Entitled and Privileged

Kids should have the privilege of going to school without being murdered. The are entitled to that.

In 1968 Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were both assassinated. A serious debate about gun control started that year, and it looked like something was going to happen. In the fifty years since then, nothing has happened. And while nothing has happened one and a half Americans have died from gunshots.

A million and a half! I can’t fathom that number; and I can’t fathom the attitude we all have, “well, there’s nothing we can do.”

I used to think a million murders constitute a genocide. I guess it’s not, because they were not singled out for their ethnicity. A disproportionate number have been poor or minority, but mostly they were random victims.

So we can’t call it genocide, but what can we call it? An atrocity? An outrage? A measure of apathy and impotence?

I know some of my fellow Christians will say, “Well there have been 45 million abortions; and that’s a holocaust.”  I will say two things:

1. I try to be consistently pro-life. I don’t think the supreme court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but there are things we can do to reduce the number of abortions. We can support comprehensive healthcare including pre-natal and post-natal care for mothers and children, better education including sex education, better support for adoption. These things have been proven to reduce the number of abortions.

I understand that some abortions are medically necessary. And I suppose I understand why the court ruled the only one qualified to make the decision is the mother, in consultation with her physician.

You can be pro-life and pro-woman, and pro-child, and nonviolent. You can do practical, positive things to help.

Still, I support the right of anyone to organize, march, speak out, vote, protest, get out in the streets to support causes they consider important. The first amendment is a wonderful thing. After so-called pro-life people murdered a physician in Emporia, I no longer want to be associated with confrontational movements. But I am still pro-life and pro-peace. I am against war, capital punishment, and the murder of our children, the murder of our young men, police brutality, the rejection of refugees, singling out anyone for hate and exclusion.

2. Here is my second point: it is tragic when some women feel they have no choice but to terminate a healthy pregnancy. Sometimes it happens when the developing fetus is capable of feeling pain, of responding to voices, and other human activities.

But there is no comparison between abortion and the holocaust. Fetuses may feel pain, but they don’t feel the terror of being herded into death chambers. Parents may regret the choice of an abortion, but still feel it was they right choice. They don’t watch helplessly while someone else murders children they have come to know and love. They are not deprived of their human agency by a brutal military power.

I hate to have to spell out the obvious. The holocaust and every genocide was forced on people by a military or governmental power. It was an act of state sponsored terrorism for no reason other than hate or political power. Our government upholds the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. It does not force anyone to have an abortion.

The murder of children and teenagers, a dozen or so at a time, the massacre we seen in school shootings is an atrocity. It is a part of a larger atrocity. The murder of young black men is an atrocity. The death of children in drive by shootings is an atrocity. And we still accept the lame rationalizations. We should feel entitled to stop it.

A million and a half!

Why are we not out in the streets?

There is something we can do. The supreme court says we can’t ban handguns and congress doesn’t have the will to ban assault rifles.

There is something congress can do. They can’t regulate guns but they can regulate gun owners. They can require rigorous training, background checks, photo ID, proof of citizenship, and licensing. Law enforcement can enforce well-designed laws. Every citizen is a member of the militia. The militia is to be well-regulated.  If you say you cannot regulate gun users, you are denying the constitution.

Congress is addicted to money from the NRA. They will not do anything.  You can guarantee it. But the voters can.

We can get out in the street and demand that congress regulate the citizen militia. And we can fire those who refuse. We can make this election about one pro-life issue: separating deadly weapons from dangerous people. We may have to let some pot smokers out to make room for those who violate reasonable gun-user control laws.

Growing up Conservative, part 1

Below is a brief excerpt from a chapter in the book I am writing. It is about my Bible College education:

Naturally, a Bible College is a conservative institution, but not in the way you might think. My professor of hermeneutics challenged us to think for ourselves, to understand the meaning of words in their historical context, in fact to take a historical and contextual approach to the text. It was from professor Seth Wilson (we called him “Brother Wilson) I learned how to read ancient texts.

He would occasionally diverge into politics. I remember him saying Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest traitor the country ever had. I wasn’t sure what he meant, because he didn’t elaborate. Once he mentioned the peace conferences at Yalta where the allies gave Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Otherwise, I assumed it was because he thought Social Security was a slippery slide toward socialism.

Years later I took a university history course on the history and rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. We studied the history and his speeches. I learned that there wasn’t really much choice about which countries the Soviets occupied. They were already there; boots on the ground had settled it. Western Europe and America were exhausted from war and there was no stomach for a new war against communism. I also was exposed to the view that FDR had saved capitalism by mitigating its harshest failings. But it was brother Wilson’s comments that sparked my interest in learning more about President Roosevelt.

There are three features often associated with conservative religion I was never taught at Ozark Bible College. We were never taught racism. The idea that black skin is “the mark of Cain,” was debunked. We were taught that God loves all people equally.

We were never taught that the King James Version of the Bible is the original, or the only, or the best English translation of the Bible. In fact, in hermeneutics class, we had to read the original preface of the translators to the reader, in which the translators responded to criticism that they were presumptuous to revise the Bible. (If you look at the dedication page in the King James Version, it says, “other translations diligently compared and revised.”)

We were taught that we should learn Hebrew and Greek if we really wanted to know the Bible in the original language. Brother Wilson raised some eyebrows when he wrote an essay defending Today’s English Version, or Good News for Modern Man back in the 1960s. We were even taught textual criticism. I learned all about the different manuscripts and the variant readings in them my Freshman year, and was fascinated by it.

We were also spared indoctrination in the dispensational interpretation of the Bible. This is the belief that the Bible contains a blue print of the last days, that there are signs we should look for, and that we should expect the rapture of the church, when people would mysteriously disappear while driving cars and flying airplanes. We were taught that the book of Revelation was written to encourage Christians in the first century who were suffering persecution from the beast, the emperor.

Go Set a Watchman

I just finished listening to the Audiobook of Go Set A Watchman, read very effectively by Reese Witherspoon. The manuscript was written in the 1950s but never published until it was discovered in 2014. The story is set after To Kill A Mockingbird, when Jean Louise (Scout) is a grown woman of 26. Go Set A Watchman was written before the more famous book, the main theme of which is summarized in a brief section.

Mockingbird was a gentler and more effective way of dealing with racism. Had she published the Watchman manuscript in the 50s, it would probably have been banned and its author blacklisted.

Mockingbird is probably a more perfect artistic accomplishment. Go Set a Watchman, though, has its literary moments, with some colorful characters and amusing scenes.  The scenes of the motherless child reaching puberty and the anxiety it causes should be required reading for every teacher or youth worker who deals with middle school children.

The last few chapters resemble a platonic dialog more than a dramatic story and consist of a series of intense exchanges between Jean Louise and those closest to her.  Her angry speeches against racism are countered with genteel defenses of the way things are and why it is necessary to go along and get along. It is this social commentary that we need now.

You remember back in November when everyone warned us to avoid politics and religion at the family gathering for Thanksgiving? Jean Louise’s speeches are the models for what we should have said.

China or Not China?

I’ve been trying to keep this to myself–to paraphrase Muhammad Ali–I don’t have anything against people from China.  It’s just that I don’t like China’s oppressive government.

Yesterday the Nobel Peace Prize was given to an empty chair, the chair representing Liu Xiaobo who is in prison in China for advocating human rights and democracy.  According to The Guardian, “China is still furious” at the committee in Norway for giving the prize to someone they regard a criminal.  NPR reported yesterday that China bullied 18 other countries into boycotting the award.

I don’t have anything against anyone from China, but it does bother me that we, US consumers, are making China rich and financing the buildup of their military.

Does anyone ever look at country of origin labels?

For over twenty years I have been buying New Balance running shoes because they have the “Made in the USA” label.  My wife recently bought me two new pair.  One said, “Made in the USA with domestic and imported parts” (I thought, at least that’s more than Nike can say) and the other pair simply says, “Made in China.”

Facebook led me to an add for a cycling clothing company.  The kids in the photo above are a likable looking bunch, and there cycling apparel appears to be of high quality.  I would be willing to give it a try.  As their web page says (in typical translated Chinese):

As you know , many big companies (NIKE , Adidas , etc..) usually build some factories in China , Thailand to product the clothings for them , because the labor costs is very low.We are the one of these factories.

All the clothings which producted by our factory , once they are delivered to US , UK ,  these price will grow up , but its real price is low.

Because we sell them to you directly , so the price is lower than official price!!

There is also a company that makes high quality cycling clothing, and sells them at a reasonable price, within the US, Voler.

The above photo shows the solar panels on Voler’s factory, accompanied by a statement on their policy of being environmentally responsible.

I’m not in favor of trade wars or boycotts.  I wish the kids at MUPi cycling well.  But this year I am going to try to help out some of my neighbors who are trying to hold on to their jobs.  As far as I can, I am going to buy products made in the United States, or at least somewhere beside China.

Pro-Life/Pro-Gun/Anti-Immigrant Primary

So, who should I vote for in this Tuesday’s primary?

The candidate who’s going to “stick it to Pelosi and Obama”? Or the one who is endorsed by Sara Palin.  Or the doctor who is going to repeal health care reform?  Or the one who accuses his opponent of wanting to abolish the constitution by taking away the constitutional right of “our children under the age of 17 to own certain firearms”?

Or the one who is going to balance the budget by cutting taxes and laying off teachers and fire fighters?

Or the one who accuses his opponent of wanting to educate the children of illegal immigrants?

Or the one who is going to eliminate all taxes, all regulations, social security, and medicare?

The one who’s not one of those “weak-kneed Republicans, but a real conservative”?  Or the one who is going to protect us from voter fraud by requiring us all to carry photo ID at all times?

So many interesting choices.

More Illogical Nastiness

I still want to remind everyone to visit the Iwig web site and do what they can to save the farm.  In the meantime, I’m still discouraged by the meanness I am seeing in primary race for senate in my state.

One candidate is now accusing the other of wanting to grant lower in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

That sounds reasonable until you apply a little logic.

Who are these “illegal immigrants” who want to take advantage of our educational opportunities?

They are graduates of our state’s high schools who were brought here as children by their parents who came here without permission, seeking jobs they were told “Americans won’t do.”

What law did the children break?

They were brought here by their parents.  Did they have a moral obligation to turn back and cross the border alone in the other direction.  The parents broke the law and were aware of the risks and the possible consequences.

The children went to school, did their homework, obeyed the rules they understood, and now want to go to college.  The only home they now know is the state where they graduated from school.  How is it to anyone’s advantage to deny them an education?

Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have a chance if he were running in the current political climate.  After all, he granted amnesty in 1986 to undocumented workers and their families.

The Nasty Campaign

I live in a one-party state; at least when it comes to the race for the senate, and the primary campaign has really gotten nasty.  One of the candidates accused his adversary of wanting to give constitutional rights to terrorists.

The first casualty of politics is logic.

I see two problems with the underlying premise that terrorists should not be given constitutional rights.

1.  Who decides who is a terrorist?

Unless there is some sort of due process or oversight, there are only two options–the civilian branch of government or the military: either the president or the commanders on the ground.  I can’t believe that conservatives, given the fears they have of the president, would want to give him the power to declare someone a president and make him disappear without any kind of public notice.  And it has been proven that in the heat of battle, and lacking a knowledge of the language, the military has made mistakes.

2.  Who gives us our rights?

It is un-American to believe that congress gives us our rights.  According to the Declaration of Independence, we are granted inalienable rights by our creator.  Those who live under a monarch may believe their rights are granted by the king; those who live under organized atheism may believe they are granted by the state; but our heritage tells us human rights are granted by the creator and the role of government is to protect these rights.

But now some politicians want us to believe that there is a class of people who are entitled to no rights at all, neither the rules of war nor the laws of our land.  Once defined by the undefined authority as terrorists, they have no right to a trial or protection from torture.

Whatever happened to the idea that if we let terrorists make us abandon our own ideals, they win?

Why Haiti Suffers

This week’s earthquake was a natural disaster, totally unexpected by everyone except for professional seismologists.  Of all the causes of Haiti’s suffering, only the earthquake itself does not have human fingerprints on it.

Colonial Exploitation

Haiti was once a fertile island paradise (well, half an island: it shares the land mass with Dominica).  The French colonized the western half of the island of Hispaniola. The indigenous population was quickly destroyed by exposure to influenza and other infections brought by the Europeans.  They were soon replaced by slaves kidnapped from Africa.  The French fed their country with food grown on Haiti’s rich soil.

Environmental Desolation

The French and the corrupt rulers who followed them over-exploited the land and destroyed its fertility.  There are few trees left on Haiti–there are a few-oranges, grapefruits, avocados, mangoes–they are sweet but rare.  A few people make a living selling their fruit.  But there are not enough trees left to prevent erosion, which makes flooding and other natural disasters worse.  I visited Haiti 20 years ago, and I don’t recall seeing a bird.  I do remember seeing the local Haitians recycle used motor oil–they poured it on any pools of standing water to kill mosquitoes.

Political Corruption

In 1804 Haiti became the second nation in the Western hemisphere to declare its independence.  In a glorious revolution that should have made the French proud, they killed every white person on the island.  Tragically, since gaining a form of autonomy, Haiti has been ruled by its own dictators and corrupt leaders.  The notorious Duvaliers used the fear of voodoo along with old-fashioned terror and brutality to keep its citizens from enjoying the fruits of freedom.

Who is Helping?

I doubt there is any group of people subject to more negative stereotypes than missionaries.  (Read The Poisonwood Bible, which one of my students who group up as a missionary kid thought was “funny.”)  The people of Haiti know different.  They know that the missionaries are not bigoted, proselyting zealots–they are there to help.  The missionaries run schools, children’s homes, and clinics.  They assist people in farming projects and micro-enterprises.  I will admit, sometimes they tell the people things like–

You are beautiful, you are a child of God.

Hold your head up, God loves you.

There are, of course, many people working with non-governmental aid agencies that are not religiously affiliated.  Usually the missionaries and “secular” aid workers respect each other and work side by side.  They are all there to help the people of Haiti.

One mission trying to help the land of Haiti with long-term recovery is “Eden Reforestation Projects.”  Two missionaries from the Free Methodist Church working with Eden Reforestation are reported in critical condition, and three are missing, after the earthquake, according to our local Eden Vigil representative Lowell Bliss.

What Would Miss Kitty Do?

There’s gambling in Dodge City again. Our state’s leaders have been betting on gambling for nearly thirty years now.  First it was lotteries, then a dog track, then a horse track.  They have all been losing bets.

I grew up not far from the Woodlands dog and horse tracks.  They are almost deserted.  In the meantime, real businesses–restaurants and stores–have grown up in the same neighborhood.  Wyandotte County has experienced real growth in the past ten years with real, family-friendly businesses.  I often enjoy taking my grandchildren to T-Rex or Books-A-Million.

Now our state fathers want to put a casino in the neighborhood.

The state’s first casino opens today in Dodge.  Our legislators imagine that vacationers from both coasts will spurn Las Vegas and flock to the former home of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and Miss Kitty herself to donate their money to our state’s economy.

Gambling is a tax on the poor.  The rich and famous may save up and budget for a lavish vacation in Las Vegas–although that city is being hit hard by the recession–but they are not going to come to Kansas to spend their entertainment dollars.

The one political fact that has been constant for the past thirty years is that you can’t raise taxes on the people who can afford to pay taxes.  It is unpatriotic to ask those who benefit most from the nations economy to contribute more.  It is unpatriotic to expect those with the most assets protected by the military to contribute a larger share to the military budget.  It is unpatriotic to ask those who need an educated workforce to contribute their share to the educational budget.  And if we tax the benefits of the bankers who ran the economy into the ground–who will be willing to run our banks anymore?

So politicians won’t raise taxes.  Instead they cut funding to education and programs for the elderly and the disabled.  And they come up with scams that they think will stimulate the economy and bring in revenue.  It’s time we call their bluff.

Poison in Jest

I guess we have to be careful what we say.  Not everyone has the same sense of humor.  One of my good friends, who grew up in Mississippi, said he thought the “Obama Psalms 109” bumper stickers are just a joke.  Nobody means the president harm; Southern Republicans just want one of their own back in office.  I’m still not persuaded; I am afraid there are a few unbalanced individuals who would take the words way too seriously.

On the other hand, I was re-reading an article from a year ago about one of my own students.  The Kansas State Collegian did a feature story about Jessica Long’s passion for all things Egyptian (here).  There was a small piece of the article I had missed when I read it last year:

Long said her friends are aware of her fascination with Egyptian history and even tease her about it. One evening, while playing “Would You Rather …?” – a game in which participants choose which extreme action they would rather take –  Long’s friends decided to test her devotion to Egypt.

They asked if she would rather “push the button” to destroy Egyptian artifacts or cut out her future child’s tongue. Long chose to save the artifacts.

Now, she said, whenever her friends are tired of hearing her talk about Egypt, they say, “Jessie, push the button!” She said they are also passing the inside joke on to new friends and students.

Well, it’s a game, maybe a sick game, but the answers shouldn’t be taken too literally.  I know Jessie, and I know she wouldn’t really cut out her (future) child’s tongue.  But some reader of the Collegian thought she was serious.  He commented that she is not a Christian because “God would never give her a passion like this because he is LOVE, not a materialist. Material things mean nothing to Him.”

Of course, God cares more about people than things.  I wouldn’t say material things mean nothing to God–the creator came up with the idea of material stuff.  But the relics of the past are a little bit more than material things.  They connect us with real people who lived on this same planet.  Our knowledge of ancient civilizations makes us richer.  And by the way, our knowledge of ancient Egypt helps us understand the Bible.  After all, our spiritual ancestors spent four-hundred years as guests in Egypt.

Cyrus Gordon once commented that Ephraim Speiser’s Anchor Bible Commentary volume on Genesis was a fine contribution to the series, especially with the insights from Speiser’s knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia (aka Iraq).  The book only suffered from the neglect of Egyptian sources, because, said Gordon, “Genesis is replete with Egyptian influences.”

Interesting Links

I enjoyed reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire a couple years ago.  The part about runaway speculation on Tulip Bulbs in Holland in the 19th century was fascinating.  In the chapter on marijuana, I think he exaggerate the comparison with cats and catnip.  Our cat Annie enjoys rolling in the catnip plant–but she doesn’t get stoned and she doesn’t lose all ambition to chase mice.  Still, I recommend the book and I’m looking forward to reading Pollan’s Carnivore’s Dilemma.  PBS has a video special on the Botany of Desire. Thanks to Baiba for the link.

Another link comes from Ursula of the Wabaunsee Book Club.  If you want to know who is funding your local politicians, go to Follow the Money.

If you are still wavering on rather global warming is a real problem, Dave Black has provided a link to a BBC page that gives the Pro’s and Cons.

What Are You Thinking?

My friends in Topeka, Kansas, tell me they have seen a bumper sticker that quotes Psalm 109 in reference to president Obama.  It’s not funny.

Maybe I’m sensitive because of where I live.

I sometimes have coffee in Aggieville and wonder if the ghost of Timothy McVeigh is lurking in the shadows.  Aggieville was the first place America’s worst domestic terrorist was arrested.  It was just a bar room fight when he was a soldier stationed at nearby Fort Riley, but he went on to worse things.

A few years after that incident, McVeigh and his accomplice rented a big white truck and filled up with gas in Riley County  before they drove it to Oklahoma City and killed 19 children at America’s Kid’s Daycare Center, along with 150 adults.

During the nineties fanatics were speaking in apocalyptic terms about the evils of Bill Clinton and his wife.  They were talking about concentration camps in the Southwest and Blackhawk helicopters.  They were painting David Koresh as an innocent victim whose righteous blood called for vengeance.  For most it was just talk.  But Tim McVeigh was listening.

Or maybe it’s the hideous figure of America’s worst living hatemonger, Fred Phelps, whom I sometimes have to drive past.  Fred and family give hate speech a bad name.  In February I attended a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Midwestern Baptist Seminary.  One of the seminary’s graduates had been murdered in church, and Fred and his pitiful band of followers came to picket.

After fifteen years of hate speech directed at physician George Tiller–someone finally listened.  The doctor who performed late-term abortions in Wichita was finally murdered.  It happened on a Sunday morning as he was serving as an usher at his church.

Late term abortion is a gruesome and traumatic procedure–and sometimes a tragic necessity.  Under Kansas law at the time Dr. Tiller was murdered, it was legal only when the mother’s health was endangered.  The law was not strict enough for some, but too strict for others.  But my point is this–murder was not the answer; but people kept chanting “Tiller the Killer” until someone took it seriously.

We have a peaceful way of changing national leaders every four years.  In the meantime, the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders–it doesn’t tell us to take a curse out of context and pray it.  You are entitled to your political opinions–but think about the effects of hate speech:

  1. It may set off an unbalanced person.
  2. It reflects on all Christians and makes us look like ignorant bigots.

In Romans 2:24 Paul quotes from Isaiah, in a passage referring to the people God chose to represent his love and goodness to the world–

God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

How about that for a bumper sticker?

Separated by Circumstances

Sonja has gone to take care of her mother in Arkansas.  She took a leave of absence from job here; she is working part time, two days a week, there.  She is also enjoying spending time with our niece and nephew, Kayla and Justin.  Sonja and I are separated by circumstances, not separate in our affection for each other.

I keep thinking of the Ray Charles song–it has nothing to do with our family; this is not our story–but still the words come back:

Tell your mama, Tell your pa,

Gonna send you back to Arkansas,

Hey, Hey, tell me what I say . . .

I am going to see her, and my mother-in-law and other relatives, this weekend.  I have a day off Monday.  Tuesday I have only one class and I will conduct it online this week.

I haven’t posted in a while because I have been otherwise occupied.

I have been listening to the debate about health care–well, I would like to call it a debate; a conversation would be better–but really it has been mostly name calling and finger pointing.  But that’s a different story.  The issues that should be being discussed are not just abstract issues for us.  We are confronted with them every day.  We are making real-life health care decisions based on medical, economic, and family realities.

The Face of Socialism

Jan Palach

Jan Palach

This is the face that wanted to be the “human face of socialism.”  Jan Palach was the student who chose set himself ablaze 40 years ago to protest the brutal communist oppression of the Prague Spring.  In 1968 students and others had called for diversity and freedom of expression within the communist system.  The Soviets responded by sending in tanks.

I’m not a fan of self-immolation or any form of suicide–I do think it is better than suicide-murder; but Jan felt it was better to die standing than to kneel.

A kilometer or so further downhill from Wenceslas Square where Jan set himself on fire, in the old square is a monument to Jan Hus, another Czech martyr who five hundred years earlier had been burned alive by the enemies of freedom.

Jan Hus

Jan Hus

The two Jans are heroes of freedom to the Czechs.  The burned face of Jan Palach is the face of Soviet Socialism.

You can like or dislike President Obama’s health care proposals, including an option to buy into the public insurance plan that all politicians enjoy–but it has nothing to do with the horrors of Communist socialism.

I remember about a year ago when the republican presidential candidate suspended his campaign to rush to Washington and vote for the bank bailouts.  I remember the presidents of the auto companies flying their private jets to the Washington to ask the then republican-controlled congress for a bailout.

I don’t really know anyone who is not disgusted by the bailouts.  I don’t know whether they made the recession worse, or whether they saved the economy from total collapse.  It was a desperate response to what both political parties considered a dire emergency.  But it was not socialism.

End of Life Choices

My mother-in-law and father-in-law both have chronic lung disease.  They smoked during all those years when the big tobacco companies were able to produce scientists who denied any link between smoking and lung disease.  My mother-in-law doesn’t always get her medical terminology right (my parents don’t either–they are from a generation that left those things up to the experts).

Recently she told my wife, her daughter, “I’m in the hostage program.”

Sonja corrected her, “You’re in the hospice program, Mom.”

When I saw Maxine last month she told me,

“The doctor gave me two years.  But the good Lord will take me when he’s ready.”  I agreed with her on that.

Maybe my wife is being optimistic, maybe she’s in denial, maybe it’s her experience working in medical records and her familiarity with how medicare works–but she doesn’t take the two years too literally.  She says that prognosis is routinely given for patients needing hospice care, because it is required by medicare.

I still agree that it is in the Lord’s hands.  Maxine’s condition is serious.  She is on oxygen and breathing treatments, and she will never regain the lungs of her youth.  The home health visits, treatments, and meals provided in the hostage–I mean hospice program–are a real blessing.

At some point my in laws were counseled about their options.  A nursing home was one option; the home health care provided by the hospice visits was a better one for them.  They might have wishes for later about what type of resuscitation measures would be used when the time comes.  They will need council and advice from a health professional they can trust.

One of the many proposals that was being considered by congress in the current health care reform legislation was a provision to reimburse doctors for providing this type of counseling.  Opponents of the president interpreted this to mean that he was advocating euthanasia.

I think we do have to be vigilant and consider unintended consequences and possible misuses of any new legislation.  But there is a difference between vigilance and paranoia.  President Obama has not proposed euthanasia as a cost saving measure.  It is not part of his program of health care reforms.  (More from the NY Times.)

Nevertheless, we won’t have to worry about it.  The few senators who had suggested reimbursing professionals for end of life counseling have dropped the provision from their proposed bill.

Hermeneutics for the Crazy

Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation; specifically hermeneutics is often used in reference to the interpretation of the Bible.  When I teach the subject, the first rule I teach is one not found in most hermeneutics text books, but familiar to medical students:

Primum non nocere; First do no harm.

James, who grew up in the same house with Jesus, taught that religious teachers will be subject to stricter judgment.

I wonder, how responsible teachers and preachers are for the way the mentally disturbed take their words.  The LA Fitness murderer is quoted as saying that at the church he once attended the pastor taught that even a mass murderer can go to heaven.  The pastor never said that, but George Sodini said it was implied by the church’s teaching that sinners may be forgiven by grace through faith apart from any works needed to earn their salvation.

Of course, Sodini dropped out of church three years ago–so you can’t say his attempt at mass murder was inspired by last Sunday’s sermon.  His internet comment was part of a bitter rant against religion.

But what about the traditional protestant doctrine of justification by faith?  Does it in fact encourage cheap grace?  Is salvation a legal fiction, or does it involve God’s work of transforming our lives to make us responsible, compassionate adults?

Does a teacher of Scripture or the way of faith have a responsibility to think about ways teachings could be misconstrued.? Yes.  Maybe you can’t predict all possible ways a deranged mind could get it wrong–but at least teachers have to think about possible implications and misunderstandings.

When teaching on the book of Proverbs I have often done an informal survey.  I ask,

What percentage of men have an anger control problem?

The first time I asked this question I naively thought the answer would be about 5%.  Instead I consistently get figures of 50 to 75 %.  I was prepared to go with the low number.  My followup question was to be this:

Suppose there are 5 men present who have anger control problems, and they hear a message on the text, “If you beat your son, he won’t die”–what will they do with it?

My point is, that a man who can’t control his anger has no business using corporal punishment (if anyone does) as a way of teaching children.  A responsible teaching on the theme of “the rod of correction” in Proverbs would have to deal with the poetic imagery of the rod, the historical and social realities of Iron-Age Israel, and the potential of disturbed individuals to put a crazy twist on something.

Evidently the murderer of George Tiller took the comparisons of the abortion doctor to Hitler with deadly seriousness.  According to Dr Warren Hern, The Last Abortion Doctor, the murder of Dr. Tiller was “the logical consequence of thirty-five years of hate speech.”   Can one be pro-life without encouraging murder?

There are passages in the New Testament that refer to an evil figure called “The Man of Lawlessness,” the “Beast” or the “Antichrist.”  I believe these passages refer to one or more violent messianic pretenders or perhaps one of the more deranged Roman Emperors–in other words a historical figure from the first century.  Nevertheless, many people think these passages refer to someone yet to come.

The world has certainly seen its share of evil leaders, of anti-messianic tyrants, and it is always good to be on our guard.  I think a good theme song is “We don’t get fooled again.”

But a perverse twist on the Scriptures that warn against violent deceivers is using them to feed conspiracy theories.    Snopes has been a reliable source of debunking urban legends, modern myths, and fantastic conspiracy theories.  It has effectively debunked some of the myths and lies about president Obama.  But now–it should have been predictable–the conspiracy mongers are saying that Snopes is part of the conspiracy.

I heard once of a psychiatric patient who was convinced he was dead.  His psychiatrist thought of a novel approach.  He got the patient to agree that dead men don’t bleed.  Then he poked the patient with a needle and drew blood.  The man’s eyes got wide and he said,

Well, what do you know, dead men do bleed.!

Does Using the Interstate Highways Make Me a Socialist?

Last weekend I went on a road trip with some of my fellow faculty and students.  We enjoyed passing through parts of six states on the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system.  I was about five months old when the Republican president from Abilene signed the bill that made the interstate highway system possible.

Was it socialism?  If socialism means centralized planning, massive public (i.e., taxpayer) investment, and government control–then the interstate highways were absolutely an experiment in socialism.

Think of how the private economy could have built a highway system.  Landowners could have built roads on their own property and chosen whether to retain the exclusive use or to lease or sell access.  They could have negotiated agreements with their neighbors.

Or corporations could have attempted to buy up long contiguous strips of land and build private highways.  They could then sell access for a profit.

When you think through all the ramifications, it is hard to think of any practical way that private initiative and private funding could have built the kind of highway system we have today.

A little more than fifty years ago our president and congress made the decision to provide every citizen with universal access to travel in every state. They even have interstate highways in Hawaii–think about that!

Acquiring the land did require federal seizure of private property.  Therefore, building the Interstate Highway System was promoted as a military necessity.  The main impact, however, has been economic rather than military.

The internate highway system was a massive project in social engineering, involving a massive public investment of funds–and it has been a massive financial success.  Nearly all of the growth in prosperity in the past fifty years has been directly or indirectly related to the interstate highways.

But now it is time for a new economy not based on the automobile.  Is it time for a new investment in the future?

Money that is wasted by short-sided politicians will certainly be a drain on my grandchildren.  But wise investment in the future could lead to increased prosperity for the next generations.

A year ago I visited the decaying ruins of state socialism in countries formerly dominated by the Soviet Union.  I don’t want any part of that.  But I also don’t want to label any public investment in the future as socialism.  Someone has to rebuild the infrastructure, fund education, and prepare the way for the economy of the future.

No Compromise? (part 2)

Our political climate is intolerant of compromise.  Two people who tried to bring people together are finding out how hard it is to do.

Richard Cizik tried to lead evangelical Christians to compassionate action on a broader range of problems than abortion and traditional marriage.  For example, he believed that if Christians believe in creation, they should be more concerned about preserving God’s good creation than in trying to caluculate how long ago the world was made.  He also led in efforts to fight AIDS and human trafficking.

Some of his critics thought he was leading the faithful away from “moral issues”–as though issues that effect the life, death, and dignity of all people are not moral issues.  Two years ago they tried to oust him from his job as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals due to his embracing of “Creation Care.”  The plan backfired.  It turned out most evangelicals are fond of this planet.

This week, they finally got him.  On an interview with Terry Gross on NPR, he said he was opposed to same-sex marriage–but maybe civil unions weren’t a bad idea.  His enemies demanded–and got–his resignation.  Nicholas Kristoph called Cizik a “huggable evangelical” and said his resignation made for a sad day.

On the other side of the fence, supporters of gay rights are furious with president-elect Obama for asking Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.  Why?  Because Warren is opposed to gay marriage and abortions that are not medically necessary.  Obama’s stated position is that he does not favor same-sex marriage, but he does favor civil unions.

Rick Warren has raised millions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa, and has encouraged the faithful to support progressive causes.   In fact, he helped get Obama elected when he invited both candidates to a forum at his church.  The president is returning the favor and strenghtening the personal friendship and political alliance he has made (more).  What some would call compromise and bringing people together, others would call betrayal.

The End of Voodoo Economics

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AllPosters.com

Well, I hope we have been rescued from economic meltdown; I hope I won’t be out in the street selling pencils next month.

I remember the election campaign of 1980; The father of our current president was seeking the nomination of the Republican party.  He called Ronald Reagan’s economic plan “voodoo economics.”  Regan of course, prevailed, and his philosophy is now sometimes called Reaganomics.  Reaganomics is the economic theory and practice that has prevailed for the past 28 years.  The key elements of Reaganomics have been deregulation, deficit spending, and income redistribution.

First, a disclaimer: economics is messy and complicated.  In fact the current economic crisis is based on economic instruments so complicated even the banks that own them don’t understand them.  So what follows are the memories and reflections of a marginal participant in the U.S. economy, not those of an expert.

DEREGULATION

One of the basic principles of American democracy is the balance of power.  Our political creed is based on a fear and loathing of tyranny, a belief that the concentration of power in any one source or segment is dangerous.  Reaganomics is based on a fear of government–which is genuinely part of our heritage: That government is best which governs least.  But with Regan this became absolute: Jefferson with a vengeance.  President Bush can still recite the words, “I’m from the government, I’m here to help” as a self-evident joke (and verified by hurricane Katrina).

Anyone who has ever dealt with a bureaucracy can understand this side of Reaganomics.  But the other side is an unbounded confidence in the good will and ability to do good of the free market.  There is no attempt to balance the evils of big government vs. the evils of big business.  Reaganomic diehards would see no irony in the words, “I’m from the global oil company” or “I’m from your HMO, and I’m here to help.”

Regulations were designed primarily to protect the public against three dangers: reckless gambling with other people’s money in the financial markets, the loss of genuinely free markets through concentration of power in monopolies, and damage to the air, water and other natural resources we all depend on.  Reagan and his disciples saw environmental protection as a threat to the free markets.  They managed to portray those who wanted to conserve nontoxic air and water for their children as a crazy bunch of deranged tree hugging Luddites who wanted to stop progress.

In response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, President Carter initiated a series of energy-saving programs that actually worked.  By the 1980s and 90s the price of oil had plummeted–to the point that we got fat and lazy and started driving gas-guzzlers again.  But that’s another story.

One of Carter’s projects was to install solar panels on the White House.  One of Ronald Reagan’s first acts as president was to remove them.  They were a reminder of the need to conserve, of the fact that resources are finite–and as such they did not convey the kind of optimism he wanted to mark his presidency.

So, for nearly the past thirty years, regulations have been rolled back or swept under the rug–and it worked.  It produced a booming economic bubble.

But now the bubble has burst and some of the financial gambling turned out to be losing bets.  Now Congress has to provide a security net for the Wall Street high rollers.