Archive for January, 2019

Trump’s Character

January 22, 2019

Well, Mitt Romney has had his say about the character of President Donald Trump, so I might as well put forward my own thoughts on the subject. To begin with, Mitt Romney states that the President shapes the public character of the nation. I think that is giving the president too much credit. The is not some sort of divine figure or king. He does not have magical powers to affect the country for good or evil.  The president cannot make America great again. Only we, the people can do that. The president is not the boss. We, the people, are the bosses, and the politicians and bureaucrats are our servants, whatever they may think. We need to move beyond the idea of the president being some sort of elected monarch, and return to the republican idea of the president as merely the first servant of the people. No more and no less.

We did not “hire” the president to be the nation’s pastor or role model. We “hired” the president to manage the government in a way that benefits the country. The most important part of the job of president is protecting the lives and interests of the American people. Doing this duty well is more important than the personal character of the man we hired. I would say that Donald Trump has done his job very well, so far.

One more thing. Quoting Mitt Romney,

It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion.

I would like to remind Mr. Romney that he lost the election in 2012 while Trump won in 2016. Part of the reason Mitt Romney lost was because he was unwilling to descend to the level of name calling and resentment that the Democratic Party regularly indulges in against every single Republican. It would be nice if our political campaigns were decent affairs with elevated discussions of the issues with Lincoln-Douglas style debates. That is not the country we are living in, however, and experience has shown that playing by Marquess of Queensbury rules against a party determined to seize power at any cost. George W. Bush tried being the decent man and the Democrats destroyed him.

Now, regarding Donald Trump. I would never regard Donald Trump as any sort of role model either in his personal life or in his business practices. I suspect that if I ever met Trump, I wouldn’t like him very much. Nevertheless,I believe that Donald Trump does have more integrity than almost anyone else in Washington. It is strange to say this, and I cannot believe I am writing it, but it is true.

Why would I say this? Basically for three reasons. First, President Donald Trump keeps his promises. We have become so used to political candidates promising us everything, and then forgetting their promises the day after they takes office that it has become a cliche.  They can promise, “No new taxes” while planning to raise taxes. They can tell us we can keep our doctors knowing full well that we won’t.  We no longer expect them to even try to keep their promises. .Why is this? If someone we knew personally kept breaking his promises, we wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Why don’t we expect the same of our elected officials?

Donald Trump made a number of promises while campaigning for president. He said that he would build a wall. He said he would renegotiate our trade deals. We said he would defeat ISIS. For the most part, Trump has tried to keep his promises. If we never get a wall built, it will not be for lack of effort on Trump’s part. Surely a president who keeps his word is worth something.

Second, Donald Trump is willing to fight. So many Republicans aren’t willing to fight. Like Romney, they would rather be gentlemen and lose than actually fight and win. Trump does not back down against opposition. I think that any other Republican president would have withdrawn Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court after the ferocious opposition he encountered from the Democrats. Trump did not back down. He stood up for his nominee. Courage is the capstone of the virtues. Without courage, all of the other virtues are worthless. One can be compassionate or honest in one’s mind, but to put these virtues into effect requires courage. Donald Trump has courage. That is worth a lot.

Lastly, Donald Trump is honest. This may be a strange thing to say, given Trump’s propensity to boast and exaggerate and given how often his hyperbolic statements are at variance with sober facts, but in a very real way, Trump is more honest than almost anyone else in Washington. We have, as a society and particularly among our political and social elites, developed the habit of not giving offense by expressing uncomfortable truths, particularly when those truths might disrupt convenient narratives. This political correctness, as it is usually called, makes it difficult to solve problems since they cannot even be discussed honestly. Trump doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with political correctness.  His statements may often seem to be offensive, but they are often true. People were offended when Trump allegedly referred to “shithole countries”, but many of our immigrants do come from “shithole countries” No one can honestly say that Haiti or Nigeria are examples of successful nations. (Of course, Trump did miss the point that people from nice countries have little reason to want to emigrate.) Trump is right about the need for better security at the border. Everyone knows it. No one has wanted to say it. Trump is right to complain that our European allies are not paying their share for their own defense. It may offend those allies to say this, but it is true. Trump may be offensive by saying unpleasant truths, but they are truths that need to be said.

Mitt Romney may not like Donald Trump’s character. He may believe that Donald Trump is debasing the presidency and the nation. I don’t entirely disagree. The fact is, however, that Donald Trump is doing and saying the things that need to be done. His policies have been sound, for the most part, and he really has been doing his part towards making America great again. We could do better than Donald Trump, no doubt, but we could do a lot worse. He seems to be the right man for the time.

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The Decline of Christianity and Reason

January 14, 2019

Organized religion, especially Christianity has been declining in influence in the West for at least the last century and this decline only seems to be accelerating. The most recent generation of Americans, the millennials, tend to be the most secular, or least conventionally religious, generation of Americans in history, One might expect that this decline in traditional religion would be accompanied by an increase in the influence of science and reason. Certainly, that is what the so-called New Atheists would have us believe. Men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others have held that debunking religion, especially Christianity, would lead to a new golden age of enlightenment and reason, in which the human race, freed of all its past religious superstitions, would move forward into a bright future of reason and logic.

This isn’t happening. In fact, the most secular, least religious generation in American history rather than embracing science and reason, seem to be turning to pseudoscience and superstition, witchcraft and neo-paganism, as this article I read at Marketwatch, found courtesy of Hot Air, seems to demonstrate.

When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”

“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”

Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.

Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Melissa Jayne, owner of Brooklyn-based “metaphysical boutique” Catland, said she has seen a major uptick in interest in the occult in the past five years, especially among New Yorkers in their 20s. The store offers workshops like “Witchcraft 101,” “Astrology 101,” and a “Spirit Seance.”

“Whether it be spell-casting, tarot, astrology, meditation and trance, or herbalism, these traditions offer tangible ways for people to enact change in their lives,” she said. “For a generation that grew up in a world of big industry, environmental destruction, large and oppressive governments, and toxic social structures, all of which seem too big to change, this can be incredibly attractive.”

Like the existence of God, however, there’s no actual scientific proof. Astrology has been debunked by numerous academic studies, but Banu Guler, co-founder of artificial intelligence powered astrology app Co—Star said the lack of structure in the field is exactly what drives young, educated professionals to invest their time and money in the practice.

“It’s very different from the way we usually work and live and date, where everything is hyper-mediated and rational,” she said. “There is a belief vacuum: we go from work to a bar to dinner and a date, with no semblance of meaning. Astrology is a way out of it, a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”

The New Atheists are wrong. Human beings are not rational creatures. We seem to have a strong need to believe in the irrational, to believe that the universe around us makes some sort of sense, to believe in something greater than ourselves. Whether from some quirk of evolution or the intention of our divine creator, we humans are dissatisfied with the materialist outlook. We tend to reject, as if by instinct, the idea that all that exists are atoms and the void, or that we are nothing more than crude matter. For this reason, if one seemingly irrational belief system or religion is debunked or discredited, the result will not be a golden age of reason, but the ascension of some other irrational belief system, perhaps one worse than the previous one. It is not a coincidence that the rise of such quasi-religious political movements such as Fascism or Marxism only occurred after the decline of belief in Christianity among the intellectual classes of Europe.

It also may not be a coincidence that as the influence of religion declines, our politics have been more contentious and divisive. Politics requires consensus and compromise to be functional, but if politics takes the place of religion and people begin to view their own side as representing goodness and light with the other side being the side of darkness, than every political debate becomes a holy war. The other side is not just made up of patriots with different ideas but devils. This might explain why so many secular people on the left are so intolerant and hateful.

It is also not true that Christianity and science are opposed to one another, as the New Atheists and secularists assert. This idea of an eternal struggle between science and religion was largely developed by certain nineteenth century secularist thinkers and is largely discredited by modern historians of science. In fact, Christianity was instrumental in the development of science. It is not a coincidence that the intellectual discipline we call science arose in Christian Western Europe, and no where else. The Medieval Scholastic philosophers built up much of the intellectual foundations for modern science with their integration of Christian theology with Ancient Greek philosophy, particularly with by asserting that the world God created is reasonable, and follows natural laws which can be discovered through the use of reason, as opposed to pagans who viewed the world as arbitrary or the eastern religions, which saw the world as illusionary. It might not be too surprising that the decline of the influence of Christianity in the West is accompanied by the decline of scientific thinking and the rise of pseudoscience.

These millennials are looking for something to fill the void inside them. If traditional religion is not there to fill it, they will turn elsewhere with perhaps disastrous results for themselves and for the country. Christians really need to work harder at reaching these young people.

New Year’s Day

January 1, 2019

I think that New Year’s Day must be my least favorite holiday. The problem is the date, January 1. This has to be the worst time to start off the new year. It is only a week after Christmas. All the excitement of the Christmas season has dissipated and there is general impression of anti-climax. The holidays are over and it is time to go back to the the general routine of everyday life. In addition, January is the coldest, dreariest month of the year and January 1 is right in the middle of winter. I know that winter officially begins on the winter solstice, December 21 or 22, but in midwestern North America the cold weather begins about a month or more before the solstice. It is possible to forget the dreariness of winter during the Christmas season, but by January, it feels that winter has been here forever and will never end.

It seems to me that it would be better to start the new year at the transition between one season and the next, preferably when winter becomes spring. What would be more appropriate than to start the new year at the beginning of Spring, when the cycle of nature is renewed and new life springs up? Spring is a time of new hopes and beginnings, so why not start the new year at the vernal equinox, March 21? If starting the new year in the beginning of a month seems weird, why not start the new year on March 1 or April 1? Well, maybe starting the new year on April Fool’s Day is not such a good idea. Why do we start the new year on January 1 anyway?

We have the Romans to thank for the date of New Year’s Day. as well as for our calendar, which is derived from the ancient Roman calendar. Originally, the Roman calendar did have March as the first month of the year. According to Roman legend, Rome’s founder Romulus established a ten month calendar, beginning in March and extending to December. This is why our ninth through twelfth months, September to December have names meaning seventh through tenth months. Obviously, this ten month calendar didn’t work out at all, so Romulus’s successor, Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, added the months of January and February.

It is not clear how true these legends are, but the twelve month calendar attributed to Numa was used until Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BC. At first the year continued to start in March, but during the republic, new consuls began their terms of office on the kalends, or first day, of January, named for Janus the double-headed god of new beginnings. The Romans did not number their years forward from a past year, as we do, Instead, they named each year after the consuls who served for that year. So, instead of a particular year being 132 since whatever, it would be the year Titus Maximus and Gaius Flavius were consuls. For this reason, it seemed to make sense to start the new year with the beginning of the consuls’ terms, and January first gradually became accepted as the first day of the new year, and when Julius Caesar introduced his Julian calendar, the first of January was officially established as the new year.

The Roman god Janus

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, New Year’s Day began to be seen as a holdover from Rome’s pagan past and a variety of dates were used as New Year’s Day, including Christmas, March 1, and March 25. Calendars still began with the month of January, however, leaving the actual date the new year began up to whoever had the calendar. January 1 was restored as New Year’s Day when Pope Gregory XIII promulgated the Gregorian Calendar in 1582. As the Gregorian Calendar became established as the most widely used calendar in the world, January 1 became the first day of the year worldwide. This means thanks to the Romans and Pope Gregory XIII we are stuck with the new year starting in the dead of winter, instead of spring, and there is nothing I can do about it.


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