Defending Polanski Badly

In a† story this morning in “The Los Angeles Times,” Patrick Goldstein defends Roman Polanski on some empty specious grounds.† Basically he thinks that since it’s been so long, the victim has forgiven him, prisons are over-crowded, CA is having financial trouble, and Mr. Polanski has experienced tragedy in his life that he should be released.† He seeks to deflect anticipated criticism by saying ” In the coming weeks, the Polanski affair will no doubt become a tabloid sensation, with op-ed moralists, excitable bloggers and the Glenn Becks of the world noisily weighing in on the propriety of his possible prosecution.”

His own piece is exactly that, an excitable, noisy instance of op-ed moralism.† Comparing Polanski to Jean Valjean, Mr. Goldstein seeks to make a moral equivalence between stealing bread to feed one’s family and drugging a 13 year old with Champagne and Quaaludes before raping her. He offers only non sequiturs in Mr. Polanski’s defense. To take each in turn:

The tragic events that befall a person have no bearing on the disposition of the unrelated crimes he commits (e.g. his childhood and the murder of his wife). A victim’s forgiveness is a pure and wondrous thing, but for the public interest the state has an obligation to ensure that certain laws are enforced. Image a mother shot by her son. Her last words, said to a police office who arrives at the scene and said in the presence of multiple witnesses, are: “Please do not put my son in jail. I forgive him.” The state must still prosecute. Prison overcrowding is a real public policy and societal problem in need of a solution, but that solution must come primarily from legislation and it must be broad in scope as it addresses classes of crimes. One can not use it to argue for the non-prosecution of one specific case.

He considers the “real tragedy” in all of this to be that Polanski “will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn’t enough.” I do not think one can consider the consequences of fleeing from justice a “price” at all. Being snubbed and confronted isn’t even close to being a “real tragedy,” and I find it reprehensible that anyone can consider that not only comparable but somehow more substantial than the tragedy of being drugged and raped, even if the “real” victim is fortunate enough to be able to forgive and move on. But can we really expect more from someone who makes a moral comparison between a fictional petty thief and a real pederast and rapist?

If there is another tragedy involved in this at all, it is that a celebrity who drugs and rapes a minor can flee justice and have the media argue that this is not, now, worthy of prosecution when one of those poor people the media treats as rhetorical arguments rather than persons would have long, long ago been justly consigned to one of those over-crowded prisons, and not an inch of newsprint would have been wasted defending him. Is this what being a “watchdog” has come down to? Breathlessly lashing out at a DA in righteous indignation for prosecuting a rapist? Arguing that fleeing prosecution and staying free for years is payment enough because of snubbing?

Mr. Goldstein laments the fact that the DA doesn’t seem to have better things to do with his time. One might wish that reporters had better things to do with theirs.

Related Stories: Dodgy Old Men, Amy Davidson, “The New Yorker”

Stephanopoulos Blinked

Rarely do the press actually ask President Obama any hard questions, but yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” George Stephanopoulos actually did.† He challenged President Obama’s support of the individual mandate within health reform legislation as a tax.† Obama was having none of it.† Here’s a relevant part of the transcript.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That may be, but it’s still a tax increase.

OBAMA: No. That’s not true, George. The — for us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it’s saying is, is that we’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.

People say to themselves, that is a fair way to make sure that if you hit my car, that I’m not covering all the costs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it may be fair, it may be good public policy…

OBAMA: No, but — but, George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase. Any…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Here’s the…

OBAMA: What — what — if I — if I say that right now your premiums are going to be going up by 5 or 8 or 10 percent next year and you say well, that’s not a tax increase; but, on the other hand, if I say that I don’t want to have to pay for you not carrying coverage even after I give you tax credits that make it affordable, then…

STEPHANOPOULOS: I — I don’t think I’m making it up. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: Tax — “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.”

OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition. I mean what…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, but…

OBAMA: …what you’re saying is…

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to check for myself. But your critics say it is a tax increase.

OBAMA: My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I’m taking over every sector of the economy. You know that.

Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we’re going to have an individual mandate or not, but…

It most certainty is a tax increase.† “The Wall Street Journal” has a good analysis of this, but rather than follow through Stephanopoulos pulled his punch.† The key part of the exchange was here:

OBAMA: George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I — I don’t think I’m making it up. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: Tax — “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.”

OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.

At this point, Stephanopoulos should have said: “No, Mr. President.† The fact that I looked it up indicates that I am not just ‘making up the language,’ as you said,† but that I am using the word correctly.”† Instead Stephanopoulos blinked and put it off on Obama’s critics and gave the President an out that allowed him to once again mischaracterize his political opponents.

Related Stories: Obama’s Media Offensive, Karl Rove, “The Washington Post”

The Offering as Worship

A Temple Talk on stewardship I gave today at church.

My talk this morning is on giving as an act of worship.† These talks are structured around Mark Allen Powellís wonderful book: Giving To God, the first chapter of which is ďAn Act of Worship.Ē† I canít recommend this book highly enough, but I donít want to recite to you what he said; I want to tell you about my reaction to the first chapter and my interaction with God through it.

I do want to give you an organizing quote, though.† Powell writes: ďThe Sunday offering is a worship event that provides us with the opportunity for expressing our love to God in the purest way imaginable, by giving up something that we value.Ē† Iíll come back to that.

Some years ago, [my wife] was reading ďOur StateĒ magazine when she saw a photo of the NC mountains in fall that she just loved.† It was a shot across rolling hills full of vibrant wild flowers.† I researched the photographer, found his web site, scoured through his prints and couldnít find it.† I called him.† He had only recently taken the photograph, and had never made prints for sale.† He made, framed, matted and sold me a 20 x 24 print and shipped it.† I gave it to [my wife] for Christmas, and she has the first and maybe only one.† She delighted in the receiving and I in the giving.† Both our lives were enriched.

When I read that quote, ďThe Sunday offering is a worship event that provides us with the opportunity for expressing our love to God in the purest way imaginable, by giving up something that we value,Ē I thought about that picture and how excited I get about giving gifts to those I love, but I hate to give money.† I stopped to talk to God about that.

I told Him, ďThatís just it God.† We put everything in terms of money today, and itís so boring.† I wish I had something precious to give you like the Magi or that picture I gave Kerri, but I have nothing you need.Ē Now, donít go call the paddy wagon and send for a straight-jacket.† I donít see burning bushes or hear voices, but at that moment I sensed God telling me: ďBut, BoÖI donít need your money either.Ē

We donít give to God because He needs what we have.† All we have is already His, and He wants to give us more.† Sacrificial giving as an act of worship is one of the ways in which God allows us to exchange rusty, moth-infested rubbish for treasure in heaven. Now, please donít misunderstand me.† When Jesus told us to store up treasure in heaven He was by no means suggesting that we could earn our way in.† Just as with our family and friends we do not give gifts to earn anotherís love; likewise, we are not earning anything by giving to God.

The offering is not a free market exchange process in which we exchange labor for pay and pay for goods and services. Itís an organic, ecological process of growth.† We are like potted plants that the master gardener is preparing for a special and beautiful place in a new creation He is planting, and giving as an act of worship is part of the process by which God nourishes and feeds us so that we may grow into a plant ready to be taken from the pot and deeply rooted in good soil.

In the tangible realm we are still part of the old decaying creation.† The blessings God has given us in this world are indeed good and useful for life, and love and re-creation, and we should offer thanks for them, but unless we want to become root bound in this pot of flesh we must cease clinging to those things which are impermanent and exchange them for permanent things.

We give gifts to our children that are appropriate to their maturity.† It is in the act of giving to God in worship that He matures us and enables us to put away childish things so that we can receive even greater things.† Itís as if He is continually taking us from smaller pots and putting us in larger ones.† The seed He planted in baptism He nurtures and cultivates and nourishes in worship, all of worship from thanksgiving and confession, praying and listening, eating and drinking, giving and serving.

When we cheerfully and freely give back to God what He has first given to us we are telling Him ďI get it!Ē† Itís a humbling, joyful and hungering process.† Itís humbling because we first have to understand that we donít deserve any of it, not even the most simple, essential gifts necessary to sustain physical life.† Itís joyful because once we understand that we deserve none of it we donít have to struggle to earn any of it, because we know we canít, and we donít have to fight to keep any of it becauseÖwe know we canít.† Itís hungering because once weíve had a taste of Godís grace we want more, and we want it fully, in greater measure; we humbly and joyfully thirst for it like a deer panting for water.

In giving we grow to want the things we cannot earn but which we can keep, eternally.† We give to God not because we have anything He needs but because He has everything that we will ever need, in this world and the world to come. In giving we become imitators of Christ.† It is precisely through imitation that children learn and grow.† When we do not freely and cheerfully give we are not keeping anything from God; we are keeping Godís grace from fully maturing in ourselves.

And yet, we all know that the most precious gifts we have to offer are not tangible.† Imagine a relationship in which we never gave those we love our attention, approval, or affection.† But, being the frail creatures of the tangible world of sense that we are, when we freely and joyfully give tangible gifts to one anotheróbe it a photograph, a hug or love noteówe are able, by doing so, to also give them intangible gifts.

While the offering is not a sacrament it does share this in common with them: The offering is one of the worship events in which the tangible intersects with the intangible. In giving our tangible gifts to God as an act of worship we open ourselves to receive the intangible gifts of His grace and love, and in doing so we grow, we are transformed more and more into His likeness until we are ready to be taken from our pots and planted in a garden that will glorify Him.† Thanks be to Him to whom all glory is due, now and forever.† Amen.

Steyn on Kennedy (or Why I Tend to Be Non-Progressive)

In general I would like to change the overall tenor of my blog away from the more polemical, reflections on the news-of-the-day, culture war sort, but something Mark Steyn recently wrote about Edward Kennedy summed up a lot of things for me.†† Steyn is acerbic, clever and hilarious, the closest living writer we have to a Twain (in his journalism and travelogues (not fiction)).† I have debated with myself for years if an H.L. Mencken (whom I love though I don’t share his worldview) style of rhetoric and writing is appropriate for a Christian.† At one time I read a lot about Muggeridge, though I have only dipped into him, and have the sense that he may have pulled it off.

Steyn wrote: “If a towering giant cares so much about humanity in general, why get hung up on his carelessness with humans in particular?”† While I really do find that I tend to adopt mediating political and theological positions, though that does not make me a moderate, I am a thorough orthodox Nicene Christian with strongly held beliefs, and though I dislike hubris on either side, I tend to believe political conservatism (for all its faults, failures and excesses) tends to do less harm to humanity.† Basically it’s a slower descent on the road to hell.

Steyn’s quote above nails it for me.† Progressives care deeply about the Poor, and less about the poor.† They are more concerned with Environmentalism than they are the environment.† They love Humanity and hate man.† Jesus Christ was the opposite.† His life and ministry showed an unparalleled concern for concrete humans, and His death showed that that deep care was extended to all Humanity.† This is the arrow of love–it moves from the particular to the general–and without that focus on the concrete, historical person before you; that is, our neighbor, we can not truly exhibit compassion for humanity.

We see this in 1 Timothy 3.† An overseer should be gentle, temperate, faithful, self-controlled and hospitable, among others, all qualities that relate to specific, real, tangible human beings we are in family or community with.† We find an awful lot in Scripture about how to treat persons and not so much about how to treat peoples.† We find almost exclusively teachings on how individuals should relate to individuals and how communities of faith should relate to individuals (e.g. Matthew 18:15-17).† I can not think of a teaching off-hand that deals with our responsibility to our neighbor, family or community mediated through the government, unless it’s Jesus’s teaching to reconcile with another before it lands in court, suggesting, at least, that judicial intervention is a valid and necessary, if undesired, process.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus, Paul and Peter all addressed our obligations to the government, especially when the government they were referring to would be intolerable to us today, as long as it wasn’t in conflict with our obligations to God.† Nowhere I am aware of do they delineate the obligations of government to the individual or the individual’s obligation to other individuals through the government.

Don’t get me wrong; I cherish representative democracy even if it is “the worst form of government except all those others” (Churchill) which contains the “seeds of its own destruction” (Robert Welch)[1], and ours is sliding into an insidious individualism with a destructive bent towards self-gratification and consumerism.† However, nothing we can do will remove the consequences of original sin. † When we try to “fix” problems, especially on a grand scale, we tend to make them worse–the more grand the proposed solution the less grand the outcome.

So, I tend to be generally more conservative politically and more radical (in the sense of the Sermon on the Mount, not French Revolution) personally. Conservatism should be about conservation (and I should say I tend to an older pre-Reagan conservatism, one that at one time would have embraced thinkers like Wendell Berry), and the best way to conserve is to plant.† If democracy does indeed contain within itself the seeds of its own destruction, as all human Babels must, then at least it takes longer for the weeds to flourish because there are just so many vibrant, beautiful plants growing.

Governments do indeed have positive roles to play; some problems (e.g. toxic waste, highways, defense, education) need resources, regulations and direct intervention, but governments deal with people in the aggregate and abstract, and this leads to care for Humanity and carelessness towards humans.† It creates a situation in which people can advocate for health care as a positive right while denying life to millions.† Medical treatment guaranteed to the sick by governmental legislation is not as† legitimate a function of government, if at all, than protecting the innocent or defending those who can not defend themselves.† Because the unborn have been abstracted to fetuses, we have decided they are not human and have no rights.† The first right a government should protect is the right to life.† Even liberty itself comes after that!

It is not progress to medically treat a person with the flu in the same hospital where an unborn baby is deprived of her life and where another baby is born and another is operated on in the womb.† (While most abortions are done in specialty “clinics,” there are still hundreds of hospitals that perform them, and even if they were not, it’s not progress to treat those who were born while killing others. The hospital was a useful, but unnecessary, comparison.)† Yes, of course, I think the conditions which drive some women to abortion need to be addressed.† That’s why we adopted two older, special needs children out of the public adoption system after they were removed from their mother.

Desipte what Obama said in his address before Congress on September 9th, don’t be fooled into thinking that if we get a national public option we won’t eventually get tax-payer funded abortions.† They already have them in Canada.

Render unto Caesar, but love your neighbor.

  1. No I am not a member of the John Birch Society and know very little about it []