Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Driscoll on Nagging, Word Studies, and Complementarianism

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church has made a couple of controversial statements recently.  This post linked to a sermon that he delivered on Ephesians 5:22-23.  In the sermon, Driscoll criticizes wives who nag, and he also appears to express a problem with Greek word studies, as he talks about the word "submit" in Ephesian 5:22 ("Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord").  Driscoll says:

"'What does that mean in the Greek, Pastor Mark?' You can always tell a rebel­lious evan­gel­i­cal. They do word stud­ies. They try to go to the Greek and fig­ure out if it per­haps means some­thing else. I’ll just read, OK."

The title of the blog post is "Mark Driscoll doesn’t want you to study the Bible".  But that's not entirely true.  Driscoll later in the sermon encourages people to go home and study their Bibles.  But Driscoll then goes on to speak against people looking for biblical scholars who would tell them what they want to hear, so they can avoid obeying God's command.

I listened to Driscoll's sermon.  I don't have much of a problem with him criticizing nagging.  As Driscoll said, he criticizes husbands, too.  In most relationships, people have to work on issues for the relationship to go well, and it can be irritating to men when their wives are continually nagging them.  That doesn't mean that all wives nag.  It just means that nagging may be something to work on in a relationship.  But I'm just saying this based on my own understanding of what Driscoll said.

On Driscoll's comments about rebellious evangelicals who do word studies, I do find that to be anti-intellectual.  Or, if you don't care for intellectuals and see them as snobs, let me say that I find Driscoll's comment to be anti-learning.  How's that?  I am leery when pastors juxtapose an emphasis on authority with a discouragement of learning.  That turns me off from organized religion.

As far as the sermon as a whole went, it had some good stuff.  Driscoll talked about love and commitment within marriage.  He said that people should love their spouse rather than wanting to get married for companionship or sex.  And he said that complementarianism does not assume that women lack minds of their own, for he affirmed that his wife has disagreed with him through the years, and that he wants for his daughters to grow up to become confident women.

The thing is, what sounds all right to me may not sound all right to a number of other people.  I was one time in a Bible study group, and the leader was a complementarian.  The leader said continually that the husband should love and serve his wife.  That sounded good to me!  Why have equality, when the husband is taking into consideration his wife's feelings and needs and is loving and serving her?  But that didn't sound quite right to an atheist friend of mine.  My atheist friend said that sounded like a benevolent dictatorship!

Complementarianism may sound all right to me, a man.  But suppose I were a woman?  I know there are a number of women who are complementarians, so I'm not sure what my stance would be if I were a woman.  I can picture myself leaning towards the egalitarian position.  I'm all for being cooperative with people and open to their ideas and opinions, and even to serving them.  But saying that the man has authority over me and that what he says goes (remember, this is if I were a woman, which I'm not)?  I'd have problems with that. 

Beyond Peace 1

I started Richard Nixon's 1994 book, Beyond Peace.

So why is this book entitled Beyond Peace?  I'm still in the process of figuring that out.  At first, I thought that Nixon was saying that we need spirituality to fill our inner void after we have arrived at a state of geo-political peace.  In short, my impression was that he was addressing the question of "After peace, then what?"  Nixon says that the political activism of the left and the right cannot fulfill people's deepest needs, even were either side to accomplish its goals for society.  And yet, so far at least, the book does not really concentrate on spirituality.  Rather, like Seize the Moment, the book contains Nixon's thoughts about what the U.S. should do about Russia, Asia, and the Middle East.  It goes more deeply into domestic policy, however.  In light of that, "Beyond Peace" seems to mean what the U.S. should do now that we feel that we have peace, with the Cold War being over.  Nixon's point is that we cannot be complacent, but we must take steps to preserve the peace, for there are still problems in the world, and new problems can re-emerge.

Crossing the Jordan and the Question of Miracles

In Joshua 3, the Israelites cross the Jordan River on dry ground.  God does this miracle to affirm before the Israelites that God is with Joshua, as God was with Moses.

But was it really a miracle?  The Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary says the following about Joshua 3:16-17:

"3:16 parting of the Jordan.  This is springtime (see 4:19), and the melting snow from the Anti-Lebanon mountains often creates a flood stage for the Jordan.  Mudslides as a result of flood waters undercutting the cliffs or from seismic activity occasionally interfere with the flow of the Jordan at the very place mentioned here in the text (once as recently as 1927).  Those recorded have generally blocked the Jordan for a couple of days."

"3:17. on dry ground.  There is an interesting inscription of Sargon II of Assyria (eighth century) where he claims that he led his army across the Tigris and Euphrates at flood stage as on dry ground."

Maybe there was a natural cause for the "miracle" in Joshua 3.  What's important, in my opinion, is that the Israelites felt that they were experiencing God in that situation.  After all, they were able to cross the Jordan right when they needed to cross it, which means that a natural event worked out in their favor.  That doesn't always happen in the world, and so it's understandable that people feel grateful whenever it does. 

I was one time talking about miracles with a couple of professors.  They had problems with viewing miracles as a suspension of natural law.  One of them defined a miracle as an event unusual enough that it raises a person's consciousness of the divine (or something to that effect).  I myself am reluctant to rule out the possibility that God breaks natural law at times, even though I understand why some deem that to be problematic: it strains credulity, and it raises the question of why God doesn't break natural laws more often to alleviate pain, suffering, and death.  But I'm also open to God working through nature rather than contrary to it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

On Reading Atheist Blogs

This will be somewhat of a rambling post.

I was reading a blog post by Rebecca Hamilton recently, Why Don’t Christian Bashers Ever Get Tired of Themselves?, in which she criticizes atheist blogs.  I like Rebecca because (well) she reads and likes a number of my posts, but also because she is a Democrat who takes progressive stances, yet also is pro-life.  Here is a sample from the post:

"Why don’t Christian bashers ever get tired of themselves?  I don’t read atheist blogs. But I am aware that at least some of them appear to have no purpose except Christian bashing.  Based on the topics I see posted, it appears that all they do, day after day, post after post, is churn out one attack on Christ, Christianity and Christians after another. I don’t claim or want to be an expert on atheist blogs, but from what I see of these, they are negative to the point of implosion...When you get past the constant attacking and tearing down and destroying of Christianity and Christian social structures and morality, all you have is … nothing. You cannot sustain a society or a person on nihilism and negativity. It’s like trying to stay healthy by eating styrofoam."

I've read enough atheist blogs over the years to know how a number of atheists would respond to that.  They'd say that they have to speak against Christianity because it is so prominent in American culture, and that its influence has been deleterious to human well-being.  They would also say that their lives are not a mess of nihilism and negativity, for they have found ways to be inspired and to live a meaningful, moral life: they just don't feel that they have to believe in God to have those things.

I used to read atheist blogs more than I do now.  When I was more of an evangelical, I read them for a variety of reasons: because I wanted to know what sorts of people I'd be witnessing to, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could believe in God even after reading challenges to my faith, and because I enjoyed reading people's stories.  Later on, when I was more hostile to organized religion, I read atheist blogs because I could identify with what they were saying, even though I myself never made the leap into atheism.  Organized religion, in my opinion, has quite a few people who bully others with their interpretations of the Bible.  I tended to get a sense of satisfaction when I read atheists respond to that bullying with "Oh yeah?  Says who?  How do we know that your Bible is true?  How do we know that your God is even real, for that matter?"

I still read atheist blogs sometimes, for that reason: I like reading the stories of people who have had bad experiences with organized religion, for they resonate with me.  But, nowadays, I tend to gravitate towards the blogs of religious people who have problems with organized religion, yet are still pursuing some spiritual path.  It's not because I agree with them more than I do with the atheists.  Actually, when liberal or moderate Christians seek to preserve their faith amidst the challenges to it, their attempts strike me as rather contorted, to be honest.  I can somewhat understand why atheists respond to the challenges to the Christian faith by simply repudiating Christianity altogether!  Maybe the Bible reflects the negative elements of its historical contexts and has contradictions within it because it was written and put together by human beings, rather than being some way that God is trying to speak to us!  I'm not saying that I've taken that step in my own belief-system.  I'm just saying that atheism appears to me to be the most reasonable response to the problems in the Bible and in Christianity, at least when I look at how a number of Christians (conservative and liberal) have addressed those problems.

But I don't go the atheist route for the reason that I believe that there very well could be a supernatural.  People tell stories about it.  I know that many atheists express problems with anecdotal evidence.  Fine.  I'm not really trying to persuade them to believe the same way that I do, to tell you the truth.  But, in my eyes, one way that we learn about real life is by listening to people's experiences.  People tell about their experiences with the supernatural, so I don't rule the supernatural out.

I'll also add that I, like Rebecca, see value in not being negative on a continual basis.  I need something positive in my life.  I can only read so much bashing of Christianity, or Republicans, or Democrats.  There is a place for criticism.  There are injustices in the world that should be criticized.  Atheist bloggers have a point in saying that there are problems that religion itself has perpetrated that should be criticized.  But criticizing day-in and day-out?  I don't want to do that.  But I can't tell others what to do.

Anyway, I've probably managed to offend more than one person in this post, while trying not to offend anybody!  That often happens!

Seize the Moment 4

I finished Richard Nixon's 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World.  In this post, I'll comment on three quotes from the book.

1.  On page 290, Nixon says the following about entitlements:

"Today, we are witnessing the rise of that new despotism under the cover of 'entitlements.'  We hear claims that by virtue of living in the United States, a person is 'entitled' not only to subsistence amounts of food, clothing, and health care, but to more and more of the amenities of life as well.  It is not just the poor who seek these entitlements.  Farmers who demand a guaranteed price for their crops, steelmakers who demand tariffs to protect their market share, retirees who demand Social Security payments far exceeding their contributions into the system, students who claim a right to subsidized loans, and dozens of other special interests all seek a guaranteed place at the federal trough.  Today, if entitlements continue to proliferate, we risk the demise of the virtues of self-reliance and individual responsibility and the triumph of the new despotism about which Tocqueville warned."

I'm all for individual responsibility, but self-reliance?  How can people rely on themselves when they cannot afford a college education or health care simply because they don't make enough money, even after working long hours?  (I agree with Nixon that not everyone needs to go to college and that apprenticeships are good for the non-college bound, but I think that more people than the rich should be able to attend college.)  What about the elderly, particularly those who are no longer able to work? 

2.  In a similar vein, Nixon says on pages 296-297:

"The threat of having to do without is central to a productive economy.  Some people work because they want to, but most people work because they have to.  If you eliminate the necessity, you remove the motivation.  Even worse, you introduce a spiritual rot that eats at the foundation of society itself.  Those who do work resent those who do not, and they also resent the system that rewards the lazy with leisure.  Seeing the lazy rip off the system and get away with it, they are tempted to rip it off in their own ways.  Society as a whole goes on a downward spiral of alienation and irresponsibility, which in turn fosters hostility, resentment, and even revenge."

Although I have issues with a system that makes people's very survival so insecure, I agree with Nixon that people should work.  Politicians on the left and the right have suggested that there be training programs for people with disabilities.  That, in my opinion, is not only a good idea, but it's an important idea.

But I also think that some welfare programs should be universal, such as Medicare.  That way, one group of people is not resenting another group because it gets health care benefits, for everyone is a beneficiary.  On the other hand, come to think of it, one group could resent another if the one group is contributing a lot to the system, while the other group is merely receiving.  Countries that pay for their health care with a Value-Added Tax (a tax that Nixon supports) may not have this problem as much, for everyone who buys something is contributing to the system.  The problem, though, is that the VAT is arguably regressive. 

3.  On page 294, Nixon touches on health care reform:

"...we have made a mistake in addressing issues such as the exploding costs of health care in ways that removed market forces from the equation.  We have erred by separating health care consumers from any concern about the costs of the care being provided.  We need to work out a system that includes a greater emphasis on preventive care, sufficient public funding for health insurance for those who cannot afford it in the private sector, competition among both health care providers and health insurance providers to keep down the costs of both, and decoupling the cost of health care from the cost of adding workers to the payroll."

I agree with a lot of what Nixon says here: preventive care, a public health care program for the needy (though I'm open to this public program being open to everyone), and detaching the cost of health care from the cost of employing people.  In my opinion, the third goal is a good reason to accept a national health care system or a public option: companies can then hire people and employ them full-time without worrying about the cost of health insurance, for the government would be taking care of that.

On competition, that's something both political parties claim to support.  Even defenders of Obamacare have maintained that competition will bring the cost of health care and health insurance down!  I hope that it would.  Personally, I think that certain monopolies should be broken up----for example, insurance companies should not have virtual monopolies in states.  But I have a hard time seeing competition as the end-all-be-all.  For one, people in emergency medical situations don't always know enough to weigh their options----plus they have to make a decision really fast.  Second, I read one critique of the pro-competition argument that said that it's not as if you can market some of this medical equipment on e-bay, allowing people to search for the equipment at a low price!  Something that does bring down costs in other countries is for the government to negotiate prices with the health-care providers.  

Respecting Authority

"Your beliefs should be in line with your pastor's", the leader of a Bible study group I was in said in the group's first meeting of the school year.  "I believe in church authority, so the minister has a right to tell the church to read the Book of Joshua", an evangelical once told me.  I think all of that is bull, for such a mindset is authoritarianism, pure and simple, and it grossly disrespects my rights and my ability as an adult human being to make my own decisions.  But, as I read the Book of Joshua recently, I appreciated the concept of at least respecting authority, and of obeying it when I am in a group that is working on a task.

When Moses died and Joshua took over as the leader, Joshua had big shoes to fill.  It's not always easy for new leaders to enter into their role, for they have to gain the respect of the people and actually step forward and direct rather than sitting back and letting someone else do so.  Moreover, leadership can be a burden because every decision the leader makes can have consequences for others, for good or for ill.

But, fortunately, in Joshua 1, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, as well as the half-tribe of Manasseh, affirm their support for Joshua.  For one, they agree with Joshua's request that they fulfill their obligation of going into Canaan to help the other Israelites in battle, when these two-and-a-half tribes already had their inheritance in the Transjordan and thus would not gain any land for themselves in the Conquest.  This request was Joshua's first act of official leadership over Israel, and the two-and-a-half tribes cooperated with him.  But the two-and-a-half tribes also expressed their hope that God would be with Joshua as God was with Moses, and they said, "Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage" (Joshua 1:18 KJV).  That sounds pretty severe, but I've got to admire these two-and-a-half tribes for offering support and reassurance to Joshua when Joshua was a new, relatively inexperienced, and perhaps insecure leader.  In my opinion, the way that I should apply this story to my own life is by respecting, praying for, and offering support for my pastor.  Do I have to agree with him on everything?  I don't think so.  But I should at least respect him and his authority.

Another passage in the Book of Joshua that caught my eye was Joshua 3:3-4: "And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.  Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore" (Joshua 3:3-4 KJV).  There's a practical application for me here, as well.  The Israelites in Joshua 3 could not afford to be know-it-alls, for they knew nothing about the route that they were about to travel, and so they needed to obey their leaders.   Similarly, there are times when I need to follow directions because of my own limitations in knowledge.  I'm not talking about a mindless fundamentalism, a notion that I should simply accept conservative Christian doctrines due to my own limitations in knowledge and a sense that someone's harsh version of God knows best.  Rather, I'm saying that there are people who know more than I do about certain issues, and so I should be open to their wisdom rather than being a know-it-all.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Another Baptism

We had a baptism at church this morning.  Three things stood out to me.

1.  The pastor was pointing out that there are differences between Jesus' baptism and the baptism that was about to take place.  Jesus was an adult when he was baptized, whereas the person who was about to be baptized at our church was an infant.  Jesus was dunked, whereas the baby would be sprinkled.  The pastor also said that the liturgy encourages us to remember the time of our own baptism, but that many of us can't do that, since a number of us were babies when we were baptized?

So is our method of baptism non-biblical?  Well, believers in infant baptism refer to Scriptures to support their position----passages about baptizing all nations, the baptism of entire households, and the fact that ancient Israelites were initiated into the covenant when they were babies, through circumcision.  Is there a disadvantage to infant baptism?  I can see value in being baptized as an adult, when I am in a position to make a commitment to God.  And yet, I honor the values that have been associated with infant baptism, such as the importance of the community instructing and nurturing the child to follow God's ways.  That brings me to my second point.

2.  I've been to who-knows-how-many baptisms since I started attending my church.  And what I've noticed is that, with all of the talk about the church community guiding the child in God's ways, we almost never see the families whose child is being baptized after the baptism.  Usually, they come back to church for the next baptism, and that's it.  There have been some exceptions, though.  I saw one couple who used to come to services more regularly.

I wonder some things.  Are we taking the baptism seriously, or is it just a rote?  I'm hesitant to be judgmental.  Perhaps the families choose to raise their children in the faith informally, apart from the church.  And the fact that so many people show up for the baptism shows that they take baptism seriously, on some level.

3.  The pastor's sermon was good.  It was about baptism.  The pastor said that Jesus was baptized because, in a sense, Jesus was repenting, or changing direction: he was going from being a carpenter to becoming one who was performing God's mission.  The pastor also noted that Jesus' baptism was a time when Jesus was affirmed as God's son.  Similarly, the pastor said, those who are baptized become God's children.  The difference between them and Jesus, however, is that they have been orphaned by sin, whereas Jesus did not know sin.  That may be true, but I think that even Jesus felt more at home when he was reminded that he was God's son, for, while he was not orphaned by sin, he was physically away from his Father.

Seize the Moment 3

For my write-up today on Richard Nixon's 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World, I will again quote passages from the book, following each quote with my comments.

1.  On pages 176-177, Nixon discusses what the U.S. should do in response to China's unfair trading practices (i.e., barriers to imports and failure to "protect intellectual property rights"):

"Our response, however, should not be across-the-board tariff increases but rather more discriminating tactics such as blocking China's entry into GATT or cutting back China's export quota under the International Multifibre Agreement of 1974, which regulates all textile imports into the United States.  If we want to have an impact on the changes occurring in China, we should not pull the plug on trade.  Increasing economic progress will bring progress on human rights and civil liberties."

Nixon is a big proponent of free trade in this book, for he believes that this can encourage countries to become more self-sufficient.  He is not naive about free trade, mind you, for, like Pat Buchanan in The Great Betrayal, Nixon argues against the idea that free trade can contribute to peace by making countries economic beneficiaries of each other.  Nixon notes historical examples of countries with mutual economic relationships that went to war with each other, and Nixon thus contends that free trade should not be seen as a substitute for an effective military.  Still, Nixon likes free trade.

Nixon does well to address head-on a question that protectionists have asked: What do we do if other countries are not playing fair?  I don't know enough to evaluate his solutions. I wonder if blocking the entrance of China into GATT would be a short-term solution, since what if China were to behave itself to get accepted into GATT, only to return to its unfair trading practices after being accepted?  Could China then be kicked out of GATT?  Would the World Trade Organization effectively police China's unfair trading practices?  (I'm sure there are answers to these questions, but, as I said, I don't know much about this issue.)

It's interesting that Nixon says that trade with China can encourage its progress on human rights, for Nixon on page 259 argues that the U.S. should not establish diplomatic or trading relationships with Cuba and Vietnam until they "meet specific political and human rights conditions..."  Nixon in his memoirs and in this book often argues that we can encourage progress in Communist dictatorships through cultivating diplomatic and economic relationships with them, rather than leaving them in isolation.  Why does he deem Cuba and Vietnam to be exceptions to this rule?  Incidentally, the next book that I will read by Nixon, Beyond Peace (1994), appears (at least from the back cover) to advocate trade with Cuba.  

2.  On page 265, Nixon responds to the charge that liberal trade policies will result in the outsourcing of jobs to countries where workers are paid less:

"If U.S. corporations located their facilities simply on the basis of lower wages, they would all have moved to Mexico already.  In addition to wage levels, other variables such as output per worker, transportation capabilities, and the quality of human resources are all part of the economic equation."
Nixon probably has a point here.  There are still manufacturing companies that remain in the U.S.  If outsourcing were too lucrative, how would there be any manufacturing companies here?  Perhaps they stay because our infrastructure is better, or for other reasons.  And yet, it seems to me that outsourcing is still a problem.  My understanding is that manufacturing jobs are on the decline in the U.S., and that outsourcing is probably one reason for this.

I wish that Nixon had addressed more extensively in this book the question of what we would do if we had a hard time competing.  Nixon criticizes U.S. agricultural subsidies because he thinks that they give U.S. farmers an advantage over foreign farmers, who are looking for a market for their goods (and need that market for their country to advance economically).  But what would happen to us if loads of cheap foreign crops are coming into our market, in direct competition with the American farmer?

3.  On page 256, Nixon criticizes the way that foreign aid to Africa has been wasted, hinting that free-market capitalism can set Africa onto the road to prosperity:

"Over the past decade, the United States and other Western industrialized countries have injected over $100 billion in aid and credits into sub-Saharan Africa.  Most was wasted because inefficient and corrupt governments refused to put into place policies to provide average farmers and workers with incentives to produce."

Ironically, John Bircher Gary Allen made a similar argument in his right-wing critique of Richard Nixon, entitled Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask.  Gary Allen essentially argued that foreign aid props up socialism and ends up being wasted, and that the best way for impoverished foreign countries to advance economically is for them to embrace the free market.

What stood out to me in what Nixon said on page 256 was that he saw a place for the average farmer in Africa: the average farmer should have incentives to become more productive.  This, in my opinion, conflicts with what I've heard often takes place in the Third World, in the name of capitalism: multinational corporations come into the country, take people's land, use that land for cash crops or mass production, and reap handsome profits, while paying their Third World workers dittly-squat.  Nixon actually argues that it can economically help a Third World country to allow multinational corporations to come in.  Indeed, multinational corporations provide Third World countries with capital and produce a lot of goods.  But I wonder if there is a way for small farmers to be able to keep their land, and to produce enough to be competitive on the global market.  Or should they be competitive in the global market?  What would be so wrong with small farmers producing enough to feed their own country?  Is there a way to make private ownership work for people in the Third World, as opposed to making it work for multinationals?

And yet, I'd like to mention an example that Nixon cites of foreign investment contributing to improved conditions for the poor.  On pages 257-258, Nixon lambastes Apartheid in South Africa, contending that its discriminatory policies are "economically stupid" because they deny blacks "equal economic opportunities" and thus end up squandering their productivity and talents.  But Nixon does not think that American disinvestment from South Africa is the answer.  Nixon states on page 258 that "Many American companies, such as Ford motor company, had financed black housing, schooling, recreation, and health facilities."

4.  On pages 219-220, Nixon appears to take a rather anti-Israel tone, as he defends a "land for peace" approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

"While we are right to support Israel's survival and security, we would be wrong to back the current Israeli government's extreme demands.  [W]e should understand how the occupied territories came into Israel's possession through the 1967 war.  Aggressive military moves by Arabs created the crisis----perhaps even made the war inevitable----but Israel launched the first attacks.  Former prime minister Menachem Begin said in August 1982, 'In June 1967, we again had a choice.  The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us.  We must be honest with ourselves.  We decided to attack him'.  [T]he Arab-Israeli conflict poisons our relations with the Muslim world and undercuts our ability to cooperate with countries with modernist, pro-Western leaders.  Israel's occupation of Arab lands----and particularly its increasingly harsh treatment of the Palestinians----polarizes and radicalizes the Muslim world."

Nixon is for Israel going back to its pre-1967 borders, while Jordan would possibly administer the West Bank, and Syria the Golan Heights.  Nixon addresses the question of whether this would compromise the security of Israel.  Under Nixon's proposal in this book, conventional offensive weapons would be banned from the territories that are returned to the Palestinians, the returned territories would be a "buffer zone", checkpoints would ensure that weapons are not smuggled into the West Bank for an attack on Israel, and the U.S. would consider an attack on Israel to be an attack on the U.S., and would respond accordingly.  I wonder to what extent this overlaps with and differs from current proposals for a Palestinian state.

I was talking with my brother about Nixon's claim that Israel started the 1967 war.  My brother agreed that Israel attacked first, but he said that it was a pre-emptive strike----that Egypt was planning to attack Israel, for Egypt had been anti-Israel since the 1940's.  This wikipedia article quotes Nasser as saying on May 27, 1967: "Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight."

5.  On page 226, Nixon argues that Palestinians in the occupied territories should elect representatives to the peace talks, without Israelis exercising a veto power over their choice:

"...elections should be held in the occupied territories to select Palestinian representatives for the peace talks.  Israeli leaders have insisted on advance approval of those who might serve in that role and on blackballing anyone with any association----no matter how distant----with the PLO.  That is unreasonable.  We did not like negotiating with Stalin or his successors, but since they held power, we had to deal with them.  Unless Israel comes to terms with its enemies, no peace agreement will enhance its security."

The reason that this passage stood out to me was that it reminded me of a question that Katie Couric asked of Sarah Palin in 2008Palin was saying that we should support democracy in the middle-east, and Couric then asked about Hamas' victory in a Palestinian election.  What happens when democracy leads to an outcome that the U.S. considers undesirable?  I've wondered how I would answer that question, for it is indeed a difficult question.  I'd probably give an answer similar to what Nixon said about Palestinian elections for representatives at the peace talks: that we should accept the Palestinians' choice, and try to deal with that choice if we can.  That doesn't mean that we should be okay with everything Hamas does----threatening Israel, after all, is wrong.  But part of democracy is accepting people's choice (though whether Nixon consistently did that as President has been debated).

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Seize the Moment 2

I'm still reading Richard Nixon's 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World.  I have five items for today.  Like yesterday's post, my post today will comment on quotations from Nixon's book.  I'll be using those quotations as starting-points to discuss Nixon's broader arguments.

1.  On page 52, Nixon contrasts Mikhail Gorbachev with Boris Yeltsin, who were prominent political figures in Russia:

"Yeltsin's views had grown, evolving to deal with the deepening Soviet crisis while Gorbachev's remained in the quagmire of Marxism-Leninism.  Before the failed coup, Yeltsin had totally repudiated communism, while Gorbachev had not.  Yeltsin supported private ownership of enterprises and land, while Gorbachev had not.  Yeltsin supported immediate independence for the Baltic states, while Gorbachev did not.  Yeltsin called for cutting off all aid to Cuba, Afghanistan, and other Soviet clients in the underdeveloped world, while Gorbachev did not.  Yeltsin wanted to make major cuts in spending on the Soviet military, while Gorbachev did not.  Yeltsin won office in a fully free election, while Gorbachev did not.  Immediately after the coup, Yeltsin spoke of a bold democratic revolution, while Gorbachev spoke timidly of reforming the Communist party."

I grew up when the Cold War was drawing to a close.  At the time, I was one of those right-wingers who thought that the Russians could still not be trusted.  I believed that Gorbachev's policies of Glasnost and Perestroika were a ruse designed to lull the United States to sleep, so that the U.S. would disarm and the Russians would take us over.  In my mind, Communism had not truly collapsed, and it was still a threat to the free world.

What's surprising to me is that Nixon in this book actually overlaps with my views at the time.  No, Nixon didn't regard Glasnost and Perestroika as a ruse.  And yes, unlike me, Nixon believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union was real.  But he still did not think that it was a time for America to be complacent.  As Nixon noted in this book, Gorbachev was still a dedicated Communist, who was providing assistance to other Communist countries; Gorbachev was still cultivating the powerful Soviet military; Gorbachev still did not want to let go of the Baltic states; and Gorbachev was increasing Russian influence in the Pacific, which included an attempt to heal the rift between Russia and Communist China.

At the time, I pointed to the sorts of things that Nixon mentions to argue that Russia was still a threat (only, in contrast to Nixon, the right-wing books, articles, and magazines that I read did not think that there was a real rift between the Soviet Union and Communist China).  But Nixon places these things in a different context than the right-wing literature that I read: for Nixon, Russia was doing these things in a state of desperation, while it was standing on its last leg.  Communism in Russia truly was collapsing.

I recently read Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record, which is about Crowley's time working for Nixon during the 1990's.  What Nixon harps on continually in that book is the importance of the U.S. providing aid to post-Soviet Russia, so that her economy would get off the ground and she wouldn't be taken over by Communist hard-liners who would be all too happy to exploit the Russians' economic desperation.  That sort of scenario, for Nixon, could lead to another Cold War.  In Seize the Moment, Nixon expresses more nuance to his view on foreign aid to Russia.  Nixon does not think that a whole lot of foreign aid should go to Russia when Gorbachev is still in charge because that would only be supporting a failed Communist system.  Rather, Nixon wants aid to go to Russia when she is committed to democracy and free enterprise, something that he thought would occur under Yeltsin (even if Yeltsin banned Communist Party activity in Russia).  What happened after Nixon wrote this book, however, was that wealth under Yeltsin got concentrated into the hands of a few.

2.  On page 152, Nixon says that countries in the 1990's were afraid of the possibility of a strong Germany and Japan:

"A resurgent Japanese military would cause great regional apprehensions.  Historical memories from World War II have not vanished.  Despite forty-five years of peaceful policies, the fear in Asia of Japan as a major military power dwarfs European concerns about a united Germany."

I grew up in an offshoot of the Herbert W. Armstrong religious movement.  For years, Herbert Armstrong and his son Garner Ted predicted that Germany would reunite and become a revived Nazi dictatorship, which would be a significant part of the Beast power in Revelation 13, as well as the aggressive Assyrian in the Book of Isaiah.  When the Berlin wall came tumbling down and Europe was on the road to becoming a United States of Europe, Garner Ted Armstrong essentially said that he told us so!

Nowadays, at least as far as I can see, Germany does not look as if it will be a powerful Nazi dictatorship anytime soon----and this is more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall.  But, reading Nixon's 1992 book, I learned that there were more people than Armstrongites in the early 1990's who feared a united Germany and a United States of Europe.  As Nixon says, there were lingering memories about the times when Germany was a powerful and an aggressive nation, and countries in Europe did not know what a newly united Germany----with a sizable economy----would do.  Regarding a United States of Europe, there were apprehensions that this could be a formidable economic force.

What did Nixon propose that the U.S. should do about a united Germany?  On page 137, Nixon essentially says that the United States should provide the "political cover" that Germany needs for a "more active...foreign policy."  For Nixon, if the U.S. helps Germany to become more active in the world, other countries would not fear Germany as much, for they'd see that we're okay with Germany.  It sounds to me like "the friend of my friend is my friend."

3.  On page 129, Nixon talks about a possible role for Eastern European countries in NATO:

"As Europe's only time-tested security structure, NATO should seek to find ways to fill the security vacuum in Eastern Europe, particularly over the next decade when the uncertainty centering on instability within the former Soviet Union will run the highest.  This does not mean that NATO members should immediately extend its full Article 5 commitment----'an armed attack on one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack on all of them'----to the new democracies.  But it does mean that we should think in more subtle terms than an all-or-nothing guarantee.  NATO, after all, functions at various levels, including political consultation, military cooperation, and participation in its integrated military command.  Because they share our values and because the current vacuum creates an incentive for adventurism, the East European democracies must be brought into NATO's security sphere without granting them immediate full partnership."

The reason that this passage stood out to me was that it called to my mind Charlie Gibson's 2008 interview with Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.  As I talk about here, Palin was saying that Georgia and the Ukraine should be in NATO.  This surprised me and a few other people I read.  At the time, Russia was going after Georgia.  If Georgia were in NATO, would NATO be obligated to fight Russia?  And would a war against Russia even be feasible, or desirable?
Palin should probably have read Nixon's discussion of NATO on page 129 of Seize the Moment.  Nixon was for cooperation between NATO and the Eastern European countries, but not for a "you attack one Eastern European country, and we consider that an attack on all of us" approach (my words).  Maybe he would have had the same ideas about Georgia and the Ukraine.

4.  On page 164, Nixon mentions the loss of Chinese Communist dictator Mao Zedong's son:
"While the United States provided aid and troops to prevent Communist victories in Korea and South Vietnam, the Communist Chinese sacrificed tens of thousands of solders----including Mao Zedong's only son----to support the aggression of North Korea and provided indispensable economic and military assistance to the aggressors in North Vietnam."

There are many things that I loathe about Mao----the Cultural Revolution, his killings of millions of people, etc.  But I do respect that his only son went out to fight for the advancement of Communism, knowing that he might die.  There are enough politicians who try to save their own skin or the skin of those they love: they may be military hawks, but they themselves dodged going to war, or they are okay with sending other people's kids to war but not their own.  It's a mark of principle when a leader is the opposite of this.
You can probably detect some respect on Nixon's part for Mao in this case.  Nixon in his books is quite critical of Communism and Communists, but he does at times note things that he finds admirable about them.
I'll probably talk more about China in tomorrow's post.

5. On pages 158-159, Nixon says that the U.S. partly has itself to blame for its trade deficit with Japan:
"...Japan's tremendous economic success represents an easy scapegoat for American politicians seeking to deflect attention from our own economic problems.  First, the combination of a high federal deficit and a low domestic savings rate requires capital imports, which, in turn, are reflected in a trade deficit in goods and services.  Second, many U.S. companies lack the long-term horizons needed to cultivate the Japanese markets.  Third, since 95 percent of Japan's young people but only 75 percent of America's graduate from high school, we have failed to invest sufficiently in our human capital.  Some studies have pointed out that even if Japan eliminated all its import barriers, the U.S. trade deficit would drop by only $5-8 billion.  They suggest that primarily the fault is ours, not theirs."

In the above passage, Nixon appears to overlap with the economic views of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  Nixon, like many right-wingers, seems to portray a high deficit and low personal savings as bad for the economy.  Why?  I think that he regards a high deficit as bad because it sucks money out of the private sector: money that could be used for private investment and production is instead being used for an inefficient government program.  And Nixon may believe that people should save more because, once they have saved enough money, they can use that money to pay for capital that builds businesses.  Or people's savings would be in the bank, where it would be available to be loaned out to people who want to start businesses.  For Nixon, because we do not have enough capital ourselves, we rely on a country like Japan to provide us with capital, contributing to the trade deficit.

And yet, Nixon also overlaps with Barack Obama's view that the key to a strong economy is education.  Mitt Romney was all for education, too, but my impression during the 2012 campaign was that Romney emphasized tax cuts as the key to economic recovery----a trickle-down sort of approach----whereas Obama stressed government investment in education as a way to prepare people for the high-skilled jobs of the twenty-first century.  Nixon, at least in my reading thus far, does not say what the government should be doing about education, but he did highlight its importance in terms of helping the U.S. to become economically competitive.

Psalm 119: Chet

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will post Psalm 119: Chet in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.

57 CHETH. Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.

Leslie Allen says: "An old levitical formula of dependence upon Yahweh for material support rather than upon levitical land (cf. Num 18:20) is used in complaints as an expression of trust: cf. [Psalms] 16:5; 142:6(5)."  That could be what's going on here.  People trusted in their land for provision and for wealth.  But the Levites did not have an inheritance of land within Israel, and so they had to trust God, and the Israelites to obey God by supporting the Levites with tithes and offerings.  The Psalmist could be saying that he trusts in God the same way that many people trust in their portion of land.

I'd prefer to think, however, that the Psalmist is saying that, in some sense, God belongs to him (which is not to say that God belongs only to him), as a portion of land belongs to its owner, and the owner can reap the benefits of that land.  The Psalmist can partake of God's love, goodness, strength, and wisdom because he has God himself.  God is the Psalmist's precious treasure, in short.  I think of the praise-and-worship song "You are my all in all", which I loved singing back when I was in Intervarsity in college.

The thing is, a number of evangelicals focus on God being our portion in the sense that God is our friend and is unconditionally loving.  Psalm 119:57, however, associates God being our portion with us resolving to keep God's words.  When God is our portion, who God is----including God's moral character----accompanies that, and that should lead to transformation on our part.  Does that mean that God being our portion is conditional on us keeping God's commandments?  Well, I'd have serious issues with that, due to my own shortcomings and my need for a God of unconditional love, whose love remains firm even when I am at my worst.  Perhaps the Psalmist in v 57 is saying that he resolves to keep God's commandments because he is grateful that God is his portion: God's love for him and for others motivates him to want to walk in God's way.  Moreover, a common saying is that we get out of things what we put into them.  There are things that we can do to get good out of our relationship with God, things that entail us becoming more receptive to God's voice.  As a farmer must cultivate his portion of land to get benefits from it, so should I cultivate my relationship with God.

58 I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word.

Why does the Psalmist have to entreat God's favor and mercy?  Does he not already have these things?  Perhaps.  I can assume that God loves me.  Still, there are things that please God, and that displease God.  I should want to do the things that please God.  And when I do wrong and need my conscience to be cleansed so that I can start anew, I can draw on God's mercy.  I can't argue against the notion that the Psalmist is seeking God's favor and God's mercy because he does not believe that he has them already----that he is not entirely secure in his relationship with God.  I'm hesitant to read into the Bible the idea that God is unconditionally loving, for I don't want to project modern ideas or trends onto the Bible.  And yet, perhaps one can say that God is unconditionally loving, while still asking God for favor and mercy.  Sure, I can say that I'm already forgiven, but it helps me when I can confess that I have done wrong and can remind myself of God's mercy.

59 I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.

Different Christians offer different spiritual advice.  Some say that we should be really introspective: that we should look at ourselves, identify what we are doing wrong, and then try to stop what we are doing wrong and do what's right instead.  Others criticize introspection, saying that we should not look at ourselves but at Christ----Christ's love for us, the imputed righteousness that we have in him, etc.

I do tend to despair when I am introspective, especially within a Christian context, for I see how far I fall short of righteousness, and I lack confidence in ever being able to measure up.  Christian introspection, for me, can easily lead to an unhealthy perfectionism.  But I do believe that I should look at myself at least sometimes----to see where I'm less than loving, and to identify where I need to change and what exactly I can change.

60 I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.

This could be an insecure Psalmist trying to appease God, like an employee really gets on-the-ball when his boss is around.  But, again, whenever I can, I'd like to see the Bible through the prism of God's unconditional love, even though I'm not always sure if that produces accurate exegesis.  Could the Psalmist be saying that he is genuinely excited to obey God's commandments----that, again, God's love inspires him?

61 The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.

Being robbed must be horrible----for what is yours to be taken away from you.  But maybe the Psalmist is saying here that nobody can take God's law away from him----that he has an eye on what is truly important.  People may take from us.  Or perhaps we may be in situations where we do not feel that we are getting what we truly deserve.  In those situations, one approach may be to hold fast to what is good: to think on what is positive, to contemplate God's values.

62 At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.

I talked some about the significance of the night-time in my post on Psalm 119: Zayin.  Interestingly, John Chrysostom said some of the same things that I did about night: how it is a time of quiet, when we are especially receptive to God.  It doesn't always work out that way for me, since my mind tends to keep on going, even when I'm trying to sleep.  But there are times when my mind quiets down.  Perhaps I should take some time when I am in bed to give thanks to God.

63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.

Matthew Henry says that David loved those who feared God----not so much because of any friendship that he had with him----but rather on account of their devotion to God.  Henry also noted that David worshiped with the poor, for the worship of God brought together people from various classes.  I thought of this when I was reading my notes on II Samuel 6, where I mentioned Gregory the Great's statement that David in dancing before the LORD mingled with the common people.

Some of this resonates with me.  For one, I can somewhat identify with basing my companionship with others, not on whether or not I like them or they like me, but rather on their moral character----to have a purpose for associations rather than merely to hang out.  I don't like a lot of people, due to a variety of reasons (i.e., my hyper-sensitivity, maybe their hyper-sensitivity).  But I do admire traits in different people.  Second, I do respect Christianity as a force that brings a diversity of people together.  Sometimes, that doesn't happen, for some churches are not particularly diverse, due to where they are located.  And there are some Christians who prefer to associate with people who are like them.  But I do respect that Christianity in the past has brought people together----as tired as I get of people marketing their churches or small groups by emphasizing how diverse they are.

But am I a companion of those who fear God?  Overall, I find this difficult.  There are people who fear God who aren't particularly tolerant of other ways of thinking or living, or who are self-righteous.  I myself have a hard time being around those kinds of people.  But I also have a hard time associating with the liberal spiritual types because I don't feel accepted by them, since my impression is that they don't think I'm deep or profound enough.  Or I find that they, too, are pretty dogmatic and intolerant, only for different reasons than the conservative God-fearers are.  To be honest, I'm not sure how I can build religious bridges with other people.  I remember Tim Keller giving a sermon in which he said that we should focus on God, and then we can build bridges with others who are focused on God.  That hasn't worked for me, to tell you the truth.  Perhaps what I should do is recognize that others on a spiritual path have wisdom that can inspire, guide, and benefit me, and to be open to that.  But I shouldn't just be a taker: when I can, I should offer others support, showing that I care about them when they are in tough situations.

(UPDATE: I was thinking primarily about my online experiences in writing this, but, as I reflect some more, I realize that I do associate with people at my church.  The people there are nice people.) 

64 The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes.

Throughout this post, I've been wrestling with whether or not the Psalmist regarded God as unconditionally loving.  I'll probably wrestle with this question----as it pertains to the Bible in general----for a very long time.  But this verse does say that the earth is full of God's mercy, as if God is not sparing of his mercy, and God's benevolence is wide-ranging, even for people who are outside of a particular group.  When God is unconditionally loving, can that motivate me to want guidance from him as to how I should live, so that I can be good, like God?

Friday, April 26, 2013

John and John: Openness to Biblical Criticism

My church started a new Bible study last night.  We're going through John's Gospel: Wisdom from Ephesus, with Michael Card

What impressed me most last night was the openness of people in the group, and Michael Card on the DVD, to scholarly ideas about the composition of the Bible.  The pastor was saying that he learned from the History Channel's miniseries on the Bible that the John who wrote the Gospel of John was not the same person as the John who wrote the Book of Revelation.  Someone else in the group, who is rather conservative and evangelical yet is part of the more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), said that he was in a Bible study group about the Book of Revelation, and it was discussing the question of whether the same person wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.

I had something to contribute to this discussion, for I got back into reading Lee Harmon's Revelation: The Way It Happened (and my blog posts on that book will appear starting June 25).  I happened to read the night before my Bible study Lee's discussion of the authorship of Revelation, so the issue was fresh in my mind.  I told the group about reasons that many scholars believe that John's Gospel and Revelation are by different people (different Greek styles), while also explaining the arguments of conservative scholars who maintain that the same guy wrote both books (i.e., literary reasons for the stylistic differences, and patristic ascription of Revelation to the apostle John).  I'm happy when I can come across as smart, as rarely as that happens! 

On the DVD, Michael Card was saying that Matthew and Luke base the outline of their story on the Gospel of Mark, so he was essentially agreeing with Markan priority.  While Card believes that John, the author of John's Gospel, was an eyewitness to Jesus, he seems to think that there's more to what John is doing than simply writing down what happened.  According to Card, John's Gospel was written much later than the synoptics, and so John had more time to reflect about the significance of Jesus.  The implication of this is that we see in John things that happened, mixed with John's retrospective and theological reflections about Jesus' significance.

I enjoyed hearing Michael Card talk about some of the differences between John's Gospel and the synoptics.  John leaves out some of the things that other Gospels have, while going in a different direction.  John, unlike Matthew and Luke, does not have a birth story about Jesus, but John does discuss the incarnation.  John does not have a Last Supper scene, but he does describe what happened after the Last Supper.  John, unlike the synoptics, does not have parables, but Jesus in John's Gospels is himself a parable----Jesus is the light of the world who goes on to open the eyes of the blind, and Jesus is the bread of life who feeds the multitudes.

I'm appreciative whenever an evangelical acknowledges some human element in the Bible, because that is a good counterweight to the ideas about the Bible that a number of conservative Christians hold: that all of the Bible's words were spoken or dictated by God.  I know that there are many conservative Christians who would distance themselves from this model of revelation, but there are still a number who hold fast to it.

I'm doubtful that some of the people in my group would be open to other conclusions that biblical scholarship has made: the view that Moses did not write the Pentateuch but that it contains contradictory sources or layers, or the idea there there are multiple hands in the Book of Isaiah.  It doesn't really tax one's faith to say that different Johns wrote John's Gospel and the Book of Revelation.  After all, even according to traditionalists, the Bible contains the work of more than one author!  But to say that Moses did not write the Pentateuch does not sound right to a number of conservative Christians, one reason being that Jesus seems to attribute parts of the Pentateuch to Moses.  The same would go for the question of how many Isaiahs there are.  And, for some reason, there are a number of conservative Christians who wouldn't be open to the idea that Paul did not write all of the letters attributed to him.  I think that the reason for their discomfort here is that such a view would make the letters less authentic----they'd like for a letter that is attributed to Paul to be from Paul, not from some unknown who was pretending to be Paul.

Moreover, I'm not sure if people in the group would acknowledge that the Bible contradicts himself.  Some in the group are more open to that than others.  When John's Gospel is different from the synoptics, that's not a contradiction, in the eyes of many conservative Christians.  Rather, John's Gospel and the synoptics are highlighting different aspects of the truth.   

Seize the Moment 1

I started Richard Nixon's 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World.  In today's post, I'll just comment on four passages that stood out to me.  Tomorrow, I'll write about Richard Nixon's views regarding post-Soviet Russia.

1.  On page 30, Nixon says the following about the war against Iraq in the 1990's:

"Had we not intervened, an international outlaw would today control more than 50 percent of the world's oil.  While the United States could survive if necessary without Persian Gulf oil, Western Europe and Japan could not.  What happens to the economies of the other industrial democracies directly affects the health of our own economy.  We therefore could not have afforded to allow Iraq to control access to Gulf oil and blackmail the world through its choke hold on our oil lifeline."

This reminded me of a conversation that I once had with a professor at my undergraduate institution.  He was telling a group of us that the U.S. did not get a whole lot of oil from the Persian Gulf, but Japan did.  I replied: "I don't remember the government telling us that when we were fighting the Gulf War!"  The professor replied: "Of course it didn't!  Can you imagine how Americans would have reacted had they learned that American troops were being used as mercenaries for the Japanese?"

Nixon essentially acknowledges my professor's point, but, unlike my professor, Nixon believes that what happened in the Persian Gulf was relevant to our national interests, even if we could survive without Persian Gulf oil.

2.  On pages 62-63, Nixon says the following about Soviet support for Saddam Hussein's Iraq:

"In the Persian Gulf War, Moscow had to choose between supporting its traditional ally, Iraq, and retaining its newly won respectability in the West.  Though the Soviet Union helped Saddam Hussein covertly with military advisers and spare parts and sought to save him from decisive defeat through last-minute diplomacy, Gorbachev ultimately endorsed the U.S.-led coalition's use of force to liberate Kuwait and to cut Iraq down to size.  Gorbachev is not a stupid man.  Faced with a choice of Iraq or the West, he chose the West."

The reason that this stood out to me was that it called to my mind a right-wing article that I read against George W. Bush's war against Iraq.  Essentially, this article praised Saddam for cracking down on the Communists in his country.  It was interesting to me how this right-wing article was looking at Iraq through the prism of the Cold War, about a decade after the Cold War had ended!  In any case, though, I wonder how the author of that article would have responded had he (I remember it was a he) learned that the Soviet Union had been a major backer of Iraq.  A parallel case is evident in what the right-wing thinks about Israel.  For a long time, there were right-wingers (not all, or even most, but some) who equated Zionism with Communism----as if there's a conspiracy that is both Communistic and also Zionistic.  And yet, the Soviet Union supported Arab states.

3.  On pages 29-30, Nixon says the following about President George H.W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War in the 1990's:

"After he achieved his fundamental military objectives and even after he shielded the Kurds from Saddam Hussein's wrath, he avoided the quagmire of playing kingmaker in Iraqi internal politics."

Nixon appears to think that it was a good thing that Bush I did not proceed to topple Saddam Hussein.
What would Nixon have thought about George W. Bush's Iraq War in the 2000's?  I don't know.  On the one hand, Nixon thought that Bush I was wise not to get involved in Iraqi internal politics, which Nixon called a "quagmire".  Had Nixon been alive in the 2000's, perhaps he would have believed that the U.S. would be unwise to take on the responsibility of nation-building in Iraq.  On the other hand, I can also picture Nixon thinking that U.S. intervention in Iraq would be justifiable, since Iraq affected U.S. interests: if he were alive in the 2000's, Nixon may have bought into the idea that Iraq had WMDs and thus was a dangerous presence in the region.  I doubt that Nixon would have accepted the neocon agenda of making the world safe for democracy, however, for he argues in this book that democracy is not necessarily the best government for everyone.

On the one hand, Nixon probably would have been proud of Bush II for going over the UN's head to attack Iraq, for Nixon is rather critical of the UN in this book.  On the other hand, perhaps Nixon would have thought that Bush II was unwise to go into Iraq without enough allies, for Nixon praises Bush I for forming an alliance in the first Gulf War.

I can only speculate, based on what I've read thus far.  Later in this book, there is a chapter on "The Muslim World".  It will be interesting to see what Nixon says there.

4.  On page 83, Nixon says the following about Gorbachev's spending on the military:

"He has pleaded for Western tolerance of excessive military production, citing the monumental difficulties----particularly massive unemployment----in converting facilities to civilian production.  That argument crumbles under scrutiny.  Like most government spending, military procurement is nonproductive spending.  Because it does not produce any goods that consumers can buy, it acts as a drag on, not a stimulus for, economic growth.  Moscow would be better off shutting down defense plants and paying workers not to produce tanks and other equipment.  Then, the steel, electronics, and other inputs could at least be put to better purposes----such as, for example, alleviating shortages of consumer goods."

This passage intrigued me because Jerry Voorhis makes a similar point in his 1972-1973 critique of Nixon as President: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon----namely, that military spending does not stimulate the economy because it does not result in the production of goods that consumers can buy.
But didn't military production get the U.S. out of the Great Depression?  How, then, could it be a drag on the economy?  It may have gotten us out of the Depression, but American goods had to be rationed during the War.  And in the war's aftermath, there was a lot of inflation, for there was a limited supply of consumer goods, yet there was increased demand for them as people returned home from the war, and as Americans desired to get back to normalcy.

I am not entirely convinced that military spending cannot serve as stimulus, to tell you the truth.  It creates jobs, since people are producing stuff for the military.  People with those jobs can then go on to spend money on consumer goods, creating a demand for them, and (hopefully) a supply.  The thing is, I wish that there were other ways to stimulate the economy than for the government to spend money on weapons that we don't really need.  If only government spending on infrastructure could employ more people.

A Place Where People Can Be

I started M. Scott Peck's The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.  I'd like to use as my starting-point something that Peck says on page 103, as he describes a hypothetical group that has entered into a state of community:

"When she is finished [speaking] there is a hush.  It goes on a long time.  But it does not seem long.  There is no uneasiness in this silence.  Slowly, out of the silence, another member begins to talk.  He too is speaking very deeply, very personally, about himself.  He is not trying to heal or convert the first person.  He's not even trying to respond to her.  It's not she but he who is the subject.  Yet the other members of the group do not sense he has ignored her.  What they feel is that it is as if he is laying himself down next to her on an altar."

What I've gotten out of Peck so far is that community is a place where people can be and share who they truly are, while finding acceptance.  As Peck notes, this is rare.  But it's beautiful when it does happen.

I wonder how it can happen, though.  That's the topic of this book, for it concerns how we can create community rather than just experiencing it on a hit-and-miss basis.  But I have a hard time envisioning how community can happen, or rather how I can fit into a community.  Don't get me wrong----there have been a number of groups in which I have felt comfortable.  But feeling free to bare my soul before others and to show them who I truly am?  That occurs very, very, very rarely!

I don't entirely blame others for this----their desire to hog the limelight and dominate the discussion, their judgmental put-downs, etc.----for I myself am part of the problem.  I myself can be quite intolerant.  I could identify with one guy Peck mentioned (and appeared to disagree with) who complained that he did not like how people in the group focused on their negative experiences, for he thought that they should share what was positive in their lives as well.  I've felt that way in Asperger's support groups!

Moreover, if people are free to be who they truly are, then that will entail that they will disagree with each other.  Peck is critical of what he calls "Pseudocommunity", in which people try to avoid rocking the boat.  But some people may take it badly when someone disagrees with them, seeing such disagreement as a put-down.  And, while one may say that they should then defend their positions, not everyone is glib or quick at debating. 

Peck says that people in groups should use "I" statements rather than making generalizations.  Rather than saying that divorce in general is bad, Ralph (to use a fictitious example) should say that his own divorce was hard on him.  Someone else may have had a different experience with divorce!  I think that this is an important point: that an essential part of community is recognizing that people are in different places and have had different experiences.  I don't think that this by itself creates intimacy, for I have been in groups in which people were required to use "I" statements, and, while such groups ran smoothly, there wasn't much intimacy among the people.  But perhaps it can set the stage for people to share and thus to become intimate.

To come back to the passage that I quoted at the beginning of this post, I'm the sort of person who would be hurt if someone talked after me without addressing what I had just said.  I'd see that as a rejection, as someone believing that my point was unworthy of consideration.  Why?  Because I'm insecure about whether or not I am accepted in groups.  But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.  Suppose someone was sharing to place himself on the altar alongside of me----that he wasn't ignoring me, but we were taking turns at sharing who we are, and now it's his turn.  (This is rare in a number of groups.  Twelve Step recovery groups probably approximate it more than others, for many of them prohibit cross-talk and interruptions, but even in those groups there can be cliques and judgmental snark.)  And suppose that I felt accepted in a group, even if someone disagreed with me or ignored what I said.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Nixon Off the Record 4

I finished Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record, which is about Monica's time working for former President Richard Nixon in the 1990's.

A lot of the book was Nixon lecturing to Monica about policy and politics, but there were a few light-hearted moments.  There was Nixon getting a phone call and it being the wrong number.  I mean, how could one call a former President by mistake?  It apparently happens, though!  There was Nixon saying that he looked too old in his eyeglasses, then Monica put on her glasses and asked if she looked too old.  And then there was an odd moment: a bird hit the window and flew away.  Monica speculates that Nixon may have seen this as a sign.  That wouldn't surprise me, since I blogged about one time that Nixon did look for signs in nature.

The sharpness of Richard Nixon's mind, even in his old age, made his stroke and his death quite tragic, in my opinion.  Nixon in old age had a plethora of insights about politics and policy, which he loved to express, orally and in writing.  It must have been terrible for him to have a stroke that took away his ability to speak.  And, after he had invested so much time in influencing the policies and political decisions of prominent political figures, it was sad that he did not get to see how things turned out for them.  Nixon had opinions about the Clinton Administration, and President Bill Clinton turned to Nixon for advice, far more than Ronald Reagan and George Bush did.  And Nixon also advised Robert Dole on how to run effectively against Bill Clinton in 1996.  But Nixon passed on before 1996 came.

Incidentally, Monica's book is copyrighted to 1996, and it was apparently written before the 1996 election had been decided.  On pages 221-222, Monica says the following:

"The art of politics is seldom the art of leadership.  Clinton is an elitist cloaked in populist garb, but Dole is a true and quiet populist cloaked not in illusive image-making but in the certainty that comes from experience.  The contrast between Clinton and Dole cannot be more stark.  Unlike 1992, the 1996 election is to be a contest not about just the next four years but about the next century, when leadership of the kind Nixon spoke of will be required to make it the second American century.  Nixon saw clearly from Clinton's first year that Clinton is not the one to lead America into the new millennium.  Dole, however, is the one, and if he succeeds, Nixon's lessons about leadership will not only endure but live."

It's a profound passage, but I'm not entirely sure what to say about it.  Was it a mistake that Clinton was the one who led America into the twenty-first century?  Nixon passed on (as far as I can see) before the economic boom under Bill Clinton.  He passed on before Clinton and the Republicans passed welfare reform and balanced the budget.  Would Nixon have been proud of Clinton's accomplishments?  Well, I can envision him being happy about the balanced budget.  Maybe he would have been pleased with welfare reform----I'm not sure, for, while Nixon was a strong proponent of welfare reform, he criticized Reagan's domestic policies for not being compassionate enough.  On the economic boom, I have doubts that Nixon would have given Clinton credit for that: I can picture him being like a lot of Republicans, who said that Bill Gates and Al Greenspan deserved more credit for the economic upswing than Bill Clinton and Al Gore.  And yet, Monica notes that Nixon was a supporter of NAFTA, so Nixon probably liked Clinton's trade policies.

What would Nixon have thought about Clinton's foreign policy?  That's a good question.  Nixon didn't seem to care for Clinton's intervention in Haiti.  I'm doubtful that he would have supported Clinton's intervention in Somalia----though, at the same time, I can also picture Nixon adhering to the right-wing notion that Clinton's pulling out our forces from Somalia conveyed weakness and emboldened Al Qaeda; Nixon would probably say that Clinton shouldn't have committed forces to Somalia without seeing the mission through.  On Bosnia and Serbia, I don't know if Nixon would have seen that conflict as meriting U.S. intervention or not.  I can picture him thinking that it would, since the conflict could conceivably impact the rest of of Europe.  Would Nixon support nation-building, or Clinton's strategy of prosecuting the war?  I have my doubts, but I can also envision Nixon supporting elements of Clinton's strategy (i.e., using American air-power).  These are just guesses of mine, and there is still much for me to learn about Nixon's foreign policy views.

I'm sure Nixon would have had an opinion about Monica Lewinsky-gate----an opinion ranging from pleasure that a Democratic President was finally being punished for a scandal (since Nixon thought that Democrats got away with stuff that Republicans never got away with), to beliefs about how Clinton was handling the scandal.  I doubt that the scandal would have surprised Nixon, for Nixon thought that Bill and Hillary did not particularly like each other, and Nixon had opinions about the 1992 Gennifer Flowers scandal.

Was it a bad thing that Clinton led us into the twenty-first century?  I suppose it depends on whom you ask.  If you think that Clinton dropped the ball on Osama Bin-Laden, then your answer would be yes.  If you believe that he was more on-the-ball about Bin-Laden than Bush later was, then your answer would be no.
In any case, this is a good book.  I'll probably wait a while to read the sequel, Nixon in WinterNixon in Winter looks like a heavier read, and it has lots of words on each page.  Right now, I'm too busy to read books about Nixon that are too heavy.

God Provides When You Give?

I was watching Bill Maher's Religulous recently, and one part of the documentary that stood out to me was when a televangelist was telling his television audience that he knew people on welfare who had committed to give his ministry $1,000, and they were paying it!

I would really like to believe that.  Wouldn't it be reassuring to believe that God takes care of people, especially when they give to others?  And maybe there are stories about that taking place----about God being with people and providing for them when they are faithful in giving their tithes and offerings.  I one time had dinner with a Seventh-Day Adventist couple, and they said that there were times when they looked at the books and did not think that they could afford to tithe.  But they tithed anyway, and they still got through.
But then I've heard other stories.  I know one person whose family ate popcorn rather than decent and wholesome food because he was giving a lot of money to his church.  And he made good money! 

Regarding the people on welfare whom that televangelist mentioned, maybe they were giving to his ministry $1,000, but was it at a cost?  Did they have to forgo meals for themselves or their children in order to give that donation?  Or did they have to give up other necessities?  Or, alternatively, did God sustain them and provide for them during that time?

Then there's the question of whether a church or ministry even deserves someone's donation.  I don't know enough about that televangelist to comment one way or the other, but I know of some churches and ministries in which the leadership got rich off of the donations of hardworking people and those who were on a fixed income.

At the same time, I don't want to be hard-hearted towards those who truly need help, to just provide for me and my own while withholding money from those who may be going hungry, or who are struggling to get off their feet (which is not to say that I give substantial amounts to charity).  Does God provide for us when we give?  I hope that, on some level, he does.  Granted, what's important is that we give, whether God rewards us or not.  But it's hard to give when we ourselves are lacking and are struggling to stretch the little money that we have.  II Corinthians 9:8 states: "And God [is] able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all [things], may abound to every good work" (KJV), and some interpret that to mean that God will always provide us with something to give.  Is that how real life works, though?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nixon Off the Record 3

For my write-up today on Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record, which is Monica's recounting of her time working for former President Richard Nixon in the 1990's, I'll use as my starting-point something that Nixon says on page 204:

"You know, I've always been a liberal on health issues because I lost two brothers to TB and an aunt to cancer."

I this post that I wrote in blogging through Richard Nixon's memoirs, I noted some paradox in Nixon's response to Senator Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick incident: Nixon had compassion for Kennedy, yet Nixon was also coldly calculating.  Nixon was contemplating the political ramifications of Chappaquiddick, for both Kennedy and also for Nixon himself, who thought that Kennedy might run for President in 1972.

I see a similar vacillation between compassion and cold calculation in Nixon as I read Monica Crowley's book.  On the one hand, Nixon is enjoying the health care debate and watching how it will all play out, making me exclaim while reading, "This isn't a game!  It impacts real life people!"  Yet, on the other hand, Nixon says that the health care issue is dear to his heart because of the family members he lost to disease.  On the one hand, Nixon was intrigued by Vince Foster's suicide and the documents that Hillary Clinton supposedly took from him to hide her guilt in Whitewater.  On the other hand, Nixon laments that government service so often drives people to depression, and he speculates as to what could have driven Vince Foster to kill himself.

Is there a cold side to most politicians?  I wouldn't be surprised.  In Crowley's book, Nixon himself sees Bill and Hillary Clinton as rather cynical.  On page 206, Nixon says about Hillary: "Hillary doesn't give a shit for people.  Well, that's not fair.  She might shed a tear now and then; we all do."  Nixon regards Hillary as tough and as cold.  Yet, he acknowledges that she is more of a doctrinaire liberal than her husband.  (And, whether Nixon likes her or not, he does appreciate that Bill Clinton mentioned Nixon's health care plan in his health care speech before Congress, which Nixon speculates may have been Hillary's doing.)

In another poignant passage of Monica's book, Nixon says that most politicians love a winner, and that many of them are not particularly nice people.  Could this apply to Nixon?  I remember watching an A&E Biography on Joe McCarthy, and it narrated that, after McCarthy's downfall, McCarthy  showed up at a Republican campaign event.  When Nixon saw him, Nixon supposedly told someone, "Get him out of here!"  On the other hand, in Nixon's memoirs, Nixon says some positive things about McCarthy: Nixon sees the human side of this controversial figure, whatever Nixon may think of McCarthy's practices.

I'd like to think that politicians care about the people.  Maybe a number of them do, at least on some level.  There are people who want to make a difference.  But many politicians are quite cynical, calculating, and self-interested----and this may very well apply even to politicians whom I vote for. 

Continuing the Dialogue

Although I've already finished the book, I'd like to talk in today's post about something in M. Scott Peck's Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth.  Peck has a chapter about Alcoholics Anonymous, which he praises because of its spirituality and the way that the sponsorship within it provides informal psychotherapy to people.

On pages 140-141, Peck relates an experience that he had in counseling an alcoholic executive.  The executive told Peck that AA wasn't working for him, for, although he went to AA meetings every other night, he continued to get drunk.  The executive also claimed to understand all of the twelve steps.

Peck probed him on this claim, as Peck said with some surprise that "it usually takes people at least three years to even begin to be able to comprehend" the twelve steps (page 140).  The executive replied that he didn't really understand the part about the higher power, but he at least had a grasp on the First Step, which states, "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol----that our lives had become unmanageable."

The executive understood the First Step to mean, "I've got this kind of biochemical defect in my brain such that whenever I take a drink, the alcohol takes over and I lose my willpower."  That means that he cannot take the first drink.  Once he takes that first drink, he is powerless, for he will then crave and have another drink, then another, then another.

Peck then proposed another way to understand the First Step: perhaps it not only means that an alcoholic is powerless after he takes the first drink, but also before he takes the first drink.  The executive insisted that such was not the case, that he was only powerless after the first drink, and that the choice was his whether or not he would take the first drink.  Peck responded that the executive wasn't behaving that way, however, for the executive was continuing to get drunk.  When the executive kept insisting that it was up to him whether he took the first drink, Peck replied, "Well, have it your way, then."

Peck concludes this story by saying, "The executive had not yet undergone the surrender required to the very first of the twelve steps, much less the remaining eleven."

I didn't particularly care for this story, to tell you the truth.  The reason is that I'd prefer for a therapist to be more nurturing, kinder, and gentler than to end the discussion with "Well, have it your way, then."  I'd feel so alone if a therapist told me that.  Plus, I feel that the discussion gets unnecessarily bogged down in the definition of "powerless".  So the executive does not feel that he is absolutely powerless before the first drink.  So he doesn't define his problem in those exact terms.  Maybe there's still a way to work with him, without being so absolutist.  

After all, the executive is  coming to Peck because he realizes that he has a problem with getting drunk.  Perhaps he and Peck could try to get at the bottom of why the executive feels like drinking----what problems he is going through, what he feels before he takes that first drink, etc.  Maybe he and Peck can talk about whether or not the executive has a sponsor and is working the twelve steps, and if not, why not?  Is the executive reluctant to be honest about himself, or to trust, and, if so, why?  Is there something that the executive deems to be unmanageable that can be made more manageable to him?  I doubt that the executive has the same issues that I do in the exact same way that I have them----such as shyness or struggles in making social contacts, which could create difficulties in terms of getting a sponsor, lining up friends whom one could call when one feels like drinking, reaching out to other alcoholics in fulfilling the Twelfth Step, etc.----since he is, after all, an executive. But he may have challenges that inhibit him from working the program.  In short, I don't think that Peck should have said, "Well, have it your way, then."

Maybe Peck and the executive actually did work on these issues, even though Peck does not talk about that in the book.  After all, there are times when a therapist can say, "Well, have it your way", then come back and try to get to the bottom of things.  Saying something that indicates finality does not always mean finality, on a practical level.  People can resume dialogue or choose to continue it after they seem to have ended it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Nixon Off the Record 2

Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record is about the time that Crowley worked for former President Nixon as a foreign policy assistant.  This was during the 1990's.  In my latest reading, Crowley talks about Nixon's pontifications regarding the 1992 Presidential election.

As I read this part of the book, I thought about the time that I was interning at a right-wing political organization in 1996.  This was during the Presidential election between President Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.  We kept a consistent eye on the political events of each day.  The result of that, I think in retrospect, was that we thought that certain things mattered, which turned out not to matter at all.  For example, my boss was all excited that some Clinton aide (or whatever the guy was) pleaded the Fifth Amendment during a Whitewater investigation (if I'm not mistaken).  When my boss told one of the workers at the group about this, the worker replied, "Can you say President Dole?"  But it turned out that the guy pleading the Fifth Amendment had no impact on the 1996 Presidential election, whatsoever.  Clinton went on to win.

I don't want to give the impression that my boss and that one worker were thoroughly optimistic that Dole would win.  My boss also said, "I can have a better time talking with myself on the toilet, than I can listening to Bob Dole!"  But it does seem that monitoring political events on a day-by-day (or even an hour-by-hour or minute-by minute) basis can foster a sort of myopia: we think that certain things matter that turn out not to matter in the long run.

In Monica's book, Nixon was commenting on the 1992 election on a day-by-day basis.  I'm not sure that I can defend the notion that this gave him a sort of myopia.  Nixon did seem to have insights that contradicted each other----for example, he thought that Perot re-entering the race would help Bush because Perot would take away some of Clinton's votes, only later to conclude that Perot hurt Bush.  But that's what happens: we can't see the future, and so we try our best to make sense of the present.

In 1992, I was in high school, and I could not yet vote.  But I liked politics.  And I was a conservative----a social conservative, an economic conservative.  The Cold War had pretty much ended by that point, so it was somewhat up in the air what would constitute a foreign policy conservative.  But I gravitated towards Pat Buchanan's isolationist, anti-New World Order views.  I didn't care for Bush because I didn't think that he was a true conservative, so I rooted for Buchanan in the Republican primaries.  When Bush and Dan Quayle started to turn up the conservative rhetoric, I supported them, perhaps because I hoped that Bush would be more committed to conservative principles in his second term than he was in his first.  I liked Perot at first because he was an outsider, though I wished that he were more socially conservative (i.e., pro-life); when Perot left the race and later came back into it, I lost respect for him.  On Bill Clinton, at first I somewhat liked him, since my understanding was that he was a moderate Democrat----one who was for tax credits to create jobs, a middle-class tax cut, and cutting out government waste.  But then I came to dislike him, for several reasons: his avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War, his extramarital affairs, his liberal and opinionated wife, his desire to spend more government money as a way to stimulate the economy, etc.  And, while so many people were praising Clinton's charisma, I didn't see what the attraction was.

Nixon in Monica's book overlaps with my impressions (during 1992, that is) in some areas, but not in others.  I'd like to highlight two things that stood out to me.  First of all, Nixon in 1992 did not seem to care for social conservatism.  He appeared to lean to the pro-choice rather than the pro-life side.  He did not like the Republicans criticizing homosexuals, since homosexuals voted (yet Nixon was against gays in the military).  On page 109, Nixon is quoted as saying to Monica: "Tolerance in this party is far too low.  Fifty percent of all families are single parent; sixty-five percent of all women work.  We can't crap on them.  We've got to reach out----and mean it."  My impression is that Nixon was more of a social conservative when he was President, but he changed with time.  Was Nixon the sort of Republican who thought that the G.O.P. should focus on tax cuts rather than social issues?  Well, he wasn't exactly a fan of supply-side economics in 1992----though he did seem to believe that taxes could be cut without damage if the government reduces spending as well.  In terms of where he wanted the party to take a firm stand, an issue of importance to him was aid to Russia: he thought that the U.S. needed to help out post-Soviet Russia to prevent the onset of a new Cold War.  He may have been on to something there, when it came to foreign policy.  But I doubt that issue would have had sex appeal with the voters.

Second, Nixon felt that he had been vindicated about Vietnam.  That's why Bill Clinton bothered him so much.  Nixon was not only upset that Clinton had avoided military service during the war, but also that Clinton years later appeared to think that the Vietnam War was a bad idea.  I was puzzled about why Nixon felt that he had been vindicated.  After all, the Vietnam War took a lot of lives, and we didn't even win it.  Perhaps Nixon felt that he was vindicated because our loss of the Vietnam War led to all of Vietnam becoming a Communist dictatorship, which was a bad thing.  Nixon on page 114, after all, expresses bafflement that "Clinton still thinks that North Vietnam's cause was more just."

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