Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Government – A Necessary Evil?

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." --Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

Kent comments:

My acceptance of the Bible as the authoritative rule of faith prevents me from agreeing with Paine on this point.  The Bible is very clear that civil government, as a means of restraining evil, is not an intrinsic evil – not even a necessary evil.  As a means of restraining evil, government is ordained by God.

But I understand why people before and after Paine have had this thought.  We almost never see government in anything but its “worst state.”  Because of that, it is not difficult to see why some think it an evil, even if a necessary one.

Those who call themselves Christians have far too often been enablers of government in its worst state.  Those who call themselves Christians have often been vocal advocates of government doing things it was never intended to do:  supply people with whatever goods and services they need or even want.  These same Christians have also often been vocal opponents of government doing the one job God put it in place to do:  take retribution on those who have done evils, especially evils to their fellow human beings.

This is why I can sympathize with the thoughtful student of government who looks at what people, even Christian people, have tried to make of government, and then decides that government is a “necessary evil.”  Christian theology should have a lot to say about what government ought to – and ought not to – be.  But because “politics” is controversial, and so many Christians see the avoidance of controversy as a Christian virtue, practical Christian teaching never seems to impact political views in meaningful ways.

I’m talking here about the level of “what I hear at my church.”  Most of the people who dive headfirst into the “what the Christian faith should mean for politics” are wackos like Jim Wallis.  Among those who might have something truthful to contribute to this topic, the tendency is to limit our points to things like “we want prayer in schools” and “we want to post the Ten Commandments down at the courthouse.”

It’s not that those are necessarily horrible ideas, but they are superficial.  Notice that at your church you have probably never taken up topics like:  Should the government determine what happens in schools?  Is inflation evil?  Can government be ‘benevolent’ without doing evil?

That list could be continued.  I know that there is a lot of talk about faith and politics these days.  But most of it is either from socialist-leaning people who want the government to be their church, or from Christians who are afraid to be anything more than very general about this very important matter.

So it is little wonder – and much the faulty of Christendom - that many modern Thomas Paines see government as nothing more than a “necessary evil.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

‘Absorb’ this, Mr. President . . .

It is everywhere today:  Obama’s statement, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”  It has been the subject of much comment, so I hope I am not repeating what someone else has already said.

I wonder if Mr. Obama’s idea of “absorbing” a terrorist attack includes his wife and two daughters – I just wonder.  My wild guess is that he would do whatever was necessary to make sure that they did not “absorb” any such attack.

Interesting, then, is it not, that he seems willing to let other people “absorb” such an attack?

On 9/11/01 the one hijacked plane that was brought down by the passengers was thought by many to be heading for the White House.  Should something like that come up again, and Obama’s family is not jetting around the world somewhere, perhaps the Obama family would be willing to help “absorb” a terrorist attack.

Like Mr. Obama, I would hope we would do everything we can to prevent such an attack.  But should Mr. Obama and his family happen to be required to “absorb” an attack, would we then be stronger?

I don’t mean to sound remote, uncaring, elitist, or in any way “better than you peons.”  I’m just wondering.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Slipping Toward the Pirahas


From a recent book review Leroy Lawson recounts the efforts of a young missionary who attempted to bring the gospel to the small Amazon Pirahas tribe :

He failed. He made no converts. In his second year his friend Kohoi explained the facts of life: “The Pirahas know that you left your family and your own land to come here and live with us. We know that you do this to tell us about Jesus. You want us to live like Americans. But the Pirahas do not want to live like Americans. We like to drink. We like more than one woman. We don’t want Jesus. But we like you. You can stay with us. But we don’t want to hear any more about Jesus. OK?”

. . . the Piraha language was a unique puzzle. It contains no numbers and has no fixed terms for color, no proper vocabulary for personal property, and uses only three vowels and seven consonants for men; three and six, respectively, for women. There is no word for sorry or for thanks. And none for God. Furthermore, the Piraha didn’t want their language in writing. Oral was good enough.

For more than 200 years the Pirahas had resisted the missionaries’ message, even though they liked the missionaries. They have no use for history and do not accept secondhand testimonies about anything a speaker has not personally seen. So a story about some messiah who lived a couple thousand years ago held no appeal for them. “The Pirahas were not in the market for a new worldview. And they could defend their own just fine.”

. . . “Truth to the Pirahas is catching a fish, rowing a canoe, laughing with your children, loving your brother, dying of malaria.”

Kent comments:

First of all, I think the missionary’s friend Kohoi does not understand many Americans very well if he thinks they do not like to drink, have more than one woman, and hear more about Jesus.

Perhaps the missionary failed to explain at least part of American culture to Kohoi, but I’m not sure he failed to bring the gospel to the Pirahas.  It appears, instead, that due in large part to their culture, the Pirahas are not interested in the gospel.

People like to prattle on about how it is not possible to evaluate cultures in any meaningful sense.  But it is not difficult to evaluate this one.  These people are “heathens” in a certain pejorative sense of that word.  They hold a set of arbitrary standards, and they don’t care to evaluate them.  Their standards cut them off from the gospel, and thus from salvation.

In other words, if you have made up your mind to think like Kohoi, you are going to hell in that proverbial hand basket.  And if your culture promotes that, it is a bad one.

The sobering fact is this:  for a long time now many have been hard at work trying to make our culture like that of the Pirahas.  Look down that list of things that these people think, do a tiny bit of translation, and see a version of 21st century America – from the lack of a sense of right to the “oral is good enough” attitude, we have much of this with us even now.

The “rest of the story” is that this missionary ended up being influenced by the Pirahas and he left the faith and his family.  That does not surprise me.  Americans are primed by our culture to be ready to become Pirahas.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burn a Bible, Burn a Quran

Prelude:  I am not in favor of burning books.  I am surrounded by books, and I can seldom bring myself to give away the ones I no longer use, let alone burn any of them!  Also, I am a Christian and I know that Islam is a false religion.  That said, I would not burn the Quran for its supposed shock value.  That just seems uncivilized to me.

The main point:  Given the hysterics into which many high government officials have gone recently over some little Nowheresville ‘pastor’ who wants to burn the Quran on 9-11 this year, I have to ask what one pundit asked today, “If the Army can burn Bibles, why can’t civilians burn Qurans?”  Ben Witherington’s comments from last year when the Bible-burning story broke are very good.

According to a report from last year:

Central Command General Order No. 1 specifically forbids “proselytizing of any faith, religion or practice” and is to be strongly enforced in sectors which are predominantly Muslim, for fear such material distribution will be taken as an attempt on behalf of the U.S. to proselytize and convert the local people.

Here’s a little news flash for Hillary Clinton and all the other ‘high officials’ who are having a fit over the would-be Quran-burners:  We have this little thing (speaking of things labeled “1”) we call Amendment No. One to the U. S. Constitution.  It guarantees the right of political and religious expression, things like burning Qurans.  There are no stated exceptions for the stupidity of the expression involved.

Christians didn’t kill anyone or even think of doing so when the Army burned Bibles.  If Muslims murder because someone, somewhere, burns a Quran, perhaps that just says something about some Muslims versus all Christians.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor (Union) Day


from the Heritage Foundation: Labor Day Has Become Government Day

This Labor Day marks a milestone in the history of the U.S. union movement. It is the first Labor Day on which a majority of union members in United States work for the government.

Kent comments:

As the writer at Heritage goes on to point out, when unions were “organizing” primarily workers for private companies, they had a motive to want the private company to prosper.  (They should have, at least.  Sometimes they behaved otherwise.)

Now that most union workers work for government, they want the government to grow.  While that is not surprising, it is tragic – at least for those who love liberty.

Whenever and however government “grows” it necessarily does so at the expense of individual liberty.  If, for example, the state sales tax is increased to pay for the demands of government union workers, individual liberty is decreased.  What individuals would have decided to do with that money has now been trumped by what government officials have decided to do with that money.  And that necessarily means less liberty.

But in fact, labor unions have, for a long time, been all about limiting individual liberty.  They would not have to operate this way, but for a long time now they have.

If labor unions were simply groups of workers who would band together and refuse to work unless they were paid a certain wage or received certain other benefits, they would not limit liberty.  But unions have not worked that way for a long time.  They don’t like the possibility that people might decide to hire someone else.  That possibility has to exist if we enjoy liberty.  So early on unions enlisted the force of government to do all sorts of liberty-destroying things that would increase their power at the expense of liberty.

If the owners of companies are forced to negotiate with a union, liberty has been limited.  (Notice the word forced here.)  To put this in the most general terms possible:  if you cannot terminate your employment of anyone you might employ, you are the slave of the person you employ.  And unions have worked very hard to make sure this is the case.

All the typical union talk about “living wages” and “exploitation of workers” (the list of these phrases is long) really comes down to one question of ethics:  who has the moral right to interfere with agreements between those who want something done, and those whom they can persuade to do it for hire?  (The correct answer is:  nobody.)

Whether it is the large firm producing automobiles, the small family-owned chain of plumbing shops in a city, the small print shop with only one location, or the guy you hire to mow your yard – the moral question is unchanged, and the answer is the same.

It is horrible that unions are now primarily organized against taxpayers.  But unions went morally wrong long ago, the first time they enlisted the government to coerce anyone for their ends.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Christ, not doctrines?

found at:  http://www.dailytidings.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100904/LIFE/9040304/-1/NEWSMAP

The future of mainstream Christianity, she adds, may lie in the Emerging Church Movement — younger people who love Christ, seek mystery and ritual, not doctrines and creeds and consider themselves "spiritual, not religious."

Kent comments:

The “she” who made this statement is a retiring Episcopal priestess, i.e., female priest.  Her summary of the “emerging” church is concise and accurate, and is a nice place to begin to comment briefly on this matter of the “emerging” ones.

First, if you love Christ, you must necessarily love what he taught, which is, of course “doctrines.”  So you can say you love Christ all you want, but if you are not interested in his teaching, then you are really not all that interested in Him - sorry.

Also, if you are seeking “mystery” then you are not seeking the whole Christ package.  A mystery is something that is unknown.  Jesus Christ made important matters about God known.  This is called revelation.  Things revealed are no longer a mystery.

This doesn’t mean that Christians claim to know everything about God – far from it!  But it does mean that Christ wants us to focus on the things that are revealed, not the vague mysteries that are not.

In addition, while ritual can be empty, it does not need to be.  Ritual can be good, if it is ritual that is invested with meaning based on the things God has revealed about Himself.  But this brings us once again back to doctrines.

Finally, the contrast between “spiritual” and “religious” is so vague that it is almost meaningless.  For something to be truly spiritual, it must be connected to the normative Spirit, which is the Spirit of God.  How do we know if we are connected to the Spirit of God?  Only by consulting the things that God has revealed about Himself, which brings us once again back to doctrines.

There is no way to escape doctrines if you are interested in the Christ.  It is, after all, He who said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Department of Nutrition and the Public Stores

I want to continue some of the thoughts touched on in “Parental Rights End at the School Door” and “Keeping Government Out of Schools.”  With that in mind, away we go.

There is a tendency to accept, almost without question, the current situation in regard to the relationship between schools and governments in our culture.  Though matters vary from state to state regarding the details, the general situation is this: state governments own most of the primary grades through secondary grades schools.  Private schools are allowed, but they are subject, in various degrees, to control by government.  This means, typically, that everyone must pay for the government’s schools, whether you use them or not.  It also means that if you decide to offer a private alternative, you will usually have to do so within the dictates of your state government’s education laws and bureaucracy.

Most people tend to think that many of the government’s schools could use some improvement, but they don’t really object to this whole system.  I think this is just because this system has been around for the lives of everyone living today, and we just haven’t thought about how contrary it is to what I will call the American spirit of liberty.

So I offer a little analogy.  I am going to ask you to imagine that something parallel to government ownership of schools had happened in another area.  (Had there been a Horace Mann of food, there is no reason why things could not have turned out this way.)  See how this strikes your sensibilities in regard to liberty, and then try to think why these same sensibilities should not apply to schools.

Imagine an alternative world in which every state has a Department of Nutrition.  Because of the great importance of proper nutrition to the functioning of a free society (I’m suppressing laughter now, but try to ignore that) most people had been convinced that governments must assure everyone of proper and sufficient nutrition.

To accomplish this, governments put into place local Nutrition Boards with the power to tax the citizens in their districts to accomplish their goals.  These boards own farms, food processing facilities, and grocery stores.  These have come to be called the Public Stores.

Everyone, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich have a legal “right” to visit the Public Stores and pick up at little or no additional cost their nutrition allotment for the week.  While there are some choices at the Public Stores, you do not shop at will as you might for your clothing, for example.  (And there are a few nuts running around asking why we don’t do with groceries what we do with clothes, but who listens to such maniacs?)  The Public Stores are required by law to deliver a certain, state-approved diet to the public.

While the food from the Public Store is not always horrible (though sometimes it is), it is generally not very desirable.  It will keep you alive, of course.  But variety is very limited, and quality is usually lacking.

In this society, it is still possible to supplement your Public Store diet, or even replace it.  But you must continue to pay those taxes earmarked for the Public Store whether you eat from the Public Store or not, and these taxes are quite substantial.

Some people have little home gardens.  Others get together and form little food co-operatives that create their own little farms and private grocery stores.  These efforts often produce better food that the Public Stores, but not many people engage in these efforts.  Since they are taxed for the Public Stores, they just eat what they get from there and work hard to pay the taxes that go to the local Food Boards.

It is well-known that most of the little private gardens and food co-ops produce much tastier food at much lower prices than the Public Stores.  Part of the reason for this is that there are Public Store workers’ unions that are politically powerful, and can often get their way in the Public Stores.  For example, the National Nutrition Association (a powerful Public Store Union) tends strongly toward vegetarianism, so they have pushed the Public Stores toward offering less and less meat.  Most people want more meat.  They sometimes lobby the state government and the local Food Board, but usually with little success.  They are very busy working to pay their local Food Board tax, but the NNA members are well-organized and ever-present to press their demands at the state government and local Food Board.

This has led to some people trying to raise their own beef cattle, pigs, and chickens.  Here and there you see a private field with livestock.  In fact, this trend started to grow as the Public Stores, at the insistence of the NNA, offered less and less meat in the weekly food allotments.

The NNA took notice of this very quickly.  They had endless objections to the private production of meat.  What if these untrained people contaminated it?  What if too many people tried to raise their own livestock - think of the problems that could cause.  But most importantly, what if people began eating too much (as determined by the NNA) meat?

So, due to the influence of the NNA, most states have very strict laws about who can raise livestock, and who can consume the livestock that is raised.  Often, you can raise a limited amount for your own use, but you cannot sell it or even give it away without the approval of the state Department of Nutrition Management.  The content of what private food co-ops may produce and consume is carefully regulated by law, mostly because of the tireless efforts of the NNA.

Of course, the food available at some local Public Stores is better than others.  But states are divided into Nutrition Districts.  You must prove you live in a particular Nutrition District to use the Public Stores in the that district.  So people who are able to do so sometimes move to what they think is a better Nutrition District.  Property values are even connected to the Nutrition District in which the property is located.

When some upstart questions this system, there is a battery of standard answers to such questions.  Who would supply food if not for the Public Stores?  Wouldn’t people starve without the efforts of the Nutrition Boards?  And if people could simply buy and eat whatever they want, who would make sure they were eating the right foods?

So the Public Food System goes on.  There have been many massive reform efforts offered for the Public Stores.  Some states have even adopted some of these.  But when the “reform” is in place, that basic system is never changed.  Governments still produce and distribute food, controlling what most people eat in the process.  And private alternatives remain highly regulated.  So in the end, most people do not get the food they really want, but they have learned to live with that situation.

Stop imagining - stop it!  Ask yourself a question: is there anything wrong with this imagined world?  Do you not find it repulsive both practically and ethically?  Is it not long past time to take the “public” out of schools?