5/10/17

The "Civil War" Was NOT About Slavery

By: Jonathan Harris

Perhaps the most oft-repeated inaccurate historical assumption about American history to have been foisted upon the public by so great a class of educators ranging from ignorant to prejudiced is the idea that the “‘Civil War’ was about slavery.” Packed into this conveniently vague statement are all the stereotypical assumptions concerning racism and slavery as “moral questions” painted upon a political canvas. To the victor goes the spoils, including historical interpretation—or in this case—down-right falsification. But a noble reason must be given to justify the taking of 750,000 lives.

The war itself was over one question—Does an American state have the right to leave the union (as the thirteen original colonies left Great Britain). This is why Southerners commonly say the war was over “State’s Rights.” Secession itself was over a number of conflicts that separated two very different worldviews—that of the orthodox Christian and traditionally conservative South, and the increasingly humanistic and progressively utopian North.

Spiritually, secession was over Biblical Authority. Christian denominations split over Northern insistence that a moral law outside of Scripture declared the relationship between master and slave to be sinful in and of itself. Southern Christians supported scriptural restrictions on the institution, but it was a bridge too far for them to accept the spiritual authority of a section of the country hypocritically benefitting from the profits of the transatlantic slave trade, while simultaneously beginning the adoption of Darwinism and higher criticism. Southerners could look for political ways to end the slave trade, something the Confederate constitution directly restricted, but they could not call sin what God had not called sin.

Socially, secession was over Northern aggression. In the years leading up to the war, Southerners became increasingly worried that radical elements in the North were hell-bent on vilifying and subsequently destroying the South. The Postal Crisis, the effect of anti-southern publications, the tolerance for and even championing of “slave insurrections” all served to fan the flames of sectional division. Southerners found themselves portrayed as the source of the national sins of backwardness, ignorance, and slavery. Why could the North not focus on its own flaws? The conditions for children and immigrants in Northern factories, the kind of prejudice that existed against free blacks, and the dehumanization that came with commercialism were out of step with the agrarian South. Yet the South did not seek to re-make New England in its image. The favor however was not returned and the South did not want to be New England.

Politically, secession was over the implications of Northern dominance in the general government. The South had long been in a political struggle with New Englanders dating back to the 3/5 compromise. The South favored Agrarianism, free trade, and Constitutional originalism. The North championed industrialism, social programs, and a generous reading of the constitution. Perhaps both sections could have lived in peace if it were not for one thing—The North wanted the South to pay for its “American System,” even if it meant subverting the Constitution. The North had threatened to secede many times before the war based on the fear that the West would alliance with the South and dominate the general government. Now it was the South’s turn to fear. In 1828 South Carolina narrowly dodged an invasion of federal troops over the states nullification of the “Tariff of Abominations,” which as one contemporary said, gave the North in effect 40 out of every 100 bales of Southern cotton. Between this event and the war, the North and South were in a death struggle to see if New England commercial interests would be allowed to dominate the country. It is at this point that the question of slavery enters the discussion—not as a moral question, but as an economic one. The question was not over the “expansion of slavery.” Outlawing slaves from entering the territories did nothing to effect the total number of slaves. What it did do however was keep influential Southerners from moving into the territory, thus ensuring that when it became a state, it would have been under Northern influence. What it also did was keep blacks from competing with white labor and becoming an undesirable presence in the community. The North cared about subjecting the South, not the plight of blacks. With the dreaded “Morrill Tariff” on the horizon and the election of a president who was more than happy to enforce it while restricting Southern influence in the West—The South knew it was doomed. The war and subsequent Northern victory only confirmed that its suspicions were correct. The “Civil War” was NOT about slavery.

For more info on slavery as a political question, check out Brion Mcclanahan’s podcast this week!

5/8/17

Movie Review- Chariots of Fire

By: Jonathan Harris

When it comes to entertainment, my primary conviction is to engage in stories that are not a waste of my time. Stories, especially those paired with visually stimulating scenes and musical hooks, are quite capable of dominating the human mind for days after they are experienced. Sometimes I wonder what beneficial thought could be taking the place of the irrelevant film I viewed the night before, if only I had not viewed it! Chariots of Fire is not a story I have to ask this question of. In fact, it is quite the opposite. A film that stimulates the mind to ask beneficial questions—questions such as, “Am I wasting my life pursing the desires before me?” or “Where does true joy come from?”—is a film worth watching. A film that teaches you about yourself and the world around you as it really is a story deserving your time.

Eric Liddell was born in 1902 in the village of Tienstin, China. Though of Scottish stock, his parents were missionaries, and that desire to be a missionary was very much on Liddell’s heart as he grew older. At the age of six, Liddell was enrolled in a boarding school in London, and there he discovered a skill that would set him apart as one of the world’s greatest athletes. He was fast. Very fast. An ability that served him well as a Rugby player, but also a skill that would catapult him into the light of international stardom. The film picks up Liddell’s story right at the point of decision—will he go to China and take over the mission, or will he continue to pursue Athletics. It is not a plot spoiler to inform the reader that Liddell did in fact go back to China, dying in 1945 in a Japanese prison camp, but not before he did something else for the Lord. That “something” is what the film is about. Liddell is faced with more than one crossroad in both the film and real life. What we see in Liddell is a desire to honor God in all things, even above king and country. Was it more pleasing to God to pursue missions over athletics? He is seen quipping, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” But what about running on the Sabbath?

Harold Abrahams was born in 1899 to two Jewish parents, his father being an immigrant from the Russian empire, and his mother being of Welsh-Jewish stock. Abrahams has his mind set on one thing—winning. It consumed him. It controlled him. Abrahams wanted to win the Gold Medal for 100 meters sprint, but more than that, he wanted to be the fastest man in the world. One scene in the film portrays Abrahams as being more afraid of winning than of losing, though he feared them both. What will he do with his life once he “made it?” Abrahams is portrayed as trying to prove himself to the world by rising above his Jewish lineage, a conditions he sees as a disadvantage. He’s after acceptance, but it’s not the kind of acceptance a gold medal can bring him. Nor is it the kind of condition a romance can kiss away. Abrahams has internal conflict, just like Liddell, but his goals and therefore the questions he asks of himself are completely different. He doesn’t shake the hands of his fellow competitors before a heat like Liddell does. He doesn’t feel the joy of winning, losing, or even living like Liddell. The question “Why?” needs to be asked.

Both Liddell and Abrahams believe in version of immortality. Abraham’s pursues it by trying to win a medal and break a record. Liddell already knows immortality is his in Christ. He does not have to do anything. Abrahams sees his cultural differences as a weakness to be overcome. Liddell sees his as an opportunity to be used by God. Abrahams is willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of winning. Liddell has some non-negotiables. How they ultimately respond to their circumstances is something for the film to show you. Who really wins the race of life in the long run? So grab some popcorn and let a story run through your mind with eternal implications. (Side note to those especially with children. There is one scene in a locker room in which the backside of a man can be seen in the distance. I don’t think most people would notice it, but it is worth noting in case you plan to watch it as a family.)

4/13/17

What to Learn From Trump's "Flip Flops"

By: Jonathan Harris

Today is the day. The day conservatives had known was coming. The day that never seemed to quite come for Barack Obama- but Donald Trump is not Barack Obama. Trump's populist base thought they were marrying Rachel, but as they wake up from their drowsy inauguration festivities they realize too late that behind the vale is Leah, and she looks an awful lot like George W. Bush.

To some, Trump was the anti-establishment, to others the "common sense conservative," and to millions the "America-first president." However, today is the day he is really beginning to be "the disappointment" to those who believed in him most. Steve Bannon looses influence within the president's inner circle, Trump decides China really isn't cheating all that much on trade, and NATO is all of a sudden a force for good. . . this just after launching 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria without congressional approval. The libertarians, alt-right crusaders, constitutionalists, and conservatives who weren't already upset at the way Trump allied himself with the establishment during the healthcare debacle (which continued to fund Planned Parenthood- let's just add the Christians in there as well), certainly have their reasons now. Even die hard supporters such as Ann Coulter are loosing faith. I guess that's what happens when you substitute "Trump" for "God" in our country's motto.

Here's the take away: During the primary many hard-working middle class voters put their faith in the one guy they thought they could trust simply because he had never had the misfortune of being elected. We were all tired of being lied to by career politicians, so some of us ran as far away as we could from anything that smacked of Washington. Trump didn't smack of Washington. Instead, he smacked Washington, and we grabbed the popcorn. But it doesn't make someone your friend just because they dislike someone you dislike. Moses' appointed "men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain" (Ex. 18:21). They were "wise and experienced men." (Deuteronomy 1:15). Unfortunately, the first person some hopeful voters ran to prided himself on being the exact opposite. Ignorance and inexperience were wisdom. Personal arrogance and cheating to gain wealth were seen as positives. Trump's history was not hidden. His political flip-flops and marital life were a matter of public information. But that didn't seem to matter. As the Apostle Paul queries in 1 Tim. 3:5, "but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" . . . much less a whole entire country! Anyone who's been watching Trump over the long haul isn't surprised to see him break campaign promises and move the GOP into positions previously held by moderate democrats. The purpose here though isn't to bash Trump primary voters. The point is- Let's learn from this. Principles must have a greater priority in our minds than personalities. Using the democrats as our standard of decency will erase any moral difference that ever existed between the two parties. Make our principles great again, and THEN, and ONLY then can we hope that God will make America great again.

John C. Calhoun: An American Portrait- A Review

Up From Slavery By Booker T. Washington- A Review

Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World- Review

3/27/17

"The Searchers" - A Review

By: Jonathan Harris

Danielle and I watched one of my all-time favorite movies last night, "The Searchers," and now I commend it to you! It is the type of film I believe that inspires manly character in the old Cavalier sense of the word. The main protagonists, Ethan Edwards and Martin Poly, are men propelled by familial loyalty, honor, and bravery. Their sacrificial determination and respect for the women around them are the kinds of things missing from modern cinematic male protagonists. Ethan is a complex character. Hints about his past- his time as a Confederate soldier, his suggested participation in the Mexican revolution, his possible former affection (held down by stoic self-control) in his now brother's wife, and his seeming hatred for Indians all leaves the viewer trying to figure out the first part to a story we feel we only have the sequel to. The ending keeps our curiosity in place, which you will find I'm sure is actually a very good thing for a film!

Ethan is a man who has grown cold to the world through harsh experience. It's a cruel and hurtful world that Ethan accepts, and conquers, though he can't seem to satisfy himself. Director John Ford does an absolutely magnificent job relaying to us the cruelties of the world in such a way that they are appalling to our imaginations- but only our imaginations. The viewer is only left to speculate and surmise, not to overtly observe. This is part of the appeal Hollywood's golden age of film making has to me personally. It's the reason classic epics are more powerful and have a more lasting impact on my mind I believe, because by the time the credits are once again rolling I haven't really "seen a movie." I've thought a lot about the world in which I live. I can't help but wondering, does harsh reality make me more like Ethan? Do I keep my sense of humor while everything I love has been taken from me? Do the experiences I've undergone cause me to lash out in small ways at things that remind me of them?

Martin is not like Ethan. Sure he's cut from the same Cavalier cloth, but Martin is younger. The bigotries that Ethan's developed don't seem to exist in Martin. There is no revenge in his heart. This is no silent bigotry at those things that have hurt him. One wonders whether or not he's too young to have developed such prejudices. Martin fights for those he loves, quite literally. His back-country lack of refinement often causes him to fumble, but make no mistake, Martin is a gentleman. And while Ethan seems to take pride in his honest word and his blood-line, Martin, who has no blood family to take pride in, demonstrates the character of a man who sacrifices all for a friend.


The story is told from Martin's perspective, though the focus of most of the story is on Ethan. The characters in the story are anything but bland. They are real people, and the complexities of big and small personalities are quite convincing! Not to mention, the cinematography and landscapes are breathtaking and fit the story beautifully. There is man against man, man against nature, and the greatest conflict of the whole film, man against himself as seen in Ethan. We see possibly at least a partial redemption in Ethan toward the end of the film, but we are still left wondering as the musical theme of the movie states, "What makes a wonder?" Is Ethan really searching for his niece, or is he searching for something else? So get some popcorn and watch an old movie this weekend, a movie that's inspired scenes in everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars. You won't be disappointed.

3/22/17

Why I'm NOT A Libertarian

By: Jonathan Harris

During the 2016 Presidential general election much discussion was made concerning how awful the top two major party candidates were. As a general rule, when they spoke about themselves it was all lies, and when they talked about each other it was almost always the truth, and the general public knew it! The lamentations and revelations of "just how awful the two choices were" prompted many to take a closer look at the viability of third parties. Could this be the election that breaks the two party monopoly trend? Gary Johnson, the next most popular candidate in the race was said to be stealing votes from Hillary . . . and Trump. In fact, many young people from both sides of the aisle tried an unsuccessful rally around his campaign. His hope was to tap into the excitement that surrounded Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, and to a lesser extent his son Rand Paul in 2016, while expanding this group of young patriots into a winnable ticket by appealing to establishment types through his running mate Bill Weld. As everyone knows now, the strategy failed. But I am willing to wager the movement did not. The movement I refer to is known as libertarianism, and if you don't know what that is, I suspect you will in short order regardless of what I'm about to tell you.

Libertarians are a rather diverse group of people. To use two of the names just mentioned as an example of this--- Ron Paul appealed to primarily more conservative citizens with aggressive anti-big government speeches, and now even a home-school curriculum guiding young minds away from the "truth" churned out in public schools. Gary Johnson spent much of his political capital on appeals to young progressives who might not be fans of the Democrats. However, a phrase that could perhaps unite both candidates comes from young libertarian hopeful Austin Peterson who believes in "a world where gay married couples can defend their marijuana fields with fully automatic machine guns." Though the statement may sound strange, the philosophy is picking up steam especially among millennials in the Republican party. A young person can keep their socially progressive leanings while at the same time embracing free-market economics and the Constitution. Everyone wins right?

In some ways I was that young millennial 9 years ago- not that I was concerned about liberal social causes, on the contrary I was very conservative on issues such as abortion, same-sex mirage, and border security. However, I was a bit open to the possibility that the drug war wasn't such a good idea, and perhaps our foreign policy was just a little too aggressive when we had military personnel in over 150 countries. That suspicion coupled with the fact that libertarians seemed to quote the Constitution better than their conservative counterparts did it for me. I voted for the Libertarian candidate Bob Barr in 2008 over John McCain. Now however, I see a fundamental flaw in what I was in the process of buying into. Libertarianism promises what it cannot deliver. "A world where gay married couples can defend their marijuana fields with fully automatic machine guns," is not a world where self-government can also exist. Let me explain.

At its core libertarianism rests on two basis principles:

A) The Non-Aggression Principle
B) The Right to Private Property

As a political movement these two principles are applied to every political issue imaginable, though some libertarians would also apply these principles to their personal lives. The Non-Aggression Principle is essentially the idea that no one has a right to harm anyone else unless in in a self-defensive action. The right to private property is the basic building block of a free-market system in the libertarian world. You own yourself, you own what you've obtained through the sweat of your brow, and you own what you were given. No one has the right to take it from you. Government's only job is to secure this right. Sounds pretty reasonable right? Most conservatives would probably be in hearty agreement with both principles. In fact, in many ways liberals may even be persuaded into the system. As a general rule, conservatives are more likely to buy into libertarianism through the private property door, while liberals enter through the non-aggression door, but either way they both find themselves in the same building.

On economic issues, constitutional conservatives and libertarians could not be in more lock step in one sense. Free-market capitalism is supported by both. However, when it comes to social issues things start breaking down. How does one balance the Non-Aggression Principle with the right to private property when it comes to an issue such as abortion? It's interesting to note that libertarians themselves do not have an official "view" on this topic because of the warring principles. Ron Paul takes the more conservative approach- A woman cannot kill her child, it would violate the Non-Aggression Principle. Murray Rothbard however would counter that a child is actually the property of her mother since the child came from the mother, therefore the principle of private property would mandate that the mother can do anything she wants with her property. Walter Block tries to unify both principles by stating that a mother does not have the right to kill her offspring because that would be aggression, but she CAN take the child out of her womb because the womb is her property. Obviously taking a child out of the womb will most likely kill the child depending on the development stage, but that doesn't seem to matter so long as the principles of non-aggression and private property are properly applied.

As you can see such non-sense winds libertarians in unusual spots on social issues when these two "sacred" principles compete; and because of the fierce stands libertarians take on keeping religion out of politics, there is no transcendent standard outside of the two guiding principles to appeal to in order to solve the problem. This is where constitutional conservatism has the upper hand. There DOES exist a blue-print to follow when coming up with public policy on even social issues. Both natural and special revelation from a Creator can be invoked so that every issue can be navigated. Abortion is an easy one: From creation God instituted the family and biological and psychological features attest to the fact that the mother is made for nurturing and protecting the child in the earliest stages of development. In other words, there is a standard, a plan, something by which to compare public policy to in order to know if it is right. Governments are responsible to take into account the Creator's intentions and in so doing form laws that seek to protect and secure them.

Libertarians can easily confuse stewardship with ownership. A mother and father do not own their child from a constitutional conservative point of view. But neither does a child own him or herself. God owns man. Parents are responsible for nurturing their children, which obviously includes not killing them! If this is true it would be wrong to say that the government or a woman herself "owns" her womb, or the child contained therein. God owns both, and gives them the dignity that both deserve. In fact, God owns all property. Human institutions simply manage this property in different ways. Government is a ministry of justice, family is a ministry of education, and the church is a ministry of grace. Libertarianism in contrast recognizes the autonomous individual as the only institution worth recognizing in relation to the State. But there is more than just the state and the individual, there is also the religious institution and the family. There is more than just the non-aggression principle and the principle of private property. There are also a whole host of other principles that must be applied to government. A libertarian could easily find himself on either side of the border security issue for instance unless he adopted the conservative idea that governments also protect cultures, not just individuals pursing self interest. To give another example, traditionally conservatives have been opposed to any profaning of marriage since in order for the government to behave as a minister of justice it must operate within a boundary that recognizes the proper role of the family. (In a similar way, to keep the state from running a muck the family ought to recognize the proper role of government and vote accordingly). The government cannot maintain its limited function in a culture that does not believe in traditional marriage for very long. It will by default start picking up the slack left in the wake of the pursuance of sexual pleasure without the accompanying responsibility attached to it. Government will become the parents and usurp the family. It's only a matter of time. Libertarianism, which sees sexual actions as no one's business but the consenting individuals involved in the act, will lead to totalitarianism in this case, UNLESS another principle other than the two previously mentioned is invoked. Conservatives see sexuality for what it is- a private expression of a public act. As you can see libertarianism does not add one single thing to that old dusty philosophy we used to call "conservatism"---it actually gives conservatism a fatal liposuction and then calls itself "healthier."

The Achilles Heel of libertarianism is actually a surprisingly simple error if thought through. The two guiding principles are claimed to be universal, but they by definition cannot be if libertarianism were actually true. To claim that the guiding principles are true at the same time would be to put them in conflict with one another. Let me explain: If the principle of private ownership were true, I would have the full rights to my own mind, and therefore my thoughts. No one else would own my thoughts or have a right over them, only I would. This becomes self defeating however because if I only have rights to my own mind, and not a universal mind (say one that can give me revelation and therefore universals), then I cannot impose my thoughts on anyone else. This would violate the non-aggression principle. But this is just what libertarianism seeks to do! To impose the non-aggression principle and the principle of private ownership on everyone. If other people own their own mind, they should not be forced to be non-aggressive. This would be an aggressive action to take! As you can see the whole philosophy explodes at this point. There is no way to know truth if everyone is left to their own minds and their own ownership of a personal truth that resides in them. This is why constitutional conservatism makes more sense and is a better weapon against an organized socialist-materialist worldview. Conservatism recognizes there does exist a universal mind- His name is God, and He has a lot more to give us than just the non-aggression and private property principles. He is the basis for our inalienable rights, and if we are to keep them we had better be careful of falling into the trap set before us. Libertarianism will not save us from liberalism because trading one form of humanism for another simply lands us in the same place in the long run- a world devoid of any moral scruples. That my friends is a world in which freedom I'm afraid cannot exist. 
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