Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I'm going on about hermeneutics because literary analysis lies at the heart of the philosophical revolution we call postmodernism. The battle for truth in the Western world is centered in the interpretation of the major documents that have shaped our civilization. The leaders of the postmodern movement took an entirely relativistic approach to our most important writings. And based on their postmodern beliefs, "deconstructed" them. That is they interpreted them as tools for the oppression of women and minorities. In addition, they based their conclusions on two principles. First, the winners get to write the history books, and second, the powerful use their "history" for suppression of minorities and for personal gain. Because postmodernists are deeply relativistic, they deny the very idea of truth, and are left with the cynical view that everything boils down to propaganda.
Postmodernism is nothing less than radical skepticism. And while this is bad enough, it seeks to justify a "might makes right" approach to politics and governance. If the winners get to write the history books, then it is legitimate to pursue positions of power to enable the advancement of one's agenda. After all, our society was constructed to maintain the authority and privilege of white European males. This distorted and deeply cynical understanding of "power" is the reason our major universities have all the studies programs (Gender Studies, LGBT Studies, Native American Studies, etc.). This distortion in the concept of truth (and of political power) does not bode well for the future of American education and thus for American society.
We are already seeing the effect of postmodern thought on law and politics. On law, it is the sense that the law should change with changing social and cultural conditions, thus the acceptance of abortion as a constitutionally protected right and the growing number of judicial decisions favoring gay marriage. In politics it is the emphasis on creating the "narrative" that will enable the party to maintain its hold on power. Because postmodernism denies the concept of absolute truth, it views words not as conveyors of truth but as tools of manipulation and power. In one sense, Barak Obama is the first truly postmodern president. He, and those who support him, believe that if they craft the right message with the most compelling words they can gain and maintain their power. Thus, when the President spoke of "hope," "change," "fairness," and "American values," those words were just expressions of postmodern constructivism (the capacity to construct the meaning of "truth"), and the desire to use words, not to speak truth but to gain and keep power.
I have felt for some time that while existentialism took its cue from the French philosophers, Camus and Sartre, postmodernism is an expression of Nietzsche's will to power. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. in his book, Postmodern Times, describes the difference.
Whereas modern existentialism teaches that meaning is created by the individual, postmodern existentialism teaches that meaning is created by a social group and its language. ..The old existentialists stressed the alienated individual, dignified in lonliness and nonconformity; postmodern existentialism stresses social identity, group-think, and fashion sense. Postmodern existentialism goes back to Nietzsche to emphasize not only will, but power.
The frightening thing about postmodernism is its social dimension; its emphasis on speech codes and politically correct behavior which is unashamedly imposed on the faculty and students of an entire American university. Gene Veith explains, Those who do not believe in truth are more likely, I believe, to lie. Those who believe that moral values are nothing more than the imposition of power may be more likely to use power to suppress thier opposition, whether in politically correct academia or, when they have political power, in acts of tyrrany.
We must be ever vigilant in the defense of truth, God's truth. The great power of the Bible and the reason so many millions have built their lives upon its teachings is that it corresponds to the realities of life and the human condition. The Bible lays out the path to a full and fulfilling life, and protects from destructive behaviors and attitudes. A significant reason that our society has become increasingly dysfunctional is that we have moved so far away from the influence of biblical teaching.
We must regain confidence in truth, and the best definition of truth describes it as that which corresponds with reality. The Bible points us to God and His life changing grace, and every day millions of Christians around the world demonstrate the absolute validity of its teachings. As we walk in faith and obedience we find the truth of the Bible confirmed in our personal experience. As Paul writes, we then become "a letter from Christ"," written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart." (2 Cor. 3:3) The time in which we live demands that we not only declare the truth but that we live the truth.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
On a more serious note, it is important that we take a look at what the President was saying to us in his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas last week. First he was attempting to make income inequality and the lack of income growth among the middle class, "the central issue of our time." Realizing that we are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar our government spends and that we are facing a 15 trillion dollar deficit, I'm not convinced that income inequality is our most pressing problem.
So, what difference does it make if we say income inequality is our biggest challenge? The simple answer is to look at what is happening in Europe. European societies have for many decades pursued egalitarian policies that are today bringing them to the brink of bankruptcy. If we ignore our deficits in the pursuit of a more "just" society we will end up in the same sorry state. In addition, when we examine the actual income levels of the middle class in Europe, we find that their median family income is much lower than ours. Median income in America is $31,000, in France it is $21,000 and in Greece it is $16,000 (Just google, "median family income in the world"). Thus, while Europe has less income disparity, it also has just plain less income. I would submit that there is a direct connection in these statistics, the pursuit of income equality by government policy results in reduced growth and economic vitality and thus lower family incomes. To be honest, I don't think the American people really want to go there.
For the sake for fairness, we need to dig down into the specifics of what the President was proposing to fix the economic problems we face. In his own words, "The future will be bleaker unless we raise taxes on the wealthy and invest in education, science, and infrastructure." His solution begins with collecting more revenue from a tax increase on the top 1%. But notice, the money will not be used to directly reduce the deficit. It will be used to "invest" in three things that he believes will expand the income opportunities of the middle class.
As we can see from these three "investments," the president certainly has a long term view of things, because the first two elements will take a decade before they make an appreciable difference. In the President's scheme of things, this means an increased emphasis on math, science, and training in green technology within our educational system. If this were the 1960's with a much smaller educational burearacracy and a basic curriculum focused on the three "R's" then maybe we could make these changes, today not so much. Notice, in fact, that the President humself understands this because his vehicle for training in green technology are local community colleges, the least politicized of any of our educational institutions. The very idea of giving more money to the financial black hole that is our educational system makes no sense. We spend too much already with no positive results.
His second investment is in science. With Solyndra, Light-Squared, and Solazyne we are seeing this administration's approach to technological and scientific investment. This kind of crony capitalism is a far cry from the traditional use of government funding for basic research. Research which gave us solid state electronics, the laser, and computer chips by the way. This attempt to fund specific projects and companies has simply not worked, from wind farms in Hawaii and California in the 70's to the latest attempts to fund electric car companies. My fear is that the President has many more Solyndras in store for us, and that they will do very little to acheive the desired goal of job creation and a growing economy.
Finally, he wants to invest in infrastructure. Of the three parts this has the most realistic chance of increasing jobs and even median incomes. Like everything else in our culture, it requires specialized labor. The days of handing an out of work retail clerk a shovel as part of a WPA construction project are long gone. Construction work today is contracted and reqires particular skills and training. Take the Keystone pipeline as an example, it will provide great jobs for experienced pipefitters and welders. I heard recently that the average job will pay $70,000. I don't deny that there will be opportunities for welder's helpers and apprentice pipefitters to get a start in the field, but most of the jobs will be for those with the training and experience required to do the work.
In the end, the President's plan won't do much to grow the middle class or reduce the gap between rich and poor. His approach is part of the progressive nostalgia for the New Deal and the space race of the 60's. We face very different challenges today. We must find a solution for the massive unfunded pension and Medicare liabilities we face at the state and federal level. The President, as our leader, is attempting to change the subject and act as if there is no long term deficit problem and we can operate as if government must plan, tax, and "invest" to solve social problems. Well, we can't.
The recession of 2007 and the subsequent slow recovery we are still experiencing four years later, is part of an economic wake-up call that we really can't afford to ignore. Robert Samuelson wrote an important article today in the Washington Post on the dangers of a bond crisis in the face of our massive deficit spending. Remember, we are in a debt crisis. So the only way to end the crisis is to start getting out of debt. We must not allow the President and his party to change the subject and pursue "business as usual" tax and spend policies, particularly for the sake of an invented problem called "income inequality." I'm really not trying to be partisan in saying this. We are facing the gravest economic downturn of our lifetimes, and we need real solutions not populist hyperbole. There is some real hope for answers, just look at what Canada has done in the last 10 years, Sweden as well. We don't have to just take the word of our favorite pundit, countries of the world have actually cut spending, reduced their debt, and restored their economies, and we can too.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
The first question is what does the Bible mean by the "world?" After all, our homes, our communities, and even our families are part of the world in which we live. How do we not love many of the things that are precious to us? Of course, we are assured by pastors and teachers, that those are not the things referred to by the term the "world." John was referring to the world system with its temptations and sins; what would be the equivalent to Christ's warning about "Mammon." The picture they bring to mind is the glitz of Hollywood or the wealth of Wall Street. But is this really what the word means?
Anyone who has read Wink is aware of his political orientation; he is deeply left wing. Despite his politics, his basic point is extremely important. There lies a "power" behind the institutions and structures of society that stands in opposition to God and which seeks to keep us all under its control. And yes, a large part of the world's "control" are the powerful rewards it offers to those who submit to its power. That the Powers have contolled men is undeniable, the only variable is the means they use.
And this brings me to an important related principle. The reason the world has such power over us is related to our nature. We are deeply needy. Years ago, Winkie Pratney gave a wonderful message on the four basic human needs: the need for love, the need for wisdom, the need for significance, and the need to belong. Ultimately those needs can only be fully met by God in our lives. Yet, because of sin we are alienated from God we "look for love (wisdom, etc.) in all the wrong places." The tragic stories of so many people is the result of their seeking to fulfill the deepest needs of their lives by illegitimate means.
The world stands ready to meet and even create needs. In our modern age, such a strategy is seen as the pathway to success. We, thus, "need" the latest product or service that is flashed before our eyes on a daily basis. And we are fed a set of values that justifies the consumer oriented, materistic culture in which we live. It is all, ultimately, a set-up, and that which parades as the source of happiness is really the house of pain and disappointment if we make those things the center of our lives.
To Wink's point, this domination of values and culture is the way the "Powers" rule over the peoples of the earth. It is why we must guard our hearts and keep our minds instructed by the teachings of the word of God. Proverbs 2 speaks of the pursuit of wisdom and understanding that enables discernment. Discernment is the capacity to see beyond the surface of things to be aware of the hidden dangers, both in seeing where it leads and in seeing its true colors. When it comes to the claims of the world upon our lives, all of us desperately need greater discernment.
There is a very real sense in which the world is not a nice place. It is filled with "idols," things that substitute for God and which ultimately lead us far from Him. In Deuteronomy, Moses commanded Israel to "choose life" (Deut. 30:19) and if you read the entire passage, the way they were to choose life is by choosing God, "For the Lord is your life." (Deut. 30:20) To seek life in the things the world promises is to miss life for as Jesus said, "your life does not consist in your possessions."
So how do we choose God rather than "choosing" the world? The Apostle Paul tells us that God ordained the place and habitation of men, "that they might seek for him, though He is not far from any of us." (Acts 17) In other words, we choose God by seeking him, with this caveat, diligently and persistently. With this in mind, I would encourage us all, this Christmas season, to get alone somewhere and think about the meaning and message of Christmas. Considering that God loved you so much that He gave the ultimate Christmas present: His Son, so that you would be rescued from sin and given the gift of eternal life. I can just about guarantee that in that process it will be very clear to you that God really is near. And as the song says, "The things of earth will go strangely dim..." as you commune with God. Doing this on a regular basis is one of the means by which we put the world in its place and keep our focus on God.
It would seem to me that we must keep our needs and the rewards of the world in their proper perspective. Looking at what Jesus said in Matthew 7, "For your Father knows that you need all these things..." Our first priority must be to pursue God, and allow Him to add all the other things.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Don't get me wrong, there is a growing gap between rich and poor in our society, and the middle class is losing ground, but it is not a vast conspiracy of the super rich to take all our money. The problem with these types of populist fantasies is that they mis-diagnose the problem with the result that we apply the wrong solutions that not only don't solve the problem, they in many cases, make it worse.
In the context of the challenges we face, and in particular, the need for deficit reduction, the Occupy Wall Street controversy is a massive distraction. In terms of the long term needs of our society, income disparity is way down the list of things we need to change. Some would argue that OWS is dealing with the deficit problem because it wants to increase the taxes the wealthy pay and thus reduce the gap in income between rich and poor while also reducing the budget deficit.
The problem with this option is that it doesn't actually solve the central problem. We are borrowing 40% of what our government presently spends, thus we are dramatically increasing our deficit with every passing day. We are increasing our deficit by 1.4 trillion dollars this year alone. Trying to bring the rich down a notch by reducing the amount of their earned income, will not even begin to address the problem we face.
In addition, this recession has hurt everyone, rich included. Veronique de Rugy, an economist at George Mason University, gleaned from IRS statistics that there were 392,220 people in America who earned over one million dollars in 2007 (pre-recession) and they paid 27.8% of all U.S. income taxes (they were 0.1% of the population). By 2009 (height of the recession) there were 233,435 people who earned over one million dollars. That is a 40% decrease in the number of people who would be considered the "super-rich" Worse, and because their numbers were reduced, they only paid 20.3% of the nation's income taxes. In other words, a great deal of the rhetoric associated with OWS does not reflect the reality of our economic crisis. And, a 40% decrease in the number of millionaires implies that the recession has done a pretty good job, all by itself, in bringing the rich down a notch or two.
Further, this reduction in the number of people in the highest income brackets is a consequence of the shrinking and continued stagnation of our economy. If we do not figure out how to get our economy growing again, we can only expect that there will be fewer ultra-wealthy for us to raise taxes on, and our problems will only get worse. They will get worse because we have one of the most progressive tax policies in the world. The upper-middle class (those earning 10% of the nation's income) pay 70% of all income taxes. The lower-middle class and below) either pay no income taxes (47% of American income earners pay no income taxes) and for many of the working poor, with tax credits they receive unearned income from the federal government amounting to a negative income tax.
We need to get brutally honest with ourselves. We cannot continue to operate our government on borrowed money, especially since we have reduced our tax base to 53% of earners. In addition, we cannot put the burden of the majority of government funding on only 10% of the population. We will end up creating one of the situations that produced the economic crisis in Greece; tax avoidance. To be honest, it is already going on here. Many small businesses and individuals are practicing different tax avoidance methods such as barter and cash only transactions. For the super-wealthy and corporations, tax avoidance is easy. They just off-shore the money, they put the money in tax shelters, or they find clever ways to avoid having to declare the income as income. It is this capacity for tax avoidance that accounts for the fact that even when the highest income tax bracket exceeded 70% of declared income, the government never took in more than 19% of annual GDP in taxes. This 19% of GDP is the historic norm for annual income tax revenue in the U.S. for the last 50 years. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can tax the rich to reduce our deficits and solve our economic problems, including the problem of increasing income inequality.
We must deal with the long-term liabilities we face as a nation. We are not far away from the day when all of our tax revenues will go to pensions and health care for retirees particularly on the local level. When Bob Frum, as partisan a Democrat as I know of, cautions his party to not be overly excited about the overturn of the law in Ohio to end public sector union bargaining rights because the problem of unfunded public pension funds still exists, and the most egregious examples of pension abuse arise with the groups garnering the most sympathy, the public safety workers (police, fire fighters, and prison guards). In other words, the day of reckoning will soon be upon us and the party that has ignored and even worsened the problem will face the ire of the voting public (as they should).
The long-term liability problem is the main reason why we are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend in government. Our first priority must be to reduce and eventually eliminate our deficit spending, and there is only one realistic way to do that. We must reduce overall government spending. Even in the best of economic times, even with the highest conceivable tax rates (income, capital gains, & inheritance taxes), we have never received more than 20% of our GDP in tax revenues. Logic tells us, that the only realistic answer to the deficit problem is to bring federal spending in line with federal tax revenues. Since we only take in an historic average of 19% of GDP in revenue, we must design our government programs so we only spend 19% of GDP to sustain them (We are presently spending 24% of GDP while the recession has dramatically reduced tax revenues to 15% of GDP).
The counter argument is always that we need to spend this much and more to care for the poor and the elderly, to improve our infrastructure, to invest in green technology, and to create a public health care system that is comparable to the other nations in the developed world. The conservative response cannot be that we don't need to do those things, but that we need to do them in such a way they actually achieve the goal, and are affordable and sustainable.
Many of the problems we face are deep and systemic, and have little to do with the amount of money we spend on them. Take my pet peeve, education in America. We spend more per capita on education than almost any society on earth, yet we are well down the list in the rankings of educational results. We are spending obscene amounts of money for a system of public schools that are failing our children. Worse, we have been aware of this problem for several decades and nothing gets fixed. For example, the solution of the 90's and into the 00's was accountability and measurable results - thus No Child Left Behind and standardized test scores for grade levels. The results have been less than helpful. We must acknowledge that these problems don't lend themselves to bureaucratic solutions, and so, we are wasting vast amounts of money to maintain an ineffective educational bureaucracy. It should not surprise us to hear large numbers of Americans calling for the abolition of the Department of Education.
Many of us on the conservative side of the ledger see reducing government spending as a no-brainer. The standard argument of the other side is to emphasize all the well intentioned purposes of government programs, not only to justify the continued investment but to prevent any and all reductions. The question will only finally be resolved, when all of us, liberal and conservative, come to see the perils we face, and arrive at some level of agreement as to the sacrifices we will need to make to escape them. In many ways, this recession is a foretaste of the time when we all must face up to the consequences of our reckless economic policies. We speak of kicking the can down the road, there will come a day when we no longer face a can, but the edge of a cliff.
Monday, August 22, 2011
While it's not readily apparent, they are connected, they both arise from our current view of our world and of ourselves. The legacy of the Enlightenment is that a large number of people in the Western world believe we live in a world shaped entirely by natural forces. The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell explained where this belief takes us,
That man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving that his origin, his growth, his hopes, his fears, his loves, and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all devotions, all inspiration, all the noon day brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins-all these things, if not beyond dispute, are, yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the foundation of unyielding despair can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built. (Bertrand Russell, A Free Man's Worship)
Ideas affect the way we live, and this idea has deeply impacted modern Western culture. Russell is expressing the logical conclusion of the enlightenment. If the religious beliefs of mankind are the product of the superstitious imagination of pre-scientific men, and the assured result of 300 years of scientific research is that matter and material forces are the only reality, then we are left with the world that Bertrand Russell describes. It is a world devoid of significance and meaning. Russell is not alone in his deductions, most of the art, philosophy, and music of the twentieth century were a reflection of his "unyielding despair." All one has to do is read Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or visit a modern art gallery or listen to a composition by John Cage to see the loss of hope and faith in the modern world.
There is a term for this philosophy of nothingness, it is called nihilism. The goal of the enlightenment was unlimited human freedom. But to achieve this end it had to kick God off the stage of human history, the unintended consequence of this rebellion is the elimination of every sustaining influence for good, including freedom, in the world. We are left with (according to Richard Dawkins) only the illusion of a human soul and so, "free will," our sense of control over our thoughts, actions, goals, and our conscience is only our brain playing tricks on us. We are, thus, reduced to a short life span in a meaningless universe, in which all of our thoughts and acts are attributed to stimulus-response mechanisms. A more cynical view of human nature could hardly be imagined.
It seems to me that nihilism has arisen as the unintended consequence of the desire for purely secular societies. In a nihilist world, there are only two options: pure hedonism or existentialism. The vast majority, and that includes those who have no idea of the philosophical principles behind it, have embraced hedonism. The riots in London and Philadelphia are part of the breakdown of decency, honesty, and concern for others (and their property) that accompany an "anything goes" culture. The world of Jersey Shore is a classic example of the nihilism of modern youth culture. It is "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die," lived out for all to see. This is essentially cultural child abuse, as we leave our children without faith and therefore without hope.
There is no future for a generation that embraces the non-values of nihilism. It is definitely one of my fears that as the "nones" grow more numerous (15% of our youth now mark "none" for any religious affiliation and it is projected to become 20-25% in the next decades) we will be ill prepared as a nation for the many challenges we will face in this new century. The response to austerity by the youth of London (Europe is way ahead of us in the influence of secularism) was definitely not re-assuring.
We talk a great deal about the importance of education, but if we aren't teaching our kids the right things then education is not the solution, it becomes part of the problem. So, if our goal is to promote secularism through education then we are really promoting the worldview of "unyielding despair" that Russell describes. By the way, Christians are often accused of seeking to "impose" their values on society. But whose values are actually being forced upon us through the classroom, in the media, through the courts, and by legislation? Just look at what is deemed illegal; prayer, Bible reading, the posting of the Ten Commandments, even Christmas trees, and then tell us what is being imposed upon whom. A high school calculus teacher was recently ordered to remove banners from the classroom that declared, "In God we trust," and "All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with these inalienable rights..." We are sending a very loud message to our children, religion is illegal, even harmful. We are no longer neutral, we have made secularism the politically correct worldview of Western culture.This is where evolution comes into the picture. I argue in my book that naturalism and therefore secularism are built upon the theory of evolution. Without evolution they can not have a naturalistic and atheistic explanation of life and mankind. The approach the educators, judges, and leaders of our society have taken is that the science is "settled" and the only acceptable answer to our origin is evolution. But what if the science isn't "settled," and this is another example of the abuse of science for the sake of ideology and poltical control?
At the heart of the secular worldview is the philosophy of naturalism. Naturalism, the way it has come to be defined today, excludes any and all spiritual forces or causes. God is eliminated from any explanation of the universe by definition. According to Naturalism, if you say that God created the world you are being unscientific and by implication irrational and superstitious. This is the central argument used to justify the exclusion of any alternative to the teaching of evolution in our classrooms. This is primarily a political strategy rather than an attempt to promote science and scientific education. And this brings us to Gov. Perry's comments about global warming and the teaching of evolution.
We live in an era in which science has been politicized, because science is used to support ideological (political) agendas. Evolution is the first and foremost example of this phenomena. A naturalistic explanation of the world in which we live is impossible without the theory of evolution. I wondered for years why evolution was so irrationally defended, why so many scientists would ignore or deny the weaknesses in the theory and the lack of any direct evidence of the types of macroevolutionary change that should be crucial to establish the theory. Instead they rely upon hypothetical explanations, and establishing the cause (evolution) by observing its effects (geological column, fosil record, and DNA patterns). But none of these things come close to answering the crucial questions that would normally be required of a scientific theory. We have no realistic explanation for most, if not all, of the great mysteries of the origin of life, of DNA, or of the internal structure of the cell. So why is evolution so fiercely defended? It is because without evolution the only option is God and creation. And, more importantly, without evolution there is no justification for imposing a purely secular ideology upon society.
This brings us back to Bertrand Russell, and the fact that this is not a "so what" question, this goes to the core of who we are as human beings. And, I am not arguing that we should adopt a religious view of reality in order to "feel good" about ourselves and our place in the world. I do not want us to believe in fairy tales. My belief in God is based in both reason and experience. I have a bachelor's degree in physics and my scientific education has only strengthened my conviction that a personal creator God is the only reasonable explanation for the clear evidence of design in nature. I am convinced, based on probability theory and other relevant facts, that all the billions of creatures, organs, and organisms on earth could not have developed by a purely accidental process. In my book, I cite the example given by David Attenborough of the development of flight in insects. But flight would require at least three things to all occur at the same time: wings (with proper weight, shape, and strucure), fatigue resistant muscles, and pattern of wing movement that provided lift and didn't just fan the air. I know, evolutionists claim all these things developed slowly over thousands of years. But it seems hard to imagine how all those crucial elements could have developed gradually and added to the survival capability of the creatures involved.Stephen Jay Gould, one of the most well known biologists of our time, wrote a book in which he attempted to deal with the inordinate probability of life arising by accident. His point was that, as low as the probability is for the accidental development of life, earth "won the lottery." His argument would be valid if the origin of life and evolution were a single event, and in this single instance we got incredibly lucky. However, we must account for billions of events that are restrained by levels of probability so low they each make the odds of winning the powerball look like a sure thing. In other words, evolution requires that we get "lucky" not just once but billions of times.
My career has also taken me into the realm of theology and philosophy, and here I find God the only reasonable explanation for human personality and conscience. Naturalism is, of necessity, reductionistic. It must reduce everything to chemical processes and stimulus-response mechanisms. But this leaves no room for the personal and there is nothing more obvious to human observation than that we are personal beings. All attempts to see human beings as machines to be programmed or animals to be trained has rightly been rejected as de-humanizing. A major part of the counter-culture of the 60's was a rejection of this mechanistic and reductionistic view of mankind. For this reason I am convinced that the only rational explanation for human nature is that we are the creation of a personal God.
Finally, I became a Christian in my sophomore year in college. I had a personally undeniable conversion experience. In all the years since, my belief has only been strengthened by the answers to prayer and the ways that God has made Himself known to me. And, I am not alone in my experience. As a teacher in a Christian college, I have heard the stories and seen the fruit of God's work in hundreds of people's lives. It is the undeniable reality of His presence in the world that accounts for the fact that the vast majority of Americans believe in a personal God.
The bottom line is that we must acknowledge that the enlightenment picture of reality is incorrect. Part of the reason we can assume it is not true is that it must operate in denial and intimidation in order to maintain its dominance of Western society. Further, secularism doesn't work. I am not calling for a theocracy or imposing religious education on our kids. What I am asking for is the simple common sense approach taken by American society prior to the 1960's and an end to the war against Christianity being waged in the name of secularism. Our nation was founded in the pursuit of both faith and freedom, what we have proven in our 200 years of existence is that the two are related. If we would continue to be a free people we must leave room for faith.
Monday, July 4, 2011
The problem with postmodernism is that it is taking us to places we were never meant to go, such as the redefinition of marriage, of gender roles, and even of gender and personal identity. We are left with a situation where people, and most often the younger among us, must decide who or even what they are at an entirely unprecedented level. It was hard enough being a teenager in my generation, but I cannot imagine what so many kids face today. They must not only decide on a career path and the education required, they have to figure out if they are gay or straight, a man or a woman. And in case you think I'm making this up, the website Mercatornet.com posted an article this May by Mary Hasson about the growing level of gender confusion in the Western world. Boston Children's Hospital has a "Gender Management Clinic" where they give children as young as 9 years old hormones to prevent normal sexual development in puberty. The perverse reason for this is so that their subsequent sex change operation will be less difficult. As the article reported, these clinics (there are several in the world) aren't there to help confused kids and their parents but to advance their transsexual agenda. The victims of this agenda will pay a terrible price in this attempt to redefine human nature. Ms. Hasson makes the important point that an adolescent or pre-adolescent is in no place to decide on something so catastrophic to their future, such as, everyone who undergoes these kinds of sex change operations are rendered sterile. The door of family and offspring are closed to them. Not to mention the emotional damage of reaching an adult perspective on their teen or pre-teen emotions.
This tragedy is a consequence of the loss of the moral compass and standards of the Judeo-Christian system and the belief in Natural Law. In reality, these principles are built in to human nature and human society and to ignore them is to invite diaster. In the 1950's Dr. Spock wrote his famous book on child raising. My parents along with millions of other parents raised the 60's generation following his advice. His advice then; go easy on discipline, it will only stifle the child's creativity and development. In the 70's, as he looked on the consequences of his advice, he recanted and admitted that he had been wrong. As he put it, "I have helped to raise a generation of spoiled brats." In other words, we ignore Biblical values at our peril. In many ways, the Bible is "owners manual" for humanity, and in rejecting its teachings we are endangering people's lives.
We have come to believe that we can change our very natures because we have lost our moral and rational moorings. As the Bible says, "Professing to be wise, we have become fools." We have abandonded much of the wisdom of the ages, wisdom that protected human happiness and fostered the values of peaceful and prosperous societies. We have abandonded wisdom because we followed the pied pipers of academia, whose postmodern assumptions led them to abandon wisdom and truth in the process of "deconstructing" Western values. One of the great dangers of the intellectual life is the belief that one's learning gives one the authority to impose one's obviously correct views on everyone else. Our universities are filled with large numbers of agenda driven intellectuals (To be fair, there are also many fine teachers, who truly seek to pass on the accurate and relevant understanding of their field to their students).
The bottom line is that we must take what comes out of the intellectual centers of our society with a grain of salt. Because of the influence of postmodernism, I expect that a professor from Yale or Berkley will be spouting dangerous nonsense. We must ground our own thinking in the Word of God and in the moral and spiritual wisdom that is being so quickly abandoned by our society. This is what Jesus meant by describing us as the light of the world. My fear is that as the influence of postmodernism grows it will envelop more and more of the church, and more and more of the "dangerous nonsense" that emenates from it will be brought into the church. It is already happening, "Christian" books are already being written that promote the nonsense. We, as followers of Jesus, must stand our ground.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
I begin with the central fallacy behind their claim that they are the party of the middle class. Writers on their side such as Frank Rich and Robert Reich claim that Republican tax policy is responsible for the growing separation between rich and poor in our society and thus for the financial set back suffered by the middle class. Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone Magazine wrote, "The last ten years or so you have seen the government send massive amounts of money to people in the top tax brackets, mainly through two methods: huge tax cuts and financial bailouts."
Notice the chosen word "send" in regard to government activities. First, the government doesn't send money through taxation, it takes it. Taxation is legal confiscation that we agree to for the common good and the rule of law. One of the significant problems in Greece today is that the level of taxation has risen to such an outrageous level that a vast number of wealthy Greeks feel justified practicing tax evasion. At some point, raising taxes in any nation is counter productive as people take steps to protect what they have earned. In our own society, the use of tax shelters, off-shore investments, and other forms of legal tax evasion have been the means by which tax revenues rarely rise above 19% of GDP no matter the tax rate.
Why is the left so concerned about how much the wealthy pay in taxes? Is it merely an issue of "that's where the money is" or is something else behind this concern? Notice that when they speak of the issue they often appeal to "fairness." The rich must pay their fair share or raising the capital gains tax is the fair thing to do. But the wealthiest 1% provide 40% (they earn 24% of the nation's income) of the revenue from income taxes now. They are already paying far more than their "share" of the expenses of government. Looking at this statistic one must ask, what does the left mean by the word "fair?"
Closely related to fairness is the notion of leveling. We often hear of the need to "level the playing field," what they appear to mean by that is the profits and incomes of the top earners need to be brought down so the incomes of the poor and middle class can be brought up. But if we expect the government to do the "leveling" we asking for the redistribution of income and a process that contradicts traditional American economic values. So, it mystifies me how tax policy can have anything significant to do with restoring the middle class. It seems, rather, an act of class warfare and an attempt to bring rich people down a notch or two.
To relate this to middle class values, both my father and my grandfather were small business men. They reflected one of the central values of the middle class; self-reliance. They literally hated the idea of getting something they didn't earn or deserve, and government charity was at the top of the list. The very idea that we should sustain the income level of the middle class by redistribution of income from the wealthy, the "spread the wealth around" statement by President Obama, is an utter contradiction of middle class values.
Further, while government does have an important role in society, much of what is does is counterproductive. One of the great frustrations of the middle class is that their taxes are squandered for programs that don't work, for an educational system that never seems to improve, and for a welfare system that is incapable of dealing with the root causes of poverty and thus only perpetuates the problem. It is the middle class, by the way that pays the tax bills, they and the wealthy provide 97% of government revenues. So explain to me again, how the party of big government is also the party of the middle class.
The irony is that enlightenment philosophy, the philosophy that drives so much of liberal ideology today, is radically opposed to what many call, "middle class values." Among those values are life-long marriage, the work ethic, the traditional family, the importance of religious faith, the moral and spiritual education of children, thrift and savings, and charitable giving. Just about every one of those values (except possibly savings and charitable giving) are under attack today from the very party that claims to be the party of the middle class. Because of this obvious animosity to what are core values for my family and I it is very difficult for me to take the claims of the Democratic Party seriously. They may be concerned about income inequality and the economic difficulties facing the middle class, but their solutions and policies end up not helping because they end up weakening the very principles and freedoms that produced the American middle class in the first place. For the middle class, with friends like the democrats, they don't need enemies.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Dr. Harris, as a member of the new atheists, is deeply antagonistic toward organized religion. His organization, Project Reason is established to spread secular values and oppose organized religion. His book on morality is an attempt to both provide a secular, scientific, and rational basis for moral values and to refute the view that religion is necessary to provide morals and give meaning to human life.
He actually creates something of a strawman argument when he speaks of the issue. He states that Christians teach that a person can't be moral without belief in God. Actually the Bible says the opposite. Paul tells us that Gentiles (those with a wrong concept of God or no concept of God) instinctively follow the moral principles of God's law, because it is "written on their hearts." (Rom. 3:16) This notion, that morality is built-in to human nature, lies at the foundation of the principle of natural law and Christian ethics. For this reason, an atheist not only can be moral, he/she actually wants to be moral. It is one of the ironies that escapes Dr. Harris, his argument against God and Christianity is grounded in his moral sensibility (Religion is the source of war, evil, and oppression in the world), yet he has no explanation for how an entirely amoral, natural process such as evolution could have produced these moral inclinations in man. It's not that they don't try, which explains much of what the book is really about.
The moral system of the book is built upon classical utilitarianism, which holds that morals is about creating or protecting well being for the largest number and likewise, avoiding pain and suffering for as many as possible. Utilitarianism has two serious problems that has been demonstrated in its use in human history. The first is that it's logic tends to de-value the individual in the debate over good and evil. The well being of an individual (or a few individuals) is not as important as the well being of the larger community. This results in two problems, first, if you are not one of the lucky ones who is part of the "larger community" you get to be the sufferer. In other words, it leads to justifying the elimination or exclusion of those not fortunate enough to be the greater number. Second, it endorses a moral reductionism. Immorality is bad for very pragmatic reasons, it harms society or makes it difficult for people to trust one another, rather than because it is just wrong. So, in the extreme, drugs might be considered wrong because of the harm they do to communities but not because of the harm they inflict on the individuals who take them.
The danger in any attempt to create a rational foundation for morality is that human beings are much too good at rationalization. We are wonderful excuse makers and at using our minds for all types of self-justification. Look at the response of most politicians when they are exposed and accused of wrong doing. It is always some form of "I'm innocent of all charges." The larger problem with utilitarianism is that it is too easily set aside and rationalized or worse, twisted into the justification of actions that are both evil and deeply harmful. As a case in point, I would simply direct you to eugenics and the forced sterilization of thousands of people in the 1930's in the name of science and utilitarian moral principles.
The danger in invoking science and reason in morality is that these have no transcendent foundation. They are based on limited human knowledge and experience. We are too short sighted to understand the good or the bad of chosen behaviors or lifestyles. Only decades later, after we have weakened the institution of marriage, do we discover the damage the arises from no-fault divorce and single parent households.
Worse, since the enlightenment, we have rejected much of what human society assumed to know from history and thousands of years of human experience. We think we can change the rules about marriage and the family simply because we are so advanced, but in doing so, we are not acting reasonably, we are rationalizing. I believe that later generations will look back at our time as a time of outrageous arrogance. As we have sought to create a "new" morality that is really the old immorality, and that will, in the end, not acheive the greatest good for the greatest number, but will produce massive damage to the majority that always ends up following the cultural pied pipers.
Our own society was not founded on utilitarianism, even though it was a powerful concept that emerged from the enlightenment. We value the individual and we seek to protect minority rights. As we state in the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." Many have argued that we were not (or were) established as a "Christian" nation, and I would be one who would say that we were not in the direct and intentional sense. The founders understood that we were religiously diverse, even at the end of the eighteenth century. They wanted a free and just society open to all, but founded upon Christian principles. There is no question that in regard to the value of individual and the importance of a transcendent moral structure for society, that they were influenced by Christianity and not by the enlightenment thinking of their day. For not only do they invoke the importance of the individual, they invoke "inalienable rights" these rights are not given by the state or by society at large, they are inherent rights based upon an inate structure of right and wrong built into the universe itself.
Based on the success of the great American experiment, one could assume that a transcendent view of morality gives better results and fits human nature far better than the innovations of utilitarianism. Like so many attempts to create a secular and rational morality this latest attempt by Dr. Harris crashes into the rocks of human fallibility. We are Romans 7 creatures, "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." (Rom. 7:18) Not only do we need a set of transcendent moral values, we need the grace of God to keep them.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The collapse of the family among the poor-powerfully propelled by the ethic of social democracy and by a horrendously designed welfare system that was not improved until the 1990's-has vastly worsened social and economic inequality in America, and the capacity of generations to rise out of poverty.
Walter Russell Mead puts it in even more graphic terms.
The failure of the blue social model to solve the problems of the underclass in American inner cities was one of the great tragedies of the last thirty years. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent; tens of millions of lives remained blighted, and a culture of violence, degradation, and despair has taken hold among some of our society's most vulnerable and needy people.
We have spent vast amounts of money on programs and policies that simply have not worked as we had hoped. Mead, who is a self-declared Democrat, believes that there have certainly been benefit from all that money and effort. In other words, the "blue social model" was not a total waste of money and effort. The anti-poverty programs and affirmative action has helped produced a large and increasing Black middle class and beyond. One need only read Barak and Michelle Obama's stories to see the positive effect he is talking about.
But the tragedy of the story is that these individuals are the exception to our approach to social progress. Looking closely, in fact, we see many of the influences of family and friends that kept the Obamas from being swallowed up by the vast malaise that accompanied the welfare world.
So, why are we spending yet more trillions to perpetuate this failed model of public assistance? In the debate over the budget, can we begin to talk about results and not just about intentions. Part of the reason we are in this mess is that the politicians have told us we need this or that program for the "poor," for "children," or for "education," without telling us how it was going to actually solve the underlying problems. Worse, there has been no accountability for the failure of these programs, nor a demand that they be fundamentally changed from within the political class. Criticism and demand for change have come from outside government, and thus have little power to change the model. And political correctness prevents the types of faith based, family and church oriented approaches from even being considered.
The problem extends to our assumptions about health care (we forget that the current health insurance connected to employment model is the result of government intervention), taxation, and entitlements. We claim to be caring for the middle class and the elderly while never asking if what we are doing will actually help based on real life example and experience. This becomes particularly important because Europe has already operated on many of the same assumptions we are using with horrendous results. Whether we look at Greece, Spain, or even Great Britain, we see that the social democratic welfare model cannot be sustained. To solve this problem, Sweden, for example, has already adopted some of the elements included in the Ryan budget plan, such as vouchers for education and health care and stands as a real time demonstration that they actually work. And Canada has dramatically improved its economy by a strong commitment to deficit elimination and ongoing fiscal responsibility.
As we face the upcoming battle over the budget and as we approach the 2012 elections, we must keep in mind that business as usual and the old political assumptions cannot be allowed to continue. This is not just about deficit reduction, it is about ending failed policies and approaches. It will not be easy, there are a great many entrenched interests that will fight to maintain their positions of power and priviledge. Just look at what happened to Michelle Rhee and Gov. Scott Walker when they attacked the status quo. We must prepare ourselves for a long and difficult battle, but we must also keep before us that we are fighting for the very future of our society as a bastion of prosperity, freedom, and goodness. May we declare with our patriot forefathers, "We have only begun to fight."
Friday, January 14, 2011
Roger Simon on the Politico blog states the dilemma for moral relativism. On January 18 he wrote, "In modern times, are we embarassed by the term 'evil?' To some it seems too primitive or too religious or both." Yet, what else can we call the heinous acts of that day? And yes, evil is a religous issue.
This act reveals the monstrous capacity for evil in the human heart. While the murderer appears to have been severely mentally disturbed, insanity does not adequately explain the cruel inhumanity of his actions. As the facts of the case unfolded, I was often comparing this act of murder by a madman with the similar mass murder of men, women, and children in a public place by a suicide bomber. Mass murder can be rational or irrational, it is still murder.
Evil exists as a fearful reality in our world. We are confronted with its horrors every day. The death of a child at the hands of a molestor, death and dis-memberment of rivals by drug war lords in Mexico, or a car bomb blowing up a church in Baghdad are just some examples of the tragic events that fill our daily news broadcasts. There is no escaping the awareness of this monstrous reality.
The murders in Tucson were different in one aspect however. They gave us a glimpse of the sinister nature of evil. Who can forget the look on Jared Loughner's mug shot. It is almost enough to convince one of evil as a transcendent or metaphysical reality. Or to put it in biblical terms, to convince one of the demonic. The kind of evil displayed by these murders is inhuman, as beyond human. Dostoyevsky is said to have described the transcendent nature of human evil. It is un-natural, in that it cannot be explained just by the fulfillment of natural appetites, it goes beyond nature. As he wrote, "To call human evil 'bestial' is to insult the beasts, for no beast was ever as cruel as a man."
The existence of evil in the world is often used as an argument against God. Yet no system of thought or belief whether religious or non-religious deals as clearly and honestly with the existence of evil as Christianity. I would put Isaiah 59 up against any explanation for the existence of evil in the world. Particularly since it declares that our God does not just "explain" evil, He has acted to end its reign. "Now the Lord saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. And He saw that there was no man, and he was astonished that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him." God was not only disturbed by the evil in the world, He sent His Son and did something about it. Christ came, He bore our evil in all its monstrous cruelty on the cross, and by His death and resurrection liberated us from its power.
In the midst of the terrible evil of that day, there shone the light of faith. I was deeply moved by testimony of the parents of Christina-Taylor Green, as they expressed their conviction that their daughter was in heaven. And of Dorwan Stoddard who shielded his wife and died protecting her, confident of the reality of everlasting life through faith in Christ.
Evil is real but it will not have the final say. Even in the midst of such a tragedy we saw another transcendent presence: faith, hope, and love. May we display some measure of the courage, the faith, and love that were manifested on that day of infamy. And may we draw near to the God whose grace was present on that day and whose love is available to all who who will put their trust in Him.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Relativism is affecting the church too. A recent American Thinker article stated that 64% of Christians believe there are no absolute truths (some say it's 91% of Christian youth). In addition, a recent Barna survey declared that 50% of Christians no longer believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches.
This does not bode well for the future of the church or our society. We are as Jesus said, "salt," but if we lose our saltiness how do we have any beneficial impact on our world? Even worse, we are losing our kids. Just last year, an alarming prediction was made that the size of the evangelical church in Americal will shrink by 1/2 in the next several decades, and most of the shrinkage will take place within the next generation.
The reduction of Christian influence upon our culture will have drastic consequences. It will become more dysfunctional and even dangerous as we turn away from the core values of our civilization in the pursuit of a hedonistic utopia. The problem with utopias is that they are imaginary, they cannot exist in the real world because the basic assumptions upon which the utopia is built do not match reality. Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union fell under the weight of its hypocrisy. It's promise of a worker's paradise was founded upon a false view of human nature and economics; it didn't "fit" the world we actually live in and crumbled in a heap of contradictions.
There is only one antidote for this poison; the truth. And yes, truth actually exists. One of the goals of my seminar is to defend the core values that flow from the Bible, not in some type of political defense of my personal point of view, but out of a concern for the loss of benefit that arises when we fail to adjust our decisions in life to the brute facts of reality. The reason that I am deeply convinced that absolute truth exists, is that I see the consequences of its disregard every day. Our present educational crisis is not primarily a crisis in what we teach our children but more a crisis in the things we assume about their character and nature, and thus our assumptions about how they are to be treated in the educational process. I am certainly no expert in education, but looking at the current rank of American schools in global education standards, one must assume that many of our approaches such as enhancing self-esteem, and emphasizing diversity have not led to improved results. Those methods were based upon both a rejection of the former Judeo-Christian assumptions about human nature and the assumption of enlightenment utopian beliefs that have now been shown to be counter-productive. Truth is real, and denying it only leads to tragic consequences.
The Bible tells us that judgment begins with the household of God. In other words, Christians must first deal with the issues of sin and unbelief before they can turn and speak to the outside world. Thus, any attempt to deal with the influence of relativism must begin with the encroachment of relativism in the church.
None of this encroachment has taken place at the official or formal level. You will never hear a "relativistic" sermon from an evangelical pulpit. The encroachment has taken place at the personal and private level of individual Christian lives. All of us who follow Jesus are confronted by all the same pressures and influences of our deeply secular society that have produced the terrible confusion of our time. So, while every church publicly stands on the authority of Scripture and its teachings, many of the members don't in the recesses of their own personal convictions. This contradiction cannot remain hidden, it is already breaking out in things like the emerging church movement and the lack of church growth in the West. It stands behind the predictions of shrinkage in the next decades. The reason given for the shrinkage is that we have not given our children sufficient understanding for their faith to survive the arguments and attacks of secularism and relativism. We have not taught them how to defend the Bible or the historic doctrines of the Christian faith in the face of the increasing opposition we see in our culture. And, we have not taught them (nor has public education) the basic history, wisdom, and logic that stands behind Western civilization.
In a nutshell, then, my hope is to be able to speak to these issues in Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and week night services in any churches that will have me. I've already developed a powerpoint and many pages of notes, along with all the material I've accumulated in teaching apologetics and writing a book on apologetics in the past 19 years. I've given a title to the material, "Why Belief Matters," and I hope to get going on this as soon as possible. If anyone is interested in having me speak or teach in your church on this vital topic, please contact me by email, facebook, or through this blog. May we work diligently to enable a "yes" answer to the Lord's question while He walked the earth, "When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)