Sunday, May 31, 2020

Church Write-Up: Pentecost Sunday and Psalm 46

Some items from church this morning:

A. It was Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost commemorates God’s giving the Holy Spirit to the church in Acts 2. The youth pastor visited two kids for his children’s message. One of the kids testified that he shares his faith—-that God is the creator and that Jesus died for our sins—-with a neighbor kid, but the neighbor kid does not believe. The youth pastor encouraged him that God, through God’s spirit, can generate faith in the neighbor kid through what the kid shared.

B. The pastor’s sermon revolved around Numbers 11. God places his spirit on seventy elders and two people prophesy throughout the camp. Joshua is jealous for Moses’s sake. Moses affirms that he wishes all the LORD’s people were prophets and that God would put God’s spirit upon them. The pastor speculated that Joshua was upset because he felt that the two Israelites prophesying diminished the authority of Moses. Perhaps Joshua felt that he himself benefited from Moses being the only person with God’s spirit and thus did not want the spirit to be democratized. Joshua is close to the ultimate man in charge and that gives Joshua a greater influence than if everyone were in charge because everyone had God’s spirit. But God’s spirit is not diminished by being spread out and shared. It is like a candle: a fire on a candle can kindle another candle without itself diminishing. We are prophets, the pastor said, when we share the Gospel and convey forgiveness to others.

C. I consulted some Bible commentaries to see how they accounted for the democratization of God’s spirit in Numbers 11:29. What historical events, context, or interests led to the concept that all of God’s people should be prophets? Christians would say, of course, that God’s eventual plan was for all people to have God’s spirit, that Christianity fulfilled that (to a greater extent than existed before), and that Numbers 11:29 was divinely-inspired prophecy about this. But how would historical-critics, who lack a commitment to the Hebrew Bible being a Christian document, account for the concept of the Holy Spirit’s democratization in Numbers 11:29? The commentaries that I consulted were not particularly helpful. The Word Biblical Commentary, as it usually does, laid out scholarly proposals about possible socio-political/historical contexts behind the text. Its conclusion was that Numbers 11 was seeking to legitimize other authority structures besides the conventional ones (i.e., priests). Either this was David or lay prophets who were claiming the right to be heard. That does not adequately explain why the text supported a democratization of God’s spirit. The issue of democratization recurs throughout the Hebrew Bible. At times, it is depicted negatively: people oppose Moses’s authority by claiming that they, too, are God’s people or have heard from God, and God affirms Mosaic authority. At other times, democratization is supported, as when Joel predicts that God will pour out God’s spirit on all flesh, or when the Book of Zechariah presents a holiness in Jerusalem that breaks out of the temple. Perhaps a naturalistic scholar can say that someone had the idea that, if God were the creator and loved God’s creation, God would desire that all people partake of God’s spirit.

D. The Presbyterian church that I attended in upstate New York sends out written e-mails for its services in these Corona times. I was especially moved by today’s sermon. I will not feel pressured to share its sermon every week, but what it said this week was helpful. The pastor talked about the Spirit helping us to persevere and to do things that we did not think we could do. The pastor shared about how, when his first wife was deathly ill in 1995, he was unsure if he would be able to take care of her. She was the one who had changed their child’s diapers. But the pastor crossed that bridge when he came to it. That resonated with me because, as my county enters stage 1 of reopening, I will soon have to resume doing things at work that I dread doing. But, hopefully, God will be there with me as I cross that bridge when I come to it.

E. I will reserve this item here for my faith struggles. On (B.), I would not say that I resent the democratization of God’s spirit. I would say, though, that I have felt left out in the past from what God is doing. God appears to speak to other people and to work in their lives in tangible ways, but I do not see that in my life. My resentment is not as great as it was in the past, and that is probably because I am no longer in school, which is where I encountered great moves of God in the lives of others. Part of my resentment may be because I want influence and admiration from others; part is because I would like a personal touch from God to know of his care and concern for me personally. The line that came in my mind was the sermon point that people make about Moses entering the Tent of Meeting, which was available to all Israelites (Exodus 33:7): we are as close or as far away from God as we want to be. Cold comfort. On (D.), if I had heard that sermon in the past, I would have been ready with my list of “but what about”s? What about the times when God has not helped me to do a task well? What about the times when I was nervous and afraid and alienated others on account of that? Where was God’s spirit in that? Nowadays, I do not have that problem as much. Zoloft calms my nerves, and people at work are helpful and supportive. I find that, once I get back into the groove, I can do the tasks or cope with them. But do I attribute that to God’s spirit strengthening me? I struggle to do that, and yet I do pray for God’s strength and that helps me to face tasks.

F. The Sunday school class was about Psalm 46. The Psalm describes natural and political cataclysms. The pastor speculated that the natural cataclysms could have been inspired by the intense earthquake that hit Israel and Judah in the eighth century B.C.E., which Amos and Zechariah both mention. The political cataclysm could have been inspired by the death of Josiah a century later, which marked the ascension of Babylon as the world power. Both the natural and political cataclysms are described as the undoing of creation, the order and regularity to which people are accustomed. The sea, also, is a symbol of chaos, as Hebrews feared going out to sea. Amidst all of this cataclysm is the conviction that God is God: God rules and his words accomplish what they set out to do. Psalm 46 encourages people to be still and know that God is God. That could be directed at evildoers, telling them to desist from their resistance and rebellion against God, or it could be reassuring God’s people that God reigns. The pastor commented briefly on “Selah” and said that it may be intended to introduce a new topic. In v. 3, it marks a transition from talking about natural cataclysm to talking about the river of living waters in the Temple.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Book Write-Up: Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, Kissinger on the Couch

Donald T. Critchlow. Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade. Princeton University Press, 2005.

Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward. Kissinger on the Couch. Arlington, 1975.

Here are some thoughts and observations about these two books.

A. How did Phyllis Schlafly become a conservative? Critchlow’s answer is rather ambiguous. Phyllis’s parents were anti-New Deal and devoutly religious, but Phyllis does not remember them as particularly political; her sister, however, recalls that they ranted against the New Deal, which Phyllis does not remember. Phyllis went to college and then got a master’s in political science from Harvard, but she was not overly conservative then. She wrote essays in favor of the UN. In Washington, D.C., she worked as a researcher for the American Enterprise Institute, and that, according to Critchlow, is when her conservative beliefs deepened.

B. Critchlow’s book is excellent in some areas but a little thin in others. On where it is thin, Critchlow does not really explain why Phyllis and her parents were opposed to the New Deal. Critchlow does imply, though, that Phyllis got from her parents a religious piety, and that led her to stress the importance of religion in fostering a moral and stable society. That would influence her socially conservative positions.

C. While Phyllis was a conservative, she was not a thorough economic libertarian in her runs for Congress. Among the items of her platform were an increase in Social Security and veterans’ benefits, as well as greater federal funding for roads. According to Critchlow, this was common for conservatives in the 1940’s and 1950’s: they opposed dramatic economic and political transformation, as evidenced in the New Deal, but they favored increases in government programs, here and there. Phyllis still campaigned as a conservative, attacking her opponents for their appeasements of Communist countries, yet she also campaigned on bread and butter issues. She managed to combine the two: she would attack her opponent for neglecting roads in his district while supporting foreign aid for roads in Communist countries.

D. Critchlow is especially strong in his discussion of nuclear disarmament. Schlafly and Admiral Chester Ward were critical of the disarmament policies under McNamara and Kissinger, as the Soviets increased their military. Critchlow tries to explain the rationale of those Schlafly and Ward criticize, as do Schlafly and Ward in Kissinger on the Couch. First, in McNamara’s eyes, he was making the American military more efficient, effective, and accurate in its ability to attack, even though he was reducing the bulk of American missiles. Schlafly and Ward dispute that McNamara’s policies accomplished this. Second, McNamara and Kissinger sought to scale back the arms race, and some of the people in the Kennedy Administration wanted to show the Soviet Union that the U.S. had peaceful intentions. The U.S.S.R. feared American belligerence, so the U.S. allowed the Soviets to retain a superior military to appease their fear and their pride. Third, according to Schlafly and Ward, Kissinger hoped that economic cooperation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would discourage the Soviets from attacking the United States. Schlafly and Ward are slightly unclear in their rebuttal of this. On the one hand, they doubt that the Soviets desire nuclear war, but, on the other hand, they can envision the Soviets attacking the U.S. and taking its resources for itself. But what good would the resources be to them, if the resources and the infrastructure and people supporting them have been nuked? Fourth, Schlafly and Ward observe in Kissinger a hopelessness: Kissinger wants to negotiate for the U.S. a secure second-place behind the Soviets because he doubts that the U.S. can catch up with the Soviets militarily. Schlafly and Ward trace this hopelessness to Kissinger’s experience in the Holocaust, when Nazi tyranny triumphed over him and his family. Schlafly and Ward do not see the situation as hopeless, for they think that the U.S. can catch up to the Soviets. At the same time, they acknowledge that the Soviets have advantages that the U.S. lacks: authoritarian coordination, plus the Soviets are willing to sacrifice a huge chunk of their economy to military spending, whereas the U.S. is not. Fifth, Critchlow highlights nuance within the Kennedy Administration. They were not all appeasers, and they were uncomfortable about some of the same things that troubled Schlafly and Ward. Paul Nitze, and even Kissinger himself, became critics of SALT II. Critchlow states that Schlafly and Ward fail to explain this. They do, however, on some level: they say that Nitze has sour grapes because he was passed over for Kissinger, and that he is seeking to appease conservatives to position himself as a replacement for Kissinger.

E. For Schlafly and Ward, MAD (mutually-assured destruction) is misguided. MAD assumes that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would be discouraged from attacking each other, if they realize that the other side will attack back. Schlafly and Ward support the U.S. possessing anti-ballistic missiles, which can stop Soviet missiles from attacking the U.S. after their launch; that thwarts MAD in that it stops a country from being able to retaliate after being attacked. The Soviets can respond to U.S. attack, but what good is their response if a U.S. ABM can stop their missiles from even attacking? MAD, for Schlafly and Ward, is misguided for three reasons. First, the Soviets have superior first-strike capability. They are able to attack the U.S. and to decimate its ability to retaliate. Second, even if the U.S. were to retaliate, the Soviets would be able to survive an attack far better than the U.S. would, due to its land mass and passive defense. Third, the Soviets doubt that the U.S. has the stomach to attack back. Schlafly and Ward are open to a retaliatory attack on the part of the U.S. being automatic—-guided by technology rather than an actual person—-but that is trusting a lot in machines. Hopefully, there is no gliche that will set the nukes off!

F. Schlafly and Ward argue that the U2 incident on the part of the Soviets was designed to hamper the U.S. from monitoring and verifying Soviet compliance with disarmament treaties. Schlafly and Ward think that U2s are needed to verify Soviet compliance. Yet, they also express skepticism that Soviet compliance can even be monitored. The Soviets have so much land for testing their weapons, and the U.S. cannot monitor everywhere.

G. Critchlow says that Admiral Ward saw the Sino-Soviet split as a ruse. In Kissinger on the Couch, however, the split is presumed as genuine. Critchlow acknowledges that Ward made compromises in his contribution to the books: he supported Wallace for President, whereas, under Schlafly’s influence, their book The Betrayers endorsed Nixon in 1968.

H. Ward was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which is considered in right-wing circles to be a conspiracy to create a one-world government. Ward writes as one with privy knowledge, in contrast with many right-wing critics of the CFR. For Ward, the upper echelons of the CFR desire a one-world government, even though there are differences within it on how to get there, along with political strife over turf. McNamara supports the Vietnam War as a way to divert the U.S. from building up its military against the Soviets, whereas Daniel Ellsberg opposed the Vietnam War. I have some doubts about the CFR being monolithic in supporting disarmament, for people who supported a nuclear arms race attained high positions in the Ford and Carter administrations. Ward and Schlafly talk as if Kissinger has as influential a voice in the Ford Administration as he did under Nixon, but one can argue that Cheney and Rumsfeld marginalized Kissinger. Ward does well to highlight, though, how the CFR helps people to advance in government. It is an elite group, with elitist ends, but I wonder if there is a way to conceptualize those ends, other than the typical Birch spiel.

I. According to Critchlow, Phyllis was a long-time opponent and critic of the military draft. In Kissinger on the Couch, though, Schlafly and Ward appear to support the draft. This is understandable, for the ability of a country to draft its citizens gives it military strength.

J. Back to Critchlow, Critchlow traces Schlafly’s political involvement to her belief about the role of women, whereas most critics accuse Schlafly of being hypocritical on this. Civic involvement (i.e., being in the DAR) is something women do, and Schlafly saw her political career as part of that.

K. Reading the text of the ERA itself, it is hard to see how it necessarily mandates a totally gender-neutral society. It simply says that equality of rights shall not be infringed on account of sex. That does not say that men and women always have to be treated the same way, but that men and women have equal rights. The question would then be what those rights are. This is not to suggest that Schlafly’s criticisms were unfounded. Watching her debates with feminists on YouTube, even feminists conceded some of her points: yes, if there is a draft, women under the ERA would be drafted. And, as Critchlow documents, Schlafly’s criticisms of the ERA were not new. As early as the 1940’s, conservative women feared that ERA would take away the protections that women already had under the law, and legislators tried to add modifiers to the ERA to assuage their fears. This occurred again in the 1970’s, but the modifiers were voted down by huge margins. Why, that is a good question. Maybe it would look stylistically bad for an amendment to have twenty-or-so caveats.

L. One reason I like Critchlow’s book is that it is a good underdog story. In one passage, Critchlow quotes an anti-ERA housewife who, due to Schlafly’s tutelage, was able to answer academics and professors point-by-point in debates on the ERA. Yet, how much were the anti-ERA people the underdogs? As Critchlow argues, the anti-ERA women made a better impression on legislators than the radical and rambunctious feminists. The feminists were divided on how radical their agenda should be: should they push for homosexual and abortion rights, which were controversial at the time? The anti-ERA women had culture and tradition on their side, even though, as Critchlow points out, there were some differences among them over whether women should have careers or should stay home. And the anti-ERA women had grassroots political talent, for they had connections with their communities and speaking abilities due to their church and civic involvement. ERA activists, by contrast, tended to trust in rallies to get their point across.

M. Critchlow argues against the idea that the right-wing is rooted in racism. The segregationists were merely one part of the anti-Communist coalition of the 1950’s-1960’s. The Republican platforms in 1960 and 1964 endorsed Civil Rights, albeit differently from liberal Democrats. Schlafly wrote against racism in her younger years, and there were African-American pastors and women who participated in the anti-ERA movement. Schlafly’s Republican Senator, Everett Dirksen, with whom she and her husband were close, supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Schlafly never objected to that. Segregationists were Democrats, whereas Schlafly was a Republican. Critchlow raises valid points, but, of course, scholars can find reasons to disagree with him. Opposition to civil rights legislation was part of the conservative belief in states’ rights. Regarding Schlafly’s views on race, I wrestle with that here and here, in posts I wrote while I was going through her Power of the Positive Woman. On the one hand, she speaks favorably of racial equality and sees civil rights legislation as positive. On the other hand, she opposes a court integration decision, criticizes the government forcing people to associate with each other, and speaks contemptuously of civil rights lawyers and minority-crowded neighborhoods.

N. Back to Kissinger on the Couch, Schlafly and Ward criticize Kissinger for choosing as an advisor someone who let Oswald back into the U.S. That interested me because the movie JFK sees Oswald as an American intelligence agent because why else would the U.S. allow someone who defected to Russia to return to the U.S.? Schlafly and Ward go into some of that.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Church Write-Up: Psalm 23:6 and Psalm 40

Here are some items from church this morning.

A. The theme of the service was Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” The youth pastor offered an interpretation of dwelling in God’s house forever. His interpretation was that the house is not a literal building but rather refers to God’s family: Christians are part of God’s house by being in God’s family, as God’s sons and daughters, and they shall be in God’s family for all eternity. Indeed, “house” (beyt) in the Hebrew Bible can refer to a person’s household or family. Israel was part of God’s family by being God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and David, as king, was also the son of God (II Samuel 7:14). In the youth pastor’s interpretation, David was assuring himself that, whatever perils he may be experiencing, God is still his father.

B. The pastor in his sermon offered another interpretation of Psalm 23:6b. It does refer to returning to God’s presence in the Temple, which David desired while he was on the run from King Saul. But it also has the sense of being in God’s presence continually, over and over. Because the pastor referred to the Hebrew, I checked it out on my BibleWorks. I was surprised to find, not le-olam, the word usually translated as “forever,” but rather le-orek yamim, “for length of days.” The pastor said that the sense of Psalm 23:6b is that God forgives us continually. When Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy-times-seven (Matthew 18:21-22), Jesus was not setting a limit on the number of times Peter can forgive. Rather, Jesus was saying that God forgives always and continuously, so Peter should as well.

C. The pastor described the thoughts of three philosophers. The first was Toynbee, who believed in a divinely-guided progression upward of history. The second was Hegel, who saw a synthesis, which was neither necessarily progressive nor regressive. For example, Greek and Rome collided and produced something new: Greco-Roman culture. The third was Spengler, who saw history and life as cyclical, as people experience the same sorts of things again and again. The pastor related Spengler to the Christian life, as Christians sin and receive God’s forgiveness over and over yet often change in the course of life with respect to the sorts of sins that they commit. The pastor referred to the movie Groundhog Day, in which Phil wakes up each morning experiencing the exact same day over and over, until he is delivered from this cycle through his love for Rita. Christians are delivered due to God’s kindness and mercy chasing them, not merely sweeping up after them.

D. The Sunday school class talked about Psalm 40. Psalm 40 is David’s reflection on when he was fleeing from Saul. There was a lot of time between Samuel’s anointing of David and David actually becoming king. David, in this perilous interim, was wondering if God had forsaken him, or if he had committed some sin that displeased God and God was punishing him. Saul, meanwhile, was slandering David, saying David was trying to overthrow him, turning people against him so that they rejected and did not help him. David came to see God as his rock, someone on whom he could securely stand. In the Judean wilderness, people could stand on rocks, whereas they could easily sink in sand. David’s hope was that his enemies would be afraid and amazed when God delivered them, realizing that they cannot stop God. If they continue to oppose David, they will place themselves outside God’s deliverance.

E. V. 3 affirms that God put a song in the Psalmist’s mouth. A student commented that she sees singing as coming from us outside of our mouths, whereas v. 3 states that God put the song inside of the Psalmist. We cannot praise God without God putting the song there in the first place. The pastor talked about David’s statement in v. 8 that God’s law is in his inmost being. People feel things in their bowels, their inward being. God knows us, inside and out, but God put his Torah, Jesus, inside of us, such that the word made flesh connects with our inward selves.

F. The pastor talked about how pieces of Psalm 40 appear elsewhere in the Book of Psalms. He said that many scholars maintain that Jeremiah edited the Hebrew Bible. Deuteronomy threatens Israel with punishment if she was faithless to God, and Joshua-II Kings is about how that unfolded. Jeremiah was the primary prophet who proclaimed that message when Judah finally fell. My understanding is that scholars label this editor the Deuteronomist. Richard Elliott Friedman, initially, argued that the Deuteronomist was Jeremiah. But there are scholars who distinguish between the Deuteronomist and Jeremiah, noticing some differences between them in terms of their message.

G. The pastor commented briefly on Jesus’s parable in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant. The servant, by refusing to forgive someone else, was rejecting the king’s forgiveness of him. That is an interesting take. When we refuse to forgive others, we are affirming a system of strict justice rather than forgiveness, and we fail under a system of strict justice. This is somewhat helpful but only goes so far. I am fine with God liking and forgiving everyone. That does not mean that I like them or want anything to do with them.

Booknotes: In Trump We Trust, Resistance Is Futile, Godless (Ann Coulter)

(Note: These reviews were written a while back. For Ann Coulter’s latest views on Trump, see here.)

A. Ann Coulter. In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! Sentinel, 2016.

Ann Coulter wrote this book during the 2016 Presidential election. In it, she essentially endorses Donald Trump for President. Trump, she argues, has succeeded as a candidate because he is speaking candidly and forcefully about a problem that troubles a lot of voters: illegal immigration. Republican candidates prior to him and during the 2016 primaries generally gave lip service to securing the border yet failed to go so far as Trump did when he asserted that illegal immigrants were bringing problems to the U.S. and proclaimed his intent to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Trump, according to Coulter, was the perfect candidate to proclaim this message because he did not back down against elitist, politically-correct pressure, so the usual methods of discrediting Republicans and forcing them to apologize did not work on him. He was also less choreographed than typical politicians.

This book has a number of assets. As she usually does in her books and columns, Coulter brings facts into the discussion to bolster her case. She places Trump’s controversial criticism of Arizona Senator John McCain in context, namely, McCain’s mockery of Arizonans who were concerned about illegal immigration. She also provides context for Trump’s alleged mockery of a reporter’s disability. She argues that Trump did no such thing, but she also documents that reporters and police shortly after 9/11 reported that there were Muslims in America who were cheering the attack, as Trump said; those who asserted otherwise did so under pressure from higher-ups.

Also interesting is Coulter’s criticism of mainstream conservatives. Coulter is critical of the conservative establishment—-the Heritage Foundation, Fox News, the American Enterprise Institute—-for being pedantic and for focusing on issues that are of little concern to voters. She also mocks the Republican gaffes of 2012, as when Todd Akin questioned whether rapes in abortion cases were legitimate rapes. Why say that?, Coulter wonders.

Coulter seems to diverge from conservative Republican orthodoxy in this book. Rather than supporting a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother, she wants each state to set its own abortion policy. She praises candidate Trump for supporting certain tax increases on the wealthy, a position that, after becoming President, Trump abandoned. Coulter even lauds some of Trump’s more unconventional positions, such as his view that the U.S. should leave NATO after the Cold War.

A criticism I have of this book is that Coulter, at least sometimes, fails to account for the agenda of Trump’s opposition. On illegal immigration, she does so well: the left wants more immigration because that means more votes for Democrats, plus the left does not think America should be allowed to have its own distinct culture. Meanwhile, the right wants more illegal immigrants because then company owners can pay workers less. On why the mainstream media and the establishment were so quick to defend Islam after 9/11, however, Coulter does not explain the reason for their agenda.

B. Ann Coulter. Resistance Is Futile: How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind. Sentinel, 2018.

Ann Coulter acknowledges that Trump is a crass, unrefined individual, but she disdains his left-wing critics more.

Some items:

—-I agree with Coulter that many of Trump’s controversial statements, which his critics blow way out of proportion, are hyperbole he uses to make a point.

—-Coulter’s discussion of Charlottesville was a mixed bag. She does well to note that Trump did condemn white supremacists and to argue that the Antifa is far from pure. When she tried to argue that the torches that pro-statue people were holding at night were not inspired by Nazism, since other movements in America did that sort of thing, she was not particularly convincing. A mass of people holding torches at night does, in my mind, imply that the event at least was coordinated. It was not just people who were concerned about the removal of American heritage, and Nazis and white supremacists then happened to show up.

—-Coulter differentiates between the move to impeach Clinton and the move to impeach Trump. This was before the whole Ukrainian controversy, so her focus was on whether or not there was Russian collusion. According to Coulter, Clinton committed actual felonies and misdemeanors. Nothing, however, could actually be proven about Trump. Trump was accused of obstruction of justice, but how could he obstruct justice, when FBI director James Comey denied that Trump was even under investigation? I doubt that Trump is pure, but, of course, the question is what can be proven. (I write this in December 2019, so I do not know what evidence will come out by the time this post appears.)

—-I actually thought more highly of Barack Obama after reading this book. The things that Trump gets criticized for—-seeking better relations with Russia, pursuing a non-interventionist stance towards Syria—-were things that Barack Obama himself did (in spots). There were aspects of Obama’s administration that I did not care for, such as his disregard for religious freedom. But he did some things that I liked.

C. Ann Coulter. Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Crown Forum, 2007.

Ann Coulter’s books are praiseworthy because of the range of topics that she covers and because she provides arguments for her positions. Among the topics that she engages in this book are crime (the Warren Court, Giuliani’s New York City, and criminals the left treats as political prisoners), Sacco and Vanzetti, the Valerie Plame scandal, Jamie Gorelick and the 9/11 Commission, teacher pay, stem cell research, and evolution. Much of her book is a screed against leftist tendencies, such as the 9/11 widows who thought their status made their stance against the Iraq War sacrosanct. Of course, there is another side to what Ann Coulter presents. If I were to look up some of the personalities Coulter discusses on wikipedia, I would get more aspects of the story. Plus, conservatives, too, pull some of the emotional 9/11 shaming that Ann Coulter criticizes in liberals: “You are against the Iraq War? Did you not feel anything after 9/11?” Still, this book is worthwhile to read. On evolution, Coulter doubts macroevolution. What she believes in its place is a good question. She does not appear to be a young-earth creationist, who believes that all animals were created six thousand years ago. Rather, she contends that various species have appeared over the course of millennia, and there is no evidence that one evolved from another. Would this be a progressivist creationist view: God continually creates new species? Another point Coulter makes is that Christianity values the vulnerable, whereas evolutionary theory has encouraged people to devalue the vulnerable in favor of the fittest. How would this jibe with her stance on illegal immigration? Would not a Christian stance be that America should embrace and help those who come to America in need of help?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Current Events Write-Up: Deficit Non-Disaster; Unafraid Phyllis; Norma McCorvey; Trump’s New Press Secretary

Mises Institute: “The Federal Deficit Is Setting New Records as Spending Explodes,” by Ryan McMaken.

Why has the U.S. Government been able to go into the red year after year, without the occurrence of the perils that are usually associated with deficit spending (i.e., high interest rates, cuts in federal spending to pay down the national debt, etc.)? McMaken explains: “So far, the US has avoided this fate.  This is in part due to the fact the world still views US bonds (for now) as a relatively risk free investment compared to bonds from other countries. After all, for as much as the US is engaging in deficit spending, much of the rest of the world is acting similarly, so US debt ends up looking relatively good. Another reason the US avoids its day of reckoning on debt is the fact the US dollar itself is still in demand as a global world currency. Foreigners still want dollars, and that makes it easier for the US’s central bank to buy up US government debt in order to keep interest rates low — and thus government debt payments.. The central bank creates new money to do this, but this can only be sustained because so many foreigners want US dollars which helps keep US domestic price inflation low. In fact, demand for both US dollars and debt is so high at the moment, there is a ‘dollar shortage.'”

FACT CHECK: Was Phyllis Schlafly Scared To Debate Bella Abzug?

I have been enjoying this Eagle Forum series responding to the FX/Hulu miniseries Mrs. America, though it has also made me upset at the miniseries. Why would the miniseries depict Phyllis as afraid to debate Bella Abzug? Bella was no dolt, but she was not more superb at debating as anyone else Phyllis debated.

LifeNews: “Pro-Abortion Documentary ‘AKA Jane Roe’ Falsely Claims Norma McCorvey Wasn’t Truly Pro-Life,” by Steven Ertelt.

This article does not refute the main arguments for McCorvey’s retraction: a former Operation Rescue official admitted to paying McCorvey to claim to be pro-life, and McCorvey admitting to that on camera. But it does raise important considerations. McCorvey was still saying pro-life things shortly before her death.

CBN: “Kayleigh McEnany’s Emotional Tribute to Ravi Zacharias,” by David Brody.

Kayleigh McEnany is President Trump’s new White House Press Secretary. What interested me about this article was what it said about her. She is a devout Christian and attended Oxford University.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Write-Up: The Facts about Communism and Our Churches, by Billy James Hargis

Billy James Hargis. The Facts about Communism and Our Churches. Christian Crusade, 1962. See here to purchase the book.

Billy James Hargis was a conservative anti-Communist preacher, in the vein of such organizations as the John Birch Society. This book is about the Communist infiltration, manipulation, and use of churches. Julian Williams provided Hargis with the research and documentation.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

A. The Communist stance towards religion is examined in this book. Hargis provides quotes from the Communist pillars, such as Lenin, as well as from American Communist leaders. Essentially, the Communist stance, as Hargis portrays it, is that the Communists are disdainful towards religion, but they are willing to tolerate it if it serves their aims. They realize that the proletariat will not relinquish its religious beliefs easily, so the Communists will work with religion provided that it promotes and advances their economic and political worldview. This is evident in Communist countries, where some churches act as propagandists for the state.

B. Hargis documents that Communists have infiltrated American churches, but he backs away from saying that most of the pastors and Christians who adhere to left-wing political views are Communists. He even backs off from claiming that the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches are Communist, even though, of course, he acknowledges that there are overtly Communist pastors in the World Council of Churches. What Hargis argues is that a number of pastors have been influenced by Communists and unknowingly duped into advancing their agenda. This agenda includes support for Fidel Castro, the admission of Red China into the UN, disarmament, allowing Communist foreigners into the United States through lax immigration laws, a one-world government, opposition to HUAC, and opposition to free enterprise. According to Hargis, mainline Protestant churches and publications have endorsed such positions, which have been promulgated in explicitly Communist publications. Hargis also criticizes mainline Protestantism for denying supernaturalism, such as the virgin birth, and he seems to maintain that this overlaps with Communist anti-supernaturalism.

C. Hargis also responds to critics of his position. When the Air Force suppressed an educational manual within its ranks that exposed Communist influence in churches, that does not mean that the Air Force was denying the manual’s message; the Secretary denied this was the case. The same goes for J. Edgar Hoover and William Sullivan of the FBI, when they criticize dividing people against each other, for they themselves express concern about the Communist usage of churches to advance the Communist agenda.

D. Hargis contends that the National Council of Churches threatens freedom of speech. Radio stations are increasingly deciding to limit their Protestant airtime to churches that are part of the NCC. The NCC also seeks to influence what churches are constructed and where, which could prioritize NCC-affiliated churches and marginalize conservative ones. This analysis is likely dated, due to the decline of mainline Protestantism and the current abundance of evangelical churches. Plus, Christian radio is predominantly right-wing.

E. Hargis touches on the question of whether churches should even be involved in politics. On the one hand, he seems to be sympathetic towards a “no” answer. Numerous Christians and pastors have disliked the NCC because it has taken political stances. Hargis refers to a Presbyterian leader who quotes the Westminster Confession’s discouragement of synods and councils from “intermeddl[ing] with civil affairs which concern the Commonwealth[.]” Norman Vincent Peale laments that mainline churches give people the stone of social action rather than the bread of spirituality. On the other hand, Hargis maintains that churches should stand against Communism, which has persecuted Christians throughout the world. All this is noteworthy because Hargis has sometimes labeled himself one of the earliest voices of the religious right. My impression (which is subject to correction) is that his political agenda was not as comprehensive as that of the religious right of the 1980’s, perhaps because society during the 1960’s was still largely conservative in culture.

F. The tone of this book is (A.) the Communists believe A, (B.) American Christian leaders also believe A, so (C.) the American Christian leaders are wrong because they agree with the Communists. But Hargis sometimes offers a rationale for his political positions. Communism is brutal and authoritarian. Disarmament is wrong because military strength on the part of the U.S. is what guarantees the peace, plus the Communists break disarmament agreements. The Bible supports private property because it has “Thou shalt not steal.” The early Christians’ sharing of their possessions in Acts 4 was temporary and was eventually abandoned as unfeasible, plus it was voluntary rather than coerced. The Bible supports private charity rather than state welfare. I differ from that last point because I think that the Pentateuch promotes a just society which keeps the poor from falling through the cracks, not just individuals helping others whenever they feel like it.

G. Hargis sometimes provides details about the liberal Christians’ rationale for their positions: social reform can undermine Communism by redressing the poverty that Communists exploit, Romans 13 would require Christians to submit to a world government (that is a new one for me—-a conservative rationale for a liberal position!). The book may have been stronger had it done so more.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Church Write-Up: Psalm 41 and 23:5a

Here are some items from church this morning:

A. The Bible study class was about Psalm 41. According to the pastor, the setting for this Psalm was the rebellion of David’s son Absalom against King David. David is sick and thus has not been active in pursuing his kingly duties, and Absalom takes advantage of that void by judging people’s cases at the gate. Absalom wins the hearts of the Israelites through his wise resolutions of civil disputes. David’s advisor, Ahithophel, who is renowned for his wisdom (yet whose name means “my brother is a fool”), leaves David’s side and joins Absalom. David feels betrayed: he who ate with him lifts up his heel against him, that is, kicks him while he is down. David also feels undermined by people who are pretending to be his friend: David shares with them his faith struggles, and they spread that news among the people and make David look like a bad king, one who lacks faith in God. David pronounces a blessing on the one who shows compassion to the poor. That is because David is hoping that people will show compassion to him, one who is vulnerable and sick. David acknowledges that he is in this mess due to his sins, including his adultery with Bathsheba, but he hopes for God’s mercy and deliverance. The pastor was using Psalm 41 and the story of Absalom’s rebellion in II Samuel to explain and to flesh out each other, with helpful results. John 13:8 applies Psalm 41:9 to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. The pastor engaged the question of whether David was prophesying about Judas. Unfortunately, due to Zoom problems, I missed that discussion. It will be posted on the church’s website, but I will have to learn how to listen to an m4a on my computer.

B. The church service was about Psalm 23:5a: you prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. The youth pastor applied this to reconciling with our enemies. One lamb was upset with another lamb because he was annoyed by her singing the same song over and over. But he shared his concern with her over dinner, and the two were reconciled. The youth pastor brought in Matthew 18: when one believer has problems with another believer, go to him or her and express that problem. C.S. Lewis treats Psalm 23:5a as punitive: David wants God to prepare him a table and for his enemies to watch him eat from it, as David rubs their nose in his own fortune. That is probably the meaning, in light of Psalm’s generally vengeful attitude. Still, the youth pastor’s interpretation may make sense in light of the fuller revelation of Jesus Christ, who taught and demonstrated love to his enemies.

C. The pastor related Psalm 23:5a to Mahanaim in II Samuel 17. David flees to Mahanaim from Absalom, and Shobi the Ammonite and others bring food, water, and beds to David and his weary men. The pastor said that God often provides for people through other people. In this case, they were the means by which God furnished David with a table in the presence of his enemies. This discussion overlapped with my personal prayer and contemplation over the past several weeks. I have been going through I-II Chronicles. God criticizes kings of Judah for seeking assistance from foreign nations, as God desires that they trust him alone. Should believers, therefore, refuse assistance from non-believers, trusting God alone to provide? In the case of David, God provided through non-believers, including an Ammonite. I-II Chronicles is still getting at something, though: it does not want the Judahites to depend on others in a manner that detracts from their dependence on God, to see the solution to their problems in an entirely this-worldly way and thus to ignore God.

Current Events Write-Up: Solutions, Public Transit, Ahmaud Arbery, Safe Haven, Foreign Aid, Mrs. America

Here is a Current Events Write-Up:

Transcript of ABC This Week, May 17, 2020.

One of my Sunday rituals is to tape and watch ABC This Week. On weekdays, I now watch NBC News with Lester Holt, since he is not as over-the-top in his coverage of Trump as ABC News. But when it comes to Sunday news shows, I like the discussions on ABC This Week. Democrats usually get on my nerves, since they come across as smug self-righteous know-it-alls, and they make a mountain out of a molehill whenever Trump opens his mouth. Rahm Emanuel, though, had an intelligent comment: “And I think on the Democratic side, on messaging we look a little too — messaging — too much about resistance, about reopening, too much about reluctance about reopening, and we should go to a message of rebuilding America. If the president wants to talk about reopening, we want to talk about rebuilding America in the relief. Let’s take the unemployed. If you’re unemployed in the service sector, J.C. Penney, some of these others, those jobs aren’t coming back, so we’re going to give you a coupon, go become a computer coder in six months. We’ll pay for it. You don’t have to pay a penny out of your pocket, go become somebody in cybersecurity in six months and get the certificate. We, the country, will pay. So when when we reemerged out of this, we have rebuilt America. America never lost a challenge by investing in America and Americans. And that should become the Democratic mantra. It’s too much reopening, or reluctance and resistance. We have to go, you want reopening we want rebuilding. Rebuild our infrastructure right now. Rebuild the skills of America, that should be the tone which is affirmative.” How feasible this is, that is a good question, but Rahm does well here to focus on solutions and to transcend the debate between health and the economy. If the Democrats did more of this and less identity politics, virtue-signalling, and Trump derangement syndrome, I would be more eager to vote for them.

The Federalist: “How Public Transit Makes the Nation More Vulnerable to Disasters Like Covid-19,” by Randal O’Toole (Cato Institute).

On the one hand, libertarians make an important contribution to the public debate. They highlight where government hampers competition, makes resources less available, and privileges the already wealthy and powerful. On the other hand, it is articles like this that make me reluctant to vote Republican. This article essentially argues that we should get rid of public transit and everyone should drive a car instead. I cannot refute all of its points, but the fact is that I depend on public transit to get to work. Not everyone has a car.

New York Times: “Where Ahmaud Arbery Ran, Neighbors Cast Wary Eyes.”

First, I listened to the narrative that the people who shot Ahmaud were a couple of racist rednecks who shot Ahmaud in cold blood. Then, I listened to the narrative that Ahmaud had a criminal record, was casing a house-under-construction for a future robbery, and was violent and belligerent when the two men were calmly trying to detain him until the police arrived. This narrative said that Ahmaud visited the house a few times before. Then, I heard that the African-American who visited the house before may not have even been Ahmaud. This New York Times piece offers another explanation as to what Ahmaud may have been doing in that house: he was getting a drink of water, since the house had a water supply. The article also does not demonize the shooters but places what they did within the context of the burglaries and 9-1-1 calls that were occurring with frequency in their neighborhood.

Defense Priorities: “Debunking the Safe Haven Myth,” by Daniel L. Davis.

You know the argument that the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan because, otherwise, the terrorists will find safe haven there, and another 9/11 could then happen? This article disputes that. I am glad that I subscribed to this group’s updates, as it offers cogent and informative defenses of a generally non-interventionist foreign policy.

American Thinker: “The United Nations Is Failing the World When We Need It Most,” by Noah Phillips.

This article criticizes the UN for providing humanitarian assistance to Assad. This article is unlike what I normally read, which tends to defend Assad and to decry U.S. attempts to overthrow him. But it raises important considerations about foreign aid. Foreign aid is often criticized by conservatives because it sends money to oppressive regimes, which may decide not to use it for humanitarian purposes. This article raises the question of whether there are alternative ways to do foreign aid: to send it to localities, for example, rather than the national leader.

Right Now Podcast: “J.D. Vance, Mrs. America, and the Greenwich Republicans.”

This new podcast from the paleoconservative American Conservative, along with this review from the libertarian Reason magazine, makes me a little more open to watching the Mrs. America miniseries about Phyllis Schlafly. Granted, from what I have heard, there are still things that I hate about the miniseries. I hate the way it portrays the relationship between Fred and Phyllis as antagonistic, even going so far as to say that Fred raped her. I hate that it depicts Phyllis as ignorant about a court case in a debate, when she was on-the-ball in debates; meanwhile, some of her opponents had their share of gaffes. I hate that it presents Phyllis as, well, a bitch. And I hate that some in the mainstream media trot out these experts who say that the miniseries is accurate and dismiss those who say otherwise as merely Phyllis Schlafly’s family: I mean, what could her family possibly know about her? Moreover, the miniseries not only portrays Phyllis as a bitch but also her feminist opponents: Brenda Fasteau comes across as calmer in the real debate than her portrayal in the miniseries. But, according to these reviews, the miniseries, on some level, depicts both sides three-dimensionally: the depiction of the Schlafly-Fasteau debate sets the stage for Phyllis to go to law school, and the miniseries presents the leaders of both sides attempting to deal with the extremists in their own ranks. I wish, though, that it had more accurately portrayed Phyllis and Fred’s disagreement on whether she should go to law school: Fred, in reality, was initially upset, but he then encouraged Phyllis to do it. Someone on the podcast said that, if conservatives dislike Hulu/FXX’s portrayal of Schlafly, then they should create their own portrayal. Maybe, but I am skeptical. For one, I do not want a hagiography. Second, many of the actors who have talent are liberal.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Book Write-Up: Martin Dies’ Story, by Martin Dies

Martin Dies. Martin Dies’ Story. Bookmailer, 1963. See here to buy the book.

Martin Dies was a Texas Democratic congressman who, from 1937 to 1944, chaired what became the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or HUAC. HUAC was created to investigate Nazi, Fascist, and Communist subversion in the United States.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

A. This book is not exactly an autobiography. There is little in here about Dies’s family, personal background, and formative experiences. Overall, the book focuses on Communist infiltration of American institutions, including the domestic, intelligence, and foreign policy spheres of the U.S. Government, along with labor unions and Hollywood. Dies’s disappointing (from his standpoint) interactions with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are prominently featured in this book. Dies also defends HUAC against various accusations: that it is racist and anti-Semitic, that it has affiliated with Nazis and Fascists, that it makes baseless accusations, that it tramples on constitutional rights, and that its members are corrupt. In addition, Dies denies that he accused Shirley Temple of being a Communist. Another topic that Dies covers is media censorship: whereas books that portrayed Mao as an agrarian reformed were reviewed widely and favorably by the establishment media, books that exposed him as a Communist or that exposed Communist subversion in the U.S. were ignored. Because this book was published in 1963, it contains Dies’s reflections on events that transpired after his service on HUAC, as he criticizes the policies of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as inadequate responses to the Communist threat. Occasionally, Dies tells political stories that are only tangentially related to Communism, as when he talks about his race against Lyndon Johnson for a U.S. Senate seat, LBJ’s corruption, and the Democratic Administrations’ inconsistent and hypocritical moves against political corruption.

B. John Stormer in his famous 1964 classic, None Dare Call It Treason, was criticized for quoting FDR as saying that some of his best friends are Communists. That quote is widely regarded as apocryphal, and it is based on the word of Martin Dies, who claimed that FDR said that to him in a private conversation. Skeptics doubt that FDR would have said this to the chair of HUAC. Dies goes into more detail about this conversation. In Dies’s recollection, Dies confronted FDR with evidence of Communist infiltration in the U.S. Government. FDR responded that Dies was paranoid, that the U.S.S.R. would be a reliable ally to the U.S. in years to come, and that Russia was better off under Communism than under the Czars. FDR also remarked that the Communists in the U.S. were not bad people, and that some of his best friends were Communists. FDR wanted Dies to focus solely on investigating and combating Nazi and Fascist subversion. A transcript was made of this conversation, Dies recalls, but it was never released to the public. For Dies, the conversation illuminates FDR’s stance on Communism and explains why the U.S. helped build up Russia and allowed Communism to advance in Europe. Dies also talks about policy differences that he had with FDR: Dies wanted FDR to break off diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R., since Russia had violated its pledge to refrain from internal subversion in the United States. Dies also sought to deport Communist aliens from the U.S.

C. In one place, Dies acknowledges diversity within Communism and seeks to explain its position with empathy. Dies criticizes the FDR Administration because it did not want Trotsky to testify against Stalin before HUAC. According to Dies, Lenin preferred Trotsky rather than Stalin as his successor. Stalin believed in ruling Russia as a solitary dictator, whereas Lenin and Trotsky desired more of a democratic oligarchy. They did not want full-fledged democracy at the outset, for they thought the people were not adequately informed to vote and that they might recoil from the necessary, albeit painful, economic measures that the government needed to take. With time, however, the people would be qualified to vote. Dies obviously disagrees with Communism, for it is contrary to freedom and widespread prosperity, but he offers a rationale for the political positions of Lenin and Trotsky.

D. In terms of domestic policy, Dies is mostly a conservative Democrat. He believes that the New Deal was designed to sensitize Americans towards collectivism; Communists participated in its design and implementation, and, while Communists initially criticized it, they came to defend it against people they considered right-wing reactionaries. Dies denies that HUAC was intended to persecute left-wing political perspectives, however. Dies opposes deficit spending and the government printing more money to accommodate it, since it is irresponsible and can lead to inflation. At the same time, Dies believes that the federal government under FDR should have helped out the small farmers, not just the big ones, so he is not for complete laissez-faire. He also is open to the federal government raising taxes to pay down the deficit, which would set him apart from modern-day conservatives. Dies is in favor of labor unions, as ways to give workers prosperity, but he also thinks that Communists have instigated strikes, which he considers a dress-rehearsal for Communist revolution.

E. Dies is critical of the executive branch’s increasing power, for he views that as an infringement on representative democracy. Dies does not care for the new bureaucracies that have emerged under FDR, and he especially does not appreciate the Democratic Administrations’ undermining of HUAC. My impression is that many conservatives want more executive power when the G.O.P. has the Presidency.

F. Dies is a little unclear as to whether he thinks HUAC should have more power. He notes that Felix Frankfurter and Hugo Black have supported forcing witnesses to testify when it comes to investigating unethical business practices, but not when it comes to HUAC. He also observes that Canada has tougher investigative policies against subversion than the U.S. has. Yet, he denies that he wants the U.S. to trample on people’s Fifth Amendment rights. Why, then, is he mentioning those points?

This book is not the easiest to read, since Dies jumps around from topic to topic. A rereading of it, sometime in the far-off future, may expose me to points I have missed. Some of what Dies says is present in other right-wing publications (i.e., the New Deal being a Kerensky-like preparation for Bolshevism, the Communist proposal to make a nation of African-Americans in the U.S.), but Dies probably said it before they did. Overall, the book is a cogent and well-documented defense of HUAC and Dies’s viewpoint.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Church Write-Up: Psalm 51; Rod and Staff

Here are some items for church this morning:

A. The Bible class was about Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba. There are two psalms that relate to this: Psalm 32 and Psalm 51. Psalm 32 is an intense lament, whereas, according to the pastor, Psalm 51 is calmer: David in Psalm 51 has more assurance that God has forgiven or will forgive him. The pastor implied that Psalm 52 was composed long after David’s adultery with Bathsheba: David has suffered under intense feelings of guilt and the weight of God’s law for a long period of time. The superscription of the Psalm places it, however, to “When Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” One might think that this was immediately after Nathan confronted David about the adultery in II Samuel 12:1-14, rather than long after the event. The pastor was suggesting, though, that this was when Nathan was trying to encourage David after David’s long funk. The closest to this in the story that I can find is in II Samuel 12:25: God through Nathan instructs David to name his second child with Bathsheba “Jedidiah.” There is a new beginning here. As far as Nathan interrupting David’s funk is concerned, well, maybe. David likely still felt guilt, but, after his first child with Bathsheba died, and before Nathan told him to name his new child with Bathsheba “Jedidiah,” David had washed, eaten, and felt a little better. He was moving on before Nathan’s second encounter with him in II Samuel 12, at least somewhat.

B. II Samuel 12:1 and Psalm 51:2 state that Nathan came to (bva el) David, and II Samuel 12:24 and Psalm 51:2 affirm that David came to (bva el) Bathsheba. The pastor argued that this implies that David had an intimate relationship with Nathan. David and Nathan did not have a homosexual relationship, but it was a close friendship. Nathan often appears by David’s side, as when Nathan helped Solomon to become king. I am ambivalent about the pastor’s argument from the Hebrew. When Psalm 52:1 states that David came to the house of Abimelech, for example, is that saying that David and Abimelech were intimate? Well, David perhaps was entering a state of intimacy by coming into Abimelech’s house and serving Abimelech, but I doubt that, were I to do a search of “bva el” on my BibleWorks, it would always imply intimacy; it would probably indicate simply going to someone. Then again, “come,” as opposed to “go,” even in English conveys some intimacy. I lack the energy to plod through a search right now, as I see that “bwa el” is a widely-used phrase in the Hebrew Bible. The pastor may have a point because the same phrase is used in Psalm 52:1 for Nathan coming to David and David coming to Bathsheba: the author could have easily decided to use different Hebrew words for “go to” but chose not to do so, so he may, in some manner, equivocate the two. The pastor’s proposal is intriguing in that Nathan comes to David and confronts him as a close friend, not simply as one laying down the law on David.

C. Psalm 51:7 states: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (KJV). Hyssop was used to ritually cleanse people and objects (Leviticus 14:4, 6, 49-52; 19:6, 18; Hebrews 9:19). David is asking for God to ritually cleanse him such that David can be acceptable to God. David still comes before God just as he is, however, as a broken sacrifice (Psalm 51:17). David’s request that God wash him relates to deep scrubbing, not just getting wet. Scrubbing is necessary, as David acknowledges that he was conceived in iniquity: it is impossible for him, as a human being, not to sin.

D. Someone asked about the usage of Psalm 51 in Lutheran liturgy. It appears right before the offertory. The pastor explained the rationale for the order of the liturgy. Up to the prayer of forgiveness and the absolution, people are seeking God and expressing a desire for God’s mercy. After the absolution, people respond by affirming the creed and by giving to God. Now that their hearts have been set free, they act as people set free, giving their sacrifices to God. Then, they pray to God and that is followed by communion.

E. David in Psalm 51:18-19 prays for Jerusalem, and the pastor says this was because David’s sin had affected Jerusalem, as David was king. The Psalmist asks God to build the walls of Jerusalem, and historical-critical scholars say that was added during or after the exile, when the walls of Jerusalem needed to be restored. These commentaries here, which believe in Davidic authorship, try to explain that in different ways. One way is to say that David was building the walls of Jerusalem prior to his sin with Bathsheba, and David afterwards was asking for God to resume God’s blessing on that project. Another way is to treat the statement figuratively: David is asking God to protect Jerusalem spiritually and physically.

F. The pastor said something that overlapped with my own quiet time this week. I was wondering if, when the Bible tells us to confess our sins, God requires us to confess each and every sin. That would take a very long time. I reflected that, in the Bible, there are times when people confess specific incidents of sin, but, overall, the sins that they confess are general. They do not confess every particular time that they worshiped Baals and Ashtoreths, for example, but they simply refer to their general act of worshiping Baals and Ashtoreths. When we confess our sins in liturgy, we are confessing an accumulation of sins: the ones we know, and the ones God alone knows.

G. Psalm 51:13 states: “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (KJV). The pastor referred to Tim Keller’s comment that, when we grasp the depth of our sins and God’s forgiveness of us, we will be more likely to lavish forgiveness on others; otherwise, we will be miserly with our forgiveness. I myself am miserly with my forgiveness. And, yes, perhaps I fail to grasp the depth of God’s mercy to me: With some exceptions, I tend not to feel guilty about my sins but to shrug them off as human imperfections.

H. David in Psalm 51:10 asks God to create in him a clean heart. The pastor applied that to I Peter 3:21, which affirms that baptism is not cleansing the flesh but rather the conscience. The pastor said that the English translations of “conscience” for that Greek word is weak, for the Greek word refers to one’s inner being, their soul. God cleanses our insides—-our thoughts and motivations. Looking at Strong’s on my BibleWorks, the Greek word can mean consciousness or conscience. Seeing its occurrence in I Peter, however, the term seems to refer more to conscience: feeling all right before God because one has walked in integrity (I Peter 2:19; 3:16). There is also the question of whether baptism truly cleanses our inner selves, since we are still inclined towards sin. It does mark a progression towards internal righteousness, however.

I. In Psalm 51:16-17, David essentially affirms that God values spiritual sacrifices rather than animal sacrifices. The spiritual sacrifice is a change of heart. The pastor then referred to the Greek word logikos, which, in the New Testament, occurs only in Romans 12:1 and I Peter 2:2. Logikos in Romans 12:1 is often translated as “spiritual,” in reference to spiritual sacrifices. Overall, the pastor’s point appeared to be that Christians receive a right heart that serves God voluntarily, from the inside, rather than by requirement, which was the case with animal sacrifices. The one who makes this possible is Christ, the logos, according to John 1. God breaks up our hard hearts so that light can shine through. “Logikos” may indeed refer to the logical and righteous order of the Christian heart and of God’s word.

J. Moving on to the service, the theme there was Psalm 23:4b: his rod and staff comfort me. Shepherds used the staff to bring in and comfort their sheep. They used the rod to protect their sheep from enemies, but also to discipline their sheep when they erred. The pastor told two personal stories that stood out to me. First, he talked about when his car broke down, and a mechanic told him that he would be able to arrive at his destination. The pastor trusted that, even though there were times when he doubted that the car would make it, and the car indeed did make it. Second, he talked about when he was in high school and had a stammering problem, and he was in a forensics group. His mother made sure to go to every one of his forensics meets. Through all of these perils, his mother was with him, giving him the encouragement of her presence.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Fact Check: Mrs. America Fabricates Schlafly vs Fasteau ERA Debate

Book Write-Up: The Final Antichrist, Barack Obama

Michael D. Fortner. The Final Antichrist: Barack Obama. Trumpet Press, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

As the title indicates, this book argues that Barack Obama will be the biblical Antichrist. According to Fortner, Obama will lead a revived Ottoman Empire in Turkey. Obama is also cooperating with the Deep State to undermine President Trump.

Among Fortner’s arguments for this claim are:

—-Obama’s Muslim background and pro-Muslim, anti-Israel policies as President;

—-Obama’s anti-Christian statements and policies as President;

—-A hadith about the mahdi that some Shiites and Sunnis are applying to Obama;

—-Obama’s possession of occultic pieces (the kris), as well as his dreams (occultic);

—Obama’s support for Alinsky, who praised Lucifer as an anti-establishment figure;

—-Obama dressed up as Satan at a party;

—-Obama still has popularity among Germans, and Germany has archaeological pieces of Pergamum, which is Satan’s seat, according to Revelation 2:13;

—-Providential hints that Obama will be the Antichrist: the 2008 YouTube video associating Obama with the baraq from heaven (Satan) of Luke 10:18, and Satan in Roma Downey’s Bible miniseries looking like Obama;

—-“Yes we can” comes across as “Thank you, Satan” when played backwards;

—-Numerological details, including about Obama’s address;

—-Obama’s cooperation with the Deep State to create a shadow Presidency and to undermine President Trump; Fortner speculates that the Deep State might assassinate Trump (as it did with JFK) and Obama could take the reins in a time of crisis;

—-Obama’s mesmerizing public speaking skills and messianic pretensions;

—-Dreams and visions that Christians have had indicating that Obama is the Antichrist; these Christians were neutral on the issue, sometimes even skeptical, before having the visions.

Some thoughts and impressions:

—-Fortner, in a paragraph, addresses the question of why Obama would promote homosexuality if he is a Muslim, since Islam opposes homosexuality. Fortner’s response is that Obama supports cultural libertinism as a way to undermine the U.S., then he will impose his Islamic dictatorship. Fortner deserves credit at least for engaging this question. A question that he does not address in this book is why a Muslim would be the Antichrist: Muslims worship only Allah and detest idolatry, so would a Muslim demand worship for himself, as the Antichrist will? Fortner has written other books about prophecy, and he might address those questions there.

—-The book is fairly well-written and contains some interesting details, such as that hadith about the mahdi. While Fortner cites a lot of right-wing sources, some of his sources are more mainstream, such as the New York Times.

—-Fortner does an effective job raising questions about Obama’s policies as President, but, of course, he is not the first to have raised them. It stood out to me that some of Obama’s anti-religious freedom policies took place early in his first term. I long assumed that Obama tried to bring different people—-religious and non-religious—-together early in his first term but became more intolerantly liberal as time went on. Actually, forebodings of his negative policies were early.

—-The book is a little lacking on Scripture, but, as I said above, Fortner has another book about the Antichrist and the False Prophet.

—-In my opinion, Obama’s time in the sun as a politician has passed. It is no longer 2008, when his oratorical skills sent a thrill up Chris Matthew’s leg. Obama has a legacy as a rather ineffectual President.

—-I’m not sure what to do with the visions. Some are more obvious than others in what they are saying; Fortner interprets some of them. Christians have dreams about all sorts of things, sometimes contradictory with each other, so I have difficulty seeing them as messages from God. I also am hesitant to dismiss the possibility of visions, however. There are times when God appears to have an active role in guiding people.

—-There are a lot of details in the world. I suppose you can pick some of them and construct a story. But does the very existence of those details necessitate that your story is true? Some liberal Christians take statements in Daniel that the Antichrist will be a loudmouth and apply them to Trump; is them saying that God’s providential way of cluing us in to Trump being the Antichrist? I doubt it.

I am still giving this book four stars because I enjoy reading eschatological speculation.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash. My review is honest.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Church Write-Up: Psalm 19; Psalm 23:3a

Here are some items from today’s church activities. One of the items, technically, is from my personal study, inspired by the Bible class.

A. The Bible class this morning was about Psalm 19. Psalm 19 has three parts. Part 1 is about God’s revelation of Godself to the world through creation. Whereas the sun in the ancient Near East was a powerful deity, sometimes the chief deity, the sun in Psalm 19 serves God’s purposes. Part 2 is about God’s special revelation of Godself to Israel through the Torah. Part 3 is about how God relates to David’s story: David’s justification and sanctification. According to the pastor, Psalm 19 is somewhat of a correction to Psalm 18, in which David says he did a bunch of great feats then adds, “And, by the way, God helped.” Psalm 19 focuses on God’s glory and David’s need for him.

B. The pastor wanted to avoid defining “Torah” as “law.” He defined “Torah” more as God’s special, covenant self-revelation of who God is, in God’s sovereignty, majesty, mercy, love, kindness, and grace. One student said that she liked the pastor’s approach because she fails to understand how David can exult in God’s law: who likes being humiliated because God points out one’s faults and chastises a person for failing to measure up? Good question, and understandable in light of this church being Lutheran, but David himself in Psalm 19 appears to value the Torah’s warnings and sees reward in keeping God’s precepts, commands, and decrees. The pastor may not dismiss that but would deny that David sees obedience to God’s commands as the foundation for the divine-human relationship: grace is the foundation. Obedience to the law occurs within the context of God’s grace: God’s forgiveness and continual cleansing of the sinner. A lot of religions, the pastor said, take natural revelation—-the conclusion that there is some divine mind behind the beauty, order, and harmony of nature—-and then ask what they must do to please this deity, to make the deity like them. Christianity says that God likes us because God likes us (grace) and provided Christ to make atonement for our sins, rendering us, by atonement, acceptable to God.

C. The youth pastor, in the class, raised a point that overlapped with my own personal reflections. He said that Lutherans tend to distinguish law from grace, but his impression is that the Old Testament does not make these finely-tuned distinctions. God’s law is a part of God’s grace, and God’s grace is a part of God’s law. The pastor agreed but added that Christians read the Psalms in light of God’s revelation through Jesus, which entails a distinction between law and grace. The pastor also said that what distinguishes Lutherans from other Protestants is that other Protestants tend to see the law as having a cleansing effect, as being a means of grace. (I forget his specific points about that, and it went by quickly.) In my daily quiet times, ordinarily, I ask how the Scriptural passage I am reading relates to the grace of God. Often, the distinction between law and grace in a passage is nebulous, for God’s law appears to be a gracious gift from God. God makes the first move and establishes the relationship, and humans then move within the parameters of that relationship that God established. Faith, trust in God, is essential to this relationship, but it is to lead to and undergird a way of life that continually and regularly acknowledges God’s love, provision, and benevolent order.

D. A student asked if “Gospel” appears in the Old Testament. The pastor replied that euangelion is from the Hebrew basar, which relates to proclaiming victory. Spreading the Gospel is proclaiming God’s victory, through Christ, over sin, death, and the devil.

E. Psalm 19:10 says that God’s precepts are more precious than gold. Gold, according to the pastor, was exceedingly rare in Israel. Silver was the most previous metal Israel had, whereas she imported gold from other countries (i.e., Egypt, Arabia).

F. God created humans as mirrors, reflecting God’s glory back to him. The Fall marred this glory, and Satan is currently the God of this world, but God still, through nature, is able to reveal Godself to humanity. Jesus said in Luke 19:40 that, if the children praising him were to remain silent, the stones would cry out. That, though, is special revelation, not natural revelation. And that brings me to my personal study this morning. Paul in Romans 10:18 applies Psalm 19:4, which is about the sun and the stars’ natural revelation of God to all people of the earth, to the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the world. Paul is arguing that the Jews have heard the Gospel because it has gone throughout the world. But Psalm 19:4 is about natural revelation, not the Gospel, which is special revelation. I checked out commentaries to see how scholars and Christians have addressed this. I looked at James D.G. Dunn, F.F. Bruce, and Joseph Fitzmyer, but also John MacArthur, Jamieson-Faussett-Brown, Matthew Henry, and John Gill. The most popular answer is that Paul is making an analogy: in the same way that the sun proclaims God throughout the world, so, similarly, has the Gospel proclaimed God throughout the world. Some say that natural revelation sets the stage for the revelation of God through the Gospel, as if the latter is an outgrowth of the former. JFB, Gill, and Matthew Henry went an interesting route. They noted that Christ is likened to the sun (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78-79) and believers to the stars (Philippians 2:15): both give light of who God is. Christ is the true and better sun, so what Psalm 19:4 says about the sun can be applied to him.

G. David in Psalm 19:4 calls God his rock. That could mean that God is a firm place on which David could stand, but, according to the pastor, it may be a reference to the rock that provided the Israelites with nourishing water in the wilderness.

H. The pastor took a swipe at higher criticism. He talked about how German higher critics questioned the traditional ascription of the Psalms to David. This is ironic, the pastor noted, because Germans ordinarily do not question anything. That may be a stereotype, but I can envision that as part of German culture, from how I understand it: think of the German Lutheran application of Romans 13, which is rather authoritarian. Still, Luther challenged authority; that may have influenced the later German critics’ challenge of tradition.

I. The service itself was about Psalm 23:3a: he restores my soul. The pastor told a story about when he was an associate pastor of a large church and trying to deal with the responsibilities of that position. The child of a friend at his previous church tragically died, and his presence was desired there, too. Amidst this stress, God restored his soul through a song at an LWL conference.

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