Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I was recently reading the blog Colossians 3:16 and came across a post commenting on comments made by Condoleezza Rice at the Southern Baptist Convention. The post quoted Condi as saying, “If American does not serve great purposes, if we do not rally other nations to fight intolerance and support peace and defend freedom, and help give hope to all who suffer oppression, then our world will drift toward tragedy.” The author of the comment was troubled by this for a variety of reasons. First, they emphasized truly that our allegiance as Christians is first to God and His kingdom rather than to any of the kingdoms of this world. Second, they were suspicious of Rice’s belief in democracy and that other nations need to have democracies. Third, the article noted that we need to judge political issues from a biblical perspective rather than aligning ourselves with any particular party. All of the parties get things wrong from time to time. I have some sympathy with the author’s conclusion that “the last thing we need is continued blurring of the lines between Christianity and patriotism and a pat on the back for political morality jargon. We need to be jarred back into becoming and making disciples. Not until America’s Christians truly understand and live this will we be the ‘force for good’ that America could be.” It is certainly true that we need to become and make disciples. It is also true that we need to avoid being co-opted politically. As many authors have mentioned, David F. Wells for example, it is easy to seek popularity by adopting the ways of the world in place of the ways of God. This is particularly easy in the political realm where popularity seems so important. All that said, I wanted to deal particularly here with the question of democracy.

Many people believe that democracy arose as a result of Christianity. This is not exactly the truth. Democracy of the unorganized village type is virtually the first government known to humankind. The ancient Sumerians practiced village democracy until slowly falling into the rulership of priest kings. Of course nearly everyone who has seriously studied history is aware of the democracies of the Greek city states. While we fault these democracies today for having slaves, they were somewhat remarkable for their time in the level of government participation they gave the average freeman. I think Russell Kirk is correct in spotting the true weakness of the Greek democracies however: Greek religion did not support genuine morality or virtue. As a result, although the Greek democracies did involve the agreement of the populace, the populace was easily led into all sorts of mischief. They engaged in wars of aggression in order to gain wealth and land. They undertook schemes to take away wealth from certain individuals and redistribute it to others by force. They undertook reverse schemes to create temporary dictatorships that superseded the Greek democracies until overthrown. And the Greek democracies were always easily manipulated by demagogues with good verbal skills. The sophists of course, the philosophical ancestors of today’s postmodernists, were always willing to make money by teaching people how to manipulate the masses with oratorical skill. Like today’s marketing executives, they were mostly interested in the practical outcome of obtaining power and wealth rather than believing in any objective moral accountability. Rome was of course not a pure democracy but was a republic with democratic elements until the emperors took over. But it can be said that a large reason for the emperor’s destruction of the republic was that the general citizenry had become uninvolved in the democratic features of the government and relied instead on powerful and influential individuals. At times the Roman assemblies that were supposed to meet and vote on various things would simply have the officials responsible enter in the records that they had met even though they had not.

It is true though that the modern growth of democracy and republican government has largely occurred through the influence of Christianity. The reasons for this are fairly straight forward: they relate to Christian theology.

Most governments that involve aristocracies or autocratic rulers are based on the philosophy that some human beings are inherently gifted or entitled by nature to rule over others. Christianity has always taught that all human beings were the same kind of thing—sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to use C. S. Lewis’ phrase. None of us has an inherent right to rule over others. In fact, Jesus consistently tells us that if we want to be the greatest of all, we need to be the servant of all. Leadership and status come not from being in some way superior, but rather from providing service to others, especially others who are in need. In addition, the doctrine of the fall and human depravity plays a role in this. Because human beings are all fallen, none of us is inherently trustworthy. Not a single human being or group of human beings can be trusted to justly govern others. So we try to decentralize power and create various checks, balances and institutional devices designed to make it difficult for an errant human being or a group of errant human beings to impose their will on the others. This makes it difficult to get things done but it is more important to make it difficult to do evil things than to make it easy to do good things since few human problems can actually be solved by human government. Christians have also traditionally supported the classical notion coming through Plato and Cicero but also appearing in the Bible of the rule of law. The rule of law means the reign of law. That because individual human beings are not trustworthy, we do not allow any human being or group of human beings to be radically sovereign in the sense of making up the law as they go. Such radical sovereigns change the law to match whatever they do. Instead, the rule of law demands that rulers follow the laws. The notion of rule of law presupposes that there is in fact a higher law, a pattern beyond human making that determines whether or not human rules are actually legitimate. The Bible supports this notion. In Romans 13 and in I Peter, God indicates that the purpose of human government is to punish evil and reward good. God provides us with a standard as to the difference between good and evil. In Romans chapters 1 and 2, Paul outlines all the ways in which we are aware of that standard, even though we fail to live by it. All human beings are morally accountable to God in part because they do know what God wants even though they don’t do it. So the purpose of human government is participating in God’s law to restrain evil and encourage good. When governments do this they are legitimate. When they don’t they are illegitimate (I’ve said this almost too many times on this blot but it still applies here). Because we don’t trust human beings, we tend to prefer these democratic or republican decentralized forms of government. Pure democracies were normally rejected by the Reformers and other Christians of history because they recognized that the mob couldn’t be counted on to do the right thing any more than individual human beings or individual interest groups. This is essentially why the United States has a republican form of government. Our founders balanced their fear of autocratic individuals with their fear of the easily manipulable mob. They sought to create checks and balances against all of them.

But the Christian influence on democracy and republican government isn’t the only one. The Enlightement has also adopted democracy as its standard. The Enlightement is not necessarily connected to Christianity. If there were no Christianity, the Enlightement probably never would have been possible. But the Enlightement project starts with the human being at the center and works outward. A Christian worldview starts with God at the center and works outward coming back around to validate human senses and to provide philosophical evidences for the existence of God, but starting with God first rather than with the human being first. The Christian view democracy has always been based upon man’s failings. The Enlightenment view of democracy is mostly based upon trust in human nature.

Some of the adherents of the Enlightenment view of democracy have the notion that the outcomes of human policy making are derivative of human forms of government. They believe that autocracies tend to be inherently war-like and that democracies tend to be inherently peaceful. This is not true nor is it supported by historical data. It is largely based on an erroneous belief that American rebellions against unjust wars have been due to the democratic nature of our government. And coupled with the view that it is autocracies like Nazi Germany and Napoleonic France that have wars of aggression. One need only look back to the Greek city states to discover that it is entirely possible to have an aggressive democracy. What is really determinative of a people’s policies is the goodness of the people and the accuracy of their religious, moral and ethical views. If America were truly and fully dedicated to Christ and properly understood God’s Word and applied it maturely, I have no doubt that American public policy would be better than it is today. By the same token, if American succeeds in transplanting democracy to Iraq, it is unlikely that Iraqi public policy will ever be anything like as good as American public policy so long as Iraq is dominated by Islam. The public policies of predominantly Hindu India are certainly better than the public policies of an autocratic India. But they are definitely not particularly good in contrast to what a predominantly Christian India would produce.

So, I would say that democracy and republicanism are good. Because they are good, we should want them for our neighbors and help our neighbors in that direction. But we are deluding ourselves if we think that democracy and republicanism alone will cause our neighbors to be peaceful and prosperous. The truth is that only truth causes people to be peaceful and prosperous. Democracy and republican forms of government are based upon some of the truth. But they are not the whole truth. To whatever degree a people believe in the truth, they generally flourish. To whatever degree they reject the truth, they generally have problems. I say “generally” because God tests even “good” nations with famines, plagues, wars and other problems. In a fallen world there is no magical remedy for the effects of the fall.

In conclusion then, I think that it is not wrong for us to advocate democracy for others. This is helping them to come to a greater knowledge of truth. But we also need to help them come to Christ. Democracy is better than autocracy, but autocracy with Christ is probably better than democracy without Christ. The reason that we should strive to help our neighbors and fight intolerance, support peace and defend freedom is because we should love our neighbors. Leaving our neighbors under the rule of oppressive tyrants who prevent them from hearing the Gospel, who enlist their children in vicious wars and who enslave both mind and body is not good. It is not loving to let that sort of thing happen to your neighbor. And for the time being, American is available to be God’s tool. Contrary to what Condoleezza Rice believes, if America fails, God is capable of raising another helper from another place. But remember the words that Esther’s relative Mordecai spoke to her concerning her place in the Persian Empire: “Do not think that because you are in the kings’ house you will own of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to this royal position for such as time as this.” God no longer has one chosen nationality. People of all nations can be part of His church of His chosen people. But God is quite willing to use every nation and every people if they will but submit themselves to Him and become His instruments for good. If we do not help other nations become open to the Gospel and live in peace, then perhaps God will find some other nation to do so. But it will cost us. If we are unwilling to be God’s instrument, God will no longer have any real reason to sustain the United States in the position it has become accustomed to. Like Esther’s house, we would not escape. It is likely we would perish if we rejected God’s use of our people. It is important for us not to stick our heads in the sand and miss the opportunities of our times. It is important too not to be arrogant and to suppose that we know everything and can do everything on our own. Nevertheless, we should not be in the business of seeking personal peace and affluence. We should be in the business of seeking to be used by God for His plans both for the salvation of individuals and for the shaping of nations. The fact that some nations may not want to be shaped requires tact, wisdom and skill. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, people do not want to be saved either. But we don’t give up on them. We pray for them and preach the Gospel to them despite their opposition. The poor and homeless are reluctant to give up the bad habits that made them poor and homeless. But we do not think it is appropriate to let them rot on the streets, do we? Why then should we let our national neighbors rot within their autocracies and inhumane laws? We should do what we can while remaining humble, prudent, and realistic. But we should never give up.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Evangelical Outpost on WMDs

the evangelical outpost: Weapons as Mass Distractions:
Technology and the Threat of WMDs

Excellent commentary on the WMD issue. Though unnecessary to justify the war I am still pleased we are finally admitting to finding WMDs and the ingredients that go into them. I am amazed, but not surprised that the press ignores this radical change in data.

Radio Show on Law and Gospel Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe

At the link is a link to my guest appearance on the radio show discussing the relationship of law and gospel.

Hudson v. Michigan: The Knock and Announce Rule and the Exclusionary Rule

Hudson v Michigan involves one simple question: whether the Supreme Court’s traditional knock and announce requirement for searches of a person’s home is subject to the exclusionary rule if violated. In other words, if the police come to your house to search it and barge right in without knocking on the door or announcing that they are there, will the evidence of crime that they subsequently find in your home be excluded from admissibility in court because it was obtained in violation of the amendment to the Constitution that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures? In Hudson, the Supreme Court answers that question no. The court declines to apply the exclusionary rule even though Michigan stipulated that their police violated the knock and announce rule.

As the court notes in its opinion, the idea that the peace officers should knock and announce their presence a reasonable time prior to forceful entry into a person’s home is an ancient rule of the English common law which has been codified in federal statutory law since 1917 and applied by the U.S. Supreme Court as required for reasonable searches and seizures since 1995 with the case Wilson v Arkansas. As a traditional custom among law enforcement officers, the practice is perhaps more ancient and more common than its requirement as a matter of law.

Quite reasonably, the court has also recognized a variety of exceptions to the knock and announce rule. These include situations in which there is a threat of violence to the enforcing officers or where the evidence they seek would probably be destroyed or irretrievably hidden if they announced their presence. Another exception is if knocking and announcing would be futile. Certainly too, though there is no court case about it, when a swat team is descending upon terrorists holding hostages, they do not and should not knock or yell first.

Nevertheless, was the Supreme Court right in saying that the knock and announce rule is not protected by the accompanying exclusionary rule? It is common in our courts that when a law enforcement agency violates the protections against reasonable search and seizure, the evidence they seize as a result is excluded so that the person often cannot be convicted of the crime of which they are accused. The reason for this is simple. It provides a deterrent. If law enforcement agencies know they cannot use the evidence they obtain illegally, they are far less likely to undertake illegal measures to obtain evidence. The exclusionary rule is often explained using the metaphor of “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” If a tree is inherently poisonous (i.e. illegal), the fruit that grows on it shouldn’t be eaten either. In other words, evidence gained from an illegal search should be thought of as illegal evidence and excluded from the courtroom. Many prosecutors have suggested that there should be a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. If the police do not believe they are violating the Fourth Amendment, why should the evidence be excluded since the deterrent is no longer present in that instance, but the criminal wrongdoing still is. The argument for a good faith exception is a strong one. But is the argument against applying the exclusionary rule here a strong argument?

In Hudson, the Supreme Court distinguishes situations in which unlawful evidence is obtained by unlawful warrantless searches. There, the court says “citizens are entitled to shield their persons, houses, papers and effects from the government’s scrutiny.” (Hudson slip opinion, page 8.) The court feels that a search with a warrant conducted without knocking and announcing is different. While there are interests that the knock and announce rule is meant to protect, it is not designed to prevent the government from seeing or taking the evidence described in its warrant. As a result, the court believes that the exclusionary rule is inappropriate. The court feels that the possible violation of the Fourth Amendment involved in failing to knock and announce is not the actual cause of the seizure of the evidence since the evidence could have been lawfully seized under a warrant anyway. The court also believes that the deterrent’s benefits are outweighed by the social costs of the exclusionary rule in this instance. Knocking and announcing is an ambiguous requirement that requires “reasonableness” in its application. It exposes the officers involved to potential harm and allows perpetrators to hide or destroy evidence.

While the court’s arguments are rational and justifiable, I for one have difficulty agreeing with them. The problem is that if the exclusionary rule does not apply, it is unlikely in the current law enforcement environment that police will continue to knock and announce at all. Instead, whenever they are enforcing a warrant, they will simply break down your door and storm in. Why is that undesirable? For several reasons. First, the police do occasionally make mistakes. They do sometimes storm into the wrong apartment. While it is a minor hindrance, it is some hindrance against mistakes if they actually knock and announce their presence first. This at least allows the occupant of the apartment to react as an innocent person being victimized by a mistake. If armed men storm into your apartment or home and you don’t know that they’re the police or that they are coming, you may react in ways that the police will interpret as the actions of a guilty perpetrator, and the result may very likely be that the police will shoot you. Since this does occasionally happen, it is certainly a realistic fear. Can this unlikely event outweigh the need for the police to get at real perpetrators? Yes. Protecting innocent people is more important than getting at guilty people since the reason we go after guilty people is in order to protect innocent people. Protecting innocents should always come first. This is also why we consider people innocent until proven guilty and why we have standards of proof rather than merely assuming that anyone accused of a crime should be locked up unless they can justify their freedom.

In the modern world there are already many ways in which our privacy is legitimately fading away. Because so many of our acts and transactions involve other people, they are essentially public. As a result, our phone records and financial records may lawfully be viewed by the government or counted in government statistics despite peoples’ frequent desire to the contrary. This is especially true during the current war on terrorism. But, the long-time traditional protections of the home as a man’s castle, the protection against the use of hearsay, and the protection of the right to bear arms, these items must be protected and maintained despite the current war against terror and the government’s desperation to apprehend dangerous criminals. Today the government can see what we do inside our homes with infrared scopes. They can listen to our conversations in public places with long-range eavesdropping equipment, and they can see what goes on in our backyards by flying over our property. All of these things are normally considered lawful even though they were not possible in the past when the technology to execute such spying did not exist. Now that the possibility for such intrusion does exist, protecting the old traditional rights against exclusion becomes an even greater imperative. Certainly if the police are executing a warrant, they could use advanced technology to be sure that the alleged perpetrator is not disposing of evidence or arming himself. Using listening devices or infrared devices, they could determine if the evidence is being destroyed or if guns are being aimed. This would be expensive, but it would not be difficult. And, while there is some danger to officers by announcing their presence, they are protected by bulletproof vests and heavy weapons. Neither the average home owner nor the average criminal is reasonably going to provide armed resistance against the small army serving a warrant. While some criminals do remain unreasonable and do attempt to harm peace officers in the course of their lawful duties, that risk should not outweigh the interest of lawful citizens of being protected against immediate unannounced intrusion into their homes by the same armed band.

If the police do make a mistake and violate the Fourth Amendment by storming into someone’s home unannounced, there is no real deterrent against their actions if the exclusionary rule disappears. The damages that would be awarded against the police department in a lawsuit for a house storming would be de minimis. Many people could not afford the protracted legal battle against the government necessary to obtain the damages. And the damages would likely be far smaller than the attorney’s fees necessary to take the case forward. The only way such continued unannounced storming will be prevented is if there is no reason for the police to engage in such assaults in any but the most extraordinary circumstances. The only way to prevent them from having a reason to engage in these assaults is to apply the exclusionary rule. If evidence cannot be gotten by such rude conduct, there will be no reason to engage in the conduct.

I fully sympathize with the police and the difficulty and stress of their situation. But as an innocent public citizen, I am also afraid of unannounced accidental searches of the wrong properties. Based on the stories in our newspapers during my lifetime, I do not believe such a fear is unreasonable or unfounded. As a result, I would have been happier if the Supreme Court had continued to link the exclusionary rule to the knock and announce rule.

Another Program Leaked by Press

The news media have gleefully disclosed and thereby made less useful another one of the government’s tools in the war against Islamist extremism. The government had obtained access to international financial transaction records, in particular, through access to a database known as SWIFT. The program provided access to a variety of transactions. My understanding is that most transactions subject to tracing are international transactions. In this way, the government of the United States has an opportunity to find and evaluate terrorist financing patterns. But, now that the program has been talked about widely in the media, it is likely that even unintelligent terrorists will begin being more careful about wiring money. Many people believe that the program is unlikely to be successful because terrorists will have already understood that their financial transactions would be under scrutiny. I do not believe that this is a justifiable criticism. It is true that the most clever and intelligent of our terrorist adversaries probably are trained in covert operations and are careful to avoid transactions that are traceable. But, even clever people are sometimes desperate. Sometimes when the level of desperation rises, people take risks. And sometimes those risks lead to them being caught. It is also the case that not everyone who engages in terrorism is a well-trained mastermind. In particular, as we succeed in killing and capturing members of the Al Qaeda network and other terrorist organizations, less trained and less intelligent people will rise to fill their empty ranks. These new people are more likely to make mistakes. Their mistakes can then be capitalized upon.

Sadly, the New York Times has made that capitalization more difficult by revealing another legal government program. This program falls once again under the heading of what I discussed in an earlier blog posting: Synthetic Privacy. In the modern world, we have come to have unreasonable expectations about privacy. We not only want things that are actually done in the quiet of our own homes to remain private, but we seek to require third parties to essentially cover up for us and keep information away from others even though that information is of necessity shared with dozens or perhaps even hundreds of people. We do things in public, engage in public transactions, produce records that are shared with dozens of people, and then we somehow expect the government to take measures to make sure that the government cannot find out about what we did that many other people already know about. This obsession with creating artificial privacy—privacy about things that are not really private—is perhaps understandable, but inappropriate during wartime. While our homes and papers should remain secure from unreasonable searches and seizures, there is no reason why statistics about telephone patterns or wire transfers shouldn’t be known by the government and used to eliminate militant Islamists bent on murdering hundreds of innocent people. We need to keep in mind the difference between genuine privacy and embarrassment and synthetic privacy that provides no real help to anyone except our enemies.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Link to clips of recent speeches on bioethics

Academic Dean Don McConnell Speaks at Local Churches

This link takes you to the TLS web site page with clips from my recent speech on embryonic stem cell research and info on ordering the whole talk. There is also a DVD of a speech on abortion available.

Burlington Northern V. White

The Supreme Court gets it right again. In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court maintained the view that employers who retaliate against employees for civil rights or sexual harassment claims cannot get away with retaliation by taking actions that are negative but have no real economic impact on the complaining party. White operated a forklift for Burlington Northern. White’s immediate supervisor is alleged to have made a variety of insulting and inappropriate remarks to her in front of her co-workers as well as making repeated statements that women should not be working for the track maintenance division. White complained and Burlington Northern did punish her supervisor. But they also transferred her to less desirable work within the same job description. When White complained, they suspended her for insubordination. She was later returned to work and given partial compensation for her suspension. But the overall effect was obviously negative. After exhausting her administrative remedies, White sued Burlington Northern under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII has an anti-retaliation provision that “forbids employer actions that discriminate against an employee because he has opposed a practice that Title VII forbids or has make a change, testified, assisted, or participated in a Title VII investigation, procedure, or hearing.” (Burlington vs White slip opinion the beginning of Section II, page 7 of 29). The defense argued that retaliation must involve economic harm. Certain of the federal circuits have agreed with this. Other circuits followed the position advocated by White that any change that would have been material to a reasonable employee and could possibly deter a worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination could count as harassment under Title VII law.

The benefits of a broad interpretation of “harassment” are fairly obvious: they provide greater protections for employees against actions that are genuinely harassing. The costs are more controversial. A stronger definition of harassment could place some businesses in a difficult position. If an employee files a fraudulent claim in order to protect themselves against well-deserved or completely lawful job changes that were planned independently of any harassment, the employee could use the new harassment law to prevent their employer from doing what the employer planned to do anyway. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court, and I believe rightly so, determined that it was more important to protect the rights of innocent people from unjust treatment in the workplace than to protect the employer from the risk of a chilling effect on business decisions in the face of litigious employees.

The court used appropriate means of statutory interpretation to determine exactly what Congress’ actual intent was when they passed the anti-harassment provisions of Title VII. They noted that the Congress used different language in the normal anti-discrimination provision and in the harassment provision. In a classic common law analysis they found, “We normally presume that, where words differ as they differ here, Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion of or exclusion.” (Ibid. page 10). The court further stated: “Thus, purpose reinforces what language already indicates, namely, that the anti-retaliation provision, unlike the substantive provision, is not limited to discriminatory actions that affect the terms and conditions of employment.” In other words, if you read the statute and look at what it was designed to accomplish, it was clear that Congress wanted to make sure that employers didn’t do anything that would deter people from fully participating in anti-discrimination law. It was not their intention to limit the provisions against retaliation to changes in a person’s job title or salary. The court defines their new standard: “In our view, plaintiff must show that a reasonable employee would have found the challenged action materially adverse, which in this context means it well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a change of discrimination.” (Ibid. page 16). The materiality requirement excludes trivial or insignificant harms. Certain changes in duties, prestige or status could easily be material even though they do not relate to salary or job description. The court gives example of things that may seem trivial but under certain circumstances could be significant retaliation. A change in work schedule that interferes with the person’s family life, or a refusal to invite the employee to a weekly training lunch, are examples given by the court of possible material harassment.

Overall, the court’s decision is a good one. It continues to work for justice in the workplace. The opposite decision, requiring changes in matters such as salary or job description before workplace changes could rise to the level of harassment, would have regularly allowed employers to engage in ill treatment of those participating in Title VII anti-discrimination claims. There are all sorts of things an employer can do to hurt an employee without actually affecting job description, salary or similar matters. The court’s decision will help deter employers from such unjustified common cruelty. It is true that there will be a cost to employers based upon those who misuse the statute to try to gain unfair advantage. But this is always a risk of any law. Any time you have a legal standard, someone can misuse it by making false accusations or claims. Nevertheless, the importance of justice is not eliminated by the possibility of other injustices. In addition, I believe the court properly interpreted the Congress’ intent. If Congress wants the other standard, they can always pass a law clarifying that fact. But the court’s findings in this case are consistent with what appears to be the overall intent of the statutory scheme.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Conspiracy for Terror is Crime

A new story on the wires is that the FBI has arrested a number of people for planning attacks on commercial and government buildings throughout the United States. This so called “home grown” group of people wanted to work for Al Qaeda. Their mistake was attempting to contact Al Qaeda through a federal agent posing as an Al Qaeda representative. They undertook all sorts of measures including swearing an oath to Al Qaeda and engaging in a variety of reconnaissance in equipping. They were then arrested.

On the radio this morning when I heard this story reported, a variety of reporters questioned whether or not it was really appropriate to arrest and prosecute these people since they had not yet obtained any explosives or other weapons, and since they thought that they might be too amateurish to actually carry out their plans. In a sense, these comments are quite remarkable.

Criminals are commonly not particularly clever. They very often lack the actual means to successfully carry out their crimes. When someone attempts to rob a bank with a squirt gun that looks like a pistol, we still arrest them for bank robbery. While it is true that people who actually have the ability to do evil and have done evil have engaged in a more serious crime than those who merely wished to do evil and began acting upon it, we still punish people for having evil wishes so long as they take affirmative actions toward carrying out those wishes. Such conspiracies have been regarded as criminal actions in the western world since the late Middle Ages. Today we have greater protections against arrest for conspiracy. In general we have a greater emphasis on the need for proof of acts taken in furtherance of the conspiracy. We have also narrowed the scope of criminal conspiracy laws like RICO, the Racketeering and Corrupt Practices Act. Originally passed to prosecute mobsters, RICO had been misused to attack those protesting laws they considered illegal, etc. but has been put back in proper context by the high court.

Today our conspiracy laws are fairly reasonable. There is no reason to be surprised about the seven would-be jihadis being prosecuted. They clearly had criminal intentions and they acted for many weeks seeking to carry out those evil intentions. But for the fact that they ran into a government agent instead of a genuine Al Qaeda representative, they undoubtedly would have hurt people, even if they had not succeeded in carrying out the most grandiose of their schemes.

Movie review: Hoodwinked

Thursday night I watched a DVD of the animated film “Hoodwinked.” I thought it was great. Very funny. The film is a retelling of the Red Ridding Hood fairy tail. But it takes a special spin on it by adding new elements and approaching it like a contemporary mystery/adventure/musical comedy. Much of the humor in the film comes from spoofing popular movies and books.

One of the interesting features of the film is that you see the facts of the story from four different perspectives. Each character sees different things. But, unlike contemporary post modernism, there is a right answer. All the pieces of the puzzle fit together and make logical sense as a systematic whole to reveal the truth. The film is full of surprises. It warns us against stereotypes and jumping to conclusions, but does not deny that the truth is out there to be discovered and acted on.

The film would be fun for children, but, I think they would miss most of the cultural references that make the film funny.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mail on Bishops

Concrening the post on the Anglican Communion's problems with Bishops:

In an e-mail, one of my friends said this:

Hi Don,

I linked to your article yesterday. I would be interested to know your
thoughts on my piece.

Church and Sin
Hammer left a comment
on my
last post with a link to an article by Al Mohler

about the need for Christians to truthfully confront the sin of
homosexuality. Trinitarian Don

also makes some very good points today about sin, objective truth, the
Church, and homosexuality.

While I fully agree with the truth of what both Don and Al wrote, I
don't like how homosexuality often gets singled out by Christian leaders
when referencing and discussing sin. Al stated, "The church is not a
place where sinners are welcomed to remain in their sin." It sounds like
Al hasn't been to Church lately. Churches nowadays are packed with
greedy, lustful, deceitful, proud, selfish, and sexually immoral
believers who are quite comfortable in most of their sins. Pastors and
other Church leaders are just as comfortable in some or all of these
sins. I'm sure I also have blind spots in regard to my own sins.

Some sins are worse than other sins and all sins have gradations of
evil. Homosexuality is no different. A homosexual relationship with one
partner is different than a homosexual relationship with many partners.
Advocating homosexual marriage is different than advocating acceptance
of homosexuals. Struggling and failing to overcome a homosexual
lifestyle is different than proudly proclaiming a deviant sexual
orientation. If Christian leaders and lay believers wish to demonstrate
the love of God towards homosexuals, they need to place homosexuality
and the gradations of homosexuality on the list of all other sins where
it belongs and quit singling homosexuality out as the worst of all sins.

Additionally, if Christian leaders and lay believers wish to be taken
seriously when proclaiming the truth of homosexuality, they need to
increase the references to the sins of greed, lust, deceit, pride, and
selfishness. Perhaps they could start by proclaiming the truth in their
own Church and make a few believers a little uncomfortable.

David M. Smith

My response was as follows:

Thanks Dave,

In many ways I agree with your comment. I think we do not deal strongly
enough with common sins. It is a lot easier to be critical of sins that
you think "other people" commit and that you do not see every day in
yourself or your church. The church has a serious problem with
pornography for example. Yet you hear few sermons about it and most men
experience little real victory in this part of their thought lives, not
because it is impossible, but because we cut ourselves a lot of slack on
something seen as difficult to stop and in some sense, "natural."

You are also right that, while all sins lead to damnation unless covered
by the blood of Christ, there is a hierarchy of sins. Not all sins are
the same. This is why human law forbids murder but not anger, even
though Jesus makes it clear that without God's grace both will send you
to hell in the eyes of our just and holy God.

But, I do think that while advocating public measures that facilitate
homosexual recruitment or that say it is ok - such as gay marriage or
gay advocacy in schools - is far worse that Homosexual sex, promiscuous
homosexual sex is worse that occasional, and an open homosexual
lifestyle is worse that quietly struggling with it. And, acting on the
desire is worse than the desire. But, I think because homosexual sex is
"unnatural" and because it is avoidable for most people, even people
with the desire for it, it is "worse" than many other sins. Paul does
give it a prominent place in Romans 1, where he talks about the
consequences of rejecting God's truth. It is also an easy place to hold
the line on social values. On top of that, it is important because it
is the area where the current push to expand what society considers
acceptable conduct is taking place. We already lost the battle with the
"playboy lifestyle" in the sixties.

If we can keep homosexuality in the "antisocial" column of common
perception we can save thousands of kids from heartbreaking pain that
will occur if they are recruited to the "gay" life (I do not believe
they are hard wired that way even if there are biochemical propensities
or triggers). Next maybe we can drive the playboy lifestyle and sharp
business practices back into the "unacceptable" column. Such
perceptions matter. Life without major sins is nicer for everyone than
life with the major sins. It would be wonderful to have a culture where
we could focus on helping each other with pride, impatience, gluttony, and
sloth instead of the life threatening sins that currently hold our
civilization in thrall.

This said I do not think people should "hate" homosexuals or persecute
them. There but for the grace of God go we all. They need the gospel
and the love of Christ. But a gospel that says sin is not sin, or that
we are acceptable to God just as we are, without atonement or
justification, or that it is ok not to struggle against sin and just
institutionalize it, is not really the gospel at all. It is a dangerous

Monday, June 19, 2006

Editorial on Homosexual Bishops

Over the weekend, I saw an editorial about the current dispute in the Anglican Church over whether the church can ordain homosexual bishops, or at least whether they should keep talking about whether or not they should ordain homosexual bishops. The editorial urged that the church completely drop the dispute. It claimed that modern people have all sorts of problems that the church needs to deal with, and that the homosexual bishop issue is merely a distraction. The editorialist opined that no one cares about who their bishop is and that this makes absolutely no difference. The editorial claimed that church unity is more important than wedge issues that splinter the church.

I must say, I found this editorial amazing and unbelievable. How can truth not be important? How can a serious sin be acceptable for bishops to openly and actively participate in without confession or repentance? How can this be a course of action that does not make any difference? I am afraid that this editorial shows just how much many people in our world really are affected by modernism and its extension, post-modernism.

The only logical reason why you would think that the debate over ordaining homosexual bishops does not matter is if you do not believe there is any such thing as sin or objective truth. Or if you think that if there is sin, you also think it isn’t really important. Certainly that is the modern mindset. As Francis Schaeffer said, people are interested in personal peace and affluence. Discussing the s word (sin) makes them feel uncomfortable and not at peace. Hence, they would rather have none of it. Unity, love and peace are all O.K. to talk about because they don’t make them feel uncomfortable. Sin—whether it’s adultery or sex before marriage or business fraud or tax evasion or racial bigotry, or homosexuality—those things make people uncomfortable and they would rather not hear about it. Many churches today have decided to become so “seeker sensitive” that they oblige by avoiding talking about anything that makes their congregants uncomfortable. But in leaving out the whole counsel of God and in leaving out the Word of God, we effectively deprive people of sanctification. As Jesus said in His high priestly prayer, we are sanctified by the Word of God and God’s Word is true.

If we substitute the standards of our community or sub-culture for God’s Word, we effectively substitute a lie for the truth, and an idol for God. This may sound harsh, but if you actually read what Jesus said in the Gospels, He usually wasn’t very worried about making people feel comfortable. He was concerned about making people realize just how sinful they were and just how much they actually needed God. Only when we accept God on His terms can we really experience what He wants to do for us. Trying to come to God on our own terms is, in part, the very essence of sin—and because God is holy, sin separates us from Him. Certainly the biggest problem that many people have with the Gospel is that God wants people to come to Him on His terms. They don’t understand why Christ would have to die for their sins. But God expects us to accept the burden of dealing with Him according to His rules instead of ours. I suspect this may be part of the actual meaning of “taking up your cross” daily and following Jesus: we have to accept Jesus on His terms even when they seem socially shameful or embarrassing. By this I am not saying that Christians should justify rude, tactless or anti-social conduct. Those things can be sins too. What I am saying is that we need to start teaching people what the Bible really says and what it’s implications really are for life, rather than seeking to mold the Gospel message to our modern and post-modern culture. The forgiveness of sin we have in Christ can only come to us if we first agree with God about sin and our need for his atonement for our sins. Calling sin acceptable, especially calling an open lifestyle of sin acceptable for a church leader, is not loving. It is rejecting the very love God offers and that we share with others.

New Test for Embryos.

BBC NEWS Health Embryo test 'offers parents hope'

Today in BBC World Service News, there is an article on an embryo test that “offers parents hope.” The embryo test deals only with embryos existing in the lab prior to implantation in the woman. The new test is called Pre-Implantation Genetic Haplotyping, or PGH for short. Scientists take an embryo that has been created outside a woman through in vitro fertilization and remove a cell from the embryo. They treat the cell in order to cause multiplication and then compare the DNA in the cultured cells to DNA of the parents and siblings of the embryo. According to the article, they “look for markers that show an embryo carries two copies of these faulty units, or haplotypes.” They believe that the new test will allow screening for more diseases than old pre-implantation embryo inspection tests. If an embryo is found wanting, parents will have the choice of killing the embryo before it is implanted.

In vitro fertilization is already morally problematic for several reasons. Embryos are people. Contrary to the attempts of people to re-explain nature, there is no point at which a human being is not alive until it is dead. There is no such thing as “potential life.” Living sperm and living egg join to create a living embryo. That living embryo is a tiny human being that continues to grow and develop until it is killed. In vitro fertilization is problematic because it frequently involves the creation of multiple embryos that are either accidentally damaged or destroyed or that end up being left over after embryos are implanted in the woman to develop. These left over embryos are usually frozen and die essentially of gradual deterioration. Hence, in vitro fertilization is problematic because it leads to the intentional or accidental death of tiny human beings. Intentionally killing additional embryos after inspecting them for diseases adds an entirely new level of ethical dilemma to the process.

Certainly there are many very unpleasant genetic diseases known to humankind. But we don’t normally kill people because they have them. Killing them while they’re very small is undoubtedly easier because we do not see the human being involved. This has certainly been found to be true in military situations. It is much easier to kill someone with a handgun than with a knife. It is easier still to kill someone from a distance with a rifle. And it is far easier to kill someone you cannot see by dropping a bomb on them than it is to shoot someone who you can see through a rifle scope. The more removed we are from experiencing the person, the easier it is to dehumanize them, and the easier it is to snuff out their life without an extra thought. Because embryos are so tiny, it is easy to kill them without thinking about it. In fact, sadly, it is easy to kill them by accident. Embryos, both well and defective, do sometimes die natural deaths. But it doesn’t make things better to undertake processes that are likely to lead to additional accidental or intentional deaths. Still this is bitter medicine for parents who are having difficulty having children. If parents really understood that they were going to be killing several people in order to have a child, it is unlikely that they would take that risk or incur that certainty.

Technology is a wonderful thing. If we had to return to the technologies of 200 or 1,000 years ago, it is undoubtedly true that millions of people in the world would perish from starvation and illness. Technology makes it possible for many more people to live upon the earth and to live healthier, longer lives. It also makes our lives far more comfortable. I do not believe that any of those things are inherently immoral or problematic. What is immoral or problematic is when we decide that because we can do something with technology, we should. Anytime we adapt a technology for use without moral consideration, we are beginning to skate on thin ice. Unless we apply morality and the rule of law to our uses of technology, it is the technology which is using us, not we who are using the technology. Technology must always be evaluated and restrained by the rule of law, morality, and God’s design for humans beings and the universe.

This Wasn't In the Plan

This Wasn't In the Plan

This link has an article with comparative American death statistics from every major war of the united states. It has some interesting and some surprising information.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Book Review: Islam at the Crossroads

Islam at the Crossroads; Understanding it’s Beliefs, History, and Conflicts by Peter Marshall, Roberta Green and Lela Gilbert is an excellent book. It provides an introduction to the history of Islam and the way in which the history of Islam has contributed to the current crisis within Islam and between Islam and the West. The book is very manageable reading at only 113 pages. It is well-written and has an easy to read style. At the same time, the book takes a scholarly, accurate and dispassionate approach. It is not a work of propaganda or extremist views. Instead, it fairly presents the historical situation with Islam, including the interesting realities of more moderate Islam and the rapidly expanding danger of Islamic extremism.

Marshall et al explains the basic beliefs of Muslims, the history of Islam, and the various major divisions within Islam. They also dispel many of the myths concerning Islam. It is interesting to note, as the book reveals, that the vast majority of Muslims are not Arabs and do not live in the Middle East. The vast majority of Arabs are not Muslims, but rather Christians who live in the western world. And, while radical Islam is an extreme danger because of the spread of radicalism through Islamic media, Wahhabist-sponsored madrassas and social pressure from radicals, the numerical majority of Muslims are far more easy-going about their faith.

Islam at the Crossroads explains the motivations behind the current Islamist movement. Islam believed that they would have the blessing of Allah in conquering the world and forcing the world to either submit to Islam. For hundreds of years, Islam was largely successful. But on September 12, 1683, the Ottoman Turks were defeated in their last siege of Vienna. The history of Islam from that point was largely one of continued defeat. The western powers used their superior technology to slowly spread not only their economic influence, but their political hegemony. Nearly the entire Arab world came under the domination of European powers. While from a western perspective, the reach of colonialism has been destroyed, radical Muslims still see the hidden hand of the West in many of their countries. They believe conspiracy theories that claim the West is behind all of the failures, difficulties and indignities faced by Muslim peoples.

The radicals, per Islam at the Crossroads, are motivated by religion. They believe that the failure of Islam to conquer the world since the defeat of the Ottomans in 1683 has been due to insufficient doctrinal purity and religious practice among Muslims. Hence they seek to “cleanse” and “purify” Islam from practices and beliefs that they view as idolatrous and un-Islamic. They seek to return to a less pietistic view of Islam. The book does not dwell on the quite probable theories proposed by some authors, that the radical Islamists have been affected not only by Islam, but by the teachings of Heidegger, Niche, Marx, Lenin, the Nazis, and the existentialists. While rejecting modernity, the Islamists may, in fact, be very much the products of the combination of modernity. But Marshall and his co-authors do bring this topic up as well as touching on many other important factors surrounding the conflict between radical Islam and the rest of the world. They emphasize that this conflict is not only between Muslims and Christians, but between Muslims and Muslims. For the radical Muslims are unhappy with the more liberal faith of the majority of Muslims throughout the world. It is their goal not only to conquer the West and subject it to Islam, but to conquer their fellow Muslims ideologically and politically in order to force them to abide by their ideas of a “purer” Islam.

The book by Marshall, Green and Gilbert is quite refreshing. It discusses the entire matter in a very appropriate tone, while at the same time not ignoring any of the warts and wrinkles of Muslim history. It is also honest about what the West has done wrong, and about exactly what it is in the West that inflames the radicals in Islam. So often today, modern works about Islam and the radical Islamist movement are really seeking to forward other kinds of agendas (e.g. anti-globalism, socialism, isolationism, etc.).

Marshall and his co-writers also present a balanced view of the possible hope for the future of Muslim populations. Here in the United States, political commentators dealing with the Islamist issue tend to either be overly optimistic and believe that if we can merely introduce Democracy to Muslim countries, their populations will suddenly be like the anti-war protesters of the 1960’s in America and demand the cessation of all “violence and oppression” by their governments, a scenario which is in no way likely. On the other hand, others have suggested that because Islam is incompatible with democracy and republicanism, (ideas originating, in their current form, from the spread of Christianity) democratizing Muslim countries is impossible and they should be left to rule by totalitarian dictators who can hold sway over the masses and keep them out of mischief. This second view is not a very pleasant way to allow our Muslim neighbors to be treated and is unlikely to solve the problem since the existence of dictatorial regimes in the Middle East is usually blamed on the West and is one of the major grievances the Islamists actually have. Marshall and his co-authors recognize that ideas do have consequences and that religious ideas are often the fundamental motivation of peoples—especially Islamic peoples. But they also recognize that even people who believe in a religion like Islam can adopt or prefer governments that are better than the ones they currently have, even if they are not perfect.

Balance is important for dealing with the Islamist problem. Christians are correct in believing that a truly just government is maintained most easily by true believing Christians. This is because ideas really do matter. Christians believe in the fallenness of man and hence if they take their faith seriously, and are not co-opted by the beliefs of the world, they are unlikely to fall for various utopian schemes like Marxism or nationalist socialism that vainly seek to remake human nature. Our ideas about the sinfulness of mankind have led to our emphasis on separation of powers, checks and balances, the rule of law, and a humble view of government’s ability to recognize the truth or solve human problems. By contrast, the religious and historical experience of fundamentalist Islam seems to support absolutist rule by religious extremists. Nevertheless, the history of the world should tell us that even though people may have false religious beliefs, and even though those beliefs can and do undermine successful government, people who are not Christians are still capable of having governments within a whole spectrum of options.

As Russell Kirk has pointed out, the faulty religious beliefs of the ancient Greeks caused the instability and failure of their city states. The Greeks’ democracies did not prevent them from engaging in wars of aggression, defrauding their neighbor city states, and taking politically repressive measures against some of their best citizens. But the Greeks still had what we consider a flourishing culture that was more open to democracy, freedom of conscience, and the spread of truth than say, Saudi Arabia. Today we have imperfect but functional democracies in Japan and India, despite the false nature of the dominant religions in those countries. In addition, both nations have been relatively at peace during recent decades and have been relatively good neighbors for most of the world (the religious persecution of Christians and others in India being an exception). But places like Japan and India show that it is possible for countries to have better governments than the dictatorships of North Korea and, for practical purposes, Iran. What Marshall and his co-authors do not deal with in depth are potential solutions to the Islamist problem. They are certain that we should support moderate Muslims who have a more pietistic version of their religion than a militant version. They also believe that it is appropriate to oppose the Islamists with force. But that is where they stop. Their book is largely descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Ultimately, the only way that the Islamist threat will be permanently stemmed is if there is a complete change in the ideology of peoples in Islamic nations so that they shift permanently away from the views of the Wahhabis and toward something closer to genuine Christianity. Ultimately, people who live in the darkness of the Islamic world need Christ. And to what ever degree they will not fully accept the truth, they will still be better off in this earthly life to whatever degree they are persuaded to accept propositions that are true, even if they are not the key saving propositions concerning salvation in Jesus Christ. As a result, the main need of the Muslims is actually for spiritual and ideological influence. This is very difficult and delicate business since Muslin people are often deeply offended by even remote attempts at proselytization or conversion. But somehow, the gospel needs to penetrate Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations. And with the gospel we mean not only the basic truth of the gospel, but also the entire Christian worldview and the legal and political ramifications of that worldview. Democracy, republicanism, the rule of law, checks and balances, religious freedom and toleration, all need to be explained.

One simple means of doing this is by reaching out to people from predominantly Islamic nations who are already living here in the United States and elsewhere in the West. Many of the radical Islamists have spent time studying in the West, and the result was not good. They became more radicalized by what they saw as the decadence and corruption of the United States and Western Europe. Instead, we need people who are here from Saudi Arabia or Iran or Iraq or central Asia or south central Asia or Southeast Asia or Africa to see the love of Christ modeled and lived out by His people, by His church.

We cannot coerce people to accept the truth. Instead, we can engage them in dialogue and find out what they believe and why, and look for opportunities to share or for them to ask and receive good answers for what we believe and why. We can spread the truth about Christianity, law and politics among our own people (who are currently almost in need of the truth about such things as people from anywhere in the world). And we should be producing an translating into accessible languages like Farsi, Arabic, Turkic, etc. books, films, documentaries, motion pictures and television series that, in reasonable ways, present the truth about Christ, about natural law, about the rule of law, about human nature, about religious freedom and toleration, and about government. Americans have been doing the opposite to themselves for decades—preparing and promulgating television programs, motion pictures and novels that lead them to believe in a false version of human nature and to soften their opposition to sin and sinful lifestyles. These films and television series have often been subtle and clever in the way they have affected the mind of the populous. They have led to widespread toleration of sexual immorality, addictive lifestyles, radical consumerism, and other vices. It is time to turn the tables and to begin to use the tools of culture such as the novel, the motion picture and the screen play to gently move people in the opposite direction back toward Christ, and back toward truth. It needs to be understood that this needs to be done subtly and cleverly, just as our opponents have done. And we need to be careful to avoid being sucked into the worldview of modernity through the use of modern tools.

If we are to survive, we must not only defeat our immediate enemies on the battlefield, but we must persuade our potential enemies of as much basic truth as we can get them to accept. And, of course, in order to accomplish all of this, we must pray. Because ultimately, while God can use us to act, it is His sovereignty and providence will ultimately determine the issue. And on top of work and prayer, we obviously need to repent and turn from our own wicked ways. If Christians were truly living out their Christianity, Islam would appear much less attractive.

I highly recommend Islam at the Crossroads.

House Resolution on War

Thanks to Hugh Hewitt, who posted a copy of the House Resolution. It is amazing to me that so many democrat's voted against this language. The text is basic enough and ambiguous enough that even those who did not want us to invade Iraq, or who have legitimate concerns over whether the new Iraqi government will remain free and friendly in the long run could have signed on to this very basic statement of determination. The factual statements all seem correct, and a bit obvious.

Hewitt is right when he questions how reasonable Americans can vote for democrats if they are determined to loose the war or deny the basic facts about the global situation. While war is unpleasant and painful for all involved, you cannot base policy on wishful thinking. This resolution tells our enemies they cannot wait us out or frighten us out of the war. The democrat's opposition sends the opposite message if they become the ruling party.

I understand some people's opposition to the war. But now that we are in the war cutting and running or signaling surrender will not have better results.

Despite the pain and loss caused by the war, by historical standards it is actually going very well. People cannot be trusted to govern if they cannot see things as they really are.

Declaring that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.
Whereas the United States and its allies are engaged in a Global War on Terror, a long and demanding struggle against an adversary that is driven by hatred of American values and that is committed to imposing, by the use of terror, its repressive ideology throughout the world;
Whereas for the past two decades, terrorists have used violence in a futile attempt to intimidate the United States;
Whereas it is essential to the security of the American people and to world security that the United States, together with its allies, take the battle to the terrorists and to those who provide them assistance;
Whereas the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other terrorists failed to stop free elections in Afghanistan and the first popularly-elected President in that nation's history has taken office;
Whereas the continued determination of Afghanistan, the United States, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will be required to sustain a sovereign, free, and secure Afghanistan;
Whereas the steadfast resolve of the United States and its partners since September 11, 2001, helped persuade the government of Libya to surrender its weapons of mass destruction;
Whereas by early 2003 Saddam Hussein and his criminal, Ba'athist regime in Iraq, which had supported terrorists, constituted a threat against global peace and security and was in violation of mandatory United Nations Security Council Resolutions;
Whereas the mission of the United States and its Coalition partners, having removed Saddam Hussein and his regime from power, is to establish a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq at peace with its neighbors;
Whereas the terrorists have declared Iraq to be the central front in their war against all who oppose their ideology;
Whereas the Iraqi people, with the help of the United States and other Coalition partners, have formed a permanent, representative government under a newly ratified constitution;
Whereas the terrorists seek to destroy the new unity government because it threatens the terrorists' aspirations for Iraq and the broader Middle East;
Whereas United States Armed Forces, in coordination with Iraqi security forces and Coalition and other friendly forces, have scored impressive victories in Iraq including finding and killing the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi;
Whereas Iraqi security forces are, over time, taking over from United States and Coalition forces a growing proportion of independent operations and increasingly lead the fight to secure Iraq;
Whereas the United States and Coalition servicemembers and civilians and the members of the Iraqi security forces and those assisting them who have made the ultimate sacrifice or been wounded in Iraq have done so nobly, in the cause of freedom; and
Whereas the United States and its Coalition partners will continue to support Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives--(1) honors all those Americans who have taken an active part in the Global War on Terror, whether as first responders protecting the homeland, as servicemembers overseas, as diplomats and intelligence officers, or in other roles;(2) honors the sacrifices of the United States Armed Forces and of partners in the Coalition, and of the Iraqis and Afghans who fight alongside them, especially those who have fallen or been wounded in the struggle, and honors as well the sacrifices of their families and of others who risk their lives to help defend freedom;(3) declares that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq;(4) declares that the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq;(5) congratulates Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and the Iraqi people on the courage they have shown by participating, in increasing millions, in the elections of 2005 and on the formation of the first government under Iraq's new constitution;(6) calls upon the nations of the world to promote global peace and security by standing with the United States and other Coalition partners to support the efforts of the Iraqi and Afghan people to live in freedom; and(7) declares that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Book Review: David Wells' God in the Wasteland

I recently completed David F. Wells’ excellent book God in the Wasteland; The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. This book was intended as a sequel to the author’s earlier book No Place for Truth. The book is particularly good and makes a variety of excellent points. Wells’ central point is that the church is too affected by secular culture and seems almost unaware of the effects the world is having on it. Among these effects is that the church no longer takes morality, character or theology seriously enough. Instead, people who call themselves Christians tend to really be consumers who assemble an eclectic set of religious beliefs to their own liking. Many churches in turn seek to cater to this because of their very modern attitude that all problems in life can be dealt with through psychology, management and marketing (even though this is not true). Wells correctly identifies the solution to this problem as a re-emphasis on proper doctrine and good theology. If we are going to see the world as it really is, we need to look to God and seek Him first. If we begin to see God clearly, everything else will come into proper perspective. Wells suggests that we have underestimated the holiness of God and failed to fully appreciate His transcendence, while at the same time we have overemphasized the imminence of God to the point of seeing Him as a magical genie who exists to provide us with self-fulfillment and what Francis Schaeffer would call “personal peace and affluence.” (Speaking of Schaeffer, his classic The Church in the 20th Century is an even more excellent book on the same sort of subject.)

My only criticism of Wells is two-fold. First, he is very critical of the structure of modern capitalism without what I would consider the necessary disclaimers. While it is true that there are things in this economic system that hurt the poor and create among ordinary people an attitude that everything is for their personal benefit, it is also true that every other economic system known to the world has even worse side effects, drawbacks and problems. Perhaps Wells is well aware of this, but I don’t believe that he addressed it adequately in the book. One got the impression that it might be that it would be a happy thing to return to feudalism or to have socialism. Under those systems the poor are even worse off and there are even greater inequities and problems. But this first criticism of mine is not a criticism of what Wells said, but rather, of what he did not say.

Second, in some ways Wells is affected by the very modernism he criticizes. He criticizes the modernism of Hobbs, while falling at times into what appears to be the modernism of Rousseau. At least that is the impression created in my mind by the tone of his critiques of modernism and post-modernism. Part of his own modernism is also his use of extensive polling data. A close examination of the questions of the polling data shows that they were overly ambiguous and could be interpreted as resulting from a variety of internal polling phenomena as opposed to being an accurate reflection of the worldview and thought processes of the people surveyed. Since Wells did not write the surveys, he had to take what he was given. But I am not sure that the data he had to work with are completely accurate or explainable in the ways he supposes.

Nevertheless, these are minor quibbling criticisms. Overall, this is an excellent book and I recommend that people read it. Wells is really correct in stating that we need to recognize that we have been overly affected by the assumptions of the world in which we live. We have too often come to assume that “if it works for me” that is enough to accept something or believe in it. At the same time, we allow other people to do “what works for them” without criticism or objective evaluation. Ignoring the fact that God is the center and meaning of life, we effectively deprive life of its meaning, living as though we were “like those who have no hope.” We have been far too willing to compromise doctrine and objective truth in order to get a larger market share of Christians attending our church. We have been far too willing to conform to the group expectations of the world while at the same time being individualistic and rebellious against God’s moral principles.

While Wells’ theology would cause him to reject the label of prophet, his book is a timely, prophetic scolding of an errant church. Instead of seeking market share, the church needs to seek God and take both God and His revealed word far more seriously. God’s truth and commands need to be more important to us than the “felt needs” of our post-modern congregants. As I have often said in this blog, we need to return to a belief in and pursuit of objective propositional truth. We need the real Jesus, the God of the whole Bible, not an idol that mirrors our own desires. We need sound theology based on what we can see in the Bible, not a philosophy of how little we can know because we focus on man. God must be the center.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Movie Review: Second Hand Lions on DVD

This weekend I saw a videotape of the movie Secondhand Lions with Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. I do have one criticism of the movie in that it did include some post-modern philosophy. People are not basically good, they are basically bad. But you should treat them as though they were good even though they are not. Next, the film implied that you should sometimes believe things that are false because this is useful and good for you and others. I have to disagree with that. Noble truths like the importance of virtue and honor (so long as it is God’s definition of virtue and God’s honor) and the unimportance of things like money and power by comparison are believable because they are really true, not merely because it is inspiring to believe them though false. But this minor criticism apart, I thought the movie was really delightful. Here you see a tale of a boy growing up that involves his growth in morality and character rather than the loss thereof. In addition, the spirit of adventure, the masculine approach to things, and the unabashed willingness to accept the virtuous use of force all made the movie quite delightful. It is especially wonderful that obvious vices were not thrown in to counterbalance the virtues of the two old uncles. I only wish I had known more about the film while it was in theaters.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Slipping Down the Slope

Critics of Christian approaches to bioethics often complain that the slippery slope argument presented by Christian ethicists is inaccurate—that society is able to set a definite point along the slope between what Christians want and chaos and anarchy, and to maintain that position. But we had yesterday, on the front page of the well-known British newspaper, The Guardian, more evidence that western society is slipping down the slippery slope. A British ethicist, one Professor Doyal, is advocating that in the instance of patients who are no longer able to respond and choose for themselves, doctors should be able to exercise active euthanasia without consent. In other words, if a person has a painful disease and is in so much pain that they cannot lucidly respond to a question about whether they would like their life ended or not, the doctor may choose to actively dispatch them by injecting them with poison rather than merely waiting for them to die by natural means. Or if someone is on a feeding tube or on hydration by IV, rather than wait for them to starve or dehydrate, the doctor, according to Professor Doyal, should be allowed to choose for the patient by injecting them with poison and hastening their demise. Doyal actually argues that allowing people to die from want of water or dehydration is like a father allowing his drowning infant to drown until dead. He is, in a sense, correct that withholding food and water from patients who are not in the process of immediately dying is in fact an unethical practice. But giving people poison rather than waiting for them to die from dehydration is not more ethical. So much for holding fast on the slope.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pain and Christ

My apologies to any of you who regularly look at my blog. I have not been able to post anything for a couple of weeks. My wife was diagnosed with a growth on one of her ovaries and we had to put her in for an almost immediate surgery. God was merciful and answered our prayers yes. The mass removed was not cancerous and she has been recovering very smoothly. My time staying with her in the hospital though was a constant reminder of the degree of human pain and suffering. Julia’s pain was happily easily controlled and she was able to go on Acetaminophen after the second day in the hospital. This was not the case for many of the other patients there. There were many people who were crying out in severe pain from time to time. Others moaned quietly. I saw people coming and going in the lobby who were dealing cheerfully with their illnesses and others who seemed surrounded by a black cloud of despair. While many of the conditions were invisible to the eye, there were those whose conditions had caused grotesque deformities of one type or another. All of this just reminded me of the vast degree of pain and suffering in the world.

I have to admit that I’m a little reluctant to talk about human suffering because one always has the apprehension that whatever one says about it will be put to the test with additional suffering for oneself. No one likes suffering. And indeed, I think there is merit in reducing people’s suffering. I don’t think that it is inherently holy or beneficial to suffer under all circumstances.

It is nonetheless true that God does sometimes use suffering in order to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. He sometimes uses suffering to get through to us. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts at us in our pain. This has certainly often been true in my own life. When I have been in pain, I have definitely been more diligent in seeking the Lord than during times when I have been too comfortable to remember Him. Since then I have attempted to make it my goal to seek the Lord constantly in the hope that additional pain will be less necessary. Pain also sometimes comes about because of sin. In fact, really in a sense all suffering comes about because of sin, but in different ways. Sometimes we sin because we’ve done something that causes the pain that we ultimately suffer. If someone eats too much, they then gain weight and then suffer the health problems associated with overindulging. (This tends to be my problem.) However, not all suffering is caused directly by our personal sin. The book of Job clearly has as a major theme that not all suffering is actually caused by the sin of the individual who suffers.

Human sin in general is what has allowed suffering to enter the world. It is because of the sin of Adam and of all who sinned after that God has had to bring death and pain into the world. God is so holy and human sin is such an affront and an abomination to God that the whole of all the terrible human pain and suffering that is experienced by the whole of mankind is not enough to satisfy the just desserts of sin. Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ upon the cross—the atonement by a perfect and infinitely valuable victim—was able to counterbalance the well-deserved wrath of God for human sinfulness. Since apart from Christ all human beings literally deserve to suffer eternally in hell, we cannot ever say with complete honesty that human beings do not deserve the horrible suffering that they experience here in this life, since that suffering is far less than they will experience eternally if they reject the grace of God. But this does not belittle the cost of suffering or the horror of it. Instead, it should serve to magnify the amazing quality of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace. The amazing thing is not how terrible the suffering caused by human sin is, but rather that we serve a God who was willing to suffer in our place and who feels and understands our pain because He too became human, lived among us, and suffered in the ways that we suffer. He did this even though He deserved only glory, laud and adoration and not pain and suffering.

The sad thing about human suffering is not merely that it occurs, but that in some people it seems to drive them further away from God rather than driving them to God. Certainly suffering should drive us to Christ for He is the only person who can ultimately dry our tears, heal our hurts and take away our pain. While human physicians can seek to mitigate pain and to extend our feeble lives for a few years or possibly decades, they cannot prevent death and they cannot ultimately prevent all pain and suffering. Because we live in a sinful world, a fallen world, we suffer. But Christ has lived, died, risen, and lives so that we do not need to suffer forever, so that when He comes, we can be resurrected and live and reign with Him. And between the time of the death of the body and the resurrection of the body we can be with Him in spirit, and with Him there is no pain because He is life and healing itself. One who suffered for us and indeed suffers with us will one day make an end to all of the suffering of those who put their faith and trust in Him. It is a mystery that sometimes we receive the partial fruits of that healing in this life when God intervenes to help us get well or to eliminate the source of pain, and yet sometimes we will not experience it until we go to be with the Lord. Yet either way, whether by foretaste or in the final consummation, it is Christ who takes away our pain and who makes us whole, and it is only because of Christ that the pain and sufferings of life are bearable and can be faced with courage.