Americans should quit dreaming and change the way they think

I was raised in the South. When I was a kid there were still remnants of the War Between the States around. (We southerners preferred that moniker for the American Civil War.)

I recall for example a couple of bumper stickers I saw as a youth. One said “Hell no, I ain’t forgettin’.” Another exhorted, “Save your Confederate money. The South rise again.”

The Confederate battle flag, known as the “Stars and Bars” was prevalent in my area. Vestiges of Jim Crow still lingered.

As an adult I became a Civil War buff. Living in Virginia I could tour numerous battlefields where Union and Rebel soldiers laid down their lives.

I enjoyed going to reenactments, where people dressed up in the blue and grey. There were even “civilians” who took part in the living histories. They came costumed as sutlers, camp followers and even ministers of the Gospel.

In the 90s I worked for a small college in South Carolina. In their main parlor the most prominent painting was of Confederate general Robert. E. Lee.

Fast forward about 20  years. General Lee is now a controversial figure. A statue of him in Charlottesville was this summer the catalyst for a confrontation in the streets between white supremacists and so-called anti-fascists.

This week the general’s descendant, Rev. Robert Wright Lee, denounced his own great uncle.  He told the press that he felt shame at General Lee’s role in the Confederacy.

There is now an outcry from some to do away with any and all memorials to American heroes who owned slaves. The most prominent Founders now being maligned include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slaveholders.

In his will Washington freed his slaves. Jefferson did not.

Yet, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He even included in one of the early drafts a condemnation of slavery.

Yet, 15 years ago historian Stephen E.  Ambrose published a piece for the Smithsonian that was highly critical of Jefferson. He wrote:

Jefferson knew slavery was wrong and that he was wrong in profiting from the institution, but apparently could see no way to relinquish it in his lifetime.

Ambrose didn’t stop at these unflattering comments. He was even more condemning:

Jefferson owned slaves. He did not believe that all were created equal. He was a racist, incapable of rising above the thought of his time and place, and willing to profit from slave labor.

When I have thought of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves, and of the southerners who fought in the Civil War, I have tended to excuse them. “They were men of their time,” I think. “Everybody thought like they did.”

Ambrose did not excuse Jefferson . He saw him as a hypocrite who espoused equality for all, but did not express it in his own behavior. Ambrose said:

Few of us entirely escape our times and places. Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as mistress. He lied about it.

As a man with southern roots, and someone who considers Virginia his native soil, I find Ambrose’s comments deeply troubling. I also recoil at attacks on men like Robert E. Lee,  a revered son of Virginia. It is as if he is attacking my own personal world view.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that Ambrose is correct.  While I still consider Jefferson and Lee great public figures, I cannot excuse their racism.

How could these bigger-than-life figures have been so wrong? I think it might have something to do with our human natures.

The Bible portrays us all as sinners, i.e. people who are in rebellion against God. It describes us as people with corrupt natures who do corruption.

Yet, the Scriptures also call on us to master our sin. For whatever reason, men like Jefferson and Lee did not master theirs when it came to racism and bigotry.

Ambrose wrote that Jefferson had a “great mind and a limited character.” I think this was probably true of a lot of mythological characters in American history.

It is also true of many of us in modern life. I am not an intellectual by any means, but I do like to think and analyze. Unfortunately I tend to “overthink.”  This leads me to indecisiveness.

Like Jefferson I muse and write on subjects, but take little action in my own personal life.  I have recently thought that this is due to a lack of faith in God and His Word, the Bible.

I have for  most of my life agreed with the truth that Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins and rose again from the dead to reign over me. I have also espoused intellectual assent to the truths of Scripture.

The reality though is that my life does not reflect these beliefs.  I have not done what the Bible has told me to do.

I have a myriad of excuses for this neglect, but the crux of the issue is that I have preferred doing things my way, perhaps out of convenience, or perhaps out of lust of the eyes, lust of the  flesh or pride of life.

I have determined of late though that God means  what He says. The Scriptures say “do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that He will also reap.” In many ways I have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Why is it no man confesses his vices? It is because he has not yet laid them aside. It is a waking man only who can tell his dreams.”

J. Vernon McGee, a popular pastor and radio personality from the last half of the 20th century said of Seneca’s quote, “A man in sin is like a person still dreaming.

He alone (Jesus) can give comfort and understanding to the afflicted as well as extend mercy and grace.”

I have now after a lifetime awoke from my dream and seen my sins. The dream is to me more of a nightmare.

I should have obeyed God and His Word and listened to the men and women over my lifetime who taught me the way to live.

There’s still time for me, though. Thankfully, I have taken a first step.

The Bible says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

I have begun to change the way I think. I am trying these days to think about how I can please God.

That in itself pleases Him. McGee said, “God in interested in what we think when we lie upon our pillows.”

Changing the way we think would be a good start for a lot of Americans today. But first, we have to wake up from our dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Justice Warriors are hampered by intellectual dishonesty

“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling would open his show with the following:

You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the Twilight Zone.

As I recently wrote, all the signs currently point to the world entering the Twilight Zone. What I  mean is that it is really difficult to determine whether a lot of people are living in reality or fiction.

For example, when I turn on my computer and choose to watch the news instead of entertain myself with science fiction, I see protesters explaining to a reporter why they are out in the street. What comes out of their mouths are best termed conspiracy theories, devoid of logic and truth.

The media aids and abets this warped thinking with its twisted reports. Their reports are seductive, for they pose as news.

Further, news organizations are in charge of what we see and hear on our devices. We may not be getting the most important news.

To be fair to the mob, we are full of false beliefs and memories. As I was writing this an article popped up in my Twitter feed from the Wall Street Journal which discusses research about individual self awareness.

“Most of us are not as self aware as we think we are,” writes author Elizabeth Bernstein.

Reporting on the research of psychologist Tasha Eurich, Bernstein notes:

When it comes to self-knowledge, she says there are three types of people: those who have it, those who underestimate how much they have (she calls them “underraters”) and those who overestimate how much they have (“overraters”). Underraters beat themselves up unnecessarily. Overraters believe they do everything well.

Some of us think that we have wonderful memories, also. I personally think mine is flawed, but I do have a close childhood friend who I believe has an exquisite ability to fill in the blanks for me on my lost memories. However, he may not be as astute as I think he is.

In a 2013 piece, The Atlantic asked “How Many of Your Memories are Fake?” Erica Hayasaki reported that even people with something called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory sometimes have their remembrances wrong.

One of the reasons for these mistakes in memory is that that our minds are subject to manipulation.

Simone Weil, one of the great philosophers of the first half of the 20th century, wrote that imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life. Unfortunately, she herself was evidence of this.

During World War II Weil contracted tuberculosis while in England.  She was there hoping to be sent to France to work for the Resistance. As a show of support for the French, she only ate what she “believed” the French person under German occupation would feed on. She died.

The coroner’s report said:  “the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed”.

Despite this sad end,  Simone Weil is credited with seeking for truth during her short life.

 

A great student and thinker, she had a higher degree in philosophy. Weil also studied several religions.  In 1935 she was drawn to the Christian faith.  She wrote in her “Spiritual Autobiography” that her concept of life was Christian.

In the same work, Weil described Jesus as the truth. She also had a high regard for the Bible. Weil wrote:

Christ made promises to the Church, but none of these promises has the force of the expression “Thy Father who seeth in secret.” The word of God is the secret word. He who has not heard this word, even if he adheres to all the dogmas taught by the Church, has no contact with truth.

Weil chose to live out her faith outside of the traditional church. She believed that Christianity was “catholic (i.e., universal) by right but not in fact.”

“So  many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence,” she wrote.

Weil was not only an intellectual and devoted person of faith, but she was also politically active. Like a lot of young people, she was a political leftist. At the age of 10 she decided she was a Bolshevik.

Weil supported Communist movements in Europe. She wrote articles debating both capitalism and socialism. Although she was a terrible soldier, Weil tried to fight for the republicans during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

 

If she were alive today, Weil would grasp the attraction of modern groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter to today’s youth. She chose to try to reach the revolutionaries of her day and with truth outside of the Church.

Social enthusiasms have such power today, they raise people so effectively to the supreme degree of heroism in suffering and death, that I think it is as well that a few sheep should remain outside the fold in order to bear witness that the love of Christ is essentially something different.

Would that our latter day young social justice warriors, so full of a desire to change the world, add the zeal for truth possessed by Simone Weil to their repertoire. They could do it if they wished.

Weil wrote:

After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment.

I can only hope and pray for this kind of effort toward intellectual honesty today. It is severely lacking.

 

 

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Today’s world resembles the Twilight Zone

In “22”, an episode of the old TV series “Twilight Zone”, Liz Powell is having a recurring nightmare, except to her, it is all too real.

The events are the same every time. It begins with Liz lying in a bed in a hospital. She is there due to nervous exhaustion.

In the dream Liz awakes to the ticking of a clock.  She reaches for a water glass and knocks it onto the floor, where it shatters.

Liz hears receding footsteps and follows them out into a hallway. She catches a glimpse of a nurse getting on an elevator.  Liz watches as the elevator indicator lights reveal that it has reached the hospital basement.

Liz takes the elevator to the basement and sees Room 22. It is home to the hospital morgue.

A smiling, smug-looking young nurse walks out and says,”Room for one more, honey.” The screaming Liz scampers down the hall toward the elevator.

Despite the assurances of the hospital psychiatrist, Liz believes her experience is not a dream. She insists that it is genuine.

In his imitable way, “Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling tells after the initial showing of Liz’s dream: “At this moment we have just finished walking with her in a nightmare.

In a moment she’ll wake up and we’ll remain at her side. The problem here is that both Miss Powell and you will reach a point where it might be difficult to decide which is reality and which is nightmare. A problem uncommon perhaps but rather peculiar to the Twilight Zone.”

The “Twilight Zone” aired in the early 1960s. Five and a half decades ago, the depictions of horrific ambiguity were clearly fictional.

Viewers at the time watched the show to be entertained, knowing that afterwards they would return back to a world of truth and clarity.

The problem in the first quarter of the 21st century is that we have reached a point  where it IS difficult to decide like Liz Powell whether we are living in reality or a nightmare.  We ARE living in the Twilight Zone.

We all know about fake news.  There is propaganda everywhere.

But sometimes the news gives us absurdity that is unbelievably factual. This week, for example, ESPN took an Asian American announcer by the name of Robert Lee off a University of Virginia football game because his name could trigger the weak.

This poor man had a moniker that was identical (sans middle initial) to that of the Confederate general whose statue created the controversy which resulted in riots on the UVA campus. Antifa leftists clashed with white supremacists over the validity of  honoring a man who fought to keep slavery.

Robert E. Lee was a hero in Virginia at the time I was a child there. No more.

Part of the reason this is so is because today’s young person lacks knowledge. They either are being given a warped view of history in the classroom or they have chosen to see only one side of a man people of my youth thought of as a noble person.

It is easy to get suckered into false beliefs. I am exhibit 1 for this statement.

I was in my mid-thirties when I earned a graduate degree and changed careers. My father came to my graduation.

During a party in my home I showed him a brochure of the school where I planned to work. It was a start-up language program at a small college.

My father got one look at the name of the school, which identified it as one which had a Christian focus, and he quickly issued this judgement.

“You’ve never had a steady job your whole life and now you want to go work for this Christian group.”

I was shocked and offended. Never mind that the event was supposed to be celebratory. For crying out loud (a phrase I have inherited from Dad), I had just received a Master’s degree.

For probably the first time in my life I contested what Dad had said to me. I argued that before coming to grad school I had worked 11 years for a company where I had been steadily promoted.

I had had two kids through this companies health insurance for basically nothing. My savings there had helped pay for grad school.

This conversation with my father was a catharsis for me. Through it I came to understand that just because he said it didn’t make it so. I had been very much tied emotionally to his opinion of me.

To be fair to Dad, my opinion of him was also flawed over the years. It has taken me a lifetime of hard knocks to comprehend that in many ways he was a good man. For example, Dad helped me with expenses as I pursued my graduate degree.

It is not surprising that a show like the Twilight Zone presents stories filled with weird twists and ambiguity. After all, it was supposed to be science fiction.

Sadly, today’s “truth” is stranger than fiction at times. We see it not only in the news media, but in our personal lives. Individuals, for example, are now being called racist if they hold a view that history is worth saving. It is helpful if you become a target of such an accusation to state “just because they say it is so does not make it so.”

Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction author, coined his own law in the 1950s which states that “ninety percent of everything is crud.” He developed a precursor to this adage which says that “nothing is always absolutely so.”

Much of what we absorb today is like Liz Powell’s nightmare. It is crap.

Yet, we may be able to receive a warning through our encounter with the crud. Liz did.

(Spoiler alert)

At the end of “Room 22″ Liz is shown boarding a plane to Miami after having been released from the hospital. The flight number is 22.

As she enters the airplane, she is greeted by a flight attendant who looks exactly like the nurse in her dream. The woman says to Liz,”Room for one more, honey.”

As in her dream, Liz scurries away, but this time back to the terminal. She watches as the plane she was to be on explodes on takeoff.

It’s important in the midst of our cultural decline into the Twilight Zone that we seek to learn what we can from the light we do have.  It could save our lives. More on this in the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My real “Founding Father”

The Founding Fathers of America are taking a real hit these days.

Woke fellow citizens (and perhaps even non-citizens) are taking shots at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others because they were slave owners.

I guess I’m not much of an SJW. I don’t really care about the weaker points of men who I never knew and who lived two hundred or more years ago. I’m more interested in more practical modern things like health care.

If some of these folks get their way, our country’s heroes will have their reputations totally besmirched and they will be completely banished from our history.

Perhaps because of my disgust with the way things are going in the US, yesterday my thoughts turned toward a personal hero, not the guys who started a revolution in 1776. I’m referring to my maternal grandfather.

I was depressed yesterday for a lot of reasons. To mitigate the effects of my downer mood, I rested on my bed and listened to some hymns on YouTube.

As happens a lot when I am horizontal and try to listen to something, I began to snooze. I woke up to a stirring rendition of “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.” It was like an electrical charge surged through my bloodstream. “Let angels prostrate fall, let angels prostrate fall…”. I began to worship.

I decided to go back and listen to some of the songs I missed while I slumbered. The playlist tossed me a song I had never heard before called “The Wayside Cross.”  The lyrics were sung by a male choir. The music was accompanied on YouTube by images of streams, forests and forked trails.

Which way shall I take shouts a voice in the night,
I’m a pilgrim awearied, and spent is my light;
And I seek for a palace, that rests on the hill,
But between us, a stream lieth sullen and chill.

Near, near thee, my son, is the old wayside cross,
Like a gray friar cowled, in lichens and moss;
And its crossbeam will point to the bright golden span,
That bridges the waters so safely for man;
That bridges the waters so safely for man.

I relished the old time descriptive language. My mind wandered back to my days of sharing the Gospel using an illustration called the Bridge to Life.  It too used the cross of Jesus to reveal the way to life.

The lyrics also reminded me of the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.”

To the right. To the left. Ah me–if I knew. The night is so dark and the passers are few.

Which way shall I take?  I’m a stranger from home. And sin has enticed me and caused me to roam.

My fortune, my all, for one gleam of light, that will banish the darkness and lead me aright.

Another hymn called “I Know Who I Have Believed” came next. It took me back to some of my roots in a church I attended when I graduated from college. This song was a standard there.

Soon I understood where I got my desire to listen to these old hymns. It was some lyrics from a couple of songs on the playlist that told me.

He took my burdens all away up to a brighter day. He gave me a song, a wonderful song.

AND

God never moves without purpose or plan
When trying His servant or molding a man.
Give thanks to the Lord though your testing seems long
In darkness He giveth a song.

These lyricists of course are referring to God as the giver of songs. But to me, He used my grandfather to convey them to me.

Willie H. Ball was a coal miner in the hills of West Virginia. He would come home from work covered in black dust.

Grandpa Ball was a wonderful man. He had a great sense of humor. For example,we youthful visitors to his home would be the recipient of a prank he liked to pull. While we were sleeping he would sneak up with a small disc that would emit a cow’s “moo” when turned over.

Willie was also a song leader in his back country Methodist church. At home, he constantly played the Gospel music he had taped using old reel to reel recorders.

His funeral was the most meaningful one I have ever attended. The service was mainly (by his request) one filled with Christian music.

Willie Ball lived what he preached. This is why my unbelieving father called him the best man he had ever known.

I still have a tangible treasure from him. Once he sent me a cassette with some Christian music on it.  Grandpa Ball had recorded it for me. His voice introduces the songs to come.

An even greater gift, however, was his legacy. He did leave me a song, one which communicates his faith in Jesus Christ and his worship of God via music.

As I lay in my bed I thought of my coal miner grandfather’s legacy. His life and its impact on me speaks of the lyrics of the old hymn “Faith of our Fathers.”

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

I know Willie Ball is in heaven cheering me on. Because of him, I have a solid family history to lean on. Because of him, I am not giving up on leaving my own decent legacy before I depart this difficult life.

Grandpa Ball is my real founding father. In the whole scheme of things, in my universe at least, America’s don’t matter as much.

 

 

 

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Charlottesville: love needs to be combined with universal truth

When I was a teenager there was a book floating around in Christian circles about situational ethics with the title “It All Depends.”

I still remember the title because I think even in my youthful state I could not understand a philosophy that  seemed to have no hard and fast rules.  In my memory I have falsely added the intensifier “really to “all depends”, probably because my mind mocks the philosophy of situational ethics.

In short, this system of thought states that what is moral is decided not by law, but through a consideration of  the entire circumstances at hand. The ultimate goal is to respond in love.

In principle this idea of doing the “loving” thing sounds good to me. I have grown a lot since my teen years and know that not everything is cut and dried or is as it seems.

In the recent days of political upheaval in the US. there have been calls for loving each other by our president and even sports stars like Lebron James.  I see nothing wrong with that idea. As a believer in Jesus I see it as totally biblical. I even thought of it myself in trying to determine how we should respond to each other in the midst of all the chaos in our country.

But love is such an abstract idea. To have any foundation, it also needs to be combined with truth.  Pastor John Piper says that truth and love support each other. “Truth aims at love” and “love aims at truth,” he writes.

As I noted in my last post, truth in American society seems to have been thrown out the window. We live in a nation in which emotion and personal beliefs rule the day.

Piper writes,”Truth shapes how we show love.” If we attempt to show love based only on how we feel and believe, the consequences  may not truly be loving.

Because truth has been dispensed with, we are being governed in our decision making by a gutted situational ethics.  People just do what they seem to think is right.

We’ve seen the extremes of this with white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Identity politics has reached even the majority. What had been deemed abominable in the last part of the 20th century, i.e., the putting down of people based on their color, is rising again.

On some college campuses the previously put upon African-American minority is also calling for a return to the bad old days of segregation, albeit for different reasons then those which motivated Jim Crow laws. These students just want to feel safe.

Both of these extremes are motivated by personal beliefs and emotion. A dose of truth serum is needed in the mix if we are to show true love.

I am informed about the nature of truth by one of the foundations of Western civilization: The Ten Commandments. They are pretty straightforward. It’s difficult to quibble with “honor your father and mother” and “you shall not murder.”

I think I am on the right track here in my pursuit of genuine love. Piper tells me that John, a disciple of Jesus, wrote that we show God’s love when we keep His commands.

“So John tells us some truth will help us know if our acts are loving,” writes Piper. “One truth test of love is if we are keeping the commandments of God towards people.”

Even so, it is hard to apply such commands in our own relationships in today’s times. It helps to get some insight from people who have thought deeply about the meaning of these truths.

Currently a place I am finding such wisdom is in a book called “To Be a Christian.” It’s a catechism produced by the Anglican Church.

In one section is provides some practical advice on how to keep the Ten Commandments and some ways we can violate them.

For example, it expands on the command to honor your father and mother by stating a principle that we should honor the aged and submit to our teachers, pastors and directors. The catechism also calls for respecting tradition and civil authorities.

I haven’t seen much respect given towards civil authorities in the news this week. In fact, what I have seen in the media is rioting, destruction of property and the killing of police officers.

Jesus expanded on the truth of what it means to murder. He said we break this commandment when we are angry with others. The catechism does say that there is a place for proper anger, but that for the most part that our anger is motivated by things that are not right.

If there is one adjective that can be used to describe a lot of Americans today, it is the term “angry.”

I would maintain that the only way we are ever going to love one another and thus heal our nation is by returning to God and His universal truth.  Relying solely on situation ethics, sentiment, feelings, personal opinions and some undefined concept of love is not cutting it.

 

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America is a post truth society in turmoil

 

In my post “The muddled mess of truth today”, I discussed how news site editors like to twist headlines to convey a point of view.  These kinds of banners are not hard to find. Just open up a news feed.

Before me right now is the headline “Amidst Trump Turmoil, Pence carves his own identity.”  Looks benign enough, right? The US Vice President is becoming his own man in the midst of our president’s own mess.

Well, not so fast. The editor has already asked us to take for granted that the current president is encompassed by all kinds of  horrible commotion by their use of the term “turmoil.” It’s a loaded word full of negativity. Who wants turmoil?

In my view, this idea that Trump’s administration is in “turmoil” is a matter of perception and open to debate. I have some questions.

I wonder if President Trump sees himself as surrounded by turmoil.  What does he think about it if he does? Who or what is causing the turmoil?

The answers produced from those questions are also a matter of one’s point of view. Some think our president creates turmoil out of his own alleged incompetence and vulgarity. Others think he also creates chaos because he thrives on it and works better in such an atmosphere.

Mr. Trump’s supporters think that there is no turmoil in the president’s White House. They believe that the media or the president’s opponents have fabricated this as a story.

Those of Mr. Trump’s advocates who do see tension around him also believe the media is at fault. They say that the media is actually creating the disorder to bring the president down.

It’s really difficult in today’s media to get at the truth amidst all the click bait. The owners and editors of news organizations seem to have other agendas they want to follow which triumph over truth. Their goals appear to be more financial and political in nature.

The media is not the only institution where something besides the truth is emphasized. If the purveyors of communication have contributed to the tumult in our society because of their departure from the road to truth, so has the justice system.

Like the media, the American judicial system also has other priorities which supersede discerning the truth. This includes taking the human element out of the equation and emphasizing rules. In an article comparing the American system of justice to the European one, Ellis Washington writes, “Under the Anglo-American/common law system of jurisprudence, especially over the past 100 years, rules trump the truth.”

Washington notes that in the last half century that the US Supreme Court “made up out of whole cloth” criminal defenses which emphasize procedure over the rule of law.  In other words, ‘rules’ rule over  a principle meant to provide fair and equal justice to everyone.

For example, some of SCOTUS’s rulings  developed into something we see all the time on the ubiquitous cop shows on TV: the reading of Miranda Rights. (“You have the right to remain silent, etc. etc.”). We all know what happens if a police officer blows it and doesn’t read a perp their rights.

Washington says such cases “have thoroughly perverted the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, plunging American law, culture and society into our present state of chaos.” Judges are handicapped by rules imposed from above. Criminals go free when rules are broken. Police are tempted to perjure themselves if they break a rule in their arrest.

Washington thinks the Continental System is much better because it gives judges a freer hand. It allows them to be more involved in the cases before them and better arrive at the truth.

Following the Continental System, he says, would be better “because the law’s primary purpose should not be to legalistically follow a case-driven, judge-centered template, not the rules of evidence, not politics, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, secularism, positivism, pragmatism or any other ‘ism’… but justice, equality under law and veritas – truth.”

Sadly, in today’s America “isms” do tend to run the show in the courtroom.  Judges are more known for their political views then who they are as human beings. Conservatives, for example, think of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as a bastion of left wing thought. The progressive believes Supreme Court justice Atonin Scalia was a reactionary. Who today focuses on the judge’s ability to arrive at the truth? They instead zero in on their politics.

That we live in a society devoid of truth is evidenced by a term such as ‘post-truth’ receiving the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year Award for 2016. It is a word which Oxford defines as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

There are people who think the Western concept of the rule of law is strong and able to withstand the assault on it described above. British attorney Tamas Lukasi is not worried about the effect of a post-truth world on our legal system. He stresses the soundness of Western law:

“Lawyers are often seen as a greedy and unethical profession; and law as bureaucratic red-tape. To deny this perception would itself be a post-truth posture. Though I happen to have a better opinion of lawyers and the law, who cares about opinions? It is rather facts that should matter. And the fact is facts matter in law and they matter a lot.”

“I am quite confident,” he writes,” that until the deeply rooted rules on legal argument, evidence and standard of proof stand strong, the legal process cannot be else but immune to post-truth. The rule of law has survived much turmoil.”

Despite the convoluted sentence, I presume Lukasi means in context that our Western judicial system will triumph. (He seems to mean “while” the rules stand strong, not “until.” Blame HIS editor.)

I’m not so sure our judicial system is winning. The current situation in it, the media, and other Western institutions is as confusing as Lukasi’s statement.  This is I believe is due to the inability of our thought leaders to even arrive at basic truths. They even have trouble, as I mentioned in my last post, in defining what truth is or even deciding what their own buzz words mean.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) admits that the term “rule of law” is difficult to define. The best it can come up with is that it is “an ideal that we strive to achieve but sometimes fail to live up to” and that “institutions and procedures have contributed to the definition of what makes up the rule of law and what is necessary to achieve it.”

The ABA seems to have written an expanded definition without forming a simple one. Let me help. Here’s a formula for  a simple definition by John Swales.

T=G + D1 + D2 etc. or Thing equals General class plus distinguishing characteristics

As I mentioned, there is the even more important attempt to define the concept of “truth”.  A website called DifferenceBetween.net struggles to differentiate between the terms “fact” and “truth.” They note how dictionaries discuss how similar the terms are. In comparing the two, the site calls ‘truth” the “true state of a certain matter.” I was always told by my teachers not to include the term in my definition.

Further (and what is worse), these folks say “truth” is “what a person has come to believe” and that facts are more permanent and more constant than truths are.

DifferenceBetween.net’s kind of definition of truth is at the heart of the problem in today’s world. Truth appears to be relative to modern mankind. There are no universal truths. “Truth” is something we believe. It may be reality. It may not be. It really all depends on what we “believe.”

The consequence of the muddled mess created by inability of our institutions to define truth is that our society is in a state of confusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The muddled mess of truth today: introductory thoughts

Lately, I’ve noticed that news organizations configure their headlines in such a way that only half truths or even falsehoods are told. Here’s an example

Woman to be deported after traffic violation

The story is accompanied by a picture of the lady and her children.

This limited information evokes an emotional reaction of how unfair it is for this poor lady to be thrown out of the country because of such a trivial incident.

Only after you go beyond the headline and read the details of the story do you get a clear picture of the facts.

This woman has been living in the United States illegally for two decades. She was found out when she was stopped by police and ticketed for operating a vehicle without a driver’s license.

Commenters on this story note that the woman brought this situation on herself by entering the country illegally in the first place and then staying for so long.

Illegal immigration is of course a hot button issue in the US.  There are extremists on both sides.

Some believe that all those who have broken the law by coming here should be sent back to where they came from. This would include “dreamers”, the children who came here before the age of 16 and probably had little say in the matter.

Others think that we should just have open borders. Anyone who wants to live and work in our nation should have the right to do so, they say.

Based on my training in journalism school in ancient times, I would have reported this story with the 5 W’s and H. Just the facts, ma’am. Give ’em who, what, when, where, why and how.

Editors don’t function that way in today’s society, however. What used to be suitable  only for the editorial page is passed off as headline news.

The result is that America is inundated with propaganda.

One of the reasons this is happening is that how we perceive truth is changing.

We used to be a culture based on a Judeo-Christian world view. Thus, the generation after World War 2, for example, tended to see things through that lens.

Nowadays,  young Americans talk about presenting “my truth.” I take this to mean that what they are going to tell me is not the “truth” per se, but their own view of reality.

In  modern America, the state of truth is similar to the condition of my favorite major league baseball team. Baseball writer Ken Rosenthal recently called my Baltimore Orioles a “muddled mess.” I would maintain that truth in the US is in the same shape as my beloved Os.

What is occurring in the media today is that reporters are now giving us SOME facts, and then interpreting them with “their” truth. It used to be that the reader was supposed to do the interpreting.

I can’t philosophize about this phenomenon. I’m not a philosopher. I’m trained in journalism, linguistics and to some extent in practical theology. So I can only look at the problem through those grids.

In terms of language, my observation is that people can’t even get their terms straight. For example, slurs with fully charged political electrons are freely being thrown around like darts, especially in social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter.

In the immigration debate, the left likes to accuse the right of being  “fascists”, “bigots”, “racists” and “Nazis”. The right tosses out equally inflammatory terms toward progressives. Insults such as “loon”, “nut job” and “bomb thrower” come to mind.

From my perspective, it would be appropriate in some cases to question who is actually the fascist or the loon.

I know that questions about truth are not new. Neither are discussions over the meaning of certain vocabulary words.

Even popular culture contains the story of  Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”.

As a student of the Bible, I like to go a little deeper than what a film at Easter might tell me. I want to know the context, i.e. the whole story

In context, Jesus is being examined before Pilate before he was to be delivered up to be executed by Roman soldiers.  The trumped up charge made by the chief priests of Israel at the time was that Jesus was a rebel trying to overthrow the Roman government. The Jewish leaders, who had a stake in trashing Jesus, claimed that he wanted to be a king. Here’s the text from John 18:

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

The last statement by Jesus prompted Pilate’s question about truth. The excerpt reveals that  Pilate not only did not understand truth, but that he also had no idea what Jesus meant about being a king.

The effects of such miscommunication can be devastating, especially when a politician with authority is involved. Pilate ended up bowing to popular demand and having Jesus nailed to a cross.

In future posts, I will discuss the effects of this kind of confused thinking on our society. But first, I will try to ascertain exactly what we mean when we discuss the term “truth” and how it is related to other words we currently like to bandy about.

I also hope to propose some solutions that could help us work through the murk and gain a clearer picture of reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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