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.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Audible Voice of God

In a recent article about the importance of Bible reading, I came across this interesting passage:

Has God ever spoken directly to you? While I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, many credible people have. This morning I spoke with the wife of one of our elders about her recent experience. Betsy had just finished teaching a Bible lesson on the experience of Hezekiah as recorded in 2 Kings 20. If you remember the account, the prophet Isaiah told the king he was about to die. The king fervently prayed, and God spoke through the prophet once again, promising to extend Hezekiah’s life by 15 years. Isaiah knew exactly what the Lord had said.

Does God ever clearly speak like that today? Betsy said shortly after teaching that lesson to her class, God taught her one as well. After a coffee break, she was praying while walking back up the stairs to her classroom. Her prayer concerned the possibility of her husband’s job being moved to another city. She was anxious. But during the prayer, she was stunned by a calm but challenging voice: “Why do you not trust that I will take care of you?” The surprising clarity of that message brought immediate peace. Even though Betsy didn’t yet know where her husband’s next assignment would be, the message God spoke was both deeply calming and convicting. She renewed her commitment to simply trust the Lord.

Kent comments:

I know we are not supposed to comment on things such as this, so, or course, I will comment.

First, if God will speak to us in an “audible voice” why do we need to read the Bible?  Do we just “fall back” on the Bible when God refuses us the audible voice?  (By the way, I’ve always wondered how an inaudible voice of God would sound.)

Second, since this is God speaking, why shouldn’t it be inscripturated (written) with all the other recent messages people claim to have received from God.  Should we expect the Holy Spirit to become involved in assuring that these messages are accurately recorded?  Do these then form the newest book in the Bible?

Third, How does Betsy know this voice she heard was from God?  One answer might be, “She was praying, so of course this ‘answer’ must be from God.”  The problem with this kind of reasoning is that God has never promised to answer prayers in an audible voice.  So the mere fact that Betsy reports hearing a voice does not mean that voice is from God.  And while the writer reports that “the surprising clarity” of the message brought “immediate peace” this also does not prove it is the voice of God.

Finally, notice how the writer of this article attempts to connect the case of Betsy the elder’s wife with the case of Hezekiah.  If it could happen to Hezekiah, why not to Betsy?  But notice that in the Biblical episode of Hezekiah, Hezekiah’s prayer was answered not through an audible voice of God, but rather, through the prophet Isaiah.  The two cases are not really parallel, it seems.

What if I were to claim that just now, God spoke to me in an audible voice to tell me that He did not speak to Betsy in an audible voice?  How could we even begin to evaluate two such claims?  Does Betsy’s claim win because she is the wife of an elder?  (I’m not even a wife!)

This kind of thing comes up periodically in Christian circles.  Usually, no one points it out or questions it.  I suppose such questions are simply considered unseemly.  In the case of Betsy, it all seems very innocent enough since nothing important is at stake.

But what happens when later, perhaps, God speaks to another elder’s wife explaining the “correct” understanding of the Book of Revelation?  (Or something else, perhaps – try your own example here.)