Monday, June 29, 2020

Frederick Douglass Needs to Go

Frederick Douglass, as part of his post Civil War career advocating for blacks to be granted the vote, said some problematic things regarding Native Americans and burned some bridges with former suffragette allies. For example, he argued that blacks were eager to embrace American culture as opposed to Native Americans, who he saw as inherent outsiders. These were not innocent comments as the 1870s were the height of the American government's attempt to destroy Native American culture everywhere on the continent. In regards to woman having the vote, Douglass argued that it was not a priority as women were already covered by their husbands and fathers. This was in contrast to blacks for whom the vote was a literal matter of life and death.

It seems that Douglass did this on pragmatic grounds. He recognized that there was a large segment of American public opinion that could be brought around to supporting blacks voting as long as it was decoupled from rights for Native Americans or votes for women. Even better, you could convince such people that blacks were natural allies against Native Americans or women's suffrage.

To my friends back in Silver Spring, MD. There is a statue of Frederick Douglass at the University of Maryland College Park campus. Douglass grew up as a slave in Maryland before he escaped to freedom. He did not return until after the Civil War. If you are not charging down this very moment to College Park to tear down that statue, you implicitly endorse the genocide of Native Americans and patriarchy. If you do try to tear that statue down, you are endorsing slavery.

My advice is to take counsel from Martin Luther and John Calvin. There is no way that you can truly be anti-racist here. No matter what you choose, you are a Nazi. I know that many of you, brought up to believe that you could be a good tolerant person through your own efforts, will find this thought disturbing. Once you can get past your initial horror at the idea that you are just as bad as Hitler, there is a great comfort. First, your attempts to be tolerant were always doomed to fail anyway. Worse, all that they were ever going to do was add the sins of hypocrisy and self-deception to your racism. Now that you know that there is nothing you could have ever done to make yourself a less racist person, you can save yourself a lot of heartache by not trying. This has the advantage of making you a less annoying self-righteous Pharisee to everyone around you. 

If you are a Lutheran you still have to work having faith in Jesus. You do this by openly admitting that you are such an irredeemable racist that only Jesus can save you. You must go so far as to be bold in your racism because you have full confidence that it does not matter as Jesus has already atoned for you. If you are a Calvinist, your job is much easier. You can completely relax as God has already decided, before creation, whether or not he was going to send you to Hell for all eternity for your racism. 

On a serious note, the social contract begins when we recognize that all of us are truly terrible people who have been complicit in mass murder. Justice demands that all of us should be executed for our crimes. The social contract allows everyone to be forgiven for their crimes. You will not get equality. There will still be systemic racism and all kinds of privilege. The good news is that you will be able to keep your lives. Those who claim "No Justice, No Peace" have never seriously considered what justice truly means. The only way to have peace is to reject justice.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Burn the Heretic

Some of you might think Tucker Carlson is a racist. I am afraid to tell you that he is something much worse.

At about the eight-minute mark Carlson states: "No child is born evil. Sin cannot be inherited. That's insane." What kind of Christian is Carlson? Of course, children are born evil and inherit sin. That is literally what Original Sin is. As a descendant of Adam, Carlson is tainted by Adam's sin. From the moment Carlson was born (or possibly since the sexual act of his parents in conceiving him), even before he ever told his first lie or lusted after a woman in his heart, he was a sinner. The only thing that is keeping Carlson from burning in Hellfire for all eternity is if he accepts the fact that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for him. This means surrounding all hope or pretense that he could ever deserve salvation through his own merit.   

The moment Carlson allows himself to reject Original Sin and believe that children are good even for one second of their lives, he must admit the possibility that there could have been someone, besides Jesus, who lived their entire lives without sin. For example, someone who died as an infant. This negates Jesus' sacrifice. Why should God have sent his Son down to die? God should simply have told regular people that they should have been perfect like that infant who died and, therefore, are now going to Hell.

This rejection of Original Sin endangers the salvation of all. Think of all the conservative Jews who watch Carlson. Having been told, by a supposed Christian no less, that non-sinful humans can exist, they will still hold on to a shred of hope that they could be saved through the Law and will not accept Jesus as their Savior, delaying his Second Coming. 

Good Christians cannot stand back and allow Pelagian heresy to destroy this country. There is no need to boycott his show. Unless Carlson confesses and repents from his heresy, we should do to him what our forefathers from Geneva did to his spiritual ancestor, Michael Servetus.  

The Logic of Confessing To Be a Racist (or a Witch)

Here is an example of the kind of thing that scares me about the current state of racial discourse in this country. On the surface, these celebrities are coming out for important issues, sensitivity to others, opposing racism and stopping police violence. I agree with them on all of these issues. One might even say that I agree with them so much that I should ignore objections to some of the wording. These are clearly, passionate people whose hearts are in the right place.

What I see, though, is an attempt to confess to racism as a means of protecting oneself from the charge of racism. This is not taking responsibility for injustice in our society. If it were, these actors would be donating the vast majority of their salaries to charity. This looks like Pontius Pilating oneself and allowing other people, not as privileged, to take the fall for an absurd charge, mainly that if you told a joke that did not go over well or refrained from denouncing someone else, you are responsible for cops shooting black people in the street. What makes this line of thinking so convincing is that these privileged white celebrities seem to be admitting to their own role in this process and confessing. One might think that if they are admitting that they used to be at least a little bit complicit in racism then it must be true and this country must be awash in racism.
Any attempt to counter this argument by saying that it is ridiculous to claim that "black people are being slaughtered in the streets" opens one up to the accusation of covert racism. A true anti-racist would know not to get caught up in semantics in the face of the larger important truth that American society is racist. These celebrities care so much about racism that they are willing to say things that racists will jump on as factually incorrect. If they were interested in looking good, they would have been more precise with there words. Of course, only a racist would try to question whether some of the rhetoric is over the top in order to cause people to doubt whether racism is really a problem.

This line of thinking becomes significantly less convincing when you realize that it is the basic model of confession from witch trials. You are accused of something absurd like having sex with the Devil. Of course, the real charge is not a satanic orgy but whether or not you support the witch-finders' claim that eccentric and difficult old ladies are really witches in disguise. From this perspective, not only are these people really satanic but anyone who questions this fact is also with Satan. The witch-finders are such godly men that they open themselves to the mockery of skeptics, who are also secret Satanists. If the witch-finders were in it for themselves, they would have moderated their claims to make themselves sound more reasonable even at the price of not baiting the true witches into revealing themselves.

The fact that a witch trial is not really about factual guilt but about supporting the right team allows the witch-finder to argue that even innocent people should confess. Either you are guilty of witchcraft or you are not. If you are guilty then obviously you should confess and name other people. We will then forgive you as we are good Christians. If you are not guilty, you should still confess and name the people we tell you to name because that is what a truly innocent person who is really on our side would do. Denying that you are a witch is actually worse than being a witch. A witch who confesses at least is showing remorse. Claiming you are innocent simply means that not only are you a witch but an obdurate one at that who deserves to die. Your plan, even if it costs you your life, is to cause people to question whether or not there really are witches, allowing Satan to act unchecked. This is in contrast to the confessed witch who offers "undeniable" proof that witches exist. Why would someone confess to being a witch if they were innocent?

If this sounds implausible to you that the modern people untainted by superstition could operate like this understand that the Stalinist show trials ran on this logic. The Party, under the leadership of Comrade Stalin, has accused you of betraying the Revolution and of being a foreign agent. You deny this? Are you claiming that the Party made a mistake? That is even worse. You are denying the very essence of revolutionary solidarity and not just giving in to momentary treason out of greed and pride.

It has been suggested that many of the victims of the Stalinist purges consciously martyred themselves by confessing to ludicrous charges. They confessed and died rather than provide ammunition to opponents to anti-Communists who claimed that the Soviet Union was a tyrannical state that arrested innocent people. Instead, these former Communist leaders died to help strengthen the people's faith in the Party that it was always right even when it appeared to be wrong. Ultimate faith is when you declare your belief in something that so defies reason that only a person who has totally submitted their minds to the authority of a particular institution could successfully do it. You may have a difficult time believing that revolutionary heroes could be traitors but you know to have faith in the Party. And then, lo and behold, the accused confess. It must be true. Why would innocent people confess? You see, the Party is always right.

One of the signs of a witch hunt is that it quickly becomes clear that the issue at stake is not about particular facts on the ground but whether or not you are on the right side of some Manichean struggle. Unlike those on the Left who literally believe we are in danger of falling into a Fascist state and that if you disagree with their approach to handling racism, you are guilty of racism, I do not believe that Leftists are necessarily crypto-Stalinists nor do you have to agree with me on much of anything to not be a mass murderer. I believe that the world is a lot more complicated than good people who are on my side and the bad people who are not. There is no pledge of allegiance that you can say that will make you one of my good guys nor is there a confession you can offer that will take away the taint of being one of my bad guys. The good news is that you are not in danger of suddenly falling from my good graces. You are allowed to be a person doing the best they can with the limited amount of information and attention you have.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

I Am Traditionally Observant, Not Orthodox: My Religious Evolution (Part I)

In discussing how I went from being a conservative to being a libertarian, the critical subtext was my religious identity, which itself changed in ways that mirrored my political journey. It seems worthwhile to explicitly set forth that side of the story. Just as my high school self did not realize that he was not a conventional conservative, he did not realize that he was not Haredi. As he moved left religiously as he did politically in college, he was no longer able to ignore this fact. That being said, much as I never made a clean break with conservatism and my libertarian turn was an attempt to rebel without any desire to leave, my religious thinking has been dominated by the simultaneous intellectual rejection of Haredi Orthodoxy and emotional desire to remain within the fold.

In retrospect, I was precisely the kind of kid one would expect to abandon the observance of Judaism. I did not fit in with yeshiva schools. Whether it was the Chabad Yeshiva of Pittsburgh in middle school or Torah Vodaath and the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in high school, I had a terrible relationship with my classmates and was actively bullied. Granted, this likely had more to do with my then undiagnosed autism than with Haredi Orthodoxy. (I first heard about Asperger Syndrome from my father at the end of high school but did not get a diagnosis until graduate school.)

Furthermore, I was an academically gifted kid with no interest in Gemara. Worse, by the time I reached high school, I developed a mental block for the subject to the extent that the several hours a day, I was forced to spend on the topic were a complete waste of time for me that I spent mostly starring into space and twiddling my thumbs. 

It was not as if the idea of abandoning observance was unthinkable. I had ready examples in my older brother and my mother, who both stopped being religious during this time. It was not as if this poisoned my relationship with them. So, why did I not end up like them? One factor was that neither of them had the kind of influence over me as my father, who stood for me as a model for me as to what it meant to be a sane and reasonable religious person. I saw the Haredi world through the lens of my father and never considered that he was a highly sui generis individual. 

With my mother, one could say that not being religious was good for her emotional health. For this reason, I never held a grudge against her for her actions. That being said, I never really imagined that I would be happier if I were not religious. The reason for this, and this is the crucial point here, is that I never felt wronged by the system and bore no grudges. Even if I was bullied by other students, the rabbis were always good to me. 

This marks a major difference between me and my brother. His yeshivas refused to allow him to consume secular media and threw him out when he did not comply. He was wronged by the system and was, therefore, justified in outright rebelling. By contrast, I was treated with great leniency. For example, when I was at Torah Vodaath, the dorm counselor wrote me a note to allow me to get a library card at the Brooklyn Public Library. No one stopped me from reading books like The Godfather, Exorcist, and Pyscho. And it is not like I even had to hide the books. I had them out openly to see. An older friend objected to my reading a biography of Mother Teresa. Beyond that, no one said a word to me or tried to confiscate any of these books. 

I honestly had no idea that I was doing anything wrong even from the perspective of the school administration. This gave me a sense that there were different kinds of Haredi Jews. Some preferred to avoid secular books. I could understand why secular knowledge might not be good for everyone. And then there were Haredim like me whose strength was precisely in secular matters. We were all working together as part of the Torah camp. 

Even now, I do not think I was completely wrong on this point. The Haredi world is perfectly equipped to tolerate eccentric individuals with peculiar interests, including secular books. For example, a Haredi relative once told me that he thought there was something about my soul that I needed to read things like Shakespeare. This position works as long as the individuals in question are personally observant and never organize themselves around any kind of movement with an ideology. 

So, I could have been an eccentric Haredi with an autodidact's academic education. As long as no one kicked me out or made me feel unwelcome, I was going to try to work within the system. If I had intellectual disagreements and doubts, I was going to work through them. Listening to Rabbi Avigdor Miller tapes in my room so I could yell at him did not challenge my faith because I honestly believed that I was the mainstream Haredi Jew and he was a lunatic cult leader. Haredim were people like my father. He did not raise me with Avidor Miller Judaism so it could not really be Haredi. I readily grant that it is the mark of insanity to insist that everyone else is driving on the wrong side of the road and that I, to this very day, have a particular talent for such arguments. Clearly, I was not looking for a reason to leave. On the contrary, I was set on finding a reason to stay.  

It probably helped that the Torah Vodaath dorm was not designed for policing the actions of a non-post-high school kid, from outside of New York who never had been made to feel guilty about reading books. Almost by definition, if you were a post-high school student there, you already bought into the school's ideology and did not need to have the rules explained or be forced to follow them. It probably also helped that, as both my father and grandfather were alumni of the school, the name Chinn commanded a certain respect. My brother had the misfortune of going to schools with no connection to the Chinn family, designed to police the actions of high school students and expel those who refused to comply.

There are two important lessons, I believe, that Jewish educators should take from my story. First, there needs to be a track for academically gifted kids that does not involve Gemara. You cannot have Gemara for every boy unless they are drug addicts in danger of falling prey to the streets. Second, do not underestimate the importance of making kids feel that Judaism is their home in which they are loved and accepted for who they are. I would even say that this is even more important than offering apologetics. I was a pretty intellectual kid but if my teachers had tried to convince me that Torah was true, I would have rebelled. Instead, I was offered a place in which I felt accepted. I did not need anyone to defend Judaism for me because I was already prepared to do it myself. Of course, Haredi Judaism was true. I was a good smart kid and I was Haredi so how could it be wrong? 

(To be continued ...)