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."