10.30.2008

The Virtue of Selfishness

Obama accuses McCain of "making a virtue of selfishness" because they oppose his socialism.

Hmmph. Snort.

Socialism is merely a way of being selfless with other people's money. Biden makes $300,000 per year and gives less than $1,000 to charity. Obama came close this year to giving 10% of his after-tax income to charity. McCain gave 26% of his after-tax income. Palin, by far the one with the lowest income (about half of Biden's) gave just under 5%.

Obama also says we should be our brother's keeper. What about his brother living in a shack on $12 a year?

I don't see either McCain or Palin making a virtue of selfishness and if they are, looking at those numbers, I think I'll take McCain's selfishness over Obama's so-called generosity. Before Obama uses the coercive power of the State to steal my money in order to give it to bureaucrats (most of the government money for the poor never gets to them - it gets sucked up by the system first), he might tend to his own family and keep his own brothers.

Mission Language

What is it about churches and language? It shows up particularly in mission-oriented agencies, even more particularly in domestic mission and evangelistic agencies and their writings. Among them, there is a great tendency to make the most mundane nouns into verbs that gets frightfully annoying. They mission or church people, for instance. They seem to strive for the most jarring English constructions they can think of.

There also seems to be a deep desire to claim that whatever they're doing, it's new. The "New Apostolic Reformation", for instance, isn't new. Read their stuff and read some of the stuff from the edges of the pentecostal movement in the 1970s - or even the 1920s - and the concepts are the same ol' same ol'. The church has become too institutionalized, we need a new wave of the Holy Spirit, dynamic, reclaiming of older titles (like apostle) and so on and on. We've seen it all before.

Titles are a big one, too. I just got an e-mail from a "Coordinator of Church Multiplication." What the heck is that? I envision somebody calling around, sending e-mails, and trying desperately to get us to all say our multiplication tables at the same time: "Okay, at 2:00 pm on Sunday, 9 November, everybody say their 3s! You know - 3 times 1 is 3; 3 times 2 is 6..." Either that, or he's out there making sure church couples are producing babies. But that would be the "Coordinator of Church Fertility", would it not?

Its all gimmickry and showmanship. Let it go.

If you really want to reach people, I'll tell you what one of my supervisors told me when I was in the Navy. "Love them," he said. "And the rest will follow."

10.28.2008

Nice Article

I'm not Catholic, but I do have a great appreciation for the Catholic renewal that has occurred under John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In that regard, this article from the Open Democracy site is worth reading.

(I found it via Arts & Letters Daily - another excellent site.)

Let's Hear it for Unfairness!

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D. Toledo) whipped the crowd up before Mr. Obama took the stage yesterday telling them that America needed a Second Bill of Rights guaranteeing all Americans a job, health care, homes, an education, and a fair playing field for business and farmers. (Toledo Blade, 14 October 2008)
Oh, great. Somebody might ask Representative Kaptur (D-Toledo) just who, exactly, is going to guarantee all Americans a job, health care, homes, and an education. How also is this going to be done while still providing a "fair playing field for business and farmers"?

While we're on the topic, I've had quite enough of the word "fair." What is fair about taking the money, lands, and resources that another has worked hard to accumulate and giving it to someone who has not worked for it? What is fair about taking what my grandfather has left to me from the fruits of his labors and giving it to a government bureaucrat to generate paper with? Make no mistake. It doesn't go to the poor. It goes to Civil Service employees. Compared to the morass of Housing and Urban Development, the Pentagon is a paragon of efficient, virtuous, and ethical procurement. Close to three quarters of the money spent by governments in this country on programs ostensibly to aid poor people ends up in the pockets of civil service employees, government contractors and suppliers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Besides that, why is it fair to impose equality of this sort? Some people are simply better at managing money. They ought to have more money to manage than those of us who don't do it well. Some people are willing to work hard to obtain more money, bigger houses, faster cars, and so on. Others are content with less in exchange for less pressure. God has chosen to bestow his gifts in a varied fashion so that we need each other. The socialist insistence on cookie-cutter humanity is as blasphemous as it is obscene and deadly. The vision of "fairness" that informs Representative Kaptur - and Barak Obama - is ultimately unjust and tyrannical.

10.24.2008

On Rights - III

What about so-called “positive” rights? I intentionally framed the discussion in On Rights – II in passive terms. My neighbor has a right to my not killing him. This is a right to be left alone with what God has entrusted to him and it is different from a right to life. The latter is a positive claim on someone else. What is meant by it is also not really a right to life – until I was alive, there was no “I” who could claim such a right – but a positive right to those things necessary to sustain life, such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and so on. Asserting positive rights is asserting that I merit or deserve these things without regard to personal responsibility, ability, maturity, or any other possible contingency. This reasoning is in fact what is behind much of the social welfare state, the push for universal health care, free schools, and the vast array of entitlements established since FDR was first elected in 1932. And it is wrong.

To start with, I have already asserted that all rights are contingent – and supported that assertion. This would go for positive rights as well as passive ones. So, even if I have a positive right to food, that right is contingent upon my doing (or not doing) something else. The nature of that contingency will vary depending on the relationship that exists between me and the other involved. For instance, if I am incredibly hungry – even starving – the nature of the relationship between me and a stranger sitting in McDonald's is such that I may not simply walk up and take the cheeseburger out of his hand. Neither may I go behind the counter and start eating french fries. They have every right to expect payment and I have no right to steal from them. On the other hand, my infant child does have a right to being fed by me to the extent I am able.

The practical effect of saying that one has a positive right is devastating. Who has the obligation to provide it? What if doing so would forfeit their own positive rights? To what extent would these supposed rights absolve me of my obligation to accept responsibility and provide for myself? In cases where there is not enough to go around, who has the primary right and to what extent? One instantly gets sucked into a never-ending struggle between competing rights that abrogates personal responsibility, pits neighbor against neighbor, and ultimately is as unsustainable as it is unanswerable. It is this way of thinking that has helped create the litigious society we occupy, and it is closing down hospitals, forcing doctors to give up their practices, and killing jobs and businesses. In short, the practical effect of my positive right entailing an obligation upon my neighbor (even if the "neighbor" is government) is to reduce the availability of that necessity to both of us – depriving both of us of the “right” supposedly upheld.

What about the poor, though, and those physically disabled, or the orphan? To be blunt, they do not have a positive right to these things from society in general, either. That does not mean we are absolved of all obligations to them, however. In the first place, to the extent they may be family or in some other way connected to me, the nature of that relationship may place obligations on me – and grant them rights, too. If my mother were somehow unable to provide for herself, she has a right to expect her children to assist because of the relationship that exists between us. More important, however, is the relationship I, the poor, the disabled, and the orphan have with God.

Because God has a right to all things, even my very life, he has a right to claim my money, food, time, and any other resources I might have at my disposal. What is more, he has in the relationship he established between us and himself obligated those who can to provide for those who cannot. My obligation to care for the poor stranger who cannot provide for himself is based not on that person's rights or on our relationship to each other. Rather it is based on God's divine rights and our mutual relationship to Him.

This obligation cannot be met by simply tossing money in the direction of the poor person. Neither is this obligation always and only to give him what he wants or thinks he needs. An indolent, shiftless, rebellious man who is poor because he has made indolent, shiftless, and rebellious choices may well need to feel the painful consequences of doing so. Discipline sometimes involves inflicting pain and protecting someone from that pain may only guarantee that they remain in poverty forever. It may break my heart to see a fellow human being suffering so, but I must have a care that anything I do to alleviate it in the short term (and thus make me feel better) does not merely guarantees that the bad habits will continue. But if they have learned, then withholding assistance may simply perpetuate bitterness and anger. It is a judgment, and it requires a discerning, wise heart – the kind of heart that finds it almost impossible to speak through a government welfare program.

10.21.2008

Super Bowl & Sunday

It recently came up in discussion within my congregation that we might consider alterring the time of our evening service to accommodate the Super Bowl.

Excuse me???

In the first place, where does it stop? There are World Series, NCAA Final Four, Stanley Cup, and World Cup games on Sundays, too. Do we only adjust for football fans? Heck, we might as well just cancel services on Opening Day of hunting season, too, not to mention the regional fishing tournament, state high school championships, and the season premier of CSI while we're at it.

No. We don't dance to the culture's tune. It is unseemly, even blasphemous, to expect the Creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to come on his knees begging for a few moments of our time, as long as there's nothing good on television.

This is not to say that individuals are dissing God by deciding on a Sunday night or two during the course of a year that they will stay home to be entertained. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren't. Consult your own consciences on that, folks. But church isn't about you or me. It's about the God who made us. Making it a matter of policy that the Church will simply accept playing second fiddle to a football game - that most decidedly is an insult to the God who has called us into being by treating him as if he is merely a slave to our comfort and convenience.

"Uh, God, that's right. It's us. Looking at the schedule, I see we're booked for this Sunday but we might be able to squeeze you in for a little bit Sunday afternoon if it won't take too long. Otherwise, we'll make sure to make our next appointme- oops. I see that's the state high school debate finals. Uhh, let's see. Here. We can give you 25 minutes on Tuesday the 6th. Will that do?"

No. That will not do.

10.19.2008

Pastoral Humor - Twisted

We had a salesman over to the house the other day. He was pushing a particular device designed to improve the health by ridding our precious home of all dust, dirt, insects, germs, viruses (viri?), and anything else that might assault us. In the process, he suggested we might want one for the church since I wouldn't want my church members to get this stuff.

"I don't know. I get paid extra for funerals."

The poor man was stunned into silence for almost a full minute, completely at a loss.

10.18.2008

Joe vs. the Volcano

First, the man's name is Joe Wurzelbacher, not "Joe the Plumber". He seems a decent, intelligent, articulate man and it is unbecoming to refer to him as some sort of peasant artisan.

Second, his entire claim to fame is founded on his statement to the Volcano, "Your tax plan is going to cost me money." And it will. Barack Obama even acknowledged that it would and said that was the aim of the tax plan - to "spread the wealth around."

This has embarrassed the Illinois Senator. But it's not the question that embarrassed him. It's his own answer. He, like all politicians, is quite gifted at dissembling. This time he chose not to, it got caught on camera, and was broadcast. Now the world knows Senator Obama is a socialist, since he declared himself to be one.

What is frightening, however, is the response to Mr. Wurzelbacher. They have plumbed the depths of his past in order to challenge him on his income, press him on who he'll vote for, claim he was a Republican plant (even though Obama was going door-to-door in Mr. Wurzelbacher's neighborhood), publish his address and phone number (I wouldn't be surprised if he's gotten death threats), had Plumber's Union thugs deny he's a plumber (he is, since that's what he does, though he is not licensed. Interestingly, the licensing process runs in part through that union, so I'm sure his future is on hold), and raked through his financial and tax records looking for anything to embarrass or discredit him.

All for having the temerity to state views in opposition to a candidate.

This used to be a free country.

10.16.2008

Lawsuits, Gods and Demigods

Check out this story (also here). The good Mr. Chambers is, of course, not seriously thinking that a judge or jury might settle the issue of violent weather effects. But apparently the judge feels constrained to treat this silliness as if it were serious. He doesn't simply look at the lawsuit, say "this is stupid," and dismiss it. He doesn't even respond in kind, issuing a ruling to the effect that God has divine immunity from lawsuits in U.S. courts and referring the plaintiff to the Court of Heaven.

No. He has to come up with a serious legal precedent for dismissal: he doesn't know how to serve papers on God. What is more, it has taken the judge over a year to make this pretentious decision (the lawsuit was filed in September of 2007).

But this kind of stupid ruling accepts at face value the notion that the Creator of the Universe is somehow answerable to US courts. Judge Polk's ruling is "without prejudice" and Chambers is contemplating an appeal. In the process, Chambers also is setting up the courts as the supreme arbiters of reality, declaring that "It's not frivolous until the court says it's frivolous." Please. That the court did not say it was simply means that the court is as frivolous as the lawsuit.

When courts would play god, relegate the real God to demigod status - even in ruling to dismiss a lawsuit - and take over a year to figure this out, is it any wonder our courts are clogged?

10.15.2008

On Rights - II

In considering rights, we ought, I suppose, back up a bit and determine what we’re considering. The concept of “right” has been variously defined. Lewis Smedes, in his atrociously reasoned and pretentious book Mere Morality, says justice consists in obtaining those things to which we have a right, and that rights are essentially those things which we deserve. Most people are relatively comfortable with that understanding. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly helpful for a Christian. All Christians believe that we have sinned and, as the apostle Paul says, the wages of sin is death. Applied to the kind of reasoning Smedes and others employ, that would mean justice consists in death since that is what we deserve.

While I do believe that we deserve death, I also believe we ought not go about meting this out to one another willy-nilly. It is still wrong to kill my neighbor and that fact entails its converse – that my neighbor has a right to my not killing him. Granted, this right is contingent on his not trying to kill me or my family members either, but it is a right nonetheless. Ordinarily, contingent rights would mean there is a contract somewhere that outlines those rights and the duties one must perform in order to maintain them. There isn’t one in this case. To be sure, there is a law on the books in this state that says I may not kill my neighbor except in specific instances defined as “self-defense.” Neither of us signed on to any contract, however, and that law was on the books decades before either of us was born. It would be rather odious, not to say impossible, for us to obtain separate contracts with the other 300 million fellow citizens, so perhaps the law is simply a short-cut and it may be considered a contract. But that doesn't work, either. The absence of a written law would not strip away his right to not be killed, nor mine. It seems the law is not so much the imposition of a contract between me and my neighbor(s) as it is a recognition that murder is wrong. In other words, the law in this case simply recognizes a contract that already exists.

Let us consider a more mundane circumstance. I give my son a $20 bill. He has no right to my twenty dollars and has not earned it. I simply give it to him. If his sister were to come in to the room and take it, he would have legitimate reason to complain that his rights had been violated. While he has no right to the money, he does have a right to his sister’s honesty and respect in the context of their relationship. It is the relationship of trust and cooperation that has been violated. The implied covenant or contract of the family has been broken.

It seems, then, that natural rights do not inhere in our human nature as such, but in the nature of our relationships with other human beings. In this way, there can be natural rights that are yet alienable since they are contingent upon the relational covenant that exists between fellow human beings. Notice also that the relationship in the example above is not one that the parties entered into voluntarily. They were both born into the same family and the covenant was imposed on them by their parents.

Life, in its very nature, automatically establishes relationships with others who live. I do not have an inalienable right to my life, but by living I do have an unavoidable relationship with others – and they with me. We exist in covenant with one another regardless of our own desires on the matter, for the relationship is not established by me, or by society, or by government. It is established by God, and we are equally bound to it. Under the terms of that covenant, God has entrusted some things to you, and others to me. Neither of us may simply take what has been given to the other, whether it be a mere $20, or life itself. God may do this because, unlike us, he does have rights that inhere in his nature as God and Creator.

10.11.2008

Palin & The State Troopers

You pretty much knew, given that the majority on the "investigating" committee and the "investigator" they hired were Obama partisans, there was going to be some line in the report to use against Governor Palin. Yes, they label the report "bipartisan", but do not forget that Governor Palin has been instrumental in exposing corruption among Republicans in Alaska. Those with a political vendetta against her cross party lines. Let's look at what the report actually says.

The facts remain unchanged. The head of the Alaska State Police publicly and openly went around the governor in order to undermine decisions she had made regarding the budget. That's called insubordination. He works for the governor. Period. He gaffed off his boss, so she fired him. The report itself indicates that this was entirely within her rights, was lawful, and even appropriate. In spite of what is said in the second "finding", the body of the report offers no justification beyond Monegan's own perception for believing anything else was at issue in Monegan's dismissal.

In regards to Trooper Wooten, the man had tasered his son, threatened to assault (if not kill) his father-in-law and sister-in-law if they tried to help his wife (their daughter/sister) in obtaining a divorce from this abusive man, and was very likely drunk on duty. Governor Palin herself did nothing official in regards to this man. The report also acknowledges this.

Nevertheless, she "abused her power". How? In what manner? She supposedly used her position to "benefit a personal...interest." Which was...she didn't stop her husband from calling people to pressure them to fire this man. In the first place, there is something wrong with an organization that needs to be "pressured" to fire such a man as this derelict who was not above using his status as a police officer to further his abuse. Oh, by the way - Wooten never was fired. In other words, the governor didn't get the supposed "benefit in a personal...interest".

In the second place, from the report, it seems Governor Palin and her husband independently, and without the other's knowledge, contacted the officer in charge of the initial investigation of Wooten, received the same answer, and reluctantly accepted that answer. They had every reason to be concerned and any other citizen would have taken similar action - and been equally dissatisfied, I'm sure. In another instance, Mr. Palin communicated his opinion to public officials - which was certainly his right as a citizen - that Wooten should not be hired for a different police job because of his previous conduct. He also tried to find other evidence that might alter the outcome of the initial investigation. Finally, Mr. Palin scheduled a meeting with Monegan shortly after his wife's inauguration, in order to discuss his dissatisfaction with the whole process, including the fact that somebody like Wooten was still a state trooper. I'm sure Monegan granted the interview because it was the governor's spouse. I am equally certain that, if any other citizen in like circumstances had access to the Commissioner of Public Safety, they would have tried to do the same. The governor also in a phone call expressed her displeasure with the minimal discipline against Wooten, but reluctantly accepted the answers she got from Monegan. Remember. This was her sister and father that Wooten had threatened. Naturally, both she and Mr. Palin were somewhat passionate and Monegan understood this completely. In fact, Monegan himself said "this happens a lot in divorce cases." When Monegan told the Governor that further conversations between them on the matter would open them to a lawsuit and would violate ethics laws, she accepted that.

Forgive me, but did either Mrs Palin or Mr. Palin stop having the same rights and freedoms of other citizens of Alaska just because the former was elected governor? Neither Governor Palin nor her husband made any threats (the people in question described the conversations and exchanges as "cordial" if on occasion "passionate") and neither did anything to impede the duties or career of the people they spoke to.

In other words, they asked questions, got answers, weren't happy with the answers and took their concerns as far up the food-chain as they could. They tried to find a way to appeal what they thought was an inappropriate outcome and on one occasion Mr. Palin advised a public official against hiring Wooten as a city police officer because of his experience with Wooten. That's it. It's pretty normal, human, stuff.

To call this "abuse of power" is absurd. To make that the first "finding" in the report, even though the report's case for it is ludicrously weak, is further evidence that this is a political hack job. The second "finding" states that the dismissal of Monegan was entirely proper and lawful, even though it tosses in the statement - without evidence - that the Wooten matter was "likely a contributing factor". But the authors knew that most journalists, also hacks for Obama, wouldn't read beyond the findings to review the evidence. It's disgraceful, and it is this Legislative committee that is abusing power, not the governor.

10.10.2008

On Rights - I

There’s a lot of discussion about rights. In the United States, it starts with the Declaration of Independence and the supposedly “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness given by God himself. Personally, I agree with Robert Heinlein’s assessment of these rights in his novel Starship Troopers – sounds good, but it isn’t true and the people who wrote it didn’t believe it, either. I’m pretty sure neither Adams, nor Jefferson, nor any of the other founders had much of an issue with executing murderers and horse thieves or depriving miscreants of their liberty for various lengths of time. It seems these “inalienable rights” were in fact quite alienable if one misbehaved. They didn’t seem to have much of a problem with arming and equipping soldiers who would deprive British and Hessian troops of their “inalienable” right to life, either. As for “pursuit of happiness”, this is a condition, not a right. Heinlein puts these thoughts in the mouth of Lt. Col. DuBois, Mobile Infantry, Retired, but they are undoubtedly his own as well.

The U.S. Constitution is on firmer ground with its Bill of Rights because it makes no claim that these rights inhere in human nature. The Constitution is a contract between the people and their government. It describes the structure of the U.S. government, how it is accountable to the governed and how the governed may be accountable to it. In doing so, the Constitution confines the national government to certain specific spheres of activity and insists on individuals and states being left alone in all the others. As such, these are not inherent human rights, but contingent rights. Violating the obligations placed on me as a citizen abrogates the contract and permits the government to restrict my movements, speech, religion, privacy, possession of firearms, ability to vote, and so on. The founders, and the citizens of that day, insisted on these additions to the contract because of their recent experience with the government of Great Britain and the resulting War of Independence. They saw these rights, or limits on the central government, as contributing to the ordered liberty that would help achieve the purposes for which the contract was engaged – establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty for that generation and succeeding ones. In theory, when the government violates the limits placed upon it, I am freed of my obligations as well. In theory. As many a young recruit has discovered, it is one thing if Uncle Sam wants to void his contract with you, and quite another if you want to void your contract with him.

Nevertheless, in the years since World War I we have increasingly striven to ground these contingent rights in human nature itself. This is problematic. If a right to free assembly, for instance, is a right that inheres in human nature, then one cannot deprive another of that right without also depriving that other of his (or her) humanity. Incarceration, then, becomes by definition a violation of human rights no matter what that particular person has done. There can be no suitable ground for depriving a human being of what is a right derived from their status as a human being. How could we function as a society, however, if we did not forbid the assembly of those who wish to overthrow the government? How could we survive if we did not deprive thieves, con men, and murderers of the freedom to go where they wish or speak as they pleased?

The answer is that we could not and can not.

The Great Financial Heart Attack of 2008

Let's see if we can understand this. Mind you, I'm no Hahvahd trained economist. I only know what I read on the 'Net (I don't get a newspaper), so I may be way off base. Even so, this is the picture I get, in layman's terms, since I am a layman in these matters.

Supposedly the whole thing began with banks (and other financial institutions) making risky loans. They were encouraged to make these risky loans by government operators in the Clinton Justice Department, by congressional leaders (primarily Democrats Barney Frank and Chris Dodd), by community organizers (ACORN and folks like Obama), and by people who claimed that the only reason they weren't getting what they wanted was because of evil racists (the lousy credit rating and lack of a job couldn't possibly be factors). Toss in a few spineless Republicans who were petrified at the prospect of being labeled racist enemies of the poor, and things begin to take off. Various government programs (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc) were also established to "guarantee" these loans, but mostly it was a promise made on the understanding the government wouldn't ever have to really pony up on it.

A loan or mortgage is essentially a personal bond - kind of like a savings bond, except instead of being issued by the government, it's issued by li'l ol' me with the assistance of my friendly banker. Just as you can sell your treasury bonds, banks can sell these mortgage bonds. Which they did. Primarily to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These institutions would "bundle" the mortgages, mixing risky loans with good loans, establishing a single rate of return, and then sell the bundles.

The interest rate on a loan is a measure of the risk entailed in the loan. If you're very sure you will get your money back, you charge a lower rate. If you're not sure, you charge a higher rate. Because of the good offices of the government, the interest rate on these mortgage notes tended to not reflect the actual risk of the loan, but in a market where housing prices are going up, it doesn't matter as much. If you have to foreclose, the increased value of the property will make up for the low rate of interest.

Then suddenly we didn't have a rising housing market. We had more houses than people would buy and prices started falling. The thing counted on to hold the value of my bond/mortgage evaporated. What's more, the practice of bundling made it nearly impossible for an investor to determine the actual level of risk. Investors are human beings. What do you do when you know you are in danger, but you haven't a clue how much danger? One thing you don't do is add to the risk. You stop buying those bundled mortgages. So Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac stopped buying mortgages from banks. So banks stopped lending money to buy houses. So now you have even fewer people in the market for a house, which drives down the price of real estate again. Ouch.

By itself, this is not an insurmountable problem. It wasn't by itself.

Banks are allowed to lend money based on how much they have in assets. They figure they're not going to sell the mortgage in this declining market, but will sell later on. They may even peg an asset such that, if the market gets to the point where the bank can sell it for amount X, they'll sell it, but not before. No problem. They can list the asset at value X and loan away. Except they can't. That's what Enron did, you see, and they set X at such ridiculous levels that they could claim to be worth billions when they were only worth millions. This led Congress to change the rules and you have to "mark to market", that is, you have to value an asset at the value you could get if you sold it right away, even if you have no intention of selling it. Since, for a bank, most of its assets are deposits and collateralized loans, and the tanking home market has just collapsed the market value of those collateralized loans, the bank now looks like it is insolvent. It isn't. It just looks that way. Because it looks that way, though, they have to stop loaning money until they either call in some of those loans or increase their deposits.

People don't want to invest because they're not sure what the actual risk is, but they're certain the risk is greater than the interest rates indicate, and banks can't invest because they can't loan money they don't have. Nobody invests, everybody loses. This causes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to start going under and suddenly the "guarantee" has to become a real guarantee - and not just for Fannie & Freddie, since thousands of investors worldwide have been trading their bundled mortgage papers.

Think of an economy as akin to the human circulatory system. As long as the money is flowing through the arteries and veins of the system, the economy stays alive. Our economy experienced a major blockage along one of the premier arteries. In other words, it's having a heart attack. The bailout bill proposed by the President was intended to serve as a kind of economic angioplasty - stick this big balloon of $350 billion into the artery and inflate it, clear the logjam, and get the money circulating again. We're having a really big heart attack, though. Now we're losing money, which is like watching the blood pressure drop dramatically, so the Fed is acting to keep the blood pressure steady long enough for this $350 billion angioplasty to take effect.

It may work. It may not. At this point, it's dicey. Right now, the basic economy is sound ("What? Are you friggn' NUTS!"). Really, it is. Productivity is high, interest rates and inflation are steady, unemployment isn't bad. So if one has money (like Warren Buffet), it's a pretty good "buy" opportunity - just pick the right company. But if things don't start circulating soon, even the good buys will be worthless.

What about our politicians? With the exception of President Bush who is not particularly concerned with getting voters anymore, politicians are doing what they always do - positioning themselves in order to be able to claim maximum credit if it works, but avoid maximum blame if it fails.

10.09.2008

President of the United States - or of the Class of '08?

It's boring, to be honest. It's more like a contest for high school class president than one between adults.

Obama is a socialist who thinks that he, and his highly educated elite friends, can run your life better than you can. He wants to take your money - you really shouldn't have to bother with managing that and in any event you'd probably just spend it on the wrong things. Better that he take it and spend the money wisely, rationally. He is no different in this regard than any other Democrat presidential nominee since Johnson. Maybe it's been a while since we've heard it so effectively presented, but hope, change, we can, and so on have been standard fare on that side of the aisle for fifty years, now. It's not anything new. It's born of an idealism common in youth that amounts to "If everybody would just listen to me and do what they're supposed to, we would have peace and prosperity." Very nice, Barry. Now sit down and we'll let the other Student Congress candidates talk.

McCain thinks in terms of "fair". Whether we're talking campaign finance, military service, foreign relations, economic policy, or anything else, McCain wants to be fair. That's a very populist notion, however divorced from reality it may be. He's not conservative and does not like conservatives mainly because he apparently thinks they're not fair. The elitist element comes in his abiding faith in the power of government - particularly government with him in charge - to enforce the fairness he craves. Add to this a kind of Rodney King plaintiveness ("Can't we all just get along?") that is manifest in his eagerness to work with Democrats while dissing fellow Republicans, and you've got a pretty good picture of McCain. This, too, is nothing new. It is, in fact, a relatively juvenile world view. "It's not fair" is the perennial complaint of the adolescent and listening to McCain is like listening to a 70 year old rich adolescent who wants to be "fair" to us plebes and peons.

For better or worse, one of these two will be our next president. It's not fair.

10.08.2008

Idolatry of the State

One does get tired of it. Politics, I mean. Picture a hundred million people talking past each other, none understanding, and yet each convinced that he or she alone sees clearly, that if their own pet panoply of policies is enacted, peace will reign supreme and prosperity will blossom.

I have paid attention to politics since I was eleven years old. The news in 1975 was dismal. We had the last helicopters out of Vietnam; recovery from a scandalously failed presidency; jitters about oil (remember OPEC?), the economy, and the Middle East; and Communists were trying to take over the world. We weren’t worried about global warming then, but we felt a chill at the thought of a coming ice age. Of course, there was the looming population bomb that was going to overpopulate the earth and starve us all before that ice age got here. We had rising gas prices and proto-rationing of fuel. By 1979, unemployment was around 6-7%, interest rates for collateralized loans (like mortgages and cars) were in the mid-teens, inflation was nearly into double digit range, and hope was doomed.

Then suddenly, it wasn’t. Instead, it was “Morning in America” – until we read his successor’s lips and found ourselves in the “worst economy in 50 years” (it wasn’t). This brought us a rather unremarkable man from Hope who was mostly harmless (unless you were an intern), followed by a mild-mannered Methodist who is by turns a bumbling idiot, a dupe, and an evil mastermind about to take over the world by listening in on our cell phone calls.

Thirty-three years after I started paying attention, unemployment is mild but rising; Russia is on the march; Iran is fomenting terrorism while developing nuclear weapons; the U.S. is at war with an ill-defined, nebulous enemy (although this time along the Tigris rather than the Mekong); we’re still jittery about oil and the Middle East; but we’ve switched from a coming ice age to being afraid the tropics will pop up in Edmonton. Facing this, we have a choice between “Hope” and “Reform” in 2008. Pick your savior, or your poison.

Slowly, over the last three decades, it dawned on me what the problem really was. It’s not the economy or the global situation or the environment. It’s not the politicians, either. It’s us. We have made a god out of government. In Jesus’ day, Caesar claimed to be a god and commanded people to worship him. The zealots claimed Caesar wasn’t a god, but they knew where they could find one to replace him. Modern people snidely smirk at such unenlightened, unsophisticated beliefs. We have science and the enlightenment. We are not driven about by such superstitious nonsense.

But we are. Did you lose your job? The President is responsible. Are you sick and dying? Congress can heal you. Did you lose money on the stock market? The Treasury will save you. Government will give us jobs, clothing, housing, health care, cable TV, cars, food, prosperity and everything else we desire. Government will also give us healthy children, educate them for us, and then employ them securely, if we but sacrifice to our priest(ess), also known as an elected representative. However much we may couch it in statistics, sociology, or even real science, in practice we have decided we want Caesar to be a god.

Liberals and socialists have a long history of writing and speaking thus, going back to the time of the French Revolution in fact. They at least have the advantage of being honest about their religion. Conservatives hide the fact that they have been converted by cloaking their faith in talk of achieving virtue, protecting the family, and upholding all that is right and true and just – a Constitutional Amendment here or there should do it. Oh, yes. You also need to vote for the people on this list Reverend Doctor Dobroberfalwellson gave us.

All sides have lost sight of this nation’s founding insight. That insight is usually considered the statement on human rights in the Declaration of Independence or constitutionally limited government or, more vaguely, freedom. But what they really saw clearly was human frailty and sin, including their own. The virtue of George Washington consisted chiefly in his refusal to trust himself with unlimited authority. Reading Adams or Jefferson or the Federalist Papers, one cannot help but note how pessimistic and cynical were their views on human nature in general and on those who would govern in particular. They actually had rather low expectations. When listening to McCain, Obama, Bush, Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Dole, or any of the others who have run for the Presidency in my lifetime, one does not hear anything about the limits of our nature, and certainly nothing of the limits of our government. In fairness to them, we must admit that if they were to speak of human moral obtuseness and sin, they wouldn’t get beyond Iowa in the primaries – assuming they even got that far.

All too often, under the guise of “radical, Christian” politics, the Church has endorsed this worship of the State with its refusal to see clearly the fallen state of humanity. Too often the roots of what we call “justice” lie not in Scripture, but in Marx, Rousseau and Robespierre on the one hand, or in Locke, Hume and Mills on the other. There is also an apparent effort to add the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence to the Canon, right after the book of Revelation. But, if you really want radical, Christian politics, then “put not your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save... Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is the Lord, his God…He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoner free. The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and widow. But He frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalm 146).

I am no anarchist, and I do not advocate the abolition of government. I intend to vote and encourage others to do so, too. Within the sphere entrusted to me, I will seek the Lord’s will and cast my ballot. In its proper place, government can be, and usually is, a gift of God. But we need a more restrained view of the capabilities and powers of men and women, and of the governments comprised of these fallen creatures. Whoever the president may be, he is but mortal. He will not save us, or the planet, or change this fallen world into heaven. We should hedge our expectations, speak with greater reserve about the potential of politics, and put our trust elsewhere.

Inaugural

First, the title. P&R = Politics & Religion.

This is dangerous territory, I know. They're both topics that raise hackles, but it's also great fun. I do recommend that, if you're inclined to respond, you take a deep breath, count to ten, and make sure the CAPS LOCK button is off. My aim is to present my opinions, and my reasons for those opinions. I'm open to reasoned discussion. Ad hominem responses, profanity, and other unreasoned discussion will be deleted as fast as I can figure out how to do it.

Also, this is my blog, thank you very much. If you want to pontificate, get your own danged blog.

From time to time, I may insert a post that has nothing to do with either politics or religion (which accounts for the "miscellany" in the title).

Now, to give you a proper framework for understanding this blog, note that my religion is Christian. In particular, I'm an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church of North America (www.crcna.org). It is extremely likely that my opinions will be at variance with some of the official positions of my denomination, so don't blame the denomination if you think I'm saying something stupid. It's not their fault. They did their best. My politics are conservative and tend towards libertarian the older I get but, like most, one gets fuzzy around the edges. If reading conservative political opinions gives you gas, quick, head for another web site. If Christian thought leaves you reaching for the alka seltzer, either have a supply handy, or go elsewhere. Remember, nobody is forcing you to read this so you proceed at your own risk.

I should give you a bit more of a biography, too. I'm in my 40s, married, three kids. I've been a pastor for close to 20 years, slightly more than half of that as a chaplain in the US Navy. In this latter capacity, I have deployed to the Middle East three times and have been involved in combat operations on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am now serving a mid-sized congregation in the mid-west, having resigned my commission a couple years ago for personal reasons. My undergraduate degree is in history, I have a the usual M.Div. that most seminary-trained clergy have, and I've taken various other classes in the years since my graduation.

Now, on with the show...