Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Christianity, Liberty, and the Transgender Community

Famous evangelist Pat Robertson recently made a surprising statement on his televangelist show, The 700 Club.  A viewer wrote to the show asking the Reverend for advice on how, as a Christian, to approach and refer to two of his employees who were transgender women.  Robertson’s response was highly unexpected, given his ultraconservative statements in years past, namely his concurrence with the late Reverend Jerry Falwell’s conjecture that the 9/11 attacks were God’s wrath on America for the collective sin of the gay community.

Said Robertson regarding his viewer’s transgender employees:

“I think there are men who are in a woman's body.  It's very rare. But it's true—or women that are in men's bodies—and that they want a sex change. That is a very permanent thing, believe me, when you have certain body parts amputated and when you have shot up with various kinds of hormones. It's a radical procedure. I don't think there's any sin associated with that. I don't condemn somebody for doing that.”

Reverend Pat Robertson
The viewer’s main question was whether it was wrong to refer to them as women, since it wasn’t their original physical gender.  He also mentioned what the Bible says about homosexuality, and followed up that he doesn’t know the medical history or the intentions of his employees (implying that he was unsure as to whether they were committing a sin or not).  Reverend Robertson told him “it’s not for you to decide or judge.”  To restate it in Constitutional conservative terms: “It’s none of your beeswax!”

I’ve got to join the folks who are giving Reverend Robertson a big thumbs up for his approach.  He never told the viewer that he was obligated to agree with his employees’ life choices, but rather that the lives and histories of these adults was not up to him to decide or judge.  It wasn’t the viewer’s place, just like it wouldn’t be the place of those two employees to cast judgments on him for his Christian beliefs.  His only place was to do business responsibly and live his own life according to Biblical principles, casting no judgments on his fellow human beings—only God has a right to judge us all.

This is a wonderful example of laissez-faire in microeconomics—one with a deeply personal and very human element.  We’re faced with an employer who has a need for certain labor or services, which he finds in these two transgender employees.  They probably come from different backgrounds, certainly different creeds.  The employer is a devout Christian who has turned to the Holy Bible for authority and to a pastor he trusts—Reverend Robertson—for further advice on the matter; his employees, on the other hand, are transgender, so it’s a reasonable bet that they’re not exactly Bible thumpers.  Nonetheless, they’ve come together in the marketplace to engage in very personal commerce: that of an employer-employee relationship.  They hold different views but they tolerate each other and work together to make the business thrive (which can only add to the individual prosperity of the employer and the two employees).

I also congratulate Reverend Robertson for taking a solid Christian stance on the matter (the fact that it’s also constitutionally conservative or even libertarian only makes it sweeter).  Essentially, he advocates a balance between the law and the love of God.  By remaining a Christian and living his personal life according to Biblical principles, the employer upholds the law of God as written throughout the Bible.  At the same time, by tolerating his transgender employees and compassionately treating them as fellow human beings, he embodies the love of God.  My own pastor, who always encourages the LGBT community to visit his church, says that God hates sin but loves the sinner, regardless of whether he’s heterosexual or homosexual.

Reverend Robertson seems to be taking on a new attitude in recent years, perhaps indicative of a changing worldview.  He will always be a Christian, but it’s often not enough to say that one’s worldview is only Christian.  There are people with Christian liberal worldviews, just like there are folks with Christian conservative worldviews, not to mention my own Christian libertarian worldview, and the abovementioned don’t even include the liberal, conservative, or anarchist leanings of atheists, agnostics, or people of other faiths.

The Reverend’s ideas on tolerating the transgender community are indicative of a change in the times.  Just last year, he expressed his opinion—on television—that marijuana should be legalized because the war on drugs is not working, and only hurting the people it purports to help.  Robertson opined, “I just think it's shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance.  The whole thing is crazy.  We've said, ‘Well, we're conservatives, we're tough on crime.’ That's baloney.”

Many Christian conservatives were utterly shocked by those statements.  I wasn’t shocked, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Like Reverend Robertson, I’m of the opinion that the legalization of marijuana will in no way inhibit my liberty any more than the legalization of alcohol.  On the same coin, the legalization of drugs won’t stop me from having a personal relationship with God, nor does it prevent Ron and Rand Paul (who share the same opinion toward marijuana) from having their own relationships with the same God.

Frankly, I don’t understand the whole transgender thing.  I understand the theory behind it, but I’ll never fully understand why anyone would truly want to make such an irreversible change.  Nonetheless, it’s none of my business what another adult does that harms no one else.

I’m of the opinion that Christians ought to spend more time in contact and discussion with the LGBT community.  Many of them cling to leftism because the leftist ideology (modern liberalism) stresses social liberties with no consequences, whereas modern conservatism (neoconservatism) stresses all consequences and no social liberties.  As a libertarian, I’m convinced that libertarianism is the best political ideology that can accommodate the greatest number of people.

More importantly, as a Christian, I can see that many people in the LGBT community, especially the transgender community, are suffering from identity crisis.  I think they need to be reminded by their Christian fellow humans that they are human beings, fellow children of God, and that God loves them just as well.  I think many LGBT Americans would be willing to seriously reevaluate their negative attitudes toward Christianity and libertarianism if they knew that God’s elect and sovereign individuals did not judge them, but rather loved them unconditionally as fellow human beings.

Pope Francis
In Matthew 28, Jesus gives us the great commission to travel to the corners of the world and teach the Gospel to all people.  In light of this, I’m of the opinion that there’s a place for the gay community in the Church.  Just like God’s law demanded a change of lifestyles in all of us, to which we strive to conform, future LGBT converts will undergo a change of lifestyles as well.  Will they ever stop being “gay”?  I doubt it, but that doesn’t change the truth and the immense weight of John 3:16.  Just yesterday Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?  You can't marginalize these people.”  Couldn’t have said better myself!

As a good citizen and a student of libertarian ideology, it’s my duty to share the pillars of libertarianism with any fellow person who’s interested in learning more.  As a Christian, it’s also my duty to share the Gospel with any fellow human being who’s willing to listen—regardless of age, race, creed, or sexual orientation.  Live and let live, and let live with gift of everlasting life that’s available to every one of us, if we only accept it.

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Pat Robertson image courtesy of Papparazzo Presents.  Marijuana image by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Pope Francis photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil.  All images were obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

The Libertarian Reader is an excellent collection volume, beginning with a Bible chapter.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Copperhead: A Glimpse through Time at Anti-War Conservatism

If there was ever a day when a steep ticket price was well spent, it was the day I saw Ron Maxwell’s bold creation, Copperhead.  Based on Harold Frederic’s novel of the same name, Copperhead is a movie not simply about the American Civil War, but about the war’s deep and far-reaching impact on a small town in rural New York.  This movie shows how war is very real to the civilians of a belligerent power who live their daily lives far from the battlefields.  I can think of no better candidate than the director of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals to have made such a powerful film.

(Everyone knows Gettysburg is a masterpiece.  Gods and Generals received a colder reception because the film was scattered.  In my opinion, it was severely over-edited for time.  See the extended, nearly five-hour director’s cut on Blu Ray and the movie will be redeemed.)

Copperhead reminded me of a combination of The Patriot and Good Morning Vietnam.  Reminiscent of The Patriot, the film’s characters talk a great deal about the Constitution, the founding fathers, and the principles of individual liberty that make America great.  Like Good Morning Vietnam, there was very little violence and the film primarily focused on the strains imposed on the daily lives of rural New Yorkers as they grow weary of the war.  Maxwell did very well in deviating from his modus operandi of long films saturated with epic battles and high death tolls.  This film gives the audience the same disturbed reaction to violence as they would have watching a soldier evaporate in a cannon blast or get shot in the lower abdomen, but it inflicts this very human reaction instead through dramatic performances of weeping Gold Star mothers, of worried sweethearts, insecure siblings, and sleepless fathers.

During the first few minutes I was quite unimpressed with the exposition and the realistic performances of, well, simple folks in the country who lead unexciting lives.  I thought at first that it was too hokey, that Hollywood was trying to paint a Norman Rockwell painting.  Then I remembered reading memoirs of Civil War soldiers—on both sides—who talked about another state being the farthest away from home they’d ever been.  Then it hit me: America was a very different time back in 1862.  Most people really did live ordinary lives and indeed never ventured far from home at all.  The film was on point!  Once I grew comfortable with the characters and the actors’ performances, I felt right at home watching the movie.

The lead actor Billy Campbell, who plays the protagonist Abner Beech, the anti-war “copperhead,” certainly carried the performance.  Commanding equal respect is Campbell's counterpart Angus Macfayden, playing the leading warhawk Jee Hagadorn.  Augustus Prew, playing Jee Hagadorn’s son Ni, lends an exceptionally powerful performance towards the end of the movie (but I won’t spoil it for my readers).  Peter Fonda plays a minor role in the film as the only pro-war neighbor who treats the anti-war Beech as a human being.

Billy Campbell as Abner Beech
Copperhead touches on multiple themes that are ever relevant to America, especially in this era of the Global War on Terror.  The first is the idea of America as a nation made by immigrants.  This certainly holds true for the two leading characters, the anti-war Abner Beech and the hawkishly pro-war Jee Hagadorn.  Both men are immigrants—Beech from Ireland and Hagadorn from Scotland—who moved to America, fell in love with the ideals that make America great, and who worked exceptionally hard and prospered to become members of a working upper-middle class.  Both men are devout Christians and their American patriotism is clearly unwavering.  However, their ideas of liberty and patriotism differ greatly, and that will be a major source of contention.

Next, and more importantly, are the timelessness of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the controversy surrounding civil liberties in times of war.  Abner Beech openly voices criticism of the Lincoln Administration’s waging of what he views to be an unnecessary war.  He criticizes the waging of the war which was hitherto undeclared (as it would remain throughout its life).  He has a problem with the way thousands have been imprisoned without a warrant or a fair trial, as the Administration suspended habeas corpus.  He makes it clear that he’s deeply offended at the way the leading Republican warhawks and militant abolitionists cry that to criticize the government during a time of war is treason, and that any man who talks about the Constitution, the limited powers of government, and the Bill of Rights must be a Confederate sympathizer and therefore hanged.  In relation to modern events, it truly bothers me that prisoners of war detained at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center have been held without charges or without a trial, and that American citizens have been assassinated abroad rather than brought to trial for treason.

Beech’s counterpart, Jee Hagadorn, is a zealous warhawk and abolitionist, convinced that subduing the Southern rebellion and freeing the slaves is God’s work, even if done by the bloodiest means.  Hagadorn embodies the holier-than-thou type of Christian whose kind still saturates the ranks of the Republican Party.  Like those in the GOP who wish to “turn the Middle East into glass,” Hagadorn wants every Southern rebel and every Southern sympathizer in the North to be killed.  These are the type of misguided Christians who would so quickly throw out the New Testament commandment “Love thy neighbor” in exchange for the Old Testament mantra of annihilating a nation’s foes.

Hagadorn makes Beech out to be a Copperhead—a Confederate sympathizer, named after a species of venomous viper snake—when that is, in fact, farther from the truth.  Beech never sympathized with the Southern rebellion, and as a secret member of the Underground Railroad, he abhors slavery.  He votes Democrat—this was back when Democrats gave a damn about the Constitution in its entirety—because he favors the restoration of habeas corpus, of civil liberties and Constitutional limits to government powers, and a peace settlement for bringing the Southern states back into the Union without bloodshed.  He also believes that there are peaceful ways to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of slavery.  Most would call these conservative stances, and it certainly compares with the anti-war conservatism discussed in the film's screenplay writer Bill Kauffman’s book Ain’t My America (a book well reviewed by libertarian author Jeffrey Tucker).

Behind the scenes on set with the Director (center)
Where Beech differs from his Republican contemporaries is in his view that war is not worth keeping the Southern states, and that the glorious Union isn’t made by enforcing its territorial integrity south of the Mason-Dixon line, but in the idea that the federal government must follow the Constitution and defend the liberty of the States and citizens who choose to remain in the Union.  This view is by no means pro-Confederate, as Jee Hagadorn’s son Ni will demonstrate with a daring venture (which I won’t spoil), but rather stands bold and independent in being simultaneously pro-Union and anti-War.

This brings us to the most important and most powerful theme of the film: “Love thy neighbor.”  Beech makes it clear that the Southern rebels may not want to rejoin the Union even if a peace settlement is offered, and that they may buy into their own version of hyper-nationalist pro-war propaganda and genuinely hate the Union.  However, unless Southern armies were to go North and wage a total war on Northern citizens, the North has no moral standing to inflict the same violence on the South.  As a Constitutionalist and a devout Christian, Abner Beech believes in the idea of just war, and he doesn’t see the subjugation of the Southern separatists as a just war, given that the Americans were once separatists from their British overlords.

Beech genuinely loves his neighbors.  Unlike Jee Hagadorn, who writes off the entire Beech family as scum—even Abner’s son Jeff, who enlists in the Union Army—Abner shows no hostility towards the Hagadorns and even has Hagadorn’s daughter Esther as a guest at his family’s table.  At one point Beech says to his pro-war self-appointed enemies in church, “Whatever happened to ‘Love thy enemies’?  Is that still in the Bible?”  The concept of loving our neighbors is made the strongest at the end of the film in a powerful oration by Ni Hagadorn, and that performance genuinely moved me.  “I’m ‘a say it again: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR!”

For some odd reason, many critics have given Copperhead lukewarm-at-best reviews.  I have to heartily disagree with them.  Copperhead was well done, genuinely moving, and it was worth my time to see.  I plan on owning it when it’s released to home video and hope someday to show it to my children when I teach them to love their neighbors.

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Movie poster courtesy of ComingSoon.net.  Film and set images courtesy of CopperheadTheMovie.com.  All images are the property of Copperhead The Movie Ltd. 2012 and are used in accordance with Fair Use law and to promote this great flick.  Quit wasting time, go see it!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Modern “Art” vs. Confederate Comic Books

Reading the Politically Incorrect Guides has been a journey of mixed pleasures and horrors for me.  This series by the conservative, once-libertarian Regnery Publishing house tackles various controversial subjects either through a conservative or libertarian worldview.  Some of the obviously conservative Guides often make me cringe from bad ideas, like the highly imperialist Guide to the British Empire or the militarist Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Tom Woods’ libertarian Guide to American History is by far my favorite.

However, even the conservative volumes contain a treasure trove of gems of wisdom.  Ronald Reagan, after all, said that the very essence of conservatism is libertarianism.  Dr. Elizabeth Kantor’s Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature is a new favorite which I hold in high esteem.  Kantor adequately and rightly blasts leftist interpretations of English and American literary giants, like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain.  She destroys the modern, post-modern, and even Marxist literary theories plaguing academia.  Writes Dr. Kantor:

I don’t think there’s any need to feel like a philistine if you agree with the judgment of Cordelia and Charles in Brideshead Revisited—by Evelyn Waugh, another avant-garde [modernist] convert to the Catholic Church—that “Modern Art is all bosh.”  The visual arts, especially, seemed in the modernist era to become infested with something like contempt for beauty, for the artist’s own skills, and for his audience.

As Waugh insisted, real art is first and foremost the art of pleasing.  It’s difficult to see why viewing the works of the Dadaists, for example—the copy of the Mona Lisa with a mustache painted on her upper lip, say, or the ordinary urinal set up in a museum as if it were a sculpture—is an aesthetic experience at all.  These things attract attention for reasons that are very different from the qualities that draw people to earlier works of art, even ones as distant in time and different from one another as the Parthenon and the paintings of Monet.

I’m glad I read this book because I had come to an independent conclusion regarding William Shakespeare and some other authors of the later classical era.  That is, quite, plainly, that they’re reading into themes that simply aren’t there.  This holds especially true for Marxist theory, gender theory, and queer theory.  I have nothing against Marxists, gender experimenters, the LGBT community, or the modernists and post-modernists at large (other than my opinion that their literary theories regarding Shakespeare et. all are rubbish).

For example, there’s a lot of queer theory surrounding the cross dressing in Shakespeare’s comedies, but I doubt Shakespeare was “making a statement.”  Dr. Elliot Engel talks about the crude, coarse diction with which Shakespeare wrote.  Though the highly antiquated form of "New English" sounds impressive and sophisticated to the modern ear, Shakespeare was actually writing for the understanding of the plebeians on the lower rungs of society.  On top of his penitent for being crude and crass, he had an affinity for sex jokes, like “My wife is slippery” (Winter’s Tale, Act I, Scene 2).  With dilemmas like the shepherdess Phebe falling in love with Rosalind (disguised as a man), it’s highly reasonable to affirm that Shakespeare was not contributing to gender theory and queer theory, but rather just making gay jokes.

While Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters did indeed write about injustices occurring in English society, they weren’t blaming capitalism or white manhood or anything else the leftists like to form ridiculous theories on.  Instead they were harshly criticizing people in positions of power and authority who were not living up to their responsibilities of being good heads of household, responsible for providing for and raising their children until they married off, or who were neglecting their duties as Christians to voluntarily help the less fortunate.

It purely annoys me, as it does Kantor, that leftists buy completely into theories that aren’t there in order to justify their counter-culture’s annihilation of mainstream culture and traditions.  Personally, I’m a fan of Christianity, of the idea of a warrior’s honor, and of chivalry in a man’s courtship of a woman.  I don’t deny that all men and women are created equal in the eyes of God and that.  What many never take into account, however, is that there are major differences between the good and the bad.  Christianity is not the same as Christendom—the forceful imposition of Christianity by the state—nor is an empire justified in waging unconstitutional war, but that doesn’t take away from the honor of a soldier who joins up so another won’t be drafted, and who lays down his life for his friends.

Even more importantly, the equality of men and women under the law doesn’t make chivalry a bad thing, especially not in the way a gentleman is supposed to treat women of all races and classes better than himself.  Hell, if more men practiced chivalry and reintroduced it into our culture, there would be a lot less domestic violence.  If the leftists want to live alternative lifestyles, let them—they’re adults!  I just wish they didn’t feel the need to tear down culture and tradition to make room for their counter-culture.

It’s safe to say that, beyond these modernist and post-modernist schools of literary “thought,” modern art annoys me greatly.  I see some of these works and most of them make absolutely no sense at all.  There are many different ways one could interpret Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or El Greco’s “Disrobing of Christ,” but how does one receive or interpret Yves Klein’s “Blue”?  It’s just a shade of dark blue and nothing else!  Furthermore, don’t even get me started on the vulgarity or the sheer emptiness behind “Piss Christ” (a photo of a crucifix submerged in urine)…

Much of modern “art” pales in comparison to many American comic books.  One comic book that stands head-and-shoulders above malarkey like “Piss Christ” is the graphic novel Cleburne by Justin Murphy.  This 200-page comic book tells the story of Patrick Cleburne, the Irish immigrant and Confederate General, in the final year of his life.  This Confederate General could justly be considered one of the early civil rights activists in America, regardless of what color he wore during the War Between the States.

Cleburne knew by 1864 that his side was losing the war and badly needed manpower.  Cleburne wasn’t blind to the fact that the millions of slaves in the South were a virtually untapped recruiting source that could turn the tide of the war.  He openly and passionately lobbied the Confederate Congress to allow the enlistment of blacks in the Confederate Army, and the Congress fought him tooth-and-nail.  Cleburne had seen black men fight on his side—some as armed bodyguards of Confederate officers and others as militiamen.

The most important thing about Cleburne’s world view was that he was in tune with the true purpose behind the Secessionist cause: freedom from an overly powerful central government.  In stark contrast with the U.S. military, which offered freedom to slaves after a fixed term of wartime service, Cleburne’s plan was to grant freedom and citizenship to Southern slaves the moment they enlisted in the Confederate Army.

Cleburne was no pushover and his prodding pushed others to be completely honest.  He forced other officers and civil servants out of their comfort zones when he asked the pressing question: Was this a war for white supremacy or a war of independence?  If it was a war for white supremacy, then the cause was already lost, as the Union had already begun to enlist black men into the armed forces.  If it was a war for independence, then the Southern nation was obligated to bring the black man to the battlefield and give him the chance to earn his freedom and his place of honor in service to his country. 

The main theme of Cleburne is a deeply humanistic one that stresses the equality of men of all races and social classes.  The fact that General Cleburne was simultaneously a civil rights activist and Confederate patriot gives his life story—and this graphic novel—a rich coat of seasoning to intrigue the reader all the more.  Tragically, most of his contemporaries chose white supremacy over equality, even for the sake of national independence.  None of that, however, changes the fact that Patrick Cleburne was a man ahead of his time.

Another of the graphic novel’s wonderful elements is the excellent artwork.  By no means does the artwork resemble cheesy history comics or silver-age artwork as seen in the old Detective Comics by D.C., or the original Marvel Comics of the 1930s through 60s.  The cover art of Cleburne, featuring the General standing with his hand on his saber in the light of the moon is breathtaking.  The images of columns of rebel troops that show depth, complex color schemes, and intricate shading are works of art all in their own right.  The many drawings of black men in rebel gray standing proud with their rifles in front of St. Andrew’s cross (the rebel battle flag) are inspiring and would make great posters to adorn walls.

When comparing modern “art” with pop art revolving around heroic historical figures, it quickly becomes all too clear which is supreme.  The “artist” who conceived of “Piss Christ” intentionally stresses the ambiguity of his “work.”  This is to say that there is no meaning for his work that he can come up with, other than that he did it purely for the shock value and to get attention!  Compare that with the following quote displayed in the Cleburne graphic novel:

“It is said that slavery is all we are fighting for.  Even if this were true, which we deny, it is not all our enemies are fighting for.  It is merely the pretense to establish a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.” —Major General Patrick R. Cleburne

Cleburne also presents the tragedy of the General’s time: slavery, white supremacy, and civil war.  These are themes Shakespeare touches upon in masterpieces like Julius Caesar and Othello.  It’s reasonable to say that Othello’s struggle for acceptance in spite of his race is no greater than the weighted decision of a black slave to earn his freedom—to have his God-given freedom recognized by a state which previously withheld it—by fighting for his new country. 

So the contestants for content, poetic license, and artistry are as follows: a “modern art masterpiece” with no meaning or artistic value, created solely to insult Christianity, or a comic book about an immigrant war hero’s fight for black equality in a war of independence?  I’ll take the latter.

Dr. Elizabeth Kantor could agree with me that Cleburne is not only rich and colorful history—it’s literature and it’s art.  Even as one who considers himself an unyielding U.S. patriot, I have nothing but undying respect for General Patrick Cleburne and the Confederates of all colors for whose freedom he tirelessly campaigned.  Art and literature embody ideas and values, and few works of art embody such a noble idea as this: whether it should be under the Stars and Stripes or the Stars and Bars, let freedom ring.  

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Politically Incorrect Guide cover image courtesy of Barnes & Noble and is the property of Regnery Publishing.  Cleburne cover image courtesy of Amazon and is the property of Rampart Press.  Black Confederates artwork courtesy of CWmemory.com and is the property of Rampart Press.  All three images are used in accordance with Fair Use Law.