Why I’m Pro-Life, but Not Conservative: An Issue that Transcends Political Ideology

IMG_0397As we enter a new year, it’s not fun to look back on 2014, a tumultuous year that saw quite a bit of hardships. If we learned anything from 2014, it’s namely that human life is decreasing in value. We saw that a man throwing his hands up and attempting to reason with another human being has no right to life so long as the person being unreasonable has a badge. We learned that being white and carrying a gun in an open carry state will gather police attention, but not kill you, while being black in that same state and carrying a BB gun will result in your death, regardless of age. We learned that Planned Parenthood can celebrate the termination of 327,653 human lives by their own hands. We witnessed that people who are appalled by the previous statistic are likewise willing to defend the use of torture – even against innocent people – by the CIA, are willing to support drone strikes, are willing to support endless warfare, and still support the death penalty even though at least 4% of those on death row are innocent. All the while, people complained about “Obamacare,” helping the homeless, or enacting policies to help eradicate poverty.

Sadly, as I’ve pointed out before, “pro-life” is a bit of a misnomer as a movement. After all, how can one be “pro-life” on matters of abortion, but still advocate the destruction of life outside the womb? The cornerstone of any argument against abortion begins with the idea that humans have intrinsic value by mere fact that they exist; what good does it do us if we support positions that contradict such a viewpoint? More to the issue of being against abortion (with exception to the rarest of cases, such as the life of the mother), what good does it do to cry out about the value of the life in the womb, but then do all we can to disavow that life once born?

In the case of a mother being too poor to take care of the child, or to receive proper pre and post-natal treatment, or to obtain daycare so she can keep working or get a better education, or any of the other lists of things that cause women to consider abortion, what has the conservative side done? What have conservatives done to eliminate the conditions that would make abortion an option? See, the greatest irony is that most modern conservatives aren’t actually conservative. Some might say they’re “classically liberal” because they’re against war (such as Rand Paul), but even then that’s not an appropriate description. Modern conservatives are, in many ways, no different than modern liberals; both ascribe to a form of individualism when it’s convenient for their cases. For liberals, individualism comes into play mostly with the abortion argument, whereas for conservatives it comes into play for just about everything except social issues (but heavily on economic issues).

One can look to classical conservatives coming out of England in the 18th and 19th centuries and see a much different “conservative” than what we see today: They were anti-slavery, anti-segregation, pro-government spending on the poor, pro-social justice, anti-war, pro-civil rights, and so on. They were against government waste, against a large government in cases where a large government isn’t necessary (such as education), and supported local community involvement in instances where the government wasn’t needed. More importantly, they didn’t buy into individualism. They had the audacity to believe that we had ethical obligations to each other and that sometimes those obligations even surpassed our obligations to ourselves. Under such a system the individual doesn’t reign supreme.  Continue reading


“Why Don’t They Protest Black-on-Black Crime”: Why Eric Garner Must be the Last Straw

DSC02085As I was writing this post today, the media announced that the New York grand jury failed to indict an officer who killed Eric Garner. Never mind the video evidence coupled with a medical report that stated quite emphatically the death was a homicide, caused by a chokehold, the grand jury didn’t find sufficient evidence to prosecute the officer. Once again, a giant spotlight is placed on the racial divide within our country, a divide always seen by the minorities who suffer from such a divide, but one ignored by those who benefit.

In all the arguing, I’ve watched many white people try to say that racism isn’t that bad, that the system works most of the time, that black people are just complaining. Of course, there are a multitude of innocent young black men who would beg to differ that the system works. Some white people choose to respond back, “Fine, we’ll grant that the system doesn’t work, but why don’t you protest black-on-black crime? Where’s your outrage over the 95% of black people killed by other black people?

The implied message is basically, “The problem is with the race, not the system.” It seems that no matter what we argue in terms of helping the black community, we’re met with, “Let the statistics speak for themselves. Now, from the view of statistics it’s quite hard to argue that black-on-black crime isn’t an issue. Statistically, even if we remove death by police, growing up a black man comes with an inherently higher risk than growing up a white man.

What are we to make of this? Shall we continue to lay hold of the popular question, “Why don’t black people protest black-on-black crime?” Of course, while it’s a popular question to ask, it  has no basis. There are numerous protests ever year over the violence within poor black communities. There have been multiple articles, multiple programs, and multiple attempts to lower the crime rate within poor black communities. Yet, the problem persists. It leaves us with one of two explanations: Either there’s a problem with the system or there’s a problem with the race. If the problem is with the race, then we have to embrace some pretty unsavory conclusions. The first being there’s no scientific explanation between white people and black people (other than the color of the skin), thus we’re coming to the conclusion without a shred of evidence. Likewise, we must accept that the KKK and white supremacists aren’t necessarily wrong, just that we disagree with their methods. Essentially, if we conclude the problem of black-on-black crime isn’t systemic and is rather a problem with the race, then we must embrace an ideology that puts one race ahead of another.

I would hope few people would be willing to embrace such a view, especially since it lacks evidence, logic, compassion, or a Christian view. If, then, the problem is not the race, then it must be the system. Which raises a very important question; Why don’t white people protest black-on-black crime? More to the point, why don’t we protest a system that breeds poverty and violence? Why do we look upon it as “their” problem, with apathy, when it’s a problem that impacts us all? If we truly believe that human life holds intrinsic value then the loss of any life should matter to us, but even more so when the system has failed and worked to create an environment in which poverty and violence breed. Where, then, are the white protests against a system that creates such an environment? Why aren’t white people protesting the crime that exists because the system is broken?

None of this absolves criminals of their own responsibility, mind you. If a young man is in a gang and is killed by a rival gang member, then both made their choice. Even in environments geared towards producing violence, people are still responsible for their choices, but sometimes the system can influence the decisions they make. Consider the following:

We take a person and place him in a room that has a huge assortment of foods. However, there’s a giant wall separating him from the food. Likewise, there’s apples on his side of the room, but we’ve told him not to eat the apples. Now, he can get over the wall, but he has to overcome barbed wire, electric wiring, and a very narrow gap at the very top.

It doesn’t take long to realize that at a certain point, given enough people, some people are going to make it across the wall. Some will overcome the odds and get through. More, however, will give up and eat the apples. Some simply will lack the proper means to get over the wall and be forced to eat the apples. While it’s still their choice to eat the apples, the system is geared in such a way to prevent them from having better choices.

Likewise, when you take a group of people – regardless of race – and put them in an environment where there are little to no jobs, little to no education, police brutality, and rampant violence, can we be shocked if they succumb to the environment and make poor choices? Yes, we can say, “Well they should clean it up,” but how can they when the system for a number of years has worked to prevent any clean up from occurring? Up until the 70s and even 80s bias ran rampant within city officials, creating policies that negatively impacted black communities. Sadly, while these mentalities aren’t as open today, they do exist.

What do we do with a system that allows police to kill black people without any recourse to justice? A medical examiner stated that the chokehold killed Mr. Garner, labeled it a homicide, and there’s a video of the entire indicent; but that still wasn’t enough to grant justice. That is a broken system. That a man can walk in Walmart holding a toy gun and get gunned down by police without a warning while the police walk away freely is proof we live in a broken system. That a DA can make a half-assed attempt at a Grand Jury in Missouri, that he can essentially toss the case and not make an effort is proof we live in a broken system. That black men and women must worry every single time a police car pulls up behind them, even though they’ve done nothing wrong, is proof we live in a broken system. Why aren’t white people more upset, more willing to protest, more willing to change the system for their brothers and sisters?  Continue reading

Happy Labor Day! Now Get Back to Work or, A Call to All for Justice

DSC01714Does anyone else find it incredibly ironic that the people who have to work on Labor Day are the people for which the day was created? It’s the laborers who still have to work to support the non-laborers who celebrate a day dedicated to laborers.

A person I know who is a manager at a national retailer (a big box chain) told me the story once of how he had to sit down and talk about personal hygiene with an employee. The employee had to stop the person and say he knew how to bathe, he just had to choose between food for his family or the water bill that week. He chose the food and thus couldn’t shower. Keep in mind, the person who told this to me is incredibly loyal to his company and an ardent conservative, so there was no hidden agenda.

As many people enjoy a day off tomorrow, many others will be hard at work to ensure that the others are able to enjoy that day off. Some are essential – such as police, doctors, firefighters, and the like – but others are completely non-essential. Their essential jobs are to make sure we can get our stuff checked out to enjoy our Labor Day sale, or put food on our plate at the restaurant after a long day of doing nothing.

The holiday was originally set aside to celebrate the contributions of organized labor, or unions, after the US Marshals and others killed a few laborers during a strike in the 1880s. Organized labor brought justice to work, or at least attempted to, during the Industrial Revolution; thus, Labor Day recognizes their contributions. The modern celebration is ironic because 28% of America’s workforce is in retail (considered a laborious job), but only 3% of workers are unionized. Considering that the US unemployment rate is at 6.3% (give or take), but at least 49% of Americans take some form of government assistance. Perhaps part of the problem for the rapid increase of poverty, or necessity of government assistance, is that the average retail worker working full time brings in $18,500 a year.

Now, while there are practical reasons for considering a wage increase in just the retail section alone (the aforementioned link shows that increasing wages for retail workers would actually benefit out economy and only cause a 1% increase in prices), we must first consider the ethical ramifications of what we’ve been doing to our economy and, more importantly, to ourselves. Labor Day was created to celebrate not just the work done by laborers, but more importantly, to celebrate laborers. People who work for a living, who do construction, who come and fix the toilet, who work on your car, who mow your yard, who clean up after you and your rotten children at a restaurant, who help you find the clothes you “need” to have, these are people that we treat differently: they’re servants. Though no one wants to realize it, we’ve done away with most of the middle class and shifted them to the servant class. Who cares if the servants aren’t paid well and are mistreated? Perhaps they ought to get a better job and an education to help achieve that better job, never mind the fact that if everyone did that then there’d be no one to mow the yard, to fix the car, or to fix the toilet (which would lead to a pretty crappy society).  Continue reading

Retributive Justice vs Reconciliatory Justice or: Why Sheriff Joe Arpio isn’t Someone We Should Admire

pink sheriffThis post is meant for those of the Christian mindset, which is why its reasoning is more theological than philosophical. However, a good natural law argument can be made as well, mostly that all humans are worthy of being treated with dignity.

There’s a meme making its way around Facebook talking about Sheriff Joe Arpio and his harsh method of delivering justice to his inmates. The picture (seen above) it accompanied with a list of what Sheriff Arpio has done while the sheriff for his county. He’s made his prisoners wear pink, work in chain gangs, pay for their meals, and the like. In addition to that, to save taxpayer money, he’s opened up a tent city wherein prisoners have to live despite the harsh desert heat.

When faced with criticism, he has responded with, “These criminals are paying a debt they owe to society.” And there is a bit of truth to such a statement; after all, our modern penal system is simply a way for a criminal to further his education in being a criminal. County jails tend to be a criminal’s college, state penitentiaries tend to be graduate work, and federal penitentiaries tend to be post-graduate. Thus, perhaps it’s good that we look at reforming our system.

Sheriff Arpio, however, goes too far. The problem is he’s practicing retributive justice (eye for an eye), which does nothing for the criminal or for the victim. It may give us an emotional feeling of justice, but it’s not actually justice. Ignoring the drug users who are mixed in the group (and I fail to see why anyone who uses drugs should ever be imprisoned or fined above being put in rehab), let us assume that someone is a violent criminal. He broke into the home, beat up the owners, and stole some property. How is him sitting in a tent in the desert beneficial to the owners or beneficial to the criminal? Retributive justice gives us the sense of justice, but isn’t justice because it accomplishes nothing.

It would make more sense to have him do labor (though not necessarily hard labor) that at the same time teaches him a skill he can use once he is released from prison. The wages he earns while imprisoned can be given to his victims as a way to reconcile himself with those he harmed. At the same time, we should do what we can to reform him. In this way, we have concerned ourselves with the victims first to ensure they receive a just compensation for what they lost and what they endured, but equally we have concerned ourselves with the welfare of the criminal. This is reconciliatory justice. It’s actual justice because it seeks to bring a criminal – who is a criminal because he abandoned the norms of society – back into society to be a productive member. It actually accomplishes something while also aiding the victim.

People would raise three questions to the idea of reconciliatory justice. The first is why should we concern ourselves with the welfare of the criminal at all. After all, he violated the public trust and the Common Good, so why should we concern ourselves with his well being when he did not concern himself with our well being? The answer to such a question is that despite what the criminal has done, he is still made in the image of God and is therefore worthy of dignity and respect. Just because he has failed to show such dignity and respect to other image-bearers does not grant us the right to treat him as such; though clichéd, it is true that two wrongs do not make a right. Being in the image of God means that the criminal deserves some semblance of respect and dignity, which is what Sheriff Joe Arpio removes from his inmates. They are forced to live outside in the heat and subjected to harsh conditions; this is not something worthy of God’s image.

The second question raised would be how we could promise that criminals could be reformed when it seems that most criminals don’t want to be reformed. The argument that accompanies this question is that most criminals don’t want to reform, after all, most of them return to prison within a few years of being released. My answer to this is that such a question and argument betrays a type of fatalism, or genetic determinism. Some people are just born (or conditioned) to be criminals and there’s nothing we can do to change them. There is no hope for redemption for them. But such an argument flies in the face of the Gospel, which teaches that all people can come to Christ, despite their backgrounds. If anyone can come to Christ, then certainly anyone can also be morally reformed from a criminal past. If we believe that criminals cannot be reformed, then why don’t we make the punishment for every crime the death penalty? Everything from simple thievery to tax evasion to selling drugs to murder should all be punishable by death. If the criminal cannot be reformed, or if we think it’s unlikely that he’ll be reformed, then why not just kill him? Perhaps we’re afraid that this would result in many innocent people being killed, so then let’s make all sentences life-sentences without the eligibility for parole. Whether you are caught stealing a stick of gum or murdering someone, you end up with a life sentence.

Such an idea is, of course, absurd and no rational person would ever endorse it. We endorse graduated sentencing based on the crime in part because we believe that the less severe the crime, the less likely the person will return to it. Deep down we hope that people can be reformed, but the way we have established our system completely prevents true reform from occurring. We allow our prisoners to leave without any skills to make it in the real world and then our society attaches a stigma to these criminals so they cannot acquire a job. Is it any wonder that we get repeat offenders?

As a side note, I do understand that there are some criminals who are mentally ill or simply refuse to be reformed. But there is no way these people constitute the majority of people within our penal institution. Such committed criminals could certainly remain in prison for the rest of their lives, with us always trying to reform them, but not releasing them for fear they will strike again. This is actually humane and dignified both to their potential victims (in that we protect the victims) and to the criminal, as it protects him from further violating God’s image within him by harming others. However, forcing someone who is capable and willing to reform into a life sentence or a harsh sentence and not giving him the chance to reform is inhumane and undignified because it gives him no hope for redemption.

The final question one could ask would be why should taxpayers have to pay for the criminal’s reform. How is it that someone commits a crime and then it becomes the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay for his crime? The reason is quite simply that we want a better society, and sometimes we as a whole have to pay for a better society. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, so obviously the status quo isn’t working. We need something new, and any program that upholds the dignity of God’s image in people and seeks to bring that image to the forefront in their character is worth the payment. If we were able to reform our criminals, especially if we get them at a younger age, to where they become productive members of society, then our society would be stronger and better. The taxpayer money then becomes an investment, as a stronger society leads to a stronger economy, which leads to more money for the taxpayer.

More importantly, however, many of these criminals come from impoverished areas of the country. Were to we work to reconcile these criminals, by teaching them virtue while imprisoned as well as helping them find a skillset to help them on the “outside,” perhaps when they moved back into these impoverished areas they could help to make a difference. They could open up their own businesses or work with the ones already in the community to hopefully strengthen that community. While the ideal would never be achieved, it is still good to work towards the ideal so that we’ll be left better off than we currently are.

Ultimately, we need to remember the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:21-35). In this parable, a man ends up owing a great sum of money to someone (ten thousand talents, and one talent would be worth somewhere around $800,000) and promised to work to pay the debt off. The debtor had pity on the servant and forgave him his debt. This servant then turned around and demanded someone in debt to him by 100 denarii (a denarii was a day’s pay for most laborers, or about $60 if we go off minimum wage and an 8 hour day). The servant refused to forgive the debt of the man owing him 100 denarii and had the man thrown in prison.

We must never forget that through God’s reconciliatory justice, our debts have been forgiven. He has helped to reform us from our sins, though we were in debt to Him. The crimes these criminals commit, while ranging from petty to heinous, indebt these criminals to society, their debt is miniscule when compared to the debt we each owe to God. If He can find it within His capacity to forgive us our debt and work to reconcile us, certainly we as a society can do the same to our criminals. While imprisonment is necessary, what we do while the criminal is imprisoned makes all the difference. And making them endure hard labor while living in harsh conditions, while not giving them any skills to survive or training in virtue, without attempting to reform them, makes us the ungrateful servants of God.

Justice vs. Love

DSC02085In Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, the idea of a just God is implicitly paired against the idea of a loving God. After all, how can we say God is love if He willingly sends people to Hell? The responses varied, mostly stating that yes, God is love, but God is also just and how can we say that God is just if He doesn’t send people to Hell? Without diving into that issue (mostly because I already have), it seems that in the West as a rule we struggle between the idea of justice and the idea of love. When we think of a our penal system on one side we want people who are tougher on crime, we want harsh prison sentences, to the point that some almost applaud the inevitability of rape within our prison system. On the other hand, we have people who are about reform, who want to almost do away with prisons, and even some judges have allowed heinous criminals to go loose out of a desire to help the criminal reform. The battle between love and justice is on that has, in my opinion, completely skewed our criminal system.

Take, for instance, the case of Brandon Philips. He stole a $1.29 Honey Bun and was hunted down by a K-9 unit and arrested (though they found no evidence of his crime) and ultimately jailed for resisting arrest (what innocent person wouldn’t resist arrest?). Now, the pragmatic aspects of this (the cost of using so many police for a $1.29 snack) and his innocence or guilt aside, how is this in any way a justified response? To the arbiter of modern justice, which tends to be more Hobbesian absolutism than anything else, the police are the champions for hunting down a man over the principle that he took someone else’s property. The defenders of love, however, would argue that the man should go free just as Jean Valjean was allowed to go free for the crime of stealing a candlestick (admittedly, I fall closer to this side of the argument, much closer).

The reason such a debate exists is because we have divided justice and love and we treat them as opposites. The reality is that justice begins with love. Both justice and love are part of the energies of God and while not the sum of His essence, they point back to His essence. Thus, they have a common beginning in the nature of God and since God is perfect (that is, He is not a contradiction), justice and love do not contradict each other, but compliment each other and ultimately point to the same End.

Thus, if justice is giving to each what each deserves, love is the standard we use when deciding what each is owed and what each deserves. Furthermore, if justice moves us to protect the innocent, it only does so because love has caused us to love the innocent to begin with. Without love, justice is ineffective and eventually becomes a disfiguration of true justice. Likewise, love without justice forces us to allow heinous crimes in the name of passivity or in the hopes of a person being restored. All the while, more and more victims are created. Remove love from justice and we end up with a tyranny of laws and arbitrary standards of defining what is and is not just; remove justice from love and we end up with chaos and predators devouring their prey.

Rather, our entire system should be centered on loving justice, the idea that we must protect the victims in any crime, but also leave the path open to restore the perpetrator (who may be a perpetrator only because he was ultimately a victim). We take the case of Mr. Philips. He stole from someone and, no matter how bad his plight is, taking from someone else is never the right thing to do. After all, if one is starving and one steals from the one with bread, we only transfer the plight from one person to another; now the bread owner faces the prospect of starvation (in an ultimate sense). At the same time, is throwing this young man in jail – which is essentially a college for criminals (graduate work is done in state prisons while post-graduate work is done in federal prisons) – really the just thing to do?

We need to find a way where we show love to both the victim and the criminal. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for a criminal is to lock him away for life; he is a menace to society and closed off to reform. Our hope is that in his isolation from society, he will begin to see the value in being a productive citizen. Only when we begin from a position of loving both the criminal and the victim can we begin to find true justice, a justice that lasts. It’s not that “love wins” or that “justice wins,” but that both are one in the same and we require one to support the other. Until we realize this, I’m afraid our prison population will continue to grow.

A Devotional Commentary

From St. John of Damascus’ Fountain of Knowledge, works on philosophy, first paragraph of Chapter 67:

Philosophy is knowledge of things which are in so far as they are; that is to say, a knowledge of their nature. Philosophy is a knowledge of divine and human things. Philosophy is a study of death, both that which is deliberate and that which is natural. Philosophy is a becoming like God, in so far as this is possible for man. Now, it is in justice, sanctity, and goodness that we become like God. And justice is that which is distributive of equity; it is not wrongdoing and not being wrong, not prejudicing a person, but rendering to each his due in according with his works. Sanctity, on the other hand, is that which is over and above justice; that is to say, it is the good, the patience of the one wronged, the forgiving of them that do wrong, and, more than that, the doing of good to them. Philosophy is the art of arts and the science of sciences, for, since through philosophy every art is discovered, it is the principle underlying every art. Philosophy is love of wisdom. But, the true wisdom is God. Therefore, the love of God – this is the true philosophy.

John covers quite a bit in this passage, but he indicates that part of theosis (what he says is “Becoming like God,” or what Protestants say, “More like Christ”) is the study of philosophy. How does philosophy aid in us becoming like God? Philosophy teaches us the reality of the world. It tells us where we came from and how we know what we know. From there, we deduce how we should act. Philosophy teaches us that we should be just in our actions and go even further and be sanctified in how we act toward others, to go beyond justice.

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Moral Equivalency

When asked what the biggest hurdle to the Middle East peace process was, Jimmy Carter said it was the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. I have to ask – did Carter fall down and hit his head somewhere between 1980 and the present day? 

Let’s look at a few facts:

* The biggest obstacle is most likely the fact that Hamas – the biggest governmental party for the Palestinians – does not recognize Israel as a legitimate nation

* It is the express intent of such terrorist organizations to “drive the Jews into the sea,” not back to the pre-1967 borders

* Like it or not, Israel won those lands in a battle against 6 different Arab nations. They didn’t take it from the nation of Palestine, because such a nation did not exist. Rather, those lands were owned by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. There was no Palestinian government (or solidarity movement). It is the equivalent of saying the US needs to return the Southwestern portion of the United states to Mexico, or make it its own nation, even though we won that land in a war

* All land is taken from someone. The land of Israel is no different. It is currently owned by the Jews. Before that, the British. Before that, the Ottoman Empire. Before that, the Muslim armies under Saladin. Before that, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Before that, the French. Before that, the Muslim armies. Before that, the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire. Before that, the Roman Empire. Before that, the Jews. And the list goes on and on. Multiple nations have staked claim in Israel. To say that it belongs to the Palestinians – a bedouin people who decided to settle there – is quite absurd. 

* Israel often takes harsh actions against the Palestinians because the Palestinians are known for blowing Israelis up

* Even if we say the terrorism is a response to what Israel has done, does that make it right? Israel targets military targets surrounded by civilians, which inevitably leads to collateral damage. The Palestinians target civilian targets – the death of Israeli citizens aren’t collateral damage, they are the targets

* The Israelis have shown they wanted peace and want a co-existence with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have shown they want peace by the eradication of the Jewish government

Regardless of one’s religion or views of Biblical eschatology, from a purely rational point of view, Israel is in the right. Israeli settlements may hinder the peace process, but they are a far cry from the biggest obstacle. Every time Israel has done something to move toward peace, it has been met with rocket launches and bombs…and silence from those who want “peace” in Israel. Carter, Obama, Clinton…all of them are silent when rockets fall in Israel or busses are blown up. But the moment those Jews build a house on land they won in a war, well that’s just the biggest obstacle to peace. 

A nation with leaders such as these, leaders who are blind and don’t understand the first thing about justice, is a nation that will not survive, nor does it have a right to survive.