrance of the emancipation proclamation, our nation likes to focus on the racist elements of our history. And many, particularly those in University settings, pivot from telling of a racist history to speaking of "structural racism" that still remains. They point to gaps in achievement, incarceration, and wealth and argue that this is due either to the dark history of racism and Jim Crow or due to ongoing unstated racism.

There is rarely a single solution provided to fix the problem. Some point to police reform. Some point to reparations. Some point to whites "checking their privilege" (whatever that means). But the primary response to the problem seems to me to be one of ongoing apologies. We commemorate Martin Luther King's birthday. We commemorate various aspects of slavery. We show our kids "Roots." Many straight up apologize for being white. Many Christian denominations have issued apologies and roadmaps to racial reconciliation.

It seems that whatever the solution to racial divides are, everyone agrees that lots of talking about it will help.

But I disagree.

Three things can happen when we focus on race:
1) Things can get better
2) Things can stay the same
3) Things can get worse

There are a lot of people who assume that the way to fix race relations in America is to focus on them. I disagree completely. Focusing on race makes things worse by giving people the idea that every slight is probably due to racism.

When I was a kid, my family were vegetarians. And we were overweight. And we had weird names. My name was Lewis Ungit and my siblings had similarly unusual names. We were also poor and wore old clothes, cheap shoes and drove broken down cars. I had a twisted front tooth that I was always self conscience about.  As I grew up, I always felt like an outsider. In my mind, my outsider status was inherent to being a Ungit. Ungits did not fit in. So, if I was picked last on a sports team, I assumed it was because I was a Ungit. If other guys got girlfriends and I did not, it was because I was a Ungit. If the teacher didn’t like me, it was because I was a Ungit. This was my mindset for most of my childhood and even the first few years of my adulthood. But then I realized something that changed the way I viewed life. I realized that many people experienced similar things. Many people are picked last. Many kids are not super popular. Many people are not liked by teachers. Many people feel like outsiders. And it is not because they are Ungits. In fact, it many of the things that I thought made me an outsider actually could, at least in theory, be endearing and draw others to me. 

Assuming that everyone dislikes you because of something fundamental to your nature (your family, ethnicity, or race) makes you sort of neurotic. 

And when we tell people that white people are subconsciously racist. That there is structural racism. That the whole history of the USA was built on racism.... When we tell people these things, we are doing to them what many do to themselves, we are suggesting that every bad thing that comes their way very well may be the result of racism. 

I remember hearing a black woman tell a story about being at a party. A man (white) came in and went around the room talking to people, shaking hands and saying hi. Right before he got to her, he stopped. She was the one person he did not greet. She acknowledged that this probably was not due to racism. He probably got distracted or thought he already said hi. There are countless reasons for this. I can personally remember similar slights happening to me. But she noted, in telling her story, that she could not help but consider racism as a possibility. 

And I can see why. If you have been told your whole life that the country has a racist past and that most people are still racist on some level, it would be hard not to think in those terms. Imagine growing up and being told that you were in a system that was always against you (and the date can even be named 1619) and the system is still against you. There is an unconscious hatred for you in almost all people.How in the world is that healthy? What are we doing? Why in the world would we tell people that and somehow think that we are causing good to happen?

As I got older, I realized that my whole concern that people did not like me because I was an Ungit was ridiculous. I realized that everyone gets slighted. No one fits in all the time. Everyone feels like a loser some times. Everyone gets treated badly from time to time. Some of the blame for my problems was my own. I realized I needed to work harder to fit in and work harder on my social skills. Some of the blame was just finding the right people to hang out with (a bigger town helped). No one connects with everyone and everyone will feel out of place in some crowds.  None of this had to do with anything inherent in me. It was not my family, ethnicity, or race, that was the problem. I am glad I learned that lesson. 

Not sure I would have learned it though if everyone in the whole country was telling me that it was indeed because I was an Ungit and that there was structural hatred for Ungits in society. Pretty sure I would be neurotic if that is what society told me. 

And that is what society tells people when we tell the history of our nation in racial terms and suggest that racism is prevalent and structural in society to this day. 

I think that as a society, the best way to find healing from a racial perspective, is to focus LESS on race not more.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Top 10 Authors That Changed My Life

My life has been shaped by many people. My parents first and foremost. My wife. Close friends over the years. But as an avid reader, I have been changed significantly by the books I have read. Here are the authors that I think changed my life the most through the years. I ranked these in terms of people that changed my life the most not necessarily ones I agree with the most.

Before I jump into my top 10, I want to list 4 honorable mentions that really could be on the list.
Honorable Mention 1:  JI Packer - Favorite Book: Knowing God  
Honorable Mention 2: ND Wilson - Favorite Book: 100 Cupboards
Honorable Mention 3: JRR Tolkien - Favorite Book: The Hobbit (yes, I've read LOTRs many times but prefer the simplicity of the Hobbit)
Honorable Mention 4: Fyodor Dostoevsky - Favorite Book: Brothers Karamazov
Now.... here are the top 10 authors that changed my life. 

10 - Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut was the first author I learned to love as an adult. I was in my late teens when I started reading him and I devoured everything he wrote. His dry sense of humor and his unique blend of pugilism and compassion shaped the way I viewed the world for a huge chunk of my early adulthood. He taught me to love fiction and the craft of beautiful prose.

I reread several of his books last year and still found him to be well worth the read. Vonnegut was an agnostic secular humanist and his works can be a little nihilistic in the feel. But they are all insightful and beautiful.

Top 3 Vonnegut Books to Read Right Now
Mother Night (a fascinating book about pretending to be evil and then becoming it)
Cat's Cradle (a book about the end of the world - sad and yet funny)
Slaughterhouse Five (quintessential Vonnegut)

9 - Alister McGrath @alisteremcgrath
I started reading Alister McGrath when I asked the question: "Were there any Protestant-esque people before the Reformation." I was specifically interested in the topic of justification. McGrath's "Iustitia Dei" answered the question. McGrath is a thoughtful and intellectual Christian who spoke to me at a time when I needed to know answers to hard questions about theology and encouraged me to read other authors such as JI Packer, CS Lewis, and NT Wright.

Top 3 McGrath Books to Read Right Now
Iustitia Dei (the definitive history of the doctrine of justification)
Historical Theology (an excellent overview of theology throughout the history)
Mere Apologetics (an introduction to defending the faith that was helpful for me early in my faith) 

8  - Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway lives in a similar part of my brain as Vonnegut. He, like Vonnegut was not a believer but like Vonnegut he had a certain wisdom and insight to life that has had a profound impact on me. But in many ways, he could not be more different than Vonnegut. Unlike the always self aware Vonnegut, Hemingway's writing is bare to the point of being jarring. He writes like the Old Testament prose with few explanations or statements of reflection. "Distrust adjectives," Hemingway said and it shows in the writing. But like the Old Testament prose, his writing has a heaviness to it that affects the reader. Also, unlike Vonnegut who could plausibly write as an asexual (in "Deadeye Dick") Hemingway was robust and masculine in all his writing creating the romantic image of the ultimate masculine life. Drinking, hunting, and being a man.

Top 3 Hemingway Books to Read Right Now
For Whom the Bell Tolls (amazing story of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s)
The Old Man and the Sea (powerful story with deep religious imagery)
A Moveable Feast (a beautiful autobiography posthumously published)

7- Tim Keller @timkellernyc
One theme the reader will note in this list is that many of the authors are effective at arguing for the truth of the Christian faith. I have found the evidence that Christianity is true, intellectually fulfilling, and existentially satisfying both exciting and important in my life. Keller is not without flaws (sometimes embracing SJW-ish views and sometimes with a very truncated view of the gospel) but his defense of the Christian faith is both compelling and important. I read a lot of him early in my Christian walk and his arguments for the faith helped shore up my baby-faith. Keller writes for non-Christians and addresses the questions our society is asking about hell, claims of exclusivity, and truth. He answers these questions well and I know so many people that have been encouraged and strengthened by his writings. I am one of them.

Top 3 Keller Books to Read Right Now
The Reason for God (Keller's most straightforward defense of the faith)
Making Sense of God (another brilliant apologetic work)
The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (a short but charming book about the power of being outward focused)

6 - George Orwell
 George Orwell is a genius. Most people know him for 1984. Rightfully so. The book is a work of genius and paints a prophetic picture of the hell that can come from government control and oppression. Other's know him for Animal Farm. But if it were only those two famous books, I would probably not have him on the list. It was his non-fiction that made me love his writing and that had the biggest impact on me. Orwell was a complicated person. He was both a faithful Anglican and a skeptic of religion. He was strongly opposed to communism but supported socialism. But despite the seeming contradictions in his life, reading his thoughts on almost anything provokes thought and reflection. He spent time with the poor of England and paints wonderful and powerful pictures of the homeless and destitute in England and France during the mid-20th century. And even when he was wrong, he seems to have a certain self awareness of the shortcomings of his views to at least address them. If I could make anyone read Orwell, I would say devour all his non-fiction. But non-fiction is never as fun as fiction and his fiction is excellent. So, for my recommended reading, I will recommend his two most famous fictional works and an excellent non-fiction.

Top 3 Orwell books to Read Right Now
1984 (a terrifying and prophetic picture of government oppression)
Animal Farm (a parody in animal form of communism)
Road to Wigan Pier (Orwell's account of living among the poor in the 1930s but it is his postscript that is worth the price of reading. Wonderful insights on technology, socialism and extremism)

5 - GK Chesteron @GKChesterton 
Chesterton was an Inkling before there were Inklings. The Oxford Inklings that included CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Charles Williams were the next generation but Chesterton would fit in perfectly. He combined excellent fictional writing with powerful Christian apologetics. Chesterton was a Catholic convert from Anglicanism and is pretty outspoken about his promotion of Mother Rome. I would argue this is when he is at his weakest but most of his writings are simply defenses of Christianity. And it is here that he is at his strongest. A man writing during the height of modernism, Chesterton was a prophet saw where the new morals were going. “Men invent new ideals," he wrote, "because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.”

Chesterton masterfully wrote both fiction and non-fiction in an effort to change the world.

Top 3 Chesterton Books to Read Right Now
Everlasting Man (Chesterton's Magnum Opus showing how the modern idea of progress is flawed)
Orthodoxy (Chesterton's wonderful treatise on Christianity as truth)
The Complete Father Brown Stories (an example of Chesterton's fiction at its best)

4 - NN Taleb @nntaleb 
When you are young, you are more impressionable. This is why college ministry is important. We are ready to change. Many of the authors I have listed influenced me when I was young and still looking for meaning and purpose in life. Taleb, in contrast, I discovered as an adult. In my 30s. And he changed my life and my way of viewing life in major ways. Taleb is a former options trader who now is a philosopher. His writing is raw and arogant. But his ideas are so compelling. Taleb is a genius. It is rare to know statistics, ancient Roman history, and how to trade options but this is Taleb. The first book I read from Taleb was Antifragile. I found Taleb arrogant, contrarian, and wonderful. He argued a philosophy of life focused on surviving the unexpected. Taleb challenged his readers to survive the unpredictable by being 'antifragile.' By antifragile, he means winning when things are unstable. I went on to read 'Fooled by Randomness' and 'Black Swan.' All these books changed my life. They not only changed the way I think about investing financially but also changed the way I view risk, entrepreneurship, science, philosophy, and life.

Top 3 Taleb Books to Read Right Now
Fooled by Randomness (Taleb argues that humans see patterns where reality is random)
Black Swan (Taleb explains that most of life is unpredictable and that forecasters are charlatans)
Antifragile (Taleb explains how to live in an unpredictable world)

3 - NT Wright @NTWrightSays
When I first read Wright, I had no idea how controversial he was. McGrath mentioned him in one of history of theology books and I read his "New Testament and the People of God." It blew my mind. I then read his "Jesus and the Victory of God," and "The Resurrection of the Son of God." Wright took the tools of liberal academic New Testament studies and made overwhelmingly clear case that the New Testament is historically accurate. These three works showed how ridiculous many of the "historical Jesus" studies are untenable and why the orthodox understanding of the bible is so much more plausible. Everything in the New Testament only makes sense in the context of the first century. These books were a huge boost to my faith and gave me great confidence that my faith was not in a myth but in true historical events.

Wright taught me a few other things that I still treasure as well. Among those are the importance of remembering that the Christian hope is resurrection not heaven. The creeds and every major denomination says that we will rise from the dead at the last day but modern Christians often just talk about going to heaven when we die. Wright showed me why this distinction is not minor. One is an embodied existence that points to a God that cares about the physical created world. The other is disembodied existence of Platonic philosophy. Another powerful truth that Wright taught me was the meaning of Kingdom in this world. Christ, Wright maintains, came to be king of the world. The gospel call is primarily a call to bow before him as king. In these ways, Wright has so much to offer the church.

But after I fell in love with Wright's works, I learned that he was very controversial. It was not primarily liberals or skeptics that hated Wright. It was orthodox Christians who viewed him with suspicion. Specifically, it was Reformed Christians that I respected such as John Piper. The main critique of Wright rested not on his writings on Jesus and the historical nature of the bible but on Wright's understanding of the doctrine of justification. Wright is viewed as a proponent of the "New Perspective on Paul" which maintains that the main thrust of Paul's doctrine of Justification by faith alone was not about how to get to heaven but was about how to view other Christians. I have mixed feelings about some of these critiques. I think in part, Wright has been misunderstood and the critiques are unfair but in other areas, I agree, Wright is flawed in his thinking and clouds things that should not be clouded.

But whatever you think of Wright on the doctrine of justification, his writings on the historicity of the bible, the resurrection, and the kingdom should be required reading for every Christian.

 Top 3 Wright Books to Read Right Now
Note: I linked to three books above that are wonderful but long scholarly books. I highly recommend those but I am going to link to 3 shorter popular books here in the hopes that he will be read.
Simply Jesus (a basic understanding of Wright's view of the New Testament)
Surprised by Hope (a wonderful book on the importance of the Resurrection as the Christian hope)
How God Became King (a beautiful book explaining how Jesus was God incarnate coming to become King of this world) 

2 - Doug Wilson @douglaswils
Like NT Wright, I liked Doug Wilson before I knew he was controversial. I first learned about Wilson from Credenda Agenda. This journal was a great cultural magazine that Wilson edited. A friend had a copy and I read it. The cover article was by a guy named Douglas Jones, titled , "Playing with Knives: God the Dangerous" by Douglas Jones. This article showed me what it means to have a God who is the author of history. A God who is in control even when things are dangerous and bad. A God who created a dangerous world. A God who created a world where people could die. Where kids could be tortured. Where suffering, violence, war, abuse, and danger were possible. What sort of a God does that? The Christian God. But Jones was not the intellectual heft behind Credenda Agenda. Another Douglas was. As I started to read Credenda Agenda, I realized that Douglas Wilson, the founder and editor of the magazine was funny, thoughtful and brilliant. And his books, blog, and sermons changed my life. He, like Chesterton, was a cheerful warrior. He laughed and was optimistic about history. He was intellectual but orthodox. He loved the arts but despised artsy fartsy culture.

I have read his blog since he started his blog. His ideas have influenced me for more than a decade.

But I learned that, like Wright, many in the Reformed world, view Wilson with suspicion. Some view him with suspicion because he has expressed sympathy for Wright and his views of justification. Some view him with suspicion because they view him as a reactionary fundamentalist. I think both these are unfair criticisms. I think Wilson is reasonable and funny and, in my experience, the people that like him least are the people that only know him second hand. Those that have actually read him with an open mind generally respect him even when they disagree. He was, after all, able to get along with famed atheist Christopher Hitchens. 

Top 3 Books by Wilson to Read Right Now
The Serrated Edge (a book explaining how satire works as a weapon)
Reforming Marriage (a great book on marriage and how men and women can live together)
Angels in the Architecture (an wonderful picture of the ideal Christian life) 

1 - CS Lewis @CSLewisDaily 
 There is no one that has impacted my life more than CS Lewis. When I was a child, raised by hippies who had no sort of orthodox Christian faith, my mother would read the Narnia books to me. These books shaped my view of God, of faith, of adventure, and of right and wrong. As an adult, I started reading the Narnia books again and then found the rest of CS Lewis's works and devoured them. His non-fiction is as beautiful as his fiction. His fiction is amazing.

Top 3 Lewis Books to Read Right Now
The Chronicles of Narnia (great for both kids and adults)
Til We Have Faces (his worst selling and most hated book is his best work in my opinion)
The Great Divorce (a parable about how humans reject God)

American Christianity Does Not Have A Racist Past

Sometimes I hear, even from Christians, the sentiment that the USA, and the American church specifically, has a racist past. History is to...