Derek Johnson Muses

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World War Z, Conservatism, and Christianity

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:20-22 ESV)

I read World War Z last winter, after the film adaptation’s trailer came out, and enjoyed the book immensely. The idea of a zombie did get me thinking about how I should think about post-apocalyptic literature like WWZThe Walking Dead, or even the late TV show Jericho, from a Christian perspective. WWZ preached the token secularist point: surviving nations ruthlessly adapt the Redeker Plan that leaves people to die, and Theocratic Russia is plainly hiding something. But as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder why it seemed that liberal, isolationist culture would be the ultimate victim of a WWZ, if there was such a war.

Liberal social policies tend to rise in societies that can afford them. Should the resources disappear, society would have to adapt. Ask yourself this: who is better built to survive a zombie apocalypse, wealthy, urban social liberals who can pay for two or three divorces, or thrifty conservative families who have always bought their clothes at Goodwill? Birth rates always go up with the advent of war and fears of the end, and prospering in our modern society is bound in many ways to being socially liberally. Should the zombies rise, humanity would have to reproduce at much more rapid rate to replace those who died, and conservatives, in general, have more children than liberals

And consider how the notion of family would change. Without birth control abundantly available as it is now, people would have more children, and the sheer act of providing, even without emotional content, would be considered love. The ambitious people who today leave government for the private sector would have a stronger moral obligation to lead in government. And religion would become more of a cultural force, and not the religion of self. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, “give us this day our daily bread” is your favorite prayer, and you would want a God who is greater than this world.

I’m not saying that every liberal/leftist principal would get swept away in a sea of zombies, but what I am saying is that a lot of liberal principals require the vast prosperity that America (certain parts of the world) currently provides. Liberalism wouldn’t die (although modern capitalism as we know it might), but some of it we would see in a different light.

It makes me wonder why Hollywood, the liberal center of western culture, is greenlighting so many destroy-the-world epics when destroying the world would likely cause them to loose a place for the liberal values they enjoy. Of course, the Hollywood version usually features the “death of God” in some capacity, and the end of the world is caused by a greedy businessman or general (think Terminator 3, where the ambitious military is responsible for Skynet, or , as I’m given to understand, The Day After.) But it would be curious to see one where the liberals get the shorter end of the stick. 

So, conservatives, let’s write a novel that will show a world crisis that eradicates radical secularism and liberalism from America after a cataclysmic event. Hey, maybe I should get on that.

Kids are Okay. In Fact, They’re Good.

Recently, I finished reading a book called What to Expect When No One’s Expecting by Jonathan V. Last, a statistical analysis of America’s (and the world’s) falling birthrate. Personally, I reflected a lot on this book, because it taps into feuding movements in my mind: one, having babies is a good thing, and two, I personally lack skills necessary to raise a child.

Last’s book, short and to the point, is definitely conservative but ends with a reasonable goal: we need to help people who want to have babies have babies, and there is only so much that we can do politically to increase the birth rate up. He simply lays out the trends, like the rising costs of raising a child, the decline in religion and family structure, and even social security, all adding to possibility that social unrest could accompany population shrinkage. And once momentum is heading one way, it’s hard to get going the other way.

While there may not be immediate problems with population decline, we should be aware of it and know the possible difficulties that way may face, like economic downturn and too many elderly citizens to support. Of all the points Last raises, the growth of movements like the child-free movement is particularly disturbing. Some (not all, of course) in this movement mock people with children and complain about how the world is set up for people who have children. I find the most extreme attitude of the people in this movement appalling. Yes, I’m in the same boat, but I’m not here to mock anyone who needs more resources and support to raise their kids. Personally, I have no idea what to say to a child, or how to raise one. People with my attitude shouldn’t be telling people who have kids how to raise them.

My perspective from the book: you can’t have a kid as an act of self-fulfillment. Two people have children because they see something beyond this life that is greater than it, and they want to give it to their . I can’t help but wonder as I look at the secularist countries and the secularist parts of the U.S., who have such low birthrates, what it is about this life that they don’t want to pass on to another generation.

I’m inspired by those of you who are raising God’s gifts to you, and doing it without a second thought. You’ll end up being a more self-less person than I’ll ever be. Yes, I mind it when your kids act up, but only for a second.

Epilogue: Pastor Mark Preus, has written a paper on rethinking birth control, which you can read here. His wife, Becky, was in my college class at CUW, and the way he connects naturally having kids with God’s plan for the humanity.  Preus’ paper got me thinking about kids in general, and it’s really a great example of how belief in God is essential to raising the birth rate. If you view kids as a commodity, you won’t want one. If you view children as a gift from God, you see those sacrifices in a different light. Thanks again, Pastor.

In the Light

Too many empty chairs?

Manti Te’o Hoax: The Naive Guy from the Back Island?

Manti Te’o-fake girlfriend hoax that Deadspin broke this week, is one of the most bizarre stories in sports or popular culture, mainly because there wasn’t a clear motive for the perpetrators, other seeing how long they could make the prank go on. The girl’s picture was a girl Te’o was different than the girl he he talk to on the phone? Quite complicated.

But in Te’o’s defense-yes, he lacked judgment in this manner. But given his background, it’s plausible that he could have been hoaxed in this manner. Te’o came from a small island culture which are generally more inclusive, and from a religion, Mormonism, that is a very inclusive, which religious bodies are to some extent. He choose rural, isolated Notre Dame over Mormon Mecca BYU and USC, who imports numerous Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, so clearly he was looking for an out of the way community. He was in a different, rural place, away from his family and the people he loved. Could he have been so blind to fall for this scheme?

Let me share a bit of personal experience. Like Te’o, I went to a private school away from where I grew up, Concordia University Wisconsin, a school nestled into the burbs north of Milwaukee. The large chunk of the student body had been raised in smaller communities and gone to Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools, and a few were even homeshooled, as I was. Most of them were well-adjusted and had discernment, but there were that ten percent of students who you wouldn’t have been shocked to see them fall for the Nigeria e-mail scam. Very disappointed, yes, but shocked, no.

In this particular story, there is a bit of gap I see in the media, having mostly to do with values. Not only is a lot of the media considering that Te’o is a bit socially awkward, but they find it inconceivable that Te’o would fall in love without a physical element. Yes, he should have been suspicious, but does anyone want to consider the fact that some people do actually remain chaste and are capable of having a relationship based more on communication rather than raw physical desire?

There has been speculation that Te’o was using the girlfriend story as a cover for homosexuality, a line that the original Deadspin report didn’t say but lead the reader to believe. I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand; frankly, nothing that comes out about Te’o after should surprise anyone. Maybe he invented Lennay Kekua so he could turn down girls and stay a virgin.

The biggest problem for Te’o in this story is that he was shown to be way too naïve. Major college football players, and stars specifically, are told that they are targets. The fact that he and Kekua never Skyped face-to-face or that she always canceled when they were supposed to met should have made Te’o suspicious, and he should have called the relationship off after the first time she didn’t arrive at a pre-arranged meeting. Just a story of young Jack leaving home for the first time.

Hearing Paul Ryan: A Political Apathete Steps Out

Beign the good Lutheran I am, I’m politically apathetic. Heck, when the zombies rise up, politics are going to get simplified pretty quick. But on Sunday, I received an e-mail about a rally for Paul Ryan in Adel, Iowa, on a day when I just happened to be driving from Ames to Seward, I figured why not go.

Due to some construction, I had to drive into Adel on country roads. I didn’t realize how big the event was until I saw cars lining the street several blocks away from the courthouse. I choose the most expeditious spot and hoofed it. There were barricades set up around the square and the businesses were empty. If you didn’t know, you might have guessed they were filming The Walking Dead, as all of the storefronts in the town square where empty. A giant American flag had been hung over a building that had Obama banners in it.

Passing the security checkpoint, I took a place at the back of the square. The crowd looked to be about two or three hundred; I don’t know where all those cars came from. I showed up late, and it was worth it. I had to listen to twenty minutes of local politicians before Ryan came out. He’s slick and smart; really, the only difference between him and Sarah Palin is that Ryan has something to say and isn’t relevant in the Kardashian-esque way. Even if he and Romney don’t win, he’ll be relevant after the election,which is wonderful.

I was surprised at how much he spoke of job creation and the economy. The one thing he mentioned that I thought was noteworthy was how much prosperity there could be for average people. All politicians, both parties, talk about that kind of stuff, which I find to be pandering. Not that it’s not sad when people lose their jobs; but there’s a limit to how much anyone can achieve, and there’s no shame in admitting it. But of course, politicians don’t get elected by telling people the truth, only what they want to hear. It’s not a Republican or Democrat problem; it’s an American problem.

I stayed for an hour and left at the end of Ryan’s speech, while I believe he was shaking hands. Sorry, Congressman Ryan, I had a life to get to. But I’m glad I took that hour and a half out of my day of travel to listen and consider the issues he talked about. After all, I’m not going to start thing about government and order again until Joe the Plumber wants to bit my neck to feed his ravenous desire for human flesh.

Appealing Flaws

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
John Grisham’s novel The Appeal, while a work of liberal propaganda, raises many issues conservatives must confront. Grisham, a self-described moderate baptists who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election, draws his lines clearly, using a tort case against a big company: on the one side, there are the big corporations who use “Christian values” to mask their agenda of advantages for the rich. Then there’s the real church, the one that’s concerned with helping the poor above all else. Just judges, in Grisham’s mind, will always take the side of helping the poor. While I do think that helping the poor needs to be an important part of the judicial system, Grisham draws too many generalities when it comes to religion and excludes the obvious connection between the liberal philosophy he’s advocating and abortion.

Grisham’s perspective, however flawed, does provide insight as to how the Democrats have won the upper hand in the current political arena: cast them as rich, out-of-touch bureaucrats who use empty values to mask greed. Jack Donaghy has done as much to ruin Republicans’ image as George W. Bush did. Growing up, I always thought of Republicans as a party primarily defined by religious, traditional values, but political parties are much more complex. In light of the financial crisis where big corporations share much of the blame, it does give me second thought about the party I belong to. Truth be told, I get my political news from SNL most of the time. Being a true Lutheran, I’m politically apathetic.

Politics aside, there is a bigger problem in this regard, and Grisham takes advantage of American’s (and even Christian’) lack of religious knowledge). There’s more to churches than just large, suburban, and callous, and urban and outreach oriented . Grisham writes little about specific beliefs in The Appeal, andI wonder if he would be surprised to find out that churches who preach social activism over Christ forty years ago are now dying off in America.

As Lutheran, I understand this personally. My own church body, the LCMS, while trying to resolve its issues, has congregational practice that can vary quite a bit from congregation to congregation, and with that, teaching also can very. Not to get into that debate, but churches just can’ be judged actions only. Their teachings (and specifics) should be debated too.

Yes, many Christians have abandoned missions in the cities for houses in the suburbs. Repentance is needed, but we cannot go into these neighborhoods with just food and money. If we don’t preach Christ to these people, than they are worse off than before. This is something that cuts at me personally, because my own church body, while doing notable acts for the poor, does have a track record of pushing doctrine, sometimes too hard.

As far as cases like the one Grisham describes, sadly there are instances where families who suffer injuries aren’t compensated fairly by the courts system. But the judicial liberalism that Grisham advocates for victims is the same logic that legalized abortion, which in many ways slaps the poor in the face by telling them, “The world doesn’t have room for your unexpected babies.” Grisham subtly ignores this fact and does his readers a great disservice by doing so.

But conservatives should read and deal with the issues raised inTthe Appeal, because these are the tactics that lifestyle left are using in their arguments against them. The winning side of a political debate isn’t the one that’s right, merely the one who frames its argument the best.

Paterno Was Who He Appeared to Be

One of the things that didn’t bode well for Joe Paterno when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke last November was that Paterno’s management style was very hands-on, to point Penn State president Graham Spanier felt he had to run academic matters by him. While it wasn’t conclusive, Paterno claiming he just passed up Mike McQueary’s reports didn’t fit the profile the legendary coach created for himself. Reading Sally Jenkins interview of Paterno and Lavar Arrington’s response to it, I kept wondering for myself about the McQueary incident and the 1999 Sandusky-shower incident that was reported to university police which Paterno said he didn’t know about. Not knowing a coach had a run in with campus police? Paterno advising someone else to take early retirement and just passing an incident up the chain of command? This was the coach who, three years later, would kick Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley out of his house when they came to suggest to him that he should retire.

So when CNN reported that Curley consulted with Paterno about the 2001 incident, I wasn’t really all that surprised. Granted, I had theorized that Spanier and the other officials at Penn State may have worked to prevent Paterno from finding out every single detail about Sandusky, wanting to protect Paterno’s legacy by giving him “plausible deniability”. But what really looks bad is that Curley and Spanier first thought about going to the authorities and then changed their minds after Curley talked to Paterno.

My most significant conclusion from reading the Jenkins interview was that Paterno should have retired ten years before the 2001 incident even happened; now it seems that Paterno may have indeed been more active in keeping Sandusky at large. I wanted to believe what Paterno was saying at the time; he was, after all, a eighty-five year-old man with lung cancer. He had no reason not to tell the truth, but even then, I was skeptical that he hadn’t been more involved in 2001 or known about the 1999 incident (Paterno telling someone else to take early retirement?). Sadly, we may never know the full truth of how involved he was.

I don’t know that I would go as far as Gregg Doyle has suggested, writing that Paterno’s statue should absolutely be taken away, although I could understand if Penn State did so. Ultimately, they know what is best for their community.But Louis Freeh has not filed his full report, and until then, we don’t know exactly what Paterno’s role was in deciding how to deal with Sandusky. It is still possible some people in the Penn State community will feel compelled to protect Paterno’s legacy, even though there is a sense in the community that Sandusky’s shame has stained everyone and the truth needs to come out.

Did Curley take the fall for his former coach?


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