Friday, May 28, 2010

Grokking Tea Partiers

Having read much recently about Tea Parties and Tea Partiers, I decided to try to grok the Tea Partier last Saturday morning. Fortunately it wasn't Sunday, or I would have had to decide whether I was a Libertarian Tea Partier or a Fundamentalist Christian Tea Partier.

Anyway, I got up in the morning and drove to the donut shop. No walking for me. What do I care if I pollute the environment or add to global warming. Global warming is a hoax created by Al Gore so he could get a Nobel prize and sell books. Pollution was a big deal back when they made that American Indian ad on TV, but the free market took care of that long ago.

When I got to the donut shop, I ordered a dozen donuts even though I didn't really plan to eat them all. The cashier was Indian, so I berated her for taking an American job and probably living on welfare too. But since I wanted the donuts, I bought them from her anyway.

When I got the donuts, I refused to pay sales tax on them. I didn't vote to have a sales tax, so the government should not have the right to charge me for it. She refused to sell me the donuts if I didn't pay the sales tax, and I refused to pay it. We stood staring each other down in silence as the other customers became somewhat restless, no doubt preparing to support me in the event of violence if jackbooted government thugs showed up. For at least a minute, I stood up for liberty from oppression while she represented the hand of tyrannical government. Then I took the sales tax money from the "Take a penny, leave a penny" jar. Another victory for liberty!

After my victory, I tried to get the other customers, several black fellows, to form an impromptu tax revolt, but they wouldn't take up my chant of "Taxation is Slavery!" I'm not a racist, but I began to suspect these were not my kind of people.

On the way out, I saw a homeless guy looking for a handout. I had lots of donuts, but I wouldn't be doing him any favors by giving him one. Like me he should pull himself up by his own bootstraps, go to college with government-subsidized student loans, go to a public, government-supported university, and get a government-supported job and buy his own donuts. People need to do things on their own or they'll never learn.

As I was driving home, I passed a Walk for something. Breast cancer? Who knows. I yelled at the Walkers to go home. Giving to charities is only rewarding people's bad behavior. If people can know that they'll have their breast cancer treatments paid for by charity, why shouldn't they just skip the mammograms and do whatever it is that causes them to get breast cancer in the first place--having breasts or breathing or whatever.

When I got home, I ended up eating all my donuts. I know the elitist medical establishment, the doctors and "experts", say that type-1 diabetics like me should be careful about what they eat, but what do they know? Experts keep selling us things like global warming, evolution and "medicine". We're better off without their carping; they just make that stuff up to stop us from doing anything fun. Anyway, I've been paying for health insurance for years, and it practically pays me to go blind and lose my kidneys. After all, since I've already paid for this health insurance, I might as well get my money's worth.

Thinking about my health insurance reminded me of all those years I'd been paying for death and dismemberment insurance. I must be some kind of chump to pay for something all these years without getting anything in return. The only questions are whether I want the $1,000 for a single limb, and if so which one, or to go for the whole $10,000.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life, Part II

I'm going to pick up where I left off in the previous post. In general, as I said, I am sympathetic to Wolf's view, but I'm having some problems with some of her arguments. In this post, I'll address three arguments she makes for the existence of a third kind of value, meaningful value, to add to egocentric and moral values. As I said in the earlier post, I agree that there are multiple types of value. I should add that it is not always obvious that moral value should take precedence over others. One might, following Woody Allen's somewhat juvenile question in Bullets Over Broadway, prefer to save the last copy of the collected works of William Shakespeare rather than save a human life. Supposing that Shakespeare does not add to the moral value of the universe as much as a human life does, then one is implicitly weighing the aesthetic value of Shakespeare against the moral value of the human life. And it is not entirely obvious which choice one should make. Hence, there may be sets of values that are not reducible to each other, and it may be possible that there is not always an easy answer to which should be preferred.

Wolf, as I noted in the previous post, wants to exclude egocentric values from grounding meaning. Clearly, there are egocentric goods, and these exist objectively, not just from the perspective of the individual. So, it's not clear why it's not meaning-grounding to benefit yourself. Wolf faces this question squarely, but her solution is a mess.

Why, she asks, if
"finding food and shelter for one's child, nursing one's partner back to health, rescuing one's wounded comrade from the hands of death are worthwhile activities, why shouldn't feeding, sheltering, healing and rescuing oneself be worthwhile as well? It may seem odd that if I benefit you and you benefit me, our activities may contribute to the meaningfulness of each other's [sic] lives but if we each tend to our own well-being, our actions will have no such effect" (p. 42).

Indeed, since Wolf, here at least, seems to take no notice of intention, we can act selfishly in a I'll-scratch-your-back, you-scratch-mine way and have meaningful lives, but those acting in equally selfish self-directed ways do not have meaningful lives. The best answer, to me, is to appeal to intentions as relevant to the worth of our actions, but I suspect Wolf does not want to do that since it is redolent of Kantian morality, and she wants a form of value independent of morality. Here's her solution (continuing directly):

This puzzle disappears, however, when we recall the distinctiveness of the category of meaningfulness and recognize that activities, projects or actions may be valuable in some way without being valuable in a way that contributes to meaningfulness. Certainly, if there is value in saving another person's life, there is value in saving one's own; certainly, taking care of oneself, seeking happiness, and avoiding pain, are sensible and worthwhile things to do. It can even be perfectly reasonable to do a Sudoku puzzle once in a while, or to keep a goldfish. But whether a life is meaningful has specifically to do with whether one's life can be said to be worthwhile from an external point of view. A meaningful life is one that would not be considered pointless or gratuitous, even from an impartial perspective (p. 42)

Wolf is trying to show that meaning depends on some form of value other than the egocentric. But she admits that saving one's life does have value. In fact, it has exactly as much value as saving someone else's life. So, here's the problem with this argument. If she recognizes that everyone's life has value, and uses that to justify her conclusion that one cannot obtain meaning from acting in self-interest, then her premise undermines her conclusion. From an impartial perspective, my life is just as important as your life, or his life, or her life. Impartiality demands that I act in my own interests, and so impartiality would require that my life has the same value as acting in others' interest has. So, if acting to benefit others has meaning-grounding value when impartially viewed, so must my acting to benefit myself.

Wolf continues:

Living in a way that connects positively with object, people, and activities that have value independent of oneself harmonizes with the fact that one's own perspective and existence have no privileged status in the universe. This is why engagement with things that have value independent of oneself can contribute to the meaningfulness of one's life in a way that activities directed at one's own good and valuable in no other way do not (p. 42).

Again, this is exactly why my acting in my own self-interest has to have exactly the same value as my acting in another's interest. Each of us has independent value. My perspective and existence have no privileged status, but neither does the other person's. The fact that we are not privileged over others is what makes it necessary that my value is the same, and not less than, anyone else's.

There is some sense in which benefiting another is producing a good that is independent of oneself. Since one is benefiting someone else, that benefit could exist whether I do or not--the benefit does not depend ontologically on my existence although it does causally. I think Wolf is unclear here. She tends to say that the value must have a source outside oneself (although I may be missing a clearer statement that comports better with my view), so the value needs must come from someone else. But the only position that really makes sense here is that the value is objectively real, not what its source is (if it makes sense to talk of the source of value). If we accept that something gets meaning-grounding value only from an external source, then we have to ask what the source that meaning-grounding value has. This leads then either to circularity or to an infinite regress. She seems to endorse the circularity view--my life can have meaning but helping you, and your life can have meaning from helping me. But this makes no sense; unless our lives have objective value, they cannot provide meaning for each other. My life cannot have meaning in virtue of your life having meaning, while your life has meaning in virtue of my life having meaning. Similarly, if my life has meaning because it gets it from someone else's life having meaning, and that other person's life has meaning because of its connection to yet a third person etc., then we have an infinite regress of meaning-grounding value, and no one's life has meaning. I suppose Wolf would say that each life has an objective value independent of everyone else, but, if that's the case, then I don't see how she can reject self-directed activities as meaning-grounding.

But she can say that the meaning derives from the value each individual has, so some self-directed activities can have meaning provided they do not conflict with other-directed values that outweigh them. In other words, the key is that one's activities can have meaning when directed solely towards one's own benefits, but they should not do so at the expense of a greater good for others. So, people's failure to help others can undermine their lives' meaning even if helping oneself could provide some meaning-grounding value. If I act selfishly, that has some value, but if it entails that I not help others, or I help myself explicitly at the expense of others, then the net value is negative, and my life then lacks meaning. This raises enormous difficulties, however, because it requires that we be able to weigh different, possibly incommensurable, values against each other in order to determine whether one's life is meaningful. For example, my life's epistemic value might be greater than its lack of moral value, in that I create great works of philosophy (ha!) that outweigh the negative value of my failing to help my fellow humans. But how are we to determine when such a balance is positive or negative?

In sum, Wolf tries to rule out self-directed actions as grounding meaning, but to do so she appeals to an objective, "God's-eye-view" of the universe, which itself undermines the claim that other-directed but not self-directed actions can ground meaning. There are problems with the view that any of these values can provide meaning in that they seem to require us to be able to weigh or measure values with respect to each other, and it is hard to see how to determine proper weights. That difficulty notwithstanding, I think this is the solution we have to accept.

Wolf makes two more arguments for the existence of a meaning-grounding value that is independent of moral or egocentric value. The first argument is based on our intuitive judgments of several examples. The second is based on an argument from conflicts of values given by Bernard Williams. I'll take the Williams argument first since it is shorter, and the examples second.

Williams argues that there are often conflicts of values between our moral duty and other values, and that we should not always, immediately, or obviously prefer the moral value to the others. For example, doing our moral duty need not take precedence over our own commitments and values. Perhaps I could do more benefit to the world if I gave up philosophy and devoted my life to famine relief. Perhaps I should abandon my family in order to help more people in famine-ravaged countries. But I need not, indeed should not, do these things even if they are moral obligations I have. Williams argues for this by claiming that such values--as doing philosophy or loving one's family--are sometimes necessary for us to have a reason to live. I could not help with famine relief if I abandoned my family and love for philosophy because that might undermine the very ability to help others because I would no longer care for the world, would have no incentive to continue to help others because I would have (taking Wolf's interpretation) drained my life of all meaning.

This argument is actually a moral argument for valuing other things besides aiding with famine since giving up everything would actually undermine our ability to do long-term good. It in fact claims that I have a moral duty to myself to make my life livable so that I might do more good overall. Thus, unfortunately, this does not establish the existence of a non-moral objective value. There might be such a value (and I think there is), but this final move does not establish it. Perhaps we should be satisfied with the intuition that, even if we all believed that people's lives would be better off were we to devote ourselves to famine relief, we still would think our lives were lacking if we gave up everything else we cared for in favor of working for famine relief.

Presumably, we would need to have an active engagement and passion for famine relief for this argument to work. What I'm trying to cast doubt on here is not Wolf's analysis of meaning, but her assertion that there is a third category of value.

So, if we have doubts about the existence of meaning-value as opposed to moral value, we would have to be satisfied with this sense that our lives would be lacking if they did not contain family, interpersonal relations, or lacked any commitment to pursue our capacities to their fullest potential or pursue epistemic or aesthetic values. I can endorse this intuition, but the only claim here that seems to point to a distinct meaning-value is the familial and interpersonal relations since the examples of other values could be considered epistemic or aesthetic.

This brings me to Wolf's examples that are supposed to support this meaning-value. The examples are: Visiting a friend at the hospital, doing philosophy, and making a fancy dessert. The problem I have is that the value of each of these seems to fit one of the three categories already mentioned: aesthetic, epistemic, and moral.

Visiting a friend in the hospital, even if that friend is in a coma and thus derives no benefit from your visit, is clearly a moral duty and a moral good. Wolf points out that we do not do it because it is our duty but out of love for our friend. Surely that is often true, but it does not follow that it is for that reason not a moral action. We often do morally good things for motives other than because they are our duty (pace Kant).

Doing philosophy has epistemic value. It exemplifies good reasoning and aims at truth, a value that is independent of moral value. Perhaps it also represents a moral value in that we have a duty to develop our talents. (In fact, Wolf considers that one of the reasons for her to do philosophy, but she does not seem to consider this a moral value.)

Lastly, her baking an elaborate dessert could qualify as an aesthetic value. Wolf is dismissive of the idea of simply eating good chocolate as a meaningful activity, and so this is the weakest of her examples. I'm a little unclear why baking the cake and eating the cake have such different value. I think it must be because baking the cake is a difficult labor of love which involves true sacrifice and artistic merit, and eating it is just gustatory delight. If that's so, then the artistic merit of the activity is what makes it valuable, and that fits my category of aesthetic value.

This leaves me with a brief caution. I do not think that Wolf has adequately established the existence of a third meaning-grounding value. The examples she gives all seem to fit categories that we already accept. She may be perfectly happy to endorse the existence of these other categories of value as grounding meaning. I do not think she intends for her meaning-grounding value to be the only value that can ground meaning. Moral value ought to be sufficient (given the other criteria for meaning), and so then should epistemic or aesthetic value. The caution is that talking about this third type of value as meaningful or meaning-value suggests that other types of value cannot ground meaning, and that would be a mistake (one I am fairly sure Wolf does not intend to make).

In conclusion, I find the general intuitive support for her overall theory fairly strong. Meaning in life is, I agree, "active engagement in projects of worth." But I think she overlooks some categories of objective worth and fails to establish a third, rather undefined other category. The case of interpersonal or familial relations seems to me to be genuinely important and valuable, and I do not know how to fit this into any other category. So, I might endorse interpersonal, aesthetic, epistemic and moral values as values that ground meaning. But we must be aware that the net effect of our projects must be positive; we cannot weight ourselves as being more valuable than others even though we should treat ourselves as valuable. Our meaning does not just depend on our project taken in isolation to have worth, but it requires that our projects not preclude other projects that have greater worth that we could equally well pursue nor cause us to neglect other projects that we should pursue.

The difficulty with this proposal is that we would have to weigh these different values against each other implicitly in order to determine whether a life is meaningful, and such a task presents considerable difficulty. I do not want to overstate the difficulty of this, however, since very often in our lives it will be obvious which task has the greater value. Whatever benefit I get in playing a video game (say, a greater ability to solve logic puzzles or greater hand-eye coordination) is far outweighed by my duty to my loved ones or my responsibility to pursue philosophy as rigorously as possible. We can and do make comparative judgments all the time even if the exact grounds for such comparisons may elude us. I take this to be a project for another time, however.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Junk Shot

No, the junk shot is not a photograph of a man's genitals. Instead, it is BP's suggestion of dumping junk--golf balls, old tires, etc.--into the pipeline to jam it up and stop the oil from leaking into the gulf. However, I believe they have overlooked one type of junk that could be fired into that pipeline: BP executives.

Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life

I've just finished reading Susan Wolf's Meaning in Life, at least the two chapters in which she makes her main argument. I've found a lot in the book to agree with, but I have a few concerns as well.

I've learned a new term for the method of testing our theories against commonsense or ordinary intuitions. This is called the "Endoxic method", and is basically the method used by Aristotle. I'm not sure this method requires that we rely on careful consideration of individual cases, which is a common philosophical method, or whether this can be more generally applied. At any rate, I will follow her in considering our intuitions about carefully considered individual cases.

Wolf's theory is not meaning of life but meaning in life. One purported implication is that meaning of life involves a transcendental purpose or goal, but, since there is no such purpose, we would say that there is no meaning of life. But there can still be a meaning in life.

Wolf's theory is that meaning in life consists of "active engagement in projects of worth." This theory has three elements. (1) There must be a passionate attachment to the project. (2) The person must be able to contribute positively and actively to that project. (3) And the project must have independent worth, worth whose value depends at least in part on elements outside the agent.

This is probably on the right track. By requiring independent worth, it avoids the problem that meaning would be a purely subjective matter. That is definitely right; if meaning has anything to do with what we should want or how we should live, then it has to be objective, or at least not merely subjective. No matter how happy I might feel about my life, if I find out at the end of my life that it has actually been dedicated to harming people or doing nothing of merit at all, then I would think that my life had always been meaningless, or at least have less meaning. For example, suppose I spent my life assembling computer boards thinking that I was constructing a valuable part of computers given to poor children to make their lives better. Suppose that it turns out that I have been instead assembling computer parts for an alien race that is using them to make weapons with which they will enslave the human race. Discovering this would lead me to reconsider the meaning and value of my life even if I had felt all the subjective passion and engagement one could wish. (Correction: In chapter 2 she considers cases much like this one. Also note that she requires a positive contribution. So if one fails because of incompetence or bad luck to achieve any positive good in one's endeavors even if they are subjectively fulfilling and objectively worthwhile, they would still be meaningless. At least, we could say that the person's life was missing something, and a life in which such contributions were made is superior.)

Wolf's argument is two-fold. First, she just says that when we consider lives we would think of as meaningful, we invariably pick people whose actions had large-scale beneficial consequences of some sort: Einstein, Mother Theresa, etc. People do not generally think of someone who was happy engaging in something with no worth. No one says, "The most meaningful life is that of the most stoned person in the world."

Second, she considers lives that people often consider meaningless, such as the prototypical Sisyphus, and what these lives have in common is that the tasks they are engaged in are futile, useless or otherwise without any potential benefit to anyone.

She also argues that a feeling of fulfillment is necessary for meaning. This is fairly well-supportable as well. If one is doing something of value but without caring about one's actions, while feeling a sense of alienation from one's labors, for example, then one might reasonably think that one's life is missing something.

This view is not actually all that new. Thomas Nagel hints at something like this in "The Absurd." Her more original contribution is to suggest that the typical division of types of value into egocentric values and moral values is too limited. She believes there are objective values of another sort. The third sort of value she considers is values of love. Some things we do are motivated not, or at least not primarily, by happiness or self-interest. Neither do we do them, at least not primarily, because they are morally good. Some such actions are working exceptionally hard on your philosophy papers, helping your children, gardening or cooking for your love of growing things or wonderful foods.

This third type of thing can have objective value to provide meaning in life. Egocentric values cannot qualify as meaning-giving values even there are objective facts about what is in one's best interest, but (I'm inferring a bit here) moral values or reasons of love can provide that objective value.

But what about these reasons of love? First, they cannot be simply subjective values. It cannot be that anything is equally worthwhile provided we love it. Some of her examples, however, do lead me to have some worries about this. One example is of her love for baking, which she thinks is a worthwhile activity. But at other times she notes that a love of chocolate is not worthwhile and cannot give meaning to life (provided the other requirements obtain). My question is: what are these values? "Reasons of love" sound great, but the love is irrelevant to the value of the activity; the love provides the subjective element of meaning, not the objective element of worth. (At least, that's my view. I am not sure she would agree.)

Moral values are not the only objective values independent of subjective acceptance. There are objective epistemic values and, probably, objective aesthetic values. These would be reasonable things objectively to ground meaning in life. For example, Einstein's life could be considered objectively valuable because of its contribution to human knowledge (an epistemic value). Similarly, Shakespeare's life could be meaningful because of its devotion to creation of the greatest literary works in the English language (an aesthetic value). Perhaps even Wolf's cooking can constitute an aesthetically valuable activity. My conclusion here is that if Wolf cannot account for the value in terms of one of these established objective axiological categories, but only in terms of the love that one feels for an activity, person or group, that is prima facie evidence that this further activity is not objectively valuable.

Wolf would say that many of our activities, and some of those we take to be most valuable, are based on personal relationships whose value cannot be effectively be captured in moral, epistemic, aesthetic or egocentric terms. The effort we put into helping our children or loved ones is valuable independently of any moral value it might have or egocentric value it has for us or our happiness. I am inclined to think that if the activity is valuable it is because it benefits them; it is therefore morally valuable. If your activity does not benefit your children (say, you spend much more time on your child's Halloween costume than your child or anyone else would ever notice), and you do not develop a habit of doing more for your child than is strictly necessary such that such a habit benefits them, then it seems to me you are wasting that time. If your activity, or the extra time spent on the activity, is only justified in terms of your love for the person it benefits or the goal it subserves.

Perhaps there is such a thing as interpersonal value, something that, for example, makes our duties to our loved ones stronger than equivalent duties to people to whom we have no relation. But the love for the people or activities must be irrelevant to the objective worth of the activity.

Wolf is sensible in defending her position on objective value not on the basis of some theory of objective value but on the general need for there to be objective values. One can argue that pure subjectivism is inadequate without giving a theory of what objective value is. However, she does say a bit more about justifying these meaning-grounding values. I will take that question up in a later post.

In Memoriam Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio died on May 16th of stomach cancer.

I listened repeatedly to Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell during my late teens and early twenties. I have always considered Dio one of, if not the, greatest singers from the classic metal period of the 70s to the 80s. He had a powerful but clear and melodic voice. Dio, especially on that album but on his solo work as well, sang what a friend of mine called "Mystical warrior" metal. The subjects were often magical, e.g Lady Evil, or involving mystical warriors of some type, e.g. Neon Knights, but the themes were universal. Perhaps they were cliched, but they spoke to me of rebellion against authority and the value of thinking for oneself (e.g. Heaven and Hell, "Well if it seems to be real, it's illusion/For every moment of truth, there's confusion in life" and "They'll tell you black is really white/The moon is just a sun at night"), living life to the full (e.g. Die Young, "So live for today/Tomorrow never comes"), and being true to oneself. I think they also spoke to me indefinably of the alienation and loneliness of youth, of attempts to achieve greatness or the impossible or make the most of myself, in the face of an often uncaring or even hostile universe. But it was ok; we could find worth in the struggle itself. At the same time, the music just rocked and helped make all the trials of youth more bearable.

To some it might seem absurd that a rocker who sang "Die Young" (Final chorus: Die young, young! Die young, die young! Die young, die young, young! Die young, die young, die young, die young, die young!!) should live to 67. But when I think back on my own youth, and the part of it the music of Ronnie James Dio played, Dio will always be young to me. Die young, Ronnie, die young.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Specter loses to Sleestak

Pulling myself from my baby-induced torpor this morning, I woke to the bizarre news that 80-year-old spring chicken and (alleged) former Dutch-cleanser smoker Arlen Specter lost the Democratic primary for a Pennsylvania senate seat. I had always been a bit surprised that one of the undead could represent the great state of Pennsylvania (is that anywhere near Transylvania?). But I got over it, and even own a Specter: Senator-for-Life/Undeath bumper sticker. I was more surprised, however, to discover that Specter had lost his primary battle to a Sleestak. I didn't know there were any Sleestaks left after the great Will Ferrell Land of the Lost debacle or that they lived in Pennsylvania. But it wasn't that Specter lost to a Sleestak that shocked me. As Wikipedia explains, Sleestaks can be dangerous. For example, Sleestaks "attempt to capture and sacrifice humans to their god (an unseen beast who dwells in a smoky pit) at every opportunity". No, what's shocking about the news is that neither the undead nor Sleestaks are Republicans!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Louisiana Bill on Guns in Church

I remember from my childhood seeing a bumpersticker that said, "An armed society is a polite society." This was often next to another that said "God said it, I believe it and that settles it." Or "In case of Rapture, this car will be empty." But I would not have expected one that said, "An armed church is a polite church." Or: "An armed congregation gets better sermons." Or: "When guns are outlawed in church, only outlaw churchgoers will have guns."

Talking Points Memo has the story of a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons in church that passed the Louisiana house.

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Henry Burns (R), argues that it is necessary for making churches safe. Remember, if George Tiller had been packing heat in church, he could have shot Scott Roeder and saved himself. Or if the other parishioners had been packing, Roeder, and no doubt a few innocent bystanders, could have been cut down in a hail of bullets. No doubt it's the media's obsessions with ideas of these firefights that keeps the media portraying such bills negatively. From the TPM site:

But despite the negative portrayals by "media types," it makes sense "for the good shepherd or the minister to protect his flock," and this bill is "a gift of intervention that's provided to ensure their safety."

Puzzlingly, this bill allows parishioners to carry guns when the justification for the bill is that the minister is supposed to protect the parishioners. I suggest that the bill be modified to allow only ministers, or perhaps deacons if there's a particular need for lots of armed personnel, to carry guns. Some ministers misunderstand their role as representatives of God on earth and think that they should serve humanity with peace and love, but in fact, each must learn to be, to quote From Dusk till Dawn, a "mean, motherf*#king servant of God". They should not just give names (in christening) but should kick ass and take names. They can still bring comfort to those in need, but they also have to bring the pain to those who need it. And when the minister cuts down some maniac--you know, the kind of idiot who would bring a gun to church--he'll be right there to deliver the last rites.

And if you think about it, the pulpit really is the best place to see the whole congregation. I propose that Tennessee pass a law mandating that every church come with a gun emplacement in its pulpit, and each minister be required to man the gun. After all, what could be more important than the safety of the congregation? And we know that "A mighty fortress is our God", and perhaps our churches as well.

All of this suggests one more bumper sticker: An armed minister makes for a polite congregation.

We could be sure there would be fewer people falling asleep in the pews or skipping out early to catch the football game. And the "Amens" and "Alleluias" might be a little more heartfelt. And most importantly, the collection plates would be a lot fuller with an armed minister watching over the flock.