Perusing the News

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Perusing the News

Last week, I would rather have been at home in Northern Virginia shoveling snow. Instead, my scheduled meetings having been canceled at the last minute, I was stuck in Florida reading USA Today, the daily hotel handout, and thinking about the news.

"Syria peace talks on the verge of collapse." The article was a good summary of the past four years of war in Syria and the problem that there really are no good guys in this conflict. The regime of President Bashar al Assad is brutal and more than willing to kill civilians including women and children in order to hang onto power. According to the article, they're dropping "barrel bombs" that are like giant Molotov cocktails of fuel and explosives that burn everything and everyone nearby. The Syrian government is not the kind we really want to support.

But the rebels who oppose Assad are also vindictive, violent, and vicious with little regard for civilian lives or the lives of would-be allies who they deem "impious." It's no surprise given the strong influence of al-Qaeda among the rebels. The article quotes Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations who notes that if the Assad government is forced out, "Syrian soil would become a launching pad... for al-Qaeda, which is a grim outcome." Islamist terrorists have already crossed from Syria into Iraq "setting off car bombs and grabbing a toehold in the major Sunni cities of Fallujah and Ramadi." They're battling the government in Iraq, beheading captives.

The article I'm sorry to say never mentions the terrible plight of Syrian Christians and of Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria seeking safety. It's inaccurate to call them "the persecuted Church." There is only one Body of Christ and "when one suffers, all suffer" (1 Corinthians 12:26), when one is persecuted, all are persecuted.

By punditry convention, this is where I should explain my solution, but I have none and more than that, I'm quite certain that in Syria there is no good solution short of miraculous, divine intervention. It's unlikely that Syria will be on the front page tomorrow. Let's not forget to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters, for the suffering and dying, for peace, and for the oppressors on both sides.

"Judge: KY. must recognize same-sex marriages." The key phrase in what has become an unremarkable story (a federal judge in Virginia followed suit the next day) is the assertion by U.S. District Judge John Heyburn that Kentucky laws treat gays and lesbians in a "way that demeans them."

As Ron Highfield, Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University points out in his recent book God, Freedom, and Dignity, we live in a culture where respect for others "must be grounded in the inherent properties of the individual rather than in any external relation or order." That is, the argument that marriage is defined by Natural Law as a life-long covenant between one man and one woman is inherently disrespectful to those who feel it to be otherwise. Fullness of life for our culture, Highfield goes on, "can be found only in living according to nature as it is revealed in one's affections" because the "imperatives of morality come from within and cannot be imposed by an external authority."

In the battle for marriage, we have regularly appealed to external authority--divine revelation, Natural Law, even sociological studies on the outcomes for adults and children--and for the most part to no avail. As long as someone feels "demeaned" by the external authority, that authority is rejected through what Alasdair MacIntyre has called "emotivism," the notion that all truth comes from within.

These are two more-or-less random stories from the February 13, 2014 USA Today that appear unrelated. Bashar al Assad, al-Qaeda, and a federal judge in Kentucky have little in common on the face of it.

But everyone has a worldview and everyone acts in ways that are consistent with his or her worldview. Ideas have real-world consequences.

If your worldview values power, prestige, and privilege, you will use every means possible to attain and maintain power, prestige, and privilege including violence if  you can get away with it. If enforcing a strict religious conformity on everyone is your highest good, ruthless terrorism and the beheading of those who resist will seem useful means to the desired end. And if the truth about God, life, and morality is a matter of how I feel, I reject anyone and anything telling me what to do or how to live.

And of course, if the Bible and the teachings of orthodox Christianity are true we will live lives of love and defend them come what may.

James Tonkowich is a writer and scholar at The Institute on Religion & Democracy where his focus is the intersection between faith and the public square, where worldview makes all the difference in the world. Jim worked with Chuck Colson, managing his daily BreakPoint radio commentary, founding a magazine, writing, speaking, and developing curriculum including the Centurions Program. He is a regular contributor to and also works with The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, Oxford House Research, and other policy institutes. Learn more about Jim at