All posts by Dr. Charlie Self

What Lies Beneath, Part Four: Recovering True Toleration and Public Ethics

“You are intolerant!” “Your words are triggering and encourage violence.” “You are killing people with your beliefs!” These are just a few of the phrases used by social media “influencers” to shut down free speech and reasonable debate. The same groups excoriate anyone defending the unborn and the aged, and they scream, “keep your laws off my body” as they desire abortion-on-demand, “gender-affirming care’ for children, and access to locker rooms and prisons for people for the opposite biological sex.

In other settings, we have Islamic radicals calling on democracies to punish any criticisms of their religion, and banning visual art concerning Mohammed. There are many locales in Western Europe and a few new ones in the USA where non-Muslims are unwelcome and subject to harassment.

There are also some fringe alt-right groups that peddle racism, theocracy, and xenophobia. A decade ago, a person said to me at a conference, “America went downhill once Ellis Island let in all those Eastern Europeans.” As I tried to recover from the shock, he doubled down and complained about every significant minority group of the last 200 years. I directly, firmly, and kindly said that this was racist and evil, and the opposite of America’s founding principles. I am still shaken by such blatant group hatreds.

What lies beneath all of these narratives is a historical inversion of the meaning of toleration. For context, let’s consider the historical trajectory of toleration, especially, but not exclusively in the West:

  • By 1700, after centuries of religious and political warfare, some states begin tolerating peaceful, non-conforming groups while still supporting a state religion.
  • By the 1800s, with the influence of the founders and framers of the USA, and some of the aspirations of other European thinkers, freedom of conscience and religion is seen as the first freedom and essential for human flourishing.
  • By the mid-1900s, most Western nations have removed all barriers to peaceful religious exercise and people of all faiths or none shared equal citizenship rights.
  • By 2000, even groups previously marginalized for their racial and sexual identities are now equals de jure (under the law), even while still pursuing de facto access and opportunities in society.

This is progress! Living peaceably with radically different worldviews, political opinions, and moral visions is what true liberty is all about.

Today, we see that extremist voices demand that toleration be redefined as celebration and anything less than agreement with their narratives and visions are reasons for cancellation, derision, and, in some cases, legal actions and physical violence.

We need to define toleration as the maturity to respect and cooperate with people that see the world very differently than we do.

If we get toleration right, public ethics can be approached thoughtfully as we decide the answers to these three questions:

  • What actions and values will we prohibit because they are inherently wrong and/or proven to be deleterious to a safe and sane world? Heretofore, most civilized lands have protected children from a variety of influences (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, exposure to pornography, and much more), that adults can peaceably pursue. We have also declared several actions verboten, rooted in the ethos of almost every civilization: murder, theft, physical violence, etc. The questions before us today are vital: will we protect children from work and sex slavery? Will we continue to demand that some things are only for adults? Can people of conscience together declare that some things are off-limits?
  • What actions and values will we permit in a very diverse society? We already agree that freedom of conscience/religion is the first freedom. Will we continue to protect free speech even when debate opponents are uncomfortable? Will we fearlessly seek the truth of matters or be censured by disinformation panels? Can we live with differences and not coerce celebration? I want everyone to share my Christian faith – voluntarily! And I will defend the right of my neighbors to build peaceably their religious communities, arrange their lives differently, and seek my conversion to their thinking.
  • Finally, what are we supposed to promote as a free and virtuous society? Will we support biological, blended, adoptive, and foster care families as the preeminent educators of children? Will we call on parents to take responsibility for their children and stay engaged financially and personally if possible? Will we foster personal agency and social responsibility, entrepreneurial creativity and the common good? Will we promote true toleration, aiming for hearts of love and respect for all people, while also protecting ourselves from genuine evil?

Friends, becoming thoughtful about these matters is not a luxury for a few. It is a moral necessity for future generations.

What Lies Beneath, Part Three: Being Human

I have written often about two of the crises afflicting our world. The first is anthropology: the meaning of being human, and within this, being male and female. The second is epistemology: the nature of knowing and the search for truth. We are in a moment where elites are demanding new definitions of humanness and upending any objective assessments of biological sex.

As a historian, I teach my students that many challenges and trends we think are new are really old ideas and practices dressed up in new clothing. Sexual license, sex role reversals in pagan worship and parties, and questioning moral traditions are all found in a variety of ancient civilizations.

But today’s gender anarchy is unprecedented in a couple of ways. One, we are living in the first moment of global history where relationships that do not produce the next generation are given equal standing in law and society. Homosexual behaviors and relationships are not new; however, the notion that they are equal to marriage is brand new. I am not advocating for intolerance or “going back to the good old days.” Permitting adults to organize their lives in a variety of ways is part of a pluralistic world. But toleration is not celebration and deeply held moral and religious convictions must not be ignored. Two, the metastasizing of genders is brand new and the idea that one can simply change their gender and/or sex is subverting biological reality, social convention, and the created order.

It is interesting that those who reject their biological sex and affirm one of a hundred new identities are called, “courageous” while those that leave the anarchy for their biological identity and choose heterosexual normativity are called, “brainwashed.”

What lies beneath this inverted and perverted thinking is a narcissistic and solipsistic ideology that makes each individual their own deity. Ironically, the young people “rebelling” against “cisgender normativity” are in fact conformists to social media contagion. Objective truth is thrown out the window. Centuries of evolutionary biology and scientific research are tossed aside and obscure studies from academic echo chambers are cited as evidence of a gender or sexual spectrum.

When I was pursuing my education (at two centers of radical thinking: the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA), “gender as a social construction” meant that we should not stereotype boys and girls, women and men, and make sure that all people have access and opportunity. Questioning traditional roles of men and women in society was NOT repudiating biological sex or promoting mutilation of minors. The most radical gay activists (with a few exceptions) of the 1970s-2000s did not deny their maleness or femaleness…they argued for the right to follow their attractions. For decades I have worked with all people of conscience to make a way for women and men of all cultures, classes, and lifestyles to have equal opportunities.

All this progress is being subverted by gender anarchists bent on destroying any objective truth about the human condition. Thoughtful people must NOT be insensitive to true body dysphoria and the deep emotional needs of emerging adults. There is no place for bullying and being unkind to anyone. We must, however, truly follow the science, the wisdom of the ages, and common sense and reaffirm that:

  • Most people are biologically male or biologically female.
  • Men and women have more in common that what is disparate, so there is a spectrum of personalities and proclivities, while each person remains male or female.
  • We must not allow any medical procedures on minors that alter chemistry or permanently destroy healthy body parts.
  • We must expand and improve psychiatric care for those struggling in their bodies.
  • We must reaffirm the parental authority vis a vis the educational systems, social media, and other pressures calling for children to reject their essential identity.
  • Adults have the right to order their lives and relationships in a variety of ways free from fear.
  • Disagreement on ideas and moral choices is not intolerance, and the deeply held ethical and religious beliefs of billions of people must be considered as we aim for a free and virtuous society.

Let’s walk in kindness, love, and the pursuit of truth in the company of friends

What Lies Beneath, Part Two: Education, Families, and Our Future

For decades, leaders from all political parties have stressed the importance of strengthening families and addressing the crises of fatherlessness, poverty, and loss of hope. We must continue work in these areas, bringing people of all cultures and social domains together for the good of future generations. We have also seen huge steps forward for minorities and women in all sectors of the economy and society, though there is still much work ahead so all can flourish.

Events in recent years are undermining all the progress we have made and render the aforementioned concerns hollow at best. Gender extremists, representing a miniscule percentage of the population, but fueled by big pharma and social media, are now demanding that young children be indoctrinated and sexualized by educators that reject the biological family, affirm Marxist ideology, and believe that anything goes when it comes to sexual experimentation and identity. The apotheosis of this civilization-destroying ideology is the recent lawsuit filed by the Attorney General in California against the Chino School District.

District officials, in keeping with trends in other states and several European nations, wanted parents informed about their childrens’ decisions to alter their names, gender identity, and personal pronouns. Please note that these leaders were NOT rejecting toleration or kindness, and even exposure to what I think are ideas best left to the family. They just wanted to keep parents in the loop!  The reason for the lawsuit is concern for the “welfare of marginalized students” who need “safe spaces” for their “expression.” Right now, parents must approve of any medications for their kids and sign permission slips and waivers for a variety of activities…EXCEPT when it comes to abortion services and gender identity! Of course, any child subject to violence must be protected.

What lies beneath these actions are complete disdain for the biological family, recruitment of vulnerable children into a future of medical dependency, and a public school system more concerned with radical ideology that with the essential education for the complex world of the 21st century. This is more than protecting a few vulnerable kids in need of psychological help so they become comfortable in their bodies. This is a demonic agenda that makes the exception the rule, and the state the arbiter of truth.

Recently in another state, the government would not allow parents to remove their children from exposure to gender and sexuality indoctrination, declaring that exposure to pornographic materials and alternative lifestyles were important and could be corrected at home. Such inanity must be opposed with compassion and conviction.

We can do better. Thoughtfulness demands that we debate these issues with civility, and return final authority to the families, not the state. Every person of any identity or worldview deserves kindness, but toleration is not celebration and primary formation of character rests at home. 

What Lies Beneath, Part One: Thoughtful Reflections on Climate and the Environment

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, as they recover from the horrific fires that killed so many and devastated the landscape. Such an awful moment calls for mourning, relief and recovery assistance, and thorough investigation so that lessons might be learned for the future. Alas, we are watching unbelievable ineptitude and obfuscation that is insulting to those who passed away and unhelpful for the survivors trying to piece their lives back together.

The embers were not even cool before politicians – local and federal – screamed, “Climate change!” as the cause of this tragedy. But the facts on the ground point to bad ecological management, poor maintenance of electrical facilities, and nearly criminal neglect by leaders as the fires grew.

In poorly-run cities where crime is rampant and economies are tanking, leaders yell “climate change” to deflect attention away from half a century of bad governance, and a decade of pandering to social extremists while alienating the productive.

For over 60 years, we have been subject to various forms of climate apocalypticism. There are four attributes of all the messages: 1) All predictions made have been wildly inaccurate and mostly wrong; 2) Global population and resources present challenges, but we are not overpopulated and billions have emerged from poverty due to free market opportunities; 3) Global elites want ever-increasing control of food and fuel supplies so they can distribute according to their agendas, impoverishing the working classes and controlling the poor; and 4) The United Nations and other networks know that none of their agreements have any hope of bringing real change in the (fluctuating) temperatures, but it feels good to “do something.”

Friends, there ARE real environmental challenges we need to address, but they are measurable and solvable and do not require drastic and unreflective actions. We can secure cleaner water, improve agriculture, continue development of cleaner fossil fuels, discover and refine alternative energy sources, and stop the work slavery responsible for the rare metals needed for the very problematic EV industry.  And we can do all these things without forcing middle- and working-class families to abandon their homes and vehicles or endanger their health with poor management of the energy grid.

What lies beneath the shrill voices of climate activists are power-hungry leaders that want increasing authority over every area of our lives. We must not avoid the hard work of stewarding creation well. We also must not give in to fear and totalitarianism. When I was a child, the Great Lakes of North America were much more polluted than today…now people are enjoying them. Israel is trying to export natural gas to Europe so that Greece and other nations can improve their lives…and the USA is interfering with this in the name of environmental concern. America was a net exporter of energy just a few years ago…and we can be again. Our oil industries are 50% cleaner that China or Russia.  We can improve the environment without destroying the economy.

Let’s displace fear and extremist ideology with faith and determination. Let’s demand the highest ethics of enterprise and unleash entrepreneurial potential. Let’s shrink the bureaucracies and increase the opportunities. The best days for our global family are ahead if we become thoughtful together. 

21st Century Leadership, Part 2

Years ago, John Blanchard said that much of global leadership is plagued by, “a dearth of depth and a surfeit of the superficial.” So much of what passes for life and leadership seems content with surfing on the surface of things. We can do better, first in ourselves, then in what we expect of others.

Leadership excellence begins with being a person of outstanding character. Goodness, integrity, and personal wholeness are essential qualities for women and men that aspire to lead others. With character as foundation, developing managing one’s charisms becomes important so that there is a good fit of person and the tasks at hand.

There are two more facets of leadership to explore here. The first is competencies. These are the necessary interpersonal and professional skills for the task. Please note the two categories here. Character is underneath the interpersonal competencies needed to lead others. This included emotional and relational maturity, along with intercultural competence. So many problems in leadership come from a breakdown in people understanding each other. Professional (including technical) skills seem obvious, but there are times when skills and tasks do not align well.

Leaders must have communication and managerial skills, with particular ability to lead their organizations and teams in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, Ambiguous) world where much can change quickly. This is why the communication, interpersonal maturity, and adaptive skills matter so much.

The final facet is understanding capacity. This is not just the number of people or the size of the budget, but understanding the boundaries of one’s leadership and being a woman or man of faith, focus, and follow-through. As one sage said, “Under-promise and over-deliver.” We live in a world filled with exaggeration and over-hyped expectations, so good leaders must have the humility to see what is ahead, focus tasks well, and fulfill promises in a timely manner.

One of the most important ingredients in being an effective and praiseworthy leader is understanding that today’s discipline is tomorrow’s destiny. Doing today well is vital for tomorrow’s expansion of influence.

The “4C Leader” – a woman or man of deep character, clarity about their charisms, growing on competencies, and both staying in their lanes of capacity while expanding influence – is needed today more than ever before.