Here are some booknotes:
A. William Haller. The Rise of Puritanism. Harper, 1957.
Haller talks about the Puritans in seventeenth century England. Some of what Haller said was unsurprising. TULIP, for one. The Puritans believed in predestination and earnestly sought inner signs that they were among the elect; one such sign was perseverance in faith and the struggle against sin. Then there is ecclesiology. Haller acknowledges that there were Puritan congregationalists, who wanted each congregation to elect its own leaders. Overall, though, the Puritans in Haller’s presentation were presbyterians. Their desire was to replace the spiritually dead Anglican prelates with a spiritually robust presbytery (hierarchy), which would guide the nation to righteousness. Third, there is preaching. Puritan preaching employed plain speech and, while it did get into theology, it also had a strong component of application: how specifically Christians can act on the truth that they heard. I have encountered these ideas before, in some way, shape, or form, but Haller’s explication was a pleasure to read.
But then Haller gets into people who expressed ideas that did not seem particularly Puritan. There were thinkers who treated human reason as their Bible. Some took a belief in biblical truth (i.e., the Bible alone contains truth) to an advocacy of religious toleration and the separation of church and state. John Milton, who actually was part of the Puritan tradition, shied away from formal religious services and preferred to study the humanities over the Bible. Where these thinkers fit into Haller’s narrative was not entirely clear. He seems to treat them as other examples of religious dissidents, in addition to the Puritans.
B. Michael L. Brown. A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been. EqualTime, 2011.
Brown criticizes the LGBTQ rights movement, the increasing promotion and acceptance of homosexuality in Western culture, and the attempt to marginalize, suppress, and persecute traditionalist voices. Brown refers to scholars (i.e., psychologists) who are opposed to homosexual relationships, who believe that conversion therapy is a viable option for some people, and who see a desire to change one’s gender as a psychological problem that can be addressed through therapy, similar to psychological urges for people to cut off their hands and feet. Brown attacks the argument that homosexual orientation is genetic on a variety of fronts. One front, of course, is the “so what?” argument: lots of sins are genetic, but that does not make them right or healthy. But Brown also wonders where bisexuality fits into the claim that homosexuality is genetic. There seems to be a movement away from merely claiming that homosexuality is genetic and cannot be helped, to suggesting that people should be able to follow whatever sexual inclination they might fancy, so long as it does not directly harm others. Particularly controversial, and misunderstood, is Brown’s treatment of pedophilia in this book. Brown essentially argues that some scholars make the same arguments about pedophilia that have been made in favor of homosexuality: that it is an inclination that cannot be helped, and that it is not necessarily harmful as is generally assumed. How can we accept those arguments for homosexuality, Brown wonders, while rejecting them for pedophilia?
Some reactions. First, part of what Brown argues resonates with me. If I were to define my position on this issue (and, yes, I use the term “issue,” as offensive as it may be to leftist Nazis), it is essentially pluralism. I am not in favor of criminalizing homosexual sex, and I am open to the state treating homosexual marriages as the legal equals to heterosexual marriages. But I also believe that society should respect traditionalist positions. Consequently, at times, I donate to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has successfully defended the rights of Christians to take a stand for the traditional position, without losing their livelihoods. Unfortunately, the Left has moved from the tolerant position of Barack Obama in 2008, to treating any criticism of homosexuality as the equivalent to racism, to be stamped out. Where the issue gets murky is when it involves children. I agree with Brown that conversion therapy should be an option for some people, but should parents be allowed to force that on their children? One can ask the same question about liberal parents who pressure their children to change their gender.
Second, Brown could have done a better job articulating and defending a sexual ethic. Okay, so some make the same arguments for pedophilia that gay activists make for homosexuality. What exactly makes both wrong? Personally, I think, on the basis of anecdotal evidence, that pedophiles’ acts towards minors is harmful to children: it compromises boundaries and blurs boundaries in the victims’ minds (making them potential predators), exposes children to what they may not fully understand, and lacks full consent. On what makes homosexuality wrong, Brown, as was said above, refers to traditionalist psychologists. Some of his quotations of them seem rather biased—-like they want the evidence to turn out a certain way because of their religious commitments—-but they most likely advance arguments for their conclusions, much like the APA’s acceptance of homosexuality was probably biased yet cited arguments.
Third, I am ambivalent about Brown’s work, in general. His work is well-researched and thus is worth reading, but he often conveys a smug tone that gets on my nerves.
Fourth, the book seems to rely a lot on the “ick” factor. Brown seems to expect his audience to see homosexual sex as gross, conveying a tone of “Can you believe they are actually promoting this?” In 2011, that may have been effective. It may still be, but LGBTQ activists have succeeded in mainstreaming homosexuality among many, particularly millennials, so the “ick” factor may not work as well now.
C. Laura Ingraham. Billionaire at the Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump. St. Martin’s, 2017.
—. Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America. Regnery, 2003.
—. The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places. Hyperion, 2000.
I decided to read some Laura Ingraham books. I like Ann Coulter better, since she gets into a lot of history, policy, and critiques of liberal arguments. But Laura Ingraham was a breezy, enjoyable read.
Billionaire at the Barricades does three things. First, it narrates Republican politics from the time of Goldwater to that of Trump. Second, Ingraham talks about her personal interaction with that history. Ingraham’s parents were conservatives who disdained Rockefeller Republicans, Ingraham worked as a modest speechwriter in the Reagan Administration, and Ingraham was marginalized by the George W. Bush Administration for her opposition to illegal immigration. Ingraham also talks about her interaction with figures, like Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, and Monica Crowley, while taking delightful jabs at Al Gore and Rachel Maddow. Third, Ingraham praises, yet critiques, Trump. Again, this is a breezy, enjoyable read, albeit not very robust in argument and policy.
Shut Up & Sing was published in 2003. While Ingraham is more of an anti-war paleocon nowadays (at least as I write this in April 2020), she supported the Iraq War in 2003. This book is a little more robust in argument and policy than Billionaire. Ingraham briefly argues that the U.S. is benevolent towards the Middle East rather than exploiting it for its oil. In terms of the UN, she appears to vacillate between the John Bircher fear of the UN as an oppressive globalist force and the conventional conservative view that the UN is weak and ineffectual in countering dictatorships and human rights abuses. Interestingly, Ingraham thinks the U.S. should remain in the UN rather than withdrawing from it because, otherwise, the UN would be a formidable military force that could challenge the U.S. This book gets annoying when Ingraham acts as if the anti-war movement is wrong because Communists are in it, as if Communists lack valid critiques of war; yes, I think war often does serve financial elites, sacrificing innocent lives in the process. The book is slightly interesting when Ingraham attempts to profile the average Hollywood actor, who is not exactly part of the one per-cent but is often financially on the edge, seeking a big break.
The Hillary Trap was the best of the three books, for it was very policy-oriented. Ingraham takes on the charge that the U.S. spends more on health care for men than women, that women are paid unequally for the same work, and that mandated paid family leave benefits women. She makes some of the usual predictable points that conservatives make: that women work fewer hours and take lower positions because they are raising their children, and that mandated family leave discourages the hiring of women. In some cases, I learned something new: she argues, for example, that family leave in Europe has downsides for women in terms of their employment. Ingraham also denies that she is seeking to turn the clock back to the 1950’s. As the title indicates, the book is a critique of Hillary. Much of this relates to Hillary’s policies: Hillary supports gun control, when women find guns helpful in protecting themselves; Hillary expects the government to take care of women, as if they are helpless; Hillary marginalizes successful female entrepreneurs. A significant part of the critique is personal: Hillary fails to be a good role model for women because Hillary succeeded on the coat-tails of her husband, tolerating his philandering so she could rise politically. Near the end of the book, she talks about religion: Ingraham’s journey from being a successful, religiously-indifferent person to becoming a person of faith, and how the death and personal growth of her mother played a role in that. This part of the book was moving. The book raises valid points. There is another side, of course. I found Susan Faludi’s Backlash to be an effective critique of conservative arguments, as Faludi presents women as hardworkers in need of higher incomes to raise their families, and yet as the victims of sexism.