What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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Location: Edmonds, Washington, United States

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Ridiculous AP headline of the month, part 2

Forgive me, but "Ga. Couple Claims $275 Lottery Jackpot" just hardly seems worth getting excited about.


Just a few feet from shore

Good news for people who have two left feet...


Is unconditional love a bad idea?

Tonight while I was browsing the Internet, aliens kidnapped me. Everything went black for 45 minutes, and when I woke up I was reading WorldNetDaily. That's as good an explanation as any for how I got there.

I came across a Valentine's Day column by Dennis Prager, who's a conservative Jewish radio talk show host, with the provocative title "Unconditional love: what a crock." He makes six points, five of which I have no substantial problem with. But then there is point #3.

3. That is one reason the notion of "unconditional love" is foolish. The fact is we all earn love, and it is a good thing to have to do so. What possible good purpose can the belief that your spouse loves you unconditionally – i.e., no matter how you act – serve?

For starters, it might facilitate more honest communication within marriage. If you are sure that your spouse loves you apart from the question of whether you deserve it, then it's a lot easier to discuss your own failures and shortcomings with your spouse, and vice versa.

If we believe our spouse loves us no matter what we do, what would motivate us to be on our best behavior at all times? Why be kind even when we are in a foul mood?

Because I love her, nitwit! I treat my wife with respect BECAUSE I RESPECT HER, not because I'm afraid she won't love me if I don't.

Why work to stay attractive if he will love me no matter how much I neglect how I look?

Do not adjust your set, kids ... that isn't Dennis getting in touch with his feminine side, it's just Dennis hypothetically assuming the voice of a woman for a second.

Why continue to pay attention to her — like regularly calling her from work — if I know that even if I ignore her, she will continue to love me?

Maybe because you're actually interested in her and what she did during the time you were apart? I dunno, it's just a suggestion. And if that doesn't work for you, maybe you should love others, including your spouse, out of obedience to God, because it's what he commands you to do. Or maybe you should love her out of gratitude for loving YOU. Any one of those strikes me as a better reason than loving her because you're afraid that if you don't, she won't love you back.

Unconditional love is not a good idea.

Have you tried it?

I don't know where it originated, but I am quite certain it's relatively recent, a product of an age that has put primary importance on feelings. With the possible exception of a parent's love for a young child, unconditional love is not a good idea among people, and it's probably not a good idea concerning God's love for us.

Then why is parent-to-child the primary metaphor used in the New Testament to describe God's relationship to people? (Hold onto that thought for a second.) In your second point, Dennis, you said, "In other relationships [than male-female sexual ones], it is bad to seek to be loved." I think this contradicts what you're trying to say now: that God's love is conditional. Because, you see, if you're going to argue that God's love is conditional, then you can't also claim that it's a bad thing to seek it!

I am familiar with no biblical basis for the notion that God loves us no matter how much cruelty and evil we engage in

It comes from a little thing called the New Testament. You might have heard of it. I realize that as a Jew you don't hold the New Testament in the same regard that I do as a Christian, but you can't be excused for that when you're writing for a Christian publication.

(God's love of His Chosen People, Israel, is specifically depicted as conditional upon Israel's behavior),

Well, yes and no. The Old Testament more often mentions the mandate for us to love God than it talks about God loving us. Among the handful of references we do get to God loving Israel, some of them sound conditional and some don't. For instance, look at Deuteronomy 7:6–13. God's love sounds unconditional in verse 7 and conditional in verse 13. In 1 Kings 10:9 God's love sounds unconditional, in Prov. 15:9 it doesn't. Is God's mercy depicted as conditional? Yes. Is God's love depicted as conditional? Not consistently.

or for the notion that God loved Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa equally.

Will God reward A.H. and M.T. equally? No, but that's a matter of God's justice, not his love. As you say later in your article, love is only one of God's attributes.

Anyway, the idea that God loves everyone unconditionally doesn't necessarily entail his loving everyone equally. We could say that God's unconditional, universal love for his creation is a sort of baseline: God loves all of us, even Hitler, because he created us and never stops wanting us to repent and seek relationship with him. But those of us who do seek that relationship, like Mother Teresa, may well find additional depths of God's love beyond that baseline, whereas those who reject God's love may well have to take their chances with his justice.

Frankly, I would be disappointed in such a God. It renders Him a love machine whose love cannot be affected by our behavior, not a loving being who is affected by how we act. It renders His love amoral. And it prevents us from growing up.

"What a crock," indeed. The larger point Prager is trying to make is a good one: that love — God's or otherwise — is not to be trampled upon or taken for granted. I just don't think he needs to throw out the concept of unconditional love to make that point.

So, Dennis, before you go to bed, I've got a little book you should read. It's called First John. Won't take you long. If you want, you can even just skip ahead to chapter 4:

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

That's my Valentine's Day column. And for publishing a piece claiming that unconditional love is a bad idea, I'm sending WorldNetDaily a nice big box of chocolates. To be specific, the Whizzo Quality Assortment.


A post about nothing

One of the most revelatory statements I ever heard from a college professor was uttered by one Bob Chamberlain on the first day of my communications class. Prof. Chamberlain leaned back against a table he always had in the front of the room and told us that television was a means for delivering an audience to advertisers.

Until that point, I'd believed that television was primarily about the content. I might've been naive, I admit, on account of not having watched much of it: I grew up in a family that didn't own a TV.

In TV's early days, of course, it was hard to miss the fact that the advertising tail wagged the programming dog: TV shows had "sponsors," for goodness' sake, and George Burns and Jack Benny would take time out to shill for the product and then step back onto the set without missing a beat. These days we go to great lengths to deny the connection, and we have gizmos that help us try to separate ads from content. But the basic model is still there: the viewer is the product, the advertisers are the consumer, and the programming is just a venue for delivering one to the other. All of this becomes abundantly clear if you've ever looked at a media kit. (If you don't know what one is — take a class on advertising!)

Which is sort of a long-winded way of introducing the following thought: If you want to watch TV programming for its entertainment value, go ahead — but God help you if you should ever begin to take any of it seriously. And I mean any of it, including the news and political programming that begs you to take it seriously. It's there for precisely the same reason that "Big Brother" and "Jackass" are there: to serve you up on a platter to corporations who want a slice of your wallet. And if it doesn't deliver a big enough slice, it'll eventually be replaced with something that does.

I recently traded a few comments with another blogger who I'm sure would disagree, in part, with what I've just said. And, since he held comments from guests to a different standard than the one he applied to his own comments as a host, I've now been banned from commenting further at his blog, which is why I'm posting this over at my blog.

This individual's point, if you'll allow a broad application of that term, was that liberalism is represented in the media by its most extreme wing, whom he identified as Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and Keith Olbermann, whereas conservatism holds in check its most extreme wing (Fred Phelps and the John Birch Society) and leaves its media representation to sober, reasonable, balanced people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly.

In other words, according to this individual, the left wing doesn't get any more radical than the liberal pundits you see on TV. And the conservative counterparts of liberal pundits are not conservative pundits. No sir, the conservative counterpart of liberal pundits is Fred Phelps, a ghoulish preacher who protests soldiers' funerals because "God hates fags" and calls himself a Baptist even though no Baptist denomination acknowledges him. To put it another way, according to my blogger-pal, the liberal analogue of Fred Phelps is not some anarchist hooligan or Communist Party figure. No, it's a middle-aged white guy in pinstripes who makes his audience chuckle by mocking conservatives. That's as extreme as the left wing could possibly get.

So when I challenged the dude's comparison of Keith Olbermann to Fred Phelps, here's what he said:
When it comes to Keith Olbermann and delusionary behavior, I need only quote this gem of his:

"Al Qaeda really hurt us, but not as much as Rupert Murdoch has hurt us, particularly in the case of FOX News. Fox news is worse than Al Qaeda — worse for our society. It's as dangerous as the Ku Klux Klan ever was."

Any person who believes that an American news organization (which gives more equal time balance than he does on his show) is worse than those who ran planes into buildings and murdered 3000 Americans is a person who more than measures up to the standard of being Fred Phelps' counterpart.
Now I don't doubt that Olbermann said that, even though the blogger in question didn't provide a source. Hyperbole is Olbermann's job, as it is the job of every pundit. Olbermann is paid to generate ad revenue and jack up ratings by pouncing on every controversy he can. And he frequently tries too hard. The comment comparing FOX to Al-Qaeda is indefensible. (Update: the quote is from Playboy. No wonder I missed it—I don't read Playboy for the articles.)

Whether that makes him the equivalent of Fred Phelps is an apples-to-oranges calculation that armchair pathologists like my blogger acquaintance can make if they want to. It doesn't provide one iota of illumination about either Phelps or Olbermann, but the fact that Olbermann is the most extreme left-winger this fellow can think of, in the mainstream media or out of it, does suggest that he doesn't know much about the left wing.

To bring things back to more reasonable sorts of comparisons, this individual went on to assert that conservative pundits "haven't said anything comparable to that gem from Olbermann." Well, I'm already sick of Googling this stuff, but so far I've got Ann Coulter linking Newsweek to Al-Qaeda, Bill O'Reilly comparing the entire "secular-progressive movement" to Osama Bin Laden, Rush Limbaugh saying the Democrats are doing PR for Al-Qaeda, and Chris Matthews equating Bin Laden and Michael Moore. That's enough for me. It turns out that conservative pundits are the true analogues of liberal pundits after all, and they can both be counted on to say equally ridiculous things.

And when I say that's enough for me, I mean that's enough. Comment if you must, but prepare to be mercilessly mocked, since my primary assertion here is that none of this is worth serious attention in the first place.


Ridiculous AP Headline of the Month

What would you think if you saw the sentence "Man in Light Shooting Hands Out Bears"?

You could read that one two or three times and still not be sure what it meant. And it wouldn't be your fault.