Monday, March 31, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rights and Duties

Every once and awhile, I come across Christians, and even lawyers who are Christians, who are comfortable with the idea of duties, but very uncomfortable with the idea of rights. There are also a number of interesting debates about exactly what a right is. I’m not sure there is a definitive answer to that question.

Some people believe that all rights have a reciprocal duty associated with them. A number of great legal scholars have maintained this, and a good friend of mine maintains this in conjunction with the theory that a right stems essentially from “belonging.” I suspect he may be right that belonging has something to do with rights, but I don’t think that’s really linked to the proper definition of a right. I’m skeptical about the idea that every right has a reciprocal duty. One reason is that when we think about the rights we’re familiar with, like the right to free speech, for example, the sort of duties we have to create are sort of backward, upside down kinds of duties. For example, in response to the right to free speech we could say the government has a duty not to interfere with someone else’s freedom of speech. But isn’t it kind of odd to say there is a duty not to do something? We don’t normally contend that people have an obligation to facilitate speech. Simply, the government should not stop proper free speech.

I think there is also some confusion involving rights that people maintain should be entitlements versus rights of the classic sort. For example, I would maintain that people do have a right to health care. But by that I mean that no one should interfere with someone else being able to procure or obtain health care. I also mean that in the ideal world, people would all be able to obtain good health care. I do not mean that the taxpayer has an obligation to pay for everyone else’s health care. Many people who think there’s a right to health care would maintain that the government (which really means all of us) has an obligation to pay for everyone’s health care. I do think that there is, instead, a sort of charitable moral obligation. Providers of health care have a moral obligation to help those who cannot afford health care, and, in fact, they generally do just that. Hospitals provide millions of people with free treatment every year when those people can’t afford to pay. But charity is something that has to be given from the heart willingly—it isn’t something that can be taken through the force of a legal coercive right. There is great difference between the fact that we ought to help the poor and saying that the poor can demand our help and make the government take money from us by force if we don’t help them. An entitlement of that sort in a sense makes giving meaningless.

Aristotle long ago argued that one of the reasons government should not eliminate private property was because eliminating private property deprives everyone of the opportunity to be virtuous. Virtue in large part deals with how we give our money and how we spend our money. If no one has any private property, there are no decisions about how to give or how to spend. Hence there is a whole area of virtue that remains undeveloped. By the same token, I don’t think it makes sense to recognize the existence of entitlement rights of the socialist sort because they too deprive people of the opportunity to be virtuous. We must maintain a distinction between moral duty and legal right in such cases. If we do decide, as a people, to provide money to the poor for food or health care, it should be seen as national charity given by all tax payers, and not something that can be demanded as an entitlement.

So if a right isn’t essentially always an entitlement and doesn’t involve a reciprocal duty in every case, what exactly is a right? My thought is that a right is a predisposition of justice. That is to say, based on God’s nature there is a certain order in which the universe is designed to function normatively. There are certain things that are good or evil, just or unjust, the way they’re supposed to be, or the way they’re not supposed to be. When things are in accord with this general order, we can say that they are just. There are then certain ways in which to describe a just order that indicate certain predispositions of the way things ought to be unless there are heavy countervailing factors. So for example, people ought to generally be free to practice whatever religious faith they believe in without anyone interfering with their freedom of conscience. They have a right to free exercise of religion. This right can occasionally be countervailed if, for example, an individual believes in practicing active human sacrifice. There is also a right to freedom of the press which can also be overridden temporarily during times of emergency and which is limited by the law of defamation. There is also a right in all cases of criminal and civil accusations to a full and fair hearing by an impartial tribunal, with proper rules of evidence, that allows for a good faith attempt at discovering the truth of what really happened, and that will base the ultimate disposition of the case on reality as it can best be determined. In countries like the United States, this right grows and blossoms in many particular customs associated with the way in which we provide this due process. But in certain situations, such as international combat with combatants who do not abide by or obey the principles of international law, a more minimal level of due process would be both practical and just. Hence rights are essentially shorthand descriptions of the general predisposition of justice—of the way things ought to be in a just order and just system. They do not necessarily create reciprocal duties but creation of duties or the existence of duties may be an appropriate way to maintain rights or to vindicate them.

So those are my basic ideas about rights. I’m curious about what you, the reader, think and if you are aware of anyone else who has said basically the same thing. Your comments are appreciated.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The California Home-Schooling Case In Re Rachel L.

On February 28, 2008, the Second Appellate District Division 3 of the Court of Appeal for California issued an opinion in the case called “In Re Rachel L.” This opinion denies that there is a fundamental right for parents without a teacher’s credential to homeschool their children outside the statutory exceptions to California’s compulsory education law. It does not ban all homeschooling. The sections of the law quoted by the court do not mention homeschooling, but have been interpreted to allow some homeschooling in certain circumstances, such as when parents with a teacher’s credential set up a private school in the home. The opinion is only an appellate opinion; it is not binding on all appellate districts in the state of California, but is only truly binding on courts in the Second Appellate District. The Second District includes Los Angeles and Ventura. Courts in other districts regard the arguments of fellow appellate courts in the same state as arguments that should be given attention and deference, but which need not be agreed with if the other courts disagree in good faith on what the law, as laid down by higher authorities or equal authorities, requires. The opinion is still significant because it is always damaging for an appellate court to deny the existence of a fundamental right that really exists, even if the court’s opinion has a narrow practical impact. The gradual and incremental accumulation of ideas in multiple opinions is how legal change often occurs. Each opinion going in the wrong direction makes it easier for another court to head in the wrong direction.

In Re Rachel L. is an extremely controversial case. Undoubtedly the judges involved mean well and are trying to apply the law as they see it to protect children and further the interests of the state and people of California. But judges are only human. And if they hear weak arguments for the truth and strong arguments for error, it is often easy to go the wrong way, particularly if the outcome seems best for the particular parties before the court as the court sees them. In Re Rachel L. may be a good example of the adage that bad facts make bad law. The court doesn’t come right out and say it, but it does insinuate in its opinion that it suspects the parents of the children involved in this case, or at least somebody in their home, of child abuse. It also suspects that the reason that children are being homeschooled is to prevent the discovery of that abuse. Now none of that may be even remotely true, but the court’s intuitions may color its approach to the case. The court also mentions that the father is said to have recently said that educating his children outside the home exposes them to “snitches.” (Not a helpful sentiment in litigating your case—although not the worst faux pas I’ve ever heard. The worst was a criminal sentencing hearing where the young defendant appeared in court with a tee shirt on that had a bloody skull cleft by a bloody hatchet on it.) If we’re going to take homeschooling to the Supreme Court, while it is difficult to control the sort of case that gets litigated, it would be much better if we had two unimpeachable but uncredentialed college professors giving their children a rigorous Great Books education who had been subjected to the ire of an unreasonable school board.

The whole tone of the opinion is that parents are somehow doing their children a disservice by homeschooling them. While there are undoubtedly those who do a poor job of homeschooling, nearly all parents love their children and want what they believe to be best for them. Most parents try to make sure that their children get a good education. Parents normally don’t choose to homeschool unless they obtain the resources and training necessary to make sure that they do a good job. I don’t think for a minute that being able to educate your children requires getting an education credential. While many education programs are no doubt excellent, and while knowing how to teach is beneficial, not all credentialed programs are helpful, not all credentialed persons know how to teach, and not all uncredentialed persons are unqualified to teach. I have known many people who are credentialed and actually attended a few classes with one person. My experience and the experience with my friend was that the California credentialing process is largely dedicated to political correctness and indoctrination and has little to do with actually learning how to teach students what they need to know. I also think that most parents love their children more than the average bureaucrat. While the set of people who want to homeschool their children may include a handful of the stereotypical anti-intellectuals, like those depicted as resisting public education in old 1960’s westerns, there are certainly plenty of teachers who mass produce educational problems within the public school system. To make a literary reference, there are “Dolores Umbridges” out there in the public school system in numbers at least comparable to bad homeschooling parents.

The appellate court notes that the trial court found a right to homeschool but still had some reservations about homeschooling. The trial court indicated that it was worried that homeschooling would interfere with the children’s ability to interact with people outside the family, deprive them of the help of people outside the family if something is “amiss” in the children’s lives, and prevent them from developing emotionally. While there might be rare cases in which these things are true, it certainly isn’t true for the vast majority of homeschooling parents. Law should be made based upon general truths about most people rather than on odd exceptional circumstances. After all, child abuse is already independently illegal. It isn’t necessary to outlaw homeschooling in order to try to prevent child abuse. My experience with homeschoolers is that they are more poised, better educated, better socialized, and far more capable in social interaction than the vast majority of people I meet who were educated in the public schools. I think that perhaps our system actually exposes students to peer pressure much earlier than it really should. Students are more capable of being socialized properly when they’ve been socialized in the family first. They’re much more likely to learn manners, good behavior, and a coherent worldview at home when properly homeschooled than they are in the incoherent post-modern collage of the public schools.

In the In Re Rachel L. opinion, the court briefly covers some of the cases that ought to be seen as supportive of a right to homeschooling and a few very old California cases that support compulsory public education. The court completely mis-states the holding in Pierce vs Society of Sisters 268 US 510, a Supreme Court of the United States case. The Pierce case allowed an injunction against a statute essentially banning private schools and requiring all children between the ages of 8-16 to attend public school. The U.S. Supreme Court believed that such a statue was unconstitutional in that it interfered with the liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The court in Pierce said:

“We think it entirely plain that the act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. As often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the state. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public [school] teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have a right, coupled with a high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

The In Rachel L. court tries to distinguish Pierce by saying that since California law allows alternatives to public education, it isn’t really unconstitutional. I think that the point of Pierce, however, is that states don’t have any business trying to standardize education. Parents have a right to guide their children’s education in different ways, and I think Pierce is correct in this respect. God has entrusted children to their parents. It is the responsibility of parents to raise children. There is nothing wrong with them delegating some of their children’s education to institutions voluntarily, but it is primarily the parents’ responsibility and the parents’ right to control and direct their children’s education. Parents have not given up that right to the state merely by being citizens of a republic. It is not merely a right, but also an obligation. While parents may allow others to help educate their children, it is ultimately the parents who are responsible for the education of their children. That responsibility should neither be taken lightly nor removed from the parents—even by a well-intentioned state.

Another case mentioned in In Re Rachel L. but not adequately dealt with is Meyer vs Nebraska 262 US 390. In Meyer, the Supreme Court of the United States invalidated a statute that made it unlawful to teach children the German language. The court notes that Plato and others have understandably sought to use education to mold children into model citizens. The court notes that the state does have the power to “compel attendance at some school and to make reasonable regulations for all schools.” But the court saw no reasonable basis for refusing children to learn German. The court notes that the Fourteenth Amendment is not merely about freedom from bodily restraint, “but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, to establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and, generally, to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the ordinary pursuit of happiness by free men.” I would argue that homeschooling is part of the fundamental right to bring up children to worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience. When we deprive parents of the opportunity to educate their children at home, we effectively make it possible for the state to abridge freedom of speech, conscience, and assembly by indoctrinating children while they are the most malleable and the most vulnerable.

If the state is genuinely concerned that students learn while being homeschooled, they merely have to set general standards. In any standard based test on general reading, writing, mathematics, or science, I imagine that most homeschooled children will exceed most public school children. So there is clearly a less restrictive means of obtaining the end of quality education, within the fundamental rights of parents, without a ban on homeschooling. I think that this failure to use this less restrictive means should render the current California compulsory education law unconstitutional. Credentialing is not as well tailored to the end, and places an unreasonable burden on the parents’ right to educate their children.

In most of the balance of the In Re Rachel L. opinion, the court deals with a variety of old California cases upholding California’s compulsory education statute at different stages of its development. What the court neglects to do is to deal with the advisory arguments in the dozens of cases in other jurisdictions that uphold the right to homeschooling. The court also fails to deal with the fact that homeschooling is considered a fundamental right in most other states. The fact that California’s compulsory education statute was believed constitutional in the 1950s or even in the 1960s certainly does not mean that it goes without saying that there is no fundamental right to homeschooling recognized today. If the weight of opinion outside of California had been on their side, I have no doubt that the court would have looked at opinions and realities in other states.

In the end, it’s very sad that the court has chosen to take this route. It is going to be necessary for those who believe in homeschooling to work to get this opinion de-published, overruled, or questioned. We also need to prepare for other appeals in other cases. We should also consult our legislators and try to get them to change the California law to expressly allow homeschooling. If all of this fails, we may need to undertake an initiative to amend the California constitution to provide an express recognition of the right to homeschool. The Pacific Justice Institute and the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund are already involved in these and other efforts to patch this “leak in the dam” and secure the right to homeschool in California. The governor of California and other public officials have been very supportive of the right to homeschool. This is a fight that can be won if approached properly. But until legal education begins producing more lawyers who believe in the fundamental right to homeschool and know how to argue for it, this right will always be in jeopardy. This is why law schools like Trinity are so important.

UPDATE: The Court of Appeal has vacated the original opinion and decided to rehear the appeal. This is great news. Now friends of the court like PJI and HSLDF should have an opportunity to file briefs and make sure that the legal arguments are fully presented to the court. While little is known about the case, it appears that did not happen last time around.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Are There Jurisdictions of Ideas?

Have you ever tried to have a discussion with someone in which you’re trying to persuade them of the truth, or to perhaps get the truth out of them, and instead of dealing with truth as though it were a unitary and seamless whole, they seek to avoid dealing with sticky problems of things we don’t know or things that appear contradictory by invoking a jurisdictional barrier between different sorts of ideas? For example, in the debate over intelligent design it is popular today for scientists to say “Oh I’m sorry, intelligent design is theology or philosophy, it just isn’t science.” In other words, they seek to rule out a discussion about what really happened by saying that the question of what really happened belongs in some other discipline that they’re not willing to talk about. I’ve found the same weakness in Aristotle. Aristotle is happy to assume that things have a telos or purpose within their design or nature. But Aristotle is unwilling to discuss the issue of the designer that must have been present for the design or nature to have normative implications. I don’t know enough about Ayn Rand to know if this is true of all her followers, but I’ve had at least one very intelligent believer in Ayn Rand’s philosophy tell me that she takes the human mind’s capacity to understand and reason through concepts for granted while having no explanation as to exactly why this capacity exists. Apparently Ms. Rand would say that that is an issue for science to discover rather than an issue for philosophy to determine. But of course this is an essential part of developing a philosophical system. The epistemology must not only explain that we have knowledge, but provide some coherent internally consistent theory about how it is possible for us to have that knowledge. If we do, in fact, have a knowledge of universals and, if as seems to be the case, universals cannot be known purely through empirical experience, it would seem that there must be a God who in some way illumines our minds or created our minds so that we can know, understand, and communicate universals like love, beauty, truth, and unity. And isn’t it also the case that we all have a knowledge of the greatest universal of all—God Himself. We both know He exists and have very little trouble understanding what sort of being He is despite the fact that while there is evidence for Him in the empirical world, His precise nature is not exactly like anything within the material world. Christians are not innocent of this either. One of the ways in which some Dutch Reformed political scholars have sought to deal with the problems of apparent conflicts between law, morality, science, etc. is to give them each spheres or jurisdictions in which each discipline is to be allowed to reign and rule regardless of the contrary implications of the others.

I don’t really believe it’s proper to divide up ideas by jurisdiction. God Himself is the source of all real truth and knowledge. God is a unity. While we can discuss His various attributes in a loose sort of way, those attributes are a unified whole within Him. We know what love is because of God embodying love. We know what justice is because of God’s embodiment of justice. It isn’t really possible though to truly separate love and justice completely because they all find themselves in God and God is a unified whole, not a patchwork quilt or picture puzzle assembled from unique pieces. And so it is with all truth. While human beings cannot know everything, both because of our lack of ability and our lack of time, we divide ideas up into disciplines that we study independently like nibbling at various items on a smorgasbord, but truth itself is not easily divided. There is no dividing line between realities scientific, philosophical, theological, or ethical. Things are either real and true or not. The demarcations between areas of study do not indicate demarcations between areas of reality. I would suggest that when we invoke the jurisdictional barriers, we are often trying to escape from truth rather than to pursue and discover it. It is almost always a mistake to try to escape from truth. Fleeing or repressing the truth almost always has negative consequences. Indeed, since truth is tied up in and bound to God Himself, whenever we say yes to genuine truth, we are saying yes to God, and whenever we flee genuine truth, we are fleeing God Himself. Of course I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to say that we always know particular things to be true or that we will in this life know everything that is true or only believe things that are true. But as a philosophical predisposition, we ought to pursue genuine truth rather than seeking to avoid it. And I think that when we invoke jurisdictional barriers as a means of avoiding contradictions within our thought, we are, in fact, often trying to escape the truth.

Monday, March 17, 2008

David Forte on the Commerce Clause

On March 7, I was happy to attend a meeting of the local Federalist Society chapter. We heard an excellent presentation by Professor David Forte on the Commerce Clause. Forte pointed out how in most of the jurisprudence since the late 1940s the Supreme Court has given the Congress a blank check for legislating about nearly anything via the justification of the Commerce Clause. This is problematic to people who see the Constitution as attempting to set up a government of limited powers. It also seems contrary to the founders’ intent. Why specify carefully in the Constitution that the Congress had the power to legislate about things like patents and post offices if the Commerce Clause was meant to legislate about everything?

Forte points out that two of the major approaches to a more limited version of the Commerce Clause involve either a quantitative approach or a qualitative approach to how the problem the legislation seeks to remedy affects interstate commerce. Forte proposes a fourth alternative to the blank check, the qualitative or the quantitative approach based on the opinions of Judge Benjamin Cardozo. Forte believes that Cardozo was really advocating a foreseeability based proximate cause approach to Commerce Clause litigation. The Congress would need to show that the mischief they were legislating against had a foreseeable proximate causal impact on commerce. This does seem like an interesting alternative.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: The Harry Potter Books

I have just finished reading all seven of J.K. Rowling’s books about Harry Potter. I have both praise and a caution.

There tends to be a great battle among Christians between those who reject the Harry Potter books completely because they involve witchcraft, and those who love the Harry Potter books because they incorporate Christian themes such as the struggle between good and evil and life after death. I think that both sides are partially right and partially wrong.

I would first give my cautionary warning: the Harry Potter books are not fit for small children who do not yet know that the occult is wrong or know the difference between real good and real evil. The Harry Potter books are very complicated. One of the major themes of the books is death. Another major theme is the problem of revenge, dislike, hatred, and anger. For children’s books involving children at school, the books are extremely violent. And it is true that the books do incorporate some ideas and practices from the world of secondary witchcraft and historic alchemy. Children who do not understand why magic is wrong are likely to pick up sticks to use as wands and to go around attempting to cast spells as part of their play after reading the Harry Potter books. I think there is a risk that reading Harry Potter could interest children in the occult or in possible experiments with alchemy (that could be physically dangerous). But the books do not actually create a view of witchcraft or alchemy that makes it practical in the real world. So for older and more mature children, I do not think that the books are particularly dangerous. Indeed, if one understands them, the books can be quite enjoyable.

After having read the books, I am willing to accept that J.K. Rowling may be a Christian of some sort. She does incorporate a variety of Christian themes and arch-types in her work. It is also true that she is a post-modern person and incorporates some of the themes, ideas, and approaches of the post-modern worldview either consciously or unconsciously. Nevertheless, I must say that the Harry Potter books are a magnificent work of literature and enjoyable to read.

Many others have already documented the amazing literary aspects of the Harry Potter series. One of the most well-known is John Granger, author of Looking for God in Harry Potter, Unlocking Harry Potter, and a blog at Granger describes many of the ways in which Rowling incorporates Christian themes, pays homage to classic Christian literature such as Dante, and incorporates a philosophy of character change called literary alchemy. I haven’t read Granger’s books and have only looked at his blog, but I definitely think that he is on to something.

The Harry Potter books are not just separated individual stories, but rather are each part of a larger story. Ideas that are mentioned in the first book and the subsequent books culminate together to explain and set up the situation in the final book. Every little tidbit of information that you’re given by the author is used at some point or other in the course of the stories. They form a whole that is locked together in quite an amazing way. In a sense, this sort of writing in which past events, current events and future events all come together to work things out just perfectly is a literary testimony to providence. In a random world, it would not be the case that people would always learn along the way exactly the fact that they will need to know in order to solve a problem near the end. And yet this is exactly what happens in these books and in many other Christian works of literature such as the writings of C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, not to mention writers like Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare. Writing that expresses a providentially guided reality is antithetical to the materialist scientific worldview whether its adherents recognize this or not. These books can be said to reflect a Christian worldview if for no other reason than because they clearly reflect a world that is guided by providence in which things work out as though they were planned even though they could not have been planned by mere mortals.

Another aspect of the books that could be thought of as consistent with the Christian worldview is Rowling’s admission of the reality of good and evil. Rowling describes a world in which all human beings are flawed. All struggle with sin and difficulty within themselves. But some of them are clearly worse than others, having sold themselves out to purer and more vicious forms of evil. But there are aspects of Rowling’s dealings with good and evil that are somewhat post-modern – that is to say they imply a world in which morality is relative to culture, family, or individual rather than implying a world in which morality is flowing from a universally accessible objective moral order. While Rowling incorporates many good themes and plot motifs that reject racism, bigotry, and stereotypes in a variety of ways, there are at least three examples of a more post modern approach to morality. First, Rowling almost seems to accept that being on the “dark arts” side of things is in some way natural and acceptable for some people. Second, the witches and wizards slice and dice various relatively intelligent sentient creatures in order to make their potions and medicinal compounds with no moral qualms. And, third, no real thought is given to the question of whether or not practices like divination might be wrong rather than merely ineffective.

There are ways in which Rowling attempts to make her magical world more compatible with the Christian world. For example, she admits in one of the later books that ghosts are not actually the souls of dead people but rather “projections” of them. She is not at all clear about what may or may not happen to people after death. At one point, Harry despairs about facing death. He does see visions of people who have gone on to death before him. But are these, like the ghosts, merely projections or are they actually the real souls of the real departed people?

The magic in Harry Potter differs from that in Narnia and Middle Earth in that it looks so much more like our popular images of occult magic – black pointed hats and all. But, the magic used in Harry Potter is, as other writers have pointed out, “incantational” rather than “invocational.” In other words, people are witches and wizards in Rowling’s world because they have magic in them that they are able to project into the outside world in accord with various laws not unlike the laws of physics. In the Christian worldview, occult power is generally seen as flowing from the invocation or use of the power of unclean demonic spirits. In the real world both invocational and incantational magic are problematic. While magic, in the occult sense, may seem like an application of laws like the laws of physics, it is, in a sense, an attempt to force God’s hand or to make the universe function in certain ways that it is not actually designed to function in – to obtain forbidden power by forbidden means. The way Rowling deals with magic in her books makes it seem quite different - like a natural talent, power, or ability within certain human beings. The mature can accept this conceit in literature. The weak of character may be lead astray by it unless assisted or guided by the more mature. After a thousand years of Christian freedom in the west, most people have come to deny the existence of spiritual power. Indeed, most appearances of the occult in the west are shams, frauds, and play acting. But, as C.S. Lewis has written, there is real personal evil in the world, and it is as much a mistake to ignore the reality of evil as it is to become obsessed with it. But one can read Harry Potter without being drawn into the occult.

Some people have suggested that in Rowling’s world the distinction between wizards and witches on the one hand and non-magical people known as “muggles” on the other, is one that involves two different species, and hence there is no real problem with genuine humans getting involved in magic. But this is not true. In Rowling’s world, children of normal muggle parents can be born with enough magic in them to be witches or wizards. By the same token, the children of witches or wizards can be born without magic in them and be what they call“squibs.” No explanation is offered as to why some people have this innate magical power versus others, but the innate magical power seems to render them far more durable than non-magical human beings. Characters of the Harry Potter stories survive many physical injuries that would clearly prove fatal to non-magical people in the real non-magical world. The apparent between children attempting to become witches or warlocks like those in the Harry Potter stories is not their muggle birth, but rather the problem that we have no magic wands made with the magical creature parts such as dragon heartstrings or unicorn hairs required for the direct application of magical power in Rowling’s magical world. But I don’t suppose this will stop new ageish human beings from looking for such magical devices even though they cannot exist.

But while I would disagree with many of the ways in which Rowling goes about her project, no one who has read the books can contest that she tries to deal with some important themes. Rowling emphasizes the power importance of both real love and romantic love. Truly God’s love is far more important, but one must understand and deal with the realities of romantic love as well in order to fully live life in the real world. Rowling also illustrates the problems of prejudices and loyalties, but from a very post-modern aspect. She shows how they can turn out well or turn out badly, but that the way they turn out is in many ways almost beyond the control of those who have them. Rowling also extensively mocks government. But then one must admit that government is so often worth mocking. I wonder if Rowling realizes that the Ministry of Magic in her books is more like the real labor government of England not because it abuses civil rights, but because it fails to recognize the true nature and power of radical Islamo-Fascism in much the same way that the Ministry of Magic refused to recognize the return of Voldemort (Rowling’s villain).

The Harry Potter books start out at a lower reading level and gradually increase to a higher reading level. The vocabulary goes from relatively simple to relatively complex. The concepts and situations to which the reader is exposed go from the dramatic but simple to the deeply complicated and troubling. In that sense, the books do appear to be designed to correspond to the growth and continued education of children over time. But as I say, I don’t think that Harry Potter is really good for young children who don’t understand why the occult is bad or who don’t understand the difference between good and evil and the importance of not taking revenge or of disliking people purely because they have irritating personalities. On the other hand, the books are extremely enjoyable and a wonderful reading experience for mature readers. They can stimulate thinking about character, loyalty, romance etc. The books are suspenseful, engaging, and fun.

Christian adults should read Harry Potter in order to be culturally literate. I believe that they will be seen as classical literature at some point in the future. Certainly a variety of elements including the fairy tale of the Deathly Hallows will be grist for the English professional journal writing mill for decades to come. For people who have any sort of reservation about adding to J.K. Rowling’s already vast wealth, the books can always be read by checking them out from the library or buying copies at used bookstores. But they probably should be read—just don’t go out and try to do any magic because of what you read.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Obama's Abortion Views

Michele McGinty of “Reformed Chicks Blabbing” ( at Beliefnet posted a story on March 5, 2008, drawing attention to Obama’s extreme pro-abortion position. She, in turn, linked a Wednesday, March 5, 2008, post from Between Two Worlds ( ) that documents Obama’s systematic opposition to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act over a period of three years when he not only voted against the bill, but argued against it on the floor of the Senate twice. The post in turn linked a January 10, 2008, article by Jill Stanek describing the ten reasons why Obama was opposed to Illinois’ Born Alive Infant Protection Act when he was a state senator. It is worth noting that the ten reasons are all notably bad. Obama tries to claim that the activity forbidden by the bill—letting babies born alive during an abortion live—never occurs. This is simply not true. There are documented instances of it. And if it never did occur, there would be no legitimate reason for not making it illegal. Obama also shows his lack of understanding of legislative distinctions by claiming that making a baby born alive as the result of an abortion a person would require that unborn babies also be regarded by the law as persons. I certainly do believe that the law should regard unborn babies as persons, but unfortunately, this is an easy distinction for courts to make because they think personhood status is something they can assign or take away. Obama also thought that allowing the babies to live would be a “burden on women” which makes no sense at all. The natural mother will not need to raise the baby. She need never hear about it again. Obama also claimed that there is no reason to oppose abortion that is not tied to a particular faith. This is simply not true. Even people who have no faith at all can recognize the idea that a human being is human and entitled to human rights from conception when its biological life obviously begins rather than at some arbitrary point chosen for the convenience of other human beings. As Hadley Arkes has pointed out, we would consider it tyranny of the grossest kind if we applied the same sort of logic to any other class of human beings. Obama also tried to claim that the Born Alive Protection Act was purely political. This too is an argument that makes little or no sense. Obviously the bill has an effect or no one would be interested in passing it.

For all his supposed warm fuzziness and desire to find a new way, it would appear that Obama’s position on abortion is actually harsh, extremist, and old. It is decidedly not warm and fuzzy. There is nothing kind and generous about allowing a living newborn to die simply because its mother had tried to kill it earlier and been unsuccessful. Nearly everyone in the House and Senate have been unanimous in supporting the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. Opposition to it is indeed an extremist position.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dean McConnell on

I recently had the pleasure of appearing on's radio show. I was a guest for the show on God and Governing, and a guest host for the recent show on globalization. On the show we did not have time to get into all the negative aspects of globalization, but we did talk about the opportunities it presents for the gospel. Both shows are available as pod casts at the web site at:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Christian View of Human Law

We have uploaded my lecture on A Christian View of Human Law to Godtube. It is in three 30 minute segments. There is no video to it, so the viewer will see a few pictures as they listen. You may want to press pause as soon at it begins and give it some time to load.

You can also find them at Trinity's Profile on Godtube.