Monday, July 31, 2006
At the link is an article about Stafford Texas - a small town of seven square miles and 19,227 souls that wants no additional churches because it wants more tax revenue. This is a very common problem today. But it is an error of perception rather than a real problem.
City fathers who see tax money as more important than anything else often see any number of churches as too many. In Stafford they are crying out about 51 churches. But that is only one church for every 377 people. In a Texas town like Stafford it is easy to guess that more than half of the people attend church. That could make Stafford churches a bit crowded. According to Wes Roberts, for the 350,000 churches in North America, the average attendance around 110 - 135 people. To look at a radically different sample, the Anglican Diocese of London has 479 churches attended by 71,400 people - an average of 149 people per church - much closer to what the number must be in Stafford. There are not a bizarre number of churches in Stafford for the population.
Besides, the city fathers complain about the wrong thing. They claim that most of the people attend church in Stafford are from outside of town. But why is that bad? While all these people are in Stafford is it not likely that they stay for lunch at local restaurants, by gas at local stations, see local specialty stores for return later in the week, and thereby spend far more money and pay far more sales tax than the 19,227 residents of Stafford are even capable of doing? Should not the city be happy it has a way to lure non-citizens into the city limits to spend their cash there? Besides, Stafford has no property tax, So they are not losing taxes because the land is occupied by exempt non-profits. If there are not enough businesses for the demand maybe the city fathers should open some new businesses instead of trying to chase out new potential customers.
But even more important is the influence of churches. If Christianity is true, peoples eternal life and their earthly discipleship is more important than almost anything else. Data will show that people who regularly attend church commit fewer crimes, are healthier, and happier. Well churched towns have less of a need for social services. So cities should want Christian churches, not despise them.
The problem with Stafford is, like much of secular liberal America, they do not see things as they really are. If they did they might be praying for a few more churches.
The linked article in the Guardian is on an English court's decision not to recognize the relationship of a lesbian couple "married" in Canada as a marriage under English law. There are a number of encouraging quotes from the opinion. The court also concludes the European Convention on Human Rights supports marriage between one man and one woman. The court says England has accommodated same sex relationships under a separate name and law, so it is not treating homosexual couples as inferior, just recognizing they have a different type of relationship.
Of course dignifying homosexual relationships in law is problematic just as it would be to license theft, murder, or polyamory. The court also takes the perilous step of basing the ruling, in part, on the opinion of the majority of people and nations. But at least the court recognized that marriage under the common law means a relationship of commitment between one man and one woman, that usually makes provision for raising children effectively with the influence of both a father and a mother. Other partnerships are not marriages, whatever they may be.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Real Cures or False Hope?
by Dan Lungren
I am one of seven children. I'm the second oldest. My brother John is 2 years and 2 days older than I. We grew up together closer than any other members of the family. 15 years ago, my brother developed Parkinson's. I've learned a lot of things from my brother ... most of all that there's a difference between right and wrong. There is a moral dimension in most of the serious issues that we must face. HR 810 would permit federal funds to be used for research on embryos that were created in vitro for fertility treatments. Such human embryos are said to be eligible for destructive research, since they are doomed to die anyway. Applying this logic, one could deem prisoners on death row eligible organ donors, since they too are going to die anyway. Proponents of the bill claim it offers real hope for those suffering from debilitating diseases. This hope has so far proven illusory. Despite 25 years of animal research on embryonic stem cells, the dramatic predictions made by its proponents have not been realized. This is in large part due to problems relating to tissue rejection and the tendency for tumor formation. Contrast this with the results of adult stem cell research. Currently treatments for 72 diseases are being carried out with human patients. And these treatments have not required the destruction of human embryos. Many of my colleagues who supported HR 810 inexplicably voted against funding for alternate sources of pluripotent cells - cells which are able to differentiate into virtually all cell types in the human body. Some adult and cord blood stem cells have demonstrated the capacity to be pluripotent. A recent article in Nature magazine identifies studies in Japan, Germany and California indicating that pluripotent stem cells can be derived from innovative technologies such as manipulating adult cells so that they begin to act like embryonic stem cells. Would I like to support embryonic stem cell research without a question of ethics because it might assist my brother? Sure. Would I like to see embryonic stem cell research in the area of cancer where it might have helped one of my sisters who has had cancer? Yes. Would I like to see it in terms of research of cancer that plagues 4-year-old children like my nephew? Of course. But can we divorce all of that from the ethical norm that we must present here? Of course, we cannot.Even if embryonic stem cell research should someday prove effective, the destruction of one class of human beings for the benefit of another class of human beings raises the most telling ethical considerations. Human life should never be considered a means to an end. We must never fall prey to the ethical failures exemplified by the Tuskegee experiments where nearly 400 subjects, most of them poor black sharecroppers, were left to die from the ravages of syphilis. It is crucial for us as nation to stand firm for an ethos that innocent human life should be protected as an end in itself. True scientific progress entails evaluating not only what we can do, but what we should do.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Exactly what constitutes a regularly constituted court? The Geneva Convention which does apply to international conflicts and not to terrorists, does provide that prisoners of war who commit crimes while incarcerated are to be disciplined under the legal system that applies to the armed forces of the detaining power. (See the Handbook of Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflicts by Dieter Fleck.) Minimum standards related to this, according to international law expert Dieter Fleck, are quite minimal: “No prisoner of war may be punished or disciplined more than once for the same act (Article 86 GC III). Prisoners of war may not be sentenced to any penalties except those provided for in respect of members of the armed forces of the detaining power for the same acts (Article 87, paragraph 1 GC III). Prisoners of war shall be given an opportunity to present their defense (Article 96, paragraph 4 & 99, paragraph 3 GC III). Collective punishment for individual acts and cruel punishment are forbidden (Article 87, paragraph 3 GC III).” (Fleck, The Handbook of Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflicts, section 725, page 359.) Even though the court set up by the president to try the Guantanimo Bay detainees was not exactly like the courts used by our armed services, they would have met these basic minimal due process guarantees. This gives a good idea of exactly what due process guarantees would actually be required by international law. But as Rabkin has pointed out correctly concerning the court’s opinion in Hamdan, “No justice claims that Congress was bound to authorize procedures consistent with the court’s interpretation of Geneva’s standards. No justice claims Congress was even bound to accommodate anyone else’s understanding of Geneva’s standards.” As Rabkin also points out, it is well established precedent that such standards can be set by an act of legislation even if the legislation is contrary to a treaty it will control. Standards about what is actually involved here, people who have committed war crimes, are much more fuzzy. For example, Dieter Fleck says, “Thus it remains unanswered, for example, whether a prisoner of war may be convicted for a war crime if the sentence for the act had not been set out at the time the act was committed.” (Dieter Fleck, The Handbook of Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflicts, section 724, page 258.)
The court admits both that military tribunals have been convened in the past by military officers, (Hamdan, page 26) and that Chief Justice Chase of the Supreme Court suggested that “the president may constitutionally convene military commissions without the sanction of Congress in cases of controlling necessity” (Hamdan, page 28). In light of historical practices, it is quite likely that the phrase “regularly constituted” in general Article 3 of the Geneva Convention simply means constituted according to normal procedures due process or appropriate government power. The contrast would be to forms which do not have official authority. For example, if a group of soldiers in the field decided that they would hold an impromptu tribunal and do in certain of their prisoners for war crimes without any authority to do so, that would be a violation of the provision requiring regularly constituted tribunals. By contrast, a tribunal constituted within the president’s power as commander in chief under the normal laws of war or a tribunal constituted by congressional action could be “regularly constituted.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s majority rejected this argument. Despite its oft common insistence today on viewing the laws of other nations or the international actions of other nations in interpreting our own Constitution, the Supreme Court does not look at the actions of other countries with respect to military tribunals or commissions.
The Court argues sighting a well-known treatise on military law by Winthrop that the current military tribunals do not fall under the major categories for which military tribunals are used: Marshall Law, occupation and trial of war crimes. They claim that “none of the overt acts that Hamdan is alleged of committing violates the law of war.” It also argues that an offense against the laws of war must have been committed both in the particular theater of war and during the relevant conflict. The High Court infers that Hamdan might have engaged in his conspiracy prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
This does bring up a problem which is created by the nature of Islamic extremism. The Islamist extremists as a rule violate the laws of war all the time. That is how they conduct warfare. They attack and kill civilians, they do not wear uniforms, they do not identify themselves, they do not work under a centralized identifiable command structure associated with the authority of a nation state, their attacks are not proportional, they do not protect those who are captured or rendered hors de combat (instead they torture them and cut their heads off), they do not have rational and achievable war goals (world conquest is not exactly achievable), they utilize neutral locations such as hospitals and mosques for the storage of weapons and the planning of attacks, they deliberately place military targets in private homes, hospitals and other locations where civilians will be killed if the targets are attacked, and while they may have certain semi-legitimate historical grievances, their essential cause is fundamentally unjust from an objective perspective. In other words, Islamic extremism is an organized movement dedicated to violating the laws of war. Participating in an organization which supports this kind of activity ought to be characterizable as a violation of the law of war in itself. This is exactly what the indictment says: that Hamdan conspired to participate in an organization that was doing things that are in fact actually violations of the law of war even though the indictment does not specifically lay that out.
If it is the case that current international law is not adequate to create a separate category for radical Islamic fighters working for Al Qaeda and other similar organizations, then a new category needs to be explicitly created. The difficulty with doing so is that undoubtedly many Islamic countries will not agree to international treaties creating a new category. In addition, countries like the Soviet Union and China will find it in their interest to harry the United States and the West by denying the existence of a new category. They have the power to simply act extrajudicially and do whatever they want. They know that the United States is hampered by law and that by refusing the existence of a category that explicitly deals with Islamic terrorists, they will effectively hurt the United States politically and weaken it internationally. Somehow the United States needs to act to ensure that such a category in international law is created. Just as in the past it was recognized that piracy was in a special category and that pirates could be hung on the spot because they were per se in violation of the laws of nations and civilized conduct, it needs to be recognized that organizations like Al Qaeda and their followers deserve a special categorization different from that of soldiers, spies or civilians. It must also be recognized that the exigencies of dealing with organizations like Al Qaeda are completely different from those of dealing with the army of a nation state. Al Qaeda’s methodologies involve the violation of all laws of war and civilized conduct. As a result, any communication by detained Al Qaeda personnel with their companions is likely to result in severe damage to the cause of fighting them.
With a normal army, the letters a prisoner of war writes home to his family are not going to help the enemy’s war effort. But with an illegal underground organization like Al Qaeda, code words can be passed in letters, through attorneys or even through the Red Cross. These codes could easily result in severe harm to civilians. By the same token, because of their common violation of the laws of war, it is often difficult to identify an Al Qaeda combatant. They are not honest about their participation in Al Qaeda’s efforts. Instead, they frequently claim to be something other than what they are. This has already been seen with many of the people who were captured, sent to Guantanimo and subsequently released because they claimed to be innocent farmers who had been framed by jealous relatives or rival tribes. Once returned to Afghanistan, many of them immediately returned to combatant status and were later found bearing arms against the United States and the Afghan government. Originally, I think most commentators in favor of fighting the war on terror have through that the exigencies involved would justify merely bending the normal rules of war or recognizing that no rules applied since the normal rules of war did not, and proceeding with what needed to be done. As the war has already lasted five years and is likely to go on for many years to come, regularization and the creation of special categories and rules that deal with the exigencies of this kind of conflict is of paramount importance. While politically problematic, it needs to be done sooner or later. Obviously the current Senate of the United States is probably not well suited to dealing with this problem. But someone must.
Commentators and experts on international law need to stop dividing into categories of those who seek to hamper the war effort through international law and those who seek to argue away international law in order to facilitate the conflict. Instead, we need to come to an understanding that the conflict must be dealt with in appropriate ways that facilitate the war while making it clear what the legal basis for combating terrorists is. It may be politically unrealistic to think that the government of the United States is currently capable of handling this task. So many members of the opposition will do anything to help our enemies and nothing to compromise with those at the other end of the political spectrum. The backlash of anger and suspicion that results from those who legitimately seek to protect our country makes political discourse even more difficult. At the same token, international venues are even less likely to be fruitful for the reasons already discussed above. Perhaps legal scholars who favor combating terrorism could take the lead by developing a proposed system of categories and rules that both recognize the exigencies of this type of situation and clearly apply the rule of law in a way that prevents the current use of international law to circumvent the war against terror. Perhaps as things continue to deteriorate in the nations of Europe, the Europeans will eventually be willing to sign on to these new rules. Normally when confronted with exigencies they simply ignore the rules they are so eager to apply to others. (For example, French actions in the last few years in the Ivory Coast and their actions a few decades ago in Algeria.) Anyway, the Hamdan decision clearly opens the door for Congress to deal with at least the bare minimum issue of how Al Qaeda members can be legitimately tried. One hopes that they can do it without making it impossible to convict and punish people who are conscious violators of the laws of war and the rights of human beings, while still creating a process that will in some way enable someone to actually sort out innocent farmers from ruthless Islamo-fascists.
Undoubtedly Congress already thought they had already dealt with this problem. As the Hamdan court notes at page 38 of its opinion, the Uniform Code of Military Justice had incorporated by reference the common law of war. That ought to be enough. But under current usages of international law that seek to prevent the application of objective standards of justice and reason and instead focus on preventing rule of law abiding combatants from having combat, this provision is no longer working. The Supreme Court is using international law against our own country in a sense. Undoubtedly it hopes to protect innocents and to protect the liberties of human beings. But it did not have to make the decision it made.
Indeed, this is one of the most frustrating things about the Hamdan decision. As Justices Thomas, Scalia and Alito point out in their dissents, there are many ways in which the Court could have avoided making a decision in this case. At the very least, the Court could have exercised political question abstention and said that because this dealt with a highly political issue, the Court would abstain and instead leave it to Congress to enact new rules if it thought the president was violating its existing intentions. If Hamdan was not intended as a political decision, it certainly has been used that way by the media. You constantly hear news articles claiming that the court applied the Geneva Convention to the prisoners at Guantanimo. As we have seen, while there is a tiny portion of the Geneva Convention that the Court applied, that requiring basic humanitarian conduct, the vast bulk of the conventions, over 90% of their provisions, have no applicability to the Guantanimo detainees even under the broadest understanding of the Hamdan decision. The detainees are not people who work for a nation state. They were not in uniform. They were not under a systematic identifiable command. They did not abide by the laws of war themselves. As a result, they clearly do not come under the normal provisions of the Geneva Convention governing treatment of combatants. The Hamdan court never said they did. Nevertheless, in order to create political leverage against the Bush administration, the news media is happy to make statements that make people think the Court has said the Geneva Convention applies to the Guantanimo detainees.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Hezbollah started this particular war. They have fired far more than 2,400 anti-personnel rockets into Israel from locations within Lebanon. They have also invaded Israeli territory and captured and killed Israeli soldiers. It should be obvious that such acts are unjust and are acts of war. But what Hezbollah has done goes beyond mere war. Hezbollah is not the representative of the nation state. Nor are they an indigenous revolutionary movement seeking freedom from a tyrant. As a result, their status is inherently in violation of the laws of war. Second, Hezbollah is using unguided rockets which are aimed in a vaguely general way, not unlike the V1s and V2s used by the Germans during the Second World War. Such rockets can in theory be used against military targets. But they work much better against civilian targets since civilian targets are usually much larger and much “softer.” Hezbollah has deliberately targeted civilian targets throughout Israel with their attacks. The rockets used are designed specifically to cause human casualties. They are packed with buckshot or ball bearings designed specifically to kill and injure human beings. Deliberate use of unguided rockets as a terrorist weapon against innocent civilians and is also a violation of the laws of war. It is fundamentally unjust. As if all this wasn’t enough, Hezbollah does still more. They locate their rocket launchers and their other weapons caches in areas in which civilians will be injured and killed if anyone attempts to destroy a launcher or weapons cache. They put their rocket launchers in peoples’ houses and villages. They put them in mosques. In fact, Hezbollah has deliberately installed much of their military hardware in Christian communities and Sunni communities so that when these military targets are hit, people whom they do not value and whom they wish to arouse against Israel will be the victims. So Hezbollah is in effect waging war against the people of Lebanon. They have drawn the righteous wrath of Israel down upon the heads of their somewhat more innocent neighbors. At the same time, they profess to have no political goals against these neighbors, nor do they claim that the government of Lebanon is inherently tyrannical. As a result, their actions vis-à-vis Lebanon are also unjust and in violation of the laws of war.
Even if Israel is not always perfect, even if you believe that the world made a mistake in allowing the creation of the State of Israel (which I do not), even if you sympathize with the economic problems of the Palestinians (which are largely their own fault. If they invested as much money in business as they invested in terror, they would be doing quite well), it is still the case that the actions of Hezbollah weigh far worse in the balance.
Israel is quite just in seeking the military destruction of Hezbollah’s unjust and illegal force. They are justified in using whatever force is necessary to do so. It is unfortunate that relatively innocent people in Lebanon are dying because Hezbollah has been allowed to place their weapons of terror among them. But under the circumstances that simply cannot be helped. In the long run, the world will be better off is Hezbollah is eliminated as a force in the Middle East. If people cannot get away with unlawful terrorist tactics, perhaps they will try diplomacy or other tactics more in keeping with law and morality.
Naturally there are risks to Israel’s action. Their self-defense will alienate some people in the Middle East who are ardent fans of Hezbollah despite their methods. But one suspects that there is not really anything Israel could do to gain these peoples’ approval anyway. Second, because Hezbollah is effectively targeting Lebanon itself through their choice of emplacements, Lebanon is being degraded and will be less effective as a state for a period of time in the future. Again, this may have negative results in the short run. But, once again, it cannot be helped. The allies in the Second World War could not simply allow Germany to take over the world because innocent people would be killed if they responded. Likewise, we could not let the Japanese take over and dominate the world during the Second World War even though innocent people were killed in resisting Japan. There have always been innocent victims in war and no one should underestimate the heartache, pain and suffering that these people undergo. Evildoers cannot be allowed to get away with evil deeds simply because combating them will also cause a certain amount of unintended collateral human suffering. This is because the evildoers are creating human suffering to begin with. And human suffering deliberately caused is actually worse than human suffering caused indirectly. It may not seem to be the case to those experiencing the suffering, but it must, in fact, be true. When we have a cavity in our tooth, we are willing to experience pain at the dentist in order to prevent the further decay of the tooth. When we have decay among the world of nations, we must experience the pain of war in order to remove the decay and cancer that could easily cause even worse problems down the road. This is an unpopular thing to say in today’s world of moral equivalents. It is easier to try to claim that no one should ever use violence for any reason. But then doing this empowers the people who are willing to use violence despite our remonstrances.
What is particularly odd in today’s world is that people are often willing to excuse the use of violence by aggressors and then become upset about the use of violence against the aggressors. Likewise, if someone wisely seeks to prevent the aggressor from his announced and intended course of action, people disapprove of the preemptive use of force to stop the aggressor before he goes out and kills first. Neither of these objections really makes any sense even though they are understandable. When it is difficult to make moral choices and when people claim to have disagreements about morality, it is easiest to throw up one’s hands and claim that you cannot tell the difference. It is also much easier to appeal to the moral scruples of those who actually have them than to appeal to the moral scruples of those who are international criminals. But stopping the moral in their combat against the immoral merely empowers the immoral rather than ending war or combat. In a difficult moral world, we have to make difficult moral choices. Human motives are always mixed and human beings are always sinful and imperfect. No army or nation or people will ever be completely right in everything they do. All are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. But this does not mean that some groups and some violent acts are not worse than others.
This moral reality is well depicted in literature. One of the wonderful things about Tolkien’s trilogy, the Lord of the Rings, is Tolkien’s understanding of the moral complexities of war. In Tolkien’s world, men, elves, dwarfs and hobbits are all sinners. None of them are morally pure. All of them have fallen to unjust wars and squabbling with the other races from time to time and unjust wars among themselves. Nevertheless, the elves, dwarfs, men and hobbits which are essentially loyal to the free peoples of Middle-Earth, still have moral supremacy over the forces of Sauron and Mordor. The forces of Mordor no doubt believe they are revenging themselves for their defeat in past wars, for their lack of natural resources and for their general villanization by the free peoples of Middle-Earth. Perhaps it requires the iron hand of Sauron to unify their chaotic forces into an army that does not destroy itself. Nevertheless, this does not make Mordor less evil than the free peoples of Middle-Earth. Nor does it make them less worthy of being resisted. It is also the case that some men have been tricked into allegiance with Mordor . Their involvement with evil and their subsequent death is all the more tragic and sad because they could have lived like other free men.
Our human wars are clearly not as clear cut as the mythology of Tolkien. But there are still causes that are better than others and there are still justices and injustices in this world. While no one should say lets do evil that good may come of it, it is still good to resist what is more evil. Let’s always be eager to examine ourselves first and to seek God’s help to eradicate the evil in our own hearts. But let us also be unwilling to rise to the cause of those who are unjustly under attack or who are unjustly oppressed. These choices are difficult but not making them is a moral failing in itself. The exercise of all virtue and righteousness requires courage. Courage to face the choices we have to make, wisdom to evaluate those choices and see the world as it truly is, and the Word and Spirit of God to guide us in that endeavor.
Friday, July 21, 2006
One of the best comments on adult stem cell research that I have ever heard or read is on audio at the above link. Dan Lungren has made the best, most succinct and accurate set of arguments I have ever heard in just three and a half minutes. He expresses compassion and gives reasoned arguments for the truth. This is a model for bioethical discourse.
Lungren has really done credit to himself and greatly furthered the civil debate of this issue with this commentary.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Marshall also explains the proper relationship between the Christian faith and government. He notes that Christians should not be seeking a genuine theocracy, but cannot avoid expressing true ideas as part of their love for their neighbor in a participatory republic. Marshall deals with the issues of rights, civil disobedience, democracy and politics from a Christian perspective in a marvelously balanced way. He gives examples of the failures of both the right and the left to properly apply the truth in politics. He provides suitable anecdotes, the problems raised by these anecdotes, and illustrates in detail the classic understanding of the relationship between law and gospel. Marshall also warns us against the various types of idolatry inspired by life, culture and political action. But he is not afraid of political action. He explains the proper role of the church, the state and religious freedom. He debunks the current belief that true toleration is believing nothing at all and only endorsing religions that believe nothing significant. He also rejects the idea of a denomination controlling the government. He understands that there is a need to recognize the truth of Christianity and to use the truths flowing from Christianity in government despite the current hostility to doing so. But Marshall is sensitive to how this can be done effectively. He understands that while we should never compromise our principles, we must compromise in politics. Incrementalism will often gain us far more ground in the fight to love our neighbors than a steadfast insistence on all or nothing. He also understands the difference between law and morality, that a government cannot require all acts of virtue or punish all acts of vice. All human government is a tool for God to punish evil and reward good, but there must always be mercy and restraint involved since all of us are sinners and incapable of keeping the whole of God’s law. Marshall deals with some of the thornier issues in politics today including abortion. He also deals with the difficult questions of international law and international relations including the current problem with Islam and the ancient problem of war. Overall, I find Marshall’s book to be extremely satisfying and I am surprised that it is not more popular and more common among Evangelicals today.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Recently, a great deal of controversy has erupted as the Presbyterian Church accepted a report which encouraged its member congregations to use a collection of various phrases to describe the Trinity. Some of the sets of names in the report were at least arguably within reason, while others are anti-biblical and deeply troubling. The result of the report has not been a general applause for how advanced and civilized the Presbyterians have been, but rather horror on the part of the orthodox and mocking from the national press. The media laugh at people who call themselves Christians but who fail to believe in the basic tenets of Christianity. Even though I suppose they prefer those people to real Christians, they still know that what they are doing is in some way silly and enjoy mocking them in the public press.
What after all is in a name? Why are names important to us? Why are the names of God important to us? Claude Levi-Strauss contended that some names, such as those for race horses, are purely random and tell us nothing about what they identify. (As for his theory about race horses, I find that difficult to believe. While race horse names are odd, they are odd within a certain scope. No one calls their horse Molasses Molds’ Egg-Yolks.) Post modern writers sometimes claim that naming by another is an act of violence against the object named. This is largely because they resent the names that society has given to various people, things and groups. The ancients believed that a name gave you some kind of power over the person identified by it. And the descriptive value of names was taken seriously in ancient times. God gave a new name to Abram making him Abraham. Likewise, He took Jacob and gave him the name Israel. In the New Testament, the name of Saul becomes Paul and Simon becomes Peter. If one takes the Bible seriously, one would have to guess that there is something to naming. Adam, of course, named all the animals at God’s behest. This showed that he had authority over the animals and involved him in God’s creative process. The names that God has for Himself and the fact that Adam named woman are some of the factors that also relate directly to this controversy in the PCUSA.
Names of God in the Bible tell us something about Him. They reveal something about His nature and character. God tells Moses that He is “I Am.” This is often thought to show God’s self existence and transcendence. He who is who He is—life, being, immutable, eternal, forever, self-existent, self-explaining, self-revealing. Francis Schaeffer calls Him “the God who is there.” In Jesus’ identity as the Logos, we see Him as the revelation of God, how we see God, how we interact with God, how we know of God, how we think about God and how we think about everything. Jesus is the Word, the logic, the reason, the pattern, the order of God. In addition, He is the Anointed One, full of the Holy Spirit and chosen by God to be the redeemer of mankind. He is the Savior in His redemption of mankind. But Jesus is also identified in the New Testament as the Creator. “Without him nothing was made that has been made.” If you believe, as is pretty self-evident from the Bible itself, that the Bible is God’s revelation about Himself and that the names of God in the Bible are God describing and naming Himself, then the biblical names for God are pretty much all you really need. There are many of them, and they tell you a lot about God.
The difficulty for some people is that they’re not happy with God the way He is. For one thing, God as described in the Bible seems to them too patriarchal. Jesus is, after all, a man. As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, there is a man sitting on the throne of the universe, even though that man is also fully God. While in Genesis God does say “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the livestock and over the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female, He created them,” and although God does describe Himself through Jesus’ words as a hen gathering her chicks, the predominant language used for the Father throughout the Bible is also masculine. And in a world that is so eager to find the feminine to be divine as to believe hook, line and sinker the ridiculousness of the novel The Da Vinci Code, this masculineness of God is a difficult thing to accept. C.S. Lewis certainly thought that this naming of God told us something about God. He notes that while it is silly to think of God as masculine in the sense of masculine organs, there is something about the characteristics of masculineness that to paraphrase his words makes everything in the universe feminine by comparison to God in His masculinity. Hence the people of God are also almost always depicted as female. When God is unhappy with the unfaithfulness of His people, He describes them as an unfaithful wife. When in the New Testament the church is described, she is described as the bride of Christ. Indeed, the New Testament identifies marriage itself, the relationship between man and woman, as a metaphor or art type of the relationship between God and His people. It is indicated that the relationship between man and woman is what it is because in some way it was meant to express the relationship between God and His people. This, of course, meaning the way it was meant to be by God’s design, not the way sin has made it. And that is really the problem. We look at the relationship between men and women as affected by sin and we look at our culturally laden understanding of men and women as affected by sin and we see things that we don’t like. Sometimes, of course, we also see things we don’t like in God’s own order because of the sin in us. For either or both reasons, we become dissatisfied with what we understand to be the relationship between men and women and seek something else. We also sometimes seek a God who is someone else in order to give us what we think we want. The problem is that trying to remake God in our own image is idolatry. While there are many ways in which God condescends to us, we must ultimately accept Him as He is and for who He is. Any time we try to change who God is, we are not changing God, we are merely worshipping someone or something else, the one thing our God strictly forbids us to do. Only the real and living God can save us from His wrath and from our sins and from ourselves. No image of wishful thinking can provide real solutions to real problems, let alone lead us into eternity.
Names that try to say something about God that is not strictly biblical are problematic. And unfortunately, when surveyed, many of the names in the Presbyterian report do just that. Perhaps the worst is “compassionate mother, beloved child and life-giving womb.” This implies a degree of feminineness which is never attributed to God anywhere in the Bible. It seeks to enthrone a goddess in place of God and to worship the divine feminine in place of the divine. Likewise, some of the others like “overflowing thought, living water, flowing river” seem innocuous at first, but actually may convey to innocents the erroneous doctrine of modalism. Modalism is the idea that the Trinity is not really three persons, but rather one person who manifests himself in three different forms like ice, liquid water and steam. But the church long ago rejected modalism. The Bible teaches that God is one God, but He is also three persons. This is a difficult doctrine, but it is a biblical one. Modalism is not. Likewise, some of the report’s suggestions confuse the reality of other doctrines. Another one of the Presbyterian phrases is “Creator, Savior, Sanctifier.” The problem is that the New Testament makes it quite clear that Jesus is the creator, just as much as the rest of God. All of the persons of the Godhead are involved in the creation. In Genesis, we see the Spirit of God moving upon the waters. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the creator, and without Him nothing was made that was made. And the Father has always been associated with creation. So this phrase is also less than satisfactory. Another, “Rock, Cornerstone and Temple” interferes with other biblical imagery. It is the Christian who is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is not the Spirit that is the temple. In addition, when the Bible refers to the rock, it is usually referring to Jesus or to faith in Jesus, not to God the Father. Even “King of Glory, Prince of Peace, and Spirit of Love” is difficult because Jesus is in some ways the King of Glory as well as the Prince of Peace. In short, when people without the theological depth of the church fathers or the poetic powers of a William Shakespeare meddle with biblical metaphors, the result is mixed.
In our shallow and theologically naïve age, it is probably better for us to stick with the names of God described in the Bible itself lest we fall into error and confusion. This is not to say “give me that old time religion,” it is to say give me the Word of God, unsullied, unadulterated and unchanged. While not everything that we say or do is directly prescribed by the Bible, it is probably dangerous if we begin implying things about God that are not represented in the Bible. Presbyterians and other mainline churches are always worried about divisiveness. But they fail to rally around the one thing that can give them unity, the Word of God. Perhaps this is because the division is already there: a division between people who take God’s Word seriously, and people who only take their own word seriously.
As promised, so delivered. The President has wisely used his first veto to block a bill that would provide federal funding for killing human beings in the embryonic stage as part of questionable scientific experimentation. Bravo Mr. President.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
The new Pirates of the Caribbean movie is definitely not for small children. Perhaps it’s just me, (I have a thing about anemones, barnacles and other sea creatures growing out of people’s skin) but the sight of human beings being slowly transformed into collections of multiple sea creatures seems a bit too grotesque for children. In addition, this film sports an apparent voodoo priestess and multiple convincing attacks by a giant octopus-like creature that sinks ships in a single gulp. All of that said, the movie was interesting.
The cinematography, acting, humor, props, clothing and setting of Dead Man’s Chest all exceed the impressive standard set by the first film. The movie also continues an interesting tradition of the use of Christian archetypes. In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, we saw a curse that caused people to be deprived of all pleasure in life. The more they sinned, the less they got out of it. The only way they could be delivered from this curse was through the shedding of blood: the blood of the son of a particular father who had been partially responsible for placing the curse in the first place. Dead Man’s Chest continues this with multiple references to substitutionary suffering or punishment. The movie takes the idea of souls and damnation seriously. It also continues the theme that sin ultimately subjects us to slavery. On ther bad theology side it seems at times to say people are basically good. In multiple references, characters in the film say that they are praying or will pray about some particular problem. There is a man in one scene who is seen to have a cross and rosary beads and indicates that he does not fear death and judgment. His subsequent treatment may or may not be a rejection of Christianity depending on how you interpret the scene. It is ambiguous enough to fall either way. Likewise, there is a humorous scene involving a pirate reading the Bible. Or at least attempting to read the Bible. Nevertheless, a light or humorous treatment of Christianity is still less hostile than the way Christianity is commonly treated these days in television and motion pictures. This humor could even be spun in a positive way. I am curious if these things are Disney’s attempt to market its films to Middle American Christians or if, in fact, the writers of the film have some predilection to the use of universal archetypes from religion and philosophy?
In many ways the stunts in this film are more spectacular than those in the first. But I though the sword fighting scenes in the first film were still far superior to those in the current movie. While I thought the overall plot was a bit of a letdown, I am still looking forward to the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie when it comes out.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
This is very disappointing because human beings are human beings as long as they are alive and no matter how small, large, or decrepit. There is no question that when a living sperm meets a living egg it produces a living human being. While these young human beings sometimes perish naturally in the course of human reproduction, it is not right to intentionally mass produce and slaughter them for the purpose of highly speculative medical research. Bills that promote this research, even if they use existing embryos rather than creating new ones, they are still fueling the market for further research and putting pressure on society to allow the creation of new embryos for their destruction in future years. Even though those embryos left over from in vitro fertilization may be used for the research Frist seeks, that still does not make it right. Otherwise, the Nazis could have claimed they were justified in performing valuable medical research on the Jews, gypsies and Slavs they already intended to exterminate. But one cruelty does not justify another. Creating and freezing embryos as part of in vitro fertilization is wrong to begin with. Experimenting on the leftover embryos simply compounds the evil. And, it increases the possibility of demand for the creation of new embryos.
On top of all of this, stem cell research on adult stem cells and cord blood stem cells has been far more fruitful than that involving embryonic stem cells. In fact, not only have embryonic stem cells not been nearly as fruitful, they simply cannot do many of the things their backers claim. A good example is Nancy Reagan’s belief that stem cell research would help in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. In Alzheimer’s, human brain cells are effectively “gummed up” by a process we do not yet understand. Stem cells cannot be used to grow a new brain for an Alzheimer’s victim. As a result, it is highly unlikely that even if embryonic stem cell research is successful, there will ever be any kind of a cure for Alzheimer’s as a result.
Public policy needs to be based upon the difficult moral realities of life, not upon wishful thinking. While I fully sympathize with those who have deadly medical conditions and hope that medical science does discover treatments to heal them, I don’t think that killing other human beings, no matter how small they may be, is justified to further such medical treatments.
One of the issues brought up in the Hamdan case is the question of whether or not the detainees are covered by Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. It is thought to be important because Common Article 3 prohibits inhuman treatment of prisoners and requires certain due process rights. But as we will later see, it is possible that Article 3 does not apply to these prisoners. But that should not mean that they can be treated inhumanely or provided with no due process? No.
The Supreme Court’s attitude toward the Hamdan case shows one of the dangers of a positivist view of human law. If something has to be enacted by a treaty or statute or other document in order to have the force of law, then people who are not specifically covered by express positive law have no legal protections. Within the traditional Christian Natural Law view of human law, all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore are entitled to certain basic rights. These rights may not always be as broad as what the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to mean. But in some cases they are probably broader than what the Supreme Court has interpreted our Constitution to mean—such as in the right of the unborn to protection from intentional homicide.
The terrorists at
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Because of the view today that the Supreme Court is in some way the living oracle of a living Constitution, people pay a great deal of attention to every word the Court says in their opinions. Traditionally, this was not always the case. The part of a legal opinion which is actually binding as precedent and law is its “holding.” How to spot the holding of a case is sometimes a difficult thing to explain. Lawyers learn how to do it in law school through exposure to excerpts of thousands of judicial opinions. Attempts to create a foolproof method of extracting holdings on the part of legal scholars have generally failed. Let it suffice to say that the holding is the applied legal rule for the particular case. It is that logical, legal conclusion upon which the case hinges and without which the case could not be decided as decided. It is the particular bit of law that is fully sufficient to determine the outcome of the case and no more. Holdings can be interpreted narrowly or broadly but in theory it is always supposed to be the necessary thing about the case rather than the many superfluities in the body of the opinion. Extraneous matter beyond the holding is often useful in determining the Court’s attitude. After all, judges are learned experts in the law and their opinions are worth paying attention to. This is triply true of the Supreme Court since they are not merely learned experts but the final earthly court of appeal. But even with the Supreme Court, it is technically true that only the holdings of their cases are binding upon themselves and others. In the Hamdan case, it was not necessary for the decision in the case to look at the procedures to be used in the military commission once the Court had already decided that the power to create military commissions did not belong to the president. This, by the way, is an odd conclusion considering the very things that had been expected up to this point. But more on that later.
Given the Court’s holding, it now falls to Congress to create some kind of authority for military commissions and to set them up. Ironically, Congress thought they had already done this. And they thought that when they did it, they had prevented the Supreme Court from hearing an appeal of the Hamdan case. Reading through records of the congressional debate on the Detainee Treatment Act of 2205 would show as much. It was said on the floor of the House that the bill was contemplated to prevent the Hamdan case from proceeding to the Supreme Court (so I am informed by one of my friends in Washington who discussed the matter with people involved in supporting the debate). But the Court ignored the actual intent of Congress and created a loophole for themselves in the Detainee Treatment Act so that they could hear Hamdan v Rumsfeld in spite of Congress’ attempt to prevent them from doing so. In this sense, the Hamdan case is every bit as much an attack on the authority of Congress as the authority of the president. You haven’t heard that in the press though, have you? The press has been spinning the opinion as an attack on the president alone and in the ringing endorsement of Congress. The Detainee Treatment Act as provided in the Court’s own précis of its opinion, provides that “no Court…shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider…an application for…habeas corpus filed by…an alien detained…at Guantanamo Bay.” Hamdan is an alien detained at Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court maintained, however, that this did not apply to them because the habeas petition of Hamdan was already in process when the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 was enacted into law. And the Court noted that such laws are not retroactive. The problem in that the very history of habeas corpus law is that habeas corpus is a procedural matter and can, in fact, be affected retroactively. When the Congress has acted to deny the Supreme Court jurisdiction to hear particular writs of habeas corpus, they are almost always doing so with existing cases in mind. So, from the very foundation this case is somewhat suspicious. More to follow in the next posting concerning Hamdan.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Monday, July 03, 2006
Here is a link to information on the Declaration of Independence.
I hope and pray that all of you, and our blessed country, the United States of America, have a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration. God bless America and give her an even greater part in His great story!
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in our history. While the Constitutions sets out the rules we are to play politics by, the Declaration is the document that creates the nation. It recognizes a foundation for our government in God and His laws, the human rights created by God, and the consent of the governed.
Governments are God’s servants to limit evil and promote good in the temporal realm, in accord with His legal principles, through human laws that vary from polity to polity.
Human laws must be just to be valid. This is why the government derives ONLY its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Without God, there are no true rights. Rights created by men can be taken away by men. “Rights” implied from our equality alone, without God, lead to chaos, license, and behavior destructive of ourselves, our families, our associations, our communities, our states and our nation itself.
The consent of the governed to just laws and just government is also critical. Good government must have the support, participation, and oversight of the people or it will not remain good. The people must, as far as sinful people can, abide by God’s laws too, or their government will not remain good, if it remains at all.
The Declaration also lists concrete instances in which the government of England had violated the law of God, the rights of the colonists and others, and ignored the need for the consent of the colonists. This was no mere self interested revolution. The colonists knew these concrete acts implied England held a philosophy of government different from their own: one in which they and their neighbors could be treated like slaves even though the treatment had not yet escalated so far.
Many Christians believe the American war of independence was unjust. I believe they are wrong. A just war is a war for justice, when necessary and appropriate alternative means are no longer likely to be effective. The colonists had just cause as described in the Declaration and in history. They had suffered a “long train of abuses.” Their petitions for redress had been met with the force of arms and occupation. While there were a few incendiary patriots in Boston and elsewhere, America as a whole acted with patience and deliberation. Had England granted the colonists the rights of free Englishmen the war would have been avoided.
Here is the text of the Declaration:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offencesFor abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”