A Million Little Votes

by JR Daeschner

With each US election, the question among Christians sounds ever-more desperate: 'Who will you vote for?'

And not for nothing.

As a Christian who happens to be American, you could be forgiven for thinking the choice is between a party bent on killing the unborn or a party bent on making the poor wish they'd never been born.

Who would Jesus vote for?

To make it more difficult, we've been conditioned to believe that not voting is a patriotic sin: we'll be 'wasting our vote,' throwing away the right for which so many people have fought and died.

We rarely hear the Christian counter-argument, though: over the centuries, myriad men and women have sacrificed themselves so that we could be free to pray and read the Bible—enabling us to know God and be known by Him—yet few Americans exercise these far more essential freedoms.

Adding insult to irony, the same political system we're meant to be voting for is now eroding the religious freedom that made it possible in the first place.

Nearly two centuries before the Enlightenment elite congratulated themselves on the Constitution, grassroots Nonconformists were actually building democracy from the ground up in their own congregational church communities in New England.

Today, whether or not you endorse a presidential frontrunner probably falls under the freedom we have in Christ—a question for each of us to ask God.

But far more important than ticking a ballot every couple of years is how we comport ourselves in our daily lives, the external actions that reflect our internal beliefs: how we spend our time and money, behave at work, and treat the poor… what TV, movies, music and books we subject our minds to… and whether we eat to live or live to eat.

In short, the million little votes we cast from day to day.

Living in New England, one of the more bemusing aspects of the campaign is the shock that self-styled progressives in New York profess at the billionaire they helped create.

Had they 'voted' decades ago not to give him the oxygen of publicity, not to patronize his hotels (much less his casinos), and not to promote him as the star of a reality TV show that beamed him into the homes of millions of Americans, well, they might not be faced with the prospect of him being president.

In other words, with their time and money and indulgence, more than a few of his political opponents collaborated in creating their own worst nightmare.

On a more local note, the Connecticut Post traced the corruption of the mayor of Bridgeport back to a night out on the town with that same billionaire in 1994, when he was angling to exploit the poor in Park City with a new casino.

As a Christian, it's not for us to judge the behavior of non-believers, or of those who claim to love the Bible but show no real knowledge of it (say, by calling II Corinthians 'Two Corinthians').

But we are called to be accountable for our own behavior and to be obedient to our Lord.

To get an idea of the impact when Christians try to practice what Christ preached, consider the current pope.

It's astonishing (and more than a little revealing) that in nearly 800 years, no other pontiff has taken as his namesake St. Francis of Assisi, the humble preacher who famously devoted himself to imitating Christ: particularly in his fellowship with the poor and stewardship of God's creation.

And the reaction from the secular world to Francis the First has been remarkable (and even a little shame-inducing if you're a Protestant).

Headline after incredulous headline has documented his departures from the kingly status quo: Here's a pope who lives in the Vatican guesthouse! Who eats with common workers! Who visits a refugee camp and takes some home to live in Rome!

It's like the world. Has never seen. A practicing Christian!

Of course, this isn't to venerate the pope or argue that we should seek the approval of men.

But the headlines do highlight that deep down, the world wants to see Christ.

And we have the chance to show Him to them.

So when it comes to the movies you watch, the magazines you read, the music you listen to—all the different ways you spend the time and money God has given you—who will you vote for?


Larry Flynt Was My Fleece (or How a Book about Sex Turned Me Into a Christian)

by JR Daeschner

In the end, it was the lies that got to me.

I was in Pompeii, you see, researching what I hoped would be my next big book, a History of Sex that would venture between the past and present, revealing the origins of our notions about love and romance.

Besides the obvious reasons, I'd picked Pompeii because of one little-known fact: the Roman ghost town is the site of the first known reference to the word 'Christian,' dating from around the time that the Apostle Paul visited nearby.

Even more intriguingly, the house that contained the 'CHRISTIANOS' graffiti stands across from Pompeii's brothel (and may have been a whorehouse itself).

But what struck me most was an offhand remark by Pompeii's chief archeologist as he tried to explain the exponential growth of an obscure Semitic sect just a few decades after Rome had crucified its leader like a criminal:

"No religion had ever spread so rapidly in such a capillary manner before."

And that got me wondering why.

Having been raised a Christian, I'd turned my back on the faith partly because I believed the lie that Christianity was anathema to knowledge--I thought that the more you learned about the "real world," the less faith you inevitably had.

As I began to discover, though, that wasn't necessarily true.

If anything, I came to realize that Christians have nothing to fear from learning--while the secular world has a lot to lose from an unbiased look at our past.

I soon learned, for instance, that it was Christ and his followers who gifted the concept of redemption to Western culture--the revolutionary promise that even a prostitute could be redeemed (as opposed to the once-a-whore, always-a-whore ethos of the ancient world).

And it was the early Christians who fought to stop Roman infanticide (making the modern Church's stance on abortion remarkably consistent), while it was Christ's gender-neutral character that enabled women to identify with Him and call themselves Christians--or 'little Christs.'

Contrast Jesus with Mohammed--a celibate pacifist versus a warmonger with a harem--and you can see why feminism took root in traditionally Christian societies.

Whereas polygamy inherently devalues women, it was Paul--the supposed source of Christian "misogyny"--who officially broke with Jewish custom and made marriage one-to-one, mandating that each Christian leader have only one wife and (contrary to Roman practice) actually be faithful to her.

In other words, it's very likely that the only reason Western women dare to demand monogamy from men now is because of centuries of Christianization.

Yet somehow the world continues to slander Christianity as "sex-negative"--and misogynistic to boot.


The cognoscenti will tell you that Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is largely disregarded now, while blithely overlooking his pervasive impact on pop culture and the wreckage it's caused.

For instance, thanks to Freud's declaration that all children want to have sex with their parents (the Oedipus complex), many of his followers dismissed actual cases of sex abuse as wishful fantasies.

And it was one of Freud's disciples, Wilhelm Reich, who helped inspire the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties and Seventies, a period that most documentaries depict as an eminently groovy time to be alive.

But have you ever heard them mention its seedy side?

At a time when erstwhile "perversions"--homosexuality, sadomasochism, etcetera--were being declared perfectly normal, many "revolutionaries" argued that pedophilia was just another avenue for sexploration.

After all, who was to say that consensual sex with children was wrong? Or, as a Dutch magazine for gays put it in 1969, "Why Not Go To Bed With Your Son?"

Modern "pedophile activists" still regard those as the good old days. In the Netherlands, I interviewed the co-founder of an ultra-fringe political party trying to legalize pedophilia.

Who did he blame for putting an end to the child-sex movement? An alliance between an all-but-extinct branch of feminism (they wouldn't have called pole dancing "empowering") and--you guessed it--devout Christians.

That was a truth I heard repeatedly, be it from a dodgy Russian biznesman in Venice or an American pimp in Prague: Christianity acts as a check on decadence.

And time and again, I came across Westerners who were having to relearn history's lessons the hard way.

In Amsterdam, I met a former prostitute turned politician who led a crackdown that shut much of the Red-Light District.

"If you're a Christian organization, people don't want to hear (your views on prostitution) because you're Christian," she told me. "But it's new when a politician from the leftwing says it's not good!'

As for pornography, I interviewed one of the makers of the "Max Hardcore" franchise in LA, a man who's filmed some of the worst violence against women outside of warzones.

"With the sex business, you gotta keep ratcheting up," he said. "It's kinda like violence in movies. You gotta keep ratcheting up. People get inured at a certain point—it's gotta be more, greater, nastier. Filthier."

Funnily enough, that's just what porn's (Christian) opponents say.


Meanwhile, the media routinely hail Hustler founder Larry Flynt as a hero of the First Amendment, a martyr to free speech.

But did you know he once claimed to be a born-again Christian--and that during his conversion, he had a premonition of himself in a wheelchair?

I asked him about it at his headquarters in Beverly Hills. He admitted that if he had closed Hustler after his conversion--rather than continue defending it in court--he might never have been shot, and he wouldn't be paralyzed today.

Up close and in person, rather than a hero, Flynt looks like just another casualty of porn, a man who's made millions but lost everything that counts, including his "soulmate" and much of his family.

All of this eventually resonated with me.

Lie after lie, I kept coming back to the faith whose truths had been proven over centuries: rules and values that built Western civilization, not because God is a god of arbitrary demands, but because "God so loved the world."

Sure, I also experienced some personal and professional disasters (it's surprising how low some of us have to go before finally surrendering).

But ultimately once I realized the truth, the inevitable question became--what do you do with it? Or "who do you say that I am?"

Some may question my decision to publish The History of Sex.

Well, all I can say is I prayed about it. A lot. And Larry Flynt was my fleece (but that's another story…)

For those of you who struggle to reconcile faith with the "real world" (particularly sex), take it from someone who's had to learn the hard way: the Truth really will set you free.

* * *


One for the Calendar

As holidays go, trying to add National Humiliation Day to the calendar would be a tough sell, wouldn't it?

But for followers of Christ, it might make sense.

One thing you rarely hear about the Pilgrims is that in addition to their famous Days of Thanksgiving, they held Days of "Humiliation"—fasting and praying as a reminder to humble themselves before God.

This wasn't just puritanical overkill, either.

Grace by Eric Enstrom
This famous image is actually a picture of a real man.
Enstrom photographed Charles Wilden praying in Minnesota in 1918.

In addition to their day-to-day discipleship, our spiritual ancestors held communal Days of Humiliation whenever they were desperate for God's guidance.

And they were often desperate.

Having been hounded out of England, they settled in Holland for over a decade until the prospect of the Spanish Inquisition spreading north finally drove them from Europe.

Before fleeing to the New World, fearing for their lives and the souls of their children, they cried out to the Lord with an "abundance of tears" in a day of "solemn humiliation."

Their inspiration was yet another historical event where God used the weak to humble the proud, choosing a scribe called Ezra and a ragtag remnant of Hebrews to do the seemingly impossible: rebuild Jerusalem—right in the midst of their enemies. "There at the river… I proclaimed a fast," Ezra recalled, "that we might humble ourselves before our God, and seek of Him a right way for us, and for our children, and for all our substance." (Ezra 8:21)


Centuries later, as an anguished group of European refugees prepared to leave the world they knew for the complete unknown, they took comfort in remembering all the faithful before them who had been "strangers and pilgrims on the earth." (Hebrews 11:13)

Rather than looking to what they were leaving behind, America's Pilgrims "lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits."

To me, this abject humility before God makes Thanksgiving all the more poignant: a day of fasting as a counterpoint to a day of feasting; a day of reminding ourselves that we don't deserve God's mercy, followed by a day of thanking Him for all He's given us.

In that light, Thanksgiving only truly has meaning as a disciple of Christ; without Him, it's just a vague act of gratitude to some agnostic spirit in the sky, a pause before pursuing more "happiness" on the consumerist hamster wheel.

As Christians, though, it's worth asking: Do we actively humble ourselves before God? Do we ever intentionally do without? Do we fast and pray?

What if some of Jesus' less palatable sayings—like "Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry" (Luke 6:25)—apply to us?

As we celebrate the legacy of our Nonconformist ancestors, Thanksgiving might also be a time to ponder what it means to be a Christian and an American, and how compatible these two identities are in the 21st century.

If you're actively seeking God's guidance this holiday season, maybe even crying out to Him with an "abundance of tears," I hope you'll take heart from these examples from the past: they aren't just stories; they're historical facts.

God has repeatedly used unlikely people and circumstances to accomplish the most unlikely feats, and He'll continue do so as long as we seek His will.


The Anti-Dawkins: Are We Hardwired to be 'Selfish' or 'Social'? (Part 3 of 3)

But Roughgarden's not alone in her critiques.

In The Genial Gene, she cites a Japanese study that casts doubt on 'the ultimate poster child of sexual selection': the peacock.

Darwin thought that the only reason peacocks would risk attracting predators with their plumage was because they must be even more desperate to attract mates.

For their part, peahens supposedly judge the quality of males' genes by the beauty of their tail feathers.

After more than seven years of studying peafowl, however, the authors of the Japanese study came to a stunning conclusion: there was no evidence that peahens had any preference for peacocks with fancier trains.

Even more damningly, they noted that other studies also had mixed results.

As Roughgarden puts it, 'those in the UK generally support the sexual-selection narrative, while those elsewhere do not… raising suspicion of publication bias.'

Roughgarden's own work makes you wonder whether the tooth-and-claw view of sex and nature is inherently true or just a 'de-facto truth' because we've been conditioned to believe it.

'How power relates to sex is not a biological universal,' she writes. 'We may choose to live like some species and not others.'

And it could be that sexual selection has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with men conditioned to believe that they have to show off to attract females—'pick-up artists' actually call it 'peacocking' (citing Dawkins).

Meanwhile, women have learned to respond accordingly, rewarding 'alpha males' and 'bad boys' with their affections, even though they might be better off with nice beta and epsilon blokes. Roughgarden takes evident delight in a review that hailed her work as 'a civilization-changer.'

'But I don't think it's being taken seriously enough yet for that engagement to occur,' she says.

'People suppose that it will just go away, that the triumph of the selfish-gene narrative will continue unabated. That's wishful thinking,' she shrugs, 'but it's a kind of euphoria before the crash.'

The beauty of science, though, is that those who shout the loudest aren't necessarily the most revered in the long run.

Around the same time that Darwin was publicizing his newfangled theory, a little-known Austrian was quietly working out the mechanics of evolution.

The scientific community didn't honor Gregor Mendel until after his death.

And for what it's worth, he wasn't an atheist, either.

'The father of modern genetics' was an Augustinian monk.

The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness is published by the University of California Press

J.R. Daeschner is the author of The History of Sex (But Not As We Know It): A Journey from Pompeii’s Oldest Brothel to Cold War Sexpionage, Angry Male Lesbians and Beyond

The Anti-Dawkins: Are We Hardwired to be 'Selfish' or 'Social'? (Part 2 of 3)

In contrast to Darwin's modern champions (most of whom are men), Roughgarden comes across as refreshingly humble and, well, genial, in person.

Over lunch at a charity-run café near her home in San Francisco, she tells me that she'd like to think of the British Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, as a friend.

Nevertheless, the title of her book is an obvious play on his work.

Roughgarden recalls teaching from The Selfish Gene after it came out in 1976. 'I noticed the appeal that a naturalized doctrine of selfishness has to certain students and to those in the general public who, for example, identify with Ayn Rand's writings that celebrate the ethic of individualism,' she writes.

However, Roughgarden argues that the days of 'the selfish-gene narrative' are 'numbered—they have to be numbered. It's not what birds and bees do. Like two birds in a nest: each is not trying to get the other to do all the work, which would be a typical proposition by which a selfish-gene proponent would try to understand the dynamics at a bird's nest.'

Instead, her theory of 'social selection' emphasizes cooperation and reproduction rather than competition and mating.

'(The) sophisticated constellation of decisions that females make about males goes far beyond the simplistic conceptualization that Darwin put forth: that all a female is searching for is a hulk with great genes,' she writes.

And just as Darwin was a man of his time, it's tempting to cast Roughgarden and Dawkins as stranger-than-fiction opposites in our own era.

She's a relatively obscure, 'transgendered female' from one of the most liberal parts of America—and a self-professed Christian to boot—while he's a celebrated male atheist who's literally a product of British imperialism, having been born the son of a civil servant in colonial Kenya.

Dawkins published The Selfish Gene the same year that the Seventies were dubbed 'The Me Decade', and in retrospect, you can't help but wonder if his book, complete with its talk of 'cheat' and 'sucker' strategies, has helped justify the Greed-is-Good capitalism that's since wrecked the world's economy.

Likewise, it's probably no coincidence that a 'transgendered' academic in California is now highlighting cooperation over competition at a time when the world is trying to recover from the damage.

And although scientists like to tout their objectivity, Roughgarden notes that the most scathing attacks against her have come from Darwin's homeland.

'It must be like a Brit coming over here and taking potshots at George Washington!' she laughs. 'They don't want a Yank takin' potshots at Darwin.'

The Anti-Dawkins: Are We Hardwired to be 'Selfish' or 'Social'? (Part 1 of 3)

Everybody knows that men compete for sex, while women hanker after 'alpha males,' right?

Well, at least one biologist argues that ain't necessarily so.

In fact, in The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness, Dr. Joan Roughgarden argues that Darwin and his disciples have got it wrong: that cooperation is as important as competition in nature, and sex is as much about relationships as reproduction—if not more so.

And if all that sounds like wishful thinking, then prepare to open your mind just a little bit further: the person behind this potentially revolutionary theory is a 'transgendered woman.'

Professor Roughgarden was known as Jonathan until the age of 52, when he took a sabbatical in 1998 and came back as a she.

Since then, as an evolutionary biologist at Stanford (with a doctorate from Harvard), Roughgarden has risked her academic cred by challenging one of the founding principles of evolution: Darwin's theory of sexual selection, a key corollary to natural selection.

In his follow-up to The Origin of Species, Darwin hypothesized that showboating traits like peacocks' tails and stags' antlers were physical manifestations of the life-or-death struggle to mate with females.

According to this very Victorian view—which still dominates evolutionary biology (not to mention popular thought)—external appearances indicate the quality of one's breeding.

'Males of almost all animals have stronger passions than females,' Darwin declared in The Descent of Man. 'The male is the more active member in the courtship of the sexes. The female, on the other hand, with the rarest of exceptions is less eager than the male… she is coy.'

However, Roughgarden argues that the theory of sexual selection is not just flawed but false: a relic of its time.

In doing so, she makes Darwin & Sons look like screaming male chauvinists.

'Darwin conceived his theory in a society that glamorized a colonial military and assigned dutiful, sexually passive roles to proper wives,' she wrote in her previous book, Evolution's Rainbow.

'In modern times, a desire to advertise sexual prowess, justify a roving eye and disregard the female perspective has propelled some scientists to continue championing sexual selection theory despite criticism of its accuracy.'


My bit for Obama-mania

Here's the article wot I wrote for Obama's inauguration.

Forget Dreams From My Father: Frederick Douglass' autobiography should be required reading in US history classes. I was ashamed to realize I'd never read it before.

You can check it out here.

True Brits Linkwithin

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