Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Someone’s Libertarian Future

Ron Paul is mostly libertarian. A lot of young folks love Ron Paul. A lot. Some are called Paulbots and if you question any aspect of the good senator from Texas’ philosophy they bury you under a pile of arguments. There’s nothing worse than a new convert to anything. I speak as one who has made that mistake in numerous other areas. So to summarize: Ron Paul = mostly libertarian, lotsa young ‘uns <3 Ron Paul. Okay, with those broad, unsubstantiated generalizations firmly in place, I'd like to excerpt a post from Patrick Deneen which he excerpted from himself. It has been bothering me since I read it a few days ago.

What the data also demonstrates is [not only an increase in libertarian toleration, but] a keen and intense emphasis on the self. Today’s students simultaneously urge toleration toward others, but also expect to be left alone. Their overarching emphasis upon individual achievement–particularly in the area of career advancement–suggests that the message of “toleration” and “diversity” seamlessly co-exists with a self-centered focus on material success and personal lifestyle autonomy. At risk is a cultivated belief in civic membership, a sense of shared fate and even forms of self-sacrifice…

I fear that we are not ushering in a utopia of toleration and sensitivity, but one of indifference and self-absorption. Today’s young people have deeply absorbed the lessons that have been taught them by their elders. Do we truly think a civilization can persist when it teaches its young that the most important thing in life is indifference toward others and that the means to happiness is earning the most money?

Couple this with the fact that this generation is the one raised with iPods and TVs in bedrooms rather than family rooms and houses with large bedrooms and small general living spaces and I’m kind of nervous. It all fits together a little too nicely. That whole ethic of “its okay as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else” fits right in there too.

I don’t think the future is all that bleak though. You never know how these things will play out in the long run and if you take a larger view of young folks, there are a lot of liberals who just love to get all up in your business. Hard to tell which way the pendulum will swing as these 20 something ages and have children of their own. Still, the thought bothers me because it seems plausible.

One Small Step

Roman Catholics, right or wrong, teach that artificial forms of birth control and any form of abortion is against God’s law and therefore wrong. It is a religious conviction, a belief that it is God’s will and that human life is sacred. Monty Python’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” distorts the teaching in order to lampoon and protest it. The teaching is not popular these days, even amongst practicing Roman Catholics. But it is official Roman dogma, part of their religion and the US constitution is supposed to protect the free exercise of religion. It no longer is. Hunter Baker said it well,

The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that religious institutions (including Catholic ones) must include coverage for contraceptive services in the care insurance they provide to employees. This is not a big deal, we have been told, because Catholic churches will be exempted, and the organizations adversely affected will be given a year to make their peace with the situation.

He punctuates the summary this way, “Let that sink in for a minute. You’re a Catholic organization. You have just been purposefully placed on a collision course between your God and Caesar. But it’s okay. Caesar is going to give you a year to stop being so upset.” Our democratically elected government has decided that reproductive choice is more important than religious freedom. Sex trumps faith. It doesn’t matter what your church teaches about sexual ethics, the state has determined how it much act. That is chilling.

This is coming from two protestants (Baker and I) who are alarmed at how our government is stepping on the rights of a church we don’t completely agree with. I don’t know where Baker stands on contraception (though I’m fairly confident he is against abortion) but I disagree with how Rome prohibits it. But I disagree more with how Washington has now prohibited that prohibition. Rome has a right to be wrong.

And it isn’t just conservative, evangelical voices who are upset. John Kass is an editor at the Chicago Tribune and he expresses a similar concern, albeit from a different perspective. I don’t agree with his secular “religion in private” approach, 1And really, doesn’t this debate prove that the secularist “religion is a private matter” is unsustainable? Obama is trying to separate religious belief from public policy and failing. Religion belongs in the public debate not because we’ll all agree on it but precisely because we do not. We need to protect those we disagree with and ensure their rights are curtailed in a private, quite, dark corner. Ours might be next. but I do appreciate and agree with his concern that politics is stepping on even that here. Consider:

With great will and personal charm, Obama pushed through government-run health care. The problem was never with giving care to the needy. The problem was that this policy increased federal power. And now Americans are learning a terrible fact about what happens to freedom as federal authority grows…

Obama has sent the spinners and town criers galloping out of the White House to say, incorrectly, that this debate is only about contraception. It is not. It was always about federal power trampling religious freedom, and now the White House is panicking.

Kass is correct. Our federal government has been increasingly taking more and more power to itself and when it does that, it gets the power from somewhere else. At first the power was taken from States. Now it is coming from us. Small steps at a time. A little here, a little there. I hope this little step set off the burglar alarm because, folks, we’re being robbed.

It is fascinating that this is an election year and we see the federal government make such a huge gaff. I hope this kind of thing wakes people up. The Occupy Wall St. protest had good intentions but they were shooting at the wrong target. The problem didn’t abide only in Wall St., it real home is in Washington. We have got to stop electing those who promise us our wildest dreams and start electing those who promise to keep out of the way of us chasing those dreams. Including dreams of religious freedom.

But wait! The White House has heard our lament! They have proposed a compromise. After extending the kindness of giving organizations a year to get over it, the White House has gone even farther. Now the organization doesn’t have to pay for contraceptives. The insurance company must provide them free of charge. Religious freedom preserved, right? Not really. I mean, are all health care insurance providers going to, from this day forth, take a reduced profit based on how many pills they give away each year? Not likely. Rates will rise to compensate for this “free” service and still religious organizations are required to pay. Can we have our freedoms back? Please?

1 And really, doesn’t this debate prove that the secularist “religion is a private matter” is unsustainable? Obama is trying to separate religious belief from public policy and failing. Religion belongs in the public debate not because we’ll all agree on it but precisely because we do not. We need to protect those we disagree with and ensure their rights are curtailed in a private, quite, dark corner. Ours might be next.

Logical Gerrymandering

I’m not a fan of Rick Perry and am not posting this in order to defend him in any way. What irked me about the above article is not what it says about Perry, but what it says about our poor grasp of basic logic. If you find this article a compelling indictment of Perry’s hypocrisy or feel it is an embarrassing mistake on the part Perry’s campaign handles, think again. You’re missing the import of a single word: “but”.

I don’t doubt that Perry is opposed to homosexuals serving in the military and that he is for prayer in public schools but this article makes some glaring mistakes in order to make the buffoon look more buffoonish and in turn shows its own buffoonery. As I just mentioned, the word “but” is critical in the quote. The way it stands, it could mean that if gays are allowed the freedom to serve in the military, then school children should be allowed the freedom to pray in schools. In the quote provided Perry is not saying anything anti-gay; he is simply addressing an inequality of freedoms. The word “but” is offering a comparison, essentially “this is allowed but this isn’t” in an effort to point out an inequality, it doesn’t necessarily condemn either position.

But the poor logic doesn’t end at a conjunction, it goes deeper. Apparently they used some music from Aaron Copeland in Perry’s ad. Aaron Copeland was one of the best American composers. His Fanfare for the Common Man and Appalachian Spring are breathtakingly beautiful. He was also gay. The author of the cited article seems to think, and want us to think, that this somehow makes Perry a hypocrite. But stop for a moment. Perry may be saying that it is wrong for gays to serve in the military but that says nothing about it being right or wrong for gays to compose music. Perry’s ad isn’t saying that everything every gay person ever did is wrong but that is the way it is presented. I could be opposed to Islam and yet still appreciate and use Arabic numerals and algebra and not be a hypocrite.

One last twist to wrap the whole mess up in a nice bow. The person who posted the screen shot above has a screen name of “atheism-“. If it is wrong for Rick Perry to use Aaron Copeland’s music because Perry is (presumably) anti-gay and therefore must believe that anything originating form a homosexual is wrong, then the atheist must abandon science. Isaac Newton is, in many ways, the father of modern physics yet he wrote more Christian theology than he did physics. So if being religious means that you’re mentally deficient, and we apply the logical fallacy employed above, then our friend “atheism-” is equally as hypocritical if he or she embraces atheism for scientific reasons.

If you don’t like Rick Perry or his politics, nail him on where he’s wrong. There’s plenty of material there. But don’t launch into logical gerrymandering to make him look foolish. It backfires badly.

Morning Politics

Did you hear that Bank of America want’s to start charging $5 per month for its members to use a debit card? Sounds outrageous doesn’t it? President Obama waived the consumer finance protection bureau stick in the direction of BofA during an interview at ABC. I have to admit, I’m kind of cheesed about that fee but I really don’t think government regulation is the answer. I like what Dick Durbin said, “Bank of America customers, vote with your feet. Get the heck out of that bank. Find yourself a bank or credit union that won’t gouge you for $5 a month and still will give you a debit card that you can use every single day.” Government isn’t the answer to everything.

You know what is really kind of odd? The reason BofA is implementing the fee is because their other revenue source on debit cards has been throttled so they’re seeking money elsewhere. Those debit cards don’t operate for free. There is a nation-wide secure computer network that supports them and someone has to pay for it. So who throttled what? The 2010 Dodd-Frank law included a provision that cut the “swipe fees” that debit-card issuers charge merchants. That means the banks were restricted in how much they could charge stores on each transaction. And who authored this restriction? Neither Frank nor Dodd. It was none other than Dick “These Shoes are Made for Walkin'” Durbin. I wish he’d have heard his own philosophy when he authored that amendment in the first place.

In somewhat tangentially related news (both touch Wall St.) a liberal talking head on some radio station said that it is “media crime” that Fox and CNN are interviewing less articulate Wall St. protestors. Apparently it is okay to find the most red neck Tea Party supporter but if you do the same for the Occupy Wall Street group, that’s bad.

Finally, President Obama wants to increase taxes on couples who have more than $250k in taxable income. The Democrats don’t like that and would rather institute a 5% surtax on those who have $1 million in income after all the deductions. Why the disagreement? NPR summed it up:

The disagreement in their ranks arises partly from how the president proposes to pay for his plan, an approach seen by some senators as potentially making their already difficult path to re-election even more so.

So let’s set aside for the moment that someone might not get reelected and ask what should be done here. The tax increases are both intended to pay for the president’s job stimulus package. The fact that Democrats want to actually pay for what their spending is a good sign but how do you do that in an economy as sluggish as ours? There are two things that have to happen: don’t raise taxes and don’t cut spending. The idea is that there needs to be as much money floating around the economy as possible at this point. Taking it out of people’s pockets and dumping it in a money black hole is a bad idea. The Republicans want to cut spending and the Democrats want to raise taxes in order to balance the budget. The truth of the matter is that we need to do the opposite of what both parties are banking on. We’re in trouble if they fail to get a collective clue.

Once the economy starts picking up, tax revenues will increase as more people go back to work and start buying more stuff. Once tax revenues start increasing we need to do the opposite of what seems reasonable. Then we can start scaling back government spending and we can fiddle with taxes a bit. That seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? We have more money coming in so we can spend more and since we have more money coming in we don’t need to mess with taxes, right? Wrong. Once the economy starts moving again that’s when the government has the leeway to reduce spending. The government doesn’t need to worry about upping their portion of spending into the economy, the people are able to do that. And when money is flowing we can start working on making taxes fair and equitable once again without the fear of causing those with money to hold on tighter to what they have.

But that kind of thinking won’t get you reelected. Isn’t soundbite worthy.

Long Form Politics

Why, the question is posed, with furrowed brow, did Obama withhold that certificate for years, spending millions to keep it out of public view, when it was always within his power to release it (as he just did). Hmmm? Well, obviously he was throwing chum into the water, trying to attract serious Republican presidential candidates. And all he got was Donald Trump! He was shark fishing and came back with a really big tuna. I think we should all hold our tummies and laugh for a while. – Doug Wilson, Blog and Mablog, Hold Our Tummies and Laugh for a While.

Excellent observation. Politicians will use politics for political gain, won’t they?

When Restraint Seems Like A Virtue

I haven’t said much about Julian Assange yet because, unlike the media, I think we have to wait and see. The question to me is whether Assange is Bruce Wayne or Joker from The Dark Knight. Is he a hero fighting a corrupt system on behalf of the common man, or is he simply an anarchist who wants to watch it all burn?

What we know so far is that he is the founder and final editor at Wikileaks. He has published a bunch of secret American documents. Now he’s wanted in Sweden for unrelated charges. Paypal, Mastercard and Visa have blocked the ability for people to donate money for his support and that resulted in a cyberattack against them by Assange’s supporters.

So how do we decide if he’s a good guy or a bad guy? For one thing he’s trying to free information. The government can make things secret for convenience reasons as well as for national security reasons. It is possible that Assange is simply airing the dirty laundry that world governments would rather keep in the laundry basket. But none of what he’s released so far is of any benefit to the common man. There are embarrassing missives between diplomats. So what? So our representative in country X thinks the leader is a ninny. That doesn’t really help the man on the street.

However, Assange claims to have a doomsday weapon that will reveal all kinds of secrets about the financial industry should he be sent to prison. Okay, maybe that could help the common man but it could also ruin him by crashing the institutes to which his life savings are entrusted. And there’s the rub. If he just wanted to collapse the entire Western system, that doomsday weapon (if it is real) could have done it. He has shown restraint. He’s vetted the information he’s posted in order to protect people. At least the ones he’s decided deserve protection. I think he’s capable of doing much more than he has done. He started his “career” as a hacker and has, as they say, madd skillz. Restraint sounds like a virtue, but Joker restrained his powers in order to do the maximum amount of damage at the right time too.

Bottom line is that Assange hasn’t done anything remarkable yet. The media is ready to either vilify him or make him a saint. That’s largely because the outlets have a political philosophy and are under pressure to produce reports so they land on one side or the other. It is too early to call on this one. So let’s all show some restraint, shall we?

Is the American Church Really in Decline?

The numbers for the American church don’t look good:

  • Every year more than 4,000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1,000 new church starts.
  • Half of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years.
  • At the turn of the last century (1900), there was a ratio of 27 churches per 10,000 people, as compared to the close of this century (2000) where we have 11 churches per 10,000 people in America.
  • From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the USA declined by almost 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 24 million (11 percent).
  • The United States now ranks third following China and India in the number of people who are not professing Christians.

But I wonder if these things are really bad. I know, I know, call me a “Pollyanna” but numbers are just numbers and Christianity is about God and his people. People often get hung up on numbers and miss other indicators of worth or health or progress. Bigger is better baby. My current church is growing. My previous church is plateaued. Other churches I know of are shrinking. Overall the American church is getting smaller. At the same time, I think there are some very encouraging signs within evangelicalism. But first, let me explain why (or try to) I think the numbers of American in church is going down and why that’s a good thing. Take a look at the ad to the left, you can click on it to get the whole thing. It is from the 1950s and here is the text:

Where are the churches of Russia . . . the worshippers of East Germany and Poland . . . Estonia . . . Latvia . . the Christian congregations and missionaries of China? Gone . . . gone beneath the juggernaut of materialistic atheism that today enslaves six out of every twenty people living. To communism, Christian countries present a lush target. Pious complacency, religious indifference, empty pews and churches mark an easy prey to fanatic, soulless communism. It is time for deep searching of our hearts. We can meet communism physically with guns – aircraft – airforce crews – but spiritually? we need to re-affirm the faith that first made our nation great . . . to man anew our spiritual frontiers.

Why should you go to church? According to this ad, to defeat communism! They’re atheists and so we’re Christians. Get it? It is your patriotic duty to attend church this weekend! I heard a similar thing a few months ago when Scott Simon played some tapes of his father’s radio program from the 1950s. It was pretty much your patriotic duty to go to church. That kind of thing would really motive World War II vets and their families.

For a while, Christianity became customary, comfortable. It wasn’t dangerous or controversial, it was necessary to defeat Communism. In the 1960s the nation’s Christian moral values (ignored only in private) got questioned by long-haired, fist waving youth. Soon American Christianity slid into power politics as a way to maintain that moral edge and now it is misunderstood and loathed.

Accepted as necessary (but not embraced) ->
Questioned and dismissed (because it wasn’t really believed) ->
Struggling for power
(because it rode the coat tails of what came before) ->
Hated and misunderstood
(because the false part has largely fallen away).

Of course this is an incomplete picture of the history of Christianity in America as it really only covers the last half of the last century but I think it kind of explains where we are now. By way of illustration, I heard an interview with Hughes brothers, the directors of The Book of Eli. The one brother read the script and loved it. He pitched it to the other brother who said something about not being a true believer and being uncomfortable with the Bible having such a prominent place in the movie. Fair enough, but the line that caught my attention was when he said that it would be controversial to treat the Bible that way. That is, to treat it as important and of potential value to humanity. The first thing that came to my mind was “Excellent! We’re dangerous again!”

When Christianity was domesticated and used by society for reasons other than religious, it wasn’t dangerous. It formed a foundation for family values and the American way. People could take or leave the other aspects of the religion. I think this is why liberal Christianity flourished during that time. You could have religion without Christ.

This leads me to my point. It is a good thing that the church is shrinking in America. We’re not a house cat you can scratch between the ears and walk away from. The voices within Christianity who spoke only of religion as a positive societal force are now calling it dangerous and out of step and therefore are moving away. The field clears and you can better see who is who.

I don’t want to speak to absolutes here. Of course I don’t mean to say that all of the church in the 50s was weak and corrupt. Nor do I want to say that all of the church today is strong and effective. I’m only speaking of the general movement of the thing. And frankly I may be Pollyanna here. H. E. Barber of the Guardian in the UK visited America and didn’t have much good to say about evangelicalism:

If the trend identified in the Aris study continues, we will see a country divided between conservative evangelical Christians and secular liberals – the latter hostile to religious belief, identified with evangelical Christianity. This is bad news because popular evangelical Christianity is religiously vacuous…Saddleback [Church] is religion for people who don’t like religion: transcendence is not on the menu.

Although almost half of Americans say they have had a religious experience, mysticism is likely a recondite taste. For the minority who have that taste – who seek God as an object of contemplation – Saddleback has nothing.

Ouch. I mean, you have to take serious criticism from those outside the system. But at the same time, evangelicalism isn’t Saddleback Church. Most American churches are congregations of less than 200 and Saddleback is close to 120,000. It is far from representative of the norm. No, I’m comfortable with the American church getting smaller. It presents a richer harvest field where wheat and tares are easier to identify.

Millennial Comfort

The other day I was walking across the parking lot at work when the bell in the large, classical Presbyterian church rang. For a moment I thought about what it would be like to live in a country where church and state are united and the church is not compromised. I felt at ease for a second thinking of Christians, real Christians running the nation. I felt like I had nothing to fear.

After a brief moment the feeling passed. The Presbyterian church the bell rang from is part of a liberal denomination and so it is very likely that it teaches a hollowed out Christianity. The unity of Church and state has never left Church unscathed, she soon becomes polluted by men seeking power not Christ. Sin has so corrupted man that we can never achieve peace like that while man rules (sorry, no post-millennialism). Peace on earth like that can only come when Christ rules the nations with a rod of iron. What I got a fleeting glimpse of was the New Heavens and New Earth. No man-made institution.