Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Laughing at Raging and Plotting

The heavens declare the glory of the LORD and they do so with a constellation of ideas, a sea of words, and thoughts piled mountain high. Memes from social media and sound bites from the 24-hour news cycle can never capture the expansive truth of the glory God has revealed in creation therefore don’t trust them. God is doing many things in the world that we can’t see or understand. When the talking heads on TV have to find something to have an opinion on every night, they can, at best only scratch the surface of the complex events taking place in the world and a scratched surface is a marred one. Not very attractive.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision. (Psa. 2:1,4)

The nations rage, the people plot in vain, yet our Father in heaven laughs. Maybe we should join him in that. After all, he knows the end from the beginning so if he finds all this raging and plotting funny, perhaps it truly is. Not that what the nations and people do is not real, that it will not have repercussions, for it surely is and will. People will lose jobs or gain them. They will lose health insurance or finally get some. They will pay more taxes or less taxes or continue to not pay taxes at all. Freedoms will be expanded and curtailed. Lives will be saved and taken. But the laughing Lord ridicules them for all their efforts to control all of these possible outcomes.

Our problem from our perspective is that the talking heads act as if all this plotting and raging were of eternal import and try to persuade us it is. Perhaps they don’t care to persuade, maybe they’re content to anger us or thrill us or intrigue us over things that will, more often than not, not have any direct impact on us personally or, even for those things that will, we have actually little control over. Is it worth getting angry or should we laugh with heaven knowing that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will? Can we trust that God does according to his will in the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand? Rage on! Plot in vain! With these sure promises, you may discomfort us, you may dispossess us, you may even kill us but you, O nations, O peoples, you cannot disquiet us. Our God rules in the affairs of men. Whether you believe or acknowledge it or not.

This fixed faith in Christ’s current reign means that we are free to be better citizens of the earth. Our fortunes are not tied to the success of any one party, person, or ideology so we can applaud when any of them get something right and critique when they most often don’t. Just don’t take it personally.

Christians After The 2016 Election

I’d like to report that the sun came up this morning. However it did not scorch the unrighteous nor was it attended by a choir of singing angels. Today isn’t the end of days nor the dawning of the new heavens and new earth.

I hear sirens and helicopters but they’re not coming to take our guns nor are they rounding up immigrants. They are going to help hurting people and to deal with crime.

Employment and joblessness are at levels about where they were yesterday and it seems they will stay there in the immediate future.

Indications are that the moon will rise this evening and not be blood red. Nor will it be a perpetual silvery full moon that smiles on us and sings happy songs.

Regardless of what the American people decided on November 8th, there are still people in need, people hurting, people who feel empty and hopeless, people who say, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry!” and have no idea that God says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you!”

The call, the commission, the mission of the church remains. Go make disciples, whether Diocletian or Constantine is on the throne.

Why I Will Vote Third Party


This post will not be about why I won’t vote for Hillary or Trump. Suffice it to say that I believe they are both power-hungry narcissists and I disagree with both of them on important political and social issues. There is no guarantee that either will nominate Supreme Court justices who will defend and interpret the constitution. In my estimation, neither candidate is suited to lead this great nation.

Politically, I am a moderate but I’m a social conservative. That means I believe there is a role for government beyond erecting traffic signs and less than outlawing large sodas. My approach to voting has been to vote for the candidate I believe will be able to do the least amount of damage, which means that I have voted Republican and Democrat in the past. This election I have decided to vote for neither since I believe they are both capable of inflicting an equal amount of damage. Here’s why I believe it is important for me to vote for a third party.

I live in California. My state has voted solidly Democrat since 1992 and is considered to be very “strongly safe Clinton”. It is highly unlikely California will swing Republican so in a sense, my vote doesn’t really matter. California’s Electoral College votes are almost certainly going to Clinton. This is frustrating but at the same time liberating. If I vote my conscience I am not giving my state to Clinton no matter what any talking head says.

But in a very important way, my vote still matters. By voting for a third party I am able to register my dissatisfaction with both parties. True, my candidate won’t win but my vote still can. If a large enough portion of the voting public votes third party we can make a third party viable even if it isn’t in this election. The argument against voting third party is that if you don’t vote for X you’re voting for Y. I’ve heard this from both Democrats and Republicans and I solidly reject that reasoning.

We’ve all lived with only Democrat and Republican parties so we forget it wasn’t always so. The first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln. The political landscape has changed in the past and it can be changed in the future. For too long we have been told that we must choose one of two options presented. My vote can no longer be coerced by a two-party system that has consistently presented poor options since 1992. The unacceptable options presented in this election cycle have finally pushed me to break out of that system.

So how will I be voting? The Libertarian party seems to be gaining steam and may be a contender though I have very little confidence in their candidates. To me, Johnson is the lesser of three evils. The independent Evan McMullin is the first conservative voice I’ve heard in a while. I’m considering voting for him. His Mormon view of America and its “inspired” constitution give me pause but it isn’t like he’s going to win.

To Be Like Stalks

Summers Waning Days

You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level.

The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks.” – C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast” (The Screwtape Letters)

Screwtape offers this advice in the advancement of jealousy in order to keep humans from faith or to keep those with faith from productive lives. Earlier, he’d said,

No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior.

I find Lewis’ discussion on this especially relevant today. The way social issues are framed is in terms of “income inequality” and “marriage inequality.” In other words, what is being appealed to in the way the debate is framed is the very jealousy that Screwtape is desirous of. And, like the tyrant in the story, our political class is wielding it with great skill. Don’t fall for it. Someone else’s success is not your failure and our political elite only care enough to knock them down if it keeps you in line. Real answers are more complex.

How Crowds Can Be Manipulated

Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

I have to admit that this has always puzzled me. Jesus was a very well known person by this point in his ministry so why did Judas have to identify him to anyone? And why use a kiss to identify him? Since Judas came with a crowd, why not just point and say “That’s him!” It is a poetic and powerful image but I don’t get why it played out this way with Jesus. Turns out, as it usually does, that not only does it make sense, but it contains a kind of warning for us.

sheepdogIt all starts back in verse 2 and if you don’t pay attention it it, you’ll wind up like me, poor person, missing the point. “And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.” Why didn’t the chief priests and the scribes just grab Jesus? Because of the crowd. Why did they have to scheme with Judas for a way to betray Jesus? Because of the crowds. And when they and Judas finally figured out how to get their hands on Jesus, who did they bring with them? “There came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.” (47)

Get it? They were afraid of the crowd and how they would respond if they saw Jesus being arrested. Their first thought was to arrest Jesus secretly, away from the crowd so that there wouldn’t be a riot. That’s why Judas was included, they needed an insider to point the way, to alert them when and where he might be alone. But that isn’t quite how it played out. It wouldn’t have necessarily prevented a riot once the people found out that the one they shouted “Hosanna” to was arrested. The people really couldn’t be excluded from this, they had to find a way to include them and it appears they did. A portion of the people came with them to arrest Jesus. Not all of them, but a big enough group to be called a crowd were somehow enticed to join in.

Now I have to speculate a bit here but I don’t think I’m going too far afield in this. The crowd knew Jesus. At least a lot of them did since they saw him ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and then spend the day terrorizing the abusers of the temple courts. That has to mean that a lot of people saw him. So I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that many of the people in the crowd who came to arrest Jesus knew who he was. At least the chief priests and officers of the temple did and they were there too according to verse 52. So here’s what I’m presuming. Judas and the authorities told the crowd that there was a troublemaker present who was going to mess up the Passover celebration. There were probably a mix of stories told in order to get the people agitated. “And you know,” you can here the schemers saying, “the Romans don’t care about our feast. They certainly won’t do anything to prevent this troubler of Israel from doing what he’s going to do. No, as Jews it is up to us to protect the feast!” They probably introduced Judas as a hero who was part of the mad man’s group who would lead them to him so they could stop him. And to make Judas look even more like a real insider, a key member of the cult, Judas would kiss the leader and when he did, the crowd should arrest him immediately. They didn’t have to say it was Jesus, they may have said that there was someone in group of the Galileans who was up to this. They didn’t know who it was but Judas did and he’d lead us to this traitor.

All of that is unsaid any any of the Gospels. It is speculation and could well be wrong, but it seems to fit with what happened after Jesus was arrested. When he was brought before the council, they were having a hard time finding an accusation that would stick because those who accused him were presenting contradictory and conflicting accusations according to Mark 14:55-56. It could be because the scribes sowed numerous false accusations in order to stir up the crowd against him. Now the peoples’ fertile minds were remembering things Jesus had said or things they thought they’d heard Jesus say and they were turning them into accusations. That’s why the final accusation that they did get to stick was what Jesus said but not what he meant. See John 2:19-21 and Matthew 26:61. And then look at what happens when Pilot wanted to release Jesus in Matthew 27. The deception and manipulation of the crowd continued: “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” I think the explanation I’ve given above fits pretty well with the fact that the leaders could persuade the crowd to ask for the release of “notorious prisoner,” murderer (Mark 15:7), and insurrectionist (Luke 18:40) like Barabbas over a thoughtful rabbi like Jesus.

Here’s how this is a warning to us. Crowds can be manipulated. It doesn’t really matter what unites the crowd: nationality, religion, a lack of religion, a shared goal, whatever. When we band together for a common cause, and human beings always do that, our leaders can manipulate us, even when they fear us, by making it seem like our common interest is threatened. And when they do this, they will aim the crowd at the target of their choice by claiming that that target is the threat. This works even if the day before the crowd was praising the target.

What makes us vulnerable to this kind of thing is the fact that we think we’re beyond it. We have the internet, education, free thinking. “We have never been slaves to anyone!” we assert. The real way we can avoid this is by being aware of the fact that we susceptible to it, by picking our leaders very carefully and then keeping a close eye on them. This applies in churches, government, families, etc. So, for example, be careful of reposting things that enrage you on Facebook without checking the source. You may be being manipulated into supporting or opposing something that isn’t so. Take care how you listen.

Where to Begin Responding to Sandy Hook

An unimaginable tragedy has taken place in Newtown, CT. Elementary school children have been killed and the nation, rightly, is shocked. The inevitable questions are being asked and the usual suspects are being brought out. I’m going to forgo the theological question for a change; I believe John Piper has admirably answered the question of theodicy when he spoke about the 2004 tsunami.

Instead I’m going to speak to the issue of how this could happen and what we should do about it. The number one usual suspect in these cases is gun control. The man entered an elementary school with an assault rifle, shouldn’t we ban assault rifles? The president has made rumblings about more gun control when he gave an otherwise wonderful eulogy at the school. And though I think we need to reform our gun laws, I don’t think doing so will solve the problem.

Hunter Baker proposed a different answer than gun control. He has suggest increasing security at our schools. The gunman shouldn’t have been able to entire the building to begin with. I’m not crazy about militarizing our schools or turning them into a prison in order to keep bad people out. Besides, in Newtown the gunman broke into the building, he didn’t walk in the front door and start shooting.

Here’s something that isn’t being said in this discussion. Lanza didn’t kill those children simply because he owned a gun or only because he had access to a school; he killed children because he was mentally disturbed. Now I don’t want to make it sound like all mass murderers are insane. I think it is pretty clear that Anders Breivik was and is quite sane, he’s just evil. But many mass shootings are done by mentally disturbed individuals. So before we fix the schools or our laws, how about if we consider the individual, the gunman first. A man in China, just a few days before the Sandy Hooks tragedy, attacked school children with a knife, stabbing many and killing a few. And the ironic thing is that China had banned the sale of knives not that long before this happened during the inauguration of their new president or whatever they call him. The man was mentally ill whether he had a knife or a gun or a bag of rocks.

There is a fascinating article from March 2012 on this issue at The Federalist Society website. Here are some statistics they cited:

  • In the 1980s, the frequency of mass murders increased.
  • Guns did not become more available during this time, indeed federal and state laws became more restrictive.
  • Assault rifles and other types of guns weren’t introduced in this timeframe, they’d been available well before the increase started.

What caused the increase in violence if it wasn’t the availability of guns? By the 1980s, over 90 percent of the chronically mentally ill patients lived outside mental hospitals. A process of “deinstitutionalization” was began in the 1950s with the goal of moving mental patients from long-term care in an institution into community-based treatment. This sounds like a good thing. There are horror stories of what happened in mental health institutions and I’m sure many are true and many more that were never told.

The net result though, was that people who needed special care were returned to their homes and taken care of on an outpatient basis. That meant that families who were unprepared had to care for family members, some of whom were dangerous to themselves and others.

While it is wrong for us to dump the mentally ill into hospitals where there is abuse and neglect, it seems to me to be equally wrong to pull them from places that could help and put them out on the street. Add to this the fact that healthcare laws have changed quite a bit since the 1950s so that it is hard to medicate or institutionalize an individual against their will. But it may be that the patient is the one who is least capable of making a good decision about medication and hospitalization for themselves.

In Connecticut, weeks before the Sandy Hook attack, a bill that would have made it easier to do these things for the mentally ill was defeated because of concerns about patient privacy and rights. I’m not going to claim that had the bill passed the attack wouldn’t have occurred, but it is ironic how these things work out.

The bottom line is that we need to figure out a way to take better care of our mentally ill citizens. There was a jarring article I first saw at the Huffington Post that made this very point. A mother of a disturbed 13 year old told the story of how ill equipped she is to care for her son. Here is an example of her life that she shared:

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

Surely we can do better for the families and for the individuals. Suppose that Michael eventually acts on his violent threats, thought I pray he does not. What will become of Michael and his family is what has become of Adam Lanza and his mother. The media will turn him into a monster and cast a long look sideways at his mother. What about long term care by professionals in an environment where it will be more difficult to Michael and others like him to harm people? Unfortunately, the money and political will aren’t there. I know of a family whose young adopted child sounds a lot like Michael. The child was finally admitted into State care where they were beginning to get to the real issues. Unexpectedly, the case worker said that they might not have enough money to complete the treatment and the child may have to come home. In many ways this child may be worse and the family in greater danger than if the treatment process had never started.

The “answer” to Sandy Hook and other horrific shootings is complex and I don’t want to narrow it to one issue. But I think the way to begin fixing it is by taking a look at the individual responsible first. Sure, make it harder for them to get dangerous weapons. Sure, make sure our schools are safe places for our children to learn. But what always seems to get missed in this discussion is what we are guilty of doing and not doing for the individual who caused the horror to begin with.

It seems unlikely that Obamacare will actually go away and it looks like reforming it will be an uphill battle. Such is life. But I think a prime candidate for the use of federal and state monies is in caring for the mentally ill. We have got to come up with something better than deinstitutionalization without returning to the dark days of Nurse Ratched. Surely by now we can do better than either of these alternatives.

Additional Reading:

The Emptying of Mental Institutions – First Things

Wrong Answers for Mass Shooting – Reason

Why Not Renew the “Assault Weapons” Ban? Well, I’ll Tell You… – A “leftist who loves guns.”

Choose Your Own Crime Stats – Amidst the Noise (video)

Senator Greg Ball NY Senate Comments – Video

Not the Semblance of Authority

One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Colonel David Crockett arose:

Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

(Source: Not Yours to Give)

That Which is Best NOT Left Unsaid

“I watched the news waiting to hear a very specific combination of words…”

Today President Obama addressed the United Nations and I was listening to what he said. Usually I don’t care about these kinds of speeches but a large part of the reason for my interest in this one came from the fact that in many Islamic nations there have been calls for international bans on speech that insults Islam and specifically that insults Muhammad.

In that rather charged political environment I was listening for what I hoped he would not leave unsaid. You see, I’ve been concerned about the administration and their attitude towards our Constitutional rights so I was listening for the President to say something about them. I’m glad to say that he did not disappoint. Here are a few selected quotes which were pretty much what I wanted to hear:

We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture.

These are not simply American values or Western values; they are universal values…

[True democracy] depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear, and on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people…

In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others…

I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.- President Obama’s address to the United Nations, 9/25/2012

I have been growing increasingly concerned that the federal government in general and the Obama Administration in particular were becoming disinterested in protecting our Constitutional rights. What I wanted to hear our president do was defend the concept of freedom of speech and promote it in a global setting. That’s what he did here. Yes, he could have been more forceful and in your face, but that probably wasn’t wise in this setting.

I agree with Hunter Baker, the Constitutional formulation of free exercise of religion with the state anti-establishment clause is the best approach. But in recent years, I’ve seen things that make me fear that America is taking a more secular approach, that is, a forcing of religion out of the public square. “Believe what you’d like but keep it to yourself,” is an inferior approach to freedom of religion and it foolishly believes that human beings can be compartmentalized. It isn’t possible to believe, really believe, that humans were created in God’s image and not allow that to inform what you believe about abortion and end of life decisions and how people should treat each other. We may not all agree on those things but however we formulate it, the notion of the image of God informs it.

What has recently concerned me is the way the Obama Administration has been handling questions of freedom of religion in the area of contraception and abortion and the Affordable Care Act. Ross Douthat stated the problem well. He pointed out that churches are exempt from providing healthcare that includes contraception and abortion but a charity that is Roman Catholic or a university that is Christian is not exempt. And this was done in the name of “freedom of worship” which is not another name for freedom of religion. The net effect is a dilution of free exercise and instead a form of secularism where only churches can have religious scruples about these matters and other institutions may not.

So when President Obama spoke to the UN, as a minimum I wanted to hear him actually defend freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If he went on to promote them, and he did, that would be even better. The president’s speech was very encouraging given how the federal government has been compromising our freedoms since 9/11. Thank you President Obama.

The Place of Politics

Keep politics in its place as the affairs of man which God rules over, not as the affairs of God which man rules over. Lewis has some wise words:

“Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. The let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him onto the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours — and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.” — C.S. Lewis, from The Screwtape Letters

(From Sad Hill News)

Which Sinkhole?

I haven’t done politics on the blog in a while but since the SCOTUS upheld Obamacare, there is an opportunity for comment.

Despite the uproar over Justice Robert’s “betrayal” I think he did the right thing. If the penalty for the individual mandate is a tax, and the government lawyers defending Obamacare said it was, and Congress has the right to raise taxes then the darned thing is constitutional. So there’s that. But there is a rub to that definition. The House has to originate tax bills and Obamacare originated in the Senate. So there is still an opportunity to overturn it on a technicality. I’d rather that didn’t happen.

Why? Since the court ruled the law as constitutional, the fight goes back to where it belongs: with the electorate. If you think the individual mandate is a good thing, vote for those who support it. If you think it is a bad thing, vote for those opposed. This should not be something that the American people are subject to but not involved in. I’m glad we’re in an election cycle right now.

My opinion is that Obamacare did the wrong thing. Our healthcare system is out of whack and all Obamacare did was force everyone to be part of a broken system. It didn’t actually fix anything. What the government needs to do is to follow the money in the healthcare system and fix that drain. Who is making all the dough? Why is healthcare so expensive? Find that and fix it then you probably won’t have to force people into the system. And why do employers have to provide healthcare insurance? What is the connection there? No one asked that, it is the way it is and so we’ve encoded it. But that isn’t the best way to provide healthcare insurance; when employment changes, why should someone be cut off just because their job went away? That is another part that doesn’t make sense and yet isn’t being questioned.

Just to be clear, I don’t think the Republicans are going to do the right thing either. Romney has said that he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare but I’m not sure the Republicans have looked at which sinkhole the healthcare money is disappearing down either so who knows what they’ll come up with.