Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ron Paul vs God on Politics

Rep. Ron Paul has much to his credit. He is honest. He is true to his principles. He is incorruptible. As for those principles, he is a faithful constitutionalist and so he holds to a restrictive view of what government should do. This stands in sad contrast to most government officials who view the details of the constitution rather carelessly. Dr. Paul, an OB-GYN, has also been a strong defender of the unborn.

But Paul holds these views from libertarian convictions, not Christian ones. He himself is a Christian, but he believes that one's faith is an entirely private matter with no business expressing itself in public policy. How does he know this? Libertarianism tells him so. You see what the controlling authority is.

In "Christian, why Ron Paul?" (, I argue along these lines.

"Biblical government not only secures us in our lives and property so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” It also actively cultivates a moral environment that facilitates people’s ability to live their lives “godly and dignified in every way” and pass such moral habits along to their children (1 Timothy 2:2). Libertarians like Ron Paul deny this fundamental biblical political principle. As a result, Ron Paul’s America would look more like It’s a Wonderful Life’s Potterville than Bedford Falls. What is worst in us, unchecked and undiscountenanced, would flourish among us, freely chosen but encouraged by those who would exploit their neighbor’s moral weakness for gain."

Norman Horn of ("Can a Christian be a Libertarian?") argues for Christianb Libertarianism as a Third Way in American politics.

"Libertarianism treats man’s sinful nature realistically. James Madison famously quipped that if men were angels no government would be necessary. Christian libertarians take this a step further, saying that it is precisely because men are not angels that government must have extraordinarily limited powers."
But in saying this he neglects what Madison--also in Federalist Papers No. 51--takes very seriously: the need also for government to restrain the iniquity of the governed.

Joe Knippenberg at First Things ("Libertarianism and Christianity") cites both my column and the Horn argument before concluding:

Non-pseudo-Nietzschean libertarians have always struck me as somewhat Pollyannaish in their assumptions regarding the power—more precisely, the lack of power—of human sinfulness. They see sinfulness in government, but somehow assume that the rest of us will be “good enough” with only the most minimal restraints. What’s more, they seem to assume that a “merely individualist” public philosophy won’t have untoward consequences for our common lives together.

(As an aside, for this reason, I don’t believe that Ron Paul is racist, despite the newsletters that went out in his name many years ago. In this video montage, he makes a compelling case that libertarians believe in the freedom of every individual, regardless of race, whereas racism requires seeing people as groups.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel 1936-2011

The statesman of the Velvet Revolution is dead. Vaclav Havel at age 75.

Hear his reflections on the recent upheavals in the middle east.

Read his 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless," from Open Letters, Selected Writings 1965-1990.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Pundit-People Divide Over Gingrich

A political campaign is an extended job interview. I wrote about looking at Herman Cain's appalling knowledge gaps from that perspective ("Cain Blows His Job Interview"). If you look at Newt Gingrich's candidacy in the same way, he should get a quick dismissal. Look at his references. People who worked with him and know him best are warning us in the strongest terms to stay away from him. Would you hire someone for senior management (or for anything) with references like that?

I review the application materials in "The Gingrich Gap."

Peggy Noonan calls him “a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, ‘Watch this!’” While recognizing his virtues and great accomplishments, she calls him “ethically dubious,” “egomaniacal,” and “erratic and unreliable as a leader.” George Will says Gingrich “embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive.”

David Brooks, a remarkably genial fellow, told Time, “I wouldn’t let that guy run a 7-Eleven let alone the country.” Joe Scarborough shares this judgment, calling Gingrich “an ideological train wreck and the worst manager this side of Barack Obama.” Expanding on Noonan’s “egomaniacal,” Brooks writes that Gingrich “has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance.” Charles Krauthammer shares this judgment: “Gingrich has a self-regard so immense that it rivals Obama’s—but, unlike Obama’s, is untamed by self-discipline.”

Most recently, an editorial in The National Review cites “his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas” when he was speaker of the House. “Again and again,” the editorial continues, “he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public.” Though that was then, “there is reason to doubt that he has changed.”
At the Fox News Iowa degate last night, Rick Santorum reminded us that when Gingrich was Speaker of the House in the 1990s, there was a conservative revolt against him.

It seems that the poor references are finding their way the the desk of Joe Citizen. Newt is slipping in the polls in Iowa. That is death to the Gingrich ascendancy. The Iowa caucuses are two and a half weeks away which is an eternity in this roller coaster primary, lots of time to join Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in the reject file.

Newt appears to be scaring people to Romney. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, Mitt Romney has moved into the lead.

Mitt could take Iowa and New Hampshire, then roll on the the nomination. Mature, center-right administration would be a relief from the Social Democratic Revolution of the last three years.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Crony Capitalism Attacked from the Right

Crony capitalism is not capitalism at all. That should be the cry from the right.

And that is my complaint in last week's column, "Crony Capitalism vs American Liberty." I quote GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman saying, “Capitalism without failure is not capitalism.

I draw attention to conservative former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, another GOP presidential contender, who has aligned himself with the Occupy Wall Street concerns. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week, Roemer spoke in defense of liberty when he said that “somewhere between Wall Street and K Street the system is corrupt. Here’s why. A big check gets first in line; everybody else is out of sight. This country is not fair at the top.”

Here is Andrew Klavan in a Manhattan Institute comedy video arguing that the socialist left is actually plucked from the same government-sucking ideological sty.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Bad!

Someone who appreciated my book and quoted it on his blog, D.X. Turner from Texas, has alerted me to this informative juxtaposition. The first graphic is a quote from Vermont Independent (socialist) Senator, Bernie Sanders.

Turner adds: " The truth is that entitlement spending, what Bernie conveniently labels as "the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor" is the primary driver behind the deficit." He then supplies this telling chart.

That little ball way over on the left hand side is virtually all federal spending that you can think of. You know, the departments of this, that, and the other thing. If President Rick Perry forgets to eliminate one, it won't make much difference.

The obvious conclusion is that our problem centers around two words: benefits and entitlements. Unless we unite around a plan to bring these under control, we are soon to be Greece, Italy, and the rest of them.

D.X. Turner blogs at Arguing with a Fencepost.

Our Latest Authoritarian Temptation

Everyone's approval ratings are scraping the ground. People are talking about a third party candidate. People have a low view not only of politicians, but of politics itself. But that means a low view of the mechanics and possibility of self-government.

In my column at last week ("Doubting Democracy at the Impasse"), I recount some recent developments that has turned people off in this way, and I give some shocking examples of some prominent people who toy with the idea of autocracy--just for a while--and who should know better.

North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue suggested that we suspend the upcoming election cycle so that congressional leaders would be free simply to do what is right for the country without having to worry about political consequences:

I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. You want people who don’t worry about the next election.

This brought to mind the public nostalgie du fascism of another prominent political liberal, multiple Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, who just 18 months ago repeated ever so cautiously what he boldly published in his 2008 book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, that if we could just have Chinese government for a day, we could nicely Obamafy the country into proper shape, then go back to our usual gridlock.

I conclude, "In 1944, Judge Learned Hand described the 'spirit of liberty' as 'the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.' That is the democratic republican spirit. It is humble regarding oneself and respectful of one’s neighbor. Living by the rule of law is one way we express that spirit. The answer to political paralysis is not less politics, but more: political discussion, political involvement, and political accountability on Election Day."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Black and Tired

It is not liberal to be concerned about racism and about the problems of one particular race. Here is Anthony Bradley's promotional video for his book, Black and Tired (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

Anthony Bradley is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New Yorki City where I teach.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Failing Their Political Oral Exams

Here, Herman Cain fails his political oral exam. It is not a matter of failing an ideological litmus test. It's not a matter of tripping up on an obscure question, like, "Who is the president of Uzbekistan?" He is clearly not qualified for the job. He doesn't need to know what a president needs to know. He doesn't have the requisite experience.

He didn't know that China has nuclear weapons, though they have had them since 1964.

Now this obvious ignorance of what's been going on in Libya in 2011.

This follows Rick Perry's disqualifying performance last week.

That would get you bounced from America's Got Talent. Why not also the race for the presidency?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Big Government Inevitably Bad Government

The debate between the left and right in our politics today is a debate over the size and roll of government. Lisa Sharon Harper and I have the same debate.

Lisa dismisses this as a "mantra" and as a false dichotomy between big and small government. She claims that the real choice is between good and bad big government. But where is this good big government apart from in the imaginations of liberals?

In his review of Left, Right and Christ in World magazine, "Left, Right, Fight, Fight, Fight," Marvin Olasky tells us why.

Centers of power attract power-seekers who then attract money-seekers, and the result is a new ruling class: In a fallen world, equality of result is an ever-receding horizon. ... Most evangelicals also favor limited government and political decentralization, because we know both from the Bible and from history that concentrations of political power lead to oppression.

I am deeply grateful to Marvin for writing the foreword (with Jim Wallis) to this book. In his review, he has nailed the issue separating the two of us, drawing attention to why the tragically misguided Evangelical left is not just biblically wrong but morally dangerous.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Cupp of Blessing

There are certain shows that authors pray will invite them to be guests. Oprah etc. The Glenn Beck Show is one of them. If Beck holds up a book and says, "Buy this!," sales shoot to the moon.

Well, thanks to the good offices of my friend Dinesh D'Souza, my co-author and I got onto the show on GBTV, Beck's highly successful Internet-based network. Beck himself was out of town, so SE Cupp hosted, and sales indeed catapulted. We went from #200,000 on the Amazon list to #7,800 just 24 hours later.

They even played the promotional video beforehand.

Lisa says the darnedest things in these situations, and does not realize just how problematic her views are. At the AEI event, she dropped jaws by saying that the Republicans take from the poor and give to the rich, whereas the Democrats take back from the rich and give to the poor. Yes, Robin Hood is the model for good government.

At the book launch we organized at Union Theological Seminary, she claimed that the high rate of single motherhood among black families is because black men are simply unavailable. They are either in prison or we have killed them in our wars because recruiters "target" minority communities. (Hmm. How then are the babies conceived?) That got more than a few people upset and bewildered.

At this event, it was her views on abortion which showcase her contorted attempts to remain in good standing in the Democratic Party and with her Democratic friends.

Here are some responses I have encountered:

1. "Does she always pull that bait and switch on abortion? One minute you are talking about when life begins, the next moment she introduces the “scientific standard” of viability, and then third she equates viability with when life begins."

2. "Fascinating discussion on abortion. I’ve never heard anyone say, essentially, 'I think abortion is murder, but if scientists tell us it’s not…well, what can we do?'"

3. "Some modest philosophical confusion: "Life begins before conception!" Ummm... And, the "legislate according to the lowest common denominator, which is science" argument was a really weird version of it. I have no idea what she was arguing there. She started by explaining how she needed to win the argument...and then ended up saying we ought to leave "religious" premises aside but lose the argument anyway (with life beginning at viability)."

4. "Lisa's "faith committment" in the public square on economic equality but not the protection of life in which she turns to "science" as the lowest common denominator is telling. First, science tells us that the human being is a human being. Second, we all were prevented from making such a case in the public square because the matter was taken out of our hands by robed men in R v. W. Third, would she be willing to use the standard of science on economic matters? No, because science (particularly social science) shows us the devestation brought on by the welfare state."

5. "Lisa Sharon Harper was confused about when life begins? Every medical book or biology book will tell you that life begins at conception. Lisa Sharon Harper said we should look to science when talking about this subject then ignores what science says. Lisa, life begins at conception. Science says so!"

Friday, November 11, 2011


As I was preparing to despair of having anything to offer as a column this week, I remember something that crossed my mind regarding presidential narratives. We put a lot of emphasis on it when choosing a president. Perhaps it's our democratic character. "Tell me how you're just like me." Or, "How American are you? Can you show how you've embodies the hope we all share as Americans? Perhaps a log cabin story?"

But hwere are the stories in this cycle of candidates?

So where are the narratives in the current Republican field? Mitt Romney? Fighting your way up from being the son of a Michigan governor to being co-founder and CEO at Bain Capital just doesn’t sing well. Herman Cain has a good story, working his way from po’ boy (his term) in Georgia to restaurant magnate and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. But his problem these days is too many stories.

So I review all the recent ones. Mostly the successful ones. It is interesting how many of them involve the abuse of alcohol. One might think that if you want your kid to be president you should start drinking heavily.

Read "Presidential Narratives" in

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Borger on my Book

Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books, gives this review of Left, Right and Christ. Actually, it's more of a notice than a critical review.

Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics Lisa Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media) $22.99 As the election season proceeds I am sure I will revisit this often, drawing on each author's important points as I write, teach, and talk about a Christian perspectives on politics. Perhaps it will serve you in such a way as well. As you might guess, this is a co-authored debate-style book, with a Christian who is a committed Democrat and a Christian who is a committed Republican each explaining how their faith and Biblical insights compel them to align themselves (even if always provisionally, as they both insist) towards more-or-less liberal or conservative public policies. D.C. Innes is a popular professor of political science at The Kings College in New York (and an Orthodox Presbyterian minister) while Ms Harper is an activist for Sojourners in DC who has worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Marvin Olasky writes one forward to the LR&C; he is known for his insistence on a stauchly conservative Christian worldview (he writes often for World magazine) and he writes here "If this isn't a conversation starter for Christians, than nothing else will be." Jim Wallis of Sojourners has another forward, again noting that this book will certainly stimulate good discussion and deep thinking. I hope to write more carefully about this book in the future but don't wait for my input. You get the point: this is ideal for book clubs, conversation-starters, to tweak our ideas by reading more than just one viewpoint, to give to that person who just doesn't get your viewpoint.

There are six or seven endorsements on the inside, each by folks I really respect (who hold to pretty diverse socio-political viewpoints, in fact, from Carl Trueman and John Armstrong to Jonathan Merritt and Nicole Baker Fulgham. David Gushee says "One might have thought there was nothing new to say in or about this burnt-over disctrict, but in their sharp, yet civil, dialogue Innes and Harper offer provocative and creative new reflections." Thanks to Mark Russell for his good work in shepherding this project and for designing such an attractive, clear, fair-minded, interesting, contemporary book. Here's a fun video piece they did to capture the usefulness of this vibrant conversation. Enjoy.

Notice how the advertisement at the end says something like "wherever fine books are sold." We would be one of those places. As I hope you know we care about these very fine books and stock them because we think they will helpful to you and yours. Let us know what you think, and use the handy link to the order page.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Theology, Philosophy and Policy

The full, hour-long video of my American Enterprise Institute "Values and Capitalism" luncheon event for Left, Right and Christ has been posted.

Along with it is a nice article by Elise Amyx describing the exchange between Lisa and me. She has this nice reflection on the wild leaps that Lisa Sharon Harper makes from which she finds in Scripture to the public policies she confidently advocates.

Political philosophy is where theology and policy meet; it is where the two worlds are reconciled, yet Harper jumps the gun and avoids the “high level battle of ideas.” Her argument is seemingly aligned, but not soundly intertwined. Because she approaches policy from a consequentialist view, she has failed to recognize the political philosophy implied by the policies she supports, which is not solely theological but rather one of “big government.”

Clearly, her James Madison University education has served her well.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cain's Truth Issue

The aspect of the Herman Cain controversy that concerns me most at this point, since nothing is proven and accusers are anonymous, is the candidate's lying responses.

Cain told the National Press Association—with cameras running and with the nation watching—“I am not aware of a settlement.” But later he described in detail the legal and financial settlement the National Restaurant Association reached with a particular woman on his behalf. It didn’t sound like the sort of thing you’d forget. Defending himself against the contradiction, Cain quibbled over specific terms, like settlement as opposed to agreement. It seemed unsettlingly Clintonian.

In "Trusting Cain" (Worldmag, November 3, 2011), I argue that the civic relationship, like any relationship--like friendship, marriage, or even business--has trust at its center. Politicians should guard it like gold. Few of them do.

If Cain were a good politician, which he prides himself on not being, he would understand that the American people are a very forgiving people. If from the start he had said that he did some terrible things back then and that he has repented of those things and God has forgiven him, and then called voters also to forgive them, I have no doubt they would. But instead he went the usual lies and cover-up route.

I'm not impressed. But I have never been impressed.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Innes and Harper at AEI

Friday was a big day. I took the Acela down to DC to speak at a luncheon event at the American Enterprise Institute. They invited me and my co-author, Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, to speak about our book, Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics. We each spoke for about 15 minutes and then took questions. AEI has released five clips from our remarks. Here are my two.

In this one I talk about God's purpose in establishing government.

In this one, I state that a more fully Christian view of government is that it must secure not only individuals, but families and the fabric of cummunities in general.

Here they catch Lisa in her astonishing Robin Hood view of the Republicans and the Democrats. When she was a girl in 1976, she followed her mother around campaigning for Jimmy Carter. "Why are we Democrats, Mom?," she asked. Mom said that whereas the Republicans take money from the poor and give it to the rich, the Democrats take back from the rich and give it to the poor. "It stuck," she said.

Yup. Apparently it's that simple. Politics is the practice of plunder and counter-plunder. That view is not unique to my co-author. It is the standard, Sojourners, left-wing Evangelical view. For this reason, I think that Left, Right and Christ is a valuable book for setting side-by-side the poilitical alternatives for the Evangelical community.

Update: Here is the whole hour! Jaw dropping moments here.

Here we are the same day on Fox's Lauren Green Show.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Weirdness from Herman Cain

Here is another reason that you don't put someone up for President who has never held elected office. This new Herman Cain ad is just plain weird. Who puts his campaign manager in a testimonial ad? And if you did, why would you let him blow smoke at the camera? And then Cain's creepy grin? What was that supposed to accomplish?

Will the Tea Party do for America what they did for Nevada (nominate the erratic and unelectable Sharron Angle) and Delaware (nominate the utterly incompetent and unelectable Christine O'Donnell), giving us ruinous, far left government?

Mitch Daniels, where are you?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Left, Right and Occupy Wall Street

People are comparing the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street. Okay. Let's do that.

Tea Party people have jobs and families.  The Occupy Wall Street crowd is peopled largely by scruffy college students and full-time radicals with no clue as to how things really work. No one gets arrested at Tea Party rallies. There is no public copulation or distribution of condoms. I don't recall a theme of anti-semitism at Tea Party rallies. Not like this woman at an L.A. Occupy Wall Street west coast spin-off. 

Tea Partiers have no record of issuing death threats to their opponents. 

Like this:

we are going to sow the kind of choas [sic] you are unequipped to deal with,” the email said. “And you’re going to find yourself in a country where you and your wealthy friends are gonig [sic] to be hunted.”
“Let me slit your throat you corporate whore ... I would slaughter your family as well if given the chance.”
Now where were we? Oh yes...No one in the Tea Party wants to destroy the foundations of the country. They want to strengthen and return to them. The Tea Party also has a coherent and focused message: stop the spending and reduce the debt. Occupy Wall Street, by contrast, is a movement without a message. If OWS has any clear message, it's "I'm silly, young, and passionate. Co-opt me!"

On that subject, on Lisa Sharon Harper and I have dueling columns for the next few weeks. This week I wrote, "Dreamers at Occupy Wall Street."

I begin with the humorous tag line, "If Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" was the anthem for the 60s protests, the anthem for Occupy Wall Street has to be Harry McClintock's "Big Rock Candy Mountain." [Follow the link to the original video of McClintock singing the song]"

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There's a land that's fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night.

I end with this surely-to-be-unheeded warning to the Evangelical left who are frantic with over-realized eschatology.

What I see in the Evangelical political left is a dangerous, and I believe unbiblical, combination of Utopian expectations for government combined with an unjustifiably optimistic willingness to empower government for this breathtaking work. They want the Kingdom of God on earth; they want shalom fully realized now through political and economic reform. But if they came into the power they would need for this, they would quickly find their own movement co-opted by opportunists and their beautiful new day turned into a nightmare.
The in my column today, "The Occupiers and the National Divide," I lament that Obama's embrace of OWS will just further deepen our national divide. "It will further radicalize the division in our country between the Friends of ’76 viewpoint of standing by our founding political tradition of limited government and the 20th century progressive vision of benevolent, centralized, technocratic oversight of all things."

Obama came to office promising "hope and change" in connection with being a "post-partisan president" who would take us beyond left and right, liberal and conservative, red state and blue state. But he meant that in the same way the the Soviet Union said they wanted world peace, by which they meant world communism. Obama wanted to make political debate irrelevant in an administrative state when everything was decided by liberal technocrats. Hence, Karl Rove today with truth, that Barack Obama is "the most rigidly ideological modern president." He doesn't actually believe in politics, the essence of which is self-government among equals.

By the way, in the column, I cite a Douglas Schoen OWS survey that revealed “nearly one-third (31 percent) would support violence to advance their agenda.” One of my students saw immediately that in the event of violence, much more than that would get caught up in the frenzy. Another WSJ article goes into the details of the survey to reveal subtleties in the data.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Our Ambivalence About Justice

Can you call yourself a political community, i.e., "a people," if you disagree with one another over what justice is. Both Aristotle and Augustine would say no.

That is the subject of my recent WORLDmag column, "Cheering Justice." Even Evangelicals (the Evangelical political left notwithstanding) seem ambivalent about the government's role in retributive justice.

In the end, the problem comes down to theology, not political theory. People do not believe that God has revealed Himself in the Bible as “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, justice, and truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 4). I find this squeamishness, even among some of my evangelical Christian students, about God’s retributive justice—about the effective execution of divine wrath by God’s appointed, sword-bearing agents—a cause for cultural and political concern.

If divine authority does not stand behind political office, then police power and the power of war become simply means of control, not instruments of justice. If there is no divine justice, no transcendent standard of good and evil, then politics is just as Thrasymachus told Socrates in The Republic, “the advantage of the stronger.”

Look at that! Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine all in the same post on current politics! How do people function in life without knowing these authors?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Gospel Seen from the Left

Here is my co-author, Lisa Sharon Harper, answering the question, "What is an Evangelical?"

Lisa Sharon Harper: What's an Evangelical? from Sojourners on Vimeo.

I have entitled this post "The Gospel Seen from the Left." Should it read "The Left seen from the Gospel?" Any comments?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Charming Cheers for Despotism

So Rosanne Barr would send the very rich to re-education camps or to the guillotine to cut off their heads. Ha, ha, ha. Well, she's funny. But she didn't seem to be joking.

She is down there at the Wall Street protests among the radicals who, like her, have no patience with constitutional government and the rule of law. They have no patience with other people who are not as enlightened as their 20 year-old selves.

But if Barr were spouting the same kill-your-political-opponents and concentration camp rhetoric from a Nazi or Fascist stance instead of from the communist direction (a la Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot), the liberal media establishment would respond with something other than charmed amusement. There is nothing charming about this.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Innes's Favorite Videos

Here are three FUNNY videos that come to mind these days when I think of funny videos.

This is a an instructional video on how to worship (in a charismatic church). You know that's going to be funny.

If there were a youth pastor on "The Office," this guy would be him.

From Christianity (more or less) to Kung Fu (so to speak). If you haven't met him before, you will never forget this Kung Fu Hillbilly.

Speaking of religion, here is John Pinette, the man with the Gleasonesque voice, on what he seems to love above all things (at least for comic purposes): food!

Of course this does not include the eTrade baby commercials! More fun stuff on my "humor" tag.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Who's Payin' Taxes Up There?

I have been seeing the figure 100,000 for the number of millionaires who don't pay any federal taxes. This sounded incredible to me, so I followed the link which led...nowhere.

The proof was supposed to be at The Center for American Progress, but the best that I could find there was the figure 1,470 in 2009.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic gives a figure of 7,000 for 2011. But he explains that there are good reasons (and some bad ones-- tax tricks, he calls them) why this can be so. Taxable income, even a million dollars of it, can be reduced to zero because of write-offs from a terrible tragedy, for example a home or business is wiped out by a natural disaster, or someone in the family comes down with a hugely expensive form of cancer. People can put lots of money into tax deferred investments. There's nothing wrong with that. Oh, and then there are those tax deductible charitable donations that liberals seem to hate. If you give most of your money to the Salvation Army or to Feed the Children, do you become an enemy of the people?

Megan McArdle, also writing for The Atlantic, gives much more detail on the complexity of the millionaire tax situation. But consider this:

You cannot build a tax code on the principle that no millionaire, ever, should ever have an effective tax rate lower than their secretary.  The tax code covers 300 million people.  Rules written to cover that many people, in a complex economy where there are lots of different ways to make money, and some uncertainty as to what constitutes income, will not produce the same result that we would get if the economy were the size of a kindergarten class, and we had an omnipotent teacher charged with making the income distribution perfectly fair. ...

The only way to actually ensure that no millionaire, anywhere, pays less than 20% on their annual income would be to essentially suspend the rule of law for wealthy people, and give the IRS power to seize income from rich people at will within some very broad guideline about fair shares.  This strikes me (she said, with dramatic understatement) as a very bad idea.

But when it's so easy to demagogue the question into a larger ideological victory, what do individuals and the particulars of justice matter?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Show Biz Economics Debate

Here is a debate over basic rax and economic policy between Bill OReilly, Jon Stewart, Richie Cunningham, and Bill Clinton.

Quite a roundtable (with O'Reilly moderating, of course).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How Far Left is Evangelical Left?

Last week I wrote from a politically conservative Christian point of view on the missing Evangelical concern for a common biblical concern: oppression and the oppressed.

Well, lo and behold, the next day Jim Wallis writes on the same subject but from his politically leftist Christian point of view. ("What is 'biblical politics'?" is on his God's Politics blog, Sept. 15, 2011.) I call his position "leftist" rather than "liberal" because it seems to go well beyond anything that a liberal Democrat in Congress would say, Christian or otherwise. Notice also that he calls it "biblical politics" in general. To Wallis, that's all that politics is about. Or so it seems.

If Wallis is left of the left-wing Democrats, where is he? As a starting point, compare these two statements.


I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots — he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, “If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice.” In other words, poverty isn’t caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.

Here is Marxist liberation theologian, Gutavo Gutierrez:

Charity is today a ‘political charity’ . . . it means the transformation of a society structured to benefit a few who appropriate to themselves the value of the work of others. This transformation ought to be directed toward a radical change in the foundation of society, that is, the private ownership of the means of production. (A Theology of Liberation [Orbis, 1973]; p.202)

Granted, Wallis also says some biblical things, but mixes them with the same radicalism:

This is what the Bible teaches us. The scriptures reveal a God of justice, not merely a God of charity. Words such as oppression and justice fill the Bible. The most common objects of the prophets’ judgments are kings, rulers, judges, employers — the rich and the powerful in charge of the world’s governments, courts, economies, systems, and structures. When those who are in charge mistreat the poor and vulnerable, say the scriptures, it is not just unkind but also wrong and unjust, and it makes God angry. The subjects of the scriptures’ concern are always the widow and the orphan, the poor and oppressed, the victims of courts or unscrupulous employers, debtors whose debts need to be forgiven, strangers in the land who need to be welcomed. And the topics of the prophets’ messages to the powerful are things like land, labor, capital, judicial decisions, employer practices, rulers’ dictates, and the decisions of the powerful — all the stuff of politics.

But then later he comes back to the radicalism:

But biblical politics is never just about the candidates either, and some have made that mistake in recent elections. Putting one’s hopes in political candidates and parties has only led to disappointment, frustration, and dangerous cynicism. There are systems and structures that undergird and shape the limits of the political agenda, and challenging those limits to get to root causes and real solutions is always the prophetic task.
He also pours scorn on private charity. It leaves the powerful accountable. It's hopelessly inadequate to the task and it does not address the root of the problem: structures and systems, and nasty capitalist swine.

So is Jim Wallis a Marxist? A secret Marxist? That may be going to far. But what I can tell from these passages, there is more Karl Marx mixed in with his view of politics than he is willing to admit. The same thing happens on the political right, of course. Many Christian conservatives espouse elements of Enlightenment liberalism that I think are incompatible with a Christian view of the world. From what he says about me in the foreword to my book, Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (a foreword for which I am grateful), Jim Wallis sees me as part of that philosophically compromised group. "At times in this book, Innes sounds much more like Ayn Rand, the Russian atheist and apostle of the virtue of selfishness, than he does Jesus Christ" (p.11). You can read the book and decide for yourself.

To read up on Wallis's history with Marxism, read Ronald Nash, Why the Left is Not Right (Zondervan, 1996). To read Wallis's account of politics and of his turn to what he claims is a third way that is neither left nor right, read The Soul of Politics (Mariner Press, 1995).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Conservatives Against Oppression

"Oppression." It's a Marxist word and a left-wing myth, right? But if I spoke instead about "abuse of power" by government, or "intimidation" by union thugs, or "enslavement" of young runaways by urban pimps, I would have your attention. But it's the same thing.

The Bible condemns "oppression" and calls on governments and everyone to come to the defense of the oppressed. The Lord “gives justice to the oppressed” (Job 36:6 NKJV). He is a “refuge” for them (Psalm 9:9). Shouldn’t godly government have the same concern? To all His people in their various spheres of life He says, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6)?

This is the subject of my column this week, "Conservatives for the Oppressed." I give a definition of oppression and indicate some of the variety of ways people can be oppressed.

Oppression is the inhuman use or cruel treatment of the weak and helpless by the stronger and more secure. It’s the little guy getting mugged in some way by the powerful and well-connected. The left associates oppression with capitalism and with corporations in particular. Evangelicals have become active in fighting the oppression that comes from drug traffickers and sex traffickers. Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission has mobilized a generation of young evangelicals against the beastly evil of human trafficking. But cruelty and injustice may also come from a local employer, a labor union, or a government agency.

Charles Colson has done good work in coming alongside the downcast and downtrodden through many of the works that Prison Fellowship has undertaken. Mind you, not everyone who is suffering and in need of Christian love is oppressed. Marvin Olasky has also done, encouraged, and highlighted Christian work on behalf of oppressed people here and around the world.

One Facebook friend found that this column brought to mind this speech from David Cameron rebuking the Labour Party for smugly thinking that only they, certainly not the Tories, could care for the poor, even though the poor were much worse as a result of Labour's stewardship of many years.

For a strikingly leftist view of oppression, see this post from Jim Wallis that he issued the very next day (no relation, I'm sure) at Sojourners, What is Biblical Politics?".

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Three 9/11s

My Chilean-American friend, Bracey Fuenzalida, has posted this illuminating personal and historical reflection on the relevance of previous 9/11s to the 9/11 we remembered on Sunday.

Muslims have a long historical memory. Democratic people tend to live with a very short historical memory extending back one generation, or two at the most. (How much thought do you give to your great-grandparents?)

With his permission, I am re-posting it here from his Facebook page.

Reflections on three 9/11's
by Bracey Fuenzalida -- Saturday, September 10, 2011

Having worked on the 72nd floor of the north tower from March of 1999 up until the first week of August in 2001 I speak with a sense of thanks for having experienced God’s mercy for sparing my life. It was also at the top of World Trade Center 2 that I proposed to my wife some 16 years ago. The place had immense significance for us and it was one that I frequented a lot. So much so that there were times after work where I would go up to the observation deck to sit, stare and simply meditate. It was one of my favorite places to just be still and I will never forget the World Trade Center.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was sound asleep sitting on an express bus that had come in from Brooklyn. It was around 8:50 in the morning when I was rudely awoken to a woman who yelled with a loud scream, taking the Lord’s name in vain. As I awoke and gathered myself I immediately looked up and just like everyone else I could not believe the orange streak blazing across the entire upper part of the building. No one in the bus knew that a plane had crashed into the north tower. As soon as I looked up I thought, what happened? Did a server blow up?

I immediately called my brother who was home, and told him to turn on the television and watch the news. He did and we both watched the events live, he through the television screen and me with my own two eyes. We watched in utter shock and amazement. Within minutes, as I was gazing intently into the air, a large black dot appeared from the left corner of my eye and then a massive explosion. My brother and I were in shock! At first I yelled out; ‘what just happened?’ My brother yelled that another plane had just hit the tower. We had fears after the first plane had hit the towers that we were under a terrorist attack but after the 2nd plane struck the south tower our concerns were confirmed, foul play was at hand. Thus, we like everyone else, knew instantly that we were under a terrorist attack.

Needless to say, for the first time in my life I saw collective fear in the eyes of New Yorkers. I had never seen that before. Generally New Yorkers have an edge, a disposition, an attitude about them. But on that day, with panic in the eyes of everyone, people were all over the place in downtown NYC, some were even running and walking on the FDR heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge, many were on the streets, it was utter chaos. I remember a few days later, once people began returning to work there was a sense of loss, as if something had been stripped from every single person. But typical of most New Yorkers, everyone quickly gathered their confidence and inspired by the words of the president, ‘soon the whole world would hear from us,’ they went on about their business. Needless to say, the city would never be the same again.

September 11, 1973 for my family and I has special significance and that for historical reasons. You see, the mere mention of September 11 for Chileans evokes strong feelings, good and bad. You may remember that it was on September 11, 1973 that General Augusto Pinochet liberated Chile from the evil grip of Marxist president Salvador Allende. Chile had run into severe problems under the Allende regime because he wanted to convert a freedom loving, free market nation in a communist Marxist paradise. Believing that ‘a scientific Marxist’ revolution had to take place in order to advance Chile into communism, Allende’s reforms of nationalizing industry and property resulted in 600% inflation, food shortages, confiscation of private property and widespread societal chaos.

As my father and mother always remind me, had it not been for Pinochet private property would be no more and I would have been a communist living for the purposes of state. Given that my parents were resistant to the takeover they were marked for death by the MIR revolutionary thugs who were going around Chile intimidating Chileans who did not support Allende’s communism. You may also recall that Allende was the best of friends with Fidel Castro and with the leaders of the Soviet Union. Allende kept company with all the waste and trash that this world had to offer. Had the Chilean military not intervened to halt a totalitarian communist takeover and preserve the quickly fading liberty of the nation as was prescribed and protected by the constitution, Chile today would be singing a soviet type national anthem and perhaps, like the former Iron Curtain itself, attempt to further the cause of Marxism throughout the South American continent.

The dissemination of Marxism notwithstanding, news outlets like CNN and MSNBC have painted Pinochet as a tyrant and wicked dictator. But there is a true history out there that is accurately written which depicts the events as they happened. For Americans the Wall Street journalist James Whelan should come to mind. His work, Allende, the Death of a Marxist Dream, and Out of the Ashes are excellent. William Jasper has also written honestly on Pinochet. Thus, the memory of September 11 for Chileans brings back to life a whole range of thoughts and emotions. For me and my entire family September 11, 1973 meant that we escaped the clutches of death. Needless to say, after September 11, 1973 Chile would never be the same again.

September 11, 1683 also has special significance because of its historical connection with Sept 11, 2001. This is because it was on September 11, 1683 that the Islamic advance into Europe was halted at the battle in Vienna. You may recall that the Ottoman Empire had been expanding into Europe ever since Constantinople fell to the Turks, and even before that. Wherever the Muslim armies went, they plundered cities, took slaves, turned churches into mosques, and converted many tens of thousands of Christian captives to Islam at the point of a sword. The Sultan’s armies overran Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia. They turned Protestant Hungary into a compliant vassal and made war repeatedly on Austria and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The Ottomans had designs on Vienna, since the fall of the city would open the way into the heart of Austria and the rich principalities of southern Germany. Thankfully on a bright September morning in 1683 the tide of the second wave of the 'Great Islamic Jihad' turned and began to ebb. The Christians withstood the attacks and the Sultan's armies were rebuffed and the Islamic advance was halted and saw it go into retreat for 300+ years.

The historical connection between the three dates is undeniable, particularly 9/11/1683 and 9/11/2001. Europe has forgotten about both 9/11's and as such it will pay a heavy price, perhaps with their very life. If birthrates don’t improve soon they will have to kiss the old continent goodbye.

Needless to say, My parents and I will never forget September 11,1973. Muslims have never forgotten September 11, 1683 and Americans must never forget September 11, 2001.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Left Right & Christ Video

Here is the promotional video for Left, Right, and Christ, the book I wrote with Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, and that comes out October 6. Lisa looks at politics from the Evangelical left, and I give my account of it from a conservative point of view.

It's kind of like a cross between The Brady Bunch and the Odd Couple, no?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Donkey Whisperer for Congress

This ad is brilliant. This insertion of poetry into politics is welcome.

Roger Williams is a Republican running to fill Texas’ newly created 33rd Congressional Seat.

This comes via forwarded and forwarded email from The Blaze.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Who Will Defend Family in 2012?

The Republicans bill themselves as the party of the family. They defend family values, or at least they oppose certain anti-family policies such as abortion and same-sex marriage. The reason for this concern is that the family is the bedrock of society. The family is the little society in which human beings receive their moral formation, fitting them for the larger society. As goes the family, so goes law and order and prosperity and decent service in the check out line.

The other reason for this concern--the negative one--is that the family has come under devastating assault over the last two or three generations. In some communities, it doesn't even exist. Those communities are the poorest, most crime ridden, most blighted in every way.

In my Worldmag column this week, "The Semi-conservative Republican Party," I take the GOP to task for not going beyond the defense of individual liberty (political and economic) to the rigorous and systematic defense of the family, the social unit on which the enjoyment of that liberty depends fundamentally.

I write: "Ronald Reagan appointed a Special Working Group on the Family to examine all policies for their impact on the family. That was good as far as it went, but the work needs to be less reactive. A thoughtfully crafted, fully coordinated family policy should recognize the requirements for and impediments to healthy family life, and inform the president of whatever measures are necessary and constitutional to strengthen it. State governors and local governments should do the same.

"Conservatives these days are hawkish over how a given tax or regulation will affect small business and job creation, and that’s good. But the family deserves the same protective scrutiny."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Not Michele Bachmann...Not Now

The most recent Rasmussen poll has Rick Perry far ahead of the perennial campaigner, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachmann.

Here is my quick take on the relatives strengths and weaknesses of the three candidates: "A Tonic for Campaign Fever." If you are a political type like me, you are looking for someone to believe in. But there's lots to keep me sober in this field. Besides, when Mitch Daniels declined to run, I swore myself to political chastity. I shall never love again...or at least not until 2016 or '20, depending on how things turn out.

I was easy on Michele Bachmann in the column. But here I can speak more fully. [Update: Sept.7 - Bachmann's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, has left the cause, conceding that it is a Perry-Romney race at this point. This seems to seal Bachmann's place as a footnote to the 2012 campaign.]


It is interesting that in these times of high unemployment the Republican Party is having a hard time finding applicants for the President’s job. Consider Michele Bachmann, Congresswoman from Minnesota. She’s a fiscal and moral conservative. These are policy positions that are promising for anyone seeking the Republican nomination. She has cared for 23 foster children, something speaks highly of her personal character. But here is why she will not and should not get the Republican nomination.

First, she is only a Congresswoman. The only person ever to have gone straight from the House of Representatives to the White House was James Garfield in 1881. There is a reason the path to the presidency is either through a Governor's mansion or a Senate seat.

Unlike the office of Congressman, Senator is a statewide office. For this reason, Senators are more inclined to consider the broader interest of a wider constituency. By constitutional design, however, Senators take a broader view of public affairs because of their involvement in presidential decision-making. They confirm the President’s cabinet appointments. This draws them into considering what is required of people in those posts and weighing the wisdom of the President’s judgments.

The Senate also ratifies treaties, a responsibility that requires a detailed knowledge of matters like arms control and trade agreements. Thus, in 2008, Sen. John McCain who had been deeply involved in foreign policy oversight was fully prepared to assume the mantle of Commander-in-Chief.

One of a Senator’s most consequential decisions is whether to confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court. This calls a Senator to scrutinize a broad range of issues that fall within a President’s sphere of action. Thus, in this role, Senators must think of how they would behave in a Constitutional manner as President.

Because of their heightened responsibilities, Senators tend to be more judicious in their judgments and careful in their speech. Congressmen, by contrast, are more blustery, less researched, partly in their attempts to distinguish themselves from the pack (there are 435 seats in the House, but only 100 Senators), and partly to satisfy their narrow constituencies in their districts. Think Joe Wilson from South Carolina’s Second District shouting “You lie!” during President Obama’s health care speech to Congress in 2009.

Governors, for their part, have valuable executive experience. They have to balance a budget, as Indiana’s Mitch Daniels did and as John Kasich is struggling to do in Ohio. They have to negotiate with a possibly hostile legislature as Gov. Ronald Reagan did in California and Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. They may have to face a disaster as Haley Barbour did after Hurricane Katrina and as Bobby Jindal did during the BP oil spill. And rhetorically, they have honed the skill of addressing not a narrow, Gerrymandered Congressional district but a broad populace of diverse passions and interests.

But Michele Bachmann sits in the House of Representatives. She was first elected to a House seat in 2006, and before that she was a Minnesota State Senator. Attempting this sort of premature leap—from the lower house to the White House—bespeaks an impatience that does not serve the country well in the highest office. But our current President’s success encourages unseasonable ambition.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Do the Rich and Poor a Favor. Back Off

Last week, when a rumor leaked out that the Fed is plotting new measures to stimulate the economy, perhaps a QE3, gold prices spiked. QE refers to quantitative easing, the purchase of American government bonds by our own Federal Reserve Bank, effectively injecting money into the economy, or what we call "printing money."

The Street reported,

Gold prices popped Tuesday after Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans said further measures to stimulate the economy could be necessary. The rally continued in after-hours trading after the Fed's latest minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in August showed a growing number of presidents calling for more stimulus.

Every time the Fed plays this card, the economy actually slows. Alan Reynolds gave us a detailed account of this in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, "The Fed vs. the Recovery." He concludes, "In the end, quantitative easing turned out to be an anti-stimulus which stimulated nothing but the cost of living and the cost of production. Good riddance."

Whenever President Obama dives into the economy to make things right, rather than stimulating, he depresses the economy. Instead of inspiring hope and confidence, he creates uncertainly and stagnation.

In light of the aggressively interventionist liberal government that we have suffer in these three years of the Obama presidency, Gary Becker compares market imperfections with the government imperfects that go with government attempts to perfect the market ("The Great Recession and Government Failure"). He finds that "market failure" is like nothing compared to the more predictable "government failure." He writes, "This recession might well have been a deep one even with good government policies, but "government failure" added greatly to its length and severity, including its continuation to the present."

The Journal's editorial today ("In Government We Mistrust"), reflect on this same problem of liberal, "progressive," government intervention and the predictable damage it does. They cites a Gallup poll that has tracked public confidence in government since the Eisenhower presidency. "Every time Democrats attempt to govern the country from the ideological left, they damage government's reputation and status." It's a demonstrable historical pattern. They supply the charts.

For another look at the unflattering comparison between Obama and the Gipper (he has invited it), read Stephen Moore's "Obamanomics vs. Reaganomics," also in the WSJ.

But it is not just the economic well-being of the population as whole that liberals damage. They hurt the people whom they say they are most concerned to help: the poor. I write about this in my Worldmag column from a month ago, "Save the Poor from their 'Friends'."

The poor in America (whoever exactly that is) have many friends in Washington D.C. But that is part of their problem. When your friends are powerful and aggressively well-intentioned but unwise, you don’t need enemies.

They tried to help unwed mothers. They gave them AFDC, and swelled their ranks, and made the condition permanent. The Evangelical left is passionately wed to this tradition of "help." I describe Jim Wallis's opposition to welfare reform in 1996 and now his "Circle of Protection" for the poor against any rollback of the welfare state.

It brings to mind Ronald Reagan’s quip, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loathed By the Right People

The King's College, the wonderful academic institution where it is my unmixed pleasure to teach, has made it to #2 on a left wing loath-list.

ThinkProgress has alerted the world to the five most scandalously conservative schools in the country. The King's College is #2 on the list.

I see that my work is paying off.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Ills of Bureaucracy

Ideal Citizens for Most UN Member Nations - Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, NYC

On Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, across from the UN complex, reading The Way of a Pilgrim (an Eastern Orthodox classic on prayer and communion with God) waiting for the NOM rally for marriage to begin. That sets the scene. A young woman with a mischievous 2-year-old sat down beside me on the bench and asked me what I was reading. The conversation went from there.

I discovered that she was Rwandan who left Rwanda around the time of the genocide and worked for the UN in Croatia during the time of the conflict in that region. She came to America in 1997. But she no longer works for the United Nation. She is an abstract artist with a distaste for the UN that she was happy to share with me. "I couldn't stand the bureaucracy," she told me. I was then surprised that she looked at me intently and asked me, "What is the problem with bureaucracy?" She had her own ideas, but wanted to know what I thought. I paused to think, and then it all came flooding to mind. Bureaucracy has the sour connotation that it does because it is four things: impersonal, unresponsive, self-serving, and (largely because of these three features) inefficient.

This is the topic for my column this week at "The Bureaucracy Gospel." Everything a liberal wants to do to solve the world's problems, including all of your problems, involves a federal government program, which in turn requires a bureaucracy.

These four ills have a lot to do with public opposition to Big Government. (I capitalize those words because Big Government is genetically related to Big Brother.) Nationwide, federal solutions to social and economic problems (Big Government) always create and perpetuate bureaucracy and its ills. Think of the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Social Security Administration. These agencies have combined budgets of approximately $238 billion and employ 132,000 people. HHS administers over $700 billion, a quarter of all federal outlays, including Medicare and Medicaid payments. It is estimated that Social Security will pay out $734 billion in benefits this year.

Consider how Social Security, to say nothing of Medicare, is going to bankrupt us in the next thirty years as the baby boom generation passes through the retirement entitlement system. In 1945, about a decade after the Social Security Administration was established, the ratio of workers paying into the system to the aged drawing out of it was 42-to-1.* That is, for every one retiree making use of the system there were 42 working people. No problem.  Now that ratio is about 3-to-1. Do you see the problem? People are living much longer than they did in 1940. The boomers will reduce that to 2:1.

The debt crisis is the crisis of the welfare state. As Europe is discovering, you just cannot keep borrowing to fund ever more generous government giveaways for everything that you feel everyone should have.

"As Europe buckles under the weight of debt-financed social programs, America still has time to address its social dependence on government entities that are by their very nature impersonal, unresponsive, self-serving, and inefficient. But time is quickly running out."

(I threw in those haunting statues of seemingly tyrannized, soulless human figures scattered around Dag Hammerskjold Plaza in New York because they are the sort of people that bureaucracy creates and likes to serve.)


* I got this figure from the SSA website. The figures seem to hide a story, however. It lists the 1940 ratio as (roughly) 159:1. That is eligible workers to beneficiaries. Five years later it is only 41:1. Five years later in 1950, it is 16:1. Five years later it is half that. Then it's 5:1. In 1975, it is just above 3:1. It moved down to 2.9-to-1 in 2010. So it has been in the very expensive range for 45 years now.

Look here for figures on the complicated life expectancy factor.

The link for the 42:1 figure I give in the body of this post comes from the Prudential. If you can trust a life insurance company to give you straight numbers, who can you trust?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What to do with Children

If we're so clever at raising kids these days, why are there so many little monsters in the schools, in the stores, and everywhere? Yet what is more important than how our children become adults, and what kind of adults they become?

The thing about the current orthodoxy is that it is never current for long (though you are punished severely for violating it). So of course there is growing public discussion that is questioning the high levels of attention that we show our children these days.

My children attend a private Christian school in the metro New York area, and I attend the parent orientation night, the open house, the Christmas program, the spring play (I put my foot down at attending all three nights), and the "moving up" ceremony at the end of the year. I have begun to wonder how necessary all of this is. I don't remember my parents attending all of these things. If they attended any (I'm sure they were at some), it doesn't register with me now. This got me thinking.

You can read my reflections in "Figuring Out Kids" (, July 20, 2011).

At one time you could fall back on the wisdom of the surrounding culture and perhaps not go far wrong. But today everyone else is at least as confused as you are. To complicate things further, both kids and culture keep changing as well. ...Take something as simple as how much time to spend with your kids. How much of your attention should you give them?...This emphasis on quality time and bonding is new. Is it necessary? Is it even good? Are boys becoming better men because of it? Are we who are men messed up for want of it?...

Of course, there has to be time and place for wisdom-transfer moments between a father and his children that we see in Deuteronomy 6. But the Deuteronomy 6 father did not trail his kids throughout their childhoods. If anything, they trailed him.

Children also need their father’s approval. Our heavenly Father bolsters us with unbreakable and oft-repeated promises and with assurances of his sustaining presence. He will greet the faithful at their journey’s end with “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:20-23). We were created to be satisfied in our heavenly Father’s approval and communion. Yes, fathers in particular are important to children’s development.

But some distance is good. It stokes longing in the souls of the young. It’s unwise to flatter and sate them. Forgetting this, fathers in particular have gone from unapproachable to irrelevant. How about adopting the stance of an important and busy guy (which you are, dads), an object of admiration whose sincere expressions of love at reasonable intervals lift your children upward and drive them onward to at least comparable levels of achievement.
A friend of mine whom I mention described his emotionally distant but faithful and admirable father to me also put me on to this article. Essayist and Weekly Standard contributing editor, Joseph Epstein, wrote this account of his childhood which in some ways echoes my own and many others, it seems: "Kindergrachy: Every Child a Dauphin" (The Weekly Standard, June 9, 2008).

Also, have a look at this interview from the Atlantic.

Amy Henry mentions this Atlantic story in her own Worldmag column on this topic, "Being TOO Good a Parent?" (June 23, 2011). She cites many other books that no doubt fill out the subject for anyone looking to study it, including Wendy Mogul's The Blessing of the Skinned Knee and Jean Twenge's The Narcissism Epidemic.

One reader in the comment thread fears that this train of thought will just give license to lazy, negligent fathers to shirk their responsibilities as dads. Of course, you don't remedy the extreme of child neglect with the extreme of child-centeredness.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Moral Reflections in Bad Traffic

What do you think of when you are in bad traffic?

Sometimes, "Aaaargh!"

Sometimes I thank the Lord for delaying me in one way or another so that it is not me up there in the accident. (Not that I'm happy with anyone's suffering.)

Sometimes, apparently, I think of what a better person and citizen I'm becoming through the patience I am learning...if I happen to be learning patience at the time. 

This was the case when I was on vacation earlier this month in Falmouth on Cape Cod. So I wrote, "Bad Traffic Forms Good Citizens" (, July 13, 2011).

That column got a record low of 2 comments. But it was worth saying (someone had to say it!), and now it's off my chest.

The final reflections anticipate why column this week on the mysteries of child rearing.

"When children learn that they are not little gods or little tyrants, i.e., that the world is not their private highway between private toy boxes, they learn self-restraint and consideration for others. They may even learn, as the Bible teaches, to consider others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3). That is, they may learn that people are more important than things and one’s private ambitions.

"Many adults these days continue to act like children who have never learned these lessons. You see them on the road. You see them most places. They have failed to grow up. They may have passports and they may vote, but they have failed to become citizens in the moral sense. Perhaps a few more graciously allowed left-hand turns in difficult traffic would change that. But change or not, you still let them in. It’s what decent, grown-up people and good citizens do."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Modern Marriage and the Antithesis

Most Americans profess to be Christians (76% in 2008). So where is all this support coming from for same-sex marriage? While we're at it, where does the support come from for Family Guy, South Park, many other television shows and movies, advertising, no-fault divorce laws, internet pornography, aggressively secular public schools, and so on?

The answer is that many of those professing Christians are merely nominal in their affiliation (Protestant and Catholic), and they are fairly indistinguishable from their godless neighbors in how they think and live. But even most of the church-attending, religiously serious Christians are culturally compromised. Of course, we are all compromised to some extent or another. Deepening our adoption of the culture of Christ is called the process of sanctification, and it is lifelong. But too many Christians in America are scandalously and unconsciously conformed to the ways of the world that considers itself wise apart from and contrary to the wisdom of God.

The legalization of (or legislative invention of) same-sex marriage in New York State prompted me to call for the church to take it's counter-cultural calling more seriously, i.e., to understand and apply what Reformed theologians call "the antithesis" more widely, more conscientiously, and more rigorously ("A Call to Christian Counter-culture,", July 6, 2011).

The legal establishment of same-sex marriage in New York state—not by a rogue court, mind you, but by legislative act—raises pressing questions for the Church. Will we stand for Christian principles in the face of this blindly egalitarian normalization of homosexuality, and the polygamy and incest that will logically follow? Will we stand firm when people call us bigots and compare us with unreconstructed racists? Will we continue to follow uncritically the principles of the world around us? Evangelicals have a history of cultural accommodation, after all. Will we join with our clearly anti-Christian society in this moral collapse, or will we present an alternative by clearly identifying, thoroughly rejecting, and firmly replacing those socially self-destructive principles? ...

If the Church continues to address individual issues as isolated challenges—abortion, divorce, teen rebellion, same-sex marriage—she will continue to plug holes in the dike while the rising waters come up through the ground to her knees, to her elbows, and then to her neck. The problem is not this-and-that hole where the water is leaking in, but where you are standing relative to the sea. Christians need a more thorough understanding of the culture and seek the high ground in the mind of Christ.

In the age of same-sex marriage, how radical a Reformation do we need if the Church is to remain distinct from the world? Remaining distinct is not about hemlines, how much you drink, nose studs, what entertains you, etc., though being distinct has consequences for these things. It means being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). It means understanding the world in distinctly Christian categories of thought.

I then point readers to Abraham Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism (1898) where he distinguishes between the Christian worldview and the modern one. Part of the modern has grown out of the Christian, but fundamental aspects merely mimic the Christian view but are fundamentally opposed to it. That is, they are idolatrous and corrosive of the Christian way of thinking.
We need a renewed understanding of the spiritual warfare involved in all of life, not just personal but corporate between the church and the world. We need a renewed appreciation of the distinction between what Augustine called the city of God and the city of man, an awareness of the antithesis at work in all of life, the kingdoms that are in conflict in every thought, word, and deed, and throughout the culture. We are what Stanley Hauerwas called "resident aliens."

Christians are at war. Christ is our king and champion. He is spreading his kingdom, reclaiming his world, and putting every enemy under his feet. We are glad captives and combatants in that war. The dramatic slide of our culture into moral vertigo is an opportunity for us ready our minds for battle and live faithfully and redemptively in this clash of cultures.