INTEGRITAS

In 1939, the English Heraldic Authority granted a coat of arms to Joseph Edward Davies featuring lions, chevrons, a hand holding a spear, and a scroll with the word “INTEGRITAS” (Latin for Integrity, obviously). Davies was the third husband of Majorie Merriweather Post, a philanthropist, socialite, and owner of the Post Cereal Company after her father’s death in 1895.

integritas

She was the wealthiest woman in the United States for some time, and commissioned a lavish estate in Palm Beach, Florida. The 126-room, 110,000-square-foot home was willed to the National Park Service upon her death in 1973, in the hopes that it would be used for state visits or as a retreat for US Presidents. A “winter White House” of sorts.

The NPS was sadly unable to maintain the property, and in 1981 it was returned to the Post Foundation by an act of Congress. The Post Foundation put the property up for sale, and it was purchased in 1985 by a real estate speculator and businessman, who turned the estate into a members-only club and resort, then turning the management of the property over to his wife (interestingly, this owner would also eventually have three spouses). He also took a liking to the coat of arms granted to the original owner’s husband, appropriating it for himself against the rules of the English Heraldic Authority. Before deploying it as his own, he replaced the word “INTEGRITAS” with his own last name.

Ironically, Post’s home, named “Mar-a-Lago” (Spanish for “Sea-to-Lake”) eventually served the function she had hoped it would serve, when the estate’s new owner was elected President of the United States in 2016 and immediately began using it as a Presidential retreat. Also ironically, the man who stole a coat of arms and replaced the word “integrity” on it with his own name is now embroiled in one of the most conspicuously fraught combinations of scandals in US presidential history.

trump

It gets more interesting.  When Donald Trump tried to open a golf club in Scotland using the coat of arms, his application for the trademark was rejected because the coat of arms was not his to use.  So, when the club opened in 2012, he instead used a manufactured, unofficial coat of arms.  The new version moves the lion to the top of the shield, giving him the spear and the motto “Numquam Concedere” (Latin for “Never Give Up”); it also adds an extra chevron, and includes – I am not making this up – a two-faced eagle.

numquamconcedere

As my wife said when I discovered this story, “we really are living in a novel.”

Source for much of the information for this story was this New York Times article.

Things Donald Trump Doesn’t Know

This list is intended to be updated regularly as new information becomes available.

  • Donald Trump didn’t know that Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, despite it being one of the most reported stories of the last two years, a major destabilizing factor for Eastern Europe ever since, and a contributor to the imminent threat of war between Ukraine and Russia.
  • Donald Trump thought that Brexit was a Scottish Independence referendum, despite the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the UK during that 2014 vote, but voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU during that 2016 referendum.
  • Donald Trump doesn’t know how to run a business.  Trump-owned businesses have declared bankruptcies four times, costing literally thousands of people to lose their jobs, and despite several bailouts from his own father. Despite (his own) popular opinion, his only major financial successes have been a few hotels and a television show. His failures, however, are numerous; in addition to the four bankruptcies, he has run nine semi-successful companies into the ground; no non-building property that he has ever taken over survived his management.
  • Donald Trump doesn’t know that the Constitution refuses him the ability to negotiate down the nation’s debt. And he doesn’t know that doing so would essentially destroy our ability to borrow money in the future (at best) or wreck the world economy entirely, plunging us into yet another global recession (at worst).
  • Donald Trump does not understand that the deterring factor in owning nuclear weapons is not in using them, but simply in having them. He does not understand that using them would (not could, but would) activate Mutually Assured Destruction responses that would destroy the planet. He has also considered using nuclear weapons in Europe, and is unaware that the president does not have the power to declare war.
  • Donald Trump is unaware that a wall between the United States and Mexico would alienate the government of that nation, removing one of our major trade partners and political allies on the world stage, and leave us vulnerable to attack or (again) recession. This is not speculation; the Mexican government has said as much.
  • Donald Trump does not know that leaving NAFTA would cost the United States 3.5 million jobs and plunge us into a recession.
  • Donald Trump does not know that the Constitution does not give him the power to “open up” libel laws and sue journalistic organizations that he does not agree with.
  • Donald Trump does not know that Hispanics did not come up with the taco bowl.
  • Donald Trump doesn’t know how to make a profit.  After beginning his career in 1976 with a value of around $200 million (about $846 million in 2016 dollars), he’s managed to increase it to $4.5 billion by today.  Leaving aside the fact that a little less than 1/4 of that fortune comes from tax subsidies in New York alone, and another 1/4 of it is the inflation-adjusted value of the original money his father gave him, if he had placed that $200m into an index fund (one of the lowest-risk investments available) and reinvested the dividends, his value would be around $12 billion.  The fact that he didn’t do that means that he’s not a good businessman, and he’s not even very good at faking it.

One or two of these statements could be slip-ups or bad info. But all of them? Advocating policy that would cause major recessions in three different ways, global war in two different ways, and at least two different international incidents, not to mention his clear disdain for the U.S. Constitution, do not in any way sound like “competency” to me.

No, Matt Walsh, all religions are not equal. But all people are.

brussels1I don’t even know how to react to terrorist attacks anymore.

Even the attacks in Paris last fall made me speechless; I felt like I had to respond on Redeeming Culture, but my response was about the associated response to the refugee crisis, not about the attack itself.  And the reason I’m writing here instead of on Redeeming Culture is that…I don’t think I have anything to say here, either.  Other than the usual truths (I mourn and weep with those affected, I can’t understand the loss they’re going through, I hope that people meet Jesus through this), what is there to say?  I don’t have any words.

Thankfully, Matt Walsh does.  (Could you hear my eye roll there?)

Walsh published an article on The Blaze this afternoon that’s already getting some play on Facebook. And while I typically assume that Matt Walsh is a generally decent guy who amps up his outrage and removes his filter while writing to get clicks, this time I feel like he goes a little far.

Let’s start with the title.

First of all, Walsh calls his article “It’s Time To Stop Pretending All Religions Are Equal.

I suppose you can see where that might get some angry response, but my problem with it isn’t what most people’s might be. I suppose in a way I agree with the statement, but not with how it’s used.

First, I agree that religions aren’t equal. Christ is truth, and so all others are lies in the face of His reality. And He is also infinitely valuable; that’s why repeated calls to “tone it down” or otherwise remove our faith from the core of our being (or the core of our interaction with others) are missing the point of our reality.

But to many Muslims, their faith is just as important as ours is to us. And if we want to reach their hearts with the truth of Jesus, denying that reality is folly. We cannot be surprised that someone who is not a Christian holds other beliefs more valuable than Christ; we cannot disparage their beliefs without losing the battle for their souls. Openly, wantonly, disrespectfully disparaging another’s pursuit of their passion, even if that passion is sinful or untrue, can do nothing but push them away. And if we hold them as God’s creation, needing the same Jesus we claim, we cannot risk that.

No, other religions aren’t equal. But the people who follow those religions ARE.

Diversity vs. Individuality

Walsh starts his piece from a point of sadness, but soon goes on the offensive against diversity.

Diversity is a strength, they tell me, but I have seen no evidence to support this doctrine. Diversity of thought might be a strength, but even then it is only a strength if the thought is rational and directed towards truth. The nonsensical thoughts of relativistic nincompoops are not valuable or helpful.

This sounds more like ravings than like truth. In fact, proof of diversity’s effectiveness has been established by several studies; in Scott Page’s 2006 book “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,” he details how a diverse group can be more productive than even a more technically proficient group at solving particularly difficult problems. The podcast “Reply All” recently chronicled his diversity research, as well as science writer Carl Zimmer’s medical evidence, in a recent episode about diversity in Silicon Valley.

And, to be sure, things that are “nonsensical” or “irrational” are unhelpful. But when Walsh uses those words in this context, he is clearly referring to leftward-leaning viewpoints; nothing objective or proven.

But in a strange reversal, Walsh trumpets the value of homogeneity in almost the same breath that he decries it. Immediately following the quote above, he says,

Similarly, racial and cultural diversity does not enrich us if we lose our identity in the process. When you throw a bunch of people with diametrically opposed beliefs and values and priorities into a food processor and hit frappe, you end up with a smoothie that tastes an awful lot like the collapse of western civilization and the rise of barbarians.

So which is it, Matt? Are we more at risk when we aren’t homogeneous, or when we’re not individually unique?

It’s a silly question to ask, especially since no one is asking anyone to give up their identity. Not even Walsh, who doesn’t mention the topic anywhere else in the article.

That said, his particular choice of threat may be rather apt; the barbarians. In fact, their destruction of a homogeneous, inward-focused Roman empire is uniquely prescient for our society.

The United States might just be the closest analogy in the modern world to the superpower that Rome was in its heyday, but we face the same problem they did: the inability to focus with any clarity on concerns of the marginalized, whether inside or outside our own borders. For Rome, that meant a drought which put their outlying provinces at risk of invaders, the individuality of their populace swallowed up in the homogeneity of the approaching Barbarian hordes. What threat faces us? What marginalized people might cause our downfall?

The Demonization of Islam

Of course, Walsh has an answer for that, too.

If Islam is a peaceful religion, why are Muslims literally the only people in the world setting bombs off in subway stations and airports and theaters and embassies and restaurants. Spin this anyway you like, but right now the global terrorism market is a Muslim monopoly. We are certain a terrorist attack was carried out by Muslims the moment the bomb explodes. Shouldn’t that tell you something?

This paragraph is clearly “begging the question,” but logical fallacies aside, it ignores a historical truth. Yes, there are evil Muslims in the world. Maybe a larger percentage of this group is evil than any other group in the world. I don’t have any numbers on that.

But five decades ago, there were more evil Soviets than any other group in the world. A century ago, there were more evil Germans and Japanese than any other group in the world. 250 years ago, it was Southern, slave-owning Americans. 500 years ago it was the Spaniards. Two millennia ago, it was the Romans. Centuries before that, it was the Egyptians. But in all of these cases, for every individual perpetrating violence, there was a large group of his kinsmen who didn’t. Why do we think that would be any different for Muslims?

Christians demonizing Muslims doesn’t solve any problems. At best, it pushes moderate Muslims away from ever meeting Jesus; at worst, it pushes less-moderate Muslims further into the same extremist camp the terrorists occupy.

The Danger of Fundamentalism?

Walsh doesn’t have much patience for this argument. He rails against those who would (erroneously) call terrorists “fundamentalist Muslims,” reminding his readers that fundamentalist Christians tend to perpetrate more good upon the world (which is true) while fundamentalist Muslims perpetrate more bad upon the world (which is not true). But then he notes that the word “fundamentalism” has come to be seen as the problem.

Liberals are fond of saying “fundamentalism” is the problem generally, as if living by your convictions is wrong regardless of the nature of your convictions. Such an idiotic notion can be expected from moral relativists who believe nothing to be fundamentally true, therefore anyone who adheres to any fundamental doctrine, no matter the doctrine, is dangerous.

Here, Walsh speaks the most truth—and in so doing, undermines the very point he’s trying to make.

See, fundamentalism and the close adherence to values is not evil. Not even when it’s wrong. In fact, it’s the fact that they hold their values very dear that actually makes Christians most like Muslims; and if we ever hope to reach them with the message of the Cross, it must be on that bridge.

Superiority and Fruit

Walsh does hide some truth about Christ and Christians in his article. Like this: “Christians, individually, are responsible for plenty of evil, but that evil is a result of their rejection of the truth of Christian doctrine. The more they reject it, the worse they are. The more they accept it, the better.”

But several times in the piece, Walsh asserts the superiority of Christianity. “Christians are not perfect, but Christianity is,” he says, blatantly ignoring the fact that neither are perfect, but Christ is. He insists that “Whether you believe in Christianity or not, it’s [sic] superiority is beyond question. And the fact that it is so superior ought to make you reconsider your decision not to believe it,” which makes me cringe so much that you probably felt it.

Christ does not call us to a “superior” religion, but to a humble faith in Him. He does not call us to haughtiness. And He certainly does not call us to trumpet the “superiority” of what we have found to a lost world that will never understand it; but to take up our cross. His last command to His people (in Matthew 28:19-20) was, in order, to:

  1. Go (requiring you to leave where you are and to move toward others)
  2. Make disciples (requiring you to have a favorable relationship with them)
  3. Baptize them… (requiring you to not compromise on the truth of the Gospel)
  4. …in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit (requiring you to recognize that it is not your doing that will convert them)
  5. Teach them to obey Jesus (requiring you to know good theology and to lead by example)

Nothing there about superiority.

Walsh also hides some truth in one of his last words, where he says “By its fruits you shall know it.”

Yes, its fruits.

  • Overreaction and hatred in the face of world events
  • Incorrectly claiming the moral high ground
  • Anger at non-Christians for not acting like Christ (despite the fact that they do not have the Holy Spirit)
  • Valuing money over compassion
  • Shirking their responsibility to the widow and orphan
  • Valuing “rightness” over the hearts of others
  • Equating conservative politics with Christian doctrine

In many ways, these are the fruits of the American church, and they’re starting to rot.

If we ever want to be taken seriously as Christians—by Muslims, by atheists, by the world that needs to see Jesus more than they need to be protected from the bombs of any terrorists—we have to be willing to live like Christ. Our fruits must be His fruits. Our loves must be His loves. And by asserting that we are better or “superior” than Muslims, we truly do bear our fruit: pride in the tribe we are aligned with, not humility before a Lord that we worship.

• • •

(cross posted to Medium)

Season Finale of Football

I’ve watched the NFL in the past, but this year I didn’t really follow any games.  My wife hates football, and I don’t love it, so usually I see a couple of Colts games but nothing else.

So on Saturday, I posted this on Facebook:

The season finale of football is tomorrow. I haven’t seen the rest of the season…will I be lost? Should I wait until it comes out on Netflix? No spoilers please!

I thought it was witty, and I figured it would end there.  But then a friend of mine actually replied.

Sure thing, David!

At the beginning of Season 50 of Days of the National Football League, one of the most infamous heels dominated the story line. This character, Tom, was always picked last in gym class, but now he’s married to the homecoming queen and everyone else kinda resents his success. It’s not that he’s rubbing everyone’s face in it, as that would be weak writing, but he’s done a couple shady things in the past that haven’t quite caught up to him. Surveys show that viewers have mixed feelings about this character.

Anyway, the organization that Tom’s boss works for decided to put out a report that would finally get Tom into trouble. Tom’s boss didn’t like this, so he got a bunch of really smart scientists to say that the report wouldn’t hold up. Remember, all of this is in the premiere episode! Unfortunately, the next couple episodes get bogged down because it turns into a courtroom drama. (SPOILER: Long story short, Tom gets off again.)

Tom also has this coworker who is a bit of a rival. His name is Peyton. They have a nice love-hate relationship, but Tom always gets the promotions at work because Peyton is a little old and never quite finishes his work. Viewers really like Peyton, and they’ve been rooting for him to have one big victory before he’s got to retire. In this season, he and Tom had essentially, to use an appropriate analogy, a chicken parmesan bake-off. Peyton’s team members really did an awesome job and kept distracting Tom during the competition, so now Peyton is really, really close to this awesome promotion he’s been waiting for. Viewers are on the edge of their seats!

The only problem is this hot-shot young kid came out of nowhere. Last year he nearly died in a car accident and now he’s practically been touched by an angel. His team is just impressing everyone in the office. This kid has all the storyline of Tom without the baggage, and he has some of the positive fan support that Peyton has. So now they’ve got to go against one another in the season finale. In my opinion, though, the penultimate episode featuring Tom and Peyton had stronger writing and more at stake.

There’s a lot of other minor characters, but they won’t be in this episode. This is a shame because there’s a lot of backstabbing and political intrigue. One of the characters dressed up in a disguise in one episode so that they could go to a party without anyone noticing. Another guy has been stuck at a desk job because his boss doesn’t believe in him even though everyone thought he was going to be awesome. His boss actually put him into a really dangerous situation and then blamed the guy for getting into trouble.

The plotlines are a bit tired sometimes, but the character arcs are to die for. I’d give it a 7/10.

Brilliant work, sir.  You’ve made it even more unbelievable that the NFL isn’t scripted.

“Millennial”

I hate the word “Millennial.”

I’d been feeling that way for quite a while before John Green wrapped up my thoughts pretty well in this letter to the World Economic Forum.  I reposted the article on Facebook with the caption:

Millennials are just young people (people 18-34ish); young people are always criticized for their laziness and entitledness. The parent venerates their elders while degrading their children. It’s just the cycle of things. But in the Internet world, this is amplified because both the Millennials and their parents are on Facebook.

17767819718_bc0c8b580b_oThis post generated a little bit of discussion between myself, my sixth grade teacher, my brother, and a former coworker of mine.  (Facebook is weird)

But the word “millennial” has been following me, and I have several problems with it.  After discussing with my wife, I think I’ve nailed the problems down to the following:

Problem the First

My first problem is that the word has a massively (and perhaps intentionally) vague definition.  I was born in 1985; am I a millennial?  According to the original definition, yes; but many of the articles denouncing millennials are written by people my age, about today’s high schoolers and college students.  My son was born in 2014; is he a millennial?  How can both I and my child be members of the same generation?

As a result of this vagueness, many bloggers and meme-makers have used the word to mean “people I don’t like who are younger than me.” It’s become a touchstone for Gen-Xers to use to criticize their children’s generation. Of course the idea that the elder criticizes the younger is nothing new, but it seems to have taken on a new virulence since both elder and younger in this case are on Facebook.

Problem the Second

Secondly, the word is imbued with a very specific theoretical person: Selfie-obsessed teens and twentysomethings who can’t keep their eyes off their smartphones, want everything to be handed to them on a silver platter, and don’t care about the real world or real people. The problem with this is that I don’t think that this straw person really exists, at least not at the scale that most bloggers would like us to believe.  Now, of course the pastiche must certainly be accurate for some. Stereotypes are driven by some element of truth, and I’ve definitely met some people who match – even some older people, people my parents’ age who use technology horribly and are always stuck in their phones.

ITU/Rowan Farrell

But almost every Millennial I know well (no matter what definition you choose) is driven, caring, and sees the world in a diverse and colorful way. They want a lot from the world, sure, but they’re willing to work for it, and they’re facing significant challenges that are different (though not always harder) than those previous generations faced.

Problem the Third

Finally, the word simplifies the problem and doesn’t offer any solutions. It’s often noted, for instance, that Millennials are more unemployed or underemployed than the previous generation; but it ignores the root causes of that phenomenon, such as the 2008 recession and an increasing number of college graduates flooding the entry-level workforce.  It ignores the fact that jobs are becoming available more slowly, because older workers aren’t retiring and freeing up positions.  It ignores the fact that many of the “old guard” companies are drying up and the up-and-coming industries aren’t making enough money to hire new people yet.  It ignores the fact that automation and outsourcing means that local skilled jobs are hard to find.

It also doesn’t present any serious ideas for shoring up the issue (“work harder” is often thrown out there, and that’s hardly a viable option; “put yourself out there” is also something I see a lot, and that doesn’t help either). Rather than finding a solution, the word is usually used to denigrate people as lazy and apathetic, when the truth is often the opposite.

So, in short: it’s a massive, vague oversimplification that people are using to criticize without offering any real solutions.

I originally wrote out those three problems with the word “millennial” in response to a really great article by local author Ben Shine on Sky Blue Window, which ends with this particularly beautiful line:

It’s not my job to tell an entire generation what music they should like. I’d rather be curious about what they create or why they like what they like. Irony is much more boring, in the end, than someone who takes the time to figure out what is appealing about a Katy Perry song. Or about David Bowie.

The Result

But so many people don’t want to be curious like Ben, they just want to use “millennials” as scapegoats.  Like this Facebook commenter, whom I don’t know and will remain anonymous.  They replied to an article I read and rather liked about the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

The world is no longer interested in stories, just propaganda after propaganda. Like the past was so horrible and only the present is so cool. As if the present generation of arrogant selfie obsessed kids have a chance in hell to survive the real world intact.

This got my blood boiling, because I have several friends who are in this generation he so carelessly dashed off.  I replied.

Uh…what?

The Force Awakens is popular because it’s more like the original trilogy, which was popular because it was more like old sci-fi movie serials, which were popular because they were like campfire tales. The oldest stories are always popular. They endure. They’re evergreen. TFA is just the latest expression in this ongoing world.

As for “arrogant selfie obsessed kids”- clearly you don’t know anyone from this generation, or at least not a representative sample. Many of them care more, help harder, love better, and work harder than a lot of people from the so-called “greatest generation”- you just hear more about the selfie-obsessed ones because you’re on Facebook.

The selfie generation will be the ones to colonize space, if we do things right. And they won’t do it because they’re selfish. They’ll do it because they love stories like Star Wars.

And I truly believe that. That’s why it gets on my nerves that so many people are writing thinkpieces about millennials without actually knowing any of them (or really even knowing what they are).  It bothers me that they oversimplify struggles and underrepresent the contributions they’re making.  But I think the worst part is that they’re pointing out problems without offering solutions, or even believing that there are any.  Good luck getting anything done that way.

• • •

Other recommended viewing: A few days ago, John Green’s brother Hank replied to his article with a video:

I don’t know that I agree completely, but I certainly agree enough.