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.