Sunday, March 22, 2009


Are there varying degrees of causality? We disbelieve the murderer who says, "The devil made me do it." And we also disbelieve the man who says "The world cheated me out of my money and that's why I'm homeless." The devil probably is in the details of any murder- he was even a part of the murder of Jesus of Nazareth, who died of the Father's accord; and the world probably did cheat that homeless individual. But I typically focus on ultimate responsibility, at the expense of a fuller, a more messy picture of causality. Who is he, that would cast the first stone? Are all of our hands collectively guilty?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paradox 1

Paradox 1: Americans who typically have stronger beliefs about an afterlife (and presumably have stronger beliefs that they have something to look forward to) fight the hardest to stay alive.
No surprise there really- assisted suicide and anything moving in that direction has typically belonged to the domain of atheism. And there has long been a thought, perhaps stemming from the Catholic church, that suicide is an unpardonable sin (despite no Biblical evidence suggesting such a thing). But the presumption has been, and Biblically so, that humans created in the image of God are subject to his will in life and death. Self-murder is not terribly different than manslaughter.
But what about a "Do not resucitate" clause, ventilators, and "pulling the plug." In these difficult and greyish matters of life and death, made all the more difficult by hospitals, 21st century care, and the reality of "medical miracles"- what are we to think? The presumption of the believer, the study suggests, should be toward sovereignty. In there is to be error, let it be on the side of life. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Minorities Need Conservatism

What drew me to conservatism years ago was the fact that it gave discipline a slightly higher status than virtue. This meant it could not be subverted by passing notions of the good. It could be above moral vanity. And so it made no special promises to me as a minority. It neglected me in every way except as a human being who wanted freedom. Until my encounter with conservatism I had only known the racial determinism of segregation on the one hand and of white liberalism on the other -- two varieties of white supremacy in which I could only be dependent and inferior.

The appeal of conservatism is the mutuality it asserts between individual and political freedom, its beautiful idea of a free man in a free society. And it offers minorities the one thing they can never get from liberalism: human rather than racial dignity. I always secretly loved Malcolm X more than Martin Luther King Jr. because Malcolm wanted a fuller human dignity for blacks -- one independent of white moral wrestling. In a liberalism that wants to redeem the nation of its past, minorities can only be ciphers in white struggles of conscience.

Liberalism's glamour follows from its promise of a new American innocence. But the appeal of conservatism is relief from this supercilious idea. Innocence is not possible for America. This nation did what it did. And conservatism's appeal is that it does not bank on the recovery of lost innocence. It seeks the discipline of ordinary people rather than the virtuousness of extraordinary people. The challenge for conservatives today is simply self-acceptance, and even a little pride in the way we flail away at problems with an invisible hand.
--Shelby Steele, WSJ

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Thought in the Middle of Panic

We spend so much time avoiding guilt. It's a double edged sword because as much as I'd like to say that I did the right thing for its own sake, the truth is that I am often simply trying to avoid the inevitable regret that I know will follow it. This seems particularly true for obedience involving self denial. But then isn't that the problem? Seeing right action (or unaction) as self-denial, rather than love, and a great gift. Well thank goodness for guilt anyway. I'd be lost without it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Brilliant Success

Brilliant! The dapper Englishmen clink two pints with a splash of foam. But if sitting on top of the world wasn't so trite, he'd have said it. Mr. Asahel Dillon Church is indeed the master of this ship, purveyor of all mortal knowledge… and leaving Lombard Middle School –in a good mood. Why, you ask? Because his students give a damn. Applause please. And isn't that the art of teaching? To coax care out of the uncaring. To penetrate bitter tough skinned middle schoolers- the ultimate conquest. There was energy. Whit and humor. And then the students, they were brilliant too! Who would have known it but lawyers and doctors, politicians and professors, sat in these very seats just moments ago. What a day!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Interview Thoughts

I doodled during a Baltimore school interview day: "These conversations make me want to build a bombshelter, close the door, and not come out." We were participating in a moderated discussion of an Alfie Kohn article, the perpetual devil's advocate of education policy discussions. It's sort of surreal- three men in their fifties, all with prominent facial hair, and four young teachers in their twenties and everyone is posturing and sort of talking in a semi coherent way- myself included.