Here’s an exchange from a 1987 Firing Line episode where Allan Bloom discusses his book The Closing of the American Mind with William F. Buckley, Jr. Bloom essentially describes Pajama Boy as the feminist solution for keeping families together when there is no meaningful distinction between males and females. He doesn’t hold out much hope for Pajama Boy, though, in a liberal society where people get to do whatever they want.
Buckley: As I understand the points you made in the book, [feminism] is not only a project, it is a project that is bound not to succeed because it is against nature.
Bloom: Of course, I never formulated it in that way. I tied to state it as carefully as possible. There is an argument—I do not believe it to be true—but it of course it is western civilization, male machismo, which is educated and if released, there would be more caring, more nurturing males. I think in our current atmosphere—I mean that of course is obviously a linchpin of a possibility of a newly constructed family where the distinction between male and female wouldn’t be important, that the males have these qualities. And I think in a liberal society where people can do pretty much what they want, you can’t or you’re very unlikely, or almost I would say can’t, count upon a very great proportion of males becoming nurturing. And that seems to me to be a very fundamental need for a certain kind of feminist argument—at least if the family is to stay together. I wouldn’t simply say it’s enough. I try to state these things carefully. I’m more trying to raise the problem, theoretically, because the relation of men to women is a complicated thing; it has a long history. I have two things: I don’t want to give easy answers myself. But more importantly, I don’t want that whole history wiped out, which is in philosophy and particularly in literature, so that one can reconsider what you lose and what you gain.
Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Jr.
John McWhorter (Professor of English, Columbia University) on how the modern anti-racism movement is a religion:
Anti-racism, as it is currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism. Today it’s a religion. And I don’t mean that as a rhetorical feint. I mean that it actually is what any naive anthropologist would recognize as a faith. And people, many of whom don’t think of themselves as religious, but Galileo would recognize them quite easily. So, for example, the idea that the responsible white person is supposed to attest to their white privilege and realize that it can never go away and feel eternally guilty about it: that’s original sin, right there. The idea that there is going to be a day when America comes to terms with race—or that there could be—what does that even mean? What is the meaning of the coming to terms? What would that consist of? Who would come to them? What would the terms be? At what date would this be? The only reason that anyone says that is because it corresponds to our conception of Judgment Day, and it’s equally abstract. When we use the word problematic, especially since about 2008 or -09, what we’re really saying is blasphemous. It’s really the exact same term. Or, the suspension of disbelief that is a characteristic of religious faith—there’s an extent to which logic is considered no longer to apply—that’s how we talk about racism.
How Anti-Racism Hurts Black People, John McWhorter
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.
I came across this passage recently and was strangely encouraged. Abraham lies to Abimelech, saying that Sarah is his sister. So the king takes her in to his house. But before he can do anything to Sarah, God appears to him in a dream and reveals to him that Sarah is a married woman. It is easy to get discouraged by your sin, to see the places where you struggle and wonder if God is even changing you at all. In this passage, though, we see a man who is unaware that he is about to sin, and the only thing that keeps him from doing so is God himself intervening in the situation. (Abimelech even tries to appeal to his own innocence and integrity of heart, but God assures him that it was He, in fact, who kept him from sinning.) My tendency in areas of struggle is to focus on how far I fall short. Yet in the story of Abimelech, it is God’s sheer mercy that keeps him from sinning. May I remember Abimilech the next time I begin to think that sanctification is a battle I must fight on my own.
The era of social media has brought about some interesting changes to ordinary life. We live in a time when it is common to form acquaintances, which in time may even grow into friendships, with complete strangers on the Internet. (Although, I must step back and acknowledge the fact that most friendships begin with two strangers meeting.) Chances are you shared an interest with that person, whether that be politics or sports or music or faith. Maybe someone retweeted him into your timeline or a website algorithm suggested that you might like to follow her.
But all of this is a rambling preamble (preramble?) to what, or who, I wanted to talk about: Karen. (We’ll call her Karen for the purpose of this post.) Sometime about ten years ago my wife had the opportunity to play at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. As you can imagine, she was excited at the possibility of someone from the music business being in the audience and (more realistically) at the chance to expand her fan base. The guy she was opening for was a blander version of Dave Matthews (if you can believe that’s possible), but he was a hustler and had built up a sizable following in a town full of hundreds of people trying to do the exact same thing. Karen was one of his fans. She was a middle-aged woman, probably in her fifties, and you could tell she loved live music. After my wife finished her set, she came to our merch table and bought a CD. She raved about my wife’s music and was one of those people who treat you like they’ve known you your whole life when they first meet you. She signed up for my wife’s mailing list, we said good bye and then parted ways.
And then, she followed my wife on Facebook. She started to comment on family pictures. She wished our children happy birthday. She posted generic aphorisms when my wife wrote about something that had upset her. In short, it felt like she was trying to become a part of our family. My wife has considered blocking her, but truthfully she’s never crossed a line into being inappropriate. I don’t know whether she’s a lonely person or if she has issues with recognizing normal social boundaries. And to be honest, unless you make your account private, this is what we all sign up for with social media. To paraphrase Harry Truman: If you can’t stand the heat, delete your account.”
Geoffrey Lehmann, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Poems are always given. You don’t write a poem, a poem writes itself….You occasionally do fake a poem and you know it,” Lehmann says. “Sometimes those fake poems confuse other people. They think it is a real poem but you know that it wasn’t really a poem, it was dictated. You cobbled it together cleverly. You didn’t have any real urge for it. Poetry is a very strange thing.”
I used to believe what Lehmann asserts here and on more than one occasion have experienced the phenomenon of “capturing” a song out of thin air. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve rejected this notion—although I wonder if I’ve swung too far to the other extreme. While I think I know what Lehmann is getting at when he says he “knows” when a poem “wasn’t really a poem,” I think it’s silly to say that a poem someone has constructed through meticulous addition and subtraction, trial and error, is not a real poem. The true test of any poem’s success is how it is received by the reader or the hearer.
At the same time, I can’t outright deny the experience of setting something down on paper (or computer screen) in a quick and effortless fashion that feels fully formed. People speak of “channeling” a poem and may even believe that God (or some other spirit) gave the poem to him or her. I don’t completely rule out spiritual intervention, especially for pagans who engage in practices like automatic writing and potentially open themselves up to the spiritual realm.
Nor do I discount the possibility of God aiding a writer with certain words, or at least aiding him with a momentary, heightened ability to order words in a pleasant or meaningful way. At any rate, I don’t think we need to completely understand this phenomenon or pursue something that God has not revealed to us in order to acknowledge the poet’s experience of “being inspired.” As believers, we should neither accept a sub-Christian view of inspiration, nor should we deny the fact that some works of art have additional momentum behind them which cannot be simply explained by the artist’s hard work.
Is it greater to analyze
Or at one’s will recollect?
Greater still when these synthesize
In the same man’s intellect.
Last night I watched part of an interview between Rick Rubin and Kendrick Lamar. I know little about Lamar. I’ve only heard snippets of his music. Based on the interview, though, he seems like an intelligent, curious, creative guy. It got me thinking about how we talk about race and racism in America. We generally speak in systematic terms, as though every person from a particular ethnic or cultural background has the same experience. Now, I’m not denying the reality of shared experiences among people who come from the same place. But I found myself watching the interview, interested in this man—as a man—and not looking to find the correct labels to affix to the rapper in my mind.
He did speak about where he came from—growing up in Compton and the challenges that entailed. After the interview, I watched his video for Alright. It doesn’t paint cops in a good light, and I don’t like or agree with that message. But I also don’t know all the experiences that he’s had with cops. Acknowledging that fact doesn’t mean that I suddenly toss my respect for law enforcement out the window—nor does it mean that I completely disregard Lamar’s experiences. Life is complex. Glomming onto talking points only further entrenches you in the polemic you’ve chosen. One of the maddening things about discussing race in America is this pressure to either completely skew the experiences of another group or become mawkishly PC.
There are some things you can only know by looking into another man’s eyes. Watching the interview with Lamar made me want to sit down and have my own conversation with him. A quick chat over coffee. Maybe it would be awkward. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe we’d find things in common to discuss. Maybe we wouldn’t. Maybe we’d like one another. Maybe we wouldn’t. The point is: I would be talking to him—Kendrick Lamar—not Black America.
In 1982, AT&T agreed to break up what for decades had been a monopoly on telephone service in the United States. The smaller regional spin-offs were nicknamed “Baby Bells,” a reference to the fact that AT&T traced its lineage back to Bell Telephone Company (as in Alexander Graham Bell). I propose that it’s time to do something similar with The Gospel Coalition. In the span of just 14 years, it has become one of the major hubs of mainstream evangelical thought—certainly the biggest of the Reformedish world. And as such, they have become gatekeepers of The Conversation.
But first, what is it exactly that they do? Are they a denomination? A website? A conference promoter? An advocacy group? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is yes. So, I propose this simple plan: Break up The Gospel Coalition into six separate, self-governing organizations, which I outline below:
The website. Ask most Christians familiar with The Gospel Coalition (TGC) what it is, and I am willing to bet a majority answer “a website.” What initially was supposed to serve TGC as a resource has become synonymous with the organization itself. Since the website won the branding war, it gets to keep the name. As it currently does, the website will continue to feature a daily dose of blogs, explainer pieces, and linked articles.
Conference producer. TGC has already expanded its operations in recent years, branching out into regional conferences. It holds a women’s conference every two years. My recommendation would be for the conference group to merge with Together for the Gospel and rebrand themselves as GospelCon. Many of the regular speakers already appear at both conferences.
Denomination. TGC would likely not admit this, but in many ways it is already acting as a denomination. Their Council alone has 52 members, many of whom are pastors. Since the website already won the naming rights, the denomination could be incorporated as Third Way Church. They would retain The Gospel Coalition missional initiatives and ecclesiastical resources. Each church currently listed in the website directory that is not a part of a denomination would automatically be grandfathered into the Third Way denomination. Members of the Council who are pastors or elders of churches that belong to an existing denomination could return to ministering to those congregations, where they are needed most.
Publishing house. The Gospel Coalition publishing arm is basically an imprint of Crossway Publishing already, so it would simply be absorbed by Crossway.
Online education. The Gospel Coalition’s collection of online courses is impressively deep. This group would be relaunched as Gospel U and partner with Phil Vischer’s Big Idea Productions to produce animated courses for all age levels.
Social justice advocacy group. Russell Moore, Kyle Howard, and Timothy Isaiah Cho would spearhead this group. They would keep control of the MLK Conference and take over the Revoice Conference. They would also act as a lobbying group, but instead of lobbying politicians they would lobby local churches.
In my modest proposal, each one of these new organizations would only become stronger as they are freed up to focus their time and energy on a singular goal. It’s time to break up Big Green.