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March 29, 2020

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Is Grandma worth the price?

Nihilism’s intellects have emerged from the shadows in the wake of President Donald Trump’s March 22nd tweet: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

Hear the resurgence of Social Darwinism, a discredited 19th-century ideology that baptized rivalry. Modern-day advocates usually guise their cannons in the language of free enterprise and nonintervention and deregulation: Let market forces prevail and all will be well. But now they’re liberated amid the pandemic, free at last to sever their ties with traditional conservatives and proclaim their survival-of-the-fittest creed in all its glory. Some frame themselves as grim realists (“most can’t bear hearing this, but …”). Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a former right-wing radio host, even offered himself as a martyr: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ … And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Social Darwinism once held sway in the 19th century, when philosophers such as Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) applied theories of natural selection to human society: Might makes right in a pitiless universe. Robber barons and captains of industry employed it to enforce 12-hour work days and paltry wages. They snubbed Matthew 25:31-40 despite their church attendance. Jesus says he’ll line up the sheep and the goats at his second coming and invite the sheep into his kingdom: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” They did that whenever they “did it to one of the least of these.”

That’s great for Sunday school, but we gotta come back to Earth on Monday.

A lawyer’s dilemma

Sample Attorney Scott A. McMillan. He boldly tweeted on March 23: “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain and (2) not productive.”

Notice McMillan’s assumptions. Money’s everything. The sick and the elderly carry a huge price tag (they’re “generally expensive to maintain”) and fail to do their bit (they’re “not productive”). Don’t count the moments grandpa bounced little Emily on his knee or grandma told Joey she’d beat up the monster under his bed, thus ridding him of those nightmares. We can’t measure such trifles in billable hours, so they don’t count. Human beings are economic cogs; worth is always measured in dollars or stock options.

Ca-ching.

Classical Christianity, of course, says that’s twisted. We possess intrinsic worth because we’re made in God’s image. Money serves the human community, not vice versa. As Russell Moore says: “Each human life is more significant than a trillion-dollar gross national product.”

Most religion tries to overcome hostility and seeks harmony with God and neighbor; Social Darwinism lifts competition as a high virtue and assumes it pervades nature. Laura Ingraham of Fox News unwittingly displayed such presuppositions in a tweet posted a few hours after McMillan’s: “A global recession would be worse for our people than the Great Depression. Doctors provide medical treatment and cures – they should not be the determinative voices in policy making now or at the end of 15 days.”

Skip past the chasm between an intentional, curve-flattening short-term economic shutdown and the cataclysmic, system-wide crash of the 1930’s. For now, just probe how Ingraham funnels her mental energy. We could harness our thoughts, channel them toward synergy, and pose different questions: “How can medical and government wonks cooperate to save our lives and our pocket books?” But no. That’s not practical in a hostile world. The lions and hyenas are snarling over a carcass on the drought-riddled plain, so we carnivores better grab our chunk of meat before it rots. And watch your back. Every friend’s a potential foe. It’s rich versus poor; weak versus strong; young versus elderly; and doctors versus government officials.

Remember: Our questions well from our presuppositions and we mold reality accordingly. Nineteenth-century industrialists assumed a cutthroat universe and built factories with perilous working conditions. Later generations saw the world through different prisms. Factories are now safer and workers earn livable wages.

When “realism” doesn’t make sense

Some – such as Brit Hume, Dennis Prager, and Glenn Beck – have followed Ingraham’s path. RR Reno blasted Andrew Cuomo and suggested the New York governor was “dangerously sentimental” when he said this: “I want to be able to say to the people of New York – I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” Reno upbraids: “What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life.”

Reno posted his piece at the pro-life First Things, an irony not lost on authors such as Max Boot.

A self-fulfilling doomsday

Fortunately, other influencers see the glaring logical flaws. US Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), hardly a fire-breathing lefty, tweeted this: “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus.”

In other words, Social Darwinist “realism” isn’t realistic. It spells economic doom.

Cheney’s not alone. Some of the most eloquent voices come from the center-right (classical conservatism roots itself in the thought of Edmund Burke – 1729-1797 – who valued tradition and community). The Bulwark’s Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor, wrote a post entitled, “Our Parents Are Not Expendable.” He says: “As a Christian, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, who in this case includes the business owner who is looking at his company going under, the waitress who just got laid off because her restaurant closed, the immigrant laborer who was fired last week as his factory cut back—and our parents and grandparents who cannot now leave the house for fear that they will catch this disease and die a gruesome death in a short period of time. If we’re not willing to go to war with this virus and fight for all of them, then we’ve already lost..”

Medical professionals are already faced with grievous choices, partly because authorities turned a deaf ear to early warnings and didn’t obtain enough life-saving equipment. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic forces us to ponder: Is grandma a wrinkled and dispensable sprocket, worthy only insofar as she’s useful in the remorseless machine? Or is she an exalted imago dei? Our answer to that fundamental question will guide us toward the right questions and formulating the best policy in the upcoming days.

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March 26, 2020

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Should we toss out grandma?

Social Darwinism peaked from behind the curtain and waved hello, taking its cue from President Donald Trump’s March 22nd tweet: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

The implicit message: The strong and healthy will only stand still for so long; the weak and the sick better catch up. It’s steeped in nihilistic Social Darwinism, whose advocates usually guise their canons in the language of free enterprise and nonintervention and deregulation: Let market forces prevail and all will be well. But the tweet liberated them. They were free at last to proclaim their unvarnished, survival-of-the-fittest world view. Some framed it as grim realism (“most can’t bear hearing this, but …”). Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick even offered himself as a martyr (“No one reached out to me and said, ‘as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ … And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”). 

The discredited 19th-century philosophy, which has been seeping back into the American psyche for decades, applies theories of natural selection to human society: Might makes right in this pitiless universe. The era’s robber barons and captains of industry employed it to enforce 12-hour work days and paltry wages. They thumbed their noses at Matthew 25:31-40:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” 

Nuts to that sentimental nonsense, say the self-characterized realistists. We gotta come back to Earth and breathe the dirty air.

Sample Attorney Scott A. McMillan. He boldly tweeted on March 23:

Notice McMillan’s assumptions: The sick and the elderly carry a huge price tag (they’re “generally expensive to maintain”) and fail to do their bit (they’re “not productive”). Don’t count the moments grandpa bounced little Emily on his knee or grandma told Joey she’d beat up the monster under his bed (thus ridding him of those nightmares). We can’t measure such trifles in billable hours, so they don’t count. Human beings are economic cogs; worth is always measured in dollars.

Classical Christianity, of course, says that’s twisted. We possess intrinsic worth because we’re made in God’s image. Money is made to serve the human community, not vice versa. As Russell Moore says: “Each human life is more significant than a trillion-dollar gross national product. Stocks and bonds are important, yes, but human beings are created in the image of God.”

Not in this world. Competition amid scarcity is always the name of the game. Laura Ingraham of Fox News played into that ethos with this tweet, written a few hours after McMillan’s:

Can’t we harness our thoughts and channel them toward synergy? Maybe we’ll ask different questions: “How can medical and government wonks cooperate to save our lives and our pocket books?”

No. That’s not realistic. The lions and hyenas are snarling over a carcass on the drought-riddled plain, and we carnivores better grab our chunk of meat before it rots. And watch your back. Every friend’s a potential enemy. It’s rich versus poor; weak versus strong; young versus elderly; and doctors versus government officials.

Fortunately, other influencers see the glaring logical flaw. US Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), hardly a fire-breathing Sanders’ disciple, tweeted this:

In other words, the competitive ethos spells practical economic doom.

She’s not alone. Some of the most eloquent voices come from the center-right (classical conservatism roots itself in Edmund Burke’s philosophy, which valued community). The Bulwark’s Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor, wrote a post entitled, “Our Parents Are Not Expendable.” He says:

As a Christian, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, who in this case includes the business owner who is looking at his company going under, the waitress who just got laid off because her restaurant closed, the immigrant laborer who was fired last week as his factory cut back—and our parents and grandparents who cannot now leave the house for fear that they will catch this disease and die a gruesome death in a short period of time.

If we’re not willing to go to war with this virus and fight for all of them, then we’ve already lost.

To which I say, “Amen.”

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March 24, 2020

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Some Christians Are Actually Behaving Well

Much of the news on the faith beat is all about Christians behaving badly: Jerry Falwell, Jr., defies the medical consensus and welcomes students back to Liberty University; Paula White earnestly declares healing over America; a pseudo television evangelist peddles false medical cures; and a famous health-and-wealth advocate says God strickens America because of Trump […]

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March 19, 2020

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Beware 21-st century snake oil

We’ve heard the stories of pandemic nobility: The Italian Air Force boosts its nation’s morale as it drapes the sky with a smoky flag; balcony-bound Italians sing their national anthem; an opera singer serenades his neighborhood — again, from a balcony — and a Spanish fitness instructor leads exercises from a roof. Churches cancel worship; […]

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March 15, 2020

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Great vibes in harsh times

I’ve found three scenes of encouragement in these eerie times.

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March 14, 2020

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My church won’t meet Sunday, Praise God

We are … called to love our neighbors, and in a time like this one of the most loving things we can do is reduce the chance that this virus will spread.

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March 13, 2020

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Dream memo to Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Please be quiet. Stop embarrassing us.

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March 12, 2020

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Inexpert Pandemania

The growing Coronavirus/COVID-19 scare makes me wistful for the innocence of my California childhood, when teachers at West Covina’s Rowland Avenue Elementary School ordered us baby-boomers under our desks in duck-and-cover rehearsals for a Russian thermonuclear attack. They issued their time-honored command (“NO TALKING!”) because, apparently, the commie missiles honed in our whispers. Such is […]

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March 10, 2020

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Trump minions block medical recommendations

A stable genius would normally refer medical issues to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, but President Trump’s brilliance spans beyond international diplomacy, economics, and politics. He and his minions know more than scientists. That’s why they’ve dismissed climate science and, now, clamp down on doctors. Sample a recent Associated Press headline: “Official: White House […]

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March 5, 2020

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Texas-style Coronavirus Safeguard

Texans get the Coronavirus.

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