Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 2007

As I've said before, I try to be as time-appropriate as possible with my posts, so I will write about Halloween today. These are some of my meandering thoughts.

I grew up in a denomination (Armstrongism) that did not observe Halloween, since it was considered a pagan and Satanic festival. But, unlike the Jehovah's Witness boy in my class, I was allowed to participate in the school festivities. I don't remember everything I went as. When I was in kindergarten, I dressed up as a wizard. I had a really tall hat and a wand, and both made a mess because they got glitter all over the place. But a lot of love went into the construction of my outfit. In fifth grade, I wore a dark turtleneck sweater with a bag over my head. People called me a "low priest" because of the turtleneck (and whatever other reasons). The other years are a blur, though there was one year when I was sick for Halloween and could not go to school. I was really bummed out about that, since I liked to dress up, plus I had a slight fascination with monsters and wizards and witches. But I was told not to feel too bad, since Halloween was pagan anyway.

In preparing to write this post, I was trying to figure out what exactly Halloween means. What was its origin? I was told growing up that it had to do with worshipping the devil and that people originally dressed up either to placate or to ward off evil spirits. My parents probably got those ideas from the encyclopedia or religious literature. Our religious leader, Garner Ted Armstrong, gave trick-or-treaters the following account:

"[T]his is the evening before `all saints' day' of the Roman Catholic Church. You see, they assigned one day of the calendar to each one of their `saints,' and when they had more saints than three hundred and sixty-five, they simply lumped them all together on November 1st, and called it `All Saints' Day.' They chose November 1st, because this was the day celebrated by the pagan Druids of Ireland, who believe that `Samhain,' the lord of the dead — who is like Satan, the devil — would consign the souls of their departed loved ones to the bodies of animals, and they sought a lighter sentence. To do this, they would placate the evil spirits by offerings of food, or even by sacrificing cats. They put jack o' lanterns in their windows to frighten away evil spirits, and lit bonfires, and had all sorts of superstitions associated with that night — especially their belief that witches and demons were abroad. It's called `Hallowe'en' because it merely means `hallowed evening,' or the evening of `All Hallows'" (Halloween Is Pagan!).

Garner Ted backed up his claims with some books. What I read on wikipedia overlapped some with his explanation, but it also had some differences. I did not read anything about Samhain being the lord of the dead, but wikipedia includes etymological connections of Samhain with "summer's end" and "assembly." It states that Samhain was a time to celebrate the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter. During that time, there was greater contact between the world of the dead and this world, so people would honor or feed their ancestors. Wikipedia also offered a less positive description of the ancestors: the dead spirits would cause a lot of havoc, so people would wear costumes to placate or imitate them. I don't understand why people would want to imitate the spirits, unless they were saying, "Why are you hurting us? We're spirits like you!" At some point, Samhain was combined with the Catholic All Saints' Day, which commemorates the saints who went straight to heaven.

What are my reactions to all of this? Of course, the Bible condemns the worship of ancestors. Pick up any commentary of the Torah, and you will read that the biblical authors tried to discourage the ancestors' cult. The ancestors' cult was pagan, and the Bible forbids us from doing heathen customs, so my denomination had a point in disapproving of Halloween. Why the Bible forbade the pagan way of honoring ancestors, I don't entirely know. What exactly was wrong with feeding the ancestors or looking to them for guidance? Maybe there was a fear that people would focus on their ancestors rather than God. That is a problem I have with the Roman Catholic focus on saints: it seems to give God a little less attention and removes him further from the worshipper.

Another explanation is that the ancestors were not really the ancestors but were demons. My denomination probably held this view, since it assumed that there was no conscious afterlife until the resurrection. That meant that, if you contacted the ghost of your death mother, then that was not really your dead mother. It was a deceiving spirit. I don't rule out the possibility that demons can take the forms of departed people, but I wonder if the biblical authors dismissed the reality of the ancestral spirits. The text says that Saul talked with Samuel in the cave of Endor, not a spirit pretending to be Samuel. So I tend to go with explanation number 1.

People can argue that Halloween is not about honoring ancestral spirits these days (at least not for non-Wiccans). It is about fun. Maybe. I have a problem, however, with the way that witchcraft is becoming more accepted in society today. Halloween is a day when people freely dress up as wizards, witches, or even the devil. And the Harry Potter books don't help matters.

So these are my concerns, and they are things that I want to keep in mind for myself as well. After all, I still like horror movies. And I intend to see the latest Harry Potter movie, notwithstanding the recent revelations on Dumbledore. I hope that doesn't make me a hypocrite.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fred Thompson

Our featured Presidential candidate for today is Republican Fred Thompson.

To be honest, I don't watch Law and Order that much, so I've never seen Fred Thompson as Arthur Branch. Apparently, I've seen him in some movies, such as The Hunt for Red October and No Way Out, but I don't remember him. Now that I know who he is, I'll probably recognize him the next time I watch them. One thing I will say about Thompson's Law and Order role: I read the article on Art Branch on wikipedia, and I think that he would make a fine justice for the U.S. Supreme Court.

While I'm being honest, let me say that researching this guy in preparing this post was one of the most frustrating exercises I have ever done. I mean, you just can't pin him down. There are conservatives I respect who love him, and there are conservatives I respect who hate him. As I read his record, there were times when I wanted to break out cheering, saying, "You tell em, Fred!" And then there were times when I threw up my hands asking, "What were you smoking, Fred? Are you sure you're with us?" And then there were occasions when I just couldn't figure out what his ideology was.

I could get into a long, drawn-out discussion about whether he is pro-choice or pro-life, pro-immigration or anti-immigration, pro-Nixon-during-Watergate or anti-Nixon-during-Watergate, but I won't. Wikipedia has documented articles that discuss the various aspects of his record, and the links include his votes on a number of issues. The articles are Fred Dalton Thompson - Wikipedia, Fred Thompson controversies, and Political positions of Fred Thompson. But I would like to discuss some things that stand out in my mind from my research.

First of all, I don't know every aspect of his record on immigration. Sometimes he voted for amnesty, and sometimes he voted against it. I read the NumbersUSA article entitled All Immigration Votes of Senator Fred Thompson, and I was puzzled that it criticized him for his positions on legal immigration, not just illegal. For example, the author of the article was unhappy that Thompson voted to allow legal immigrants to send for their families. I wonder what exactly motivates most opponents of illegal immigration. Is the focus of their opposition the "illegal" part or the "immigration" part? After all, even legal immigrants come into this country and compete for jobs against people already here. But at least companies cannot pay legal immigrants a dollar an hour. Unlike hiring illegals, hiring legals does not punish competitors who play by the rules in their hiring practices. Another issue is acculturation. I'm not sure to what extent legal immigrants are sufficiently Americanized. Do they all know English and American history? I know many who do, and I saw an episode of Touched by an Angel where candidates for immigration had to take a class. So hopefully that is the case for all legal immigrants. If so, that should alleviate any fear that legal immigration will Balkanize America.

Second, Thompson's record on taxes and spending appears pretty good, from a conservative point of view. See Fred Thompson's Generally Pro-Growth Record, which was compiled by the Club for Growth. His record is not perfect, but he has often gone out on a limb to vote against government spending, even when that puts him in a very tiny minority. So this guy is serious, and part of me is scared because of this. I support less government spending, since that is the fiscally responsible thing to do. But I don't want my student loans to get cut. I'll admit that the status quo is not good, since colleges and universities increase their tuition when they realize that the government gives out all this money. But I hope that, during a Thompson Administration, there will be state or private means to insure that students are not left out in the cold. Government is clearly not the solution, but there will need to be a time of transition if the student loans program is to be cut, allowing alternatives time to develop.

Third, the confusion of my identity with the James Pate of Soldier of Fortune magazine has led me to some interesting Second Amendment sites. I was reading the Field and Stream blog yesterday, and it included a quote from the Thompson campaign that criticized the UN on gun control. The quote states (in part), "Last year, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights declared that international human rights law requires all nations to adopt strict gun control laws." This is egregious! The UN is telling countries what type of gun laws they should have? I originally thought that the idea of a "UN Gun Grab" was Bircher paranoia, but the quote from the Thompson campaign shows me that even more mainstream people are concerned about the audacity of the UN. Despite Thompson's stand here for national sovereignty, I must add that he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, which some right-wingers see as a promoter of world government. The CFR denies that it is a conspiracy, but I just want to tell you what concerns are out there.

Overall, I like Fred Thompson. His record seems fairly conservative, and I think that he would govern more as a conservative as President than as a liberal. Would I vote for him in the primaries? I'm debating that. I like him better than Rudy and McCain, but there is another candidate I like better. Still, Thompson's wife went to my alma mater, DePauw University, so that is a plus in his favor!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Newt's Contract with the Earth

NPR has a story entitled Gingrich Touts Conservative Take on Conservation. I'm not the biggest fan of Newt Gingrich's personal life (not that he's staying awake at nights worrying about my opinion), but I admire the way that he seeks conservative solutions for the problems that liberals identify. Indeed, one must admit that liberals point out some real problems, such as pollution and the costliness of health care and higher education, but their proposed solutions often involve higher taxes, more government spending, and inefficient bureaucracy. Newt looks to tax credits, competition, and the free market as more effective answers.

According to Gingrich, the environmental movement has turned many conservatives off from caring about the environment. He states that, starting in the 1980's, "the leading environmental groups on the left — particularly the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters — began to equate the environment with litigation, regulation, taxation, [and] bureaucracy[,] and you were either for their solution or you were against the environment." For Gingrich, the result of liberal "solutions" was harm to the economy. As an alternative, Gingrich proposes (in NPR's words) a "science-and-technology-based, entrepreneurial, free-market approach that incentivizes the development of new systems and new technologies that can lead you to a better environment."

I identify with what Gingrich is saying. I personally want to breathe clean air and drink clean water, but I cringe when liberals appeal to environmental problems as a justification for socialism. My mom and grandma owned a health food store, whose previous owner was a John Bircher. I want to reconcile environmentalism with small government conservatism (or, better yet, libertarianism).

I have two points to make, both of which are variations of the same point. I have not read Gingrich's book, but what I saw in the NPR story is really not original. First of all, Al Gore frequently said that the environment and the economy do not have to conflict, and he promoted incentives for environmental-friendly technology (see Al Gore on the Environment). His difference from Gingrich is probably that he wants that in addition to taxes, government spending, litigation, and regulation.

Second, Newt is not the first to propose a green conservatism, though I hope that his message popularizes the idea, since old stereotypes and ideas die hard. I remember reading an article in a book called The Environmental Crisis, which was part of the Opposing Viewpoints series. The article said that privatization is a way to address environmental problems, since people will take care of property that they own and allow others to use (e.g., for fishing, hunting, recreation, etc.). I remember P.J. O' Rourke saying the same thing on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, as he proposed that the government sell land to the Sierra Club so they can take care of it. The Republican Congresswoman on the show seemed open to his idea. I'm not an expert on the environment, but I think the concept has some merit. After all, what private interest owns the water that companies like to pollute? I'll bet that the answer is "none."

Newt said some things that I would like to check out. He referred to Lou Cannon's book, Governor Reagan, which has a chapter on Reagan's pro-environmental policies as Governor of California. Gingrich was portraying Reagan as someone who sought private solutions to environmental problems. On some level, he may be right, but I vaguely remember that Reagan also used government regulation. That is something I'll have to check, since I am fortunate to own the book (which I got from Amazon for a cheap price).

Another thing that I'd like to do is see how libertarians address environmental issues. When I was in college, my local Congressional debate included the Republican, the Democratic, and the Libertarian candidates, respectively, and the Libertarian said that government is actually a cause of pollution. I'd like to see that elaborated.

So I'll be writing some posts on this in the future, maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Joe Biden

Our featured Presidential candidate for today is Democratic Senator Joe Biden.

I first heard of Joe Biden in 1989, when I was thumbing through the World Almanac. There was a section that narrated the events of the 1988 Presidential election, and it mentioned that Biden was one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination. I honestly did not remember him. I didn't even know what he looked like. I remembered Dukakis (eyebrows) and Gore (nice suit) and Gephardt (pompous) and Paul Simon (bow-tie, funny looking ears) and Jesse Jackson (again?) and Gary Hart (hot supermodel), but I could not recall who Biden was. Apparently, he dropped out before the race got going. The almanac said that he cancelled his candidacy because he was accused of plagiarism. I don't exactly dislike him for that. I mean, seriously, what was he supposed to do? Distribute endnotes and a bibliography whenever he delivered a stump speech?

Over the years, I saw Biden on television every now and then. I remember him mainly from the Clarence Thomas hearings, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I watched some of the hearings, and they were okay, but I particularly liked Kevin Nealon's portrayal of Biden on Saturday Night Live, in which Biden and the rest of the panel were giving Clarence Thomas some dating tips.

Do I like Biden? Not particularly. I think he comes across as a jerk. He's not as bad as Gore, mind you, but he still comes across as a jerk. I watched the Roberts hearings, and I recall Biden greeting Roberts with "Hiyah, judge" and continually interrupting him as he tried to answer questions. That wasn't very respectful, in my opinion. At one of the debates, Biden referred to one question as "stupid." I think the first time that I saw the humanity of Joe Biden was when I was reading Jesse Helms' autobiography. To my surprise, Jesse Helms said that he and Biden actually got along, but he also mentioned that Biden lost his wife and daughter in a car accident. I really felt horrible for Biden when I read that. My political worldview divides the world into good guys and bad guys, but I should remember that even the figures I politically oppose are people who can suffer.

As far as his political stances are concerned, his record is somewhat mixed. Let's start with abortion. He wants the government to be neutral on abortion, meaning that he opposes federal funding for the practice. And, on some level, his record actually backs up his rhetoric, for he voted on July 22, 1997 to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions. At the same time, he wants abortion to be an option in taxpayer-funded military hospitals. He thinks that the U.S. should fund foreign non-governmental organizations, even when they perform abortions. He wants the government to subsidize stem-cell research. He may sincerely believe that the government should be neutral on abortion, but some of his votes achieve the opposite effect. He deserves praise for his vote to ban partial-birth abortion, yet his continual and prominent opposition to conservative judicial nominees indicates that preserving Roe vs. Wade is a priority of his. This, even though he agrees with the Catholic Church that life begins at conception.

On economic policy, he opposes all sorts of tax cuts. There is one bright spot on his record, for he voted to eliminate the marriage penalty. But, overall, his record on taxes is horrible. On spending, Biden supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. A President Biden would probably give us a balanced budget, but most likely through tax increases.

On foreign policy, he has been a hawk on certain wars. He helped persuade Bill Clinton to use military force in the former Yugoslavia, and, today, he wants American troops in Darfur. On Iraq, he is pragmatic enough not to call for immediate troop withdrawal, but, overall, he prefers a non-violent solution. One proposal that he is working on with Senator Brownback (R-KS) would divide Iraq into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish regions, splitting the oil revenues among them. I thought that was a good idea when I first heard Senator Biden propose it, even though I didn't care much for Senator Biden. As far as his hawkishness goes, I'm not sure if I support using American troops to solve all the world's human rights problems. I know that I've questioned the "negotiation" approach in past posts, but I'm also uncomfortable with America getting involved in more wars, especially ones that we may not win. I wouldn't want our intervention in Darfur to end up like our action in Somalia.

Most of Senator Biden's positions are mixtures of right and left, with a greater leftward propensity. One issue on which he is firmly liberal, however, is gun control, prompting the NRA to give him an "F." Although Biden wrote the 1994 Crime Bill, his approach to gun control is to blame the gun for violence. He wrote the ban on assault weapons, and he also wants to allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers. What is interesting is that he voted against mandatory prison terms for crimes involving firearms. That makes no sense. Who is at fault, the gun or the criminal who fires it?

One more thing that I dislike: he sent his own kids to a private school, yet he voted against school vouchers for the D.C. area. Why can't other kids have the same choice that he had? At the same time, to his credit, he voted "yes" on education savings accounts that could be used for public or private schools. He also supports merit pay for teachers. So how he got a 91% from the National Education Association, I have no idea!

My sources for this post are wikipedia, Project Vote Smart - Senator Biden - Voting Record, and Joe Biden on the Issues. Have a nice day!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bill Richardson

Our featured Presidential candidate for today is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat.

If memory serves me correctly, I first heard of Bill Richardson when I was watching Bill Maher's program on HBO. Or maybe I saw him on Hannity and Colmes. These things get blurred after a while! In any case, Richardson seemed like a nice guy, despite his anti-Bush rhetoric. I went away thinking that he was your typical liberal Democrat.

What really caught my attention was a question that Brian Williams asked him in the first Democratic debate that I watched. I don't remember much of the question or the answer, but I recall Brian Williams saying that Bill Richardson had the highest National Rifle Association rating of any Presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican. My jaw dropped. A Democrat has the highest NRA rating? That doesn't speak well for the Republicans, does it?

As I did some research in preparation for this post, I found that Richardson has actually received a decent mark from another conservative/libertarian organization: the Cato Institute. In the Cato Institute's Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors: 2004, Richardson received a "B," which is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney's "C" and Mike Huckabee's "D." According to the Institute, "Governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades." And, indeed, Bill Richardson has a record as a tax cutter. He reduced New Mexico's income taxes from 8.2% to 4.9%, and he cut the capital gains tax in half. Maybe he should have joined that little spat between Romney and Rudy on who was more fiscally conservative!

Some libertarians are skeptical. In the libertarian journal Reason, David Weigel argues that Richardson approved of numerous fees that more than made up for the tax cuts. Weigel goes on to state: "And everyone agrees the governor started to slide off the fiscal wagon as he geared up for a second term and a presidential bid. Gasoline, special fuels, and out-of-state oil and gasoline distributors all got taxed. He delayed his income tax cuts for 2006. The cigarette tax, the path of least resistance for state lawmakers, was hiked to raise $127 million. In 2006 the Cato Institute lowered his grade to a C, still not bad for a Democrat (and still marginally better than the grades given Romney and Jeb Bush), but a reflection of how quickly the 'market Democrat' veneer can crack when it comes time to raise revenue." For Weigel, Richardson is motivated more by pragmatism than solid libertarian principles.

Of course, nobody's perfect. The closest that comes to fiscally conservative perfection in this race is Ron Paul, and even he's helped divert some pork to his Texas Congressional district (see A Far-Right Texan Inspires Antiwar Left). Barry Goldwater did the same for his state, prompting LBJ to claim that Goldwater opposes "creeping socialism," except for Arizona. Notwithstanding their glitches, Paul and Goldwater stood fairly consistently against the "tax and spend" mentality of Washington. But I wonder if Bill Richardson would be true to his libertarian principles once he gained the White House. He supports universal health care. How much of an increase in government will that entail, and who will pay for it?

And read what Richardson says about education: "Sometimes when I talk about education, the first thing you hear is, how are you going to pay for it? Nobody asks how we're going to pay for the war. But it's important to state that improving our schools, improving education, access to education to all Americans, should be America's foremost priority. " So his plan to improve education is for the government to throw more money at the problem. That's not too libertarian!

While I'm on this quote, I want to address a common liberal argument about fiscal responsibility. Many liberals argue that Bush is a hypocrite. He vetoes expanding SCHIP and other federal programs under the mantle of "fiscal responsibility," yet he is responsible for the costly Iraq War, which continues to plunge our country into debt. I agree that Bush can do a better job in restraining government spending, since he did give us the prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind. But my problem with the liberal argument is that it mixes apples with oranges. The Iraq War is a temporary endeavor. Sure, we'll set up permanent bases there, but we're not planning to spend billions of dollars on Iraq for all eternity. Even under Bush's plan, once the job is done, the job is done. But liberals want to establish a welfare state that is permanent. They want the government to continue funding education and health care and welfare in huge amounts. And there will be no definable time when the job is done. After all, a new generation will arise, and they'll need nanny government as well. So imagine the government taking the amount of money spent on war (or just a lot of money) and using it for domestic programs, year after year after year. That's what the liberals want. How will they pay for it? They'll raise taxes, or they'll borrow. Both approaches will harm the economy.

As far as foreign policy goes, Richardson's experience is that he was a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and negotiated with repressive regimes for the release of American hostages. The UN part is probably why one of my conservative friends sees Richardson as a "globalist," that is, a one world government type. And, indeed, Richardson did try to strengthen the role and mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme, something which must give chills to conservatives concerned about national sovereignty. As far as his negotiation skills are concerned, I do not want to make light of his ability as a negotiator. I would caution, however, that negotiation is not necessarily the answer for every foreign policy problem. Neville Chamberlain and Joseph Stalin signed pacts with Hitler before he invaded countries. The Soviet Union often did not live up to its arms control agreements, which is why Reagan's motto was "trust but verify." Negotiating for the release of hostages is one thing. Deterring the ambitions of our enemies is something else.

On social issues, Richardson is pro-choice, which is not a big surprise. On homosexuality, he opposes "don't ask, don't tell" in the military, since he wants homosexuals to serve openly, and he has also changed his position on the Defense of Marriage Act from "support" to "oppose." So I wouldn't count on him supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment or appointing conservative judges. Just a hunch I have!

My sources for this post were wikipedia, Bill Richardson on the Issues, and the articles cited above. Conservapedia and mentioned some scandals, but I don't want to get into that. Have a good day!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hillary Clinton

This won't exactly be a juicy, anti-Hillary post that will satisfy the right-wing palate. I don't even want to write about Hillary today. I was hoping to save Hillary for last in my series on the candidates. That approach would have encouraged people to keep reading as they asked in eager anticipation, "When's he going to get to Hillary?" Now, I'll be covering Hillary before I discuss (yawn) Bill Richardson. So why am I writing about Hillary today? Because it's her birthday. As I've said before, I try to be as time-appropriate as possible.

While this won't be the juiciest post on Hillary, rest assured: this will not be the last time that I write about the Senator from New York. She will most likely be the Democratic nominee in 2008, so I'll have plenty of opportunities to critique her every move.

What is it about Hillary that makes me shudder? Why do I grow visceral at the sound of her name? Well, I'll keep writing to see if something therapeutic can result.

Like many Americans, I first heard of Hillary in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for President. During the primaries, I didn't really hate Bill Clinton, since he sounded rather conservative in comparison to the people he was up against (e.g., Tom Harkin, Jerry Brown). In fact, one of my staunchly conservative friends said at the time that Clinton was the only Democratic candidate who sounded "reasonable." At least Clinton supported middle-class tax cuts! But, as I learned over the course of the election, Clinton had a number of liberal, big government ideas. And, although I was still mad at Bush I for appointing a pro-choice Health and Human Services secretary and raising taxes, my Republican spirit got restored because the religious right dominated the 1992 Republican National Convention. And when Clinton chose the self-righteous, pompous Al Gore as his running mate, it became clear in my mind whom to support.

I'm not even sure if I knew about Hillary when all this was happening. At some point during the election, I learned that Clinton had an assertive wife who wanted to play a key role in his potential Administration. She was labeled a feminist, which didn't exactly resonate with me, a Phyllis Schlafly fan. I always pictured feminists as obnoxious women who hated men, supported abortion and gay marriage, opposed Christianity, and wanted to destroy the traditional family. I got annoyed because they acted as if they spoke for most American women, when actually the conservative Concerned Women for America outstripped the National Organization for Women in membership. Well, Hillary struck me as that sort of woman: what newly popular Rush Limbaugh was calling a "feminazi." Her Tammy Wynette remark didn't help her much in my eyes (not that she'd care), and Pat Buchanan's revelation of her anti-family positions confirmed to me that I didn't want her in the White House.

Add to that a characteristic that did not attract me: her smug arrogance. That's a trait that I associate with a lot of liberals. They think that their way is the only way to help the world, and that anyone who disagrees with them hates the poor, minorities, women, and children. They often assume that "idealism" means agreeing with them. I got tired of teachers urging us to be idealistic/liberal. I also didn't care much for my "idealistic" fellow students, who patted themselves on the backs for their idealism. Hillary seemed to epitomize what I disliked about liberals.

Today, I have the same reactions. Even when Hillary is right, she comes across as smug and condescending. I tend to agree with her foreign policy positions more than those of Obama, but her whole attitude is "I'm so much more intelligent than Barack. He obviously doesn't grasp the deep nuances that I do." On Larry King Live, she criticized George W. Bush for not being intellectually curious enough. Well, maybe the Bush Administration is not an academic BS session, as was the Clinton Presidency (which often talked and did nothing). My readers know that I dislike intellectual snobbery, and I see so much of that in liberals, especially Hillary Clinton.

I remember when she announced her candidacy from the Internet. She said, "Don't you think that Washington is pretty one-sided?" She meant that the government was too conservative. It looks like an innocent comment, but it made me mad. For one, conservatives had to wait years before they finally got a government that was remotely interested in their concerns. Democrats have dominated Congress far longer than Republicans, and the Supreme Court has only recently become somewhat conservative. Second, if Hillary wants to criticize "one-sided," then she should take a look at academia, the news media, and the entertainment industry. Those are the one-sided institutions. I wonder if she thought that her student activism days were one-sided, when many students and professors united behind socialism and repressive Communist regimes, intimidating those who did not agree. I know she looks with nostalgia on those days, as her support for a Woodstock museum demonstrates.

And then add to that her hypocrisy. Like a lot of liberals, she feels that the standards she applies to others do not apply to her. I'm serious in my characterization of liberals: they criticize Bush for things that Clinton also did, or they lambaste the tactics of conservative organizations (e.g., Operation Rescue) while ignoring the sinister actions of their own causes. They even have the audacity to criticize conservatives for inserting incivility and hate into political dialogue, when they show extreme hatred for President Bush. Of course, when they criticize us, they're standing for justice; when we criticize them, we're mean-spirited people on the quest for power. Huh huh. Whatever! Hillary exemplifies the liberal hypocrisy that I abhor. She excoriates Bush for the war, even though she voted to authorize it, using the same arguments that Bush did. She helped fire thousands of White House travel employees, but she thinks Bush is horrible for removing certain prosecutors.

The weird thing is that I would probably like her if she were on my side, though I wouldn't care for her role in certain scandals. And I was surprised to learn that she could have been on my side. She was a Goldwater girl in 1964, in a time when most people saw Goldwater as an extreme right-wing nut. If only she had continued down that path rather than allowing herself to be influenced by the self-righteous, extremely leftist, morally degenerate trends of the 1970's. We could have had an intelligent, resourceful woman in our camp!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dennis Kucinich

Our featured Presidential candidate for today is Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

You know, the liberals I have personally known over the last few years must be the left of the left. Whenever I ask them, "Who is your choice for President?," their response is Dennis Kucinich. Their reason is that he appears to be more serious about the issues to which most Democrats give lip service. One liberal I knew liked Kucinich's firm stance on alternative energy. Others appreciated his call to cut funding for the war and impeach Bush/Cheney.

As I read about him on various sites, I came to admire his courage, if that's what you want to call it. He was the the son of a truck driver and the eldest of seven children. His responsibility was to seek affordable apartments for his family, which sometimes had to live out of its car. I wonder how seven children fit into one automobile, but perhaps they weren't all born yet. As mayor, he made some controversial decisions. He fired Cleveland's police chief and had to wear a bullet-proof vest as a consequence. And he refused to sell the city's public electric company, Municipal Light, to a private competitor, CEI. Because many bankers were invested in CEI, they did not roll over the city's debt because of Kucinich's opposition to selling. The city went bankrupt as a result, but analysts argue that Cleveland consumers saved money on their electric bills.

As an aside, this whole incident with Muny Light and CEI got me thinking about privatization. One big argument for having the private sector take care of things is competition. For supporters of privatization, private companies can perform more efficiently and at a lower cost than a government monopoly because people can always take their business elsewhere. But selling a government monopoly to a private monopoly does not encourage competition. I wonder if there is a better way to privatize, such as the government simply getting out of the way. I'm also not sure to what extent competition would work with power companies. Everywhere I've lived, there is only one power company (Public Service, Duke Energy, etc.). Is there a reason for that? Could there be more than one power company in a city, beaming electricity into our homes as competing cable companies send cable?

But back to Kucinich. What some would call courage, others would call foolhardiness. Plunging the city into bankruptcy to make a stand against big business? Or, in modern times, actually wanting to eliminate financial support for our troops in Iraq? What would happen to the troops if Congress did that? And then there was his veto of tax abatements as mayor of Cleveland. What happened to Cleveland's economy as a result? I mean, businesses move into a city because of tax abatements. The guy is principled, but he doesn't seem too pragmatic.

If only his tough brinksmanship extended to foreign affairs. In the War on Terror, it really does not, for he seems to be naive about the presence of people in the world who hate the United States. To his credit, however, he has maintained a tough stance on Communist countries. He voted to deter foreign arms transfers to China and to keep the Cuba travel ban until political prisoners were released. I admire his concern about human rights, even though the long American embargo on Cuba hasn't really ended Castro's repression.

Also, while I said he is principled, there is one issue on which he has compromised significantly: abortion. I was surprised to find that he once had a pro-life record that would rival that of many Republicans. Here is one web site's description: "He voted to criminalize partial birth abortions, to deny American servicewoman the right even to pay for their own abortions overseas, to prevent Washington, D.C. from funding abortions for poor women with nonfederal dollars, against research on RU-486, even against health coverage of basic contraception for federal employees. In 1996 he told Planned Parenthood that he did not support the substance of Roe v. Wade. He received a a 95 percent position rating from the National Right to Life Committee, versus 10 percent from Planned Parenthood and 0 percent from NARAL." Now, he blabs about "a woman's right to choose." How sad!

Was his flip-flop political? Maybe, but that would assume that he thinks he has an actual shot at the nomination. Surely he knows that is not the case! Perhaps he wants to advance in the Democratic party in other ways, or build a liberal record for a future and more successful Presidential run.

My sources for this post were wikipedia (which had documented articles), Dennis Kucinich on the Issues, and the link I used above for the quote on abortion. Have a nice day!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

UN Day 2007

I was going to write about Congressman Dennis Kucinich, but I see that today is United Nations Day. I could rant against the UN at another time, but I try to make my posts as time-appropriate as possible. I'm sure Kucinich won't mind me writing about the UN instead of him, considering that he loves the organization so much (seriously).

In my reading of right-wing literature, I've encountered two views on the UN. One sees it as a sinister body that wants to create a one-world socialistic dictatorship, subjugating the United States and all other nations. The other perceives the UN as a joke, a paper tiger, and a model of inefficiency and corruption. The latter view was summed up quite well by an acquaintance who worked at the UN: "The UN can't even start a meeting on time. I don't think it can take over the world!"

In terms of the left, I don't entirely know how every liberal feels about the organization. I've seen Nation of Islam books that claim the UN is out to create a one-world fascistic dictatorship, but I'm not sure where the Nation of Islam belongs on the political spectrum. I've heard some liberals express a wish that the UN were more influential or powerful. For them, it is not right for the United States to have its way all the time. The less powerful nations need a voice, and the UN is the forum where they can have it. In addition, they argue that there are global problems that require global solutions. For them, world government probably doesn't sound like a bad idea!

On some level, I can understand concerns about world government, for the sovereignty of the United States can be undermined by certain treaties. President Bush has done a good job protecting our national sovereignty, and he has also done a bad job. He has opposed the Kyoto Protocol, which imposes mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He has also stood against the International Criminal Court, which many liberals believe should try American soldiers. At the same time, Bush supports the Law of the Sea, which would give the UN control over the world's oceans. America is a nation where people elect Americans to set national policy. Do we want to surrender our sovereignty to a world body with people who hate us?

Could the UN take down the United States? Suppose we sign the Kyoto Protocol and choose not to follow it. What could the UN do to us? At the moment, probably nothing. Interestingly, in the Left Behind series, the nations of the world surrender their weapons to the UN, which is then able to nuke the United States once it gets out of line. Tim Lahaye wasn't pulling this idea out of his own imagination, either. In 1961, there was a State Department document entitled Freedom from War (1961), which proposed a program of worldwide nuclear disarmament that would significantly strengthen the UN. That idea may look far-fetched at the present time, but what would happen if the United States got so sick of war that nuclear disarmament began to look appealing? Could we ever arrive at the place where we did not want environmental or economic policy to be set by elected institutions (which can change like the wind), but chose instead to surrender such decisions to an "impartial" world body, with the power to enforce the "common good"?

The funny thing is that the UN doesn't always help the vulnerable of the world. It has been slow to help the victims of Darfur, and John Bolton said on Sepember 6 that this is because "in the Security Council, China, Russia, and other members are protecting the govern­ment in Khartoum" (see Does the United Nations Advance the Cause of Freedom?). During the Cold War, the UN was not exactly tough on Communism. The big reason was probably that Communists had a lot of influence in it, to the point that American forces during the Korean War had to report to the Under-Secretary for Political and Security Council Affairs, Constantine Zinchenko, a Communist. At the same time, the UN really got rough when it forced anti-Communist Katanga to become part of Communist Congo in the 1960's. I guess it picks its battles.

There are people who act like everything would be okay if the UN had more power. I say be careful what you wish for. Things are not always rosy when the UN has the upper hand!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Problems with Jewish-Christian Dialogue

I have problems with Jewish-Christian dialogue. I'm not against people of different religions talking with one another or mutually learning. I just don't like the barriers that political-correctness creates in the conversation. Allow me to give examples of what I mean.

1. First, there is the term "supersessionism," which is the belief that the church has replaced the Jews as God's chosen people. It is considered a dirty word. You don't want to be a supersessionist. Many have argued that supersessionism was responsible for the persecution of Jews throughout history, which culminated in the Nazi Holocaust. My problem is that "supersessionism" has been applied to the belief that Christianity is superior to Judaism, as well as the view that the New Testament fulfills or supersedes the Old Testament as God's way of doing things. Just look at the attacks on Ann Coulter for her "perfected Jews" comment! But what is wrong with Christians believing that their religion is superior to other ways of explaining the world? Why would they be Christians if they did not think that their way is better? In addition, while many Jews may not like the notion that Christianity is better than Judaism, there are people who may take offense at certain Jewish ideas. Some may dislike the concept that the Jews are God's chosen people, since it possibly implies that God loves the Jews more than he loves others (I know that the concept is more complicated than that, but I'm saying that some may get that impression). At least supersessionist Christianity says that Jews and Gentiles are equal in God's sight (see Galatians 3:28). Doesn't political correctness want greater inclusiveness? So why is supersessionism a dirty word?

2. Often in Jewish-Christian dialogue, Christians are the bad guys because the Jews were historically persecuted under Christian rule. But there was a time when Jewish authorities persecuted the Christians. The New Testament is full of such examples, and even liberal scholars acknowledge that the New Testament was addressing an actual situation in history. Of course, the Jewish persecution of Christians was not as bad as the Christian persecution of Jews, but that was because the Christians had power for a longer period of time. Who is to say that Jewish persecution of Christians would not have been as bad if the shoe were on the other foot?

3. At times, I have gotten the impression that some Jews believe they have the right to dictate Christian doctrine because of what Jews suffered under medieval persecution and the Holocaust. And there are liberal Christians who are eager to meet their demands! When I was at Jewish Theological Seminary, a Christian was reading a paper about German churches abandoning supersessionism after the Holocaust. That generated a discussion, in which a Jewish student eventually said, "What Christians can do is present us with the revisions of their beliefs, and then we can say whether or not we like the revisions." Was she saying that Jews should have veto power over Christian doctrine?

4. Then, there are liberal Christians and Jews who want Christians to dump parts of the New Testament that appear anti-Jewish. During the Passion of the Christ controversy, critics of Mel Gibson argued that the Gospels are not historically accurate on Jesus' death, since the Romans played a bigger role in it than the Jews. That may work on liberal Christians, but if they are expecting conservative Christians to abandon the New Testament, then they are barking up the wrong tree. Conservative Christians see the New Testament as the infallible word of God, and there are conservative scholars who argue that the Gospel portrayal of Jesus' death is historically plausible. If Jewish-Christian dialogue requires them to abandon this belief, then how is that different from Ann Coulter saying that Jews should abandon Judaism?

5. I once heard a Jewish professor say something like the following: "Messianic Judaism is not Judaism. It is Christianity. If Jews and Christians are to have dialogue, then they should get their terminology straight." But what gives him the right to dictate the definitions of terms in the dialogue? Sure, Christians should understand that most Jews do not recognize Messianic Judaism as legitimate, since knowing what others believe is crucial to any discussion. But should Christians have to agree with opponents of Messianic Judaism? Who is to say that Messianic Jews are not real Jews? Messianic Jews see themselves as Jewish, plus the first Christians were Jews who believed in Jesus.

6. Many of you will read this and say, "How dare you say that! People just don't say these things in academia. It's not politically correct." That brings me to my next point: political correctness hinders genuine dialogue. In today's climate, intimidation reigns, and people are afraid to offend others (except for conservatives). As a result, there is not full honesty in most discussions. I remember two examples of genuine dialogue on TV. One was on an episode of A Different World (a spin-off of The Cosby Show), and the other was on an episode of Touched by an Angel. On A Different World, some white students and some African-American students got into a fight at a football game, and they were arrested. In an attempt to encourage dialogue, the security officer told them to express themselves. The white students said, "All you people do is sit on your lazy butts and complain!" and "Quotas are keeping me out of the Ivy League." The African-American students replied, "But you guys had quotas--you excluded blacks from many opportunities." On Touched by an Angel, John Ritter played a sheriff who had an African-American deputy. Both were involved in planning the Martin Luther King celebration, which Rosa Parks would attend. After a series of tragic events, the two had a discussion. "Why do you call me 'boy'?" the African-American deputy asked. "I'm a man!" John Ritter replied that he always tried to use politically-correct terminology ("African-American," "people of color"), yet there was still a part of him that had contempt for blacks. These are examples of true, honest, open dialogue! People got things out of their systems rather than hiding behind some phony politically-correct mask.

Dialogue should be honest and open. Jews should feel free to express their concerns about the New Testament and Christianity, but Christians should feel just as free to critique Judaism. Maybe some misunderstandings can be corrected, maybe not. In any case, both sides can get to the point where they at least understand one another, even if they do not agree. And they can love one another, an element that appears in both religious traditions.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Federalism at Orlando

I just finished watching the Republican Presidential debate that took place in Orlando last night. A topic that kept coming up was federalism.

According to, "federalism" is defined as a "system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units." Conservatives and libertarians rest heavily on the Tenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights for their understanding of this division of power. The amendment states that the "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people." For conservatives and libertarians, this means that the federal government can only do what is specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Since the Constitution doesn't give the federal government authority over matters like (for example) education or health care, they argue, those areas are the sole responsibility of state and local governments and private citizens, meaning that the feds should just stay out.

Republicans have always given lip service to the Tenth Amendment. In the 1996 Republican primaries, Bob Dole was trying to look like a conservative, so he said that he carried a copy of the Tenth Amendment in his pocket. The person who later became his running mate, Jack Kemp, didn't interpret Dole's Senate record as pro-small government, however. He called Dole the "tax-collector for the welfare state." I think that most Republicans when pressed will not agree with the full implications of the Tenth Amendment. When I was an undergraduate, I heard one Republican candidate for Congress say that he would use the Tenth Amendment as the guiding principle for the federal government's role. I wish I had asked him, "So are you in favor of abolishing Social Security and Medicare?" By and large, most Republicans are what Barry Goldwater called "dime-store New Dealers." They accept the federal government's involvement in a number of areas; they just don't want it to spend as much money as the Democrats propose.

In the Orlando debate, federalism came up with respect to three issues: tort reform, homosexual marriage, and health care. Tort reform entered the debate because Rudy accused Fred Thompson of blocking the idea in the Senate. Thompson responded that he sees tort reform as a state and local concern, not something in which the federal government should be involved. Fred Thompson prides himself as a champion of federalism. And, in comparison with many, he is truly a fighter for small government. But he hasn't exactly been an absolutist on the Tenth Amendment. He voted to fund the National Endowment for the Arts, the GOP version of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and No Child Left Behind (see On the Issues - Fred Thompson). The Constitution nowhere grants the federal government a role in these areas. To his credit, however, Fred Thompson is admitting his past mistakes, and he has also taken some pretty gutsy positions. He now says that the prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind are mistakes, and he also proposes to reduce Medicare benefits for upper income people. This is gutsy, since powerful lobbies such as the AARP do not want Medicare to be touched. But something has to be done if the program is to survive, without costing taxpayers billions of more dollars.

For homosexual marriage, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul, Rudy, and John McCain oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment. They want to leave the issue to the states. That's fine, if federal courts respect the right of states to make their own marriage laws. So far, federal courts have behaved themselves pretty well, but can we trust them to do so in the future? In at least two cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down laws or state constitutional amendments that discriminate against homosexuals or homosexuality. I'm not going to discuss here whether the Court was right or wrong, but I wonder if federal courts will ever see state marriage amendments as "discriminatory" against homosexuals. We need the Federal Marriage Amendment, or at least an amendment that allows the states to decide the issue, free from the intervention of federal courts.

Regarding health care, Ron Paul was a slight disappointment. Here is a man who usually takes the Tenth Amendment seriously. He even opposes some of my favorite programs, like financial aid for students! Yet, he said in the debate that the government would have more money for health care if it would stop building a global empire. I hope Ron Paul isn't compromising his libertarian principles to appease the anti-war people. He did say that we should move toward market solutions, so hopefully he meant that the government should be involved only in a period of transition. Tom Tancredo at least raised the issue of whether the federal government should have a role in health care in the first place. He seemed to equivocate at first, but he concluded by saying that it should not.

There are some Republican candidates who stand by the Tenth Amendment. Many are dime-store New Dealers. And many are somewhere in between.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Ann Coulter

Okay, I finally have time to listen to Ann Coulter's "perfected Jews" comments. To be honest, I think she contradicts herself. One one hand, she says that Jews need to observe laws to get to heaven, whereas Christians have the "fast track" (belief in Jesus). That would imply that Jews don't need to become Christians in order to be saved. On the other hand, she says that she wants everyone to become Christians and for Jews to become "perfected," which implies that she does support Jews' conversion. Add to this another twist: she claims that Christians are actually the perfected Jews.

Maybe the whole thing makes sense in her mind. She may have the same sort of view that Mel Gibson had when Diane Sawyer interviewed him. This was during the Passion of the Christ controversy, and Diane Sawyer asked him if he thought that people had to believe in his religion to go to heaven. Gibson replied that non-Christians (or, more specifically, non-Gibson Catholics) can enter the kingdom of heaven, but it is more difficult for them than for Gibson Catholics. Perhaps he meant that non-Christians have to do extra good works to enter heaven. Since then, he has changed his position. Now, he doubts that his own wife will go to heaven, since she's a Christian, but not a Gibson Catholic.

Is Ann Coulter right or wrong? I disagree with her belief that there are multiple paths to heaven. Many of you know the relevant Bible verses, but I'll post them anyway. Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6). Peter affirms in Acts 4:12 that "there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Neither Jews nor anyone else can be saved through good works or obedience to the law. The reason is that everyone has sinned and falls short of the glory of God (see Romans 1-3). So Christianity is not an easier path to salvation. It is the only path.

Do Jews need to be "perfected"? Yes. So does everyone else. We are sinners whose carnal minds are hostile to God and his law (Romans 8:7). According to Paul, the natural man (apart from Christ) does not understand the things of God, for they are foolishness to him (I Corinthians 2:14). We must be born again through faith in Christ to see the kingdom of God(John 3). Our old sinful and selfish selves must figuratively die so that we can become new creatures who behave righteously through the Holy Spirit (Romans 6; I Corinthians 5:17). So, yes, we need to become perfect. That doesn't mean improvement of our carnal natures, however, but rather a spiritual rebirth.

Is the Jewish religion somehow deficient? If you believe the New Testament, then the answer is "yes." Paul says in II Corinthians 3:13-16 that most Jews do not properly understand their own Scriptures because of their non-belief in Christ. In Romans 10, Paul criticizes most Jews for trying to establish their own righteousness through the law, rejecting God's free grace through Jesus. Sure, the Jewish religion teaches many profound truths, which is why I have devoted my life to studying it. But, as a Christian, I must believe the New Testament, which says in virtually every book that belief in Jesus is a necessary path to God. All other religions are deficient in that they miss a crucial ingredient: God's coming to earth to sacrifice himself for sinners. This is the basis for human reconciliation with God, forgiveness, and spiritual rebirth, as well as Christian love. Ann should not be attacked for saying that Jews need to believe in Jesus. If she did not believe that Christianity is better than Judaism, then why would she be a Christian? I'm sure that the people attacking her view their way as superior to other paths. Liberals think that liberalism is better than conservatism, and orthodox Jews probably see their religion as better than radical Islam (although Judaism does not proselytize).

Are Christians perfected Jews? Yes, in the sense that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament (Romans 1:2). According to the New Testament, God's relationship with Israel contained elements that foreshadowed Christ, who fulfilled the law and the prophets. That means that Christians possess the completion (or perfection) of Old Testament religion. Christians are also Jews in the sense that they are now part of God's chosen people (Romans 11). In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls the church "the Israel of God." God still has beneficent plans for non-believing Jews, who are still his chosen nation, but the plan includes their eventual belief in Christ (Romans 11).

Is Ann Coulter anti-Semitic? Not for her "perfected Jews" comments. Anti-Semitism is hatred of a specific group, but Ann Coulter was just saying that people should believe the way she does. As I said, even Ann's critics think that others should agree with them. Christianity commands us to love all people, Christian and non-Christian alike. Christians do not have to believe that there are many paths to God or that Judaism is as good as Christianity, but they can still love other people. Therefore, Christianity is not inherently anti-Semitic.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Where Were You During Apartheid?"

I've encountered this question a couple of times. It's never been directed at me, mind you, but I've often heard it used to discredit conservatives. During the 2000 Presidential election, a fellow student expressed outrage that Dick Cheney as Senator opposed sanctions against South Africa. I once told a professor that I liked conservative columnist Cal Thomas, and he responded that Thomas was bad because he criticized South African sanctions. More recently, Michael Westmoreland-White pointed out that Jerry Falwell called Desmond Tutu a "phony." The Left's implication in bringing these things up is that conservatives were racist in their stance on South Africa and its white minority government.

Let me tell you where I was during apartheid. I was in junior high school. I had a seventh grade social studies teacher, who was your typical liberal Democrat, and he was about to give us his version of the situation in South Africa. He told us about apartheid, which was the white government's policy of segregating whites from blacks, and he gave us an article that presented the South African government as a horrible, repressive regime. As we read the article in class, I scanned further down the page and read the section that defended sanctions. The article criticized Ronald Reagan for vetoing them in the 1980's. "There must be another side to what I'm hearing in class." I thought. "My President thought those sanctions were a bad idea!"

I did some research on my own, and I encountered a completely different perspective. I learned that the South African government was in the process of dismantling apartheid throughout the 1980's. I read that divestment and sanctions cost South Africa jobs, thereby hurting the very people they were designed to help (South African blacks). And I noticed that the resistance in South Africa had strong Communist support.

Right after Nelson Mandela's release from prison, I read other disturbing things. Mandela lauded such nice fellows as Fidel Castro, Yassir Arafat, and Qaddafi. His charming wife, Winnie, supported a practice called "necklacing," which was burning people alive for disappointing the thuggish African National Congress. "The South African government isn't the only repressive party out there," I observed.

And I learned that blacks were better off in South Africa than they were in other African countries. This was brought out (perhaps unintentionally) in the resources of my social studies class. We were reading Junior Scholastic, which ranked the nations of the world by population, literacy, and other factors. My teacher noted that the literacy rate in South Africa was lower for blacks than for whites. But I observed that the black literacy rate in South Africa was actually higher than it was in some "liberated" Communist countries, such as Ethiopia and Mozambique. I just now checked UNESCO's statistics to make sure I remembered that correctly (see Illiteracy rates by sex, aged 15+, per cent (UNESCO estimates)). "So will turning South Africa over to Communism help it?" I (junior high school me) thought.

I think that my concerns were valid, as were the concerns of Dick Cheney, Cal Thomas, and Jerry Falwell. I wasn't a racist for seeing sanctions as a bad idea, and neither were they. Were liberals pro-Communist for criticizing Reagan's sanctions against Nicaragua? Did hard-core leftists support Saddam when they pointed out that Clinton's Iraq sanctions hurt innocent people?

In retrospect, I have changed my position somewhat, for I have come to see Nelson Mandela as a great man (but not for his praise of Castro, Arafat, and Qadaffi). A big reason is that he divorced Winnie and disavowed her methods. But, more importantly, he was a moral leader. There was a lot of pain on all sides, but Mandela stood for love and forgiveness rather than hatred and revenge. He truly promoted the Christian ethic. As with many heroic figures, his time in prison allowed him to think deeply about his nation and the world, and he emerged as a force of healing and inspiration to millions.

Friday, October 19, 2007

In Praise of Simplicity

A few days ago, John Hobbins had a post entitled "The Scandal of the Christian Mind," in which he discussed a 2004 essay by evangelical scholar Mark Noll. Noll says the following about American evangelicalism:

"We remain inordinately susceptible to enervating apocalyptic speculation, and we produce and consume oceans of pathetic End Times literature while sponsoring only a trickle of serious geopolitical analysis. We are consistently drawn to so-called 'American Christianities'—occasionally of the left, more often of the right—that subordinate principled reasoning rooted in the gospel to partisanship in which opponents are demonized and deficiencies in our friends are excused[.]"

I can only guess what Noll has in mind here. He's probably thinking of Tim Lahaye, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, and their ilk. They're just not sophisticated enough for his (and most evangelical intellectuals') taste.

But my response is "So what?" That doesn't mean they're wrong, does it? Personally, I think that their geopolitical analysis has had some merit. All of them supported a strong national defense and an anti-Communist foreign policy during the Cold War. What was wrong with that? It worked, didn't it? Recently, they have encouraged America to maintain a tough stance in the War on Terror. Why isn't that a legitimate policy position? Did the conservative journal First Things agree with this essay when it published it?

Maybe he thinks that such leaders have supported an "us vs. them" foreign policy rather than trying to understand our enemies' perspectives. But maybe our enemies are just evil. I mean, there are people who are interested in increasing their own wealth and power at the expense of anyone who gets in their way. Liberals believe this to be true of George W. Bush. Why can't they acknowledge that it may describe the Soviet Union and radical Islam?

Moreover, I think that Lahaye's Left Behind series brings some important foreign policy issues to the table. In the series, the nations of the world surrender their weapons to the United Nations in the interest of world peace. As a result, the Antichrist attains dictatorial power over the world. This is not an absurd proposal, since world government has been the desire of numerious elites in politics, government, academia, the news media, and other arenas. I'm not saying there's a conspiracy, only that there are influential people who believe that world government is better than having independent and sovereign nations, since one world implies world peace (or so they tell us). And, lest you think that American sovereignty will never be infringed, look around you. It's already being infringed. The World Trade Organization once deleted a section of our Clean Air Act because it constituted an "unfair trade practice." President Bush is using a treaty to stop the execution of a man in Texas. Lahaye is right to ask if such developments can lead to a global dictatorship. He also does well to question liberals' faith in the UN and universal disarmament. Could such faith lead to a situation that runs counter to America's (and others') interests?

I question Noll's assumption that sophisticated means better. Reagan's foreign policy was not that complex. It was that the United States win, while the Soviet Union loses. Yet, Reagan's foreign policy accomplished more in eight years than the decades of sophistication by such luminaries as Dean Acheson, Robert MacNamara, and Henry Kissinger. And don't tell me that Reagan had nothing to do with the end of the Cold War. The Soviet empire was expanding before Reagan came into office. It only began to shrink during his Presidency.

I'll close with an anecdote about Mark Noll. When I was at Harvard, Mark Noll was speaking about evangelicals in politics, and we evangelical students went to support him. He mentioned in his lecture that European evangelicals have historically been more socialistic than those in America (I think that was his argument--it was a long time ago!). During the Q and A, one of the professors said, "I think it's obvious to everyone here which is better," meaning the socialistic evangelicalism. The thought that went through my mind was, "Well, I don't see you living in Europe, my friend." Sophistication is not always what works practically.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"You're Politically Crazy!"

Jim West has a post that says Ann Coulter should be in an insane asylum. I'm sure he's just kidding (right Jim?), but the post reminded me of an issue I've encountered in right-wing and left-wing political literature: the fear that people will be institutionalized for their political beliefs.

1964 was the year of Barry Goldwater's candidacy, and a number of right-wing books emerged that encouraged Republicans to select the conservative Goldwater as their nominee. One such book was John Stormer's None Dare Call It Treason, which attempted to document Communist infiltration in various aspects of American society. I'm not sure if I agree with many of Stormer's conclusions, but he asked good questions, and I also admire his extensive documentation.

There was a chapter in Stormer's book entitled "Mental Health," which included quotations from prominent psychiatrists. One was Dr. G. Brock Chisholm, who was head of the World Federation of Mental Health and the World Health Organization. Stormer presented quotations in which Chisholm criticized morality, believing parents and teachers, and defending one's wealth from those in need. In these criticisms, Chisholm used psychological terms like "neurotic." He also called upon psychiatrists to support world citizenship and the redistribution of material wealth, and he raised the issue of compulsory treatment for neurosis. Other influential figures Stormer quoted were Harry and Bonaro Overstreet, who served as consultants to the National Congress of Parents and Teachers. The Overstreets discussed a neurosis called "rigidity," which could manifest itself in angry opposition to "public housing, the TVA, financial and technical aid to backward countries, organized labor, and the preaching of social rather than salvational religion." The Overstreets said that people with such characteristics were "well along the road toward mental illness."

What Stormer probably envisioned was a leftist government capturing American society and immediately institutionalizing its opponents. Some may call him paranoid, and yet he was right to ask if psychiatry could ever be forged as a political weapon. And he presented examples in which it was. For example, right-wing General Edwin Walker (the guy Oswald tried to shoot before he went after Kennedy) was confined to psychiatric examination after a political demonstration. Sure, he was released, but what kind of precedent is set when having abnormal political persuasions makes one "mentally ill"?

And the issue lives on. Type in "Bill Frist AND political paranoia" on Google, and you will see articles from the far right and the far left that express concern. According to these articles, Bill Frist as Republican Senate Majority Leader filed a bill that classified "political paranoia" as a mental disorder. This "disorder" includes anxiety, depression, and paranoia about political issues. Naturally, paleoconservatives, hard-core leftists, and Ron Paulites wonder just what that means. Does it include anger about the 2000 election, or obsessive opposition to the Iraq War, or a belief that Americans are not getting the whole truth about 9/11? How far does one have to go before he is labelled "politically paranoid"?

I'm not exactly as scared as Stormer and the authors of these articles, who act as if political dissidents will be institutionalized tomorrow (or, in Stormer's case, yesterday, since he wrote in 1964). But I wonder what kind of slippery slope we're on when a form of political ideology or activism is labelled a "mental illness."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When Were They Bad?

I'm struggling to understand Ezekiel 34. vv 3-6 say the following about the bad shepherds:

"You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them."

Throughout the chapter, God contrasts himself with the bad shepherds. The bad shepherds fed themselves and hogged up most of the good things, but God will feed his people. The bad shepherds allowed their sheep to be scattered, but God will restore them to their land. In the process, God will do other things that the bad shepherds neglected, as he strengthens the weak, heals the sick, binds up the injured, brings back the strayed, and seeks the lost. The bad shepherds let their people become prey for wild animals, but God will protect his restored children from such beasts.

So where is my struggle? The chapter seems to be saying that the bad shepherds did something with regard to the exile that made them derelict in their duty. What exactly did Ezekiel expect Judah's leaders to do? Did he want them to return the exiles? Did he think that they should search for them? Did Judah's leaders take economic advantage of the exile, which is why Ezekiel accuses them of feeding themselves?

My impression is that Judah's leaders tried to protect their people, only not as the prophet desired. King Zedekiah didn't want his nation to be conquered. That's why he made an alliance with Egypt: he was trying to prevent a Babylonian invasion. I wouldn't call him a bad shepherd who didn't care about his people.

And I wonder what would have satisfied Ezekiel. How could Zedekiah track down the exiles? Google didn't exist in those days. And could Judah's leaders have taken economic advantage of the Babylonian invasion and exile? Not really. What would they do? Would they try to possess the empty land that existed now that the exiles were gone? The leaders themselves were on the run when the Babylonians invaded. Plus, most people realized that trying to get land at that time was a ridiculous endeavor. That's why Jeremiah's purchase of a field looked so strange.

Of the commentaries that I read, most of them tried to project the bad shepherding practices onto the time before the Babylonian invasion and exile. In some cases, this works. In other cases, it is quite a stretch. The leaders of Judah certainly did oppress their people. We read about that in the other prophets. In exchange for a bribe, they often judged in favor of rich oppressors, who scattered people by forcing them off their land. This led to the exile because God punished Judah for that practice. The stretch comes into play in two ways. One is a theological problem that I have: if this interpretation is true, why is God punishing the poor for something the rich did? I mean, the leaders and the rich are the ones who hurt the poor, and yet the poor go into exile. Another stretch is what such interpreters try to do with the mountains part of vv 3-6. In their eagerness to relate the passage to the pre-exilic situation, they apply the mountains reference to the Israelites worshipping at the high places. I don't think it's about that at all, since v 6 elaborates that the sheep were scattered over the face of the earth. The issue is exile, not high places.

One interpreter, John Gill (I know, I should get some modern commentaries), actually applies the passage to the exile. He says that the kings of Judah should have tried to ransom those who were exiled to Babylon. Gill may be pointing out that there were exiles before the Babylonian invasion in 586 B.C.E., since King Jehoiachin and other Jews were taken to Babylon into exile. This makes some sense. I mean, Ezekiel 34 seems to say that God will punish the shepherds of Israel, which may imply that a worse calamity, the Babylonian invasion, is yet to come when Ezekiel writes the chapter. But could leaders ransom people from exile in those days? I'm sure anything was possible for the right price. A reservation I have about Gill's interpretation is that the exile of Jehoiachin consisted of mostly rich people, or so I have heard. Ezekiel 34 discusses the exile of the poor and oppressed, however. Moreover, Ezekiel 34 also says that the Jews are scattered over the face of the earth, which is not really the case with Jehoiachin's exile.

I'd still like to work with Gill's interpretation. Maybe the leaders' oppression of the people made them weaker and more vulnerable to Babylonian invasion. When the Babylonians invaded, they could have easily taken the people who were hungry and without property. Also, did the leaders actually profit from Judah's relationship with Babylon? If so, then that situation could be the context for Ezekiel's statement that they cared more about themselves than the people. And there was a possibility that some leaders tried to take over the vacant land once it was abandoned after Jehoiachin's exile.

I'll probably order the Word Commentary on CD-Rom to tackle some of these questions. In the meantime, does anyone have some thoughts that can help me out?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

China the Bully

You know, there are some days when I just hate China. Not real China (Taiwan), but Communist China. And not the people of Communist China, but its repressive government. The Associated Press has an article this morning entitled "Bush's plan to award Dalai Lama angers China." The article says the following:

"While the Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, Beijing reviles the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and claims he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet, where the Dalai Lama is considered a god-king. China warns that a planned White House meeting Tuesday between Bush and the Dalai Lama and a public ceremony Wednesday to award the spiritual leader the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal are bad for U.S.-Chinese ties."

An independent Tibet destroys Chinese sovereignty? How so? We're not talking about the U.S. invading and destroying China. The issue is an independent Tibet.

China has pulled these stunts before. When Ronald Reagan was asked if he favored "official relations" with Taiwan, he replied, "I guess I'd say yes." Immediately, Red China's government responded that Reagan had just insulted millions of Chinese people. Wrong! Reagan insulted a repressive Chinese dictatorship, which killed millions of Chinese people. Unfortunately, if memory serves me correctly, Reagan retracted his statement. Where was Mr. "Tear Down This Wall" then?

Even fiction has reflected China's attempts to intimidate us. I remember an episode of The West Wing in which a Senator was urging the U.S. to support Taiwan. The Chinese delegation met with the President's people and threw a fit. I vaguely recall that the President backed down.

Both the Left and the Right have appeased this dictatorship. In the 1960's, it was the Left that supported Communist China, whereas the Right opposed it. You had Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that Red China should have a seat in the UN, while right-wing activist Carl McIntire protested the Chinese table tennis delegation with a placard saying, "Mao killed more Chinese than Hitler killed Jews." Good point, Carl! And, regarding King, how could someone who fought for freedom at home be so callous to freedom abroad? I mean, would King have supported letting Nazi Germany have a seat in the UN, if it were still around in the 1960's? What makes Communist China any different? In the past, the Left has been pretty selective about the human rights abuses it has criticized. It supported giving Red China a seat in the UN, yet it demanded that the world punish and isolate South Africa. Go figure!

Today, ironically, the Right supports Red China, while the Left opposes it. The Right favors free trade with China, whereas concerns about Chinese human rights abuses are more likely to come from the Left. (At long last, the Left opposes communism! Where was it during the Cold War?) And, over the years, under Republican auspices, the U.S. has come to depend on China for a variety of things. We benefit from the cheap Chinese goods that enter this country (not counting the poison toys). The Bush Administration allowed China to buy out our debt. And China has played a huge role in Bush's North Korea policy. Can China seriously hurt us if we tick it off? Is that why U.S. leaders back down from it all the time?

I hope that we haven't given up the store, and that China needs us as much as we need it. Does China benefit from free trade the same way that we do? Is China also afraid of a nuclear North Korea? Would China be reluctant to hurt us economically, since it needs our business? I certainly hope so! Otherwise, China will continue to push us around.

For the record, I actually support free trade with China. I think that the way to bring freedom to that country is to offer it a taste of what we have, and that can occur through trade. Giving the Chinese a chance to buy our goods and to make choices as consumers is making them freer. And many Chinese people hate their government. They want to be like us. I hope this means that their dictatorship is beginning to crumble. How to deal with China's economic shenanigans and unfair trade practices, I do not know. And, as far as I could see, the Republican free traders running for President have offered no solutions either (unfortunately).

As far as China and North Korea are concerned, we must get to the point where a nuclear North Korea (or any nation) cannot hurt us. That's why we desperately need a missile defense system. Do we have the technology for that yet? Putin of Russia doesn't want such a system to protect Europe, so maybe the technology does exist. Bush should move beyond talking about it and start putting it in place. Then, we wouldn't depend on China as much for our security.

I'm not a foreign policy expert, but these are my views on China. We shouldn't isolate it, but we should respect human rights. We also should support people in Tibet and Taiwan who want to be free from this repressive dictatorship. Tibet desires independence, and Taiwan simply wants to be left alone. Hopefully, we still have leverage, and Bush continues his plan to honor the Dalai Lama.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"But That's Not Fair!"

In "What Were They Feeling?" and "The Other Side's Voice", I discussed the views of most Judeans in the time of Ezekiel. By and large, the Judeans did not accept Ezekiel's message, often for contradictory reasons, and they expressed their thoughts through catchy, popular slogans that the prophet tried to refute. Well, I keep encountering more slogans as I go through Ezekiel. Ezekiel 33 has a strange one, along with a refutation of a puzzling Israelite opinion.

In v 10, we read, "Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: 'Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?' (NRSV)." God responds in v 11 that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but he wants them to repent, do good deeds, and live. The Israelite people reply that the way of the LORD is unjust (v 17).

Again, the Israelites have contradictory responses to Ezekiel's message. Sometimes, they blow it off, thinking that nothing bad will happen to Israel. We see this in v 24, where they say that they will continue possessing the land, as Abraham did. In v 10, however, they acknowledge that disaster is coming their way.

The commentaries I read had different thoughts about the motivation behind the slogan. All of them agree that the slogan is a response to vv 1-9, where God tells Ezekiel to warn the people and give them an opportunity to repent and live. Some think that the people's reaction in v 10 is, "Oh, we've done so wrong! We don't even deserve to be forgiven! How can God forgive rotten worms like us?" In effect, they believe that v 10 reflects genuine sorrow. Others argue, however, that the people are trying to poke holes in Ezekiel's message, looking for any inconsistency they can find so they can invalidate it. Instead of seeing the jailer who asked what he might do to be saved, proponents of this position treat the Israelites like the village atheist who is criticizing the Bible.

I tend to go with the second interpretation, since Ezekiel's opinion of Israel is usually not that positive. I think their slogan reflects a belief that existed in the early stages of Israelite religion (according to many scholars), which says that God punishes all people for their sins, regardless of repentance or the absence thereof. According to this belief, there is a debt that people owe when they sin, and they pay that debt through experiencing punishment. After that process, they are clean. This perspective most likely underlies the "That's not fair!" comment in v 17. "What do you mean that God forgives sinners?" they are asking. "That's not fair! A just God punishes sinners, not forgives them."

Their response is puzzling, since they're basically condemning themselves out of their own mouths. I mean, do they actually want to endure the horrors of destruction and exile? They should be happy that God gives them second and third chances and is eager to wipe the slate clean.

They remind me of atheists or other non-believers who criticize the substitutionary atonement (Christ dying for our sins). I've heard non-believers say, "That doctrine is not fair--one person dying in place of another! Shouldn't people pay for their own sins?" When I hear that, I'm puzzled. "Do you actually want to go to hell?" I think in my mind. But then I realize that, on one level, they don't take the doctrine seriously. Or they're trying not to. They want to refute it so that they don't have to deal with it.

There are two lessons that I get from this. First, we should take the word of God seriously. There's a temptation for me as a Bible student or amateur theologian to treat religion as an abstract topic of discussion. We look at different perspectives and interpretations and possibilities and spins, and we evaluate their strengths and weaknesses according to rules of argumentation. The whole process is rather entertaining! But we should remember in all this that we are discussing truth, which relates to weighty, life-and-death issues. We exist under the authority of God, for better or for worse, and we shouldn't forget that as we debate Scripture or theology. We shouldn't be like that professor in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, who enjoyed discussing theological possibilities (e.g., What would Jesus have contributed had he lived?) and missed the boat in the end. Let's make sure we don't neuter the Word of God in our lives by merely treating it as an entertaining topic of discourse or debate.

And, yet, let's still discuss! That's the second lesson I get out of this. God recognizes that the Israelites are asking their questions out of impure motives, but he still condescends to answer their questions. He wants them to understand him, and he is willing to meet people where they are.

I'm reminded of something I heard in Park Street Church in Boston. The pastor, Gordon Hugenberger, was giving the sermon, and he told us his conversion story. When he was a kid, he was at a camp, and a Christian counselor was witnessing to him. Young Gordon saw the whole thing as an intellectual exercise. He enjoyed his discussions with the counselor, who tried to answer his questions and objections. One day, the counselor was telling Gordon about the second coming of Christ, and Gordon said, "Maybe I'm Christ come back!" At that point, the counselor broke down crying. The counselor thought he was making progress, and then Gordon said THIS! Gordon was surprised. He had never seen a grown man cry before. He realized that Christianity was more serious than he thought, for it concerned his soul.

So let's discuss these issues rigorously, and yet let us remember what we're discussing. And praise God that he gives us second chances and meets us where we are.

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