Category archives: Politics

Thoughtful contribution to the abortion discussion

Ann Althouse proposes a new regulation for abortion, which I believe would be useful. It comes at the conclusion of an insightful posting about a disturbing lack of humanity that may be seen on the “pro-choice” side of the argument.

 

 

Ross Douthat offers some welcome relief from all the post-election GOP bashing. This part caught my eye:

The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is probably the “spiritual but not religious” seeker, or the bright young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. But the typical unchurched American is just as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community in general.

What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.

… But if conservatives don’t acknowledge the crisis’s economic component, liberalism often seems indifferent to its deeper social roots. The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of faith and domesticity, the fact that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to just celebrate the emerging America, to minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to treat the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats.

Socialist Jesus

I sometimes wonder about people who write stuff like this:

As near as we can tell, Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of “If you have two coats, give one to the man who has none”) and 100% (if you want to get into heaven, be poor).

What I wonder is if they’re truly that ignorant, or if they know enough to to be consciously and deliberately twisting the Christian message.

Where do we start? I suppose the first clause, advocating a 50% tax rate, since it is a direct quotation of Luke 3:11. That’s where the problems begin, though, because it’s not Jesus who’s talking! This quote is from Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Here is what John said in context:

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Given vv. 12–13, it would be amusing to see verse 11 used to justify arbitrary taxation — does it matter whether the tax collectors are free-lancers or if they have the apparatus of government on their side? and if so, why? — it would be amusing, except that it does so much damage to the economy.

I had a guy the other night tell me that prosperity shouldn’t be the goal of the government. Maybe he might feel differently about that if he’d spent the last few months looking for a job, his house was underwater, and his marriage was coming apart because he and his wife argue about money all the time.

Then there’s the other clause, arguing for a 100% tax rate. Notice that it doesn’t have any quote marks. That’s because it’s not a quote. What it seems to be is a bungled citation of Mark 10:17-22:

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” … 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

1) Inheriting “eternal life” isn’t “getting into heaven.” I can’t spare the time to demonstrate this, so you can believe me or not.

2) Jesus looks at him. The left can’t do this. They see everyone as a member of a class—the rich or the poor, the 1% or the 99%—but never as an individual.

3) Jesus loves him. The people writing these sad, sorry little articles don’t seem to love anyone, and certainly not people who are rich. Read some of their tweets.

4) Jesus says this rich young ruler lacks something. Jesus wants to rectify that; he wants to give him something. (I suppose you could argue that Jesus wants to sell him something, or trade for it, but Jesus sends the money elsewhere, and besides, 2000 years of Christian theology have insisted we receive salvation and new life as a free gift.) Leftists think they’re Robin Hoods: they want to redistribute wealth by taking it from the rich and giving it to the poor. The rich have too much already; they sure don’t need anything else!

5) Jesus tells him to give the money to the poor. Not to the emperor. (Not here, that is—more about rendering to Caesar in a moment.) Jesus doesn’t explain his reasoning. Maybe he wants the rich young ruler to do what he did: to look at someone and love them, to see them as people and not as causes. Perhaps he wants to be sure the money gets to the poor, rather than being diverted to (say) public-sector unions and other cronies of the elite.

6) Jesus tells him to follow him. Is the left seriously proposing that the government should not only take people’s money from them, but make them follow Jesus too? If not, why only quote the part about giving your money away?

7) Jesus lets the man decide what to do. Is the left planning to make taxing the rich optional? Will the 100% rate be a check-off box like contributing to public financing of elections? Of course not.

8) Despite what the writer says, Jesus never tells the man to “be poor.” Far from it, he says by following him, this fellow will have riches in heaven. If I were psychoanalyzing the left, I would see this statement as projection. It has become transparently obvious that the left’s policies make people poor; the best approach, then, is to suggest that Jesus wants people to be that way.

In fact, Jesus had all kinds of opportunities to advocate a tax rate, and never did. Once, however, he had to bail out a disciple who erroneously assumed that Jesus was okay with paying taxes:

27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Make what you will of that, but it certainly isn’t a call for higher taxes!

Finally, Jesus once told some people to “render unto Caesar.”

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. …

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Evil people try to trap Jesus, and he escapes. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the tax power. But it’s about the best you can do if you want to make him an advocate for big government and leveling.

The real question about the Christian left is this: why is it bad for the Christian right to invoke faith in opposing abortion or premarital sex but good for the left to invoke faith in supporting ever-increasing government indebtedness? What right do bleeding hearts have to impose their morality on other people’s bank accounts, and what principle distinguishes that right from the perceived duty of wing nuts to impose their morality on other people’s bedrooms?

But I see this kind of crap on Facebook all the time, so it must really work, at least for people who are looking to have their politics validated.

Church and State

When I hear Christians talking about something “we” ought to do, it often disturbs me how easily they confuse what “we” should do as individual Christians, as the church, and as citizens of a secular state.

Christians from the ideological right often ask the state to base its policies on a Christian understanding of marriage, or sexuality, or the point at which life begins. Christians from the left ask the state to base its policies on a Christian understanding of generosity and responsibility to help one’s neighbors.

Take this article about Republican Paul Ryan, who was chastised by (his) Catholic Bishops. (The article summarizes and critiques an original article in the Washington Post.)

I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t help their less fortunate neighbors. Anyone who’s read Matthew 25 should tremble at the responsibility Christ lays on we who are his disciples. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that Christians have the responsibility to help their neighbors by implementing a welfare state, any more than they have a responsibility to help their neighbors by providing for prayer in public schools.

We should do good for several reasons: because Jesus told us he credits good done to others as if it were done to him, or the golden rule (Leviticus 19/Luke 10). We do good as a way of “putting on Christ” — of stretching ourselves, or more accurately, allowing ourselves to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. And we do good to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. It’s not at all clear to me that there is a role for the state in any of that.

To be sure, people can take off their Christian hats. Then they can argue in their capacity as citizens that the state should do something or other for reasons of state. We should help the poor to reduce crime, or to build a solid middle class, or whatever. But it’s not obvious to me that Christians are expected to do any of those things. (We may do them, of course, but there is no obligation to reduce crime.)

(If it did, that would lead to another discussion, which is whether or not a government program is the best, or even an effective, means to do something. After all, Jesus was unmoved by the argument that nobody realized it was him they were seeing hungry, naked, in prison, etc. How much less will he be impressed with an argument that we voted for a program, but didn’t bother to ensure it was doing what it was supposed to?)

So there may be a “marriage of convenience” where the work we do as Christians, and the policies we favor as citizens, reinforce and support one another. But we should be very cautious about tying the knot. The history of Church-State interaction is fraught with peril.

Public: Gay Relations “Morally Acceptable”

There’s a lot to think about in a new Gallup survey about gay relations:

Americans’ support for the moral acceptability of gay and lesbian relations crossed the symbolic 50% threshold in 2010. At the same time, the percentage calling these relations “morally wrong” dropped to 43%, the lowest in Gallup’s decade-long trend.

Notice this is for “moral acceptability.” Legality is a separate question, and polls several points higher. Also interesting is that gay marriage is still opposed by a (slight) majority.

National Day of Prayer – One Opinion

Earlier this month, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that a national day of prayer is an unconstitutional call to religious action. Since the ruling, atheist and religious groups have been arguing for and against both the ruling and the national day of prayer itself.

Many people of faith, especially Christians, have seen the ruling as a further whittling away of the status of faith in society. “First,” the logic goes, “they came for prayer in schools, then high school baccalaureates, then public nativity scenes at Christmas, and so forth, leading to this latest ruling against the national day of prayer.”

I, too, was disappointed by the ruling, but not because it whittled away Christianity. Christianity doesn’t need help from judges. Christianity doesn’t need an act of congress or a presidential proclamation.

Historically, the Church has flourished most when it had the least help from the state. Remember how the Church grew in its first couple of centuries. It began as a tiny handful of followers of a crucified rabbi in a backwater province, and became the most numerous religion in the world’s greatest empire — and did so despite official neglect, and frequent persecution, at the hands of the state. Or, more recently, consider how the underground Church grew so dramatically in China under Mao.

By contrast, the Church’s lowest moments have occurred when it was most tightly connected with the state. The crusades, the inquisition, the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics, even Hitler’s domesticated “German Christian” church in Nazi Germany — all these occurred when the Church sought the power of the state and so became entangled with it.

No, if this ruling will harm anything, it will be our nation. Certainly the Church will not suffer, for there is no power in all creation – Jesus said not even the gates of Hades — that will prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).

It isn’t my place to argue the constitutionality of a national day of prayer. I leave that to lawyers. But as a believer, I am called to pray for my country. “Fear God,” Peter writes, and “honor the Emperor.” In Jeremiah 29, the prophet calls Jewish exiles to pray even for Babylon. Regardless how the legal issue plays out, please join me and other people of faith next week in praying to the Lord for our nation.

(Originally published in the Hi-Desert Star, April 28, 2010.)

Son of Encouragement

Do you see the glass half full or half empty? I’m a half-empty person, myself.

It’s probably my nature, but during the years I was a software developer, that tendency was reinforced. (If you’ve used a computer, you may suspect that programmers are all incurable optimists. Not true: we just aren’t pessimistic enough.) Whether it’s something in my nature or something I learned, I usually focus on what’s broken instead of what works. And a lot of things today are broken.

North Korea is developing nuclear weapons again. People in Iran are protesting a blatant election theft, and their government is shooting them on television.

Last week, unemployment hit a 26-year high of 9.5%. In California, the rate was already two points higher, and San Bernardino county is still worse.

Half of all marriages end in divorce, and two-thirds of second marriages. Sociologist Andrew Cherlin at Johns Hopkins University discovered that a child in the U.S. with married parents is more likely to see his family break up than a child in Sweden whose parents never married.

There’s a lot to be discouraged about today.

But there always has been. The book of Acts in the Bible tells the story of a man whose nickname, Barnabas, means “Son of Encouragement.” In a community facing trouble and persecution, Barnabas stood out, because he could always provide a word of encouragement.

Wouldn’t you like to know someone like Barnabas? I would.

One of the people Barnabas encouraged was a man named Paul. Paul used to persecute Christians, until he met Jesus and became one himself. It wasn’t long after he started to follow Jesus that Paul met Barnabas. Barnabas vouched for Paul with other Christians, when they were still nervous about whether his conversion was genuine. Later, Barnabas and Paul travelled together on missionary journeys.

I think some of Barnabas rubbed off on Paul.

Paul went on the become a leader in the early church, and wrote about a quarter of the New Testament. Something that strikes you when you read Paul’s letters is how often he encourages his readers. Paul wants people to know that, however bad things may seem, God doesn’t hate them. Paul wants to reassure them that God loves us and has already acted in Christ to save us.

When I’m discouraged, I read Paul. Let me encourage you to try it yourself.