Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Different Kind of Loyalist

It has often been request of me, and I have long desired, to write up a more comprehensive statement of my view of the relationship between Christians and civil governments. Unfortunately, this is not such a statement. Instead, I recently encountered a quote in an unrelated context which seemed to me to capture, if not the totality, then at least the spirit of what I understand to be a correct stance of Christians toward civil government. In an article about the Sandemanians and their politics during the American Revolutionary War, Jean Hankins summarizes their position thus: "Sounding like activists, but acting like pacifists, New England's Sandemanians emerge as a different kind of loyalist." In this brief statement can be found three critical principles for a Christian relationship to government:

Submission: The term "loyalist," while an accurate term historically for supporters of the rights of the English crown to rule the colonies, would not describe appropriately a Christian disposition toward human government (i.e. I would not describe myself as "loyal" to America or her interests). The error is, however, semantic. What the quote describes is the basic framework for the relationship to Christian government, which is one of obligatory respect and submission. It is the same raw context for civic ethics that Paul enjoins in Romans 13:1 or Peter commands in 1 Peter 2:17. Whatever instances of so-called civil disobedience may be permitted, they are permitted as exceptions to the rule of submission not as a rule which allows for incidental or occasional submission. (Incidentally, since the American Revolution is the context of the quote, I wonder what contemporary Christians who idolize--and that word is deliberately chosen--the Revolution and its architects do with verses like these.)

Pacifism: I realize this will be the most contentious suggestion, particularly in an era in which American Christianity has so steeped itself in militarism that it has embraced a spiritual baptism in the blood of national imperial martyrs instead of the blood of a peaceful savior. Yet in our modern world of mass-produced warfare and ever more coercive governments, pacifism provides the primary means for suspending our obligation to submit to civil government. Gone are the days when "We must serve God rather than men" functioned primarily to oppose religious censorship. Now our governments require a full participation of the citizen in all the tainted mechanisms of government, and that participation is always and completely a moral activity, a tacit endorsement of the necessary means of human structures of power. Without enumerating what I believe are the many applications of this antagonism between a Christian vision of peace and civil government, let it suffice to say that as often as being a peacemaker stands contrary to the mechanisms of civil government--and those occasions will certainly be frequent--it is our ethical commitment to peace which takes precedence.

Activism: The most frequent critique of pacifism confuses a rejection of unrighteous means with a rejection of righteous ends. I cannot count the number of times I have seen arguments which boil down to this: if you don't support opposing injustice with violence, then you are supporting injustice by implication. It simply isn't true. Pacifism simply makes the claim--one which I obviously find convincing--that it is logically inconsistent to pretend to oppose injustice with violence, an unjust tool. Instead, pacifists make an effort to oppose injustice with just means. Pacifism is not quietism. It is absolutely the Christian's duty to "sound like an activist," which is to say we should be active through every ethically available means to promote peace, justice, and mercy in a world which thirsts for them. There is no virtue in pursuing justice at any cost, especially when the cost is the peace and mercy which we ought to be promoting with and through justice.

Admittedly, it is something of a contrivance to use Hankins's quote as a the framework for cutting to the heart of the question of a Christian relationship. Nevertheless, the broad categories it outlines demonstrate the main areas of discussion necessary: in what sense are Christians "loyalists," in what sense are we "pacifists," and in what sense are we "activists." I think the image presented to describe the Sandemanians (who, I admit, I know very little about) captures very nearly a picture of Christian civic virtue that grows naturally out of the Gospel.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: Parental Discretion Advised

A school in Jefferson's home county in Virginia is removing a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle work from its sixth grade curriculum, citing the book's religious intolerance as the motive:

The Victorian-era book, A Study In Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was deemed inappropriate for the age group, but it will be available for older students.

The school board of Albermarle county, where Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home is located, took the action in response to a challenge from the parent of a middle school student...

"This is our young students' first inaccurate introduction to an American religion," Stevenson told the board, according to the newspaper.

It is interesting what we have decided is inappropriate for children. A federal court recently ruled in favor of the First Amendment rights of teenage girls to upload sexual images of themselves with total impunity. So, while Sherlock Holmes is too intolerant for sixth graders, this is appropriate behavior for 10th graders:

Prior to the first sleepover, the girls bought phallic-shaped rainbow colored lollipops. During the first sleepover, the girls took a number of photographs of themselves sucking on the lollipops. In one, three girls are pictured and M.K. added the caption "Wanna suck on my c**k." In another photograph, a fully-clothed M.K. is sucking on one lollipop while another lollipop is positioned between her legs and a fully-clothed T.V. is pretending to suck on it.

During another sleepover, T.V. took a picture of M.K. and another girl pretending to kiss each other. At a final slumber party, more pictures were taken with M.K. wearing lingerie and the other girls in pajamas. One of these pictures shows M.K. standing talking on the phone while another girl holds one of her legs up in the air, with T.V. holding a toy trident as if protruding from her crotch and pointing between M.K.'s legs. In another, T.V. is shown bent over with M.K. poking the trident between her buttocks. A third picture shows T.V. positioned behind another kneeling girl as if engaging in anal sex. In another picture, M.K. poses with money stuck into her lingerie -- stripper-style.

The pendulum is now officially swinging the other direction. At one point censorship was being driven by too conservative, too Puritanical values. Sexuality, atheism, social dissonance, and the like were inappropriate for our children. Now, our censorship is beginning to be driven by progressive values. It is the absences of pluralism or the perception of intolerance that are the issue. Surely there are others who realize that this is just two sides of the same coin; two equal and opposite ideologies embracing censorship to promote healthy development of "right-minded" people. At some point, it seems, all ideological systems will attempt to perpetuate themselves through the controlled flow of information to children. That is fine, perhaps entirely natural, but I do not want to hear a single progressive getting on my case about the religious "indoctrination" of children through Sunday school.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cow News

In yet another daring act of bravery being ignored by the mainstream media in America,

An animal charity has rescued a bullock in South Ayrshire which got its head stuck in a ladder.

Members of the public called the Scottish SPCA after spotting the bewildered beast in a field beside the Troon to Barassie road last month.

An inspector contacted the farmer who owned the Belgian Blue bullock and helped return it to the herd unharmed.

Am I really the only one who cares more about this than the question of whether or not Rick Perry eats a corn dog like a homosexual, which is of such crucial importance as to be pushed to the forefront our national conciousness?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Other News

The Associated Press has made a startling revelation: text critics exist! The faith of every Jew, Christian, and Muslim is in peril.

As if that weren't enough, the Pew Research Center has found that the rate of religious intolerance and persecution has increased over the last five years for more than one third of the world's population. I wonder if that includes the newly free and democratic Egypt or the freshly liberated Iraq. Is it any wonder that Christians in Syria aren't taking up arms for the kind of peace and freedom that the Arab Spring offers?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Absurd and Ignorance

This final exploration of the interaction of absurdism with Christianity proposes to look at a passage of Camus which is both true and antithetical to proper faith. Camus writes:

I want everything to be explained to me or nothing.

It is immediately striking to me how surigically this sentiment cuts to the heart of humanity's relationship with its own incomplete knowledge. We lament our own ignorance but only because we know that we are ignorant. The constant quest for knowledge by humanity is a product of the incompleteness of its understanding. The moment we unify two thoughts in our comprehension, there are four more born that are in total disharmony. The very fact of partial understanding exacerbates our ignorance and torments us. To understand nothing at all, including one's own ignorance, is perhaps the only desirable alternative to comprehensive understanding, at least from an existential standpoint. It is not for nothing that our culture has embraced the proverb, "Ignorance is bliss."

And yet, for Christians, partial knowledge is a necessary part of our faith. We can speak practically of the formal incompleteness of God's revelation as recorded in Scripture (even if we want to doctrinally assert its functional completeness), but there is an even more important gap in our knowledge. We do not yet understand even basic facts which are logically prior to Scripture: what is man, what is his purpose, why is the world so beautiful and terrible? Even as we begin to formulate responses--good, true responses so far as they go--to these questions, our self-perpetuating ignorance proves that the very ability to formulate the questions is itself a kind of curse. Consider, for example, how the problem of evil arises from such questions.

At the same time, we must embrace what partial knowledge we have with all the burdens it includes, because it is in this incomplete knowledge that we have the promise of total knowledge. Consider Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." It is only in our lamentable state, steeped as we are in the torturous knowledge of our own ignorance, that we become aware of the prospect of full knowledge. The kind of comprehensive knowledge that Camus assumes to be inaccessible and therefore to validate the absurd, we have a secure hope of because we have been allowed to know in part.

In this is the substantial difference between a Christian absurdism and that of Camus. Understood as Camus did, the collision of man and an alien world could result only in futility and despair. Understood in Christ, the collision of man and an alien world gives content to a hope of true unification which includes and exceeds simple comprehensive understanding. Even the recognition of the ultimate futility of human efforts and the despair which inevitably results from that are transfigured in Christ; the very awareness of these weaknesses is a call to the promise of God. I can accept readily most of what Camus has to say as a genuine and unusually brilliant expression of the existential turmoil I see as intrinsic to this world. But as I cry out in his voice, I admit that there is an unknown and perhaps nonexistent interlocutor who calls back not with answers but with an invitation: "Come to me, and I will give you rest."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Absurd and Science

Perhaps the most beautiful and compelling of all the passages I have encountered in Camus is his critique of the insufficiency of science to resolve the problem of the absurd. It is the ultimate aim of secluarist scientists to reduce the world to a mathematical series of formulas, and they assume that such a reduction is more or less inevitable. They treat the comprehensibility of the world and their materialist philosophy as so self-evident as to defy criticism. Camus, and of course others, have rightly observed that by all objective standards, science always ultimately dissolves not into scientific formulas but into romantic verse:

And here are the trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes -how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanisms and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world. Were I to trace its entire relief with my finger, I should not know any more. And you give me the choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach me but that are not sure. A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is this condition in which I can have peace only by refusing to know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up paradoxes. Everything is ordered in such a way as to bring into being that poisoned peace produced by thoughtlessness, lack of heart, or fatal renunciations.

It is intriguing how Camus' despair at the inability of science to resolve the absurd is also vividly poetic. It mirrors the sentiments of Petru Dumitriu as he laments the simultaneously mathematical and incomprehensible universe. But while Camus stops with the lament that he cannot find assurance that the world is his, Dumitriu so embraces the foreignness of the world that, so far from being his, he insists that it must belong to someone else:

For nothing is simple, and the universe is mathematicable, but incomprehensible -- really incomprehensible, and really constructed according to a plan that is not a human one.

The most perfect parallel to Camus' critique of science (at least that I have found) is actually in the work of G. K. Chesterton. Writing well before the birth of absurdism, Chesterton anticipated Camus' observations about science and its inability to adequately give answers to the truly pressing questions of the world. Just as it completely failed to resolve the problem of the absurd, science was totally impotent in the face of the ultimate question: why?

In fairyland we avoid the word "law"; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it. Thus they will call some interesting conjecture about how forgotten folks pronounced the alphabet, Grimm's Law. But Grimm's Law is far less intellectual than Grimm's Fairy Tales. The tales are, at any rate, certainly tales; while the law is not a law. A law implies that we know the nature of the generalisation and enactment; not merely that we have noticed some of the effects. If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince. As IDEAS, the egg and the chicken are further off from each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears...It is the man who talks about "a law" that he has never seen who is the mystic.

Chesterton goes on with astonishing parallels to Camus and his complaint that science inevitably collapses into poetry:

Nay, the ordinary scientific man is strictly a sentimentalist. He is a sentimentalist in this essential sense, that he is soaked and swept away by mere associations. He has so often seen birds fly and lay eggs that he feels as if there must be some dreamy, tender connection between the two ideas, whereas there is none. A forlorn lover might be unable to dissociate the moon from lost love; so the materialist is unable to dissociate the moon from the tide. In both cases there is no connection, except that one has seen them together. A sentimentalist might shed tears at the smell of apple-blossom, because, by a dark association of his own, it reminded him of his boyhood. So the materialist professor (though he conceals his tears) is yet a sentimentalist, because, by a dark association of his own, apple-blossoms remind him of apples. But the cool rationalist from fairyland does not see why, in the abstract, the apple tree should not grow crimson tulips; it sometimes does in his country.

Just as with Camus, Chesterton himself slips easily into his own rhetorical poetry when speaking about the world. They admit that awed ignorance is the appropriate response to reality and recognize that even science (in its own cold, self-deluded way) will always end at the same place as everyone else: wide-eyed wonder. It certainly raises questions about the whether or not apophatic thinkers have had it right all along; the end of human knowledge is silence before God. More to the point though, this realization should work to resolve the lingering fear that has been created by the false triumphalism of science with reference to religion. Faith has nothing to fear in science because science ultimately has nothing to say to faith. It is itself just a gelid, mechanical mysticism which has had the unfortunate fate of being so convinced by its own facade that it thinks it is somehow above and apart. In truth, science offers only transient answers to transient problems. It crumbles in the face of the absurd, like all human effort.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Taking a break from the absurd...sort of.

We interrupt this series on Christianity and the Absurd to bring you the response of Archbiship Rowan Williams, functional head of the Church of England, to the riots that recently took place in England. Specifially, I found this quote about education reform and its impact on society interesting:

Over the last two decades, our educational philosophy at every level has been more and more dominated by an instrumentalist model; less and less concerned with a building of virtue, character and citizenship – 'civic excellence' as we might say. And a good educational system in a healthy society is one that builds character, that builds virtue.

I find myself compelled to object that character formation is not the province of public schools but of homes. I submit that if we allow public institutions to teach our children virtue, we will find ourselves with children who only have institutional virtues. As a Christian, I consider "civic excellence" to be a secondary virtue to be understood in a radically different context than the government would. I certainly do not want to hand over the task of training up a virtuous society to world governments who have shown themselves incapable even of training up virtuous governments.

No thank you archbishop. Of all the things public education is doing wrong, I can assure you that it is not inappropriatley neglecting character formation.

The Absurd and Christian Knowledge

In the course of a discussion on humanity's attempt to find clarity in the world, Camus wrote:

Whatever may be the plays on words and the acrobatics of logic, to understand is, above all, to unify.

It is intriguing how closely this idea parallels the hesychast understanding of what it was to know. For Camus, the act of trying to know was an attempt to impress a distinctly human character onto a decidedly inhuman world. Understanding was at its heart the human superimposition of its nature onto the nature of everything. This is his recognition of the human character of constructed meaning: because understanding is the effort to compose meaning and because meaning has the human intellect as its composer, to understand is ultimately to give an artificial human quality to reality.

This behavior is born from a desire for clarity and unity which is absurd insofar as real clarity and unity is impossible. This despair in the effort to know and the total inaccessibility the object to be known is echoed (or perhaps prefigured) in the hesycahst thought of the fourteenth century. Like Camus, the hesychasts recognized that the effort to know was an effort for unity (though they understood this unity metaphysically rather than in terms of mere logical clarity) but that the foreign nature of the world which was to be known made this ultimately impossible.

Unlike Camus, who stressed the flaw in humanity's expectation of unity, the hesychasts stressed the flaw in humanity's perception of ultimate disunity in the world. Relying instead on the knowledge the unity must be there (in part because of an existential predisposition to assume a unified, comprehensible universe) they translated the desire to find unity from a natural human yearning to an ethical imperative. Unity existed in the world and to know that unity was to have transcended the human predicament. This, incidentally, was achieved through union with the one object, unlike the perceived world, with which that union was possible: God. In union with the divine, the hesychasts expected to achieve a unified understanding of all reality. In an eschatological vision of perfect knowledge, Gregory Palamas writes of a time when humanity will know everything as it is because, through God, humanity has become a participator in the unifying principle of everything that is: light.

For it is in light that the light is seen, and that which sees operates in a similar light, since this faculty has no other way in which to work. Having separated itself from all other beings, it becomes itself all light and is assimilated to what it sees, or rather, it is united to it without mingling, being itself light and seeing light through light. If it sees itself, it sees light; if it behold the object of its vision, that too is light; and if it looks at the means by which it sees, again it is light. For such is the character of the union, that all is one, so that he who sees can distinguish neither the means nor the object nor its nature, but simply has the awareness of being light and of seeing a light distinct from every creature.

This is by no means an attempt to collapse Christian eschatology (or even epistemology) with absurdism. Camus and Gregory could hardly have arrived at more divergent conclusions about the possibility of knowledge. They begin, however, with a similar observation that when humanity attempts to understand the world the behavior is essentially unitive, born out of an innate human desire to collapse everything into a single system or schema. They both recognize the natural human despair when, by our own efforts, the desired and expected unity cannot be achieved. What is left, then, is to decide what to do with those observations.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Absurd and Christian Theodicy

I have a proud and profound love for absurdism. I first encountered the movement in a general introduction to philosophy. The system was described to me thus: absurdism is the simultaneous belief that God must exist and that the world as we experience it precludes the existence of God. More even than a positive belief, absurdism is the recognition and acceptance of the absurdity of those two conclusions. It lives in and embraces that absurdity. It allows the absurd to color its thoughts and actions. At times, it even seems to revel in it.

Since that brief introduction, I have come to see the limits in the particular definition of absurdism--favoring instead a definition which focuses on both the necessity and impossibility of there being meaning in the world--but that original explanation has stuck with me nonetheless. In the fundamental contradiction of absurdism can be seen powerful links to an appropriate understanding of Christian theodicy. It is deeply existential in character, recognizing both the deep-seated human desire for God and our experience which defies His existence. Both are rooted in the very nature of human existence which both sees meaning (and with it, God) and knows at the same time that all meaning is illusory. We experience both a true sense of inclusion and even power in the world as both its masters and inhabitants, but we are constantly returned to an unshakable sense of alienation from it in our woeful ignorance and microcosmic insignificance, as if God is speaking to us once again from the storm.

Consider Albert Camus, the father of absurdism, on the paradoxical nearness and separation from the world, even ourselves:

A step lower and the strangeness creeps in: perceiving that the world is ‘dense,’ sensing to what degree a stone is foreign and irreducible to us, with what intensity nature or a landscape can negate us. At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this very minute lose the illusory meaning which we had clothed them, henceforth more remote than a lost paradise. The primitive hostility of the world rises up to face us across millennia. For a second we cease to understand it because for centuries we have understood in it solely the images and designs that we had attributed to it beforehand because henceforth we lack the power to make use of that artifice. The world evades us because it becomes itself again. That stage scenery masked by habit becomes again what it is. It withdraws at a distance from us. Just as there are days when under the familiar face of a woman, we see as a stranger her we had loved months or years ago, perhaps we shall come even to desire what suddenly leaves us so alone. But the time has not yet come. Just one thing: that denseness and that strangeness of the world is absurd.

Men, too, secrete the inhuman. At certain moments of lucidity, the mechanical aspect of their gestures, their meaningless pantomime makes silly everything that surrounds them. A man is talking on the telephone behind a glass partition; you cannot hear him, but you see his incomprehensible dumb show: you wonder why he is alive. This discomfort in the face of man’s own inhumanity, this incalculable tumble before the image of what we are, this ‘nausea,’ as a writer of today calls it, is also absurd. Likewise the stranger who at certain seconds comes to meet us in a mirror, the familiar and yet alarming brother we encounter in our own photographs is also the absurd.

How can the world appear so empty and foreign in one moment and so profoundly meaningful in another? What if anything can resolve the absurdity we experience in a world which refuses to bend to our ideas of justice, goodness, or even order? What can resolve the absurdity of realizing that the meaning we know exists, we also know that we are creating ex nihilo? These are questions on which God may be brought to bear, not logically but existentially as a force which enters into the human experience and ameliorates our experience of the absurdity even if He declines to resolve it.

Just as they can speak to and give philosohpical vitality to Christian theodicy, Camus and absurdism have other points of contact with Christian thought. An examination of quotes from Camus juxtaposed with both classical and modern Christian thought can demonstrate places where both have a common object of critique and other places where there exists substantive tension between them which must be judged either creative or destructive. The next few entries will attempt to explore these points of contact with varying degrees of depth.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ron Paul on Education

It bears reiterating that I do not and will not endorse any candidate for political office because I do not believe that Christians should participate in civil government. I feel it necessary to restate that whenever I quote a politician approvingly on matters of public interest. In view of both my longstanding and more recent problems with the state of American education, I feel it is appropriate to once again quote from Ron Paul's Liberty Defined. He offers these interesting (if somewhat underdeveloped) thoughts on American education in America's recent history:

…up until the mid-twentieth century, education was the responsibility of the church, the family, and the local community. In the past sixty years especially, the federal government has become very much involved in financing and directing education at all levels. There is no evidence that quality of education has improved. There is evidence that more people go to college and that the cost has skyrocketed. At the grade school and high school levels, where local schools and parents have ever less control over the curriculum and administration of schools, there’s definitely been more violence, more drugs, and more dropouts associated with more centralized control.

Perhaps a return to a localized education system is our best hope as a society for properly educating future generations. Certainly I don't expect to achieve this at a national level as a formal institutional goal. Instead, it appears to be up to individual families to become frustrated with and ultimately abandon a disinterested, disconnected, and dysfunctional public education system.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Homosexuals in History

I first ran across this little tidbit of news in a series of news briefs on the side column of a USA Today and frankly was a little skeptical as to its accuracy. Since then, I have seen it numerous other places, enough to confirm its unsettling accuracy. California has apparently become the first state to mandate the study of the "contributions of gays and lesbians" to history. Aside from the more obvious and natural outrage over the government mandating social acceptance through indoctrination (which strengthens my resolve to keep whatever children I may someday have out of the public school system), I have a number of more reasoned objections to the idea of teaching homosexual history that should be shared even by the more socially liberal among us.

1. Curriculum reform cannot stop bullying.

It is shocking to see how heavily the above linked article hammers home the idea that this agenda is being pursued in an effort to stop the social ostracism and bullying of homosexual students in schools. One is left to wonder whether liberal lawmakers are being deliberately deceptive or are in fact really so deluded as to believe that curriculum reform will fundamentally alter social dynamics among adolescents. The idea is ludicrous and defies every ounce of human experience. After all, history textbooks are littered with the contributions of studious intellectuals, and yet we find that nerds are still bullied with startling regularity in schools. Certainly the presence of Grover Cleveland and Howard Taft in the lectures has never stopped fat kids from being disproportionately targeted in dodge ball. It as if lawmakers reason that if they could only teach teenagers about some obscure but influential figure with acne that no child would ever be called "pizza face" again.

Perhaps they are just unwilling to admit that pubescence is to some degree inevitably nasty, brutish, and short. That is not to say that bullying is somehow a fact of life that should be accepted, only that it cannot be corrected by subliminal positive messages about people like the objects of bullying. Appeals to the better nature of teenagers through positive education rejects the fundamental reality that people--and particularly adolescents in our society--are raised to understand reality in terms of in-groups to be protected and outsiders to be suppressed. If you want to stop bullying so radical that it has suicide as an occasional consequence, the answer is stricter discipline (or, heaven forbid, better moral education from parents) not subtle marketing ploys. (Curiously, other socially marginal groups with less political currency have been committing suicide in quiet obscurity for decades. I must have missed the push for legislation to protect those students.)

2. Homosexuals, as such, contribute almost nothing to history. Neither do women or blacks.

As incendiary as that statements sounds, the truth of it is all but incontrovertible and can be extended even to men and whites. These incidental features of human existence rarely assert themselves particularly on the face of history because the importance of historical events are rarely so minutely conditioned. In other words, it is not homosexuals, blacks, women, men, whites, or septuagenarian vegetarians who make history. It is people.

What the study of "minority" history ultimately aims to do, and what frustrates me as a historian much in the way that the moral implication frustrate me as a Christian, is to impute artificial importance to an irrelevant characteristic. If Obama had been the most successful president in history, it would not have been because he was black and frankly it would be insulting to make that kind of causal connection, but that is precisely what minority history attempts to do. It says, "Look Marie Curie discovered radiation and won two Nobel Prizes. Also, she was a woman." It isn't as though being a woman has anything to do with Marie Curie's historical importance. The fact of her chromosomal structure is incidental to her importance in the history of modern science.

It would be and is different when the aspect in question is relevant to someone's historical importance. Martin Luther King Jr. is important because of his work as a black man in the black community advocating for black rights. His skin color is relevant to his historical contribution. But, if Alexander the Great was gay (as he is so often supposed to have been), what precisely does that have to do with his conquering the known world?

3. Gay is in the eye of the beholder.

Alexander the Great makes a nice transitional figure to speak of yet another pertinent objection. Unlike race and sex, which are apparent, the question of sexuality is often the product of imaginative reconstructions by historians. Was Alexander gay? Was Shakespeare? Was Socrates or Plato? (After all, if contemporary practice is any indicator, it is possible that Socrates had non-penetrative sex with his adolescent pupil. Is that nugget from the history of homosexuality fitting for our middle school classrooms?) It is really anyone's guess, and scholars have taken that license as a free pass to make assumptions about any historical figure's sexuality. Just how prominent homosexuality and its practitioners becomes in history is entirely at the discretion of the textbook writers. They will arbitrate in an evidentiary void the sexuality of history's greatest figures with the result that we may all live to see the day when our textbooks are adorned with an orgiastic image of the founding fathers exercising the inalienable rights endowed on them by their creator.

4. Sexuality is not the measure of historical importance.

Finally, mandating homosexual history imposes an artificial standard for what merits historical importance. No one is contending that there is some great, overlooked aspect of history relevant to the kind of general studies pursued in grade school. The important contours of history which constitute the historical grounding of a liberal education are not being neglected. Children prior to this law were (in theory at least) able to graduate high school with a basic understanding of the history of Western civilization in general, the rise of the American nation in particular, and the generally inscrutable means by which our government functions (when it feels inclined to function).

By insisting on the inclusion of homosexual figures in the history texts who would not have been otherwise included, lawmakers have essentially dictated for historians what constitutes historical importance. It is no longer enough to be a person of sufficient historical impact as to merit the attention of young minds. If one did not rub genitals with the appropriate members of the same sex, such a person is likely not to make the cut of a rubric of relevance that weighs sexuality no less than influence or innovation. Certainly legislators are not allotting extra time and resources for the study of homosexual history; inevitably something presently being discussed because of its independent historical worth must be cut. The ultimate result is an educationally impoverished generation of thinkers in a time when this country can hardly afford any more blows to their collective academic worth.

Laws like this are shocking for their political rather than educational character. As legislators and special interests groups with a social agenda are rejoicing, students are slowly being acculturated to a warped society. With this accusation, I do not even have in mind particularly the idea that homosexual behavior is morally incorrect. My problem is here more the indoctrination with fundamentally distorted views of history: a false causal link between homosexuality and historical import, a skewed representation of the historical importance of homosexual events relative to the scope of history, a revised history of human sexuality, and a false sense of hope that education can solve the cruel realities of life, especially adolescence. I am less concerned with raising up a generation of homosexuals than I am of creating a generation of ignorant, self-deluded social the ones in the California state government. The latter is a more fundamental corruption of human character than the former.