Kudos to Walter Olson for his excellent article ("Invitation to a Stoning," November). Religious intolerance by conservatives is the main reason why I migrated out of the right wing of the Republican Party and eventually out of the Republican Party altogether.
Now I'm learning that the conservative intolerance I fled from is "Fundamentalism Lite" compared to the Reconstructionists. Although it's easy to chuckle at the ideas of the Reconstructionists, what makes them so dangerous is that they make ultraconservatives like Gary Bauer and James Dobson look almost moderate.
The increasing influence of Reconstructionists over the GOP is especially terrifying for those of us who would be executed several times over under a Reconstructionist theocracy (which probably includes nearly all of the readers of REASON for one reason or another). While I don't for a moment think we ever will actually have stoning or a theocracy in America, I do fear that the poison they spread will lead to continued tragedies of hatred like the murder of Matthew Shepard, abortion doctors, and others.
There are a few places that are Reconstructionist paradises, where Reconstructionist ideas are appreciated and in full force. Iran, Afghanistan, and Sudan come to mind. It's amazing that some people actually consider Iran and Sudan as role models for the United States.
Protruding conspicuously through the facade of smirking paranoia in Walter Olson's screed against Christian Reconstruction is the outline of the ever-widening chasm between secular rationalists known as libertarians on one side and, on the other, Christians dedicated to re-establishing Christian civilization, by which alone true political freedom is possible. In what he obviously considers gleeful revelations of our dedication to taking seriously the whole Bible, Olson conveniently neglects to mention Rushdoony's conviction in Law and Society that the biblical civil codes are designed for a nation in covenant with God, not modern Western secular democracies which are at war with God. The last thing we would endorse is a "Christian" version of the modern leviathan state. We support maximum individual freedom under God's law. Our vision is not fundamentally about politics.
Much closer to the mark than Olson is William Rusher in his comments in the Fall 1998 Intercollegiate Review:
"If what we have seen thus far is the shape the battle is going to take, we conservatives are going to have to prepare ourselves to lose many allies who fought at our side in the struggles against communism and democratic socialism. Many libertarians and some classical liberals are simply not ready to accept a `metaphysical dream of the world' [Kirk's language] that has a central religious component."
Rationalist libertarianism sows the seeds of statist tyranny by its enthronement of individual autonomy. But individual autonomy is no less repugnant and pernicious than collective autonomy. The autonomous "one" is as socially lethal as the autonomous "many." As Rushdoony has observed, the perennial question of the one and the many–including its political dimension–is solved only in the Triune God revealed infallibly in Sacred Scripture.
This the secular libertarians flatly repudiate. By this repudiation, they seal their own ironic contribution to the growth of autonomous collectivism, of which their autonomous individualism is but a complementary version and with which it is a cooperative endeavor.
I find it paradoxical that a magazine titled REASON would run a column which is apparently devoted to inflaming prejudice. Walter Olson has characterized Christian Reconstructionists carelessly, and in a way so as to promote misunderstanding, obscure areas of real agreement, and make it more difficult to honestly discuss the main lines of disagreement.
Based on his oversimplified characterization of some Christian Reconstruction tenets (e.g., nobody advocates stoning "gays," because a preference or an orientation is never a crime) and the closing section of his column, where he seeks to arm his readers with anti-theocratic soundbites, it appears that Olson would like theocratic and secular libertarians to stop working together on matters of mutual interest, and instead start fighting each other.
This would be understandable if the leviathan state were no longer around, because we disagree on the fundamental reasons for opposing statism. However, big government is still with us, and starting a war now would only strengthen the leviathan and harm us both. Remember, the theocratic libertarians are the only people affiliated with Christian conservatives who oppose using the state as an agent of moral reformation (the Bible forbids that). Where else will you find orthodox Christians who oppose the war on drugs (consider Kevin Clauson and Tom Rose's articles in The Christian Statesman, January-February 1996), or who refuse to seek statist solutions to indecent material on the Internet? Do you want Christians working for the separation of school and state, or do you want them crusading for school prayer? Is it Olson's and REASON's goal to push Christians into the arms of Gary Bauer?
I cannot see how a war between secular and theocratic libertarians can help secular libertarians either. First, such a war will paint libertarians as people given to factions. Second, it will tend to associate libertarianism with atheism. Both of these perceptions will diminish the plausibility of libertarianism in the nation at large.
To encourage infighting between secular and theocratic libertarians will only delay our liberation from an increasingly intrusive secularistic state. Although we cannot be real allies, due to our fundamental differences, there is no good reason not to remain as co-belligerents in the struggle to persuade America to seek freedom.
William W. Gould
National Reform Association
In "Invitation to a Stoning," is the Gary North mentioned the same Gary North who is outspoken on Y2K social disorder?
If you read his Webstuff on Y2K, you would see a clearer claim to "Christian libertarianism." Some is summarized on www.y2kchaos.com, with links from there to Gary North's pages.
Still, if he is a Christian libertarian, he's only libertarian enough, so to speak, to ensure equal rights for his brand of Christianity. That is missing the point of liberty.
Brian C Rachocki
Walter Olson replies: William Gould and Andrew Sandlin don't deny that Recons favor the execution of blasphemers, parent cursers, apostate Christians, adulterers, occultists, and practicing gays (this last a nod to Mr. Gould's complaint that my terminology was imprecise). Mr. Sandlin dodgingly asserts that these measures would be put into effect only after America reaches covenant status, the Rushdoony equivalent of "after the revolution." Are Reconstructionists working to bring America into covenant status? Yes.
I appreciate Mr. Gould's candor in frankly avowing his side "theocratic" and noting that "we cannot be real allies, due to our fundamental differences." I winced, however, when he observed that some of his co-thinkers have decried the drug war; before long, at this rate, the cause of drug legalization might stop being respectable. As for Mr. Sandlin's more personal reflections, I am still trying to follow his metaphor (it seems the outline of a chasm is protruding conspicuously through a facade–is this an "innie" or an "outie"?) but will be glad if the only violence he accomplishes is against the English language.
Thanks to Jim Cheaney for his comments, and to Brian Rachocki: Yes, the Reconstructionist Gary North is the same one who's involved in Y2K alarmism.
Your article on organ transplant policy ("Organ Grinders," November) did a good job of framing most of the issues in the debate. There were a few details that you left out.
First, the purpose of the sickest-first policy is to get organs to people who need transplants before they get to the critical stage of their disease. Their bodies should then be healthier and better able to recover.
Second, with this new program there would be more of the large transplant centers at the expense of the smaller transplant centers. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you were getting an organ transplant, wouldn't you rather have a team that does it a few times a month rather than a few times a year?
Thirdly, the University of Pittsburgh does a lot of liver transplants for patients outside of the area because it is a liver specialty center. The Pittsburgh center takes on more of the difficult cases, and people with more complicated cases come from all over the country for its expertise. As other medical centers learn how to do liver transplants, the patients who might have otherwise traveled to Pittsburgh can be served by other centers that did not exist in 1990.
Finally, your comparison of the Peace Corps volunteer to the senator is exactly what happens in today's market. The well-off individual can register in dozens of regional transplant centers (at $30,000 to $75,000 a pop) and get a transplant at whichever has the first available organ. The person who has to rely on standard insurance will get registered at only one.
David N. Guttman
San Pedro, CA
Immigration's Future Harm
John J. Miller's article ("The Politics of Permanent Immigration," October) reported a newsworthy incident which I believe has not been covered elsewhere. That incident took place at a meeting between Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson and a group of trade association executives.
The discussion was routine until just before the meeting was over, when Bruce Jasten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spoke up. Jasten predicted "a severe labor shortage sometime in the next decade." His colleagues backed him up, and no contradictory opinions were voiced before the meeting ended. Miller's article throws a spotlight on the fact that our nation's business groups have no concern about any harmful effects that present (or even increased) large immigration rates may have on our society, our use of our land's resources, and on our politics.
Alan R. Graff
Mount Carroll, IL
Claims of Nature
In the past, I have read several of Virginia Postrel's articles and essays and generally thought they were a little too far "right" for my political tastes. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to read her comments on the current homosexuality debate ("The Claims of Nature," October). She said a great many truths in this piece, with clarity and compassion. Thank you.
In her editorial "The Claims of Nature" Virginia Postrel stated that "the argument from nature is a trap." She meant that homosexuals who appeal for social acceptance based on the evidence for a possible genetic origin of sexual orientation invite charges that homosexuality is a disease; that it's an example of a pathological, irresistible impulse similar in kind to kleptomania.
I would like to point out that abnormality does not necessarily indicate pathology. Biologists have observed homosexual behavior in many mammalian species. Same-sex sex is clearly "natural," but pointing this out just begs the question. The important consideration is that if consensual homosexual behavior does not, on average, lead to harmful effects, then characterizing it as dysfunctional makes no sense. It would be like saying that left-handedness is a disease.
As Ms. Postrel says, tolerance is the bottom line. However, biology should not be ignored. None of us would hesitate to quarantine a minority group of people infected with an incurable form of tuberculosis; tolerance of their freedom could be catastrophic for everyone. Therefore, it is important to make clear that sexual orientation is not pathological, although particular homosexuals may have sexually related psychopathologies, just as many heterosexuals do.
How odd it is that Virginia Postrel's essay attacking a conservative ad campaign featuring ex-homosexuals ends with a quotation by openly "gay" writer Andrew Sullivan: "To be able to live one's life loving and being loved by some other person is not something that is disease. It is the essence of what it is to be human."
Postrel writes that "we'd better get used to evaluating behavior by its consequences, not its causes." Was she aware that Sullivan's sexual expression of homosexual "love" has led him to death's door? He is HIV-positive from his admitted promiscuity (which Sullivan has had difficulty synthesizing with his personal crusade for homosexual "monogamy"). Postrel describes Sullivan's plea as "humane," while disparaging those who would extend a hand of hope to people like him who struggle with inclinations that lead to dangerous behaviors. Surely the high percentage of homosexual men with STDs and AIDS is not a mere coincidence. How can it be "humane" to encourage others to embrace an identity fraught with such health risks?
While conveniently neglecting to mention Sullivan's HIV status, Postrel takes pains to equate ex-gay living with pain. She asserts without basis that "homosexual attraction almost never changes; only behavior does–and then only rarely." Not true. Thousands have successfully changed their behavior. The notion of a "homosexual" person is new to history. How sad to see REASON has joined the ranks of those promoting this harmful ideology.
Americans for Truth
Note: Americans for Truth is one of 15 pro-family groups that sponsored the Truth in Love ads featuring former homosexuals.
Virginia Postrel replies: Will Cooper's letter implicitly sheds light on Peter LaBarbera's. To argue for restricting personal freedom in the name of public health requires a high threshold for what is considered public health. Otherwise, as my colleague Jacob Sullum has argued so well in For Your Own Good and elsewhere, there is no stopping point for tyranny. Any risk becomes subject to legal sanctions. Mr. Cooper's hypothetical of incurable tuberculosis, which presumably would be contagious to anyone, is the conservative extreme. Mr. LaBarbera's suggestion that the risk of sexually transmitted diseases somehow justifies criminal sanctions against consensual gay sex–the issue that Sullivan was addressing–is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Mr. LaBarbera claims more detailed knowledge of Andrew Sullivan's sex life than I can. But assuming Sullivan has in fact strayed from his ideals, that says nothing about the worth of those principles. Encouraging men, regardless of sexual orientation, to settle down and live committed, bourgeois lives seems to me a worthy crusade.
I did not "equate ex-gay living with pain." I merely pointed out that such life choices involve tradeoffs and that religious individuals have, throughout history, been willing to suffer for their beliefs to a much greater degree than is at issue here. It is therefore ridiculous for gay groups to suggest that no one with homosexual desires might ever willingly choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle–sacrificing sexual pleasure and some degree of intimacy in favor of faith and family. It is equally dishonest, however, to suggest that this choice says anything about the lives of individuals who do not share the conviction that gay sexual relationships are wrong. As for Mr. LaBarbera's claim that my statement that "only behavior [changes]" is "not true" because "thousands have successfully changed their behavior," I would suggest a course in reading comprehension–and a review of the math in my original article.
Finally, it's worth noting that lesbians exist, that they are at less risk of sexually transmitted diseases than heterosexual women, and that they are notably unpromiscuous. To showcase "ex-lesbians" while making generalizations about homosexuality that do not apply to female gays is disingenuous at best.