Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Airport Security in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Here is an excerpt from my opinion essay on Worldmag.com, "Airport Security in the Clouds."

On Christmas Day there was a potential airline terrorist incident here in the United States. My in-laws, a retired couple living in Wyoming, were flying from Billings, Mont., to New York. After stripping them of their coats, belts, and shoes, an alert Federal TSA security officer spotted a 6-ounce tub of yogurt with live active enzymes. Loath to throw out a perfectly good container of Greek God, fig-flavored, acidophilus-infused yogurt with a fig at the bottom, my mother-in-law dug the plastic spoon out of her backpack (I’m surprised they were going to let her on the plane with a potentially deadly plastic spoon) and defiantly indulged herself before getting back in line.

We can all feel safer knowing that every reasonable precaution is being taken to ensure our flight safety in a terror-free America.

In a separate, unrelated incident, a 23-year old Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam using a pouch of chemicals sewn inside his underwear. Thankfully, despite his engineering degree from University College London, he only set himself aflame.

TSA immediately announced security measures even more personally invasive and humiliating than we currently suffer. “Every passenger flying into an American airport will now be subjected to an extra ‘pat-down’ body search and will have their hand luggage examined at terminal gates by airline staff just before they board,” The Sunday Times of London reported.

But brace yourself, travelers. That’s just the initial, reflexive response. Since Richard Reid attempted to blow up a plane over the Atlantic Ocean by lighting an explosive in his shoe, we’ve had to remove our shoes and belts before boarding a plane or entering a federal building. In the future, you should expect to have to remove your pants, too. So please be mindful of this, and make everyone’s progress through security as quick and efficient as possible by remembering to wear flight-appropriate clothing: a T-shirt and sweatpants, or perhaps even a surgical gown, if you’re comfortable with that.

And there's more! I go on to include more serious reflections of why airport security is so absurd, and I end with a darkly humorous conclusion that gives you the rest of the story on my mother-in-law and her exceptional yogurt. But you have to go to Worldmag.com, because they have advertisers who want a crack at your attention, and it is not my place to save you from that.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The World with Asia in Charge

Sati: Widow-burning, a form of Indian bride burning

I did indeed have a nice Christmas. Thank you for asking.

My brother-in-law gave me SuperFreakonomics (HarperCollins, 2009)by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. (By the way, I object to this spread of words and names with capital letters in the middle. Don't you?) I started reading it immediately, knowing that very soon I would have time for nothing but Francis Bacon. It became immediately clear to me why this is a best-seller.

They begin a section on India with this refreshing frankness. "If you had the option of being born anywhere in the world today, India might not be the wisest choice" (p.3). The authors then recount various morally repulsive practices revolving around and following from a culturally strong "son preference." Something will tell you that you're not in Kansas. For example...

The U.S. charity Smile Train, which performs cleft-repair surgery on poor children around the world, recently spent some time in Chennai, India. When one local man was asked how many children he had, he answered "one." The organization later learned that the man did have a son--but he also had five daughters, who apparently didn't warrant a mention.

Smile Train also learned that midwives in Chennai were sometimes paid $2.50 to smother a baby girl born with a cleft deformity--and so, putting the lure of incentives to good use, the charity began offering midwives as much as $10 for each baby girl they took to a hospital for cleft surgery (p.4).

Had enough? No? Here's more.

A baby Indian girl who does grow into adulthood faces inequality at nearly every turn. She will earn less money than a man, receive worse health care and less education, and perhaps be subjected to daily atrocities.

In a national health survey, 51 percent of Indian men said that wife-beating is justified under certain circumstances; more surprisingly, 54 percent of women agreed--if, for instance, a wife burns the dinner or leaves the house without permission. More than 100,000 young Indian women die in fires every year, many of them "bride burnings" or other instances of domestic abuse (p.5).

It is inconceivable that Americans would behave in this way, that is, that these practices would catch on in America. Why not? What makes the difference is not our commitment to human rights or the rise and dominance of feminism, but the enduring moral influence of Christian culture. Of course, these practices and attitudes are repulsive also to non-Christians in the West. Atheists like Christopher Hitchens would have none of this. But their moral assumptions and moral sentiments are more the result of that Christian culture than they care to admit.

Levitt and Dubner found the solution to the problem to be in television (pp.6-7). Where cable television came to rural villages, more girls were kept in school and there were fewer incidents of domestic abuse. They conclude that "cosmopolitan images on their TV sets" elevated people's views regarding the value of girls and women. I would still trace thee influence back to Christian or heavily Christian-influenced culture. The culture of the Indian village is Hindu and traditional Indian. What the authors call "cosmopolitan" is actually Western, and ultimately, in large part, Christian.

Here is a very intelligent man, Hans Rosling, a professor of international health in Sweden, examining population, health, and prosperity trends, comparing the West and Asia over the last 150 years with particular reference to Japan, and to India and China before and after they achieved national sovereignty. He joyfully anticipates Asia regaining its position as the dominant part of the world, which he (half jokingly) predicts will happen on July 27, 2048.

One viewer (Wrolf Bronesby) added a discordant note among the comments on this video, saying,
I would invite any of [those who cheered Rosling's conclusion] to partake in the life of a Chinese citizen making that "average" salary, a life dominated by work amidst choking pollution in a uniform city of concrete shells, with no personal or political liberties. India is not much better, the entirety of all major cities lathered with trash and feces in which the starving poor teem.

Rosling's excitement plays well before his Indian audience. But his disregard for politics is striking in several ways. He referred to Chinese independence in 1949 as "the emergence of a modern china in a way that surprised the world." Of course, by this he meant the take-over of the country by the Chinese Communist Party under the butcher tyrant, Mao Zedong. The only words of criticism he voiced--jestingly--were "no more stupid central planning," as though that were the only reason that China "fell down" in their prosperity and health during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

But as far as China's advance is concerned, he fails to account the cracked demographic floor beams supporting the economic growth that he projects into the future, ceteris paribus. Because of China's one child policy, and, on top of that, the resulting (at times murderous) preference for boys over girls, China will not be able to sustain anything close to the economic growth they are seeing today.

Rosling predicts "a shift of power away from where it has been the last...150 years back to Asia" when they will be "governors of the world." Governors of the world! He celebrates this prospect. What is there to celebrate when you consider the political cultures in India and China, as indicated in these attitudes toward women, and thus toward human beings in general?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

God With Us at Christmas and Always

I don't believe in Christmas. I believe in Christ, that he was born of a virgin, fully God and fully human, so that he, our Great High Priest, could offer himself, the perfect Lamb of sacrifice, as the perfect and gracious payment for the sins of his people. I just don't believe in limiting the celebration of his birth to one season of the year, or, on the other hand, limiting the theme of preaching to exclusively the nativity for fully one twelfth of every year.

But as it is here, and here to stay, I also believe in making the most of it.

A common distortion in the popular celebration of Christmas when the focus is on biblical themes is the concentration of attention on the birth and infancy of Jesus in isolation of its significance as the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity (e.g. "Jesus' birthday").

But the biblical witness does not miss this point. In Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, the angel tells Joseph that he is to name the boy Jesus because, as the name indicates, he will save his people from their sins. Several verses later, we are told that his birth will fulfill what we read in the prophet Isaiah, that he will be called Immanuel, which means God with us.

Why two names? The reason is that the child born in Bethlehem cannot be a savior, J'shua, the Lord saves, unless he is also Immanuel, God tabernacling among us in human flesh (John 1:14).

Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth century London preacher, made the same point in his 1859 Christmas sermon, "A Christmas Question," using Isaiah 9:6 as his text.

"Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." The sentence is a double one, but it has in it no tautology. The careful reader will soon discover a distinction; and it is not a distinction without a difference. "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." As Jesus Christ is a child in his human nature, he is born, begotten of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. He is as truly-born, as certainly a child, as any other man that ever lived upon the face of the earth. He is thus in his humanity a child born. But as Jesus Christ is God's Son, he is not born; but given, begotten of his Father from before all worlds, begotten—not made, being of the same substance with the Father.

The doctrine of the eternal affiliation of Christ is to be received as an undoubted truth of our holy religion. But as to any explanation of it, no man should venture thereon, for it remaineth among the deep things of God—one of those solemn mysteries indeed, into which the angels dare not look, nor do they desire to pry into it—a mystery which we must not attempt to fathom, for it is utterly beyond the grasp of any finite being. As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God. A God whom we could understand would be no God. If we could grasp him he could not be infinite: if we could understand him, then were he not divine.

Jesus Christ then, I say, as a Son, is not born to us, but given. He is a boon bestowed on us, "For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world." He was not born in this world as God's Son, but he was sent, or was given, so that you clearly perceive that the distinction is a suggestive one, and conveys much good truth to us. "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given."

If it is not God who gracious condescended to take our form in Bethlehem's manger, then he could not have even more graciously taken your place on Calvary's cross. But the gospel--the good news for helpless sinners--is that Jesus was not only a child born, but also a son given, and that for us. It is because he is Immanuel from God that he can be Jesus for us.

Soli deo gloria.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hello Canadian State Run Inefficiency

So we're closer to health care reform. When the Democrats secured the sixtieth vote to support the bill that they jiggered together, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) proclaimed, "We stand ready to pass a bill into law that finally makes quality health care a right for every America, not a privilege."

Where we stand is several steps closer to Canada. What does that mean? Here is a Canadian television report on Lyme disease. Sufferers come to America where "they know what they're doing." Watch both segments (12 and 7 minutes). It is stunning how bad things can be in a state run health system. Perhaps it is not so stunning.

David Leggett, in Part II, is an old friend of mine. Here is the account from the print story of his plight with Canadian doctors.

David Leggett used to love the outdoors. He was a healthy, active, family man who enjoyed camping trips with his wife and two daughters. His job as a high school principal came with a long summer vacation -- the perfect time to enjoy Canada's vast stretches of wilderness.

That all changed in July 2004, after camping in a provincial park near Sudbury, Ont. "We were out hiking and then one day I couldn't hike anymore and my knee ballooned up. I felt really, really strange. I had no energy," Leggett recalled.

By October, Leggett was too ill to work. After doing some research on his own he suspected he might have Lyme disease -- but his doctors told him that was impossible because it was too rare in Ontario and it didn't exist where he had been camping. They were wrong.

These days Leggett spends his time lying in bed, unable to get up to eat or even bathe himself. Most of his Canadian doctors continue to insist he is not suffering from Lyme disease, even though a blood test from an American lab came back positive for Lyme.

When a service becomes a "right," instead of a "good," and as a consequence becomes a service of the government rather than a provision of the private economy, you can expect its management to be politicized, its consumers to be impoverished, and its development to be stunted. But you can expect misery of one sort or another to follow when you use something for a purpose other than God's design for it. God instituted government to punish evil and praise what is good (I Peter 2:14), not as the instrument to provide all manner of human goods from schooling and health care to opera companies and baseball stadiums.

Truly historic health care reform would free up the present monstrous system, so that it is not tied to employers but carried by individuals, purchasable with pre-tax income, and open for purchase across state lines. Go would see greater innovation, not less as you will see under anything that the Democrats pass. American citizens would be more in control of this important aspect of their well-being, not less.

here is Mr. Leggett's blog where he discusses the lyme disease problem in Canada. He writes, "Personally, I have a number of friends who are medical doctors. They care very much about all of their patients, including those that they might suspect of having lyme disease. The problem is systemic. Even if a doctor really wants to do everything possible to help a patient who is exhibiting early symptoms of lyme disease, the tests aren’t accurate, an eager medical response often brings an investigation from the provincial college of physicians and surgeons, and the general medical support infrastructure isn’t conducive to an informed and timely response."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christian Political Judgment

A recent commenter named Tim accused Harold and me of offering our personal opinions on politics as the Christian positions on those matters.

We are all free as citizens to think and say whatever we feel. My issue is, and has been, that this site claims to be presenting a "Christian" point of view. There is nothing "Christian" about the comments you are posting. Having a political point of view is fine. The religious right has fooled many people into believing that its views are reflective of Jesus's views. They are not! In fact, they are often in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. Please stop soiling the name of Jesus with your politics.

Marvin Olasky addresses this issue, with particular regard to the task of the Christian journalist, in his 1995 book, Telling the Truth.

The opportunity to approach true objectivity also depends on the nature of the issue. White-water rafters speak of six classes of rapids: class-one rapids are easy enough for a novice to navigate, and class-six rapids whisper death. The issues that journalists report are rapids; providentially, the Bible is clear enough so that many of them fall into class one or two. Here are the classes and examples:

Class one: explicit biblical embrace or condemnation. The Bible condemns homosexuality so clearly that only the most shameless of those who twist Scripture can try to assert the practice’s biblical acceptability. Biblical objectivity means showing the evil of homosexuality; balancing such stories by giving equal time to gay activists is ungodly journalism. Similarly, in an article showing the sad consequences of heterosexual adultery there is no need to quote proadultery sources.

Class two: clearly implicit biblical position. Even though there is no explicit biblical injunction to place children in Christian or home schools, the emphasis on providing a godly education under parental supervision is clear. Biblical objectivity means supporting the establishment and improvement of Bible-based education, and criticizing government schools, in the understanding that turning education over to "professionals" who have no regard for God is an abdication of biblical parental responsibility.

Class three: partisans of both sides quote Scripture but careful study allows biblical conclusions. On poverty-fighting issues, partisans from the left talk of God’s "preferential option" for the poor, but the biblical understanding of justice means giving the poor full legal rights and not treating them as more worthy than the rich by virtue of their class position. Since even widows are not automatically entitled to aid, broad entitlement programs are suspect. Biblically, provision of material help should be coupled with the provision of spiritual lessons; the poor should be given the opportunity to glean but challenged to work.

Next, Olasky moves from a dependence primarily on Scripture to a much greater dependence on general revelation or philosophical reflection on nature and history.

Class four: biblical understanding backed by historical experience. Even though there is no indisputable biblical commandment that strictly limits government, chapter 8 of 1 Samuel describes the dangers of human kingship, and it is clearly bad theology to see government as savior in areas such as health care. The historical record over the centuries is clear, and in recent American experience we have particular reason to be suspicious of the person who says, "I’m from the government and I’m here to help you."

Class five: biblical sense of human nature. On class-five issues there is no clear biblical mandate and no clear historical trail, but certain understandings of human nature can be brought to bear. For example, those who believe that peace is natural emphasize negotiations and disarmament. A biblical understanding of sin, however, leads to some tough questions: What if war is the natural habit of sinful, post-Fall man? What if some leaders see war as a useful way to gain more power in the belief that they can achieve victory without overwhelming losses? History is full of mistaken calculations of that sort–dictators have a tendency to overrate their own power–but they may still plunge ahead unless restrained by the obvious power of their adversaries. Objectivity in such a situation emphasizes discernment rather than credulity: If we do not assume a benign human nature concerning warfare, we need to plan for military preparedness and raise the cost of war to potential aggressors.

Class six: Navigable only by experts, who might themselves be overturned. On a class-six issue there is no clear biblical position, no historical trail for the discerning to apply, and not much else to mark our path. On an issue of this kind–NAFTA is a good example–you should balance views and perspectives.

With these distinctions in mind, I would say that our opposition to the policies of the Obama administration falls into various classes of controversy.

Class one includes the broadly Democratic drive to normalize homosexuality.

Class two includes Obama's aggressive advocacy of abortion rights.

Class three includes his plans to overhaul the health care system, but only insofar as it is, arguably from a biblical standpoint, none of the government's business to concern itself with this matter.

Class four includes, again, health care reform, as well as the system of "cap and trade" to control overall carbon emissions. 

Class five includes Obama's naive foreign policy.

Class six includes the question of climate change, which is obviously a very technical question. But what concerns us most on that matter is what this government proposes to do in response to the issue. That falls into class four.

I hope that this helps you, Tim, in understanding how Harold and I, in good conscience, speak specifically as Christians against this government on these various matters of grave concern.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Second Epistle to Tim (here after, II Tim.)

Dear Tim, and all others of you listening in,

In response to David's excellent defence of himself in the comments of the original post, "Is It Incompetence of Sabotage?", you rejoined with this:

"The religious right has fooled many people into believing that its views are reflective of Christ's views. They are not! In fact, they are often in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. Please stop soiling the name of Jesus with your politics."

You then go on to unload a criticism of your own under a rubric you call a "secular point of view", as if to show us how separating one's politics and one's faith is done.

First I must address the outrage of right-leaning Christians expressing political views. Perhaps another cartoon is in order. Peruse the following, if you will. (Go here for the cartoon.)

Unless I miss my guess, this must capture your view of conservative Christians in general and this blog in particular. (I especially enjoy the "tax cuts" tatoo). While I do admit that one of my favorite bumper stickers ever announces Jesus is Coming...and is He ever pissed! and that the image of Jesus that I mostly dwell on is the one given in Revelation showing him returning on a white charger and wielding a great sword, I do consider myself--and David--capable of humor, irony, nuance and a certain philosophical precision. You apparently missed that part.

One can construct a Jesus and an evangel to fit any age or culture, as indeed has been done and continues to be done. Most of these are heretical of course; it is the ubiquitous and iniquitous sin nature that turns Jesu the joy of man's desiring to Jesu, the joy of man's designing.

Take the mega-church Jesus above; He wants you to be rich, comfortable with yourself, and pleased to call second rate entertainment adequate worship. (By the way--when do you think we will see pastor Rick Warren at an official Obama function again--or any religious figure for that matter?) Or, perhaps closer to your home, what of St John the Divine in Manhattan, where the actual gospel last made its appearance sometime in the 19th century, and all manner of New Age and eastern mysticism are mixed with the anodyne strains of trendy left-socialist social dogma? What of Jeremiah Wright and the Chicago Church of Hate America, where Jesus is surely black and a radical? Did you feel just the least bit queasy at the numerous magazine cover references to candidate Obama as a messiah, redeemer, light worker--and his allowing of it? Why did this "Christian" man allow anyone to style him as the One Who Would Come? Should Christians criticize that, or is that unbecoming and un-Christ like?

I will speak for myself here. I hold to historic Protestantism, as a conservative Reformed Presbyterian. I claim that the orthodox among the parts of Christendom are most truly connected to the earth and the world, and thus most free to enjoy Christian liberty without heretical rules made to foment guilt, aid righteous living, or distinguish the church. They are also best able to delineate the proper mode of engagement with the world, which always included a political element, but now when the philosophical and political understanding is that the people are judge of their own rights and liberties, and that these are over against the power of the government that serves at their pleasure, believing Christians ought more than ever to engage in political discussion. Does it surprise you that there are sharp elbows involved? How do you think the Pharisees took Jesus' shots at them? Not that I am equating my opinions with Jesus--that is your claim about me and this blog. I deny that I ever have spoken in the name of Jesus--wouldn't that be prophetic speech, and thus required to be added to Scripture?--or in the name of Christianity--who could possibly claim to speak for a globe girdling, centuries enduring abstraction such as Christianity?

Your claim is that criticism of this president, as provided on this blog (and at a very reasonable price too) is unchristian. I can't offer you a refund--David is resolutely against it--, but I can offer you this. Political liberty is a precious thing, mostly unknown to the denizens of this world, even now. I consider it a gift in the providential order of things that America found itself at an historical juncture propitious of a new beginning in liberty. Our revolutionary era ancestors fought and died delivering it to us; our civil war era ancestors fought and died keeping America together; my father and his generation fought and died preventing worldwide domination of first National Socialism and then International Socialism. Since the war with international socialism was a "cold war", we did not really stamp it out as was done with Nazism. International socialism is alive and creeping in the form of so called trans-national organizations, beginning with the unspeakable UN and its continuous calls for world governing authority. I see liberal democrats, and the Obama administration in particular, congenial to ever larger units of governmental authority, ever further out of reach of popular control. Pity the poor Europeans--they couldn't even stop the formation of the EU and its utter destruction of national sovereignty--the elites just went ahead and signed it into law. Why not--they cannot be voted out of office because there is no popular mechanism for doing so.

That is what we see being pushed at America. Obama's foreign policy is to take America out of its leading position-we are to be only one of the 190 nations on the globe, not especially significant; hence all the bowing and scraping he's been seen doing. Did that please you Tim, to see the president of the United States, the elected representative of the people of a constitutional republic, bowing to a Saudi king and the Japanese emperor? Do you think that was a just junior league error, or was it a signal to the world that Obama is serious about reducing the power and prestige of the US? I'll wait while you think it over. Those are the only alternatives, neither of which should go unnoticed or uncriticized.

And here on this blog, those actions and almost all of Obama's others actions and speeches have been criticized, since David and I and most conscious people on the right see in the machinations of this administration what our forbears saw, to wit: a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object, evinc[ing] a design to reduce [us to] absolute despotism. (OK, maybe the committee writing the Declaration were a bit overwrought). And if we do not (yet) see absolute despotism on the horizon, we do not believe this is the usual back and forth of our two party system, where both parties basically agree on the principles but differ on the policies. We see an attempt to fulfill the now chilling proclamation of Obama the candidate: Change is coming America! We did not envision becoming citizens of a Euro-socialist democratic member-state of the threatened world government. Obama and the left Democrats would have no problem fitting the US into a world order where we have both major and minor policies dictated to us--like the Europeans. We will resist such a transformation, by holding forth on this blog site, doing so under Christian liberty of conscience to believe as we do, and under the freedom of speech that is inherent in political liberty, and oh, by the way, guaranteed in the Constitution.

It is not evil to call evil by its name. Political oppression is a large, if perhaps pedestrian, form of evil that we are free to oppose. What will you do when confronted with political oppression--that is, if you could recognize it?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Godly Political Opposition

In the "Incompetence or Sabotage?" post below, reader Tim registers this protest:

This blogger continuously speaks evil of the President of the United States, which is his right of course, but to do so in the name of Christ or of Christianity is so misleading as to the nature of Jesus as to be evil in itself.

On this blog, we advocate, among other things, political and economic liberty. We do this because we think it is godly to do so, and we advocate an understanding of liberty that (I believe in good conscience) is faithful to the Scriptures.

I must hasten first to say that I don't agree with everything Harold has written in his rejoinder below. Part of it seems to dismiss Paul's (and thus God's) command to submit to unjust governing authorities as culturally relative, limited in its binding authority to the unhappy and unenlightened times in which it was written. (Forgive me and please correct me if I have misunderstood you.) But I don't think we have to wait until the Enlightenment to find the value of personal liberty expressed in Christian teaching.

In I Timothy 2, Paul urges prayer "for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." That is, we are to pray that government would do that for which God has instituted it, and to do no less and no more. Government is to protect the people from one another and from outside invasion so that they are free to go about their own business, providing for their own needs and those of their neighbors (e.g. one's children and aged parents, the poor in one's midst, etc.). Government is to secure fathers in their liberty to fulfill their calling as fathers, bakers and shoemakers to fulfill their callings as bakers and shoemakers, and the church to fulfill its calling as the church. The government is not to raise children, bake bread, preach the gospel, or feed the hungry. In other words, government provides only what people cannot in principle provide on their own. Everything else is rightly left to the self-government of individual citizens, families, and churches. The life of morally informed self-government is one that both the Apostle Paul and natural reason (c.f. Aristotle, John Locke) recognize as "dignified," i.e., the dignity befitting human beings, creatures made in the image of God who governs all things.

harold adds:
David, you nicely sum up what in Protestant terms is the "sphere of influence" argument, and in Catholic thought what is called the doctrine of "subsidiary institutions", wherein the three main institutions of civil life, government, church, and family, each have their own proper sphere of influence or control. Societal upset of all sorts occurs when any of the three attempt an incursion on the sovereignty of another, or attempt a model of rule adapted from the others. Obviously, the greatest offender is the state forcing its way into matters familial and ecclesial, often under the guise of moral concern for the little ones.

I suspect that my predilections afford an earlier and more robust form of resistance to state incursions into areas I consider none of its concern than do your own. On the relativistic thing, I am as wary as anyone of falling into that state of affairs, but perhaps I have in my statement above. I suspect, for example, that the wars spawned by the Reformation were as brutal and wrong-headed as any, yet many men of strong and determined Christian faith were involved, for the principles at stake, and not just for the sake of rebellion or revenge. A special subset of the Reformation wars were the English revolutions, which ended not only Catholic but Divine Right monarchical pretensions, things we consider part of the blessings of the liberty bequethed to us by our own revolution--which strictly speaking, is difficult at best to justify out of anything Jesus or Paul taught regarding civil authorities. Was our own revolution out of line with a nation considering itself (at least for the first 150 years) a Christian nation? Would you have joined the thoughtful Tories, whose consciences and family lineages led them to side with the God-given order of King and Parliament? The colonial pulpits were filled with fiery injunctions to throw off the tyranny of King George, many pastors finding a happy coincidence of Locke and Paul in their reading of the New Testament as it applied to their new city on a hill. I don't consider any of this dispositive for my position, but bring it briefly forward in order to show the ambiguity involved in this vexed question of what the duties and rights of persons as free citizens of a constitutional state are in relation to their duties and rights as Christians, questions which were simply not germane to those under ancient despotisms, who can hardly be considered citizens with any political rights (the vanishing shadow of which allowed Paul as a Roman citizen to appeal the decision of Festus, who would have slapped his wrist and let it go had he not insisted on his rights as a Roman). There is irony for you.

What vexes Harold's righteous soul and mine, and should vex yours, brother Tim, is the leftist desire not to keep people safe in their liberty, but simply to keep them. Not only as political theorists, but also as Christians, we see the statist agenda of political liberals in general, and of the Obama administration in particular, as despotic and dehumanizing, howsoever they dress it up in the language of love and compassion. Some liberals and perhaps most, including you no doubt, are genuinely concerned about human well-being, but we argue that you are tragically mistaken. We will continue to argue, and do so in the fear of God and for the glory of Christ.

First Epistle to Tim

Dear Tim,

There are some who call you...Tim, right? Well, I can see you're a busy man, but I do want to respond to your comments on the post below, "Is It Incompetence or Sabotage?".

As the inspiration so to speak, of the post--in a personal email I directed David's attention to the Muir cartoon and the Politico piece he combined in his post--I must consider that your comments are directed at me as much as at David, since I consider his brief handling of the material very much in keeping with his usual high achievement. Hence the charge of unChristian writing and thinking--are these thought crimes in your estimation?--, and the unmannerly and unChristian error of mixing politics and faith that forms the central thrust of your plaint is pointed at me as well.

So you consider it "ironic" that the Titus 3 quote on being subject to principalities and powers hovers hard by the "very unchristian" criticism pouring forth from this blog. I notice in the same sentence the irony has turned to evil (assuming for the sake of the argument that what we are saying is evil)--someone who speaks evil of the president in the name of Christ or of Christianity is doing evil itself, or have I missed your meaning? You equate criticism with evil speaking, and evil speaking with political insurrection, and consider it antithetical to the teachings of our Lord and Savior, who called Herod--a political leader--a fox, and over turned the tables in the temple. You also implicitly equate the despotism known in antiquity with the self governance of post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment democracy, at least some of the values to which I assume you at least partly subscribe--equality before laws equally applied, the worth of individuals as individuals, natural law as the ground of natural right, the sovereignty of the people over their government servants--oh wait--that last one is the rub isn't it?

In your confusion, you have forgotten--or never knew--that in the Lockean liberal theory of politics, which Francis Fukuyama ably argued to be the basis and the high point of Western political achievement, individuals form governments for their own purposes. Governments exist for the sake of the people, not the other way around, as was the default assumption across the ancient world. The apostle Paul, from which the bulk of the political citations concerning "principalities and powers" flow, was concerned to shepherd the early churches past the suspicious and brutal idolaters of the Roman emperor and his minions. Paul's advice and teaching to the churches of the first century, under Roman dominion, makes sense to a culture based in slavery; indeed, not a few of the early adherents were slaves. What would your advice be to black slaves in say, the 1760's America; should they submit without complaint to their "masters"? In centuries in which the full implications of the intrinsic worth of every individual inherent in Christ's teachings unfolded, the understanding of the relation to the political order necessarily changed from that of those steeped in a society that accepted as matters of fact slavery and despotic rule. Would you bring back slavery, or do you long for an enlightened despotism headed by such as a Barack Hussein Obama? David and I certainly agree that despotism is the trajectory with this bunch in the White House. But respect for authority by citizens looks different in a small L liberal political culture than it does in an ancient despotism.

If you conflate Caesar and Obama in your mind--a philosophical tic you share with the One--you will miss the, for some, obvious differences between free government and despotism, and hence the range of thought, speech, and action open to free citizens of a free society. You seem to suggest that the ambit of political speech, thought, and action available to Christians in the present day should be circumscribed by that of the ancient world, as if the revelation of Christ through the writings of ancient authors also lock us into the political, social, and cultural understandings of the writers themselves. I don't think so, and neither did the writers of our Declaration and Constitution.

And thus, David and I will continue to be critical, ironic, insubordinate, and as large a pain to figures in positions of authority as we have been up to now, and we will not consider it evil-speaking or "insipient trash" (sic.), your Sojourner-inspired jeremiad to the contrary notwithstanding. I will have more to say in a further epistle. Until then Tim, take some wine for your sour stomach.

David adds:

Thank you for your comments, Tim. The comments feature is there for discussion. Thank you also for identifying yourself, and please don't take Harold's bit 'o fun with the Monty Python connection the wrong way. It's healthier to join in the laughter, and carry on from there. (Here's the video for anyone who skipped the link.)

I guess it helps to put a face with a name, even if it is a randomly chosen one. Tim the Sorcerer at least is an impressive Scotsman.

I offer a partial justification for the Christian integrity of the blog and for vocal Christian opposition to the present government's policies in the post that follows above.

Harold I am eager to read these other epistles you have in mind. Let me say, friend, you're like a big jam doughnut with cream on the top. That is, I... I mean that, uh, like a doughnut your arrival gives us pleasure and your departure merely makes us hungry for more. (Oh, where have I heard that?)

Harold: LOL...is that one of yours Innes?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is It Incompetance or Sabotage?

While I'm busy with senior thesis drafts, why not toss up another cartoon?

But there is a serious question behind this. Is this just right wing, malcontent twisting of the facts? Is the President an incompetent state senator who is in way over his head? Or is he a carefully disguised, ACORN related, Jeremiah Wright discipled, liberty hating, Chicago battle-hardened revolutionary who charmed his way into the highest office? Which is the true picture of Barack Obama, or is he somewhere in between?

John Harris at Politico sketches seven pictures of Obama that are unflattering and are leaving an increasingly deep impression in the public mind. Are these caricatures or photo portraits of the President? To me, the list reads like a mid-November 2012 post-election post-mortem for a one term presidency.

1. He thinks he’s playing with Monopoly money

2. Too much Leonard Nimoy

3. That’s the Chicago Way

4. He’s a pushover

5. He sees America as another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe

6. President Pelosi

7. He’s in love with the man in the mirror

Read all about it in "7 Stories Barack Obama Doesn't Want Told."

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Terminatrix Peace Prize Theory

The end of the year is busy for professors, so things have been slow on the blog.

But I ran across this interesting reflection:

This theory makes sense of Barack Obama's Nobel prize, but the Terminatrix part doesn't seem to fit the data.

It may be most interesting as an expression of liberal discomfort with the Nobel Committee's 2009 choice for the peace prize.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving and This Dark Valley

Christians are not Zoroastrians. Neither are we gnostics. We not only thank God from whom all blessings flow, but we also pass through the valley of the shadow of death in the confidence not only that he is with us, but also that he is Lord over that valley, and even that the valley itself is his loving rod of discipline (Psalm 23:4).

For that reason, Scripture tell us to give thanks in all situations, both the happy and the unhappy, the bright and the dark. "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright (Psalm 112:4).

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:4-6).

[B]e filled with the Spirit...giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18, 20).

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
This Thanksgiving, it is hard not to notice that the country is in dark times that are getting progressively darker both at home and abroad. That presents the Christian with many opportunities to offer prayerful thanksgiving to God the sovereign, wise, and good Father in the name of our risen and reigning covenant Lord, Jesus Christ.

Consider this bad news.

The Heritage Foundation reports a massive increase in our public debt burden over the next decade. The graph is from the Washington Post. "President Bush presided over a $2.5 trillion increase in the public debt through 2008. Setting aside 2009 (for which Presidents Bush and Obama share responsibility for an additional $2.6 trillion in public debt), President Obama’s budget would add $4.9 trillion in public debt from the beginning of 2010 through 2016."

Also, read George Melloan on what the massive expansion of government borrowing means for bank lending to private home buyers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs. Answer: "No money for you!" ("Government Deficits and Private Growth," WSJ, Nov. 23, 2009). Furthermore, as the government is now regulating banker salaries, and linking them to risk aversion instead of risk assessment, lenders have every incentive to prefer risk-free Treasury securities over housing and enterprise.

Have you noticed the price of gold recently? As the value of paper money goes down, the value of gold goes up, e.g., in times of inflation, or when the "full faith and credit of the United States government" comes into serious question.

With the continuing weakness in the US dollar, low interest rates around the world, increasing investor demand and a growing concern about the value of these fiat currencies, it is not surprising that the price of gold is performing so well.  A fiat currency is a currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, despite the fact that it has no intrinsic value and is not backed by reserves. Historically, most currencies were based on physical commodities such as gold or silver, but fiat money is based solely on faith. Most of the world's paper money is fiat money. Because fiat money is not linked to physical reserves, it risks becoming worthless due to hyperinflation. If people lose faith in a nation's paper currency, the money will no longer hold any value" (from Mineweb.com).

Gold is up, and rising fast by about $100 an ounce per month. The world market is bearish on America's economic future thanks to the frantic spending and spending plans of our ruling Democrats.

In world politics, that anarchy of ferocious evil out there, expect a return to 1979. When America withdraws or smiles sweetly and says "Can't we all just get along?," barbarians seize their opportunity, and then all the evil that lurks in the mud catches out. Here, Bret Stephens compares President Jimmy Carter's calamitous naivete with President Obama's equally ill-conceived plans to bring hope and change to the world ("The Carter Ricochet Effect," WSJ, Nov. 23, 2009).

President Obama likes to bemoan the "mess" he inherited overseas, the finger pointed squarely at President Bush. But the real mess he inherited comes straight out of 1979, the serial debacles of which define American challenges in the Middle East just as surely as the triumphs of 1989 define our opportunities in Europe. ... He would do well to cast a backward glance at the tenure of his fellow Nobel peace laureate, as an object lesson in how even the purest of motives can lead to the most disastrous results.
And that's just from today's paper and from what comes quickly to mind.

But you need have "no fear of bad news" if your "heart is steadfast, trusting the Lord" (Psalm 112:7).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Liberal Overlords

Every so often, someone offers a flash of brilliance that illuminates the puzzling contours of the world. John Steele Gordon sheds helpful light of that sort on the way political liberals see the world. He calls that view "the liberal paradigm" ("Obama and the Liberal Paradigm," Wall Street Journal, Nov. 4, 2009), and it explains in large measure their passionate support for big government solutions to every human problem, and their hateful disdain for everyone who opposes their efforts.

The basic premise is that the population is divided into three groups. By far the largest group consists of ordinary people. They are good, God fearing and hard working. But they are also often ignorant of their true self-interest ("What's the matter with Kansas?") and thus easily misled. They are also politically weak and thus need to be protected from the second group, which is politically strong.

The second group, far smaller, are the affluent, successful businessmen, corporate executives and financiers. Capitalists in other words. They are the establishment and it is the establishment that, by definition, runs the country. They are, in the liberal paradigm, smart, ruthless and totally self-interested. They care only about personal gain.

And then there is the third group, those few, those happy few, that band of brothers, the educated and enlightened liberals, who understand what is really going on and want to help the members of the first group to live a better and more satisfying life. Unlike the establishment, which supposedly cares only for itself, liberals supposedly care for society as a whole and have no personal self-interest.

Thus the liberal paradigm divides the American body politic into sheep, wolves, and would-be shepherds. The shepherds must defeat the efforts of the wolves.
Gordon focuses on the liberal view of people as helplessly vulnerable to the wolf class. He says that through education and economic success, most people have entered the wolf class themselves, and so the majority no longer has need of progressive liberal protection. But I would like to draw attention to the way liberals understand themselves not as protectors, but as enlightened, and thus with a natural right to rule.

Liberals see themselves in the role of Plato's philosopher kings (The Republic, Book V, 473d-e; Book VII, 514a-521b). These are people who, on account of their love for the truth and their philosophic education understand justice and the nature of things in general, and so are uniquely positioned to govern public affairs. But problem is that liberals, who see themselves as the natural governing class in this way, are not philosophers. They flatter themselves. They are a mix of ideologues, technocrats, and utopians. Plato's philosopher king was none of these things.

In addition, because the philosopher king is a philosophic lover of wisdom, he is not interested in rule. The responsibilities of government are a distraction from his true love: further investigation of the good, the true, and the beautiful. His rule assumes also a public that is incapable of sober, intelligent reflection on public affairs with a view to the truth, i.e., self-government. While many populations are that way, ours is not. Aristotle said that for a people who are "similar in stock [to the rulers] and free," government that is most appropriate is "political rule" in which citizens rule and are ruled in turn (The Politics, 1277b7-16). He was describing what Lincoln called "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," where the people are free, not only by law, but also in character. The liberal preference for big government, however, is based on the view that, like the people chained to the wall in Plato's cave, people are in general incapable of taking care of themselves.

People who are incapable of self-government, people who need caretakers and overlords, who require nannys and stewards, he likens to natural slaves, people who are in themselves cannot direct their affairs for their own good. This appears to be how liberals see the American public. Hence their preference for constituitional change by Supreme Court re-interpretation instead of by popular amendment; hence, their preference for federal government power over government that is close to the people and responsive to them; hence, their resistance to the privatization of social security; hence, their preference for government controlled health insurance as opposed to a market based system.

There is still a strong, free spirit in the country. American are still unusually attached to the nobility of self-government. We can see this in the public unease over recent unprecedented levels of government spending, and in the collapsing public approval for a government run health care system. The upcoming vote on plans for that system will be the Waterloo of American liberty. Either we will keep a government for the protection of our liberties, or we will be kept by an overlord for our protection from all the dangers and pitfalls of life. But that overlord is a looming danger that overshadows all other dangers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama Bows to Foreign Crowns

So far, President Obama has bowed twice before foreign heads of state--both of them kings.

The headlines read that specifically conservatives are upset at this. But why should indignation be the reserve of conservatives on this point? I can see how liberals should be at least torn over it. On the one hand they value being culturally sensitive. If it is customary in Japan to bow before the Emperor, they believe the President should avoid offense (except to Americans) and bow. On the other hand, they are egalitarians. Why should one human being bow before another, especially in a political content like this?

For the President personally, there is another consideration. Though he is not descended from slaves, those who are look to him as representing them in a special way. Slaves in America had to bow before masters. The journey up from slavery, Jim Crow, and social subordination in general has been a long, bloody, humiliating, but gloriously triumphant one. For our first black President to distinguish himself as the President who bowed to foreign masters is a disgraceful dereliction of duty, both political and moral.

Here is his bow to the Saudi king. Perhaps he just wants to bring back bowing to heads of state among Americans.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Love a Liberal. Donate to the National Debt.

This Christmas, what do you get the person who has everything, for example, your politically liberal friends who own both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue?

Well, consider that liberals are happiest when they are forcing you to put your money where their mouths are, so to speak. The best gift for those friends and family members, therefore, would be donating money to an approved left-wing cause. As they seem to believe that private initiative cannot be trusted to address human needs, it would be most thoughtful to donate to a government program. But which one do you choose? There are so many.

Thankfully, the Department of the Treasury has solved your problem. You can cover all government programs by donating money to help pay off the national debt. Last year, for love of country, people gave $3 million, the highest giving since 1996.

This is what you find on the Treasury website:

How do you make a contribution to reduce the debt?

Make your check payable to the Bureau of the Public Debt, and in the memo section, notate that it is a Gift to reduce the Debt Held by the Public. Mail your check to:

Attn Dept G
Bureau of the Public Debt
P. O. Box 2188
Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188
Conservatives might consider giving to help pay down this publicly burdensome debt if there were evidence of repentance among our national leaders--any sign of repentance among the Democrats, and signs of genuine repentance among the Republicans. Otherwise, it would be like working extra hours to help finance your husband's crack habit.

But liberals object to the very notion of a public, or even broadly cultural, celebration of "Christmas." They celebrate things like "Sparkle Season." Since such concepts, however, have no connection to the the notion of gift-giving (unlike Christmas which celebrates God's gift of his Son for the redemption of sinners), you're off the hook.

You can read the Reuters story here.

You can see the national debt clock here, along with related information and articles. There are so many numbers to the left of the decimal point that it may take you a while to figure out what the number is. I had to work at it. It's about $12 trillion. And that's before we spend trillions more slowly nationalizing health care services.

Here is another clock with live updates and many other helpful figures (GDP, government spending, average household debt, etc.).

The picture at the top of this post was taken a year ago when the sign ran out of digits to accommodate the $10 trillion figure. AP reported: "The clock was put up by the late real estate mogul Seymour Durst in 1989 when the U.S. government's debt was a mere $2.7 trillion, and was even turned off during the 1990s when the debt decreased."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Memorial Day: To Mark Their Place

This is the great poem I learned as a boy each Remembrance Day in Canada. I reproduce it here for Memorial Day.

Second Battle of Ypres, 1915

In Flanders Field
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pelosi's America and the Promise of Harmony

I have noriced that everyone is better looking when they smile. A smile beautifies any face. But Nancy Pelosi appears to be an exception. Her smile is frightening, and she is smiling a lot these days. The reason for it is far more frightening. She is gleeful because her plans for a New America are being realized.

Think of it this way...

Consider other Narfbuscuit insights.

P.S. Well-earned smugness for anyone who got the allusion to Samuel Huntington.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wise Public Policy Frees the American Spirit

During a recession, there is much less money in circulation than there was before. That's what a shrinking economy means. Fewer people have jobs. People spend less. Governments have revenue shortfalls. But non-profit organizations, everything from local churches (which depend entirely on giving) to big universities (which have large endowments to carry them), also suffer a decrease in contributions.

These circumstances make it all the more useful to learn what three sociologists from Rice and Notre Dame universities have discovered regarding American giving patterns, particularly among churchgoers. In Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money (Oxford UP, 2008), Michael O. Emerson (sociology professor at Rice University), Christian Smith (sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame), and Patricia Snell (Notre Dame religion and sociology researcher) have that, "When it comes to sharing their money, most contemporary American Christians are remarkably ungenerous."

Fifty percent of American who do not attend church give nothing to charity.

Twenty percent of American Christians give nothing to charity.

Regular churchgoers give two percent.

Nine percent of self-identified Christians give ten percent or more of their after-tax income to charity.

Twenty-three percent of active Protestant church attenders give ten percent or more.

As real income have risen in the last one hundred years, giving as a percentage of income has declined.

The poor are more generous in their giving than the rich.
Compare these two figures: "Regular churchgoers give two percent" and "Twenty-three percent of active Protestant church attenders give ten percent or more." This appears to indicate a significant difference between Protestant and Catholic giving. I suspect that most of the giving in those Protestant churches is from Evangelicals, including Evangelicals in the old mainline churches.

Clearly, there are many people who simply will not give to charity, regardless of how much money they have. I recall that when Al Gore's tax statements were released during the 2000 campaign, we discovered that he gave a miniscule amount to charity out of his ample income. Liberals, it seems, don't believe in private giving. They believe in establishing generous though inefficient and generally ineffective government programs. People with lower incomes are more generous in their giving, as these reports confirm.

The last fact calls to mind the 2006 book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, by Arthur C. Brooks, the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Whitman School of Management, and president of the American Enterprise Institute.

But there are others who give regardless of their income, but who would give more if their income weren't so squeezed under the burden of having to pay for bloated government programs, including government schools. If taxes were lower, including property taxes (on Long Island, you can pay $10,000 a year on a middle to lower middle class home), people would give more money to private charities which are far more responsive to what I would call "neighbor needs" and far more effective at bringing remedies. Marvin Olasky's The Tragedy of American Compassion is the classic study on this point.

John Fund, when he spoke here at The King's College the other day, told us that occasionally he will ask a liberal audience the following question. If you received a million dollars for some reason, and you wanted to give away ten percent to a worthy charitable work, raise your hand if you would give it to your local welfare office. In all the years he has been asking this question, only three people have raised their hands. One person was just hard of hearing, and otherwise would not have raised her hand. One person was Swedish. The third person worked in a local welfare office.
Freeing the world-transforming energy of the American spirit, which is powerfully informed by the Spirit of Christ in many of those Americans, entails lowering taxes not only to spur business enterprise and technological innovation, but also to release the imaginative and vigorous charitable giving and labors of a citizenry already inclined to serve one another directly, personally, and sacrificially.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mapping the Uninsured

Here is a really fun and informative interactive map that shows the percentage of the state population that has no health insurance.

The top rate is over 40%. The lowest rate is 3.4%, but those lowest rates are all in Massachusetts where people are required by law to have it. The top rates are all in the border states, like Texas and California, where there are particularly high concentrations of illegal aliens. Almost all of the states with a rate of over 25% are Democratic districts.

My friend Matt Laslo at PRI (Capitol News Connection) put me on to this.

Here's an interactive map at NPR that distinguishes the numbers for uninsured children from those of adults under 65.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Big Government Needs Big Laws

Big government requires big laws. It seems appropriate, therefore, that the House health care reform law (HR-3962) requires 1,990 pages to cover everything that needs to be put right.

Back when it was HR-3200, but only about half the size of the present bill, Jimmy Fallon had this fun with it.

Incidentally, the law is sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich) who takes a withering blow in Time magazine's cover story on "The Tragedy of Detroit" by Daniel Okrent (Oct. 5, 2009). "Dingell has in fact played a signal role in destroying Detroit," that is, his own constituency. With proven judgment like that, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives lends his good name to the Congressional effort at reforming one sixth of the U.S. economy.

Two words: buy gold.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Abolition of Men

Joe Queenan told us the other day that he is "sick of reading the 'Man Up, Barack' editorial" from the President's liberal detractors ("'Man Up, Obama' and Other Nonsense," Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26, 2009).

I am surprised that the thought of manly virtue enters the liberal mind at all. It has been central to the New Left liberal agenda for generations now to un-man men so that we may all live in a world that is not only sexually more egalitarian, but also safer.

Here are two articles on how boyhood is being abolished so that virility may trouble us no more.

Anthony Esolen gives us "A Requiem for Friendship: Why Boys Will Not Be Boys & Other Consequences of the Sexual Revolution" (Touchstone, Sept. 2005).

Our boys are failing in school. Has it occurred to no one that we have checked them at every turn, perversely insisting that they must not form brotherhoods, that they must not identify their manhood with practical and intellectual skills that transform the world, and that they must not ever have the opportunity, apart from girls, to attach themselves in friendship to men who could teach them?

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island.

The second article is by James Bowman, the author of Honor: A History (Encounter Books, 2006). In his article, "The Decline of the Honor Culture: An Old Code Becomes Déclassé" (Policy Review, August/September 2009), he looks at how liberal passivism neuters our boys and will leave our country defenseless insofar as we allow it to continue.

It’s hard to persuade boys of military age that they have a duty to fight for their country when they have been taught from their earliest years that fighting of any kind is wrong and shameful and only leads to more fighting.

You should read this article alongside what C.S. Lewis says about "men without chests" in The Abolition of Man. James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NYC is Not Where the Wild Things Are

They say that New York is a city where anything goes. You could dress like a giraffe, and no one would bat an eye. A man could likely even wear a kilt without causing a stir. But apparently, wearing a bowtie goes beyond even what New Yorkers will tolerate, at least in midtown.

At The King's College, men in the House of Churchill distinguish themselves with various forms of greatness, but also by sporting the Churchill bowtie on Tuesdays. As faculty adviser to the House, I occasionally join them in this.

On my way toward Penn Station this past Tuesday evening, as I waited for the light at Broadway and 33rd, a pedicab driver pulled away from the intersection and said loudly in a mock Brahman accept, "That's why I wear my bowtie!" I thought to myself, "Oh my! I've just been gratuitously mocked by a pedicab driver. By a pedicab driver of all people!"

Perhaps I should have thrown a coffee at him, or even a garbage can. No. It would not have been in keeping with the bowtie. Besides, I remembered this video of a brawl in the street between a pedicab driver and a cabbie. (Go on. How can you not watch it?)

For those of you who are from out of town, "That's New York for ya" is a gross mischaracterization. New Yorkers, even New York cabbies, are a whole lot more civil and friendly than this. In my more than four years here, I have never seen anything even remotely like this. In fact, I have found New Yorkers to be remarkably polite and considerate of one another. (Read my earlier post, "New York--City of Marvels and Manners.")

But it seems that Gotham is also a lot more conventional than it's reputation would lead you to think it is. You can play a guitar in your underwear in Times Square and call yourself the Naked Cowboy, but if you walk down 34th Street dressed that way, you'll make people uncomfortable. (I have not tried this.) I'm not even sure that a man could wear a kilt without getting jeered. And even a distinguished looking bowtie is a step outside the acceptable, inviting cultural punishment from the street.

I'm not complaining, mind you. All of this just confirms my belief that a sustainable, livable political community--which New York City is--requires a degree of mutual consideration and fellow feeling, but also a healthy level of outwardly expressed mutual censorship...some, but not too much.

I love New York. And New York loves me, but not always.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Christian Culture War in the Age of Obama

In his April 2009 farewell speech to the Focus on the Family staff, Dr. James Dobson surveyed what his more than thirty year defense of the Christian American family had accomplished. Far from triumphalist, he described the work of his mammoth organization on behalf of the unborn child and the dignity of the family as "a holding action." He seemed to concede defeat, but if so it was only for the present. "We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say that we have lost all those battles, but God is in control and we are not going to give up now, right?"

It does look bad on the culture front. Thirty-six years after Roe v. Wade, abortion is still legal. All manner of depravity is broadcast over the airwaves, taught and tolerated in the public schools, and pressed into our souls from every direction. It is more difficult than ever to raise godly or even just polite children without sealing one's family off from the world. Like Dobson, I do not think that the war is over. It cannot be. As God has not rescinded the cultural mandate to "take dominion over the earth" (Gen. 1:26), neither has Christ told his people to be anything other than salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-14), taking captive every thought for him (II Cor. 10:5).

John Barber and David Brooks have separate responses to the state of the Christian culture war in the age of Obama.

In a conference address at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church this spring entitled "Have Christians Lost the Culture-War? ," John Barber challenged the way Christians assess success and failure in our efforts to transform culture by comparing it to our view of evangelism.

What is successful evangelism? Is it successful only when you share the gospel with someone and that person becomes a Christian? What if no one comes to Christ? Are we to say that we failed? Isaiah preached for nearly fifty years and hardly anyone responded positively. Was he a failure? I think of Bill Bright’s helpful definition of successful evangelism. Bright often said, “Successful evangelism is witnessing in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” Now apply what Bright said in reference to the Great Commission to the cultural mandate, and let’s define the cultural mandate. “Successful Christian activism is laboring in culture in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” You see, if we looked at evangelism the way some look at the culture-war, we’d look at all the people we’ve witnessed to, and see how few have come to Christ, and [following Dr. Dobson] say, “We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.” But no one who is biblically informed thinks this way regarding evangelism. So we ought not to think this way regarding the cultural mandate.

David Brooks, whether or not he thinks that these old battles (are they so old?) over abortion and the normalization of homosexuality are obsolete, is certainly convinced that we have missed one of the great battle fronts of the age. He has a point.

In "The Next Culture War" (New York Times, September 28, 2009), he writes:

[D]espite the country’s notorious materialism, there has always been a countervailing stream of sound economic values. The early settlers believed in Calvinist restraint. The pioneers volunteered for brutal hardship during their treks out west. Waves of immigrant parents worked hard and practiced self-denial so their children could succeed. Government was limited and did not protect people from the consequences of their actions, thus enforcing discipline and restraint. ...

Over the past few years, however, there clearly has been an erosion in the country’s financial values. This erosion has happened at a time when the country’s cultural monitors were busy with other things. They were off fighting a culture war about prayer in schools, ... and the theory of evolution. They were arguing about sex and the separation of church and state, oblivious to the large erosion of economic values happening under their feet.

He cites widespread and government sponsored gambling and the avarice it incites, scandalously huge executive compensation packages, supersized restaurant meals, a sharp rise in personal consumption as percentage of GDP, the explosion of personal debt (133% of national income vs 55% in 1960), and runaway government spending.

Our current cultural politics are organized by the obsolete culture war, which has put secular liberals on one side and religious conservatives on the other. But the slide in economic morality afflicted Red and Blue America equally.

Brooks calls for a “moral revival” in the form of a “crusade for economic self-restraint.”

He sent the same message in his June 10, 2008 column, “The Great Seduction.”

The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and frugality....The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal.

Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.

Evangelical Christians have had to mount counter-offensives on seemingly innumerable fronts as the culture has been unraveling, hastened on by the ubiquitous and (yes) demonic efforts of the nihilistic left. We have rallied to the defense of babies in the womb. Murder is a bloody and obvious evil. We have stood against public acceptance of the horror and perversity of homosexuality alongside its wholesome and natural counterpart. Prompted by these conflicts, evangelicals have thought seriously about the nature of healthy family life and have developed helpful resources to support people in their marriages and child rearing.

But the seductions of wealth and comfort and self-indulgence were harder to discern, and they so went largely unopposed. The megachurches went as far as embracing them. Why should I not sit in my own theater-quality chair? Why should I not be entertained on Sunday morning the way I was on Saturday night? Why should I not enjoy a Starbucks coffee after or before church, and why should I not be able to buy it in the church lobby? But Christians in small churches too went heavily into debt and voted for governments that did the same, and also supersized their drinks.

The Institute for American Values has initiated the sort of moral reform movement that Brooks has advocated. Indeed, Brooks praises them for this in his 2008 column. David Blankenhorn, the institute's founder and president, has written Thrift: A Cyclopedia, as well as “There is No Paradox of Thrift” (The Weekly Standard, June, 15, 2009). You can learn about the organization's Thrift Initiative here: http://www.newthrift.org/.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dow 10,000 a Bubble, Not a Boom

Whenever we see a bubble, we want to think it's a bag of gold. And when we enter the eye of a storm, we like to kid ourselves that times of peace has come at last.

Now that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has once again surpassed the 10,000 mark, we want to believe that the hard times are finally over and that ten to fifteen years of unbroken prosperity lies before us. Brace yourself.

The New York Times reminds us ("10,000: The and Now") that when the Dow first passed that point on March 29, 1999, the economy was roaring through it's eighth year of wild prosperity, and unemployment was about as low as it could be. This ten is not the same as that ten.

Yes, unemployment today stands at 9.8 percent. But is that just the economy lagging behind the first indicators of economic recovery? Sorry. No.

The spike in the Dow is the result of huge profits that the banks have posted from their recoveries. But they are still not lending, and without that there will be no recovery for the rest of us. But don't get angry. Get answers. Why are these shrewd people still not lending? Isn't it their business to lend? No, it is their business, as in any business, to make money. They must have reason to believe that if they lend, e.g. to small businesses or to prospective homeowners, they will lose money. So look around for what they are seeing.

Look here. David Malpass, the president of Encima Global LLC, points us to our collapsing dollar as a source of our vanishing prosperity ("The Weak-Dollar Threat to Prosperity"). The Bush administration was devaluing the dollar throughout the decade. That corresponded with runaway government spending. When faced with large debts, government must either cut spending (unthinkable), raise taxes (impolitic and counterproductive), or devalue the currency. How do they do this? By keeping interests rates low, they encourage public and private borrowing, such as government bonds and home mortgages. If anything becomes oversupplied, it's value decreases. As dollars lose their value, it takes more of them to buy things, both at home and abroad. Prices rise across the board.

How much value has the dollar lost? Is this a big deal? You can see how dramatic the fall has been by looking at the price of gold over the past decade. Gold has a stable value. The fluctuation in its price reflects the relative value of the currencies that are used to price it. So as the dollar loses value, it takes more of them to buy an ounce of gold. When President George W. Bush came into office, gold was selling at over $250 an ounce. When he left office eight years later, it was about $850 an ounce. The price climbed steadily over those eight years.

President Obama is making his predecessor look like the king of thrift, and he's not done. The present government has popped the roof off an already large public debt, spending trillions, and preparing to spend trillions more. As a consequence, the dollar is falling faster than ever. Since Barack Obama took office less than a year ago, gold has gone from about $850 an ounce to roughly $1,050. You should expect it to go higher. Much higher. Adjusted for inflation, gold's historic high is over $2,000 an ounce.

As Obama pumps trillions of dollars into the economy, and the economy does not respond proportionately with a vigorously growing GDP (still no sign of that), more dollars chasing the same number of goods will mean inflation. A ridiculous increase in the money supply on top of a stalled economy will give us a devouring plague of inflation further devastating people's lives.

You might be wondering, however, about the upside to a weak currency. Doesn't it make our exports cheaper, and thus boost domestic production and launch us into recovery? Malpass explains how historically this has always been a losing strategy.

As the pound slid in the 1950s and '60s and the British Empire crumbled, the corporations that prospered were the ones that borrowed pounds aggressively in order to expand abroad. Though British equities rose in pound terms, they generally underperformed gold and foreign equities. At the end of empire, the giant sucking sound was from British capital and jobs moving offshore as the pound sank....No countries have devalued their way into prosperity, while many—Hong Kong, China, Australia today—have used stable money to invite capital and jobs.

None of this indicates the American economy returning to boom times any time soon. In fact, this window onto the future reveals just the opposite.

The other place bankers are looking is the second wave of residential mortgage defaults and, on top of that, the coming collapse of the commercial real estate market. Charles Gasparino helps us there ("The Next Bank Crisis").

[The banks are] still holding trillions of dollars in ailing mortgage loans and commercial-real-estate debt that they have yet to fully write down. They're hoping they won't have to -- but continued joblessness is squeezing those portfolios. The banks will tell you that they've written down a good chunk of their consumer loans. But the problem, according to banking analysts like Mike Mayo, becomes acute if unemployment passes 10 percent and nears 11 percent. That's the point, according to many economic models, that American consumers start defaulting on loans in such a way that trillions of dollars in consumer-related loans and debt that haven't been written down start to implode.

And that doesn't account for the trillions in commercial-real-estate loans and bonds that have yet to take any significant hit at all -- but (most analysts predict) will be crashing in the months ahead even if unemployment stabilizes at 10 percent.

Bottom line: If unemployment goes higher than 10 percent, the banks' numbers get even worse. As losses begin to mount, the big banks may well find themselves back begging the government for more bailout money.

So beware of jumping on the bank profit driven bull market, thinking that you are going to ride it into the Obama Boom Years. There is much pain to come, and with it much tragic loss. It is tragic because wise leadership could steer us through it more safely by stabilizing the currency and tightening up on government spending. The administration is doing just the opposite. It's like physics. If you torch your house, it will burn down. We are already feeling the heat.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I teach Introduction to Politics. The topic of ultimate concern in political life is, of course, justice. The morally serious students at The King's College are eager to know what this is.

This is justice.

Now you know what justice is.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Nobel Goodist Prize

Hopeless Continuity: A Goodist in Power

Dick Morris sees Obama's Peace Prize as Europe's second attempt in three hundred years to civilize America. "Europe wants to reverse the American Revolution and re-colonize us and it sees in Obama a kindred spirit willing to do its bidding."

John Bolton sees a leftist Norwegian record of interfering in American politics with the Nobel. He writes, "Their message really is quite straightforward: 'Jimmy Carter in 2002,Al Gore in 2007 and now Barack Obama. Do you Americans get the point yet?'"

Hendrik Hetzberg at The New Yorker is harsh on the Nobel Prize itself ("Obama's Nobel Surprise").

If President Obama really had to get a gift postmarked Scandinavia this month, he would probably, on the whole, have preferred the Olympics. At least at the Olympics the judges wait till after the race to give you the gold medal. They don’t force it on you while you’re still waiting for the bus to take you to the stadium. They don’t give it to you in anticipation of possible future feats of glory, like a signing bonus or an athletic scholarship. They don’t award it as a form of gentle encouragement, like a parent calling “Good job!” to a toddler who’s made it to the top rung of the monkey bars. It’s not a plastic, made-in-China “participation” trophy handed out to everyone in the class as part of a program to boost self-esteem. It’s not a door prize or a goody bag or a bowl of V.I.P. fruit courtesy of the hotel management. It’s not a gold star. It’s a gold medal.
But he is sympathetic to the Nobel's most recent recipient. "Given that his perceived political problem is exaggerated expectations, does he really need a Nobel Peace Prize before he has actually made any peace?"

But the best of the columns that I have read on the Obama Nobel prize come from one who fully supports the award, Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal ("A Perfect Nobel Pick"). Stephens has figured out the Nobel Committee. They are what Oriana Fallaci "Goodists."

They are the people who believe all conflict stems from avoidable misunderstanding. Who think that the world's evils spring from technologies, systems, complexes (as in "military-industrial") and everything else except from the hearts of men, where love abides. Who mistake wishes for possibilities. Who put a higher premium on their own moral intentions than on the efficacy of their actions. Who champion education as the solution, whatever the problem. Above all, the Goodists are the people who like to be seen to be good.

Yes, there is a long history of their influence in the previous century. They gave us the League of Nations. They gave us "peace in our time" back in 1938. They gave us permissive child-rearing in the generation following the war. In the 1960s, they addressed "the root causes" of poverty, and gave us vastly more. At the same time they addressed "the root causes" of crime, and gave us a pandemic outbreak of that too. The last Goodist President made human rights the organizing principle of his foreign policy, but did so in Goodist fashion, so only succeeded in making the world safe for oppression by weakening America.

Now the Nobel Committee has helpfully identified our current President as a thoroughgoing Goodist (for those who were  unable to see it during the election campaign). So when Iran starts firing nuclear missiles, when former residents of Guantanamo Bay blow up densely populated American targets, and when the engine of American prosperity splutters and dies, we'll all know why.