Saturday, August 11, 2012

The "Crazy" Meme

One of the strategies of the Left in this election cycle is to paint their opponents, whether the Tea Party or social conservatives, as "crazy." So what are the specifics of this charge? Are we really off our rocker in our desire for smaller, more effective, and less intrusive government? And, does wanting to see our deeply held values reflected in our nation's policies make us certifiably insane?

First, they seem to be saying that we're crazy because we want to reduce taxes. Conservatives are accused of following the insane demands of Grover Norquist, and thus are really and truly nuts. The irony is that it would be hard to find, in the land of poltics, a more soft-spoken, articulate, and rational defender of his positions than Grover Norquist. As he says repeatedly, the problem with our economy is not that taxes are too low, but that government spending is too high. And he has the statistics and facts to back it up. Listening to the man you see that he is anything but a raving demagogue, he is a man devoted to solving one of the greatest problems facing our society: excessive government spending that will produce deficits and debts that will be all consuming and destroy our economy.

The essence of the Democratic argument against the Republicans and the Tea Party is that they only want to reduce taxes for the rich and thus increase the deficit while destroying the middle class.  But those of us on the conservative side of this argument don't see lowering taxes as our primary purpose, our concern is out of control government spending and utterly ineffective government bureauracracy. We are sick of seeing our taxes wasted on programs and projects that don't work. We really want some measure of accountability and the possiblity of reforming or eliminating counter-productive government programs.

Call me crazy, but which of the competing political parties is addressing the existential threat facing our econmy, and which is living in the denial of "business as usual"? For over a decade, David Walker, the former comptroller of the U.S., has been warning us of the dangers of our ballooning deficits and growing entitlement obligations. The only party that is seeking to find a workable solution to this pending disaster are those wacky Republicans.

So many of the impediments to economic growth that we are facing today are tied to the size and scope of government, as well as with how much money our government spends (40% of which is borrowed). From George W. Bush's attempt to reform Social Security to Paul Ryan's plan to bring Medicare and Medicaid costs under control, it is the Democrats who are refusing to cooperate in finding a way out of our debt and deficit crisis. They claim, of course, that they want a "balanced" approach to deficit reduction, which means they want to raise taxes on wealthy Americans. The problem is, they have no plan, or even intention, for reducing spending and reforming entitlements. There is no equivalent to a Paul Ryan or David Walker on the Left. In past years, we had serious statemen such a Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Evan Bayh among the Democrats willing to tackle the serious social and economic problems we face. Even Bill Clinton demonstrated an understanding of these serious problems and was willing to work with the Republican congress in his second term to make progress in balancing the budget, reducing investment taxes, and enabling economic growth. I see no one on the blue side of the aisle that is willing to propose a serious solution to our debt, deficit, and unsustainable entitlements. Just look at what the Democratic governors of California and Illinois are doing in response the terrible economic condition of their states, they seem to have no capacity for thinking outside the progressive box.

The crazy meme is part of the strategy of the Left to demagogue its oponents rather than engage in a real debate over the issues of the day. It's almost as if, the liberal mindset assumes that anything the Right is concerned about can't actually be a problem. It is a symptom of the level of disregard liberalism shows toward anyone and anything Conservative. The Left really is convinced that its intentions are so noble and egalitarian that to oppose them means you no sense of decency. It is this sense, that their opponents are evil and not just wrong, that justifies their desire to silence, outlaw, and eliminate those on the other side. Chick-fil-A is just the latest rendition of this strategy. It also contributes to their unwillingness to seriously engage with Conservatives on the issues of the day, after all, those Republicans are crazy.

We heard lots of talk about bi-partisanship in the 2008 election season, but now, not so much. It still stands as an important part of the process, we really must find solutions that have broad political and public support. There is a reason the Affordable Care Act received no Republican support, it included nothing that expressed their deeply held concerns about rising health care costs nor were any of their proposals such as tort reform, health savings accounts, and true insurance reform included in the legislation.

We have become so polarized that the only way for a political party to get its agenda passed, is to gain control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency. The Democrats set this pace beginning in 2006 and culminating with the election of Barak Obama in 2008. I believe they squandered their opportunity by being so overtly ideological in pushing the major item on the progressive agenda, universal health care. In this election, we see many Conservatives pushing for the completion of the 2010 Tea Party Revolution with a truly conservative Congress and a Republican President in 2012. Only then will we be able to acheive the major goals (tax reform, reduced spending, and efforts toward a balanced budget). The question for the American people will be, do these pet projects of the Republican party really work to solve the terrible economic problems we face? As a conservative, I believe they will, but I also understand that we cannot ignore many of the legitimate concerns of our fellow Americans on the Left. With the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate, there is a chance that the conservative approach to our problems can be presented in an articulate and coherent manner, and thus win the support of a broad spectrum of the country. What we cannot do is call each other "crazy."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Contending for the Faith

We are instructed in I Timothy 2:1-3 to pray for all those in authority, "that we may live peaceable lives" and so that the gospel may be proclaimed and God may be honored. Prayer is an important responsiblity of the church, and as we see the peril of these days, it should become even more of a pressing need.  For example, many have written that a large percentage of evangelical youth lose their faith in college, and that with so much secular influence, the Evangelical church is expected to shrink by 1/2 in the next decades But for this problem in particular, prayer is not our only responsibility, we are also called to "contend for the faith," (Jude 3) which implies a willingness to engage in the cultural and even political battles that shape our time. A church that is not "always ready to make a defense" (apologia) of its hope (I Peter 3:14) is in trouble, and a case can be made that we are losing our kids precisely because we have not taught them the reasons for believing in Jesus, and the capacity of reasoning itself. We have left them unarmed in the battle of ideas that is raging in our culture today.

As an apologetics teacher I've heard all the arguments. "You can't reason someone into the kingdom," "No one was ever converted by an argument," amd a personal favorite, "People don't care how much you know, until you show them how much you care." At a superficial level, all these staements are true, the problem is, they have become excuses for not dealing with the destructive beliefs and ideas that have taken control of our culture. We have thought that we can wrap ourselves in the protective cocoon of the faith, without recognizing the very real connection between faith and reason. As Clark Pinnock famously said, "The heart cannot embrace what the mind is not convinced is true." As we are discovering with this generation, we are losing our kids, not because we are neglecting their feelings and experiences, but because we are neglecting their minds.

This is not to say that we should read William Lane Craig or J.P. Moreland to our kids at bedtime. I will be the first to admit that a great deal of our apologetics is too intellectual, and thus irrelevant. I understand why this is the case, the attacks of the last 200 years arose from the philosophers, naturalists, and theologians of the enlightenment era, and the defense of the faith was assumed to require a response at the same level. In fact, it doesn't.

In the 1950's, the BBC commissioned C.S. Lewis to create a series of radio "talks" on the Christian faith. Lewis clearly understood that he was not speaking to his fellow scholars, but to the general population of Great Britain. The result was one of the most effective works of apologetics and evangelism ever done. In its book form, Mere Christianity, has led to the conversion of more people than almost any book in history, outside the Bible itself.

What makes the book so powerful is that it is a masterpiece of observation and common sense. This, it seems to me, must become the model for how we contend for the faith in this unbelieving age. We must talk about the things that people know from experience that point them to belief in God. We must also teach ourselves, our children, and all who will listen, the ways that common sense point us in the direction of faith. In essence we need to point out the ways that the law has been written on human hearts (Rom. 2: 15) and the correlation between a beneficial and successful life and living that life in obedience to the teachings of the Bible. We believe in a very real thing called "truth," and truth is that which corresponds to reality. In this relativistic age, when people accuse us of imposing our beliefs on other people, we can respond by saying that we are not imposing a set of beliefs, we are enabling people to discover life as it was meant to be lived, and thus we are giving them the opportunity to discover the truth. The foundation of this, of course, is that we have gone through this process ourselves, and we are simply sharing the steps that we ourselves have taken to enter into a real relationship with the True and Living God.

One of the great battles in the history of the church, if not Western civilization, is the dispute between faith and reason. I believe this has been a harmful mis-understanding of both faith and reason. We are people of the God who calls to us, "Come, let us reason together." (Isaiah 1:18) The greatest act of faith, recorded in the Bible, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, was grounded in Abraham's using his reason to sustain his faith (Hebrews 11:19). One of the greatest mistakes the church can make is to abandon reason in a futile attempt to defend faith, to abandon reason is to abandon faith. It seems to me that the 20th century and now the 21st century demonstrate this sad fact. It is time for us, the followers of Jesus, to recover the capacity to defend the faith; our kids and grandkids will thank us.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Our Postmodern President

Politics has always been the realm of hyperbole and the distortion of truth, but I can't remember a politician who is as disingenuous as Barak Obama. I have wondered for some time if he should not be considered the first postmodern president. In 2008 he tapped into the felt need of many Americans for a leader who transcends politics and who will take a pragmatic and long range approach to solving the complex problems we faced as a nation. Now, in 2012, we see that it was all just a cover for his own deeply progressive ideology. His words did not mean what we thought they did, and he was very intentional in the choice of those words. I do not say this out of partisanship, but out of a concern for truth and the negative effects of the extreme relativism at the fouindation of postmodernism. The problem, in fact, is not President Obama, it is the forces that have shaped him.

Our universities, including graduate programs and law schools, are dominated by postmodern thought. As an example, I would point out Sonya Sotamayor's comment about a "wise latina" compared to an older white male. And President Obama is a product of these institutions, being engaged in the Harvard Law Review and lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School. The irony is that for all its emphasis on tolerance and diversity, postmodernism divides the world by ethnicity, gender, class, and culture. But its worst influence lies in its view of words and ideas. In the postmodern view, words and ideas have been used to justify the oppression of women and minorities, thus turning the tables and using words for the sake of these select groups is perfectly reasonable. In postmodernism, the battle of ideas becomes all out war, and in war the end justifies the means.

This cynical view of "truth," while it may provide a form of success in the short term, in the end is exposed by the harsh light of reality. To claim that something is true does not guarantee that it is actually true. Postmodernism because of its extreme relativism doesn't even believe in truth, it only believes in words. In that light, it is very important for us to look at what the Bible means by the word. I have taught for years a principle I learned from Watchman Nee and from my own life experience. The principle is, "For every doctrine (teaching) of the Bible, there is a reality. God is not as concerned for us to know the doctrine as He is for us to enter into the reality which the doctrine represents." It is not enough for us to know about salvation, or even to know the steps to take, we must enter in, by faith, and experience the reality of salvation.

When John wrote, "In the Beginning was the Word..." He was referring to the widely held belief of his day, that the universe was the product of the vast eternal wisdom of the logos. Men have always recognized that must be some great ordering principle and, indeed, intlligence behind the order and structure of the universe. Before we ever knew of genetics and DNA, men understood that the development of a beautiful flower from a tiny dark seed required a profound design and design required intelligence. They called this design and designer the logos.or the wisdom that produced the world (both material and immaterial). The apparent condition of the world is that it is built upon objective truth and that objective truth governs all aspects of life, including human behavior and society. To deny this obvious fact is to live in delusion or, to put it in contemporary terms, "denial." The postmodern attempt to make reality whatever we want it to be, is the ultimate fools errand. It is the act of creating a fantasy that will eventually come crashing down.

My point is that, in this election season, we must be looking for leaders who will not only tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. Politics today is such that honesty and difficult choices get punished, thus the common understanding that Social Security is the "third rail" of public policy, touching it guarantees unelection. We must get beyond this kind of selfish, "what's-in-it-for-me" approach to whom we elect. We live in a time when truth is under attack, and yet I have never seen a time when we need to face the truth of our situation more than today. Therefore, we must be people of truth, confident of our Lord's promise, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Laws of Nature

I  had the privilege of teaching a basics of physics course for Rivendell Sanctuary this winter. It was great fun to again journey through the fundamental laws that stand behind the phenomena of nature. But, as I was teaching Newton's laws and the principles of gravity, motion, and heat, it occurred to me that these truths stand as a meta-narrative that describes the physical world. We rely on these "truths" every day of our lives as we fly on airplanes, drive our cars, use our computers, and just generally go about our lives. Our safety and survival, in fact, depends upon an implicit understanding and utilization of the principles that govern the physical world.. In fact, these regulations have been confirmed so many times and in so many ways that they are deemed to be "laws" of nature; that is they always operate at every time and place on this planet.

No one would dare jump off a ten story building, thinking that gravity is just a convention invented by old white men to keep us from experiencing the joy of flying. And just as these laws govern nature so there is a set of moral principles that govern the human experience. These principles have also been confirmed countless times in human experience. And in like manner, only the foolish set them aside as mere conventions of culture or society.

With all the talk about marriage today, let us look at its "evolution" and the impact these changes have had upon our society. Marriage was one of the first targets of the enlightenment and its attack upon traditional values. Going all the way back to Freud, sexual repression was seen as one of the worst impediments to human happiness. And, restricting sex to marriage only was the first thing that had to go, in the pursuit of "freedom."

But where has this taken us? And, are we better off as a society as a result? The obvious answer is, "no." We see the carnage all around us of broken marriages, single-parent households that produce children living in poverty, failing in school, and experiencing the horrors of drugs, gangs, and crime. The problem will only get worse as fewer and fewer young people choose marriage as an important stage in their lives. We are already seeing the dramatic increase in percentages of births among unmarried women and in the declining numbers of young couples that are choosing to marry, particularly among the non-college educated. We are looking at a disaster in the making as this generation, led by the pied pipers of the enlightenment, jump off buildings under the delusion that they can fly.

As much as the Bible is discredited and ignored in our culture, its principles have stood the test of time and of life. Contrary to what our culture tells us, traditional morals are the path to contentment, freedom, and happiness. As Proverbs 10:16 tells us, "The wages of the righteous is life." This is not just a life in the here-after, it is life here and now. Just as their are physical laws that govern the natural order, so there are moral laws the \govern the human experience. We would do well to pay attention to the principles of life that God has given us in His word.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Relativism Revisited

I am reading Paul Johnson's book, Intellectuals, for a second time (Johnson is viewed as the most important historian and social commentator of our day). The point of his book is that the modern West has been shaped by men and women with enormous egos who suffered no compulsions about telling the rest of us how we ought to live our lives. What he also documents in this book are the levels to which they utterly failed to live up to their own standards.

In describing Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian novelist, Johnson writes, "He wanted to lead, for which he had no capacity at all, other than will, to prophesy, to found a religion, and to transform the world, tasks for which he was morally and intellectually disqualified." (Intellectuals, p. 114) In other words, he wanted to be like God.

This is what is ultimately wrong with relativism; it is frail human beings assuming the godlike capacity of determining right from wrong, and of defining the good from the bad. It is exactly the same sin of our forefathers in the Garden of Eden, "You shall be like gods, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4) The temptation presented to Eve was to assume moral knowledge (of good and evil) in order to possess moral authority (the responsiblity to define good and evil and thus judge behavior and circumstance). The problem is, we are not God, we aren't even gods. We are frail, temporal, and self-focused creatures who have little capacity to know the end from the beginning. We thus define good and evil, not for the larger good, but for the much smaller "good" of our own comfort and convenience.

As a result, the last several decades have been a time of serious moral decline. Relativism has allowed us to call evil "good" and good "evil." We have turned the traditional code of moral values on its head, but sadly, changing the labels doesn't change the reality. The statistics tell the tale, out-of-wedlock births have sky- rocketed across all the demographic categories; it stands at 40% among caucasian women, 50% among Latinos, and over 70% among African-Americans. This category matters because at the core of conventional moral values has always been a society's view of marriage and the family. The problem is not just the vastly increased levels of sexual activity among young people, it is the rejection of marriage as the end goal of dating and relationship along with the establishment of a stable home-life centered in the nuclear family.

Charles Murray has just written an important book that essentially deposits the increasing separation between rich and poor as a consequence of the loss of moral convictions regarding marriage and family among working class young people. In other words, the gap between the 1% and the 99% is not primarily a tax problem or a political problem, it is a moral and spiritual issue. We have faced a serious decline in our sense of personal moral responsibility which has profoundly affected our sense of social and economic responsiblity.

Max Weber, a German sociologist, philosopher and economist, was correct in his connection between Protestant moral values and the economic growth and prosperity of Northern Europe and it's direct descendant, the United States. The shared prosperity that has defined the American experiment is a direct consequence of  our values. The abandonment of those values has led to a weakening of our economic prospects and will eventually produce a very different America. Bottom line is that relativism is a fools errand, born of the arrogance of the founders of the enlightenment, and now wreaking havoc on the generations who followed its teachings.