Three Cultural Issues

Today’s post contains a few thoughts on a handful of issues that currently make up the cultural air in which we breathe. If I had to trace a common thread through all three, I’m not sure I’d come up with something a whole lot better than “stuff we should think more about”:

(Yes, I’ve just committed the error of not having what we might call a “strong lead.” On the bright side, I’ve at least avoided the “overly dramatic intro.”)

1. Sociology professor Phil Zuckerman has offered some advice to his fellow atheists regarding how they can best advance their shared cause. Some of it, if a Christian may say so, is sound in a strategic sense (e.g., he cautions against insisting that science can answer everything or condemning all religion, rather than just its’ bad aspects). Other parts, however, left me scratching my head. For example:

And we can plainly see that the least religious countries and states are generally the most moral, peaceful, and humane, while the most religious countries and states are the most crime-ridden, corrupt, and socially troubled. End of discussion.

I don’t at all mean this flippantly, but I’d be interested to hear Zuckerman’s evaluation of whether the former Soviet Union, Communist China, or Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge would qualify as “moral, peaceful, and humane.” Then there’s this:

What really lowers levels of religiosity, the world-over, is living in a society where life is decent and secure. When people have enough to eat, shelter, healthcare, elder-care, child-care, employment, peacefulness, democracy — that’s when religion really starts to lose its grip.

Perhaps…though this view fails to account for our own Unites States, a country that combines high levels of both affluence and “religiosity.” The deeper question, however, is this: has a society like Zuckerman describes ever initially emerged out of a predominantly atheistic, secular worldview? Along those lines, sociologist Rodney Stark concludes his book, The Victory of Reason, with an arresting quote from a Chinese scholar:

One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns that we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized the heart of your culture is your religion, Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.

2. In the wake of Valentine’s Day, I came across a couple of items that speak with profit to our conceptions of “love”—a word that qualifies as one of the most widely defined in the English language. Talking about the often over-sexualized view of love in our culture, especially around yesterday’s holiday, is something akin to doing household chores, both very common and very necessary. But First Things’ Michael Novak turns his attention to a different problem in an article called “The Myth of Romantic Love.” An excerpt:

[According to the myth] romantic love is “a transfiguring force, something beyond delight and pain, an ardent beatitude,” purer, more spiritual, more uplifting than physical “hooking up.” It is not a sated appetite, but in fact quite the opposite. It loves the feeling of never being satisfied, of being always caught up in the longing, of dwelling in the sweetness of desire. It feels a kind of murderous hostility toward rude awakenings.
What [romantic lovers] need is not one another’s presence, but one another’s absence.” This is the story of love perennially facing obstacles, never having to get down to the nitty-gritty of daily life.

The full article expands on this, but I think Novak may be putting his finger on another significant reason why people perpetually find relationships, especially marriages, to be disappointing.

Secondly, in light of Lisa Miller’s Newsweek piece last week detailing two rather fantastic takes on the Song of Solomon and sex in the Bible in general (see Keith’s response here), it’s nice to see a more helpful take on the Song from Andree Seu:

[The Song] gives permission to be as in love as you want to be. It destroys the notion that God grants romance as a concession but holds His nose. It debunks the notion of lovesickness as a brief biological agitation for the prosaic purpose of perpetuation of species. If your marriage passes from intoxication into humdrum cohabitation, it is not God’s idea. Put away from you the fatalists who say: “Romance is a flame that dies but companionship is its consolation.” Put away those who believe that “letting yourself go” after the ring is on is normal. Not from heaven does such counsel come.

Read the whole thing.

3. Finally, kudos to Crossing member Justin Dyer, an assistant professor of political science at Mizzou, for his article, “Reckoning with Roe v. Wade,” which was posted last month over at Public Discourse. Among other things, Justin demonstrates how part of the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the famous decision was historically fallacious:

This common error—that something other than actual human life is involved in abortion—was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Roe v. Wade, and it has skewed the abortion debate in America for the last forty years. The Court’s argument in Roe was, in fact, that unborn children possess only “the potentiality of human life” (to use Justice Harry Blackmun’s phrase) and that the Framers of the Constitution did not consider the unborn to be “persons.”

Justice Blackmun found support for the latter argument in a law review article written by the late New York University Law Professor Cyril Means. In the article, entitled “The Phoenix of Abortional Freedom,” Means made the novel claim (“untold now for nearly a century”) that abortion was a traditional common law liberty in America….

Professor Means’ article, however, was a monumental sham—either a case of grossly negligent scholarship or worse. The chief evidence Means cited in support of his view that the American Founders considered the unborn to be non-persons was Samuel Farr’s 1787 Elements of Medical Jurisprudence, which was published the same year as the Constitution. But Farr’s medical treatise directly contradicted Means’ theory. In unambiguous language, Dr. Farr maintained that human life began “immediately after conception” and that “nothing but the arbitrary forms of human institutions can make it otherwise.”

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