Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Prepare for refugees

Following the American re-deployment and drawdown from Viet Nam, thousands of people fled for their lives from Viet Nam. Many who did not flee were executed, imprisoned or sent to re-education camps. Many spent years after the fall of Saigon attempting to get out of Viet Nam and come to the United States. If American forces leave Iraq prematurely, the result is likely to be similar or worse.

If American retreats from Iraq and surrenders it as a theater in the war against Islamo-Fascism, all of the people in Iraq who strongly supported democracy, a moderate understanding of Islam, and freedom for women and religious minorities as well as everyone who is not a Muslim will be in danger for their lives. If the United States intends to withdraw as the Congress appears to be preparing to force the president to do through a web of binding and harassing laws and resolutions designed to prevent the effective continuance of the war in Iraq, then we must either prepare ourselves to watch hundreds of thousands of people be massacred, or to accept them here in the United States as political refugees.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why Federalism is not Enough

Recently one of the early candidates for president has said that he has switched from being pro-abortion to being pro-life. But news articles report that he bases his “pro-life” stance on federalism. He says that he believes that abortion is a matter for state legislatures rather than for the federal courts. This is still a problematic view. From the standpoint of a really pro-life position, there should be no right to abortion because unborn human beings are human beings and all human beings have an unalienable right not to be killed with malice aforethought and without justification or excuse. While supporting a federalist view of the problem or any regulations on abortion may be desirable incremental steps, the fundamental philosophical change which we need is recognition of the rights of all human beings at all stages of development.

At conception, a living egg and a living sperm come together to form a living human being - the kind of thing made in the image of God. Humans, even when very small, are due dignity, respect, and fundamental rights from the moment of conception onward. Even the body of a dead human being is entitled to a certain degree of respect, though not the degree of respect accorded to a living human being.

Until jurisprudence catches up with this scientific and moral reality, abortion will continue to distort American law and justice. The existence of a legal doctrine in which we decide that some human beings are not entitled to the protections of the law because they are at a particular stage of development or do not evidence particular characteristics is a delegitimizing factor weighing against the overall legitimacy of America’s regime and legal system. Until we fix this problem, we are going to continue to have difficulties as a nation and as a people. Devaluing human life always has consequences even though they are not always directly understood or observed.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Good News from D.C. - Republicans on House Judiciary Committee Protect Presidential Powers

There are some things you never hear about in the news media. One is when the Republicans actually do something right and show up the Democrats. This happened recently in the House Judiciary Committee. The Democrats were planning on hearings to savagely attack presidential signing statements. Signing statements are explanations of the president’s view of a bill given when the president signs the bill into law. The statement might say what the president believes the bill is designed to do, give the president’s opinions on the mischiefs the bill is designed to combat, or indicate how a vague portion of the new law is meant to be interpreted, or even say that the president expects a portion of the law to be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Some legislators hate presidential signing statements because they form a competing intent behind the bill. One of the major accusations his opponents have had against President Bush is that he has issued many signing statements.

The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did not prepare well for their hearing. The hearing was designed to attack signing statements and they had witnesses lined up to complain about the practice. What they did not really do was look into the long-term history of signing statements. The Republicans did do that and came prepared. The Republicans laid out that presidents had been issuing signing statements regularly since the time of Andrew Jackson. It is not a new practice or a practice unique to Republican presidents.

Hooray for the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee! In this instance they undermined the Democrats’ attempts to create a constitutional crisis by enacting legislation designed to change presidential powers without amending the Constitution.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Movie Review: Miss Potter

Last week I had the opportunity to see the delightful film, “Miss Potter.” Miss Potter is the story of the author of Peter Rabbit and other well-known children’s stories. Beatrix Potter not only wrote the stories, but painted the illustrations herself. She was also unusually involved in overseeing just how the books were put into print. Her children’s books became the best selling children’s books in history. And, Beatrix Potter also became a major conserver of farmland in the lakes district of northwestern England.

The film is a picture of a large portion of Miss Potter’s life. It is essentially a biographical film. It contains tragedy and sadness as well as triumph and success. It also has a great deal of humor and romance. The acting in the film is excellent and Renee Zellweger does an outstanding job of portraying the endearing but somewhat eccentric Miss Potter. The costuming, scenery, furniture and locations are also done with care and perfection. It gives us a window into the whole Victorian world with its odd class system and opportunities.

The movie is not really a children’s film because of the subtle sophistication of the humor and story and the presence of great tragedy. There is also a possibility that children will misunderstand and misapply a “carpe diem” (seize the day) lesson from the film. This film is extraordinary in that it contains nothing that is really bad or objectionable compared to the vast majority of modern films. It is exactly the sort of film that Christians are always saying people should make (apart from its not containing any overt elements of faith or Christianity). It is a sweet, delightful movie and I really congratulate everyone involved with it on their courage in making such a wonderful film and not trying to add strange, post-modern elements to it. There are a couple of moments that I think people might attempt to misinterpret and use to insert their own notions. But they are moments that are certainly possible in the Victorian world and would not have carried any extra baggage at that time. They would have simply been innocent and natural.

The film also involves a kind and gentle father and a mother who is overly ambitious for her daughter’s social standing. The film is a true-to-life depictions of the world in which Miss Potter lived.

Monday, February 05, 2007

God and Governing: A Conference on Ethics, Virtue, and Statesmanship

Trinity International Universities' California Campus is putting on a conference on Ethics and Government. The text bellow, taken from the Trinity site describes the reason for the conference. An ad for the conference appeared in Christianity Today and other magazines this February. Go to for additional information.

Evangelical Christians and Politics
According to the news media, evangelical Christianity obtained an unparalleled level of political power in Washington, D.C., during the last fifteen years. Newspaper and magazine editors have warned of "theocracy" and of the coming of a regime of oppressive Christian morality. But, not only have these warnings not been justified, evangelicals themselves have been disappointed with the ineffectiveness of their political contacts in Washington.
Professed friends of the so-called "religious right" have been caught up in ethical scandals. Leaders associated with evangelical Christianity in the popular mind have alienated many people through their intemperate statements and actions. Despite claims of evangelical power, little or no progress has been made upon implementing the perceived agenda of evangelical Christians on moral issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, bioethics, the protection of the family, care for the poor, ending international religious persecution, securing educational freedom, and caring for the weak and powerless among us. Instead, many voices claim that evangelicals have been used and manipulated for their votes and money without policy makers having any real intention of following through on their promises to the evangelical community.
Appropriate Christian Involvement
We know from the Scripture that we must not place too much hope in human governments. The interests of the kingdom of God are furthered by the preaching of the Gospel and by discipleship, not by the work of government. But the Scripture does command us to seek justice, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to seek freedom for the oppressed and liberty for the captive, to rescue those being led away to death, and to stand up for the powerless and the widow and orphan. These biblical injunctions would seem to encourage some political involvement, especially in a republic.
But why, if evangelicals have really been so powerful, have they been so ineffective in helping the poor and oppressed? Why has it been difficult to achieve reasonable limited results?
Practical Answers
This conference on God and Governing seeks real practical answers to these questions. We do not gather to condemn all Christian calling to statesmanship and politics, nor do we gather to validate the false claim that the kingdom of God can be brought in through the work of human governments. Instead, we seek to discuss the practical ways in which Christians can execute their duty to love their neighbor and help the oppressed, in the context of politics, with greater effectiveness and greater glory to Jesus Christ.
At the God and Governing Conference, which is being held at the Westin Hotel South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California, major figures from the Christian world of ideas will wrestle with this difficult topic. In addition to the major presentations and speeches by the likes of Os Guinness, Dallas Willard, David Wells, Paul Marshall, Vishal Mangalwadi, and Stephen Kennedy, there will be critiques and discussions by panel members who will include pastors, lawyers, and Christian professors.
This opportunity for finding and renewing a commitment to mature character, virtue, and just purposes in Christian involvement in politics should not be missed by Christian leaders who have an interest in political or media affairs. At the edge of the presidential primary season, this conference is provocatively timed relevant to the questions Christians will need to be asking as they go to the polls and if they go to Washington.
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Is War the Enemy?

One of my friends was recently having a discussion with me about the Iraq War. In this discussion I talked about the terrible situation in which the rise of Islamo-Fascism threatens the entire world. But my friend wanted to insist that Islamo-Fascism is merely an illusion and a matter for law enforcement rather than a matter for military action or diplomacy on a massive scale. Instead, he’s very worried about the American military and its power. He said, “To my way of thinking, war is the enemy.”

War is the enemy? I didn’t say much at the time but it occurred to me that this is something like saying “surgery is the enemy.” After all, tens of thousands of people around the world die in surgery every year. Even when successful, surgery causes immense pain and suffering. Surgery frequently has lasting unpleasant side effects. But would we all be better off without surgery? No, because there is something worse. Surgery is how we fight certain kinds of disease. War is really the same sort of thing. If we decided that when any resolute and armed group of people desire to loot, rape and pillage some other part of the world, we would merely let them do whatever they wanted to their heart’s content, there would be no wars. But there would be something worse. There are actually some things worse than war. While there are some wars in which groups mutually bent on pillage fight it out between each other, and while it is also true that civilizations are never perfect or holy, it is often the case that wars occur between one armed group bent on pillaging and enslaving another and a group that is resisting being looted and pillaged. America has been involved on behalf of other countries that are the target of looting and enslavement. To come to the aid of others in this situation is extremely biblical. The entire Bible is full of injunctions to aid those that are oppressed. None of this is to say that war is not painful or difficult, but rather to say that in a fallen world, it is a necessary tool.

I don’t think that my friend is alone though. There are many people who somehow believe that war is a sort of force or thing or entity that compels people to desire greater armaments and to waste their time and effort and resources in pursuing marshal pleasures. But I don’t think that is a realistic view of the world. Totalitarian regimes do occasionally stir up a desire for marshal ardor. And in truth, there is nothing wrong with honoring the just warrior—the valiant knight who protects the interests of the poor, the powerless, the oppressed, and the suffering. The happy warrior is deservedly happy, provided he is a warrior for good rather than for ill.

I suspect that my friend’s misconception arises not really from a belief that war is a mysterious force that robs people of their reason, but rather from a belief that human beings are basically good and are somehow manipulated by their environment or the greed of others into making foolish choices. I think he believes that war is always one of those choices which should be deemed foolish. Undoubtedly he probably believes that if we just gave dictators a little bribery money and treated them with the dignity and respect due to their megalomania, they would live happily with their neighbors and not need to be checked by armed forces. Sadly, I do not think this is the way the world really is. While no human being is perfect or sinless or entirely altruistic, the world is full of people who suffer not merely from run-of-the-mill temptations but from desires more contrary to the will of God and the best interests of their neighbors. This has been true since ancient times when the Bible discusses “Nimrod” who translations often describe as a mighty hunter before the Lord but whose context would seem to say that he was a mighty warrior against the Lord (to the degree one can struggle against a sovereign God). Islamo-Fascism is merely the latest in thousands of years of movements dedicated to bad ideas and forcing those bad ideas on as many human beings as possible. The study of these movements needs to be based not upon wishful thinking or upon the propaganda that they provide to the West, but rather upon an examination of their own ideology and literature. There is plenty of that available to the public and plenty of analysis of that ideology and literature is available as well.

My friend would probably think that the pentagon is full of the very sort of “Nimrods” described above. But that is not my experience. Nearly all of the people in the “military industrial complex” that I have met, or known about second hand, or known from their writings, have been very decent virtuous individuals who really did want peace and justice and liberty under the rule of law etc.

My friend is also concerned that war endangers civil rights. There are certainly some domestic dangers in the fight against Islamo-Fascism. I do worry that because Islamo-Fascism is based upon a sort of fundamentalist religion, the struggle against it will result in a backlash against Christians who genuinely believe in the Bible and the truths of Christianity. I also do have concerns about how our constitutional liberties could be usurped in the name of homeland security and secrecy if the focus of the war changes from offense against Islamo-Fascists to a defensive cordon of security around every one of the millions of possible targets in the United States. But I do not believe that either of these risks is worse than the risks of not fighting Islamo-Fascism itself. This is a case in which the cancer requires surgery or it will kill the patient in the long run long before the patient’s life would naturally expire. And this surgery requires not only a war of weapons, but a war of ideas in which truth is brandished as the greatest weapon of all.