Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lies, and more lies

If you are not acquainted with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, you should be.  This is a group of Christians who have not gone over to the dark side of modern environmentalism, but who are concerned about the physical creation.

In a recent article one of their members explores the deception being foisted on the public by a group (the Evangelical Environmental Network) dedicated to the idea that mixing environmentalism with Christianity will yield anything more than moral and conceptual sewage.

I will not explore the details here.  If you want to do that, read the article for yourself.  In the end, this campaign by the Evangelical Environmental Network is a collection of lies built on a foundation of lies.

One of the most significant reasons why Christianity is not compatible with environmentalism is this inextricable connection between environmentalism and lying.  Environmentalism is a kind of ‘religious’ (in the way that word is so often misused) fervor that attempts to convince humans beings to do things harmful to human beings.  It does this by lying about the danger of human activity that has produced a setting in which human beings can thrive.

These lies are sometimes grand ones, and they are sometimes detailed ones that are somewhat technical in a way that most people will not take the time to understand.  These are often the most effective kinds of lies.  Lies that are very broad in scope at one end of the spectrum, or lies that are very detailed at the other end of the spectrum, are the ones most likely to overwhelm people.  We sometimes tend to ignore them because of the effort required to analyze them properly.

Environmentalists – ‘Christian’ or otherwise – exploit this situation to their advantage.  I try to be charitable with people, assuming that they might be honest but misguided.  In the case of environmentalists, this is not possible.  Their views, as well as the tactics they use to promote their views, are inseparable from a whole collection of lies.

The Cornwall Alliance is a good resource for uncovering these lies.  I highly recommend their work.

Monday, December 12, 2011

PETA People–Wrong, Even When They’re Right

Found an interesting article in Christianity Today recently:

December 8, 2011 12:19PM

FRC, PETA Call for Continuing an Explicit Military Ban on Bestiality

Tobin Grant

In an unlikely alliance, the Family Research Council (FRC) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have found a common cause: the criminalization of bestiality in the military. Both groups are calling for keeping an explicit ban on sex with animals in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that may be eliminated by the Defense Authorization Act.

Kent comments:

While these two groups both don’t want to decriminalize bestiality in the military (or probably anywhere else, for that matter) they get there by such different routes that this “cause” is only marginally “common.”

Presumably, the Family Research Council opposes bestiality because human beings, being made in God’s image, are qualitatively different from animals.  (The article does not get into the rationale of this group explicitly, but it is a fair assumption.)

PETA, on the other hand, has a radically different reason for their opposition to bestiality.  As the official PETA statement said, they want to “protect all Americans—human and nonhuman alike.”

The PETA people (redundant, but it sounds good) seem to base their rather insane agenda on the idea that animals are persons, and thus “Americans” just like human beings.  To give them their due, however little that may be, they never quite say that animals are persons.  What they do say is that “supporters of animal rights believe that animals have an inherent worth.”  If that is not personhood, it is as close as you can come to it.

What I can’t quite figure out is how the PETA people think they can know that animals don’t want to have sex with humans.  From perusing their website, my best guess that they think animals are somehow morally innocent and would never “want” to do something like engaging in sex with humans.  Humans, on the other hand – well, we all know how they are about such things.

As one Family Research Council member said about another issue, “PETA folks get this one wrong, too, as they get most things wrong.”  They mostly get this one wrong too.  They just blindly stumbled into the right conclusion for all the wrong reasons.

But that’s just the PETA people way.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Rid the World of Lobbyists


Equality and Envy
The Proper Role of Government
By: Kim Moreland|Published: November 15, 2011

This is today’s Breakpoint, today not by Chuck Colson, but by Kim Moreland.  This column is generally good, pointing out that the kind of social/political equality that should interest Christians is not the current “income equality” that is currently so incessantly demanded.  Rather, it is equality before the law and within the political process.  From this Moreland goes on to say, “But the Christian tradition also puts limits on the size and scope of government.”

Amen, and amen.

Later, Moreland makes this comment:

But we should work to make sure that the law doesn’t treat them [those with larger incomes] more favorably than other, lesser-paid, people. That’s why, for example, lessening the influence of lobbyists is so desperately needed today. Their entire purpose is to shape the rules so that one group benefits at the expense of everybody else.

What needs to be said here, and was not in this column, is that if the proper limits are placed on government, the influence of lobbyists will approach zero.  If the state carefully avoided the matters of taxing to redistribute, of social engineering, of subsidizing businesses, of providing benefits to individuals, and all such manner of things, there would be nothing for lobbyists to do!!!!

Lobbyists today typically spend their time either trying to keep the government out of their business – in the broadest sense of that term - so that business is able to continue (can’t blame them for that) OR trying to get some favor from the government to give them a one-up on everyone else (can and should blame them for this).  But if governments simply stayed out of those areas, lobbying would soon become a thing of the past.

There is one possible exception here.  If governments removed themselves from these areas, people might employ lobbyists to try to persuade governments to re-enter these areas.  My only suggestion to help prevent this involves a liberal application of tar, feathers, and rock salt to such lobbyists, those who hire them, and any legislators who listen to them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Unjust Charges of Injustice

Charles Colson has a recent Breakpoint titled “Predators at Large.”  At first glance this conjures up pictures of pedophiles or perhaps those who mug helpless old ladies on walkers.  Perhaps that is the effect Colson wanted as he begins a discussion of so-called “payday lenders.”

These lenders make short-term loans at very high interest rates.  Why does anyone use these lenders?  As Colson points out, it is almost always because they are people whose credit history is so bad that no one else will lend to them.

Colson calls this “predatory lending” and says that those who take out such loans have “fallen victim to human greed.”  Colson condemns this whole practice in no uncertain terms, and this has been the attitude of much of Christendom for a long time.  It sounds horrible to talk about 390% APR loans, doesn’t it?

As is too often the case, we have here an example of Christians failing to do proper economic analysis.  Is there greed involved in these kinds of loans?  Most likely.  Sometimes it might be on the part of borrowers who refuse to delay their gratification until they have the cash in hand.  But more often, I am sure it is simply people who fall into hard economic times.

Are these lenders really “predatory”?  Colson gives a tear-jerking example of a lady who borrowed $500 to pay her car insurance and ended up paying much more than that in interest on her loan.  (As an aside, perhaps we should not be content to concede that everyone has some inalienable right to own a car – but that’s another matter.)

Suppose YOU decided to gather all your available cash:  your retirement savings, your bank accounts, and any other funds you could generate.  With these funds you decide to start a small, personal loan business.  When customers come to you with a credit history that indicates there is only a one-in-five probability that they will pay back the principle of their loan and they have no collateral to secure this loan, what kind of interest rate will you have to charge to keep your little company in business?  These aren’t your friends.  These are strangers with a shaky loan-repayment history.

The answer is, unless you are willing to lose your life savings that you have put into your little company, you are going to have to charge rates high enough to cover the likely default rates on the loans you make.  Since these people cannot even get a loan anywhere else, you are doing them a service by making one available to them.  And remember, they come to you and agree to the terms of the loan.

Colson says of these supposed victims that they “didn’t have any other options.”  But that is simply not true.  They had the options of continuing to shop for a better loan, or not borrowing at all.

To his credit, Colson does not call for the government to shut down such lenders.  He instead points to a church in Pittsburg that has set up program that offers $500 loans with thirteen days interest-free.  This program also encourages those who use it to become savers.

That is a wonderful idea, but it is a charity, not a business.  It is an admirable charity at that, but it’s still a charity.  And as Colson admits, “Not that there aren’t risks, but who ever said that fighting against injustice wouldn’t be costly?”  What is implicit here is this:  unless the clientele of this church’s charity program are somehow self-selecting better credit risks, the church will have a significant number of these loans that will never be repaid.

There is nothing wrong with this.  Clearly, this church is aware of that, and is willing to lose some of its money as part of this charitable endeavor.

But your little loan business is not a charity.  You have to make a profit, and that profit has to be in place even after many of your customers fail to repay all or part of the principle of their loans.  Your loan company, contra Colson, is not “unjust.”  It’s just not a charity.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cut, Ricky, Cut

From ABC News:

GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry’s memory lapse at Wednesday night’s CNBC debate will go down as one of the worst debate flubs in history, but it may not mean the campaign kiss of death that the Twitterverse quickly proclaimed it to be.

Kent comments:

Here is the sort of garbage that has become the subject of political discussions.  I do not endorse Rick Perry.  But I also do not endorse the output of the stupid babblers who worry about a candidate having a bit of memory lapse during a so-called debate.  Two points need to be made here.

First, these side-shows of candidates answering idiotic questions from dimwitted news people are not debates.  I usually pay no attention to these displays of inanity.  Debates would be interesting and informative.  In a debate there are propositions that are affirmed or denied.  Participants give reasoned speeches in support of their contentions.

I don’t expect to see any debates because they are televised by networks that feature idiotic talking heads, and real debates do not require the presence of idiotic talking news heads.  I doubt if most network talking heads would understand a real debate.

As for Mr. Perry’s memory lapse – it does not cause me any concern.  What he could not remember was the name of the third government agency he wants to eliminate.  The reason it does not concern me is because no matter which agency name he recalls, it will be one that needs to be eliminated.  And there are so many that who could expect a candidate to remember them all?

Earlier I said that I did not endorse Rick Perry.  Mr. Perry, you say that if you are elected three executive branch agencies will be gone?  If you will add about a dozen more to your list (and feel free to write it down so you won’t forget), you can count on my vote.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It’s the Socialism, Stupid!

Here is an interesting post from The Heritage Foundation.  The key part is as follows:

But a new paper by Jason Richwine, Ph.D. and Andrew Biggs addresses the question of teacher pay head on and asks whether teachers today receive the right level of pay. They find that when benefits such as tenure, health care, and pensions are considered, the typical public-school teacher is well-paid: “We conclude that public-school-teacher salaries are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled private-sector workers, but that more generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.”

The same study goes on to say:

While union contracts help secure overcompensation for the average teacher, they may still leave the most valuable teachers underpaid. School administrators need to be able to hire and fire teachers as needed, basing personnel decisions on rigorous value-added evaluations and setting pay based on prevailing market rates.

But why should this surprise anyone?  It could be predicted without a study.  With government school teachers we have what is perhaps the worst of all possible situations:  socialism in bed with a union.  The devilish children of such a mating will always be horrible inefficiency and great cost to taxpayers.

We sometimes forget that governments owning schools – which they very directly do in most k-12 schooling – is the classic definition of ‘socialism.’

I have always wondered about the mentality of the person demanding more.  If teaching at a government school doesn’t pay as much as you want, why not try something else?  The study reveals the answer:  you are more likely to get more by lobbying the socialist state than by anything else you might do.

I am often amused by the constant calls of well-meaning people to ‘reform’ various school systems.  Hints of that appear in the second quote from the study above.

But you can’t ‘reform’ your way out of socialism.  Giving new power to officials in a socialist school system will not cure the problem.  The problem is socialism.  The ills of government schools are very predictable, and will be persistent, as long as we insist on using the socialist model.

To expect otherwise borders on insanity.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Praying and Governments

I recently noticed this comment in a Christian periodical:

"I urge . . . that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). Do we pray for our government leaders—even those with whom we disagree?

This oft-made comment seems to miss the point here.  In fact, even in this short quotation, this is rather obvious.

Paul is not telling us to ask God to help government officials lead easier lives, or anything like that at all.  And our agreement or disagreement with such officials has nothing to do with what Paul is talking about.

Paul very straightforwardly tells us that we should pray for governing officials so that we may live in peace.  Paul knew that the default would tend toward governing officials behaving in ways that would not allow people, especially Christians, to live in peace.  That would require divine intervention.

When governing officials do the job that Paul describes elsewhere (Rom. 13:1-7) they help make a peaceful life possible for those who wish to follow the ways of peace.  But as history has repeatedly shown, the power bestowed on governing officials tends to be misused.

So we need to pray for God, via His providence, to control governing officials.  In fact, God seems to be the only one who can control an out-of-control government.

Have you seen any of those around lately?  It’s not too late for some prayer time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Democracy: Not all it’s cracked up to be

In today’s Breakpoint Charles Colson, in discussing events in the Middle East, says this:

There’s no reason, as writer Rod Dreher reminds us, to assume that democracy and religious tolerance go hand-in-hand. On the contrary, recent history suggests that what the so-called “people” often want is to mistreat the “others” in their midst.

It is a very good point, and needs to be taken far beyond the context of the Middle East.  We need to bring this point back home, too.

Here in the good old USofA we have the almost demented tendency to think that, once something has been approved by a majority, it is prudent, wise, and even just.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the real problem in the political world is not who rules, or the mechanisms by which that rule is carried out.  Rather, the real problem is to avoid tyranny and injustice.  A benevolent dictator could easily have a more just rule than many so-called democracies do today.

Of course, the problem is that you never know when a good dictator might go bad, or who might come to power when the good dictator dies.  But again, we experience most of the same uncertainties under situations where we vote.  That is why it is very hollow indeed for western politicians to run around heralding the establishment of “democracies” in the Middle East, or any where else for that matter.

It was for this reason that our Founders did not establish an unqualified democracy.  Part of the reason for the division of powers, and the intentional pitting of one power against another, was to insure that no one, including even supermajorities, could become tyrannous.

Most of the modifications that have been made to the Founders’ original system have had the effect of making tyranny easier to implement.  We live with the sadly successful results of that today.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Place of Religion in Political Evaluation

At today’s edition of Breakpoint Charles Colson makes this statement:

First, there is no religious test for public office. If you don’t believe me, check out the Constitution of the United States, Article VI, Paragraph 3. The public statements of some evangelicals that they wouldn’t vote for Romney because of his Mormonism would cause the Founding Fathers to spin in their graves.

Surely Colson knows that the section of the Constitution to which he refers has no reference to why people might decide to vote as they do for President.  The “no religious tests” for office means that a person must not be prohibited from running for, or serving in, an office under the Constitution, based on that person’s religious views.

So the fact that someone might decide not to vote for a candidate because of the candidate’s religion would not cause any Founding Fathers to rotate in their repose.  Some of them would have agreed that religion is not important when considering a candidate; others, I am fairly sure, would not agree.  But we can’t sort that out here.

The rest of what Colson says makes the point that religion can be a distraction when considering people for political office.  While I agree that religion can be a distraction when evaluating candidates, I do not think that it always is, or must be.

Any religion, when taken seriously, implies a worldview.  Chuck Colson should be aware of this, since he devotes much effort to helping people think through their worldviews.

The worldviews implied by some religious views could be a very reasonable consideration when evaluating candidates for political offices.  For example, the oath of office carries much less force if there is no transcendent being to which we must answer for our deeds.

An animistic worldview, in which spirits inhabit what we think of as inanimate objects, could have a profound effect on policy decisions.  The list of such possibilities here is very long.

If a candidate does not take his religious views very seriously, he might work out fairly well in spite of them.  But if office-holders don’t take their religious views seriously, are they really people we should trust in public office?  What does that kind of inconsistency say about a person?

But, assuming that candidates do take their religious views seriously, what might Mormonism imply for political office?  Mormonism is not Christianity.  But I am not convinced that only Christians could be good office-holders.  However, Mormonism holds to some very weird – and that is putting it rather mildly – views that go far beyond simply not being Christian.

For example, Mormonism teaches that God was once an ordinary human being, and that ordinary humans beings like us can, if we do enough Mormon-defined good deeds, someday become divine and rule our own universes.  What bearing does this have on political views?

I am not completely sure at this point.  But religious views that freakish are enough to at least make me think about all this more carefully.

If you think religious views are simply meaningless for the rest of your view of life and reality, then they are not politically important.  But Chuck Colson does not think that.  So it is especially strange to see him dismiss them as he does here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Problem of Not Recognizing the Problem

There was an almost-good article today at Christianity Today.  It deals, in general, with the ethics of, and blame for, financial problems in our country today.  While some good points are made in the article, I had to give it the “almost-good” rating because of this:

Both sides of the political aisle are to blame for the Great Recession and its repercussions on the American (and world) economy. Republicans recycled the old Reagan mantra of the 1980s that "government is the problem, not the solution," blindly applying it to our financial regulatory institutions while failing to recognize that even the most free-market economists point to the need for careful government regulation of the financial industry. In doing so, they let the Labrador off the leash. But seeking to appease their own constituents, Democrats pressured quasi-government lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to offer easy loan terms to Americans of modest incomes, relieving them of the self-discipline of having to save for an adequate down payment on a house.

While ‘both sides’ (as if there could only be two) of the aisle are to blame for the problems, it is not for the reasons the author states.  The problem is that no one, including the Republicans, really acts as if government were a significant part of our financial problems.

I’m not sure who these “even the most free-market economists” this author has in mind are, but there of plenty of economists who will point out in great detail how and why the current maze of governmental attempts at regulation of the economy in general are the direct cause of all kinds of problems.  You can locate these economists at places like the Mises Institute, the Cato Institute, The Foundation for Economic Education, and The Heritage Foundation.  You will find some policy matters about which these groups will disagree.  But one thing they do daily is offer evidence for the proposition that, in matters economic, the government very often is the problem.

Government would be doing quite well if it could only manage to punish economic fraud and theft.  It mostly fails to do that.  On top of that, governments propagate a good deal of their own legalized fraud and theft.

But even when governmental financial rules and regulations have purported good intentions, they often fail the “have you considered the unseen side of things” test.  Take something as innocent-seeming governmental insurance of savings accounts.  While it sounds nice, think of how it has perpetuated the idea that a bank account is a riskless investment.  There are no riskless investments.  The only way to make it appear that there is comes with government stepping in to “rescue” depositors and failing banks.  If the premiums for this “insurance” really covered the cost, that would be one thing, but they do not.

We learned this in the 1980s when there was a cascade of ‘savings and loan’ failures.  The government simply supplied billions (or at least hundreds of millions – dollars went a bit farther in those days) of other people’s money to bail out investors who had been told for years that there was no risk to their investments in savings and loan institutions.  There was plenty of risk, and some of that risk was created by the incentives placed on the savings and loan institutions by previous government regulations!

Most of us wouldn’t know a free market if it slept in our bed.  (OK, I wasn’t sure how best to say that.  But you get the idea.)  A free market is simply what happens when individuals are allowed to interact economically without government restraint, other than punishment for theft and fraud.

When governments intervene in other ways, the individuals (and the ‘market’ they create) are no longer free.  Neither economic preclusion, nor requirement are compatible with freedom.  To say otherwise – as does this Christianity Today article – is utter nonsense.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cheering for Justice

In a recent “Breakpoint” Chuck Colson tells us that he was bothered by something at a recent political debate.  (Those things aren’t really debates, but that is another matter.)  The thing that bothered Chuck was what Rick Perry said when he was asked about being worried about the innocence of people recently executed in Texas for murder.  As Colson reports this:

… the governor instantly replied, “I’ve never struggled with that at all.” He cited what he called Texas’ “very clear process” and added that “if you come into our state and you kill one of our children” or “kill a police officer” or “one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas.”

Colson thinks this answer is too flippant.  He thinks Perry was taking the whole idea of capital punishment (which Colson does not, in principle, oppose) too lightly.  My main point here is not to defend Perry on this matter.  But at these “debates” there is really not time to treat much of anything with the depth that most such things deserve.

But something that bothered Colson even more was the reaction of the audience.  After Perry’s answer, the crowd cheered.  As Colson comments:

“it certainly shouldn’t be the occasion for cheering as the crowd in California audience did twice. If the governor’s response troubled me, the crowd’s cheering chilled me.”

Colson goes on to say, in several ways, that this response is un-Christian.  I’m not so sure.

Of course, I can’t know what was in the hearts and mind of Perry and those in the crowd.  But cheering for capital punishment might not be cheering for the demise of a human being, even one guilty of murder.  It might be an expression of approval for the idea that those who intentionally take the life of an innocent person will be required to pay the appropriate – and I would add, Biblically appropriate – penalty for murder.

We live in a society that sometimes winks at murder.  We often protect murders rather than their victims.

So perhaps at least some of those cheering were Christians, Chuck.  Maybe you just missed the point.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Joking and Praying about Presidents

In a recent article from a church publication, I noticed the following line:

“If normal means joking about our president far more than we pray for him, then I don’t want to go back.”

As you might guess, the article was about the effects of the September 11, 2001 attack.  The line made me think, but perhaps not thoughts the author intended to provoke.

In perusing the library of my son the political science professor, I noticed a book about the ambivalent attitude Americans have long held toward the presidency.  Apparently for a long time before 9/11 we both prayed for and joked about our presidents.  I don’t think it needs to be an either/or situation.

We pray for presidents because we hope they will be better than they usually are.  More often than not, they disappoint us.  But if we thought about the nature of the presidency carefully, we should not be at all surprised by our disappointment.

We have invested the office of the president with far too much power for any one person.  We have forgotten what our fourth president - before he was a president - told us in The Federalist (Papers) about angels, men, and governments.  Madison was talking about how sin requires us to disperse and limit power in government.  We have done a rotten job of listening to Mr. Madison on this point.  We have allowed our system to become one that is almost guaranteed to produce bad results in government: an executive with too much power in a government with too much power.  Those who staff these positions are far from Mr. Madison’s “angels” so they often abuse their power.

In the process they make fools of themselves, and so we laugh at them.  It is better than crying, which one can do only so much before exhaustion sets in!

And, to be honest, praying probably won’t do much good here either.  It’s not that God can’t do whatever He will.  But He is usually not willing to do certain things.  If you tell your five-year-old who loves candy not to eat any before lunch, but you set him down at a table filled with enticing candies an hour before lunch, would it really be reasonable to ask God to give the little tyke the strength to resist temptation?

Of course not.  It would be an insult to God to make such a request in those circumstances.  You would need to realize that you are an idiot, and first of all go about correcting your idiocy.

That is where we are with presidents these days.  Prayer, in this case, is not the answer.  Correcting our political idiocy would be step one.  Prayer would be step two.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

There Is One Born Every Minute

F.E.E. recently did a rerun on (the late) Hans F. Sennholz’ Machiavellian Politics.  You should read the whole thing – it’s not long.  Here is the first paragraph just to tempt you:

The morality of an action depends upon the motive from which we act. If we deny ourselves for the benefit of a needy person, we may experience the joys of charity. If we seek to impress our friends, we may act from ostentation and pride. If we seize income and wealth from some people and share the take with other people, we engage in Robin-Hood plunder. If we hasten to proclaim the giving to the world and expect to be rewarded with public acclaim and election, we are in politics.
Sennholz wrote this article in 1996.  It would have been just a relevant in 1976, and it will no doubt have lost nothing in this regard by 2026 – and beyond.  I met Sennholz just once, though it involved a week-long seminar in which he lectured often.
As a young man in Nazi Germany he was drafted into the Nazi war machine.  I think he said he was in Luftwaffe maintenance.  He eventually came to the U. S. and taught economics at Grove City College.  You can read a bit about him here.
He probably has some extra insight into what he is writing about here given his background.  In the article, he goes on to say:
In the footsteps of Machiavelli many American politicians seek to gain the support of the electorate by any conceivable methods. They chatter, coax, and cajole, and if this is ineffective, they pretend, deceive, and promise the world. Promises are useful things, both to keep and, when expedient, to break. Since people are taken in by appearance, politicians appear devout and loyal; yet, in political theory, it is better to be a clever winner than to be a devout loser. Indeed, many American politicians are instinctively Machiavellian, denying the relevance of morality in political affairs and holding that craft and deceit are justified in pursuing and maintaining political power.
We find ourselves in a big “political season” once again.  It is probably time to remind ourselves of what some good thinkers like Sennholz taught us about the nature of politics and politicians.  In the midst of all this – Republican debates and campaign speeches by our ‘Beloved Leader’ – keep in mind the wisdom of Dr. Sennholz:
Unfortunately, it is not in the power of government to make everyone more prosperous. Government only can raise the income of one person by taking from another. The taking and giving are not even a zero net game; they require an elaborate apparatus of transfer that may consume a large share of the taking.
As true as this is, and in spite of the fact that many realize it at some level, the politicians will keep suckering us with the promise that government will make us prosperous.  And it is sad to have to admit that most people will continue to be willing suckers, no matter how much we warn them of the consequences.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Uncertainty Cycle

It has been common fare for a long time, and I saw it again today in an article from Christianity Today:

“I'm going to assume that faith, by its very nature, assumes uncertainty—otherwise, why would we need faith and hope? We are not given to know as God knows—with utter and complete and perfect knowledge. We are, however, given faith that God knows with utter and complete and perfect knowledge, and thus we can trust in him.”

As you can tell, this is not the main point of the article.  But it is an assumption that is often made with far too little critical examination.

According to this author, faith assumes uncertainty.  If it did not, he says, why would we need faith and hope?

Notice how this simply assumes that Biblical faith and hope necessarily have an element of uncertainty.  Without going into all the details here, this sounds much more like modern cultural assumptions than Biblical definitions of either term.  I’ll let you do your own research on that point.

But notice also how one argument put forth in favor of this is that “we are not given to know as God knows.”  But why is that relevant?  The question is not whether our knowledge is “complete and perfect.”  The question is whether our faith involves an element that is related in some way to knowledge of which we are capable, and whether our faith and knowledge, by its very nature, must involve uncertainty.

Given that our knowledge is less than complete, why does that require that our incomplete knowledge always have an element of uncertainty?  Many make this assumption, but why?

Then this little discourse wraps up with “We are . . . given faith that God knows with utter and complete and perfect knowledge, and thus we can trust in him.”

I don’t think we are “given” faith at all in certain important senses, thought I know Augustinians tend to think this way.  But leave that aside.  If “faith” is necessarily uncertain, then even if we are “given” it, it would never allow us to know that God knows.  So how could we trust Him?

Faith that is necessarily uncertain cannot break the uncertainty cycle.  Of this I am quite certain.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Theft, Murder, and Sexual Perversion and the Churches of Christ

I receive email updates from the “Official News Blog of The Christian Chronicle.”  The Christian Chronicle reports on news of the members and congregations of the non-instrumental Churches of Christ.  I affectionately call them my “non-fiddlin’ brethren”.  The typical stories are often about the details of life among the non-fiddlin’ brethren, and it is nice to see what is going on there.

I think of the non-fiddlin’ brethren as being very “conservative.”  I suppose I assumed that they would tend to be politically conservative to some extent, at least.  So I was a bit shocked to see a story today about a Church of Christ member named Janice Hahn, who recently won a special election in a California U. S. House of Representatives district.

When I saw a “D” behind Janice’s name, I became curious.  Maybe this was a conservative Democrat.  There used to be some of those creatures around here and there, and I thought I might have stumbled upon one here.  I was a bit shocked to visit Janice’s website and find that she is a dyed-in-the-wool big welfare state leftist of the Obama persuasion.  (Check it out here.)

Being a big welfare state leftist necessarily means you have no respect for the Eighth Commandment.  If I were the non-fiddlin’ folks, I wouldn’t want to brag about a church member who studiously avoids the Eighth Commandment.  But so be it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

As I poked around some more, hidden among here “other” issues section I found these statements:

“Janice supports a woman’s right to choose” (i.e., wants to legalize and most likely use tax dollars to pay for murder) and “Janice will be a fighter for the LGBTQ community” (i.e., wants push the political agenda of sexual perversion).

How do we so easily pretend that Christian ethical matters can just be ignored once a Christian enters the realm of politics?

I was very surprised that a Church of Christ would want to advertise a prominent member who pushes for theft, murder, and sexual perversion.  And that made me think about this matter in general.  Church discipline is, it seems, almost non-existent in all kinds of churches today.

Perhaps churches should reconsider this.  When a prominent church member behaves like Janice, perhaps the elders of the church should talk to that person and say, “Of course, you can behave any way you like.  But you can’t behave anyway you like AND be a member-in-good-standing of this congregation.”  Imagine that!

Are churches that ignore this sort of thing really doing their duty?

Friday, August 19, 2011

God and Cheap Sunglasses

I ran across this article today:

94 Servant Evangelism Ideas for Your Church

I realize this is hot new technique that many churches are using.  But I had never read an article about it until now.  The basic idea is this:  “A small act of kindness nudges a person closer to God, often in a profound way, as it bypasses one's mental defenses.”

Does that mean people are more likely to move “closer to God” if they don’t think about it?

In any case, the first four giveaways that might “nudge a person closer to God” suggested by the article are coffee, newspapers, donuts, and soft drinks.  So far, I can see some trouble with the health police.

I decided to apply a version of the “do unto others” principle to this.  Suppose a pantheist gave me a cold soft drink on a hot day along with an invitation to consider being more at one with the universe as I sip my soda.  I must say that, while I would think the free drink very nice, I would not be a bit more likely to turn pantheist than I am right now.  No doubt, I am very atypical in this.

The list of giveaways-to-bring-people-closer-to-God went on to include lifesavers, lollipops, popcorn, and sunglasses.  What was odd was the parenthetical comment after sunglasses that read “cheap ones.”

The author used the term “Christ-followers” rather than “Christians.”  But whether you use trendy, hip new terminology or not, wouldn’t expensive sunglasses be a better reflection on God that “cheap” ones?

The more I thought about all this, the more convinced I became that if cheap little trinkets will “nudge” people toward God, why not see what serious cash giveaways would do.  Why not just pick the neighborhood where you want to bribe people . . . ugh, I mean . . . “nudge” people closer to God.  Then, based on the income level of the neighborhood, decide what amount of cash would impress people there.

If that turns out to be, say, twenty dollars, then get a bunch of $20s, attach a little note to each one that says, “God loves you, and has more of these for you down at First Christian.”  That might be more “effective” than cheap sunglasses.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is Profit Without Honor?


Christian Colleges Part of White House Interfaith Service Push
Schools say listening is a key part of the project—but theological pluralism isn’t.

Chris Norton | posted 8/08/2011 10:34AM

Christian colleges and universities were among the 195 higher education institutions represented Wednesday in Washington at the launch of President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

The White House initiative, first announced in March, aims to mobilize college students of various religious backgrounds for community service around the nation.

Kent comments:

Apart from the fact that it is no proper business of the government to be involved with what Christian colleges do in regard to their projects, this article suggests another problem that is widespread today.  Our society, and Christians in particular, have a skewed view of what constitutes “community service.”

The other day a large van was patrolling my neighborhood.  It was carrying people from a lockup somewhere who were being forced to pick up trash along the road.  The name on the van included the words “community service.”  Courts often sentence people to “community service.”  So we sometimes use the phrase as a synonym for “punishment.”

Then we have the phrase as it is used in the article above, where it is equated with voluntary, but unpaid, participation in various projects.  What bothers me a bit is the neglect of another kind of “community service” – perhaps one that best serves the most people.

Last night I went with some friends to an ice cream shop.  This little place was staffed entirely with very friendly, very ready-to-serve, college students.  Theirs was a busy shop – they were busy serving people from all over the community in which they were located.  Their colleges were not involved in this community service, and neither was the White House – except, perhaps, for the efforts of the White House to make this kind of community service more difficult.

The problem is, most colleges and governments would not think of this as “community service” because these college students were being paid for what they were doing, and those who owned the ice cream shop were (presumably) making a profit on the whole community service project.

In the eyes of the government, academia, and (sorry to say) many Christians, this puts what these nice college students were doing outside the realm of “community service.”  Perhaps we cannot expect better from governments and academia, but Christians should know better.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with working for nothing.  But there is also nothing wrong, or even less commendable, with working for a profit.  As a matter of fact, it would be impossible for anyone to work for nothing if someone else were not working for a profit.

Christians need to recognize and defend the value to communities of those who work, save, and invest in productive enterprises.  They are not somehow morally tainted.  They are, rather, people doing part of the work of God.  Some of the best community service around is done for profit – and the prophets of God should say, “Amen.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don’t Preach About This!

As reported in an article in Your Churchmagazine, 55 percent of pastors can identify one or more topics on which they would not preach at all or only sparingly, because the sermon could negatively affect their hearers' willingness to attend church in the future.

Among them are:

Politics - 38 percent
Homosexuality - 23 percent
Abortion - 18 percent
Same-sex marriage - 17 percent
War - 17 percent
Women's role in church and home - 13 percent
The doctrine of election - 13 percent
Hell - 7 percent
Money - 3 percent

Kent comments:

My first reaction to this was:  What a bunch of weenies!  Just how much like John the Baptist, Jesus, or the Apostle Paul are you if you are afraid to preach on some topic because someone listening might not like it?

But then I had a second thought:  Even in the “Politics” category, this would indicate that 62% are willing to preach on the topic.  So perhaps most of the “pastors” aren’t such weenies after all!

And then I had a third thought.  For much of the preaching I have heard and read on these topics, I would rather that “pastors” didn’t preach on them at all, because most of the preaching in these areas is either so shallow as to be pointless, or just plain wrong.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Are You Thinking, Chuck?

It appears that Charles Colson has lost his mind, or at least some important parts of it.  In his latest Breakpoint commentary, while lamenting the temporary and unsustainable nature of the recent “budget deal”, he nevertheless can remark:

Folks, I see no biblical warrant for the two positions being embraced in Washington today — a total refusal to raise taxes on one hand; a total refusal to cut government spending on the other. They are both based on man-made ideology.

Is it too much to hope for — as a very well written letter signed by Christians for a Sustainable Economy argues — that our leaders correctly identify the problem (the debt, which the Bible certainly speaks about), put aside narrow political interests aside, and lead for the long term?

I think Chuck has a case of the “stupids” from his old boss Richard Nixon who liked to position himself “in the middle of the road” – a place, by the way, where it is easy to be run over.

But Chuck made me question myself.  So I zipped over to the web site of Christians for a Sustainable Economy, wondering what they had to say about all this.  When I arrived I saw the names like Mark Tooley and Marvin Olasky, so I was a bit shocked to think that they would condemn as un-Biblical the idea that we are “taxed enough already.”

When I read their letter to the President to which Colson referred, I found this very clear statement:

To give more money to Washington is to give the sickness the remedy it requests. The last thing the government needs is more money. It needs to cease its unwise and profligate spending.

But that sounds exactly like an endorsement of one of the “un-Biblical” positions that Colson condemns, “a total refusal to raise taxes.”  What is wrong with Colson lately?  And why is he citing for support a letter from a group that clearly does NOT agree with his “middle of the road” position?

I can’t answer that.  I can only say that I will pray for Chuck Colson’s mental recovery.

And one final note to Chuck:  sometimes raising tax rates brings in LESS total money to the government.  But that is not the main point here.  The main point here is that Christians for a Sustainable Economy is right – the last thing our government needs is more money.

(By the way, the letter looks very good.  If you scroll to the bottom of that page, you will find a place where you can add your signature of endorsement.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Un-true Lies

Today I received an email announcement which I reproduce, in part, here:

Congress Must Pass this Debt Ceiling Deal
Dear Harold,

We are on the cusp of averting a default — but we need your help to urge Congress to quickly pass the debt ceiling deal that was struck this weekend.

The deal isn’t perfect — but it prevents default, reduces spending, and avoids higher taxes. . .

Not passing this bill would be catastrophic.  If Congress cannot reach an agreement by tomorrow, the federal government would be forced to default on its debts.  That could lead to higher interest rates and higher costs for employers and consumers alike. . .


Bill Miller
Senior Vice President and National Political Director
U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Kent comments:

What Bill Miller is hoping for appears to be a done deal at this point.  But in spite of that, I am a bit surprised that the U. S. Chamber of Commerce would be willing to propagate the lies found here.  (I say “lies” because it is difficult to think that an intelligent person would be ignorant of the facts in these matters.)

If Congress had done nothing, there is no reason to think the U.S. would default on its current debt obligations.  It certainly would NOT “be forced to default on its debts.”  That is a lie, and I am sure Bill Miller knows it.

This being the case, why would not passing the bill have been catastrophic?  It would be nothing more than forcing the government to balance the budget.  And why shouldn’t we want that? – unless, of course, you are some kind of statist who, on statist principles, wants an ever-expanding state.

The bill passed by the House today does NOT reduce spending.  It reduces the rate at which government spending will increase.

Shame on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for promoting lies – dirty lies at that.  Perhaps these people should re-name their organization “U.S. Chamber of Government Expansion.”  At least that wouldn’t be a lie!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Aubrey Says

I found this as a comment on an article at The Patriot Post.  The name on the comment is Aubrey HaganIt is very good, and speaks to the point I have been harping about lately.  I reprint it here for your enjoyment:

That debt limit thing is just like me and my brother-in-law Jimmy!

My brother-in-law, Jimmy, has been borrowing money from me for years. Although he's always paid me on time, he just asked me to borrow another $30,000 on top of the $140,000 he already owes me.

Being a prudent person, before giving Jimmy the additional loan, I looked into Jimmy's spending habits. Here's what I found:

Although Jimmy doesn't work, an old trust fund pays him $21,900 in annual income. Further investigation reveals that his annual expenses exceed his annual income by $14,600. In other words, Jimmy's expenses are about 60% higher than his income.

(Now I understand why Jimmy wants to increase his loan from $140k to $170k!)

When I diplomatically explain to Jimmy my reluctance to loan him another $30,000 given his poor money management, Jimmy gets angry: "if you don't lend me another $30k by next week, I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep buying your sister's heart medication. And I'm not sure if I'll be able to buy groceries or heat the house this winter either! In fact, if I don't get the $30k by next week, the bank is going to repo your sister's car and foreclose on her house."

"But, Jimmy", I say, "I thought you told me you'd used the initial $140k loan so that you could pay for that house in cash?"

Long story short, although I don't appreciate Jimmy's threats, since I love my sister (his wife), I offered this compromise (I'll let you know his response when and if I get it):

I agreed to lend Jimmy another $9000, but only if he agrees (starting "very soon"!) to decrease his spending by $2.46 per day.

When I said this, Jimmy got really angry and threw another tantrum: "there's no way that could work! You are trying to KILL your sister!!"

More from Chuck

Today Colson followed up yesterday’s Breakpoint commentary fiasco with:

Debt, Default, and Worldview

Kent comments some more:

Chuck was back today with more on this topic, and he didn’t completely rehabilitate himself.  He starts out by saying:

The clock is ticking. The United States is on the verge of default. Congress and the president seem unable to come together and find an agreement avoiding an economic catastrophe.

The lie that the United States will default on its debt in the next few days is being circulated by those who don’t know better, or who do know better and just want to punch up the “news.”  If the debt ceiling is not raised, it simply means that the government will have to live on its income.  It has quite a lot of income – plenty to pay the interest on the debt, and several other things.  But not everything.  So failing to raise the debt ceiling will not cause a default.  It would cause an out-of-control government to have to decide which of the many things it now pays for are most important.  That’s not default – default is failing to pay the interest on or redeem government debt obligations.  Living within your means is fiscal sanity and responsibility.  Colson should know all that, but if he does, he doesn’t acknowledge it.

Then Colson goes on to say:

How in the world did we get into this fix? Well, it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been coming for a generation. For years, fiscal conservatives have warned about the dangers of out-of-control borrowing and spending, but current and previous presidents and congresses have ignored them, rolling up a massive national debt.

What’s that, Chuck?  Yesterday those fiscal conservatives were lumped in with “ideologues” who refused to “compromise” and “solve” this problem.  Today, they seem to be “voices crying in the wilderness” calling on presidents and congresses to repent.  What happened since yesterday, Chuck?

In any case, Colson is now ready to diagnose the problem:

The bigger question is why did the American people stand for this? The answer is painfully clear. Because the people themselves were busy borrowing and spending like fiends.

Now Chuck is on to something.  But there is a bit of the “chicken or the egg” matter hidden here.  Did American’s make their government in their own “borrow and spend” image, or . . . did activists shape government into a borrow and spend mode which in turn influenced Americans?

Colson’s thought is that:

This is what happens when a false worldview comes home to roost. Remember that it was in the 1960s that existentialism and relativism took over college campuses. If there truly were no God and life were devoid of meaning, well, live it up while you can. Throw off the burden of moral restraints, of civic duty and responsibility.

Chuck comes close, but he never really grabs the gold ring.  Existentialism and relativism did take over college campuses in the 1960s.  And who sponsors and controls most of those colleges and universities?  Governments.  At those colleges and universities are departments of education, though which these worldviews were and are actively propagated though government controlled schools.

Perhaps everyday people changed in regard to the ethics of spending and borrowing because, through its various arms and institutions, those who ensconced themselves in positions of power and influence in government have pushed for those changed attitudes.

Colson says “The greatest generation scrimped and saved; their kids, the boomers, went on a big shopping binge.”

Let’s think back to what happened with “the greatest generation.”  Their parents mostly idolized FDR, the president who did his level best to kick tax, spend, and borrow big government into high gear.  The “greatest” generation elected people like LBJ and Richard Nixon, who kept the legacy of FDR growing.

And the baby boomers watched what their grandparents and parents had put into place in government, and decided to imitate the monster that their forebears had created.  The greatest generation scrimped and saved, but they never insisted that their governments do the same.  When they turned the education of their children over to those same governments, what did they expect?

Yes, Mr. Colson, it is a matter of worldview, but probably not in quite the way you think.

Think Again, Chuck Colson

Nothing Like It Before

The Battle over the Debt

Kent comments:

I often find something useful in Colson’s “Breakpoint” commentaries.  But I have no idea how, given what he seems to think about the Christian faith, he came up with some of the ideas in this one.

Colson is worried about the debates in Congress over spending, debt, and budgets.  That’s reasonable enough – it is a matter worthy of concern.  After some introduction, Colson says:

I’ve never seen the kind of chaos, recalcitrance, and perhaps downright obstructionism that I’m witnessing in the battle over the budget and the debt ceiling.

I’m still with you, Chuck.  There is plenty of all the things you mentioned going on in this debate.  But then Colson goes on to say in regard to previous political debates:

But almost every time . . . agreements were reached when both parties put the national good over ideology. Even if it took, as I remember one time long before that, Lyndon Johnson, then majority leader, locking the parties in a room and telling them not to come out until a deal was reached. And they stayed there until they did reach a deal.

Now I am starting to get worried about old Chuck.  Is he really longing for the days of Lyndon Johnson (practically a political gangster) locking people in a room until “a deal” is reached?  I would remind Mr. Colson that many of these “deals” forced on people by Mr. Johnson were the very things that have led us to the fiscal precipice at which we now stand.

Colson goes on to say:

But that isn’t happening now. And I find it both bewildering and alarming.  I cannot explain the behavior of either side. It’s bordering on the irrational.

I am rather glad things – bad things – are sailing smoothly into law as they did with LBJ.  Then Colson come to the heart of the matter:

What is going on? I can only think of three possibilities. None of them are good. First, is ideological madness. Both sides held captive by a political ideology that won’t let them settle for anything short of total victory. If that’s the case, the system may be badly broken.

I won’t go into Colson’s other possibilities, because they are really just variants of this one.  When Colson says mentions “both sides held captive by a political ideology” he seems to be forgetting that there are more than just two “sides” in this debate.  There is President Obama, who has never really made clear what he wants other than higher taxes and increased spending and debt.  There is the majority of Congressional Democrats who are – I don’t know how else to say this – fiscally insane.  There is the Republican leadership which keeps proposing ever-changings “solutions” that do not solve anything.

And then there is a sizeable minority of Republicans (and perhaps a Democrat or two I don’t know about), led by people like Rand Paul and Jim Demint, who see that we have a fiscal crisis rapidly approaching and are trying to do something that could actually address the problem.  They do have what Colson would call an “ideology” behind what they are uncompromisingly advocating. 

That “ideology” informs them that it is practically impossible for the United States government to continue to borrow trillions of dollars each year that is cannot repay.  That “ideology” also has a moral component that informs them that it is morally wrong for a government to borrow money that everyone knows it will never repay.  That “ideology” informs them that it is wrong to promise people that we will pay their bills for them by borrowing money we cannot repay.

Then Colson goes on to make a statement that causes me to question his rationality in this matter:

Our society has jettisoned the belief in moral truth and absolutes and we have grasped at man-made answers and ideologies; whether it’s angry anti-government sentiment on the far right or the sacredness of entitlements on the left, or any host of other political pathologies.

It is not a “political pathology” that causes us to conclude we cannot, and we must not, continue to spend money that we do not have for things that we do not need.  That conclusion is drawn directly from the Christian worldview that Colson professes to love and teach.  It comes straight from the “moral truth and absolute” that it is wrong to borrow money that you know you cannot and will not repay.

And if Chuck Colson does not understand that, then he does not understand the moral teaching of the Christian faith.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Uncle Sam: You Need to Cut Up Your Credit Card!

Today I heard our great Senator Rand Paul on the radio being interviewed in regard to the current government budget and debt debate.  He reminded me of something I had forgotten.  In the proposals by both Democrat and Republican leadership, an ever-increasing baseline budget is the starting point for any supposed cuts.  I think the annual baseline increase is around 7%.

This means that, in the end, the proposal that is being worked out by the Speaker of the House does not actually cut government spending at all.  In fact, it allows it to increase significantly as time goes on, along with an ever-increasing government debt.

Suppose a friend with a “cash flow problem” (what a euphemism that is!) came to you for budgeting help.  The friend has an enormous balance on his credit card, and not only is the balance increasing, but it is increasing at an ever-increasing rate.  The friend wants to know what he can do other than declaring bankruptcy.

The friend is going to have to spend less.  That will mean that he will have to stop buying many of the things to which he has been accustomed.  He is necessarily going to have to trim his lifestyle significantly.

Surely any meaningful advice would also have to include this:  stop borrowing money immediately.  Do whatever you have to do to make sure you borrow no more!  Cut up your credit card.

Could good advice in such a situation ever be “just try to slow down the rate at which you are going into debt?”  Could good advice include the idea “assume you will spend and borrow more each year, and just cut down how much more you are going to go into debt”?

But this is exactly what even the Republican leadership is proposing for the United States government.  It sounds utterly idiotic when you put in terms of your hypothetical, over-spending friend.  And it sounds just as idiotic when it comes from the Speaker of the House.

Just like a person with a massive, continuing credit card balance, the United States needs to stop borrowing money.  We should have stopped it a long time ago.  But now it is now, and now is always good time to stop borrowing.

It would be a good thing, not some kind of tragedy, if the “debt ceiling” were never raised again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It’s Time for Repentance

from The Freeman, in an old article by Hans Sennholz:

Most Americans favor it [government spending], legislators enact it, and government agents administer it. A Constitutional amendment calling for balanced budgets, enacted under such conditions, may restore balance through significant tax boosts. But it may also lead to massive reorganization of government activity and spending. In particular, it may prompt a Federal rush to the backdoors of government spending, and give rise to countless new off-budget agencies and private enterprises under government control. The possibilities of concealment and just plain trickery are endless. It is naive to believe that a balanced budget amendment, enacted by the masters of subterfuge, could dampen the enthusiasm for Federal largess.

Kent comments:

I hope “Cut, Cap, and Balance” passes the House today.  It has little chance to pass the Senate, and no chance to avoid an Obama veto.

But even if it, or anything like it, were to pass through Congress and the President, Sennholz (he is now deceased, I met him long ago - He had a very interesting life story) has a good point to make in this article from 1987.  We are in the current fiscal mess because most Americans want the government to spend a lot of money.  They also do not want the government to collect (in taxes on them) all the money they want the government to spend.  The government couldn’t collect that money because we don’t have it.

Most of us have wanted all this for a long time now – as did our parents and perhaps even some of our grandparents.  Politicians have simply done the bidding of most of us.  This means that ever-increasing government debt is a spiritual problem, involving greed, envy, and many other issues that are ultimately spiritual.

Wanting things you can’t afford, and acting to get them even when you can’t afford them, is a spiritual problem.  It is the kind of problem which can be solved only by repentance, that is, a fundamental change of your mind about the problem at hand.

Nothing is changed by the fact that the things you want might at least seem good, benevolent, or nice.  Take careful note of this:  at one level it is just as wrong to borrow money you can’t pay back to help your needy neighbor as it is to borrow money you can’t pay back to buy yourself a new car.  (Think about that again, and maybe a third time.)

I utterly detest the ideology of Obama and his whole gang of thugs.  But his resistance to correcting the problem of ever-increasing government spending and the resulting increasing debt simply mirrors what most Americans want.  And I am confident that if you examine yourself carefully, you will find that you want governments to do all sorts of things that governments need not do – and you don’t want to pay for them.

So until YOU are willing to repent of your government spending addictions, don’t blame politicians for simply carrying out the desires of you and most of your neighbors.  The national government has a large credit card with a limit it can raise at will mostly because you want it that way.  You like at least some of the results.  You like to spend money you don’t have.  The only solution to that problem is repentance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

True and Literal

May 25, 2007

One-Third of Americans Believe the Bible Is Literally True

High inverse correlation between education and belief in a literal Bible

by Frank Newport


PRINCETON, NJ -- About one-third of the American adult population believes the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word. This percentage is slightly lower than several decades ago. The majority of those Americans who don't believe that the Bible is literally true believe that it is the inspired word of God but that not everything it in should be taken literally. About one in five Americans believe the Bible is an ancient book of "fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."

Kent comments:

Educated people should understand that it is nearly meaningless to modify “true” with “literally” in this way.  The real question is:  are all the statements of the Bible true?  It is pointless to insert “literally” here.

Of course we can debate what kinds of language are being used at various points in the Bible.  There are many ways to express truth, many of which are some kind of figure of speech.  But even figures of speech must, in some sense, be taken “word for word.”  Every word of a figure of speech is important.

Notice the categories in this poll:

When you try to understand these categories, you run into a conceptual brick wall.  (That last phrase, by the way, is a figure of speech.  But it is one that rather clearly expresses a truth.)

I imagine now these three options presented to me in a poll.  I have to try to answer a poll that presents a false trichotomy.  I believe the Bible to be the “actual word of God” in the sense that God superintended its production so that all that it claims is truth.  But if I am forced to add “to be taken literally” I must quickly add that if you take the many figures of speech in the Bible literally, you will most certainly misunderstand many parts of the Bible!

As for the second choice, I don’t even know what to make of saying that the Bible is “inspired by word of God.”  I could affirm that the Bible “is the inspired word of God” but that is very different.

The third option is also problematic.  I don’t think the Bible is fable or legend as those words are normally used.  I do think that some of it is history as recorded by some men, men whose recording activity was overseen by God.

So, in the end, this Gallup Poll is nearly meaningless.  We don’t learn what people believe about the Bible here because the responses are too limited, and very vague.  It might be difficult to learn what people think about the Bible in a poll, because many people, even Christian people, have not thought very much about what they do, in fact, think about the Bible.

I know a wonderful church lady who insists that the Bible must be everywhere and always taken “literally.”  But I doubt that she believes we should rip out our eyeballs when we have a problem with a sin that involves seeing things – as you might have to conclude if you really took Matt. 18:9 “literally.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Value of ‘Values’ Polls

Poll: Most Americans No Longer Want Government Promoting 'Traditional Values'

The recent recession and a movement favoring less government may contribute to recent poll numbers.

Tobin Grant | posted 6/16/2011 09:52AM

A new CNN-Opinion Research poll finds that a majority of Americans think government should not promote "traditional values," the first time in the past two decades that support for promotion of traditional values has been below 50 percent. The June poll finds that more Americans now believe that the government should stay out of the values business.

Since 1993, Gallup, CNN, and USA Today have occasionally asked whether people think "the government should promote traditional values in our society" or "the government should not favor any particular set of values." Just three years ago, only four-in-ten polled said government should not support any one set of values. In this month's poll, 50 percent said this. For the first time, a minority (46 percent) wanted government to push traditional values.

Kent comments:

I find these kinds of polls amusing.  It’s as though pollsters make an effort to dream up truly idiotic things to ask people.

First of all, what exactly are “traditional values”?  If you ask people about something as vague as that, each one will answer based on how he defines the term in his mind.  So the hidden questions in such a question includes:  how do you define “traditional values”?

And since “traditional values” remains undefined by the pollsters, it is not, in fact a “particular set of values” even though it sounds like a particular set as the question is worded.  So in essence the question is:  should the government promote an undefined set of values, or should the government not favor any particular set of values.  Those two questions so similar that picking one over the other tells us almost nothing about what the respondent is thinking.

Another problem here is this:  the mere existence of a government necessarily involves favoring a set of values that includes the legitimacy of government.  This fact makes the question a bit of worded nonsense.  The government cannot both exist and “stay out of the values business.”

Perhaps, worst of all, the question assumes a kind of values relativism.  It seems to assume that sets of values are completely interchangeable and even discardable.  But the introduction of “should” into the question implies that, in theory at least, there are things governments should and should not do.  Such “shoulds” are part of a set of values.

The moral of the story is this:  when you ask idiotic questions, the answers are completely meaningless.

The Spirit of Prohibitionism

Just the other day the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a California law that prohibited the sale of ‘violent’ video games to minors.  (Of course, the video games I know are not ‘violent.’  Rather, they portray violence on a game screen.  We should not confuse the two with deceptive semantics.)  Several states have recently passed, or are considering, laws banning some kinds of bath salts.  Why?  Some people use them to try to obtain some kind of ‘high’.

Just recently I stopped at a Wal-mart in Indiana to purchase a can of lubricating oil.  It being the only thing I was purchasing, I proceeded to the self-checkout.  When I scanned the item, the system summoned the attendant to confirm that I was over 18 years old.

Apparently a fleeting glance was enough to confirm that fact (sigh), but I asked, “Why does my age matter?”  I should not have needed to ask.  It was because it was an aerosol can.  Some kids will ‘sniff’ anything from an aerosol can.

I am here to declare that the spirit of prohibitionism has given rise to a nanny state that has gone way off the deep end.  The ‘war on drugs’ (always beware when the state declares a ‘war’ or any inanimate object) has become a war on everything.

But the problem is not just that the prohibitionist principle has been taken to extremes.  The problem is deep within the prohibitionist principle itself.  And it is very unfortunate indeed that many Christians hold the prohibitionist principle almost as an article of faith.

I assume the motives are good.  Item X can be misused by people to harm themselves.  We love people.  Therefore we will convince the government to ban X.  What could be more reasonable?

But it is not reasonable at all, and it is not particularly Christian, either.  It gives the state power that God never authorized.  The only way for the state even to attempt to prevent you from harming yourself is for the state to attempt to control everything you do.  That is the essence and definition of totalitarianism.

Many things we use everyday could be used to harm ourselves.  God made us decision-making creatures who are also required to suffer the consequences of our decisions.  Prohibitionism attempts to deny this.

Even when prohibitionism is directed only at minors, it interferes with God’s order of things.  Minors are in the charge of their parents.  It is the job of parents to see that minors do not engage in self-harmful behavior.  “But,” the prohibitionist will say, “some parents don’t do their jobs very well.  So the state needs to do it for them.”

But this amounts to a kind of state vigilantism of the family.  When the state fails to punish someone who has done great harm to someone else (and it happens frequently) would you then say that it is appropriate for the families in the neighborhood to simply take the offender to the nearest oak tree and hang him high?  We would all call that vigilantism.  So why then do some think it is appropriate for the state to step in and take over when a family fails to do its job well?

We all need to ‘gut up’ a bit in this regard.  If some teenagers are going to sniff aerosol lubricating oil in an attempt to get high, their parents should stop them.  If the parents fail, some teenagers will probably die.  That is a horrible situation, but it is not business of the state.  Christians can preach, teach, council, and comfort in regard to this problem.  But we align ourselves against God’s order of things when when we turn to prohibitionism.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Of Father’s Day at Church

Father’s Day at church

Yesterday was, of course, Father’s Day.  Over the decades of my church-going life, I have noticed some odd and interesting things about Father’s Day at church.  When I say “at church” I am talking about my experiences at (independent) Christian churches.

First off, it is amusing that both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are almost always celebrated at church.  These are congregations that would never think of celebrating long-standing days on the church calendar like Advent or Pentecost.  That would be too “ecclesiastical” I suppose.  But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – those receive significant attention in many ways.

It is also odd to see what usually happens in regard to the symmetry of these two days.  (My wife pointed this out several years ago.)  On Mother’s Day, there is usually much ado about the glory of mothers.  Mother’s with the most children, the youngest child, the mother who came from the farthest, etc., are all recognized and given awards of some kind.  After that, a sermon is preached in which the virtues of motherhood are extoled.

Then there is Father’s Day.  Father’s get raked over the coals.  They are urged to improve.  They are urged to do their duty.  They are urged to repent of their insufficient fathering.  Have you ever heard that sort of approach to mothers at church?  I have not.  I would be surprised if most churches could survive this kind of treatment of mothers on Mother’s Day.

Just to illustrate this asymmetry, this year at our church on Mother’s Day, every mother present received flowers.  On Father’s Day every father received a book about avoiding sexual temptation.  Interesting, isn’t it?

Overall, the general message from churches on these matters seems to be this:  praise mothers, they are wonderful; you rotten fathers need to shape up and get your act together.  And to think that I read somewhere that men seem to like church less than women – I wonder why?

I think my wife is right about all this.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Nonsense of ‘Just Do It’

In a recent editorial in the Christian Standard the reader is asked to consider trends among Christian Churches.  One of these trends is described as:

The question is changing from “What do you believe?” to “What are you doing?” This doesn’t mean today’s church leaders no longer believe anything. Most of them hold firmly to the deity of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the efficacy of baptism. But correct doctrine isn’t their first discussion; crucial to them is correct practice: How are we living out the gospel and offering God’s hope to our world? Is ours a good church for the community as well as in the community?

The editorial ends by challenging us to “respond to such changes.”  If I am reading the editorial rightly, the kind of “response” called for is to accept the “trend” and simply work with it as a fact.

This idea of “practice first” goes beyond Christian Churches, beyond Christendom in general, and even beyond religion.  In no field can the first question be “practice.”  It is simply a nonsensical order of things.

There is absolutely no way to know that your practice is correct apart from correct theory.  To put this in terms of the Christian faith, you cannot even begin to know if what you propose to do will please God unless you first consider what God has said about that matter in scripture.

Doctrine controls practice.  Therefore, doctrine must logically precede practice.  You cannot “live out the gospel” if you are not clear what the gospel teaches, and what the gospel teaches is doctrine – what you believe.

I know I am beginning to repeat myself here, but this trend is really not all that new, and it is completely untenable.  It reminds me of people who want to play a game without reading and comprehending the rules.  We want to “just do it” because we are impatient pragmatists.  But there is no way to know what to do, or if you are doing the right thing, without first knowing the rules.

The editor tells us that this whole trend “doesn’t mean today’s church leaders no longer believe anything.”  But what it does mean is that this trend is in fact a trend toward not allowing beliefs to define or constrain practice.  That lack of definition and constraint is beginning to become obvious in the practices advocated by some “church leaders.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Freedom Rankings in the States

Which State Is Most Free?

Freedom in the 50 States, a study from the Mercatus Institute, comprehensively ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social and personal spheres.

Mercatus' approach to measuring freedom in the states is unique in three respects: (1) it includes measures of social and personal freedoms such as peaceable citizens' rights to educate their own children, to own and carry firearms, and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure; (2) it incorporates more than 150 distinct public policies; and (3) it is particularly careful to measure fiscal policies in a way that reflects the true cost of government to the citizen.

Kent comments:

The Mercatus rankings are intriguing.  New Hampshire ranks highest in freedom.  I’m glad to hear that, since their motto is “Live Free or Die.”  I guess this means they don’t have to die just yet!

New York is the least free – surprise, surprise.  California is third from the bottom.  Again, no surprise there.

But here in the greater Cincinnati area, we are in the so-called ‘tri-state’ of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.  I was surprised to find that good old Indiana, the country of my birth and childhood, ranks number three in this freedom index.  But her neighbors don’t fare so well.

Kentucky is 32nd.  I have lived in Kentucky for the last thirty-some years.  It is filled with mostly very friendly people, far too many of whom who would not know freedom if it bit them in the posterior.  There is a ‘good old boy’ network in Kentucky politics that is essentially statist in nature, including far too many of the Republicans.  Kentucky is a low-population state that is waiting to explode in economic activity and prosperity as soon that good old boy (and it includes plenty of females) is cast aside in favor of low taxes and low regulation.  Almost everything in Kentucky is taxed.  If I were starting a business, I would not do it in Kentucky.  So it almost surprises me that Kentucky made it as high as 32nd!

But even worse here in the tri-state is Ohio.  The formerly great state of Ohio ranks 42nd in the freedom standings, which is below Illinois!  People in Ohio complain that business is leaving their state.  They could easily solve that problem by reinstalling freedom in Ohio.  This takes courage because, once addicted to government, it can be difficult to break that bad habit.

Freedom is a means to many ends.  Freer people tend to be more prosperous.  But even without accompanying prosperity freedom is a good.  Freedom of the kind we are talking about here has an intrinsic value for human beings because it simply comports with our very nature.

One idea mentioned more than once in The Federalist Papers is that of the several states under the Constitution being in a kind of social competition.  While the central government has assumed many of the powers once held by the states, there still seems to be room for some competition in regard to freedom.

But it is more and more the case that much of the room for improvement in regard to human freedom lies with the national government.  As a whole, the United States has been slipping in the various rankings of freedom in countries around the world.  Even in New Hampshire, people are not nearly as free as the should be because of our bloated central government.