Friday, December 25, 2009

Religious Liberty

Religious liberty is one of our most cherished ideals. Humans have struggled and yearned for religious freedom from the start. Attorney Sam Ericson has pointed out that when Cain killed Abel, committing the first murder, the motive was religious: Cain was angry that Abel’s way of worshiping God was not only different from his own, but was more pleasing to God. Rather than “convert”, Cain killed his brother. People have been persecuting each other over religious differences ever since.

Christians remember the decades of persecution of Christianity under Rome and other governments. This persecution of Christians still continues today in many places around the world. Christians from non-established churches or dissenting churches remember the persecution and pressure applied to them by the national churches of various countries. In addition, horrible crimes have been committed because of national and ethnic prejudices linked with religious language. The founding fathers of the USA remembered these terrors, too, and sought to avoid them through the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Religious liberty is America’s first freedom, the most important cornerstone of our Bill of Rights. And yet, religious liberty is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to achieve and maintain.

For over a hundred years religious liberty in America was not a huge issue. Churches were allowed to meet in US government buildings even during the Presidency of that most liberal and secular of the founders, Thomas Jefferson. In fact, he attended services in government buildings while President. Most Americans were members of a limited number of protestant Christian churches, or shared the worldview of those churches, or were at least happily accepting of those who did. It was understood and accepted by many that religious faith was important for social order and the self government of citizens. As Os Guinness has pointed out, it was important that most people not only obeyed the law, but did what was ethical and moral without being coerced to do so. It was also important, except on a few very difficult issues, that most people had agreement about basic moral ideas and principles. America was nearly destroyed by the one great disagreement she had: slavery. Everybody knew that slavery was wrong but many people were reluctant to stop doing something that was so linked to the old Southern way of life. People increasingly tried to justify it as right as the 1800’s went by. The great war and conflagration which followed magnified other smaller issues and tensions, and caused some people to lose their faith rather than continue to believe that morality could justify or require the carnage of the Civil War. They lost their conviction that freeing the oppressed sometimes requires great sacrifice, including the use of force and the suffering of force. Sadly, without the moral guidance of Abraham Lincoln, and with the great bitterness raised by the war, America did not completely free the oppressed, but continued to discriminate on the basis of race for many more decades. Our laws are still affected by the philosophical gymnastics used to justify laws that sanctioned slavery and discrimination even though everyone knew that the natural law did not. (See my prior post, “When American Law Went South”).

Nevertheless, America had great religious renewal in some parts of the country following the Civil War. This recommitment to Christianity also resulted in great reform of the law, including laws against prostitution, abortion, and human trafficking. Do people today realize that the same women who were lobbying for the vote were also lobbying for these issues, which were near and dear to their hearts?

The first real battles over religious liberty didn’t happen until the 1960’s. It was at this point, strangely enough, that some very old tensions asserted themselves. Some protestant members of the Supreme Court of the United States were concerned about the rise of Catholicism and the influence of parochial schools. Afraid that parochial schools would benefit from government help and that Roman Catholics might lead prayers in public schools, the Supreme Court was willing, with the sanction of many religious believers, to ban public prayer and much of the public support of Christian works that had gone uncontested for nearly two hundred years. As atheism became more popular in America, and as more Americans either stopped taking the Bible seriously, or decided to re-interpret it to mean whatever they wanted it to mean, a radical political liberalism that sought to separate government policy and law from morality became a dominant sentiment in American law schools. (Or should I say a dominant faith? The truth is, all beliefs about reality involve a faith commitment of some kind.) The religion clauses of the first amendment were reinterpreted from their old meanings. Instead of merely preventing the federal government or the states from establishing a particular church as the official church of the government, the establishment clause has now been used as a bludgeon to protect government from any religious influence and atheists from any reminder of God’s existence in any public place. This has been done to such an extent that children attending public schools today must surely be convinced that God does not exist and is not important because otherwise He would have a greater role in the knowledge of reality that they are given through their public education. The scope of religious free exercise has also been diminished by many recent court opinions that were more concerned that religion would be used as an excuse for license than with preserving genuine religious liberty and freedom of conscious.

With the rise of the great social issues; abortion; cloning; embryonic stem cell research; killing of the aged, the unfit, and the suffering; and a desire to eliminate the globally acknowledged understanding of marriage in favor of a sort of contractual, sexual free-for-all, the debate over religious liberty has been raised to a fever pitch because some people seek to impose their views of abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, etc., upon society through education and law to such an extent that even religious faith and conscience will not be an excuse for dissenting from particular political views on these topics. Those who favor abortion, etc., have also adopted the tactic of claiming that laws against abortion or against gay marriage interfere with their religious liberty. In a recent First Thoughts blog post, Matt Cavedon, mentions how Brian McGrath Davis has argued that the house healthcare bill “discriminates against religious freedom” by forbidding the use of public funds for abortion (I was unaware any religions still required child sacrifice). These new political tensions are only the tip of the iceberg, grating against the side of the ship of state.

An even bigger issue than the desire to mobilize the religious liberty argument as a way to foreclose political arguments on various topics is the friction between some of the worldviews in our heterogeneous globalized world. Modern radical political liberals are frustrated by the fact that evangelical Christians do not feel they have religious freedom unless they are able to witness about Christ anywhere, anytime, and in any way they wish, including in the public square. Atheists, agnostics and religious liberals often feel that granting evangelicals what they would consider religious liberty would in some way impinge on what they believe is a right of their own to be free from religion. They do not feel religiously free if they are reminded of the existence of God or the moral claims made in the Scriptures. For them, religious freedom means complete toleration of what used to be thought of as moral and ethical license, but is now accepted as a progressive lifestyle. This conflict is not the only one. While there are many types of Islam, and they are not all in agreement with each other, there are sectors within Islam that do not feel religiously free unless they have Shari’a law. They also require, for a feeling of true religious freedom, that their people must not hear about Christianity, and must not be allowed to convert to Christianity. Even beyond this, if anyone says anything about Islam that would be likely to make people unwilling to convert to Islam, even if those statements are historically true or endorsed by Muslim documents themselves, some Muslims do not feel religiously free unless they can ban and prosecute such comments as “hate speech” or what we used to call “blasphemy”. Among high ranking academic elites today there is actually talk about forbidding parents from having any religious influence over their children in the name of “religious liberty”. Obviously most parents would regard the need to share their religious faith with their children as paramount and that any ban on such communication would be the ultimate interference with religious liberty by the state.

Needless to say, these competing understandings of religious liberty create a problem: they are mutually exclusive of one another. It is probably not possible to create a regime or a settlement in which radical Muslims, radical atheists, radical political liberals, and evangelicals Christians all feel free. Our system of government is designed to try to accommodate all the major variations in religion, and yet these conflicting world views threaten to destroy the American system itself. This is a serious difficulty. In the long run it is going to require a great public debate and a new settlement of exactly how religious liberty works and what it means in practice.

One of the things that is difficult about this for Christians who take the Bible seriously, is that the difficulties outlined above form a sort of pincer movement. If we protect our ability to use truth to influence the state we also protect the ability of radical Islam to influence the state. If we take steps to limit radical Islam, those same steps may be used to shackle our own religious liberty and deprive us of the ability to teach truth to our children or to use truth to influence the state.

I would argue that history shows that commitment to true religious liberty is critical. On the one hand as Os Guinness has pointed out, we don’t want the complete banning of all religious dialog and ideas in the public square. On the other hand, we do not want an established religion, whether it be Islam, secular humanism, or evangelical Christianity. But maintaining a balance in which everyone is free to discuss ideas, even though they may come from a religious worldview, while at the same time not creating what would objectively be oppression, or what could amount to persecution of Christians, is increasingly difficult. I do not believe that it has become impossible. But I think that the ultimate solution to the problem can only rely on a spiritual awakening and a recommitment to objective moral truth rather than on greater liberalism and greater relativism.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

May God bless you and lead you to an increased knowledge of Him as we celebrate His incarnation. God, who being fully God, became fully man too. He lived among us and is called Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life, died on our place, and rose from the dead. He did this so we who believe what God has revealed through the Bible could be forgiven, reconciled to God, have Jesus' righteous life accounted to us, be resurrected when Jesus returns, and enter into an eternal life of joy with God. This is truly good news. Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Manhattan Declaration

It’s always exciting when Christians stand up for the fundamental truths. So often we are either confused, complacent, or unwilling to speak out on justice and the common good of our communities. But a recent new declaratory statement signed by a large number of Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and East Orthodox Christians has recently appeared on the internet. This is the Manhattan Declaration, a statement taking a detailed position in favor of the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union between one man and one woman, and the importance of the rights of conscience and religious liberty. These are three of the great issues of our time and it is really wonderful to see a comprehensive declaration dealing with these three areas at once. To see the Manhattan Declaration and add your signature in support, go to the following link:

Liberty University Law Review Article on Natural Law

In February of 2008 I attended a symposium on Natural Law at Liberty University. I gave a talk on “The Nature in Natural Law”. That talk is now published as a complete law review article in the Liberty University Law Review, Volume 2, Number 3, Spring 2008 issue. Copies should be available through Hein & Co., New York. Their contact information is as follows:

William S. Hein & Co., Inc. 1285 Main Street Buffalo, NY 14209-1987 Phone: 1-800-828-7571

The symposium issue contains a number of very interesting articles on natural law by authors like J. Daryl Charles, Gilbert Meilaender and David VanDrunen. My own natural law article deals with the question of why natural law is called “natural”. The article performs a historical survey of different definitions of natural law from ancient times up to the present. It provides some analysis and commentary on each of the views, and put them in an overall perspective that I believe points to the true nature behind natural law.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Listen to the Radio Show on Christ, Government and the Law

How can a Christian lawyer defend a guilty client? What is the proper relationship between church and state? These and other questions are discussed on the radio show available as a podcast on itunes and at this link:

I guest hosted the show with Trinity Law School Admissions Director Doug Eaton and Trinity Law School student Lane Chaplin as discussion panel members.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Upcoming Show

At midnight between Friday September 5 and Saturday September 6, and for the next two hours, lasting until 2 am Saturday morning, Trinity Law School Dean Donald McConnell will be hosting the radio show on KKLA 99.5 FM. With Dean McConnell will be TLS Director of Admissions Doug Eaton and Trinty Law School student and famed podcaster Lane Chaplin. The show will answer questions about a Christian perspective on human law and government.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Doubt and "Fundamentalism"

A strong Christian friend of mine recently showed me an article by Gregory Rodriguez in the L. A. Times. The article discussed a new book by Peter L. Berger and Anton C. Zijerveld: In Praise of Doubt: How to have Convictions without becoming a Fanatic. I admit I have not read the book, but the article raised an interesting question. Attempting to summarize Berger and Zijerveld, Rodriguez says “you must have conviction and uncertainty simultaneously in order to ward off fundamentalism. Beliefs are necessary.” He proposes that radical relativism is dangerous because it encourages people to respond by retrenching into a radical fundamentalism; that the chaos and angst generated by those deconstructing society causes people to retreat into the “safe” territory of believing in really absolute absolutes and thereby becoming equally undesirable “fundamentalists.” (I don't really like this use of the word fundamentalism - but it is so common we must deal with it).

The antidote, Rodriguez tells us, is balance: believe a few “core certainties”, but be flexible about other “negotiable beliefs.” Then we are told that: “The most important core certainty, and one found in most belief systems, is ‘do unto others ...’ -- the Golden Rule. It leaves enough wiggle room for your beliefs, my beliefs and their beliefs to coexist. And what makes it all work is the same thing that burdened us all to begin with: doubt. Berger and Zijderveld believe that doubt can serve as a type of psychic cushion between all our different certainties.”

I think this line of thinking has appeal for many people today. First, many people have doubts about things that are important to them. It is human to doubt. The Bible tells us that after he had been in prison for some time, John the Baptist began to doubt if Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus sent him back the message of the works and words of his Messianic ministry to reassure the soon-to-be martyr. Some of us deal with our doubts by encouraging others to admit they have doubts – a sort of cultural group therapy that makes us all say “I’m ok and you are ok about doubts” These people are especially comfortable with the sort of opinion Rodriguez is documenting. And there are many people in this position in our society today.

A second group of doubters deals with doubt by violently embracing it: for them doubt makes God and the whole world false. I think of the “new atheists” and the old German philosophers when I think of this group. At some level and to some degree we all know innately and from reason that God exists, that he is not identical with the created world or ourselves, that God has standards, and that we have not lived up to those standards. Many of us place faith in God that he has redeemed us from this situation himself in the person of Jesus Christ through his life, death, and resurrection. But for some people, when God does not play by their rules or meet their demands – whether for empirical certainty or for moral license or rescue from the tragedies of life in a fallen world – they respond by being so angry with God that they try to punish him by telling people he does not exist. In a way, these dogmatic unbelievers are a culture of fundamentalism all to themselves. Rodrigeuz et al are probably right that this assault on the foundations of the Universe turns some people into what they call “fundamentalists.” But is this really why people become “fundamentalists”?

A third response to doubt is to embrace doubt with sad sentimentality like the philosopher George Santayana. The great liberal theologians, who believe in religion, but not in God, often come from this stock. They too can probably be seen to encourage fundamentalism by their smug refusal to see that their argument of an emotional need for religion is an evidence for a true religion somewhere, not a proof that all religions are false. By contrast to the liberals, C. S. Lewis argues that a world in which all get thirsty is evidence for the existence of water. Somehow these sad philosophers who embrace doubt with feigned reluctance prefer to speak of the “beautiful myth of water” while dying of thirst.

Second to last in my analysis, though undoubtedly in reality we could find hundreds of categories, are those who do deal with doubt by what I suspect the authors mean by “fundamentalism.” These are those who deal with doubt by violently forswearing doubt. You see, because doubt is rooted in our imperfect human nature, we not only all have it from time to time, but we sometimes feel guilty about it. One way to deal with this guilt is to suppress it and deny it: to emphasize to yourself and others just how certain you really are – because you think doubt would be unacceptable to them or to yourself. In traditions where doubt is punished, or might even be fatal, this out is common. This repression can break out in persecution of others, fear, hostility, and all the other negative behavior that Rodriguez, et al, are thinking of when they think of “fundamentalists.” This kind of doubter tries to drown his doubts in zeal. Because he is still human, and therefore still sinful, the repressing doubter sometimes impresses others as a hypocrite rather than a “believer.”

Would the approach recommended by Rodriguez moderate these repressing doubters? They probably would not be changed. They would reject the suggestion that they should hold even questionable beliefs less tightly. It would also not deal with what I believe to be the driving force behind what Rodriguez thinks of as “fundamentalism” – the guilt about doubt. Accepting some doubts without more than a pragmatic reason for doing so would only cause more doubt and more guilt.

But who are my fourth group of doubters? I will call them the “believing doubters.” Believing doubters vanquish the cultural and psychological trappings known popularly as “fundamentalism” through additional knowledge and faith in a few key ideas that deliver them most of the time from the pitfalls of doubt.

Believing doubters know God has called them to love their enemies. This means treating people with respect and dignity. It does not mean we cannot disagree. It does not mean we cannot try to persuade others. It does not mean we cannot tell others they are wrong. It may not even rule out the use of humor, satire and parody to convince others. In extreme cases, love does not rule out just wars. But love does mean, to paraphrase the late ethicist Lewis Smedes, that we must wish our enemies well and act reasonably to further their best interests to the extent it does not harm others. We cannot lie about our enemies. We cannot demonize them. We must not try to convert them through violence nor try to exterminate them because they will not convert.

Believing doubters know God is the source of their faith. When they doubt, they say “I believe, God please save me from my unbelief.” They do not panic when a doubting thought comes into the mind because they know their salvation depends on the love and sacrifice of Christ, not on their own effort. They know Christianity is about being in God’s hands, not about clinging to the edge of a cliff through their own power. The believing doubter is a real person. The believing doubter can have doubts. They can go through the dark night of the soul. They can feel angry with God. They can feel disillusioned by the failings of fellow humans or themselves. But ultimately their faith is about God, not about themselves.

Believing doubters know about human fallibility – including their own. They know that humans are sinful and often wrong, so they are slow to anger on the peripheral issues where our beliefs are based more on judgment and philosophy than on revelation. In the areas where revelation is clear, they believe firmly. Where revelation is unclear, they believe, but hold their belief more loosely. Believing doubters know that human sinfulness has lead to unjust persecutions throughout history; so they do not trust themselves or other individuals with corrupting absolute power over the whole of the state and or the whole church.

The believing doubter is also forearmed against doubt by the doctrines she/he believes. Because the believing doubter knows he/she is a sinful human being, knows he or she is weak, and knows how bio-chemistry and circumstances can prey on his/her mind, the believing doubter knows that doubts cannot be trusted. The believing doubter doubts her/his doubts more than his or her faith. For this reason, some believing doubters go through life almost appearing to have no doubts at all because the few fleeting doubts they have are such mere shadows without substance that they are mistaken to be no doubts at all.

Believing doubters know their own experience is limited. Though they may be tempted not to do so, they try to put the universally true revelation of the whole of scripture ahead of personal experience (a luxury people who lived before scripture did not have). So if they see evil triumph, they remember that the Bible says God will eventually bring the evil to judgment. If they see the bad things happening to a person, they do not assume that it must be caused by his/her sin since the bible clearly teaches there are other reasons that bad things happen to good people.

As you can tell, I believe that only Christians can be real “believing doubters.” The “believing doubter” has had his mind illumined by the Holy Spirit of God. He or she believes in the Bible and takes it seriously, recognizing it as a self authenticating message from the living God. The believing doubter follows Augustine and Anselm in “believing in order to understand.” The believing doubter’s faith is rational – but by a God-centered rationality that flows from the mind of Christ, not a self-centered rationality that depends on the power, experience and ego of the believer’s mind alone.

Everyone should be a believing doubter. But the difficulty is that it is something you can ask God to do in you, but not something you can do for yourself. But if you ask God for a good gift, like the gift of faith, surely he will give it to you. He may give it on his own terms and in his own time and in his own way – but faith will come if you seek it. It will not be guaranteed to make you rich or to solve all your problems or to free you from all temptation. I can’t even guarantee you will not be considered a fundamentalist. But I do believe that the negative behavior associated with what Rodriguez means by “fundamentalism” will be less common in believing doubters because of what they believe.

Believing doubters may solve the personal problem for some, but what of the global problem of fundamentalisms like radical jihadist Islam? I don’t think there is an easy answer to that question because I do not believe the problems and mechanics of belief are the same for all religions. And I do believe that there is real evil in the world; not just the typical evil of each fallen human, but dark spiritual evil that raises up evil empires and false ideas to enslave and denigrate human beings if it can. In responding to evil we must remember the sin within our own hearts and not succumb to being as bad or worse than those deceived by the dark spiritual forces we are resisting. We do need to maintain religious liberty. As Peter L. Berger and Anton C. Zijerveld say, we ought to keep the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And we need to remember, that quite literally, but for the grace of God it would be us advocating some terrible false idea because of the pressures of family, culture, and sword.
People with dangerous false ideas can sometimes be contained. But if they are persistently violent, they may need to be converted by persuasion or defeated militarily to prevent harm to third persons. Persuasion is often still a necessity. War alone cannot solve problems caused by ideas. Happily, uncontainable error is rare. False sects within America can easily be tolerated and dealt with merely through words. With the exceptions of guerilla wars, Korea, and Viet Nam, Soviet Communism and Chinese Communism have largely been contained and converted, except on University Campuses. The Communists killed 80 million people, but their expansion was limited. Nazism required a war to defeat, but we also had to deal with the ideas behind it. Radical jihadist Islam has led us to war, but is so widespread that war alone, at least on a humane scale, cannot solve the problem. Persuasion is always the key. To do so we must try to persuade – not try to accept. Persuasion does require understanding and love, though. And it requires more. In the final analysis we need God’s help to persuade others. Prayer is our most potent weapon against “fundamentalisms” like radical jihadist Islam, Communism, and yes even fundamentalist atheism. But sadly, the only cure to fundamentalist Islam will strike those with an allergy to Christianity as “fundamentalist Christianity” because it believes in what they, as fundamentalist secularists, will not believe in. But we cannot help that. We can be well behaved on behalf of the truth, but we cannot change the truth to accommodate error.

Rodriguez in his understanding of the book he is reviewing draws on our emotions. We all know people who believe things we think they should not believe or who are obnoxious about their beliefs. But asking people not to believe strongly in what they believe cannot be the right answer if truth really exists (which I believe it must). The only course of action can be to seek truth and encourage others to do likewise in the faith that real truth brings virtue not vice.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Great Law Quotes: Calvin Coolidge

"About the Declaration of Independence there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. . . If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, that is final. . . No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward. . ." - Calvin Coolidge

Thursday, July 23, 2009

God and Governing Conference in Print

The book based on the God and Governing Conference put on by Trinity Law School will be in bookstores in August. Orders can be placed now at:

The book includes chapters by some of the leading evangelical thinkers of our time (and one by myself) on the problem of why evangelicals have not been more successful in changing the political climate in the USA, and what we should do from here on.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Landing

Today is the anniversary of the first landing on the moon by human beings. It was and remains a remarkable achievement.

Talk on Prop 8

While it is a little dated now, here is a talk I did eight months ago on Prop. 8 before the last California Supreme Court opinion. Happily,the opinion turned out better than I suspected. My thanks to Mike Stecker for posting it on the internet.

Prop 8 from a legal perspective from Mike Stecker on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Asking the Real Questions of a Supreme Court Nominee

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has been saying some of the right things in her hearings. Specifically: “judges must apply the law and not make the law.” So far, so good. But a further and more important questions need to be answered in detail: What is the law and how do you discover it? Can a Supreme Court precedent be wrong? How do you know when a Supreme Court precedent is wrong? How do you interpret what the Constitution means? When defining the words in the Constitution do you look to what the words mean in common usage today or at what they meant at the time the clause was written? Is there a higher law above the law that gives Constitutions and statutes their meaning? If there is not then where do the rules for interpreting Constitutions and statutes come from? Can you change those rules of interpretation? If so, when and how is it appropriate to change them? If they do not change, and are not a higher law, why are you so sure what they are? Why do judges interpret the law instead of making it? What happens if some judges on the Supreme Court in the past “made law” – what do we do about that now?
I could go on. The point is that judicial thinking is a lot more complicated than asking someone of they are an “activist judge” or not. I hope the committee is asking the right questions and that the press will actually cover the answers.

Unicorns and CIA Assassins

Many Americans think the agencies of their government are far more powerful and capable than they really are – especially in the areas of defense and intelligence. Unhappily this is often fantasy or wishful thinking. Stories like the one at the link give us a clue to the reality.
I remember back in the eighties, trying to explain to people that we needed strategic and tactical ballistic missile defense. What was odd was the number of people who insisted we already had it; who insisted America had more than enough anti ballistic missiles to stop any soviet attack already – but they were secret. I tried to explain in vain that you may be able to hide an experimental airplane or missile, or maybe a squadron of airplanes; but you cannot hide a massive continental system or an air force. The interceptors simply did not exist. At least now we have a handful of missiles in some places with some anti-ballistic missile capability – but we still would have no chance at all of blunting a Russian attack on the USA.
Assassins are a subject of similar faith on the part of most Americans. We have movies full of professional CIA and MI6 assassins. Thriller novels about CIA assassins are a major share of the book market. Famous conservative talk show hosts celebrate the “realism” of these books. This fiction just reflects reality right? So Americans are constantly killing people secretly all over the world, right? We have super secret hit teams chasing Osama Bin Laden, right? Wrong. It is the stuff of fantasy and wishful thinking. The CIA may help drop bombs on terrorists from drones and airplanes, but it appears they do not and have not been killing Al Qaeda operatives up close and personal.
Oh, they did think about it following 9/11, but they never did it.
So the Congress should be angry that the CIA is not out there killing the terrorists who are trying to kill us, right? No. Actually the Congress is angry the CIA did not tell them they were thinking about killing terrorists. Really. See the articles.
Original article:
Hat tip to Rantburg, who linked article:
To give them a break, you need a Presidential Order to assassinate people, and apparently the supposedly bloodthirsty President Bush did not issue one for up close and personal assassination of Al Qaeda people. Second, all the globalist international law lawyers will insist that such “extrajudicial” killings are illegal – so you could get in more trouble for doing it than you can for water boarding. After all, we live in a world that no longer feels confident to execute pirate caught in the act; why should we think they would let intelligence officers kill terrorist agents planning the murders of thousands?
The truth is the CIA has never been any good at killing people. They mostly try to collect intelligence and explain what they think it means. The CIA consists of much more college professor types than of James Bonds.
Why is this important? Because decisions and policies need to be made and voted on by people who are honest about reality. Neither the public nor the Congress seems to have a grasp on reality.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Babies and Music

Babies in the womb hear and respond to music. Fascinating (but not surprising). See:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: George Orwell's 1984

Though most people today have no fear of left-wing totalitarianism, and though many people alive today were born so recently that they cannot remember anything about the history of the Soviet Union (which doesn’t appear to be taught in schools at all either), 1984 is still a fascinating book in many ways. 1984 is a novel that takes place in what, in Orwell’s time, was the future. George Orwell wrote the book around 1948. But part of the point of the book is that the main character doesn’t even know that the year is actually 1984.

Winston Smith, the central character of 1984, lives in one of the three totalitarian societies that together cover the entire globe in the hypothetical year of the novel. In this society, there are three classes: the proletariat, the party, and the inner party. The inner party uses the face of “big brother” as its ubiquitous symbol. In all probability, big brother is not even a living human being. Instead, he is an invention of the party. The state in 1984 has complete and utter control over the lives of party members and inner party members. It pays little attention to the lives of the proletariat, but nevertheless dominates them as well. The party meticulously trains their members from childhood upward to be ruthless informers and to police their own minds through techniques of thought discipline. This thought discipline is aimed at eliminating all unorthodox thoughts that are in any way contrary to the doctrine, ideas, facts, and teachings of the party. But I must use the word “facts” loosely because one of the main points of 1984 is that the party has created a society in which they treat all facts as mutable. The party also seeks to facilitate this by creating a new language in which all unorthodox thoughts are essentially impossible because the words necessary to formulate them - like “right,” “liberty,” or “justice” - are no longer part of anyone’s vocabulary.

The party uses not only constant propaganda and intrusive monitoring, but also insidiously clever undercover operations and meticulous torture to force all party members into complete and utter submission. Big brother wants not only physical obedience, but the souls of his captives.

The idea of the mutability of history, of current events, and of reality itself is extremely post-modern. It’s interesting that Orwell had such a post-modern vision of the future as early as 1948. The pieces were already all there, but no one was putting them together in quite the way Orwell has. 1984’s post-modern vision is also curious because of the idea of the immutability of history. The party in 1984 is able to collect all books, papers, newspapers, magazines and documents that contain information that they wish to change, and to destroy those old documents and replace them with new ones that contain only what the party wants people to know or believe. The old Soviet Union actually tried to do this. There is a remarkable book called the The Commissar Vanishes that shows sequential picture modification in the old Soviet Union. First a picture will appear with both Lenin and Trotsky, then in a subsequent release of the same picture, Trotsky will disappear, and then in yet a later incarnation of the picture, Stalin will be standing next to Lenin, then Stalin will disappear and a young Nikita Khrushchev will be standing next to Lenin when he could not possibly have been there at all. This sort of attempt to manipulate reality was common in Soviet Russia even though the Russians could not obliterate existing documents to the contrary of the party’s new legends. Today we need not fear this in our own day because there is such a proliferation of documentary sources about the past. But I suppose that with the digitalization of information and the rotting of so many books that were printed on acidic paper, an attempt by government to change perceptions of history is certainly a real threat. We already have an academy full of revisionist historians who sometimes discover unknown truths about the past but who just as often perpetuate new fictions about a past that never really was. It has almost always been popular in modern times to discount historical accounts of people who were close to events when often those are the best accounts of what happened that we possibly have. Why should anybody start off presupposing that there was no Trojan War despite Homer, or that George Washington was a profane and godless man despite the accounts of his early biographers and friends? With the digital age, it some day may be possible for a government to meddle with the internet sufficiently to change most of the digitalized texts on past history. If every book is on Kendall and the worldwide web and none of them are on paper or vellum, there would be little difficulty to manipulate the history and texts of the past. It is now true as it has always been that libraries full of good, true, and beautiful books are one of the best defenses against tyranny. But of course it only works if you read them and believe the true things that they say.

A variety of things jump out at you when you listen to or read Orwell’s book. He has a strange insistence on the reality of class differences. While it is very true that different people have different gifts, and that not everyone is gifted in the same way, Orwell’s understanding of the people who he regards as proletarians as being completely un-thinking and only interested in drinking, gambling, and the like, may occasionally be true of many people, but it is certainly not true of everyone within that supposed class. Every level of society has its brilliant minds, its intellectuals, and its students of philosophy. And every level of society has those who have common sense and spiritual depth. Each level also has those who may be gifted in loving or in some other way, but lack wisdom and understanding. But Orwell seems blind to the dignity and variety of what he thinks of as the lower classes. I suppose Orwell might defend himself by saying that the party absorbed everyone that they regarded as intelligent. But the truth is that not all kinds of intelligence are measurable by standardized tests or the other ways in which technocrats try to discover what they believe to be natural aristocrats. Every person has something they do well, and many more people than we appreciate have practical wisdom in one area or another. Hence, I found Orwell’s apparent insistence on class troubling. The same thing appears in his story, Animal Farm. Orwell seems to believe that it is reasonable to think of the different classes of society as being like different animals with different levels of intelligence and ability. This is simply not true. The image of God appears in every human being. There are no lower human beings. Yet even human beings who are highly gifted in working with their hands, or in working with plants, or in being a help to others in vocations that the elites of society do not value, still have the inherent dignity of being created in the image of God and often have depths and complexities that are completely unappreciated.

It is also interesting that Orwell’s story seems to imply a fundamental selfishness of all political orders. Orwell’s characters concede that some past orders may have developed certain sympathies for idealistic principles, but treats these mainly as weaknesses rather than strengths. Perhaps I am misunderstanding Orwell’s pessimism, or mistaking Orwell’s mere pessimism as a description of reality in 1984. Yet so little light appears in the story that this seems to be his assumption.

One thing that clearly stands out in 1984 is the persistent nagging of natural law. Orwell never mentions natural law or the objectivity of morality or right and wrong. In fact, I wonder if he really believed in such things. But the whole effect of his book is premised on the notion that we will find the states’ obliterating the truth about facts, and substituting their own will as immoral and wrong. If you don’t feel this when you are reading the book, it really isn’t working. Orwell’s character evidences that there really is some kind of an objective reality that gnaws at the conscience of even extremely selfish and flawed human beings even after they have been extensively trained, conditioned, and educated in the opposite notion, and even after they have been tortured to beat objective truth out of them. Despite all of this, the conscience still gnaws at us, and, as J. Budziszewski would say, “It has its revenge.” In the end, big brother and his minions are able to break the people of 1984, and to cause even those who harbored the notion that perhaps two plus two must equal four, to finally conclude that if the party says two plus two equals five, or three, or seven, then that is true and real and to be loved and embraced. But the people who are forced to believe these things through torture, conditioning, and manipulation lose their souls in the process. They become shells of human beings who are torn and hollowed out in a way that has sucked the life out of them. This is caused not merely by the torture itself, but by what is lost when a human being is finally separated from his connection with reality, truth, conscience, and beauty. We all desperately need the good, the true, the beautiful, the divine—and when we don’t have it, it scars us deeply. When we turn our backs on it and reject it, it destroys us even if our physical body continues to go on for some time after our soul has died in addition to the Adamic spiritual death that we were born with. Of course I mean “died” here in a certain way.

We have the comfort and the fear of knowing something that Orwell’s characters have long forgotten: that there is an eternal kingdom of God in which those who believe in Christ will be comforted, blessed, have their tears dried and their hurts completely healed. By contrast in this eternity, those who rebel against God will enter into a darkness, a loss, and a hollowing out that is far worse than the pale foreshadowing of the torment faced by the people of 1984.

The state in 1984 has sought to make itself god. It seeks to control reality, to control the minds and thoughts of its people, not merely their external actions. It has sought to re-define right and wrong, language and truth, and to make its own reality. In doing so, the big brother state is the ultimate fulfillment of post-modern philosophy. Post-modernism insists that there is no objective right or wrong, no objective reality behind language or ideas, and no real way to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries. Instead, the committed post-modernist believes that all reality is constructed by human communities. We make and shape our reality in our own image. We use force to make people concede that reality is what the community says, and that words mean what the community says they mean. The post-modernist rejects the centrality of an objective logos of God, and instead embraces a shattered world in which each community is its own miniature pantheon of deities. The Oceania state of big brother is the ultimate fulfillment of this post-modern vision because it creates a unified perception of “reality” throughout the community, creating complete harmony and homogeneity. It then labels this totalitarian nightmare as joy, happiness, peace and love. And who can discount these labels, or dispute them if there is no objective reality beyond the will of the community, or beyond the mind of big brother?

Thanks be to God that there really is an objective, divine logos. Thanks be to God that there is a God, and that He cares about human beings and has entered our world in order to reveal to us the truth about goodness, truth, beauty, morality, sacrifice, sin, and atonement. And especially we ought to be thankful that God has come into our world, died for us, and revealed the truth about resurrection. In 1984, the central protagonist wonders often if there is any hope that big brother can ever be destroyed, or that anyone can escape from his iron grip. Orwell gives us no hope. He leaves no chink of light gleaming through any small crack or window. But Christians know that this dark vision can never be fully fulfilled except in hell because there is a God who transcends the universe but who involves Himself in the affairs of mankind. There is a God who not only provides objectivity, but who restrains human governments. There is a God who will ultimately at some point end human history and bring all to judgment. If some day a real big brother succeeds in attaining global hegemony, he will be crushed by the return of Christ or by God’s sovereign hand.

I suppose for some people they think of God or Christianity as being somewhat like big brother. This is not the case. God actually is a source of objectivity. He has created us and given us our sense of right and wrong. God is the source of goodness itself. But unlike big brother, He is entitled to His position as being the source of goodness itself as the creator of the universe. Big brother and his ilk are distorters of what God has already created. They are those who bend and break, and seek to remold God’s creation into their image. But they are not God. Certainly it is popular today to find fault with God. The “new atheist’s” essential argument is to say “I strongly disagree with the ideas and actions attributed to the Christian God, ergo He must not exist.” Of course this doesn’t follow logically and usually they distort the ideas and actions actually attributed to God. They long for an impossible world that bears more resemblance to the old hobo song about the “Big Rock Candy Mountains” instead of moral adventure of real life.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Christian Social Conservatives Not Doomed

On Friday May 17 the blog Cranmer posted an interesting response to allegations that Christians in the USA with a socially conservative mindset have been decisively defeated by the forces of amorality. Cranmer responded in part as follows:

"There is a concern that church attendance in the United States ‘is heading the way of Britain, where no more than ten per cent worship every week’. As far as Evangelicals are concerned, the United States of America was founded ‘purely as a Christian country’, which President Obama refutes. Recently in Turkey he said quite emphatically: "We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation."

Really? Did the Mayflower Compact proclaim the Pilgrims were establishing their colony for ‘the advancement of the Islamic faith’? Does the dollar proclaim ‘In Allah We Trust’? Do patriotic Americans join in the refrain of ‘Allah Bless America’?

America was founded unequivocally upon the Christian ethic, and it permeates the cultural fabric of the nation. God has blessed America with Protestantism and Enlightenment, but now follows the counter-reformation couched as postmodernism to move the nation into the ‘post-Christian’ era. Recent surveys on religious adherence all indicate a significant shift in the American religious landscape: ‘A study by Trinity College in Connecticut found that 11 per cent fewer Americans identify themselves as Christian than 20 years ago. Those stating no religious affiliation or declaring themselves agnostic has risen from 8.2 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent in 2008’.

But Cranmer is intrigued by the divergent diagnoses of the cause. One view holds that ‘Conservatives became so obsessed with the political process we have forgotten the gospel’, while another believes that the Christian movement failed ‘not because its views were unpalatable for moderates and liberals, but because it was not Christian enough’.

Christians may indeed have been corrupted by politics. But politics corrupts, and absolute politics corrupts absolutely. Evangelicals identified their movement with the culture war and political conservatism. They are apparently persuaded that their failure to transform culture and the mass rejection of political conservatism means that Christianity is dead.

This is fatuous reasoning.

The Founding Fathers choose the Christian ethic and the First Continental Congress made its first act a prayer. They had a ‘firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence’ which has guided and inspired Americans to spread abroad ‘freedom’s holy light’. The Founders of the United States of America were steeped in religion – and that religion was not Judaism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism or Jedi Knightianity: it was religion of the Protestant Christian variety.
. . .

Those who created the United States did so after meditating upon the divine precepts and laws of the Christian God. This foundation was their virtue; from this virtue came their liberty; and from this liberty came stability and prosperity.

President Obama is neither the Messiah nor the Antichrist: he is just another man to occupy another political office, and, like all Democrats, he seeks to make the United States more statist, Socialist and amoral.

The Christian response is not to curse God and die, but to repent, believe and trust; indeed, to rejoice in suffering, because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Hope that the Forces of Conservatism shall soon be on the ascendancy, and that government shall once again soon be concerned with whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is admirable."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Have a Blessed Resurrection Sunday

Yesterday we commemorated Good Friday, the anniversary of Jesus willing submission to death on the cross as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all who truly believe in his identity, work, and message.

Tomorrow is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus crowning proof that he was not only the Messiah, but fully God and fully man. Jesus permanent resurrection from the dead, never to die again, vindicated his claims and message in a way no other message has ever been vindicated. The resurrection is the seal of God's approval on the work of his second person, the greatest evidence ever offered by God to man, and the first permanent resurrection foreshadowing the resurrection of the dead by God before the final judgment.

That Jesus has not only solved the sin and guilt problems and reconciled us to God, but has proved that death has been conquered as well is a source of great joy to every believer in Jesus.

Have a blessed resurrection Sunday!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Video on What the Christians Need to Consider When Thinking About Politics

Here is a video about suggestions for improving the quality of political involvement by Christians. We need to avoid two extremes: The belief that we do not act upon the truth as citizens because "separation of church and state" somehow bans any truth believed by Christians from the marketplace of ideas on the one hand, and the idea that there is one definitive Christian answer to all political issues and that if Christians could take over they could create heaven on earth on the other. I don't believe either extreme. Christians should be active citizens. Government in about coordinating for the common good an restraining evil. Truth about good and evil has every place in politics. On the other hand, Christians are imperfect humans too. Exactly what specific political policies best vindicate the good in every situation is a fair matter for debate. In an imperfect world filled with imperfect people there are no perfect human political fixes that will bring heaven on earth. More follows in the video. It is very far from a perfect speech too.

Monday, March 09, 2009

More Obama Hardness of Hearing

President Obama has signed an executive order allowing federal money to be spent on embryonic stem cell research. The President made a statement that the prior policy made a “false choice between science and moral values.” The President also said that human cloning is dangerous and wrong. While it is true that cloning is immoral, it is odd the President does not understand that killing humans at the embryonic stage of development, a necessity for the research he plans to fund, is also clearly immoral. He is also apparently unaware of the practical connection between embryonic stem cell research and cloning.

The current research on random embryos’ stem cells is not likely to produce any cures for diseases. There are three major problems with directly using the stem cells from just any embryo: The embryonic stem cells have DNA foreign to the patient, mass producing the embryos at levels needed for a therapy to hundreds of people would require thousands of human eggs (which are very difficult to obtain in even small numbers) and, embryonic stem cells consistently produce tumors in the recipients. There is no easy solution to the egg problem, but there will be an attempt to solve the other two problems by taking a patients DNA, cloning dozens of twins of the patient, killing the embryos to harvest their stem cells, and then using the twins’ stem cells for the “therapy.” Why anyone would do something so monstrous when you can already use the patient’s own adult stem cells in therapies that work is unfathomable to me; but that is what will be done at some point in the future if researchers can get enough eggs.

Is it not obvious that the offspring of a human being is a human being? Is it not obvious that from the moment the DNA in a living egg and the DNA in a living sperm connect you obtain a living human being with a distinct identity? Does anybody really believe humans come to life from dead parts just after birth? Does anybody really believe it is moral to kill other human beings and use their body parts for research that might lead to a treatment for a disease - a treatment that can only prolong life, not ultimately prevent death? Obama is famous for saying he would listen to both sides. How can he be listening and still do what he is doing?

According to Rick Peary’s blog, the Obama administration has also asked for a change of the regulation that protects the conscience of medical personnel by protecting their right to refuse to take part in performing abortions. (See

While Obama’s presidency is for many a sort of symbol of social justice, it is sad that this image is costing uncounted people their lives.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Thoughts on Sanctification

Sanctification is the process of God working in the lives of believers to make us more like Jesus. Looking at the word itself, sanctification essentially means the process that makes a person set apart for God. Sanctification is not how we are saved, but how we are improved by God as a result of the salvation we have by grace through the faith God has given us in Christ's work.

One of our professors here at Trinity, Professor Steve Kennedy, recently said something to me that really struck me as interesting: He said that the process of sanctification should improve in us all of the communicable attributes of God and not merely God’s righteousness. In other words, as a result of sanctification, we should not only become more obedient to God, but we should also become wiser, more creative, more beautiful, better mannered, and a blessing to others in every way.

It strikes me as true. There is always a strong emphasis in speaking about sanctification as an improvement with regard to keeping God’s moral commands. Some people go further and speak of an improvement in virtue. But few people speak of sanctification with respect to creativity. Yet I suspect that this ought to be the case. That being sanctified means making us more like Christ. Being more like Christ means having the mind of Christ. Having the mind of Christ should mean being more creative, not only more virtuous. And, the things that we create should be more beautiful, as well as our own mind, soul, and spirit evidencing the beauty of God in us.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin's Birthday

Today is also the birthday of Charles Darwin. Darwin has, perhaps, had a more lasting influence on society than Lincoln. It is ironic that Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day. Lincoln was the great emancipator and the advocate of equality before the law. Darwin’s ideas, by contrast, have been misused to justify racial discrimination, colonialism, and ruthless, almost lawless competition in business. Even more ironically, those who believe, as Lincoln did, that humans are equal because they were all created to be the same kind of thing and share the same ancestry, are commonly held in contempt today by the disciples of Darwin, who consider themselves to be more enlightened.

Darwin and his disciples have convinced most people that common features of biology are not the result of common design for common function, or the result of design elegance, or the result of design unity, or even the result of common needs in meeting design requirements for coping with a common environment, but are instead the result of common ancestry. Thumbs on chimps and humans could be viewed as a result of a designing God finding thumbs useful for his more intelligent creations and unnecessary for his more mundane creations. Elegant design of DNA might mean that whales would also share the “thumb gene” even though they have no thumbs. For Darwin by contrast, the thumb and thumb gene are “proof” of development of humans, chimps, and whales from common biological ancestors.

It is undoubtedly true that animals adapt in minor ways to their environments and that new varieties of species can “evolve” through selective breeding. The modern varieties of dogs, cats, and citrus fruit produced from a few dogs, cats, and citrus fruits show this to be true. But, some people still doubt that chance, solar radiation, and natural selection could create cats from citrus fruit or dogs from cats, or all three from common ancestors without the intervention of God. The problem of life from no life is greater still. The problem of something that cannot last forever coming from a forever of nothing is even greater. The solution of an immaterial eternal God creating time, space, animals and all is much more elegant and satisfying. Sadly, scientific experiments in the present cannot confirm ether historic creation or historic evolution - though they may one day, show the impossibility of evolution as we currently understand it.

Unhappily, believing Darwin undermines the basis of objective human rights, the rule of Law, and belief in a “Common Good” to be sought by human communities. Nevertheless Darwin’s disciples have not abandoned his discipleship and will be celebrating his birth with great joy and some bitterness over hold outs like myself. I wish them well and pray for their enlightenment.

Abraham Lincoln's 200th Birthday

Today, February 12, 2009, is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln was born in Kentucky. His family moved to Indiana and later to Illinois. At 22, Lincoln made a trip to New Orleans via flat boat to sell a variety of goods with friends. The scenes of slavery that he saw in New Orleans scarred his mind and haunted him for the rest of his life.

Lincoln started his political career at 23 as a member of the Whig Party. He was elected to the Illinois State Legislature in 1834. He read the law, and was admitted to the Bar in 1837. He moved to Springfield and began a practice of law that would ultimately become very successful. Lincoln had a number of impressive clients, including railroads. He served four terms in the Illinois Legislature, and in 1846, Lincoln was elected to a term in the U.S. Congress. He went on record both against slavery and against the Mexican War. In the 1850s, Lincoln became involved in the formation of the Republican Party. In 1858, Lincoln made one of his most famous speeches alluding to the biblical quotation that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln compared the government of the United States to the house that would not stand saying the US would not survive if it tried to remain half slave and half free. He believed that either the entire Union would come to allow slavery, or would abolish it. The divided Union could not remain. Future legal events bore him out. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott opinion had implications, which if unchecked, would have forced the spread of slavery to all of the states and territories.

In 1858, Lincoln engaged in a series of famous debates with national political figure, Stephen Douglas. One of these debates occurred in my own home town, Quincy, Illinois, where there is still a large monument commemorating the debate in the town’s old Central Park. Lincoln lost the Illinois Senate race, but he won the 1860 presidential election also against Stephen Douglas. Lincoln received fiery criticism from both sides. He was hated by those who favored slavery for his statements on the immorality of slavery and the need for its eventual abolition. He was likewise despised by the radical abolitionists for his unwillingness to immediately end slavery through force. At the time Lincoln was elected president, the country was already firmly divided over slavery and the South had already repeatedly threatened to secede from the Union and make war against the northern states in order to preserve slavery and to avoid the North’s regime of industry protecting tariffs. It’s easy to see now that the South would have been better off economically if they had renounced slavery, turned their former slaves into employees, and industrialized by building their own cotton mills to produce thread, fabric, and clothing. The South was caught in a delusion. They saw a false image of themselves and of their northern opponents. The north failed to deal well with the problem of slavery because of greed. The evil of slavery had warped the understanding of law and culture in both north and south. Faced with Lincoln’s election, the South seceded from the Union and began attacking Union outposts among the southern states. This, of course, was an act of war which began the terrible Civil War of the United States between the southern states and the northern. Lincoln led the country through the horrible cataclysm of the Civil War.

Lincoln famously noted in his second Inaugural Address that the horrible suffering of the Civil War was in some way a chastening from God for the horrors of slavery as practiced in the South and long encouraged and tolerated by the North. Lincoln ended slavery through his sponsorship of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. During the war Lincoln ordered the freedom of slaves in Confederate controlled territory through the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln is justly famous for arguments against slavery. We would consider those arguments to be natural law arguments. Lincoln argued from the nature of human beings and the implications of their choices to say that slavery was improper. He noted slavery’s incompatibility with the Declaration of Independence and slavery’s incompatibility with morality and sound public policy.

Lincoln is still resented by some today because of his centralization of power in the federal government and his resistance to the secession of the southern states. Some Southerners still resent the destruction of the south meted out by the Union Army, acting under Lincoln, in its attempt to demoralize the south and end the war. It is often forgotten that Lincoln did not threaten to attack the South, but that the South did, in fact, attack the northern outposts in southern territory, triggering the war. Lincoln tended to be a pragmatic incrementalist, seeking to make changes a bit at a time. The Civil War forced quicker and more radical changes.

Shortly after the end of the war, Lincoln was assassinated. The bitterness of the war led to harsh treatment of the south. After early attempts at promoting racial equality in the south, the United States abandoned those efforts and left political control of the south to the almost entirely Democrat white population. It was not until the civil rights movement of the 1950’s that legal inequality was finally dealt with once again. We still suffer from the damage to law and society done by the evils of slavery and discrimination.

The young Lincoln was not known as a particularly religious person, though his parents had been Baptists and he himself attended a Presbyterian church from time-to-time. Lincoln began reading the Bible during the war, and admitted to friends that this most sublime document had a transformative effect upon his life. He was also strongly influenced by the Declaration of Independence and its statement that “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” America will always remember the eloquent way in which Lincoln reminded us of that and other timeless truths.

Monday, February 09, 2009

CA Court of Appeal Protects the Religious Freedom of a Private School - says school not a business under the Unruh Act

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times by Maura Dolan, dated January 28, 2009, documents a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeals holding that the California Lutheran High School in Riverside County was not a business under the Unruh Act, and as such was allowed to enforce rules against apparent lesbian conduct.

According to the article, the case involved two female students who were expelled in their junior year for lesbian-like conduct. The court cited the 1998 California Supreme Court precedent finding that the Boy Scouts of America were not a business establishment under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The girls sued the school for invasion of privacy, false arrest, and discrimination. The court found against them and for the school on these matters as well.

The court recognized the school’s religious belief that homosexuality is inappropriate. The court understood that the school’s conduct code allowing students to be expelled for engaging in immoral or scandalous conduct was an essential part of its religious message. The court wrote, “The whole purpose of sending one’s child to a religious school is to ensure that he or she learns even secular subjects within a religious framework.” This understanding is of key importance. Religious freedom would be a meaningless cliché if parents were not able to send their children to schools that actually teach and reinforce those religious beliefs. If religious schools are forced to engage in practices or allow practices that are antithetical to the core of their beliefs, those schools will no longer be able to truly reflect their faith.

This is not to say that there can’t be difficulties with religious schools. This is not to say that there can’t be grave difficulties with what a religious school might teach. Radical Islamic madrasas that advocate violence against non-Muslims merely because of their lack of faith in their radical brand of Islam, or who demand female genital mutilation are obviously problematic. But belief that sexual immorality is improper and should be discouraged particularly among the young is not a damaging or aberrant belief. The orthodox versions of all major religions and the majority of all world civilizations have taught that some restraint of human sexuality is good, necessary, and appropriate. Nearly all of them have agreed that homosexual conduct is inappropriate and immoral. Discouraging young people from homosexual activity is in no way physically damaging to them or to other people. Most religions and most civilizations would say it is actually spiritually and mentally beneficial and wholesome to discourage homosexual activity and other sexual immorality. This should not be mistaken as a bias against sexuality itself either. Biblical Christianity and again most major religions and civilizations have strongly encouraged the expression of sexuality within the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. Sex is a wonderful, beautiful, and powerful thing when it is part of the bond between a married man and woman. In other instances, this powerful force can be destructive in many ways. It is only reasonable that private schools should be allowed to teach what Christianity and indeed other religions have taught for thousands of years. They should be allowed to teach what the experience of millions of Christians has ratified. And it is a good thing that a court has been willing to recognize the law and its boundaries and limitations rather than giving in to the constant pressure of those who demand social approval for sexual immorality.

In the 37-page opinion in Jane Doe v California Lutheran High School Association et al, the court was considering an appeal from a summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff’s attorney has indicated a desire to petition the Supreme Court of California to take up the case. Sadly, the California courts have already decided that certain religious corporations, even non-profit religious corporations, can sometimes be businesses under the Unruh Act. The court noted that the school is a social organization whose primary function is the inculcation of values. They cited the school’s mission statement that “CLHS exists to glorify God by using His inerrant Word to nurture discipleship in Christ…” The school is selective in its membership based on what it believes. The court pointed out that the school offers admission to Lutheran families and those who “are in harmony with the policies and principles of our school.” The court also cited a 1998 California attorney general opinion that the admissions decisions of private religious schools are not subject to the Unruh Act. The court further noted that precedent establishes that “private organizations can engage in some business transactions with members without the risk of becoming a business enterprise for the purposes of the Unruh Act.” The court does not address the question of whether the school would be allowed to violate the Unruh Act as an expression of association, religious freedom, or the rights of parents if they actually came under the Unruh Act. They merely looked at the narrow question of the Unruh Act’s applicability.

The court further noted with respect to the invasion of privacy count, that disclosing the school’s suspicions about the students’ sexual orientation to their parents was not an invasion of privacy. Indeed, the court noted that the parents had a right to know why their children were being expelled. The court noted that “even assuming plaintiffs had some legitimate expectation of privacy regarding their sexual orientation, that expectation was diminished once they enrolled in a private school that deemed homosexual conduct to be a violation of school rules. This is true even if they had never read the Christian conduct rule; obviously, the school had rules, and they could be subject to them even if they never read them.” The court further noted that there were no feasible or effective alternatives that would have had a lesser impact on the students’ privacy than the measures that were taken.

The court also rejected the cause of action for false imprisonment based on the questioning of the students by the principal for a period that allegedly extended over two hours. The plaintiffs had conceded that their false imprisonment claims stood or fell with their Unruh Act claim. Because the school’s purpose in the detention did not violate the Unruh Act, it was not unreasonable or contrary to law. There was no allegation that, apart from the Unruh Act violation, the confinement was excessive in duration or scope.

The court also ruled on a variety of discovery matters and dismissed a count of unfair competition that was also based on the Unruh Act. It is always encouraging to see the Court of Appeal apply California law in a clear, reasonable, and narrow manner.

Should Christians Ever Revolt against a Tyranous Government?

Should Christians ever resort to the violent overthrow of governments? Apart from the pragmatic issue of how well it works, Romans 13 seems to forbid rebellion. Many Christian thinkers have thought this passage only protected governments acting legitimately. But I have to admit the text makes no such distinction.

I think that the answer to the use of rebellion may be tied up in a variety of other questions. First is the question of whether or not objective moral rules change over time. I am quite sure that they don’t. Genuine moral rules flow from the nature of God Himself, and God never changes. Sometimes individuals or societies come to know more about God, but God Himself does not change, and His rules don’t change. If God does not change, then the events that are approved of morally in the Old Testament can give us some guidance. We have to be careful because there are some events in the Old Testament that were immoral that the text does not comment on clearly. With respect to revolts, we do find a couple of examples in the Old Testament. First, we find a revolt against foreign tyranny or hegemony in the book of Judges. In Judges 3:12 Ehud kills the king of Moab. One does have to be careful with the book of Judges though. So many foolish actions amid a few brave ones. Another revolt takes place in Judah itself. In II Kings 11, there is a rebellion against the usurping queen Athaliah by the priests, the military, and the true heir to the throne, Joash. This revolt seems to meet with nothing but approval from the text. While Athaliah was a usurper, she did represent the status quo.

These examples lead to a second problem. What makes a government a government from God’s point of view anyway?

The third problem in trying to resolve the issue of rebellions is whether or not there is a hierarchy to moral rules. While there are many nuanced positions available, popular theologian Norman Geisler has pointed out that there are basically three positions among Christians who hold a strong view of Scripture. First, the classic Pietist position that moral principles never come into conflict and there is no real hierarchy of moral principles. Second, the Lutheran position that there is a hierarchy of morals, but when they come into conflict we do the lesser evil. The lesser evil is still a sin, but often a necessary one which God can forgive. Third is the Calvinist position that there is a hierarchy of moral principles and that you are not sinning when you follow the greatest good. You can readily see how this might apply with the problem of rebellion. If it is a moral truth that we are to obey the government, what happens when it comes into conflict with a higher moral principle like preserving innocent human life or preventing the murder of innocent human life? It becomes even more complicated in states where the government and the people are intertwined so that the people become accomplices in whatever the state undertakes or fails to undertake. Pietists would tend to say that you could never rebel against the government because no moral principle can override any other. Lutherans would say that if the government is up to serious evil like murdering innocents, you may rebel against the government in an emergency, but doing so would be a sin for which repentance and forgiveness would be necessary. The classic Calvinist position would be that if the government is going around killing innocent people, it is actually your duty to rebel against it and replace it with a better government, but that you need to be awfully cautious about taking this step and what the actual results are going to turn out to be. Under the Calvinist position, you are not sinning by rebelling against the government because preserving innocent human life and maintaining appropriate and legitimate government override the general moral principle of obedience to the state. By the way, while the Pietists, Calvin, and Luther are the names associated with these views, all these views have been around as long as there have been human beings. Their application has merely been less systematic or group linked.

A fourth major issue is the question of whether or not application of moral principles should be based on playing it safe or on accepting moral adventure in which we may do the wrong thing for good reasons. Pietist groups generally stick with playing it safe. Calvinists, like Presbyterians and Congregationalists in the early United States, and the Puritan Anglicans have tended to practice moral adventure. Certainly there is always a danger of arrogance or mistake involved in any choice to use violence. Nevertheless, I think it is arguable from the parable of the talents and other passages in Scripture that God probably does call us to moral adventure rather than to moral safety. But the use of violence is so serious it should only occur in very unusual circumstances – such as when no alternative of the ballot box or the news paper is available.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Terrible: President Obama's first weeks

President Obama’s first weeks in office have been full of all sorts of announcements and statements from the president. One of the good ones was his presidential memo mandating transparency and openness in government. I hope that the government follows up fully with the kind of disclosure Obama says he favors. Unfortunately, not everything was that good. Something that seems good on its surface but may not really be so was the president’s executive order concerning “ensuring lawful interrogations.” This order limited interrogation techniques used by the military and a number of other government agencies to those listed in the Army Field Manual. The purpose behind this is in some ways noble. It is important that it be completely clear that the American government does not in any way condone the torture of prisoners. Torture is largely ineffective. It makes people tell you whatever you want to hear rather than what is necessarily true. There are also serious moral problems with inflicting torture upon even the most evil of people. However, successful interrogation may not require torture, but often does require innovation, creativity, and surprise. I have to admit that I haven’t read the entire Army Field Manual section on interrogation, so I don’t know everything that it says. But the problem is that people in training to be terrorists can read the Army Field Manual and will know everything that it says. The anticipation that everyone will follow the Field Manual allows them to prepare themselves much more adequately to face future interrogation if captured. It’s probably a good idea to be able to surprise detainees with interrogation techniques that, while not amounting to torture, are not what they expected or were prepared for.

The president’s executive order on ensuring lawful interrogations was not the worst thing that’s come out of the Obama White House in its first week, however. The most terrible thing was the January 23, 2009, presidential memoranda setting aside the Mexico City Policy. In 1985, Ronald Reagan created the Mexico City Policy. This was an announcement that directed the United States’ Agency for International Development to withhold US aid funds from all organizations that used non-US aid funds to support abortion overseas. It was the official government policy between 1985 and 1993 when President Clinton rescinded it. George W. Bush reinstated the Mexico City Policy in 2001, and it remained in force until rescinded by Obama on January 23 of this year. Opponents of the Mexico City Policy call it the “global gag rule.” They feel constrained because they would rather promote abortion than any other kind of family planning. Some organizations have chosen to go without government funding rather than give up the right to perform and promote abortions overseas. I am always shocked by this strange eagerness to kill unborn children in foreign countries. Sadly, the Obama administration has decided to allow the government to provide money to organizations that promote and perform abortions throughout the world with the stroke of a pen in the form of this new memorandum repealing the Mexico City Policy. But this was not a surprise. Obama promised during his campaign to repeal the Mexico City Policy. In his interview with Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren, Obama indicated that he did not know when human rights vest in a human being. This is strange for a constitutional lawyer and a person who wants to be president of the United States. But it is in some way consistent with someone who thinks that it should be legal and reasonable to kill human beings in the womb. For a president who prides himself on his practicality and non-partisanship, the immediate rescission of the Mexico City Policy seems a strangely partisan and ideological act with which to begin a presidency. I and many others have prayed that God would restrain President Obama from taking this step. Let us hope that he is convicted of his error and at some point not only reinstates the Mexico City Policy, but becomes an advocate for the right to life for all living human beings. Let us hope that he comes to recognize what is obvious, that in conception a living sperm joins with a living egg to form a living human being who is alive for legal purposes until natural death. Human beings do not go from a state of being physically unalive to a state of life when they come out of the womb. All the wishes and social construction and linguistic distortion of abortion promoters will not change reality. Let us hope that some day President Obama and the rest of our nation are willing to open their eyes and accept reality rather than seeking to perpetuate a woman’s license to kill her own children.