Friday, February 26, 2010

The Postmodern Squeeze


A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith
by Brian McLaren

"I realized that my conversation partners [his critics] simply couldn't address life-and-death issues like poverty, the planet, and peace within the conventional paradigms they inherited. … The Greco-Roman narrative, founded on a constitutional reading of the Bible … rendered those life-and-death issues invisible, insubstantial, and unaddressable."

Kent comments:

If you don’t know of Brian McLaren, he is a key figure in the crowd that would like to re-make the Christian faith in the image of postmodernism.  There is much that could be said about this whole muddle-headed project, but I will focus on just a couple of the points mentioned here.

McLaren thinks this ‘constitutional reading’ of the Bible, by which he seems to mean the usual and customary reading, leaves certain key social problems unaddressed because they become somehow ‘invisible.’  What this seems to mean is that a problem like poverty, given a traditional reading of the Bible, goes unrecognized.

I know a lot of ‘traditional’ Bible readers, and almost all of them know that poverty is a problem around the world.  So what is McLaren talking about here?  He is probably expressing the typical liberation theology-inspired frustration that, given the parameters of the historic Christian faith, there is no institutional, social and particularly governmental solution to the problem of poverty.

This is especially ironic given that one key contributing cause of poverty is the interference of institutions, especially governments, in the economic lives of people.  When you look around the world currently and survey the past, it becomes alarmingly obvious that wherever and whenever people are allowed to work, produce, buy, sell, and so forth without interference from governments they often do fairly well economically speaking.

While there are always setbacks and exceptions, economic well-being is the tendency when there is economic freedom.

But that does not mean there is never an example of a poor person even in the most economically free circumstances.  It does mean that when you try, even with the best of intentions, to develop some system imposed by a government to ‘solve’ this problem, the problem always gets worse in the end.

Christians should not be blind to poverty.  Charity, which in its best forms can never be institutionalized anyway, is a wonderful thing.

But Christians should desire and work to achieve a situation in which governments are ‘blind’ to poverty.  Equality before the law – something that God insists upon according to the Bible – is impossible whenever governments ‘see’ poverty and try to solve it by law.

This is the case because a law aimed at solving poverty will, of necessity, need to treat one person very differently from another.  It will need to deliver goods to people in a certain economic situation by taking those goods from people in a different economic situation.

Lev. 19:15 reads, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”  Once the law requires that those who have less than the ‘poverty level’ receive something from those somewhere above that level, justice has been perverted.  In fact, it has been destroyed.

The ‘traditional’ reading of scripture treats poverty as something to be handled by generosity, that is, by gifts.  Once governments begin to demand ‘gifts’ for the benefit of a certain class of people, justice is gone.  That doesn’t mean poverty is ‘unaddressable.’  It means that it cannot be morally addressed by government.  It is something that governments must ignore so that justice is preserved and charity can operate freely.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

It’s NOT Just a ‘Common Sense’ Problem

An irate Staten Island mom blasted a grade school principal Wednesday for treating her son like a pint-sized
Plaxico Burress after he brought a 2-inch-long toy gun to school.  "This principal is a bully and a coward, and needs to be held accountable," said Laura Timoney, 44, after her teary fourth-grader was nearly suspended for playing with the tiny toy at lunch.  "The school should be embarrassed. This is a common-sense issue."

Patrick Timoney, 9, was terrified when he was yanked into the principal's office to discuss the teeny-weeny plastic "weapon."  "The gun was so little," the boy said. "I don't understand why the principal got so upset. I was a little nervous. They made me sign a statement."

Patrick and a friend were playing with Lego figures in the school cafeteria on Tuesday when he pulled out the faux machine gun and stuck it in the hands of his plastic police officer.

"I was in disbelief," the still-fuming mother said. "Why didn't anyone step up with an ounce of common sense and put an end to the harassment of my child?"  Timoney said her boy loved the toy figure because her husband is a retired police officer.

The elder Patrick Timoney, a former 72nd Precinct cop, couldn't believe his son was nearly busted over something so obviously inauthentic.  "It's a 2-inch gun," he said. "She went overboard. She should have said, 'Put the toys away,' and that would have been the end of it."

After a meeting between the principal and the parents, the boy was spared any disciplinary action. City school officials said Patrick agreed to leave the "gun" at home.  "I'm never bringing a toy to school again," said Patrick, whose favorite subject is math.  Laura Timoney remained upset. Her son, a typically eager student, asked to stay home yesterday because he thought the principal was mad at him.  The mother said she expects an apology and may sue.

"The toy gun is not the issue," she said. "A lack of common sense is the issue."

Read more:

Kent comments:

If only this were just a ‘common sense’ problem.  Unfortunately, it is much more than that.  This is a worldview problem.  You really cannot understand this problem until you become familiar with the the worldview that is propagated in the government-sponsored education establishment.

It is not even a safety-at-school matter.  If it were, school officials would concentrate on real weapons, not Lego figure ‘guns.’

A key part of the education establishment worldview, which is actively propagated at most university schools of ‘education,’ is a hatred of firearms.  You can see evidence of that in the fact that most universities do not allow even concealed-carry permit holders to carry on campus.  There is no reasonable explanation for such a rule other than a systemic hatred of even the possibility of an armed citizen.

This is why even tiny, lego-sized, plastic representations of guns are treated this way at government schools.  No one really believes that a lego-sized plastic gun replica could present any possible problem at a government school.

The real problem is that those who hold the worldview propagated by the education establishment tend to believe that children should not even be allowed to think about firearms.  Thus, the control of lego-sized plastic replicas of guns is a form of thought-control.

Back in the day of our little school, which we called Sophia Academy, we actively celebrated the goodness of guns.  Guns are interesting mechanically.  Guns are fun to shoot at the target range.  They can help you rid your environment of pesky things like squirrels and other such critters.  In a worst-case scenario, guns can protect you from evil people.

Gun safety and maintenance was a regular part of our school’s curriculum, and it was a lot of fun.  Guns are no more dangerous than automobiles – perhaps less so.  Everyone should know how to use one, just in case it ever become necessary – rather like swimming.

But those holding the education establishment worldview could never agree with this, not because of any question of ‘common sense’ but because of that worldview.  In that worldview children, and people in general, are things to be controlled by ‘experts.’  Integral to that control is the control of what people think.

It is exactly what you should expect when you allow statists to run schools.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All We Need Is Warmth

New Federal Climate Change Agency Forming

Posted February 8, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is proposing a new agency to study and report on the changing climate.

Also known as global warming, climate change has drawn widespread concern in recent years as temperatures around the world rise, threatening to harm crops, spread disease, increase sea levels, change storm and drought patterns and cause polar melting.

Kent comments:

Don’t you love it: ‘climate change’ is ‘also known as global warming.’

Of course, ‘climate change’ could just as well be global cooling. But as far as I know, the ‘human beings are creating too much CO2 which is causing the earth to warm’ thesis wouldn’t be helped much if the globe were cooling. The fact is, it is not clear that the earth is warming right now in the short term. But as you can now tell if you pay attention, mere matters of fact do not matter much in this debate.

The point of the ‘widespread concern’ (mostly spread by groups like the Associated Press) ‘climate change’ is mostly concerned to create more government agencies as revealed in the headline above.

I have tried to keep a webpage about all this. It is still a fun place to visit. I call it the Environmentalism Watermelon. That name is the best way I can think of to describe what most ‘environmentalism’ is really all about. Like a watermelon, it is ‘green’ on the outside and ‘red’ on the inside. (And when I say ‘red’ I mean socialist/communist/statist of some variety.)

Today’s newsroom discussions of how all the cold and snow around the United States are the result of ‘global warming’ would be funny if they were not so stupid.

This topic quickly becomes very technical and sometimes hard to follow. For the ‘true believers’ (in the most perverse sense of that phrase) in ‘global climate change’ facts simply do not matter. But if you want to see something that is from a source completely outside this whole debate that will open your eyes, should then need opening, check out “The Big Chill” from Nova. Here are just a few highlights:

During the past billion years, the Earth's climate has fluctuated between warm periods - sometimes even completely ice-free - and cold periods, when glaciers scoured the continents.

Between 52 and 57 million years ago, the Earth was relatively warm. Tropical conditions actually extended all the way into the mid-latitudes (around northern Spain or the central United States for example), polar regions experienced temperate climates, and the difference in temperature between the equator and pole was much smaller than it is today. Indeed it was so warm that trees grew in both the Arctic and Antarctic, and alligators lived in Ellesmere Island at 78 degrees North.

We are still in the midst of the third major cooling period that began around 3 million years ago, and its effect can be seen around the world

Through a million year period, the average amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is affected by four fluxes: flux of carbon due to (1) metamorphic degassing, (2) weathering of organic carbon, (3) weathering of silicates, (4) burial of organic carbon. Degassing reactions associated with volcanic activity and the combining of organic carbon with oxygen release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Conversely, the burial of organic matter removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Our climate today is actually a warm interval between these many periods of glaciation. The most recent period of glaciation, which many people think of as the "Ice Age", was at its height approximately 20,000 years ago.

You should read the whole thing, but it is clear from this informative little article on the history of the earth’s climate that the whole political debate about ‘global warming’ is idiotic at best. It is an excuse for governments to control even more than they already do. It is easy to see this if you look even slightly beyond the nitwits at AP and the talking heads on television.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Literacy and the Christian Faith


First, a note about a source.  My thinking for this post was stimulated by an article from The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.  If you are interested in general conditions at universities today, this is an excellent source.  In a series of articles there literature professor Thomas F. Bertonneau considers the decline of literacy in our society.  Referring to the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Bertonneau says:

Most people attended in order to listen to the candidates and evaluate the merits of their contending positions.  The audiences of 1858 could do this largely because their learning was book learning, which inculcates patience and promotes the ability to correlate parts and wholes whether in narrative or argument.

Bertonneau reminds us that for many reasons, we have reverted (that’s my word, and I will stand by it) to a condition of “orality” in which:

All knowledge is personal knowledge; every utterance is subjective and egocentric. Because speech is always connected with specific persons, the idea of objective knowledge apart from an ego remains unknown.

If this all sounds merely theoretical, it is not.  I see it in action almost every Sunday at our church.

This church meets in a location that is surrounded by what was once a middle-class suburb that has been sliding toward what used to be called a ‘slum’ and is now sometimes rather euphemistically called ‘inner city.’  The church has tried to connect with the people in the neighborhood.  Several older teenagers from the area attend, and often sit very near me.

Further explanation:  the minister at our congregation preaches very good sermons as far as logical structure and content are concerned.  I would call his usual style classically deductive, that is, having points that develop a thesis and sub-points that support the main points.  In this regard his sermons share the general structure of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Recently I have noticed that during his sermons, the neighborhood teenagers are all busily engaged with their cell phone/texting devices.  One of them has two such devices and is able to send text messages on both the devices at the same time!  (I was a bit amazed and momentarily distracted from the sermon!)

Now, I have two points to make about all this.  First, these teenagers are from a community that is alleged to be plagued by poverty.  It tells us something of what that term has come to mean in our society when teenagers who are ‘poor’ can own and maintain two texting devices!

But the more significant poverty is this:  these teenagers appear to be functionally illiterate.  This is not a condition found only among ‘inner city’ teenagers.

You might think that they are just kids (who we assume don’t like to listen to things like sermons) amusing themselves.  I have to doubt that.  When I was that age, my church friends and I were able to engage ourselves with a sermon.  Even though we were probably typical distracted teenagers, we could and did extract the content of many sermons.  (And since texting devices were not yet invented, that wasn’t a problem.  Also, had we had them, the congregation, and especially our parents, would never have allowed us to use them during a sermon!  Perhaps our church is at fault for seeing this behavior, but not having the ‘guts’ to confront it.)

It is time to wrap this up with a recommendation.  I think ‘youth ministry’ needs to be focused in a different direction.  Typically, the approach is to ‘translate’ the content of the Christian faith into the ‘oral’ culture.  This means, not just that it is unwritten, but that it comes in very small, logically unconnected, subjective bites.

But the Christian faith cannot successfully be ‘translated’ in this way without losing so much of it  as to make it nearly meaningless.  So it seems that a better approach to ‘youth ministry’ would be to use the resources of the church to do what schools are clearly failing to do today, that is, help teenagers become literate.  Yes, I’m saying we should start by teaching teenagers to read (and thus think) in the ways that only functionally literate people can.  This would not only be a good thing in itself, it would also allow people to understand truly the Christian faith, and thus know the Creator and Redeemer of the universe, and all that implies for every human being.

And isn’t that what we are – or should be – trying to do?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

God Told Me to Read Acts Chapter 5 Today

Today my son asked me if I had read a recent article at the Christian Standard.  I had a look and was struck by one thing the author said in an otherwise good article:

Real communication with God, as in all relationships, is a two-way street. I don’t just talk at him; I listen for him. I ask God, “What would you have me read this morning from your Word?” And a funny thing happens when I listen for his answer—I hear it. And he directs me to the passage he wants me to read, knowing what I need to hear.

I have been complaining about this whole idea for (probably) far too long.  (Find a recent example here.)  It sounds so good and Godly.  I’m sure it is very sincere.  As a song in one of my favorite musicals asks, “How can there be any sin in ‘sincere’?”  I’m not sure about sin, but there can be plenty of mistakes that thrive in the soil of sincerity, and this is sure one.

What, exactly, is being affirmed when someone says of God, “When I listen for his answer – I hear it.”  Is the author claiming that He asks God what part of the Bible he should read and an audible voice speaks to him?  If I were there, would I hear it too?  Even though he does not make this clear, as many who make these kinds of claims do not, I suspect he would say this is not exactly what he means.

I don’t think we should have to guess when people make these extraordinary kinds of claims, but since this author seems to hide in this bit of ambiguity, we must make our best guess.  And my best guess is that he means that after praying that God will tell him what part of the Bible to read today, he has some kind of non-verbal, inner ‘sense’ that God is telling him to read a certain passage.

The problems with this idea are many, so I will mention only a couple here.  First, where does God promise that he will communicate with us through ‘senses’ and ‘urges’?  While that is a famous bit of ‘pop theology’ it is not a promise from God’s word that I am able to locate.  That being the case, when you assume that your urges, even the most sanctified of them, are God speaking to you, you are in essence ‘putting words into God’s mouth.’  That, my friends, can be very dangerous.

Also, even if you assume that ‘senses’ and ‘urges’ are sent from God, how do you know exactly what they mean?  How is some urge translated with any real certainty into “read Acts chapter 5 today”?  And if you then retreat to, “well, I just know, but I can’t explain how I know or show with any certainty that I know” you have retreated into a very foggy kind of mysticism.  It is a kind of mysticism where the real ‘messages from God’ are always somehow ineffable, that is, they cannot be put into words.

But if that is indeed the case, what is the value in reading the verbalized, written, word of God?  Exactly because it is words, it has been demoted to, at best, a kind of second-class message from God.  And notice how, on this view, the written word of God is not really accessible in any significant way unless God first reveals to each one of us which part we should read today.

In spite of the obvious sincerity of those who hold this kind of view, in the end it is not God-honoring.  It is simply mistaken.

Waiting for Next Year’s ‘Justice Department College Playoffs’

as posted at Sports Illustrated

Justice Dept.: Obama administration may take action on BCS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is considering several steps that would review the legality of the controversial Bowl Championship Series, the Justice Department said in a letter Friday to a senator who had asked for an antitrust review.

In the letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, obtained by The Associated Press, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the Justice Department is reviewing Hatch's request and other materials to determine whether to open an investigation into whether the BCS violates antitrust laws.

Kent comments:

I found an article commenting on this at The Freeman website.  This little mag is a good resource for ideas on liberty.  The author of The Freeman article, commenting on the Sports Illustrated article (gets complicated, doesn’t it?) concluded with this:  “Government has no business telling a private organization how to determine athletic championships.”

I agree with that completely, but I think the analysis is not deep enough.  If colleges were really always private organizations, the point would be well-taken.  The problem is, most colleges and universities are quasi-governmental organizations.  They are heavily funded by both state and national governments.  That being the case, no one should be surprised when governments start trying to ‘call the shots’ at colleges and universities – even on such things as how to organize sporting events.

In a free society, governments could have nothing to do with institutions of learning for many reasons.  First, when governments transfer funds to an institution of any kind, they must confiscate those funds from someone.  That’s not freedom.

Also, when governments sponsor and control any institution, they inevitably end up dictating, at least to some extent, what can be done at that institution.  That’s not freedom.

This list could continue, but you get the idea.  If you want institutions of higher learning to be free institutions, the government cannot be involved.  But if you are willing to have the government involved in your institution, it is no longer private, and you should not be surprised when the same government that gives you money wants to tell you what to do.  You cannot ‘have your freedom and eat it, too.’  Yes, that is a weird way to say it.  Let me try again.

Freedom is a seamless garment.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Collectivist by Any Other Name Stinks Just as Much

Chuck Colson has a good – in spite of a couple of flaws – column today.  He said, in part:

Is totalitarianism the same as communism or fascism?

Well, any ideology can lead to totalitarianism. Totalitarianism simply means that the state—the government—exercises complete control of public and even private life.

So Hitler (a right-wing fanatic) and Stalin (a left-wing fanatic) were little different. One promised a master race, the other a worker’s paradise. But they both erected totalitarian dictatorships, where the state controlled the media, the economy, everything.

Kent comments:

Chuck is on the right track in regard to the similarities between Hitler and Stalin.  But he misses a key point when he calls Hitler a ‘right-wing fanatic’ and Stalin a ‘left-wing fanatic.’  That terminology, so often glibly used and uncritically accepted, is often left undefined and increases our understanding of the problem little or none.  It leaves the impression that the correct, non-totalitarian approach is somewhere in the ‘middle’ between ‘left’ and ‘right.’

In fact, the common element for Hitler and Stalin is collectivism.  It is the idea that the individual is of little importance, and the state, the revolution,  the society is all-important.  Collectivism turns on the idea that society has a right to be whatever ‘it’ wishes, while the wishes of individuals must be sacrificed.

Fascists and Bolsheviks worked toward collectivism by somewhat different routes.  As the late Clarence Carson has pointed out, Fascists typically wanted one nation to conqueror the world and create a world-wide collective by that route.  Bolshevik communists wanted to spread their revolutionary tactics to all the nations of the world so that national identities would wither away and the world-wide collective would be created by that route.

These were different routes to a common goal – the goal of forcing individuals to serve the collective.  When the goal is collectivism, totalitarianism is the only way to get there.  People will sometimes join together in voluntary projects, but free society (naturally) requires that the voluntary element be present.  Free society will never be total.  Individuals will reserve some parts of their lives and their fortunes for their families and for themselves.  Collectivists cannot tolerate this, and so totalitarianism is required to force the issue.

Finally, it is not true that any ideology can lead to totalitarianism, as Colson asserts.  Perhaps Chuck is assuming that only some social viewpoints are ideologies, but I see no good reason to restrict the term in this fashion.  An ideology is simply a set of aims and ideas. Classical liberalism is an ideology which is fundamentally opposed to totalitarianism.  So I’m not sure why Chuck makes this claim.

Now, for a little modern-day application.  Many of those in power in our government today are self-avowed collectivists.  Apart from some countervailing power to thwart them, they will continually push toward totalitarianism in our society.  You can see the seeds of it already.  It is the only route to collectivism.