Robert Meyer is a well-known name in the Fox Cities, at least in the world of editorials. He writes letters consistently for The Post-Crescent, has a column in the Together in Faith Christian newspaper, and writes the conservative “Right Wing Nut” column for The Valley Scene, a free monthly newspaper that is traditionally liberal.
According to his profile on Renew America, “Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest. Robert is known by his opponents as a ‘clever rhetorician’ who often exposes the fallacies of knee-jerk arguments presented in local papers. Seeking to develop precepts for every aspect of life — based on a conservative Christian worldview — Robert often gleans inspiration from looking off his back deck, over the scenic Fox river and recalling the wise counsel of those who mentored him.”
Meyer was kind enough to share his thoughts with me on a variety of issues. Despite my (perhaps overly) confrontational approach, he calmly and articulately explained his position on a number of things.
GS: Mr. Meyer, you offered yourself for an interview in order to be a balance for the views of Robert Nordlander. So let us start with that: what is your general opinion of Mr. Nordlander and how do you feel you disagree with him?
RM: Well, I would have to thank Mr. Nordlander for being a catalyst in my editorial writing. I remember eight or ten years ago reading his columns and call-ins. They triggered a visceral response, but I never knew exactly how to answer him. That is no longrer the case. Over the years any anger toward him has changed to pity, because I look at his life situation and see a lonely and bitter man underneath the veneer.
Mr. Nordlander is obviously a very studious, but stubborn persona. I found out when conversing with him that he has his repetoire of pat answers or declarations, and little, if anything, mitigates that routine. For example, he will ask you a rhetorical question, and regardless of how you answer his inquiry, he will ask the same question again next time the issue emerges.
I think we disagree on our basic philosophical outlook. He a being a stauch atheist and leftist, myself a theist and very conservative. He would say that the universe is merely matter in motion, I would say we are the creation of an omniscient Creator. He would say his perspective is rational. I would say that his metaphysical premise is incoherent and irrational, because if existence is only matter, there is no meaning, morality, self-awareness or emotion. Still he believes in these things.
GS: In a recent Post-Crescent writing, you expressed your belief that school violence was connected to the lack of school prayer. In the same week, you advocated a military response to terrorism (as opposed to a law enforcement approach). How does one reconcile the denouncement of violence while at the same time preferring a foreign policy that we can safely assume will lead to thousands of innocent deaths?
RM: Actually it’s a whole lot more than just simply eliminating prayer. It is a complete loss of a transcendent morality that is gone from education. Professor Alan Bloom opens up his book The Closing of the American Mind with this bombshell: “…almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” If truth is really relative, then those doing the killings weren’t really doing anything wrong. We see the outworking of that philosophy.
The reconciliation between what I said about school violence, and what I advocated for fighting terrorism is based on the assumption that political decisions unfortunately are often a choice between two evils. When Truman dropped the Atom bomb on Japan he saved many America soldiers, but killed Japanese civilians. When a Democratic Congress swept the 1974 mid-term elections, they defunded the war in Vietnam. Our boys came home, but within a couple years, Pol-Pot had massacred hoards of people in the killing fields of Cambodia.
Fighting terrorism with military force is an evil. I believe that waiting for them to attack is a worse evil. There are no “good” solutions, unless you really believe you can sit down and negotiate with them. We must live as peacefully as possible. 9-11 indicated it may not be possible. What is interesting is that nobody is outraged about terrorists who hide behind innocent civilians, but only when civilians are harmed as we pursue the terrorists. That is selective moral outrage.
GS: Comparing our views on history and past wars would be far too complex and lengthy for the purpose of this interview. So, I will follow up on one issue: what do you see is the connection between defunding of the Vietnam War and the rise of Pol Pot (who, incidentally, was given funds, weaponry and food by the American government up through the Carter Administration)?
RM: I see a parallel between Pol-Pot and Hussein. People also point out that we funded Saddam and stocked him with weapons. They forget to mention that he was at war with Iran for several years after they took over our embassy. Rumor has it that Saddam chose to invade Kuwait after an American diplomat told him that America would never go to war over such a takeover. No doubt our evacuation of Vietnam gave Pol-Pot the green light to begin his genocide. I’m not sure why Pol-Pot was given arms — prehaps for appeasement, or maybe we thought it was better that we supplied him, but knew what he had, then if he bought them from the Russians and we had no idea. Ditto for Hussein. That is part of the reason I think the argument that we armed this guy, or that country, so that it’s our fault when they act as tyrants, is pointless. If you buy your son a hunting rifle for his 16th birthday, and he uses it to rob a bank when he’s 21, do you lose the moral right to condemn the act?
[Gavin notes: The diplomat Meyer refers to is former US Ambassador April Glaspie. We supported Pol Pot primarily because he was fighting Vietnam. The catch here is, as I said, we funded him up through Jimmy Carter, after the genocide was a known issue. None of this takes away from Meyer's point, I am simply trying to assist the curious reader.]
GS: In one article (“Just Say ‘No’ To Future 9-11′s”), you present the choice of pacifism which you see as “capitulation and appeasement” or the position that we must recognize real evil in the world. My position is neither one or the other: I do accept there are immoral acts while I also think diplomacy (read: pacificism) is usually the best approach. In the case of terrorism, my belief is that the terrorist acts are immoral but were preventable by pursuing a fair foreign policy in the first place. Rather than simply escalate the fight (which intelligence studies consistently show creates more terrorism), why not also address the root causes?
RM: What are the root causes of terrorism? Is it that Israel exists, and the Palestinians lost their land? Wasn’t this a partition arranged by the U.N.? Is the root cause poverty and hopelessness? In either case, why don’t wealthy oil-rich Arabs help their less fortunate brothers, instead of funding terrorist training with their royalties? If the cause is indoctrination to hate the West, then the only other thing we can do is send our peace activists over to Iraq to talk the terrorists down. I might be convinced by somebody’s yard sign that says “war is not the answer,” but some folks half-way around the world don’t appear to be convinced. I might be willing to go myself, but I need my head attached for the rest of my life.
GS: You have gone on record as supporting the USA PATRIOT Act. With parts of the Act now deemed likely unconstitutional, are you still a supporter? Where do you stand on the issues of torture, wiretaps without court order and secret prisons?
RM: Nobody wants to agree with torture, but I doubt it will impact how our soldiers are treated by terrorists, like Senator McCain thinks. They have already cut off the heads of peace activists. There may be situations where failure to extract imformation could cost lives.
You can’t keep a terrorist on the phone while you run to get a warrant. What if you seek a warrant after the fact and the judge says no? Who governs the judges? The Constitution is not a suicide pact. I don’t know of any citizen who has been unnecessarily eavesdropped upon.
We are worried about secret prisons, yet some foreign countries won’t extradite prisoners because we execute them. It isn’t much of a war on terror if we just send them to country clubs.
GS: Let’s start with the premise that all religions (even atheism) require some degree of faith to fill in gaps or contradict contrary evidence. (Christians, for example, must have faith the Gospel writers accurately depicted the words of Jesus despite never meeting Him, have faith the early writings were accurately copied and translated, and have faith that the Council of Nicea overcame human error and picked the proper books to appear in the final Bible.) How are we in our limited wisdom supposed to choose the religion that is best for us?
RM: Aswering this question thoroughly would take me more than a couple paragraphs. What I will do is recommend to the reader some works that go into great detail on this question. Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh Mc Dowell and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel are excellent books by former skeptics that discuss the issues of distortion in copying manuscripts, and canonization of the books of the Bible. Ultimately the problem with coping is not such a daunting situation. We have copies of biblical texts that are much closer to their original sources than other works of antiquity, the authenticity of which we never question.
As to the question of why should we choose Christianity over other religions, Jesus Among other Gods by Ravi Zacharias is an indespensable asset in that quest. One thing that stands out about Christianity as opposed to other religions, is the tenet that salvation cannot be earned. Uniqueness, of course, isn’t a proof of truth, but does tend to cause it to emerge from other alternatives.
The late Dr. Greg Bahnsen debates skeptic Dr. Gordon Stein in The Great Debate: Does God Exist?, which is available on the internet. Bahnsen demonstrates that only the Christian worldview can provide the “preconditions of intelligibility” that make it possible to understand life and experience in a logically coherent way.
GS: In your article on tolerance, you announce that tolerance “determines to abolish a moral hierarchy”. You claim the rate of illegitimate children was lower in the 1950s, an unsubstantiated claim. And you seem to think AIDS comes only from casual, unprotected sex and is best addressed by letting those inflicted suffer. I would suggest tolerance is acceptance of alternate lifestyles or cultures, but by no means accepts any behavior that negatively affects the lives of others; a clear moral hierarchy remains. How do you feel the basic moral structure of society has been debased?
RM: The claim about illegitimacy today and in the 1950s comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the U.S.
I certainly don’t believe someone with AIDS ought to just have to suffer. But the issue of AIDS research is being addressed. The point is that we spend much money on medical research, but we are nonsensical in our approach to prevention. With the advent of contemporary tolerance, we have adopted the policy of “thou shall not judge,” a twisted exegetical perspective of “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Therefore we are expected not to criticize destructive behavior, but also pay the tab when that behavior results in tragic consequences.
Simply saying that we should condone anything that doesn’t bring negative consequences to others is unacceptably vague, and is simply a minimalist ethic. How can we know or measure what causes harm to someone else? If there are no moral absolutes, what compels us to adopt that standard either? If things that were once vices are now civil rights, it seems we have to say that we were either wrong in the past, or else we are wrong now. So in that sense it undermines moral hierarchy.
One could suppose that they live in an “enlightened” society because of a great capacity to tolerate various lifestyles, but a morally apathetic society would function the same way. An enlightened society must discern what it should and should not tolerate or it will clumble from within from lack of vision.
GS: Do you feel that principles such as variations of the Golden Rule (“do unto others what you would have them do unto you”) or the Categorical Imperative (“act as though that which you do would be a universal rule”) deny moral absolutes?
RM: It really depends on the application. Christ himself summarized the entire law saying the two great commandments were to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. Of course, what he was saying was that someone who was really acting in a loving manner would keep all the provisions; he was not diminishing the requirements that previously existed. Most of the time when a summary of morality is distilled into a single slogan, exactly the opposite occurs, it generally becomes more vague and generic.
People become afraid of saying that anything is wrong, because they don’t want someone to recipricate regarding their own faults. You are often left with the blind leading the blind.
Unfortunately people misapply the golden rule, forgetting that it applies to interpersonal relationships, not criminal justice or national defense.
GS: In the current issue of Together in Faith, you have an article on same-sex marriages. I found the article to contain logical inconsistencies, ad hominem arguments and some arbitrary redefining of words (which was, ironically, part of what you were arguing against). Why is a judge that makes a decision in favor of liberals considered an “activist” but a judge who makes conservative decisions simply “a judge”? Do you consider Roy Moore to be an activist?
RM: Your statement, “In the current issue of Together in Faith, you have an article on same-sex marriages. I found the article to contain logical inconsistencies, ad hominem arguments and some arbitrary redefining of words,” is supported by only one concrete example; therefore, that is the only one I can address.
What defines a judge as an activist has nothing to do with whether he is personally politically liberal or conservative. It has to do with whether the judge acts as a judge and interprets the law; or whether he acts as a legislator and makes a new law or remedial ruling that flies in the face of the intent of the legislature. This is merely the constitutional principle or “separation of powers.” Conservative judges who subscribe to “originalism” or “strict construction”, have a judicial philosophy that precludes them from doing this. For the legal positivist, the doctrine of “stare decisis” is set in stone; for the originalist, it is merely a guidepost.
As it pertains to same-sex marriage/unions, I pointed out that the legislative creators of the bill cleary indicated that it was not their intention to strip away or challenge existing or future domestic benefits. Therefore, a judge, acting properly, would have no latitude to rule that differently.
One could say that Judge Moore was an activist in that he had a personal agenda/preference. For that matter, I consider myself an activist. However, as I defined the term above, he certainly did not make any new laws. In fact, his argument was that he had to acknowledge God to do his job, according to the preamble of the Alabama State Constitution (which I did not print for the sake of brevity). In September of 2003, I received the “silver pen letter” award from the Post-Crescent, for a LTTE [Letter to the Editor] I wrote rebutting a staff editorial critical of Moore. It seems somebody thought I could make a cogent argument despite my propensity for logical inconsistencies, ad hominem arguments and deconstruction of words.
[Gavin's note: Another example was the idea that homosexuals are equal to heterosexuals under the law because they both have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex. That is true, strictly speaking. But I could easily change the terms of the argument and say homosexuals and heterosexuals are not equal, as they cannot both legally marry the person with whom they wish to spend their life. I only offered one example, the "activist" judges, for the sake of narrowing the question.]
GS: As with all those I interview (Nordlander, William Blum, the John Birch Society, etc.) I would like to ask for a few book selections that you feel would best serve the reader to understand your positions better.
RM: In addition to the books mentioned, I would recommend God and Caesar by John Eidsmoe. A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer. Slouching Toward Gomorrah by Robert Bork. How Now Shall We Live by Charles Colson. Knowing God by J.I. Packer. These books cover Christian political theory, the Christian word and life view, and Packer’s book deals with the attributes of the biblical God. On the topic of predestination, R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God was helpful for me. For Apologetics I enjoy Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready. A great book by a local author on the Christian influence in America’s founding is The Gospel, God’s Law & Government by historian Dr. Jake Jacobs.
GS: Robert, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us and thanks especially for your time.