Saturday, January 31, 2015

II Chronicles 18

II Chronicles 18 presents the story of the prophet Micaiah.  The wicked King Ahab of Northern Israel and the righteous King Jehoshaphat of Judah have entered into an alliance.  Jehoshaphat visits Ahab, and Ahab wants to fight Syria.  Ahab consults his prophets, and they tell him that he will succeed.  Jehoshaphat is a bit skeptical, however, and inquires if there is another prophet whom Ahab can consult.  Ahab reluctantly has Micaiah brought in, and Micaiah says that Ahab’s military adventure will fail and that the Israelite forces in the battle will become sheep without a shepherd.  Well, Jehoshaphat and Ahab go out to fight anyway.  Ahab tells Jehoshaphat to put on his robes, while Ahab disguises himself.  Thinking that Jehoshaphat is Ahab, some Syrians try to attack Jehoshaphat, but Jehoshaphat cries out to God and is saved, as God moves those Syrians to depart from Jehoshaphat.  Ahab, though, gets killed by an arrow.

I have three items:

1.  II Chronicles 18:1 says that Jehoshaphat had lots of riches and honor.  Ralph Klein in the HarperCollins Study Bible asks a question: Why, then, did Jehoshaphat see a need to enter into an alliance with Ahab?  The idea seems to be that ordinarily vulnerable parties seek alliances.  If a weaker country enters into an alliance with a stronger country, then the weaker country becomes more secure because she can receive help from the stronger country.  Yet, Jehoshaphat represents a strong country that is seeking an alliance.

David Rothstein in the Jewish Study Bible makes a similar point and proposes a solution: perhaps Ahab’s slaughtering of an abundance of sheep and cattle for Jehoshaphat is what motivated Jehoshaphat to enter the alliance.  Ahab knew of Jehoshaphat’s power and was trying to flatter him, and Jehoshaphat succumbed.

I have long wondered: Why did Jehoshaphat ask for another prophet of the LORD, one who would speak something different from what Ahab’s yes-men prophets were saying, only to turn around and disregard that prophet’s message?  The reason may have been that Jehoshaphat was the weaker party in the alliance and thus had to do what Ahab said.  In II Chronicles 18, however, Jehoshaphat is not the weaker party but is courted by Ahab due to his strength.  Consequently, the Chronicler’s answer may be that Jehoshaphat was succumbing to flattery, and that compromised his spiritual filters.

2.  Jehoshaphat will be criticized for his alliance with Ahab in II Chronicles 19.  Yet, even while Jehoshaphat is in a battle and an alliance that God opposes, God still hears Jehoshaphat when Jehoshaphat cries out to him in peril.  We are not told why.  Maybe it was because God was honoring Jehoshaphat’s record of righteousness, or because God wanted to show himself mighty and loving in Jehoshaphat’s life, a reason that God answers a number of prayers.  Jehoshaphat was being encouraged to trust God, something that Jehoshaphat did not do when entering the alliance.  Even if God heard Jehoshaphat while Jehoshaphat was in a state of disobedience, however, God still punished Jehoshaphat for his disobedience.

3.  II Chronicles 18:29 is a bit puzzling.  The battle is raging, and Ahab tells Jehoshaphat to put on his robes, while Ahab disguises himself.  The Septuagint goes so far as to say that Ahab was telling Jehoshaphat to put on Ahab’s robes!  This is an odd request.  It’s almost like Ahab was telling Jehoshaphat to make himself a target for the Syrians, while Ahab disguises himself and thus removes himself from being a target.  That would be odd, though, for why would Jehoshaphat fall for that?

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary says that Ahab was saying that Ahab knew that Micaiah’s prophecy was that Ahab, not Jehoshaphat, would die in the battle.  Ahab, therefore, would be the one who would have to disguise himself to keep himself from being a target.  Jehoshaphat, however, did not need to worry.  Why would Ahab tell Jehoshaphat to put on his robes?  Perhaps because that could comfort and rally the Israelite and Judahite troops: they would see that a king was still around leading them, and they would realize that they still had a shepherd in battle.  John Gill says that Ahab was flattering Jehoshaphat: Jehoshaphat would look like a royal commander in those robes!  If that is the case, then Jehoshaphat once more succumbed to flattery, which dulled his reasoning ability.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Onward in My Daily Quiet Time

I finished my daily quiet time through the apocrypha/deuterocanonical writings.  I don’t have time right now to write any profound thoughts about the experience, but it went well, far better than I expected!  The next book that I will be reading is I Enoch.  I was going to go straight to the New Testament, but I decided to do some pseudepigraphic writings before I go there.  How many, I don’t know.  I am planning to go through I Enoch and Jubilees, but beyond that, well, that’s an open question right now.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Write-Up: A Beautiful Reflection

Sarah O. Maddox.  A Beautiful Reflection.  Winchester, KY: Olivia Kimbrell Press, 2014.  ISBN-10: 1939603293. ISBN-13: 978-1939603296.  See here to purchase the book.

A Beautiful Reflection is a Christian novella for young women.  Its message is about the importance of Christians marrying Christians rather than non-Christians.  The two main characters of the book are Susan Strasbourg and Jim Hitchenson.  Susan is a devout conservative Christian, who prays to God, attends church, abstains from alcohol and pre-marital sex, displays a genuine interest in people, and volunteers at a mental hospital and a school for the deaf.

Susan manages a local branch of a company, and she attends the company’s convention in Atlanta.  A handsome man sitting with his parents and his sister at the convention keeps looking at Susan, and Susan learns that he is Jim Hitchenson, the President of the company.  Susan is warned that Jim is quite a ladies’ man, one who loves the ladies and then leaves them!  But Jim introduces himself to Susan and comes across as a really nice guy.  He takes Susan out, and he respects her desire not to drink alcohol.  When Susan is stalked at the convention, Jim is very protective of her and stations security guards at her hotel door.

Jim is serious about Susan because she is beautiful on the inside and the outside, and Jim wants the sort of wholesome family life that his parents have.  Susan loves Jim because he is handsome, is concerned about her, has lots of energy, and loves people.  But there is a slight barrier between them.  Jim has a wild past filled with promiscuity and alcohol, and he is reluctant to share that with Susan out of fear that she will reject him.  And Susan wonders if Jim is a born-again believer, for she wants the Lord to build her house, and she does not want to trap Jim in any religiosity that he may later resent.

I am not the book’s target audience, but I was interested in reading this book because I thought that it would be about different beliefs and value systems, from an evangelical Christian perspective.  In addition, I have read my share of Christian and non-Christian romance, so I believe that I am qualified to offer an evaluation of the book.

Overall, I wish that the book had more about conflicting values and religious beliefs, and that it fleshed out more why it was so problematic for believers to marry non-believers.  In one scene, when Susan was pointing out to herself that she had not yet discussed with Jim his religious beliefs, his stance on social issues, and his political views, I was looking forward to such a discussion, even though I feared that it would amount to Susan suggesting that true Christians are right-wing Republicans!  (I was expecting Jim to be a Republican, but an economic conservative and not a social or cultural conservative.)  I was hoping for more substantive discussions, beyond the romantic dialogue that was throughout the book.  Why did Susan and Jim believe and behave as they did, and how could the disparity between their beliefs pose problems to them if they were to get married, especially when Jim seemed to respect Susan’s convictions?  The author, Sarah O. Maddox, asked thoughtful questions in the back of the book, but I was hoping for more in the story itself.

I was also disappointed that certain aspects of the plot were not revisited.  For example, in the book’s preface, we are told about Susan’s relationship with a Christian man, Rob, long before she met Jim.  Rob proposed to Susan, but Susan prayed about Rob’s proposal and turned Rob down, concluding that she saw Rob as more of a friend than a potential husband.  The events of the preface are never mentioned in the remainder of the book.  Perhaps readers are supposed to draw their own conclusions, but there were questions in my mind that I was hoping would be addressed.  What did Susan learn from this experience?  And can this experience shed light on why Susan was responding to Jim as she was?

Something else that perplexed me was the reaction of Jim’s sister Violet to the relationship between Jim and Susan.  Violet had been romantically involved with Dan, and Dan broke off the relationship because Dan was a non-Christian and Violet was asking him if he had a born again experience.  Yet, Violet was happy that Jim met Susan and never brought up to Susan the topic of whether Jim is a believer and how Jim and Susan would be unequally yoked were they to marry.  Maybe Violet was just happy that Jim had met a good Christian woman, who was different from the women Jim had previously dated.

Overall, though, I liked the book.  Although I sometimes questioned if Maddox was right to tell us Jim’s feelings for Susan early in the book—-I was wondering if readers would be better off wondering if Jim’s love for Susan was real—-I did appreciate the theme of Jim being a recovering playboy who was looking for a wholesome family life.  And I liked his sister, Violet.

The publisher sent me a complimentary review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ramblings on The Devil's Advocate and Demons Being Unafraid of the Bible

I watched the 1997 movie, The Devil’s Advocate, on Saturday night.  In this movie, Keanu Reeves plays a hot-shot lawyer, Kevin Lomax, who moves from Florida with his wife to work at a New York City law firm.  The head of the firm is John Milton, played by Al Pacino, and Milton turns out to be Satan, and also Kevin’s father.  What’s more, the law firm is connected with all sorts of iniquity in the world: arms deals, drugs, and the list goes on and on.

I first watched the movie several years ago.  I was an undergraduate in college at the time, and what surprised me was that Satan and the demonic figures appeared to have no fear of the Christian religion.  Kevin’s mother was religious, and she was reading the Bible aloud to Kevin’s wife, who was in a mental hospital.  One of the ladies from the firm was also there, and this lady was simply standing there and calmly listening to Kevin’s mother reading from the Bible.  This lady didn’t look bothered or disturbed at all.  This lady turned out to be a demon, yet, there she was, unafraid to listen to the words of the Bible!

There were other things in the film that were similar to that.  Kevin’s mother was telling Kevin about the time that she met John Milton when she was younger.  She was attending a Christian crusade, and she was impressed because Milton knew the Bible backwards and forwards.  Near the end of the movie, when Kevin tells Satan that the Bible says that Satan will lose in the end, Satan responds that Kevin has to remember who wrote the book!

Should I have been surprised by these scenes?  Probably not.  I listened to a preacher when I was younger, and this preacher said that Satan probably knows the Bible backwards and forwards, and that Satan would most likely enjoy discussing religion with people.  And, in the biblical stories of Jesus’ temptation in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Satan did quote Scripture to Jesus.

But there was a part of me that did regard the Bible as a sort of talisman against evil, or that viewed the reading of the Bible as a place to find peace and refuge.  Were not the demons in the synoptic Gospel stories afraid of Jesus?  And yet, they were not always afraid of Jesus’ name.  When some would-be exorcists in Acts 19 sought to cast out a demon from a person in the name of Jesus, the demon replied, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” (NRSV)?  The demon-possessed man then attacked these men, and they fled from the house, naked and wounded.

There is another story, though.  In Matthew 12 and Luke 11, Jesus tells a parable about a man who had been released from a demon.  The expelled demon gathers some other demons to possess the man, and they find his “house” (perhaps a symbol of his inner being) empty, swept, and put in order.  They then possess the man, and he is now worse off than he was before.  In a Bible study group that I attended in college, and also in some commentaries that I read, I encountered the interpretation that the man got repossessed because he did not replace the demons with good things.  We should not just get rid of the evil within us, the spiel ran, but we should also fill our minds with good things, like Bible study, prayer, and church.  That will protect us.

I don’t want to make this post about exorcism or demon possession.  I don’t really know why demons bother some people and not others.  I remember talking with some Christians about the movie The Exorcist, and I wondered why the demon possessed that little girl, since she was a person of faith and had a cross (there I go again, believing in talismans!).  A Christian reminded me of the scene in which the girl and her mother were using a ouija board, and the Christian was saying that the girl opened herself up to demons by so doing.  I don’t dismiss that.  But there are plenty of people in the world—-non-Christians, occultists—-who do not get possessed.  I still stay away from ouija boards, though!

I will say this, and here I am not talking so much about possession, as I am about resisting the devil and his schemes.  The devil is not afraid of the words of the Bible.  But the devil cannot do much in persuading a person who is committed to doing the words of the Bible.  That brings me back to Jesus’ parable about the unswept house: the words of the Bible may not scare Satan, but can Satan really do much to convince someone who internalizes those words and allows them to strengthen her?

Even in the Devil’s Advocate, Satan said that he cannot make people do something.  Rather, what people do is their choice.  It is our poor character that often makes us susceptible to Satan’s temptations.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Write-Up: Beyond Belief, by Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagels.  Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.  New York: Vintage Books, 2003.

Elaine Pagels is a professor of religion at Princeton University.  I have read two of her other books, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent and The Origin of Satan, and found her to be a compelling narrator.

I decided to purchase Beyond Belief in 2011, when I was reading some books by Christian apologist David Marshall.  Marshall was disputing the idea that the so-called Gnostic Gospels were as religiously or historically authoritative as the Gospels in the New Testament.  The so-called Gnostic Gospels are deemed by many scholars to be later than the synoptic Gospels, mainstream New Testament scholars generally do not look to the so-called Gnostic Gospels in attempting to reconstruct historically what Jesus said and did, and scholars who argue that the Gospel of Thomas is later than the synoptic Gospels appeal to possible indications that it drew from the synoptic Gospels.

But I was curious.  I was aware of scholars who made a big deal about the so-called Gnostic Gospels and maintained that there was diversity in early Christianity—-I thought of Elaine Pagels, Karen King, and Bart Ehrman.  I wondered if they seriously believed that Jesus could have been a Gnostic, or Gnostic-like (since the label of Gnosticism itself has come under attack within scholarship, as Pagels acknowledges), and if they held that the so-called Gnostic Gospels were as historically authoritative as the New Testament Gospels.  Well, I read Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities, and even he seemed to acknowledge that the Gospels outside of the New Testament were later than the New Testament ones.  Recently, since I found that my review books have not been arriving with haste, I decided finally to read Pagel’s book to get her perspective.

Essentially, Pagels does regard the Gospel of Thomas as later than the synoptic Gospels, but she believes that it came before the Gospel of John in the late first century C.E.  Actually, her contention is that the Gospel of John was responding to the Gospel of Thomas: whereas the Gospel of Thomas encourages people to look within themselves to find God, which they can do because they are made in God’s image, the Gospel of John rejects such an experiential approach and exhorts people to look to Jesus to find God.  Pagels observes that Thomas is portrayed negatively in John’s Gospel, and she notes that Thomas in John’s Gospel even missed out on getting the Holy Spirit when Jesus was giving his disciples the Spirit.  While Pagels does not go into much detail about how John’s portrayal of Thomas constitutes an attack on the Gospel of Thomas’ ideology, she does note one area in which it might: Thomas in John’s Gospel wants to see for himself that Jesus is raised from the dead, and, after Jesus shows himself to Thomas, Jesus praises those who do not have to see to believe.  Thomas in John’s Gospel had an experiential approach to religion, Pagels states, and the Gospel of Thomas also had an experiential approach; John’s Gospel, however, rejects such an approach.

But does the Gospel of Thomas in any way reflect what the historical Jesus was like?  Pagels does not tackle this question head-on, but she raises a variety of considerations.  She expresses some openness to the idea that the Gospel of John reflects eyewitness testimony to Jesus, for she states that “His account shows his familiarity with Judaea and its local Jewish practices, and includes details which suggest that he traveled with Jesus and his other disciples during their last journey to Jerusalem, as he claims to have done” (page 59).  But she also mentions other views. 

Overall, my impression is that Pagels thinks that Christianity has always been diverse, even in the first century.  According to Pagels, Mark’s Gospel seems to portray Jesus as a man who became divine, whereas John and Thomas depict Jesus as already divine and pre-existent (on some level, in the case of the Gospel of Thomas), and Paul refers to an earlier Christian hymn about Jesus’ pre-existence in the form of God (Philippians 2).  The Didache, a Jewish-Christian document that Pagels says predates the gospels of Matthew and Luke by ten years (though she refers in an endnote to scholars who argue differently), presents the Lord’s supper as a ritual of unity among believers, whereas the Gospel of Mark associates it with Jesus’ death.

As far as I could see in reading this book, Pagels does not talk about the historical Jesus that much, for her focus is on the diverse things that early Christianity said about Jesus.  Would not John’s possible status as an eyewitness to Jesus make him historically authoritative about what Jesus said and taught?  I cannot speak for Pagels, but she might respond that, even if John was an eyewitness to Jesus, he had his own interpretation of Jesus’ significance, as did other Christians in the first century.  I don’t know if Pagels would go so far as to say that all we have are interpretations when it comes to Jesus, but she does seem to believe that interpretations are significant.  Consequently, she does not religiously marginalize the Gospel of Thomas but finds it useful to her spiritually, and she does not appear to believe that church fathers were upholding more authoritative Gospels when they affirmed the synoptics (John’s Gospel, according to Pagels, was more controversial) while dismissing other Gospels.  For her, it seems to me, the Gospel of Thomas had something valuable to say, whether or not it reflected the historical Jesus, and she says that both the church and the voices that came to be marginalized suffered when the other voices were silenced.

In Beyond Belief, Pagels attempts to chronicle how the other voices came to be excluded.  She says that Christians were persecuted, certain church fathers sought to unify the church, and they were dismayed by new prophetic voices.  They also believed that the so-called Gnostic Christians were encouraging cliquishness by saying that Christians who followed their teaching had superior understanding to Christians who did not.  After Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, Constantine wanted for Christians to arrive at some unity of belief rather than squabbling amongst themselves.  Although Pagels does not appear to care for the outcome of these events, she does not demonize the church fathers or Constantine, for she is rather sympathetic to the church fathers as they sought to preserve the suffering church, argues that Constantine was more open to diversity than many people realize, and notes some of Constantine’s positive policies, such as the ones that helped the poor.  As a historian and an effective narrator, she seeks to understand the perspectives of historical figures.

Pagels depicts the second century church as persecuted, and I wonder if she would modify that position in light of Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution (see my post about that book here).  Unlike a number of other people (i.e., atheist and Christian apologists), I do not think that Moss was arguing that Christians never suffered at the hands of authorities in the first two centuries, or at least that her arguments necessarily lead in that direction.  Rather, she is saying that the Roman authorities did not specifically single out Christians for persecution, even if they prosecuted Christians for crimes, and that martyrdom stories contain anachronisms and served an ideological purpose.  Still, Pagels does appear to accept the historicity of some of these martyrdom stories, and that is why I wonder if she would modify her position in light of Moss’ arguments.

Another question that was in my mind concerned allegorical interpretation of the Bible.  Pagels says that Irenaeus was against how the so-called Gnostic Christians sought deeper meaning in the Bible and the story of Jesus, which would indicate that he supported a more literal interpretation.  But there were many church fathers who engaged in allegorical interpretation of the Bible.  Would Irenaeus oppose that, or would he say that it was all right, as long as it agreed with a literal interpretation of the story of Jesus (his understanding of orthodoxy)?

Pagels talks about other fascinating topics as well: how some church fathers opposed the new prophets by saying that prophecy ceased, whereas other church fathers did not go that far; so-called Gnostic Christian stances on baptism; and how certain so-called Gnostic Christians responded to the threat of excommunication by saying that they did not even believe in that kind of unloving God.  Moreover, while so-called Gnostic views often strike me as cryptic, there were times when what they were saying seemed wise, or down-to-earth.  I think of the statement that truth comes to us in reference to our readiness to receive it, or Valentinus’ view that Jesus overturning the tables symbolizes Jesus overthrowing things in our lives that inhibit us from being a fit place of habitation for the Holy Spirit.

There are scholars who may disagree with Pagels’ arguments, but I found Beyond Belief to be an enjoyable and informative read.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Write-Up: Lincoln in the World

Kevin Peraino.  Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power.  New York: Broadway Books, 2013.  See here to purchase the book.

Lincoln in the World, by Kevin Peraino, is about Abraham Lincoln’s approach to foreign policy, both as a Congressman and also as a President.  As a Congressman, Lincoln was critical of the United States going to war against Mexico as part of an expansionist crusade.  As President, Lincoln dealt with significant challenges.  He did not want for Europe to assist the Confederacy because that could contribute to a Confederate victory in the American Civil War.  When Captain Charles Wilkes was trying to protect the Union’s blockade against the Confederacy by firing on a British ship and capturing two Confederate envoys who were about to assume diplomatic posts in Britain and France, Wilkes was acclaimed as a hero in the Union, but Britain was upset, thinking that Lincoln may have ordered Wilkes’ action.  There was also Napoleon III of France, who was seeking to make incursions into Mexico.  Peraino details how Lincoln successfully addressed these delicate challenges: in a smart, low-key manner.

Peraino includes in his book a lot of anecdotes about the figures whom he discusses, and this humanizes them and gives the reader a sense of their motivations and peculiarities, as well as makes the book more interesting.  Peraino also addresses other topics, such as the negative foreign views about Abraham Lincoln and how they became more positive over time, and also the intersection between Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx.  Peraino is speculative about whether Lincoln was familiar with Marx’s work, but Marx definitely had opinions about Lincoln and the American Civil War.  Marx supported the Civil War as a way to end slavery and promote revolution, but he did not agree with Lincoln entirely.

What comes across in Peraino’s book is tension, and this is not just because the titles of Peraino’s chapters present Lincoln as “vs.” somebody else (Herndon, Seward, Palmerston, Marx, Napoleon, and himself).  There seemed to be tension within Lincoln’s position, and also within other people’s positions.  Lincoln criticized the U.S. going to war with Mexico, yet he and his Secretary of State were open to some level of expansionism.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was expected to win the heart of Europe, which ended slavery before the U.S. did, and yet Europe had a negative reaction to the end of slavery because of its dependence on cotton from the American south.  Peraino navigates his way through these tensions, as when he discusses Lincoln’s philosophy on foreign policy in his second inaugural address, and in an endnote, where he refers the reader to literature on Europe’s reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation.

I have one criticism of the book.  In reading Peraino, I could understand the perspective of the crusading expansionists: they wanted foreign resources for the United States, and they sought to promote war under the cover of some specious moral high ground (i.e., Mexico attacked us).  I did not entirely understand the views of those who were critical of crusading expansionists, including Lincoln.  Lincoln did oppose crusading expansionism on moral grounds, for he said that the U.S. going to war against Mexico violated the Golden Rule.  But what were the practical grounds for Lincoln’s position?  Peraino often referred to a desire to maintain a sectional balance or the balance of power, but I wish that he expanded on what that meant specifically, and what exactly was at stake.  I do not suspect Lincoln of having an ulterior motive in his moral stance against crusading expansionism, for plenty of people base their views on moral reasons.  But Lincoln had practical reasons for his stance as well, for he was a pragmatic person.  Peraino should have gone into more detail about that.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Check, Check, Check

At church this morning, the pastor’s sermon was entitled “Check, Check, Check.”  What’s that mean exactly?  Well, the pastor told a story about a plane that crashed, and pilots since that time were required to make sure that everything was in order before they launched.  There is a pilot in our congregation, and he took the pastor and his wife on a flight.  According to the pastor, the pilot had a checklist of things that he had to check before flying.

The pastor said that, similarly, Christians should have a checklist.  Do we forgive others?  Are we patient with others?  Are we concerned about the outcast?  Are we concerned about the well-being of the community as a whole?

When should Christians look over this checklist?  And is there ever a point when they can honestly say that they have satisfied the requirements on the checklist—-when they actually can put a check-mark besides these requirements that indicates that they have fulfilled them?  Speaking for myself personally, I cannot say that I have satisfied those requirements fully.  Let’s take the first item on the list: Do I forgive others?  Well, it depends.  Sometimes my anger is there, and sometimes it is not.  In some cases, interacting with people on a regular basis has placed me in a position in which I have to put the past behind me for my relationship with them to run fairly smoothly.  Christian author Philip Yancey once wrote that, when people ask him if he is a Christian, he says that he is—-in spots.  Well, that’s how I can describe my forgiveness of others, my patience, my concern for the outcast, my concern for the community, and really every aspect of my Christian life: they’re in spots.  They exist, but they are imperfect, incomplete, mixed with a lot of rubbish.  Most people can probably say the same thing about themselves.

I think that an appropriate place to look over a spiritual checklist is in prayer.  And I do not particularly have in mind me grading myself over how well, or whether, I have satisfied certain criteria.  What I have in mind is this: when I pray, I affirm before God that I forgive those who have wronged or offended me.  I affirm that I myself need forgiveness and thank God for forgiving me, and I pass that forgiveness on to others, asking God for help.  I ask God for patience.  People say one shouldn’t do this because then God will create troubles in a person’s life to teach her patience, but my response is this: the troubles are already there without my praying for patience, and I need God’s help to patiently endure them.  That’s why I pray for patience.  I can show concern for the outcast by praying for them.  If I want my concern to move from prayer to action, I can, if I feel so convicted and moved, ask God to show me what actions are appropriate.  And I can pray for the community.

My checklist is basically a checklist in which I pray about these things, and check them off when I have done so.  There is a Bible verse that, in my mind, supports the approach of using prayer time as an opportunity to forgive and work on one’s attitude, with God’s help.  Mark 11:25: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (KJV).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

II Chronicles 17

II Chronicles 17 is about the glory and deeds of King Jehoshaphat of Judah.  I have two items:

1.  II Chronicles 17:5 states: “Therefore the LORD established the kingdom in his hand. All Judah brought tribute to Jehoshaphat, and he had great riches and honor.”  That is the NRSV, which is what I was reading while I was writing my notes about this chapter.

Judah bringing her own king tribute perplexed me, a bit.  I imagined tribute to be a tax that subjugated countries were required to bring to the country that subjugated them.  I wondered how that would fit Judah, and why the Chronicler, in exalting King Jehoshaphat, would say that Jehoshaphat collected lots of taxes from his own people.  That doesn’t sound like that great of a king, does it?

The KJV translates the word that the NRSV renders as “tribute,” minchah, as “presents.”  And it does appear that “presents” is one meaning of minchah (see here).  E.W. Bullinger refers to I Samuel 10:27, in which certain Israelites did not honor King Saul of Israel with presents at the beginning of his reign.  The idea is that they were supposed to do so, in “token of subjection and loyalty” (Bullinger).

Yet, II Chronicles 17:10-11 does appear to say that Jehoshaphat received tribute.  Nations were afraid of him, and some Philistines brought him minchah and silver massaMinchah is the same word that appears in II Chronicles 17:5.  Here in v 11, it may mean that the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat presents because they were afraid of him, or that they brought him tribute.  The former seems to me to be more likely, for there is no indication that Jehoshaphat is requiring them to bring this tribute, but they are doing so to appease him, out of fear.  Massa is often translated as “burden.”  That sounds tribute-like, since tribute can be a burden.  But perhaps the text is saying that the Philistines burdened themselves by bringing Jehoshaphat silver, since they were afraid of Jehoshaphat.

The Judahites bring Jehoshaphat presents as a concrete expression of their love, their loyalty, and their appreciation for Jehoshaphat, as well as their acceptance of his rule.  The other countries do so out of fear.  The former is better, in my opinion, especially when it comes to our service to God.  Yet, the latter has its place, too.  Because the other countries were afraid, they were not attacking Judah.  That allowed Judah to have peace and security.

2.  II Chronicles 17:7-8 states (in the KJV): “Also in the third year of his reign he sent to his princes, even to Benhail, and to Obadiah, and to Zechariah, and to Nethaneel, and to Michaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah.  And with them he sent Levites, even Shemaiah, and Nethaniah, and Zebadiah, and Asahel, and Shemiramoth, and Jehonathan, and Adonijah, and Tobijah, and Tobadonijah, Levites; and with them Elishama and Jehoram, priests.”

Secular and religious authorities are teaching the law to the people of Judah.  Why?  Could not the Levites do that by themselves?  They were the ones who were trained and educated in God’s law.  Why would princes be around to help them teach?

There are a variety of explanations for this.  One is that the princes were teaching the king’s law, whereas the Levites taught religious law (Ralph Klein in the HarperCollins Study Bible, sort of, and Keil-Delitzsch).  Another is that the princes were organizing the Levitical teaching mission (E.W. Bullinger).  A third is that the princes were around to show people that the rules that the Levites were teaching had the king’s backing (Keil-Delitzsch).  A fourth is that the princes were around to ensure that Judahites were obeying the law and not rebelling (Keil-Delitzsch).  A fifth is that this detail is mentioned to show that the laity can teach God’s law, which could be a legitimation of post-exilic synagogues, since the Chronicler wrote after Israel’s exile (Raymond Dillard mentions this idea).  Similarly, a note in Peake’s Bible Commentary says that Nehemiah was a prince who taught the law in the post-exilic period (Nehemiah 8:9-12).

All of these are possible, I think, depending on how far one wants to stretch the definition of teaching.  Keil-Delitzsch say that the word translated as “princes,” sarim, could refer to family heads.  While the Judahites may have been more open to accepting teaching from their local chiefs, I doubt that sarim means that here.  I think that the sarim are the king’s officials, since they are called his sarim, “his” meaning the king.  And sarim can refer to a king’s official, or a prince (see here).

That somewhat contradicts the spirit of item 1, doesn’t it?  In item 1, I say that the Judahites bring King Jehoshaphat presents out of love and loyalty.  In item 2, I mention the view that Jehoshaphat had to send princes with the Levites to show the Judahites that the Levite’s teaching had royal backing, thereby discouraging rebellion and enforcing obedience.  That does seem to be a tension within Judaism and Christianity: we are supposed to serve God freely, out of love, and yet we are required to obey him, and there are punishments if we do not.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ramblings on the Movie Calvary

I watched the 2014 movie Calvary last night.  I often put movies in my Netflix queue after reading about them online, and I learned about this movie from Richard Beck’s blog.  Beck called it “one of the most profoundly Christian movies I have ever seen”, and so I was unsure about whether or not to put it in my queue.  I watch Christian movies myself, but my Mom and her husband are not really into religiousy, evangelical movies, and, as of late, I have tried to get movies that all three of us can enjoy together.  But I saw that the movie Calvary had a high Rotten Tomatoes rating and a largely positive critical response, so I figured that it might be a good movie.

I’m not going to trudge through a description of the plot, except to say that it is about an Irish priest with feet of clay who listens to people.  Many evangelicals may object to some of what the priest advises: the priest suggests to a frustrated, socially-awkward young man who wants to get laid that he move to the big city, where there are looser women.  But the priest also says things that a number of evangelicals may like: that God is merciful, and that it is never too late to start anew.  The priest is a loving presence to his community, but he is far from perfect.  He’s still a good man, though.

This movie is different from a lot of evangelical movies that are out there.  A lot of evangelical movies are pretty heavy-handed and dogmatic in their presentation of evangelical Christianity.  In Calvary, though, we see a priest who tries to live the Gospel and sometimes stumbles.  Themes of sin, forgiveness, love, calling, and second chances are still there.

There are many evangelical Christians who regard evangelical Christian movies as a means of evangelism, a way to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.  But it doesn’t often work that way, or so it seems to me.  The Christian movie God’s Not Dead, for example, did well at the box office, but my understanding is that this was because evangelicals went to see it in droves.  Critics, on the other hand, panned the movie, and a number of non-believers rolled their eyes at it.

But Calvary is a movie with Christian messages, and yet non-believers can appreciate it as a quality movie.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Write-Up: A Light to My Path, by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin.  A Light to My Path.  Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2004.

A Light to My Path is the third book of Lynn Austin’s Refiner’s Fire series about the American Civil War.  The first book, Candle in the Darkness, focused on Caroline Fletcher, who was from the South (see my review here).  The second book, Fire by Night, was from a Northern, or at least a Union, perspective (see my review here).  Julia Hoffman in Fire by Night was from Philadelphia, and Phoebe Bigelow was from what became West Virginia, which was part of the Union.  The third book, A Light to My Path, focuses more of the perspective of the slaves.

Here are some items:

1.  A Light to My Path intersects with the other two books in the series.  One of its main characters is Grady, a slave, and we met him when he was a child in Candle in the Darkness.  Grady was the son of a slave, Tessie, and the white master of the plantation, George Fletcher.  As a child, Grady learned about Jesus from the slave Eli, who is a prominent character in Candle in the Darkness, and who appears again in A Light to My Path.  Grady was ripped from his mother as a child and sold, primarily because George’s ailing wife saw Grady as a reminder of her husband’s relationship with Tessie (if “relationship” is even the right word, for there is not exactly mutual consent within the context of slavery).  A Light to My Path chronicles what took place next in Grady’s life.

Another character in A Light to My Path is Delia, a slave, who tells fellow slaves what Africa was like and has a strong Christian faith.  Delia becomes a sort of mother figure to Grady, after she invites Grady to cry and to pour out his emotions after his long experience of pain.  In Fire by Night, there is a Union soldier named Ted, who is a friend of Phoebe Bigelow.  Ted passes as white, but he has some African-American blood in him.  The reason is that his grandmother was a slave and was raped by her white master.  The grandmother sent her daughter up North with some Quakers in hopes that she would have a better life.  After Ted dies in Fire by Night, Phoebe resolves to try to find Ted’s grandmother.  In A Light to My Path, it seems that Ted’s grandmother is Delia.  Did Phoebe ever find her?  I won’t say.  I don’t want to give away too many spoilers!  Whether I ended up happy or disappointed, wanting to know if Phoebe would find Delia was one factor that encouraged me to keep on reading!

2.  A character in A Light to My Path is Missy Claire, a daughter of a plantation owner.  She owns a personal servant, Anna, whom Miss Claire names “Kitty” because Anna acted like a cat to entertain Missy Claire when both were children.  Missy Claire is a spoiled brat throughout the book, from childhood through adulthood.  As a child, she sends Kitty to work in the fields because Kitty is depressed one day, and Missy Claire doesn’t want to be around someone who mopes.  Kitty has to degrade herself by pretending to be a cat to become Missy Claire’s personal slave again, a life that is easier than work in the fields.  Missy Claire does not hesitate to split up slave families.  She complains when she is pregnant, but she does not hesitate to make Kitty work long and hard when Kitty is pregnant.  She continually berates Kitty.  When Kitty attacks Missy Claire after Missy Claire threatens to put Kitty’s newborn son on slave row, or to throw him into the river, I cheered Kitty on!

I hated Missy Claire.  At the same time, I had to remember that she was raised to have some of the attitudes that she did.  Her Mom told her that the slaves were their property, and that black slaves did not value family the way white people did.  When Missy Claire is reluctant to ask the butler to sleep with Kitty so that Kitty can have a child and nurse Missy Claire’s baby, Missy Claire’s mother tells her that she does not ask a slave to do something—-she tells him.  Missy Claire’s mother did seem to be stomping out whatever humanity Missy Claire had, in terms of her treatment of slaves.  In addition, I was asking myself to what extent I am like Missy Claire: thinking that the whole world revolves around me, thinking other people exist to make me comfortable, making a big deal about my own discomfort while ignoring the discomfort of others, etc.  I am not as bad as Missy Claire, but I do find that, on some level, I have to deal with my own inner Missy Claire!

3.  A significant theme in A Light to My Path is forgiveness.  There was wisdom in this book about forgiveness—-such as the folk saying that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, and the insight that resentment can crowd love out of a person’s heart—-and I had to respect and admire Grady for the times that he chose to be the bigger person, to forgive rather than taking vengeance.  But there was also a message in the book that disturbed me greatly.  A few times in the book, I read that God will not hear a person’s prayers if that person does not forgive others.  Kitty and Grady got married, and Grady was fighting with the Union, and a nun told Kitty that God will not hear Kitty’s prayers for God to protect Grady if Kitty does not forgive those who hurt her.  That is troubling theology: can someone I love get hurt just because I have problems forgiving others?  What kind of God is that?

The thing is, there was some acknowledgement within the book that forgiveness is a process, not something that necessarily comes in one setting.  There were several elements in Grady’s spiritual life that shaped him, as Grady went from bitterness and hatred of white people to a place of spiritual wholeness—-his appreciation of the spirituals and Jesus’ defiance of injustice, his observation that even white people were appalled by slavery, his admiration of a fellow African-American soldier who kept his cool when he encountered his former master, his realization that he himself needed forgiveness, and his recognition that a forgiving attitude would not come overnight but that he needed to honestly confess to God that he struggled with bitterness.  Even near the end of the book, Grady has lingering resentment, but he makes a decision to forgive.

There is also the factor of God’s love.  A fellow Union soldier in an African-American regiment, Joseph, is a Christian and is continually preaching to Grady, to Grady’s dismay.  Joseph tells Grady that God always loved him, even when Grady hated God, and that God saw Grady’s pain and heard his cries.  But Grady was not in a forgiving attitude throughout that time that God loved him.  Yet, God loved him and heard his cries.  How can this be reconciled with the view that God will not hear our prayers—-actually, Delia said to Kitty that Jesus cannot hear our prayers—-if we do not forgive others?

4.  A Light to My Path is a fantastic book, but there were a few parts that somewhat confused me.  Kitty’s parents belonged to Missy Claire’s mother and father.  You would think that, therefore, Kitty belonged to them, too, but there is a scene in which Missy Claire first meets Kitty in town and wants to take Kitty home with her, so Missy Claire’s mother inquires if Kitty already belongs to someone.  Why wasn’t Kitty already at Missy Claire’s home?  And it is quite a coincidence that Kitty ends up at the very plantation where her parents were slaves.

Another confusing plot-line was when Grady was going to do a sham wedding with Kitty so that Kitty would not have to sleep with the butler.  Grady and Kitty would hold off on consummating their relationship so that Kitty would not have a child, and this would upset Missy Claire, who wanted Kitty to have a child so Kitty could then nurse Missy Claire’s baby.  I wondered what the point of this plot was, exactly.  Grady wanted to show Missy Claire that Kitty had a right to do as she wished with her own body?  Why invite Missy Claire’s retaliation?  And why couldn’t Grady authentically marry Kitty because he loved her?  He did have romantic feelings for her, at that point.

5.  On page 402, Anna (Kitty’s real name) encounters an African-American Union soldier.  He wears big glasses and talks like a white man.  He and his parents were free, and he only knew about slavery by reading about it.  He served under Colonel Robert Shaw in the Massachusetts fifty-fourth, and he tells Anna that Colonel Shaw died.  Does any of this sound familiar?  He sounds like Thomas in the movie Glory, which is about the fifty-fourth under the command of Colonel Shaw.  Lynn Austin never gives a name to this soldier, though.

This scene in the book inspired within me a number of questions.  Can authors use characters from movies in their works?  Did Lynn Austin even do that?  She says that she has read Civil War correspondence.  Maybe Thomas in Glory was based on a real-life character, and perhaps Lynn Austin encountered a similar personage in her research.  Maybe the character in her book was not even Thomas: Thomas grew up with Colonel Shaw, and the soldier in A Light to My Path gave no indication that this was the case when he mentioned Colonel Shaw to Kitty; the soldier also did not quote any transcendentalists, whom Thomas liked to read in Glory.  Moreover, Thomas may have died in Glory with Colonel Shaw (though there are people online who question this), whereas the soldier in Lynn Austin’s book lived on after Colonel Shaw’s death.  Maybe any similarity between this soldier and Thomas is coincidental, and Lynn Austin was not thinking of Thomas when she included a free-born African-American soldier with glasses who talked like a white man and could read.  Such people probably existed in Civil War times.

All of that said, I enjoyed A Light to My Path.  It did not win a Christy Award, whereas the other two books in the series did.  I would say that I enjoyed A Light to My Path more than Lynn Austin’s biblical series, but not as much as the two Refiner’s Fire books that won Christy Awards.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reactions to the State of the Union and the Republican Response

Well, I watched the State of the Union and the Republican response last night. 

The State of the Union dragged on, but I enjoyed it more than I expected.  In my post yesterday, I complained that State of the Union addresses often amount to empty rhetoric: that the President lists a bunch of great ideas, then nothing gets done.  I still feel that way.  But what I liked about last night's State of the Union address was that the President was not just talking about what should be done, but the good things that are being done, and the positive trends that are taking place (according to the President).  Businesses are cooperating with community colleges and providing apprenticeships.  The incarceration rate and the crime rate are decreasing, as is the teen pregnancy rate (or so the President said).

I also appreciated that the President praised Republicans who agreed with some of his ideas, as when he noted that Tennessee is under Republican leadership yet provides free community college, on some level. 

The Republican response was a bit too cheery for my taste.  I like my Republican and Democratic responses to be substantive and a bit wonky, and the one last night was a little better than most.  It wasn't just about criticizing big government.  What stood out to me is that both the President and Joni Ernst agree with tax reform and closing loopholes.  Because the President last night did not mention, say, increasing the capital gains tax and inheritance taxes, you would think that he and the Republicans pretty much agree on what to do about taxes.  But they don't entirely, and the issues on which they disagree are enough to divide them drastically.  Why can't they work together on what they do agree on, like closing loopholes?

I liked when the President said that we should set our sights on more than just one pipeline.  Good point!  Will anything come of that?  I am doubtful. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jaded: The State of the Union and the Republican Response

Will I be watching the State of the Union and the Republican response tonight?  Oh, maybe.  Or I’ll tape them and watch them tomorrow.  Or I’ll listen to them on the Internet tomorrow while doing other things.

I’m just not enthusiastic about watching these things, to tell you the truth.  President Obama will probably come across as arrogant, self-righteous, and absolutely certain that he is right, as he chastises the other side.  Sure, he’ll say some good things and offer some decent ideas—-and also some ideas that I’m not so sure about, like raising the capital gains tax (see this post here, which makes some valid points, even though I disagree with some things it says).  But will anything come of these ideas?  I tend to agree with a Republican representative who was on ABC This Week: President Obama will talk, then he won’t reach out to Congress.  And you can’t just blame the obstructionist Republicans for this: Democrats in Congress have been pretty frustrated with President Obama, too.

(UPDATE: I'd like to comment some about the capital gains tax and the Daniel Mitchell post.  First of all, my understanding is that President Obama is not proposing to raise the capital gains tax on everyone but only on high earners.  I just want to say that because I didn't say it in the above paragraph.  Second, I disagree somewhat with Mitchell's argument that productivity leads to higher wages for workers, and the reason is that, in this economy, there appears to me to be a disconnect between workers' productivity and them receiving higher wages.  A lot of the gains seems to go to people on the top.  Still, I am interested in Mitchell's claim----or the claim of the sources that he cites----that a lower capital gains tax means higher government revenues.  If that is the case, then I'd say keep the capital gains tax low!)

The Republican response will probably be a lot of fluff.  That’s just how it’s seemed to me over about the past decade.  There’s not a whole lot of substance in what’s being said.  Democratic responses to Republican Presidents usually impress me a little bit more, as when Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi responded to George W. Bush.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for participating in the political process.  I would rather have Barack Obama as President than a Republican.  Also, progressives have made gains, such as the increase in the minimum wage in certain states and localities.  I’m just a bit jaded about the national political process right now.

Book Write-Up: Fire by Night, by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin.  Fire by Night.  Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2003.

Fire by Night is the second book of Lynn Austin’s Refiner’s Fire series, which is about the American Civil War.  The first book, Candle in the Darkness (see my review here), focused on the South, whereas Fire by Night focuses on the North.

In Candle in the Darkness, Caroline Fletcher, the protagonist from Virginia, spends some time in Philadelphia with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, the Hoffmans.  One of her cousins, Julia Hoffman, is infatuated with the new young abolitionist preacher, Nathaniel Greene, and she attends abolitionist meetings with him and Caroline so she can get closer to him.  Julia is from an upper-class home, and she is a social butterfly, who enjoys flirting and looking pretty, and she has had lots of suitors.  Now, she just loves Nathaniel.

Fire by Night starts with Julia, Nathaniel, and Congressman Rhodes near the Battle of Bull Run.  Soldiers are getting killed and injured around their carriage, and Julia is frightened and just wants to get home.  Nathaniel, appalled by her callousness, tells her that these men need their help.  After they arrive at a place of safety, Julia overhears Nathaniel and Congressman Rhodes talking about her.  Congressman Rhodes observes that Julia is sweet on Nathaniel, and he says that she is from a fine family and would be a good wife for the preacher.  Nathaniel, however, responds that Julia is not the sort of woman he is looking for.  Nathaniel considers her spoiled and shallow, and Nathaniel wants a woman who will serve the Lord with him.

Well, Nathaniel’s remarks are crushing to Julia, and she resolves to prove him wrong.  Plus, she sees his point: her upper-class life does look rather superficial, shallow, and pointless to her, and she wants for her life to mean something.  She eventually decides to become a nurse for wounded Union soldiers, but she faces some barriers to her goal.  She is considered too pretty to be a nurse and she is unmarried, and plain or married applicants are preferred so that there is no hint of impropriety between the nurses and the patients.

Julia ends up working at a hospital for Dr. James McGrath (NOT the biblioblogger!).  Dr. McGrath is extremely cranky and rude to the nurses, and he always seems to have a hangover.  The other nurses tell Julia that Dr. McGrath receives regular letters from his wife in Connecticut.  There is also a rumor that Dr. McGrath killed someone.  Dr. McGrath’s churlishness notwithstanding, he is considered even by his critics to be an excellent doctor, one who is kind and caring towards his patients, and who has a high rate of patients who survive under his care.  Dr. McGrath does not appear to like Julia that much, and he wonders why she is even there, for why would a high-class woman actually want to do nursing work?  He goes out of his way to show her that she doesn’t have what it takes: he has her wash tons of soiled sheets, and he has her smell gangrene on her first day.  Julia faces challenges as she adjusts to work and to being away from home, but she perseveres.  And she manages to help people along the way, as when she gets work and a place to stay for two African-American women who are raising families in a shantytown.

The book also follows the story of Phoebe Bigelow.  Phoebe is from a northern county in Virginia, and she has a reputation as the ugliest woman in the county.  Nobody wants to marry her.  She is homely, tall, and a bit of a tomboy.  When her brothers go off to war, she is to stay behind and work for a local shopkeeper, taking care of the shop and the shopkeeper’s many children.  Phoebe does not want to do this, for the shopkeeper is extremely cranky, plus Phoebe has to sleep in the attic, where there are bats.  She runs away, dresses up like a man, and enlists in the Union army.  There, she meets a small cheerful guy named Ted, and she gains respect as a fighter, a cook, and a sharpshooter.

Well, a lot of things happen, and I do not want to give away too many spoilers, especially about the mysterious Dr. McGrath.  Julia does manage to win Nathaniel’s respect, but by that point she is not just doing nursing work to impress him: she feels it is God’s call on her life.  Nathaniel proposes to Julia and wants her to quit nursing, but Julia does not want to quit.  Phoebe is wounded and is discovered to be a woman, and she becomes friends with Julia, as well as a nursing assistant for Dr. McGrath (after Phoebe discovers Dr. McGrath is providing free care in secret to African-Americans in the shanty town).  Phoebe also catches the eye of a tall, gangly, socially-awkward yet friendly Confederate doctor, who was captured by the Union.

Candle in the Darkness won a Christy Award, and so did this book, Fire by Night.  And it is a quality book.  I have read other books by Lynn Austin—-her Restoration Chronicles and her Chronicles of the Kings series—-and, while I enjoy all of those books, there is something about those two that won Christy Awards that sets them apart, that makes them, not just good, but extraordinary.  I cannot identify what exactly it is, but I do notice that there is a lot of attention to detail in Candle in the Darkness and Fire by Night, and also characters who seem more real: who are a mixture of good and bad.  Moreover, I could feel for the characters in many of the scenes: I think of Julia when she got up before 5 a.m. to leave for work, came home late after a long day, missed dinner, and went to bed hungry.  As a reader, I was a part of the details of these characters’ lives.

A theme that I really liked in Fire by Night was how characters who appear extremely flawed actually have goodness in them.  This was the case with Dr. McGrath, and also for Julia’s mother.  Julia’s mother came across to Julia as a superficial socialite, and yet Julia’s mother was a source of strength for her husband after the capture of Robert, their nephew, by the Confederacy.

There was also a salient feminist aspect in Fire by Night.  In a powerful scene, Dr. McGrath chastised Nathaniel for not respecting Julia and her capabilities, and he listed off to Nathaniel women who have found new opportunities to use their talents as a result of the war.  In the course of that discussion, there was a reference to Ephesians 5:22-23.  Nathaniel maintained that Julia was supposed to obey him after they marry, but Dr. McGrath notes that the passage also says that husbands were to be like Christ for their wives: as Christ sacrificed himself for the church, so husbands are to sacrifice themselves for their wives.  Dr. McGrath says that Nathaniel has required Julia to make all of the sacrifices, whereas Nathaniel makes none himself.  Lynn Austin conveys a feminist message, while also seeking to highlight Ephesians 5:22-23 (a passage controversial for many feminists) as authoritative.

Nathaniel did shine in one scene, though.  Nathaniel was part of a church service for Union soldiers, and he approached Phoebe, who was still pretending to be a man.  Phoebe told Nathaniel that she did not go to church because people at church did not want her there, and she also said that she enjoyed spending time with God in nature.  Nathaniel responded that Jesus loved and reached out to those whom society excluded.  Nathaniel was open and friendly in that interaction.

Overall, the religious element of the book was all right.  A nun, Sister Irene, offered wisdom to Julia about looking to God for strength and serving God wherever one may be----as a nurse on the battlefield or at an upper-class tea social.  There were also themes such as human sinfulness and how atonement was free, not something that people earned by good works.  I thought that Phoebe's speech to Dr. McGrath about Jesus dying to protect her from God----depicting God as shooting a gun at her for her sins and for being God's enemy, and Jesus covering her with his body to protect her----was a little odd.  I can understand that there are parts of the New Testament about being saved from the wrath of God, but I had issues with the imagery in Phoebe's speech.  Elsewhere in the book, there was an acknowledgement that God the Father himself loved humanity in sending his Son: Ted's grandmother was a slave, and she sent away her daughter so that the daughter and her kids could have a better life, and Phoebe learned about God the Father's own sacrifice from that.  I had some issues with how many of the characters saw themselves as gross sinners, for they seemed to me to be simply human, with strengths, weaknesses, and areas in which they needed to grow.   

The discussions about the battles were also pretty good.  Ted was a big fan of General McClellan, going on about how General McClellan knows best and was trained in Europe.  But even Ted became disillusioned with General McClellan because the general seemed to be holding the army back from doing what it takes to win.  Phoebe’s questioning of how the war was being fought came to my mind recently, when we were watching the movie Glory.  My Mom’s husband wondered why people were going into battle the way that they were, since it did not make much sense to him, and my Mom responded that it was because that was how battles were fought in Europe.

The next book of the series, A Light to My Path, did not actually receive a Christy Award, but I am still planning to read it.  It has the character of Grady, a slave who was taken from his mother and sold in Candle in the Darkness.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"You're Caricaturing My Position!"

Today’s post will be a bit rambling.  I will use as a starting-point something that Rachel Held Evans said in a recent post, Post-Evangelicals and Why We Just Can’t Get Over It.  Rachel says about certain conservative articles she has read that criticize post-evangelicals:

“Then they charge us with printing up silly, oversimplified labels to slap onto all that we condemn, and I can’t help but recall all the labels I learned from them—feminist, liberal, postmodern, evolutionist, nominal, lukewarm, heretic—and think, where do you think we learned how to do this, folks?”

Rachel has been accused more than once of caricaturing views with which she disagrees.  She wrote a book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, which was a critique of conservative evangelical views regarding gender roles.  Complementarians howled that she was caricaturing their position, that she was not seriously interacting with their thought, and that she was misunderstanding what they had to say.

I’ve seen this sort of thing play out elsewhere in online discussions.  Arminian theologian Roger Olson wrote a post about how different Christian hospital chaplains might attempt to account theologically for patients’ suffering in answering patients’ questions.  He characterized the hypothetical Calvinist as saying: “God designed, ordained and is governing your suffering for his glory, so it is not meaningless or merely accidental. It serves a wonderful purpose and therefore has meaning. God intends to use it to bring him glory and good for you if you offer it up to him in trust.”  Some Calvinists were outraged about that, contending that Calvinism teaches no such thing!  But Olson did not understand why his characterization of Calvinism was so controversial to Calvinists, for he read those kinds of sentiments in actual Calvinist writings.  See here, here, and here for some of his follow-up posts.

Whether or not Rachel Held Evans and Roger Olson are guilty of misunderstanding positions that they do not hold, I admit that I have done my share of caricaturing.  And some of my views have been caricatured.  Here are some thoughts about this:

1.  In terms of being caricatured, there was one conservative guy who kept on insisting that progressives talked about income disparity out of class envy.  It didn’t matter what anyone said to him.  In his eyes, progressives were just jealous of the rich, or playing on other people’s class envy.  “Why not let the rich be?”, he asked.

I admit that progressives are not always clear about why income disparity is such a problem.  Or let me say this: they’re not clear if all you hear from them is a thirty-second soundbite, or if all you read from their thought is a brief quotation online or in a newspaper.  There are progressives who have explained why disparities of wealth are a problem.  Robert Reich did so a documentary on it: Inequality for All.  My impression is that progressives are not opposed to dramatic income inequality because they are jealous of the rich, nor are they saying that everyone should make the exact same amount of money.  Rather, they’re saying that an economy that primarily benefits the upper classes, while middle and lower classes struggle, is not going to be a sustainable economy.  In the 1950’s, prosperity was widely-distributed, and that benefited the rich, too, because there were lots of consumers who could buy their products.

But try telling this to that conservative guy!  Even if he saw your point initially, he would come back a few months (maybe even a few weeks) later and say that progressives are promoting class envy in talking about wealth inequalities!  This guy accused me of caricaturing his positions, at times.   And sometimes I was.  I would say that he was saying that Obama was a horrible human being, when he said no such thing.

2.  There are times when a person may put a nice, intelligent face on his position, and I wonder if he is wearing that face all of the time.  Example?  Suppose you have a person who is ranting and raving against Obama or Islam.  I challenge that person on it.  The person then proceeds to coat his position in reasonable terms, perhaps adding some qualifications.  I’m somewhat satisfied, even if I don’t agree.  But later that person proceeds to deliver his usual rants, which sound pretty hate-filled.  That makes me wonder: What is the true face of his position, as he holds it?  Is it the nice, reasonable face?  Or the hate-filled, ranting face?  Now, if I characterize what he’s saying as hate-filled ranting, he would accuse me of caricaturing his position, of misunderstanding it, of putting words in his mouth.  But am I?  Is the reasonable face the real face, or at least the dominant factor that motivates him to believe what he does?  And, if people like him got into power, which face would hold sway?

3.  Someone can make a position sound reasonable, and yet how that position plays out on the ground can be pretty scary.  The opposite is true, too: people can apply a principle that sounds unreasonable in a reasonable fashion.  Example: complementarianism.  I am almost afraid to offer a definition of it because complementarians may accuse me of mis-defining what they believe!  My understanding, though, is that complementarianism holds that men and women have different, albeit complentary, roles.  There is evangelical feminism, and then there is complementarianism, which is usually seen as different from evangelical feminism.  Now, some complementarian writings may sound reasonable and nuanced, but, on the ground, complementarianism in certain families can amount to men dominating the home and women being encouraged to be docile and sweet, and discouraged from doing things that are thought to be reserved for men.  Conversely, some complementarian writings may sound scary and authoritarian, but, on the ground, complementarian families have found ways to apply complementarianism in a manner that satisfies men and women, a manner that people in the family agree is respectful and appreciative of people’s voices and talents.

My point here?  Well, a point I’m making is that Rachel is not reacting against a figment of her imagination, even if complementarians may not recognize themselves in what she is writing against.

4.  There have been times when I characterize a person’s position in a certain way, that person says I am misunderstanding him and articulates his position, and what he says doesn’t sound too different from what I said he said; it just uses different words.  In that case, am I caricaturing the person’s position?  I think I’m grasping what his position is essentially is, or, at least, what the implications of his position are, or could be.  (The “could be” part is probably where I am getting slippery.)

I’ll stop here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Today----Not Tomorrow!

At church this morning, the title of the pastor’s message was “Could God Be Calling Me?”  The pastor was saying that there are people in this town with needs: children who went to bed hungry because they are poor or their parents are fighting, and elderly people who have to choose between their medication and buying groceries.  He said that we need to share with them the message that God cares—-not tomorrow, or next week, but today.  After all, their problems will not necessarily wait until tomorrow or next week!  The pastor also said that God disrupts our routine.

Well, I came home from church today, and I pretty much did what I do every Sunday, according to my routine: I read a book while watching ABC This Week.  I wouldn’t be surprised if others at church also followed their usual routine, though they may have gotten home a little later because of the church’s meeting after the service.

I understand the importance of messages like what my pastor preached this morning.  They are calls to action.  But what hinders me from action?  Part of it is not really knowing my neighbors.  Part of it is not wanting to get too entangled with their problems.  And part of it is not wanting to preach to them, since that can be annoying.

But there are some things I believe in doing.  I believe in food pantries so that food is available to people.  My church has this.  I also believe in helping people wisely.  I remember hearing progressive evangelical Tony Campolo preach, and he talked about a group in the inner city that goes door-to-door and asks people if there is anything in their lives that those in the group can pray about.  That shows people that there are caring people in the world.  Also, it is good to have a community that is trying to help people.  I as a free agent may not know how to address a certain problem, but others in the community with more savvy and wisdom may be able to help.

I don’t feel a need to go out into my town and meddle in people’s lives.  But I also don’t want to go to the other extreme of reflecting this cold society, where people do not care about each other and are primarily concerned about their own problems.

I doubt that people’s lives this morning were disrupted by God.  But perhaps they were encouraged to keep doing the good work that they are doing, and maybe to do so more.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Write-Up: Fierce Convictions, by Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior.  Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—-Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.  Nashville: Nelson Books (An Imprint of Thomas Nelson), 2014.

Hannah More was a writer and an activist in eighteenth-early nineteenth century England.  She wrote plays, poems, and even a novel that was mentioned in one of Jane Austen’s unfinished works (albeit negatively).  More also worked with politician William Wilberforce to end the slave trade, established schools for the poor, and wrote against cruelty to animals.  I had not heard of Hannah More before requesting this book, and I did not know whether or not the book would be an interesting read for me.  But it was.

Karen Swallow Prior narrates Hannah More’s story in such a manner that I could connect with More as a human being.  More was a reserved woman, which may explain why she never married, and she came to have strong religious convictions.  Yet, she was able to interact effectively with various kinds of people, from different classes, religions, and walks of life, which was significant back then on account of the divisions between people in England.  Prior also explores many of the paradoxes of More’s life: how More was friends with Catholics yet opposed granting Catholics equal political rights, and how More was criticized by conservatives because they feared that her ideas could encourage revolution or upset the social order, and yet More herself held many traditional and conservative ideas.

Prior places More’s work within its historical context.  She explains More’s opposition to cruelty towards animals within the context of the chain-of-being concept, Christianity, and also Rene Descartes’ belief in the previous century that animals were merely machines that served humans, who should disregard animals’ feelings.  Prior also talks about the world of writing and publishing at that time.  Of particular interest to me was the criticism of novels by More’s friend Samuel Johnson, who believed that novels undermined morality by encouraging readers to identify with characters in their flaws.  More would come to see Johnson’s point, but she still believed in the power of story to promote moral behavior.  Prior also explores More’s religious beliefs: More was devoted to the Church of England, yet she disagreed with the Church of England in certain areas, and the view that she was too cozy with evangelicals threatened some of her projects because the Church of England could choose not to support them if they believed that to be the case.

Dr. Prior teaches English at Liberty University, a college founded by the late Jerry Falwell.  I do not know what Prior’s political beliefs are, but Jerry Falwell was politically conservative, and Liberty University has a reputation for being that, too.  That said, there were times when I wondered if Prior’s narration reflected a politically conservative viewpoint.  Prior does mention some things that probably would not resonate with many American conservatives: my impression is that American conservatives largely approve of the American Revolution, whereas Prior narrates that More was part of a movement that did not care for it, and that even criticized American revolutionaries who supported the slavery of African-Americans while championing freedom for the colonies.  Yet, Prior also talks about More’s attempts through stories to promote thrift and morality among the poor, and Prior on page 225 talks about the effectiveness of More’s tracts.  In the United States today, there are conservatives who attribute poverty to bad behavior on the part of the poor, whereas progressive voices note that there are many poor people in the United States who work hard and try to be thrifty with what they have.  I do not know to what extent eighteenth century English poverty resembled twenty-first century American poverty, but I wondered if Prior’s narration was reflecting a conservative view on poverty.  On the other hand, Prior on pages 181-182 does appear to criticize mildly William Wilberforce for not adequately addressing factory conditions in England.  Prior explains why Wilberforce believed as he did—-Wilberforce supported the free market and mass production—-yet Prior seems to question whether what Wilberforce did to improve factory conditions was sufficient.  That may indicate that Prior is not a supporter of complete laissez-faire economics.

I should also note that Prior has worked with the Humane Society, which stands against cruelty towards animals, and I applaud her for that.

There were also times when I thought that Prior might be bending over backwards to give More the benefit of a doubt.  For example, More mentored a poor poet, Ann Yearsley, but More chose not to give Yearsley control of Yearsley’s fund, resulting in a lawsuit.  Prior can understand the Yearsley’s point-of-view, yet Prior also says that the poet’s “earnings came as a result of More’s skillful promotion and management of Yearsley’s work” (page 79).  Personally, I did not find that incident to be one of More’s shining moments!  While Prior did seem to me to be sympathetic towards More, however, Prior’s book is not a whitewash, for it does talk about More’s weaknesses, such as More’s tendency to ingratiate herself towards people in higher social classes.  I found Prior’s remarks in the Epilogue to be beautiful: “Somewhere between Birrell’s hatred and Roberts’s hagiography is a woman who was at once ordinary and remarkable.  She was a woman with virtues and flaws, faith and fears, vision and blind spots.  But she was also one whose unique gifts and fierce convictions transformed first her life and subsequently her world and ours” (page 253).

I received a complimentary review copy of this remarkable biography through the BookLook Bloggers ( book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

II Chronicles 16

In II Chronicles 16, King Baasha of Northern Israel builds Ramah as a way to block people from going out from or coming into Judah, where King Asa reigns.  Somehow, however, Asa manages to get a message to King Ben-Hadad of Syria in the North, asking him to break his league with Baasha and to help Judah.  Asa gives Ben-Hadad silver and gold, Ben-Hadad then comes in and smites Northern Israelite cities, and Baasha ceases to build Ramah.  Asa uses stones and timber from Ramah to build some of his own cities.  A seer, Hanani, comes to Asa and rebukes him for looking to Syria for help rather than God.  Asa is outraged and throws Hanani into prison, as well as oppresses other people.  Asa gets a dreadful foot disease, but he does not trust in God but rather in physicians.

I have two items.

1.  II Chronicles 16:1 states that Baasha built Ramah in the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa.  This causes chronological problems, because Baasha’s reign ended earlier than the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign (see I Kings 15:33; 16:8).  There are two solutions that interpreters have posed, and both have their problems.

a.  The first solution is to say that the malchut of Asa in II Chronicles 16:1 does not refer to the time that Asa actually reigned, but rather to the kingdom over which Asa ruled, the Kingdom of Judah.  According to this interpretation, malchut in II Chronicles 16:1 should be translated as kingdom, not as reign.  The Kingdom of Judah started earlier than Asa’s reign, when Northern Israel rebelled against King Rehoboam of Judah, Solomon’s son.  If one interprets II Chronicles 16:1 to mean that Baasha built Ramah thirty-six years after the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah, then the chronological difficulty vanishes, since Baasha was ruling Northern Israel during that time.

But there are problems with this solution.  One problem is that the relevant term in II Chronicles 16:1, le-malchut, usually in Chronicles refers to the reigns of specific kings, not their kingdom.  For example, II Chronicles 35:19 refers to the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah.  The Chronicler here does not intend for us to understand this as Josiah’s kingdom, Judah, for much more than eighteen years passed between the establishment of the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam and the reign of Josiah.  Rather, the Chronicler here means the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign.

Another problem I have with this solution is that it seems to me that II Chronicles dates events during Asa’s reign in reference to the years in Asa’s reign, not in reference to the amount of time from Rehoboam’s establishment of Judah.  II Chronicles 15:10 states that Northern Israelites gathered themselves to Asa in the fifteenth year of his reign.  II Chronicles 15:19 says that Asa did not experience war until the thirty-fifth year of his reign.  Yet, II Chronicles 16:1 says that Baasha challenged Judah and built Ramah in the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign.  II Chronicles 16:12 states that Asa got his foot disease in the thirty-ninth year of his reign. II Chronicles 16:13 says that Asa died in the forty-first year of his reign.  And, to bring in Kings, I Kings 15:10 states that Asa reigned for forty-one years.

I think that all of these verses are discussing the years of Asa’s reign, not the years from the time that the Kingdom of Judah was established under Rehoboam.  II Chronicles 15:10 mentions the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign, and my impression is that this would not fit the fifteenth year after Rehoboam started the Kingdom of Judah, for Rehoboam ruled seventeen years (II Chronicles 12:13), and Rehoboam’s son Abijah ruled three years (II Chronicles 13:2).  I doubt that Asa had even begun to rule fifteen years after the establishment of the Kingdom of Judah.  Those references to events during Asa’s reign probably concern Asa’s reign, not the time from Rehoboam’s establishment of the Kingdom of Judah.

b.  Another solution is to say that there is a scribal error in II Chronicles 16:1.  Keil-Delitzsch go this route.  They say that, in Hebrew up to the seventh century B.C.E., the Hebrew symbols for ten and thirty look similar and could easily be mistaken for each other.  According to this solution, II Chronicles 16:1 is referring to the sixteenth year of Asa’s reign, not the thirty-sixth year, and the sixteenth year coincides with when Baasha was ruling Northern Israel.

Raymond Dillard in the World Biblical Commentary mentions a problem with this solution.  He says that, under this scenario, God punished Asa with foot disease over twenty years after Asa sinned by seeking Syria’s help against Baasha.  II Chronicles 16:12 says that Asa got his foot disease in the thirty-ninth year of his reign.  Dillard’s critique is not iron-clad, for II Chronicles 16:12 does not explicitly say that Asa’s foot disease was a punishment from God.  Still, that is a reasonable assumption, since the Chronicler often does present divine punishment of kings for their sins.  One who is interested in this issue should ask: is it credible that the Chronicler would present a twenty-plus year gap between Asa’s sin and his punishment?  Remember that the other sins mentioned in II Chronicles 16—-Asa jailing Hanani and oppressing people—-were precipitated by Hanahi’s criticism of Asa for his sin regarding Baasha, which probably occurred soon after Asa’s sin regarding Baasha.

Is there a solution to this problem of II Chronicles 16:1?  Unless there are other solutions or ways to account for the problems of those two solutions, the best option may be that the Chronicler got his dates wrong.

2.  II Chronicles 16:12 says that Asa did not seek the LORD when he was suffering from his foot disease, but physicians.  Does this suggest that the Chronicler, or God, believes it is wrong for people to go to doctors when they are sick, meaning that people should trust God instead?

I read Christian interpreters who answered no.  They said that Asa’s problem was not that he went to physicians, but that he did not seek the LORD also.  He tried to bypass completely a relationship with God.  John Gill mentioned the pro-physician passage in Sirach 38, and also anti-physician passages in rabbinic literature (T. Bab. Kiddashin, fol. 32.1, which I found, and Pesachim, fol. 113.1, which I could not find).  I did a search on “physicians” on my Judaic Classics Library, however, and saw that there were times when rabbis went to the doctor when they were sick.

See Avraham Rosenblum’s comments under my post on II Chronicles 11.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My "About Me" Page

I’ve been thinking of adding to my WordPress “About Me” page.  It does get a lot of views.  I just wonder if people find it helpful, or if it encourages people to become readers or subscribers of my blog.

My “About Me” page says the following:

“My name is James Pate.  I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program.  I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.

“This blog is about my journey.  I read books.  I watch movies and TV shows.  I go to church.  I try to find meaning.  And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.”

This actually does say quite a bit about me.  It says that I study religion, specifically the interpretation of the Bible.  It says that I read books, watch movies and TV shows, go to church, and try to find meaning from all of that.

But there are also things that it does not say.  It does not say that I have Asperger’s Syndrome.  It does not say what my political ideology is.  It does not really specify what my religious ideology is.  Someone wanting to know whether I’m right, left, center, or whatever will not find out from my “About Me” page.  I also am not entirely sure if someone would find out what my blog is primarily about.  Who am I, what is important to me, what is my perspective, and why?  Does one learn that from my “About Me” page?  I can understand if someone answered “no.”

What exactly is my blog about?  Well, it is not about only one thing.  It has gone through phases.  During Presidential election years, I blog about the candidates.  In 2013, I blogged about Richard Nixon.  When I was studying for my comprehensive examinations, I wrote a lot of Bible and patristics posts.  There was a time when I was blogging about Christian movies.  Nowadays, I blog about evangelical Christian fiction and non-fiction.  Sometimes, I blog about my Bible reading, or a scholarly book.

I have wondered if this sort of eclectic approach helps my blog, in terms of getting it readers and subscribers.  My stats have done all right, but a lot of the views that I get are from people looking for information.  But getting more regular subscribers?  Suppose that a person comes here because he liked a post that I wrote about biblical studies, and he expects more of the same.  Instead, he finds me writing about Christian movies.  Will he stay?  Some people try to solve this sort of problem by having more than one blog: one for Christian apologetics and one for family stuff or sci fi, one for politics and one for daily life.  I don’t have enough time and energy to post regularly on more than one blog, though!

There are certain themes that come up often on my blog.  My resentment against evangelical Christianity for trying to make me into a social extrovert—-when I am not that—-is one.  My struggle to forgive others, and Jesus’ warning that God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others, is another.  Some may consider these posts whining.  Others find them helpful.  They are themes that come up here a lot, though.

I cannot say that my entire blog is about my social and religious struggles, however.  When I have geeked out on health care policy or academic Bible points, that has not been particularly relevant to my social or religious struggles.  It has just been me blogging about what I find interesting.

Anyway, I wonder how my “About Me” page can better communicate who I am.  I’ll be posting this post on my blogspot blog, even though this post is about my WordPress blog.  My blogspot blog has an “About Me” section, which is mostly like my WordPress “About Me” section, in terms of what it says.  My blogspot blog shows links to web sites and blogs that I like, but I am not sure what one can learn about me from that.  My blogroll has liberal and conservative blogs, and also moderate ones.  People cannot really pigeon-hole me when they visit my blogs!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Remnants of Conservatism

Ronald Reagan used to say that he did not leave the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party left him.  Many people who change political parties say something similar.  “Oh, I miss the days when the Republican Party was much more reasonable.  Now, it has been highjacked by a bunch of radicals!”

I have departed from right-wing conservatism, in the sense that I am more open now to voting for Democratic and progressive candidates.  Still, I wonder: has my ideology really changed that much?
I grew up reading literature of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society.  It would criticize the marriage between big government and big business: big business looking to big government to suppress competitors and grant big business unfair advantages.  Well, guess what?  I still agree with the John Birchers that this is a problem!  More than one progressive would, too.  That's one reason for progressives' opposition to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision: it gives special interests more power to influence government decisions for their own benefit. 

When I was a conservative, I believed in fiscal responsibility.  The government should try to eliminate waste and inefficiency.  Well, there are Democrats who say that, too!  Both sides claim to care about the deficit.  And both sides create their share of them!  But there have been plenty of Democratic governors who have managed to balance their state budgets.  There are also Democrats who propose new government spending programs, and I think that those should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis: rather than assuming that something is getting done because the government is spending more money, we should take a look at how the money is being spent.  We also shouldn't have duplicate programs.  And, rather than being too hasty to create new programs, we should consider whether there are already programs that are supposed to be doing a particular job. 

I wouldn't say that the Republican Party left me.  I'm just saying that my political change does not involve me repudiating everything I believed when I was a conservative.  My problem is, though, that many Republican politicians seem pretty selective in applying their principles of the free market and fiscal responsibility.  My impression is that, in many cases, their decisions on this are to the benefit of the rich, and to the detriment of the poor, or those not as well-connected.  And I am not saying that the Democrats are perfect, not by a long shot.

ADDENDUM: I was thinking of turning off comments for this post, since I don't want to get into a debate with anyone, or be asked to provide examples of what I'm talking about.  This post is my general reflections, not a comprehensive research paper.  I'm leaving the comments on, though, because I can learn from comments, even ones that disagree with me.  Feel free to comment and to disagree, and I will read the comments.  But I most likely will not get into any debates.  

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