Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hayden Hearings

On Thursday morning, I listened to a small portion of the hearings for the possible confirmation of General Hayden for director of the C.I.A. Once again, I was shocked at the politicization of intelligence, foreign policy and national defense that occurred. The secret programs that have been disclosed to the press recently about tapping international phone calls and about keeping track of long distance phone records were both brought up repeatedly. But what was particularly shocking was that misrepresentations were made by members of the committee.

The 1947 act governing intelligence in the United States does provide that there must be a briefing to the intelligence committees about issues surrounding the actions of the intelligence agencies. But there are exceptions. An exception for certain covert operations and an exception for situations in which the president deems that additional secrecy is necessary to protect human life, sources, and methods. In this case, the wiretapping programs were under the presidential exception. As a result, rather than briefing full committees, legislative leaders were briefed, including both the Republican and Democratic senior intelligence committee members and the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate.

What was disingenuous was that Democratic lawmakers quoted only the passage of the law about oversight and not the exceptions. They claimed that the president and the intelligence leaders had violated the law by not briefing the whole intelligence committees on the secret programs that were disclosed to others. This is a highly disingenuous politicization of the intelligence process—exactly the sort of thing that the Democrats are constantly accusing the Republicans of doing. While it is reasonable for our leaders to have discussions about foreign policy, intelligence gathering, and military matters, it would be nice if we could get back to a bi-partisan policy that does not include lies and constant attempts to undermine the work of the other party, whether or not that undermining also undermines the security of the United States. While it is true that conservative lawmakers are also not perfect and often suffer from a lack of depth and lack of strong personal character, the left not only has the same problems, but seems to suffer from a preference for winning elections over winning wars.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Culture and the World (Londinistan II)

I wanted to clarify something in contrast to my article about loving culture. As I mentioned in that article, by loving culture I do not mean loving “the world.” David F. Wells has rightly said that “worldliness is that system of values and beliefs, behaviors and expectations, in any given culture that have at their center the fallen human being and that relegate to their periphery any thought of God. Worldliness is what makes sin look normal in any age and righteousness seem odd.” It is very much the case from a biblical point of view that Christians are to hate and separate themselves from worldliness. They are not to engage in or tolerate within themselves those values, beliefs, expectations and behaviors that are not in tune with the mind of Christ. For the Christian, Christ must always be the center. Everything must be judged in relationship to Christ. As it says in the scriptures, every thought must be made subject to Christ. As David Wells has also pointed out, the problem with the church today is not that it is not efficient enough or appealing enough. Its crisis is not one of image or management. Rather it is because we are, in fact, too worldly. We love the things our world loves instead of loving Christ. Christians should ask the question of what Christ wants and how God expects us to live and then through prayer and the help that comes from prayer, bring his life, his family, his community and as much of the world as possible into conformity with God’s rule and direction. Naturally, in a fallen world that is in rebellion against God, this is a never ending battle. I am not a post- millennialist and it seems to me that scripture seems to indicate that the church will never be completely successful in bringing the entire world to know Christ prior to Christ’s return. Nevertheless, we should fight the good fight so that when Christ does return we will be found faithful. And who knows, history is a long phenomena. There may be long periods of great success if we will seek God and apply ourselves.

How must we apply ourselves? As I say, the answer is not in management or appearances. The real thing is seeking God and His truth. Jesus in His high priestly prayer asks God the Father to sanctify His people and to sanctify them through His Word. It is through the Word of God that we are sanctified, that is, made holy and brought into conformity with the will and rule of God. In other words, becoming what we need to be involves finding the truth and believing it. It also means communicating the truth to others. And not just a few simple truths, but the truth about everything. This is exactly why post-modernism is so dangerous. It proclaims that there is no truth. It is the anti-logocentric philosophy. By contrast, Christianity should be seeking the truth about everything. It is logocentric. That is, it has Christ as the word, the will, the plan, the knowledge, the logic, the revelation, the order of God at the center.

As I am certainly not the first to observe, the root of culture is “cult.” It is the stuff associated with a religious belief that animates a society. The worldliness of our age resolves around man as his own god. In post-modern philosophy, man rejects the Logos of God and instead substitutes the will of the community. In his post-modern business, he rejects the Logos of God and substitutes modern managerial technique. In his psychology, he rejects the Logos of God and substitutes the desire to feel good, be positive and shrug off guilt. In his politics, he claims that whatever is legal is good and that whatever he wants to do should be legal. As a corollary, whatever he does not want others to do or say should be illegal irregardless of moral truth. The world tries to tell us we can’t know truth, we can’t know anything about God, we can’t really make up our minds of what is right or wrong. Because of sin, there is a tiny grain of truth in claims about our lack of knowledge. But rejecting truth and seeking after the will of the human community is not a substitute for attempting to find absolute truth and falling short of the goal. Truth exists and we must pursue it ruthlessly. Christ is that truth and He wants to be found. In fact, if we find ourselves pursuing truth, we shall eventually learn that it is actually Christ drawing us to Himself rather than our own virtue that is the ultimate cause of such a phenomena. If it is difficult for us to pursue truth, we must pray that the Lord will reveal Himself to us, that He will draw us to Himself, that He will cause us to love Him more and to understand His ways. We must seek the will to be illumined and to have the desires of our hearts be in conformity with the will of God so that God will happily grant them. Undoubtedly, God will not say no to such prayers. Jesus spoke again and again of how God is a loving Father and gives His children good gifts rather than bad ones. If we ask for good things such as a greater knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Word of God as it applies to life, God will say yes and give us what we seek. His promises about prayer were not given to us so that we could ask God for self-destructive things like money, sex and power grounded outside of His will and used outside of His plan. Instead, it is exactly faith and truth and wisdom that God promises to give in return for our asking. Let us seek His face as individuals, as the church, as a people, and we will surely find Him for He is not far from us though we have tried to be far from Him. We can know the truth. And he will set us free.

Banned in Boston

Banned in Boston

At the link is an excellent article about the growing conflict between religious freedom and homosexual marriage. Laura Ingraham interviewed the author, Maggie Gallagher on her show today.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Da Vinci Code V

On Friday, May 12, I attended a showing at Calvary Chapel of D. James Kennedy’s new documentary refuting the errors in the Da Vinci Code, entitled The Da Vinci Deception. This was a good documentary of this sort and I recommend that people see it. The thing that I thought was particularly effective was that the documentary incorporated humor rather than taking everything too seriously.

One of the points made in The Da Vinci Deception that I’ve also seen in other books and items refuting the errors in the Da Vinci Code dealt with the way in which the Apostle John is depicted in art. In art from the Renaissance, the Apostle John is usually depicted as young and clean shaven with long hair. To modern eyes this makes him look somewhat feminine. Brown took advantage of this to claim that Leonardo's painting of John in the "Last Supper" is really a picture of Mary Magdalene.

After I watched The Da Vinci Deception, I had the opportunity to go to the Los Angeles Museum of Art the very next day in order to visit a special exhibition of some excellent paintings by Gustav Klimt as well as the general collection. In looking at depictions of the Apostle John in both medieval and Renaissance art, I was able to verify exactly what had been said about the depiction of John as a young man. Either John is commonly depicted as a somewhat feminine looking young man with no beard and long hair, or every work of art was actually depicting Mary Magdalene and no Apostle John. Of course the other problem would be not merely that nobody really believed that Mary Magdalene was depicted in the Last Supper, but also there is the problem that if all of these depictions of John are really depictions of Mary, there aren’t enough disciples. You would end up with ten disciples (Judas already being missing in most of the works) rather than the appropriate eleven. In addition, I did see a number of paintings that also do depict Mary Magdalene intentionally. She is not ignored in the world of church art. But she is depicted in a different way from the youthful Apostle John. In all of the art actually depicting Mary Magdalene, she is clearly identifiable as a woman. And in none of it is she in any way depicted as the spouse of Jesus or as having her own children or child.

Sythetic Privacy

During the last number of years, it almost appears as if a number of people within the government have been waging a quiet war against the policies of the administration. This war has involved not only leaking but even the apparent fabrication of false evidence. A number of stories in the Weekly Standard have described this phenomenon. One of the latest salvos in this struggle has been the leak of yet another secret program in the war on terror. This is the leak of the program regarding the accumulation of statistics and data on American telephoning. Undoubtedly, the timing of this leak was designed to interfere with the nomination of former N.S.A. head, General Michael V. Hayden, as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The newly leaked program, if press accounts are to be believed, is a program in which the National Security Agency has essentially collected all of the phone records for all of the telephone calls made involving the phones in the United States. These records don’t include names or addresses, merely phone numbers and calls to and from each of those phone numbers. In other words, this is a database of phone call patterns. It allows the N.S.A. to analyze overall who is calling who and the amount of traffic between certain areas of the country and the United States and different countries overseas. It also means that if a terrorist’s number is detected, it will be possible to go back and find all of the numbers that were called by that number and then to investigate accordingly. This is an obvious tool for the war on terror. It is also something that cannot be done under the system of court orders and warrants. There is no way to obtain a blanket warrant to engage in this type of program. But probably there is no need to do so. Because specific names and addresses are not used, and because the content of telephone calls is not monitored, there is probably no actual violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. In addition, this program is again well within the president’s war power to conduct tactical intelligence operations during a time of war. All of these arguments are likely to be lost on the administration’s critics.

Our society has come to have an unreasonable expectation of privacy. I believe it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the government will not raid your home, look through your private papers and letters, or read your letters as they go through the mail without warrants. It’s also true that the government probably should not wiretap your home or office without some kind of a warrant. On the other hand, Americans have come to not only expect this regular level of privacy—security in our personal homes and papers—but to think that other people should actually take actions of ours that are public in nature and essentially cover them up so that our privacy must be protected by others. For example, people are concerned if grocery stores provide information to advertisers about what sorts of products they buy. Undoubtedly, if the Department of Agriculture were collecting information from grocery stores about what Americans bought, this would be highly objectionable to the same people who object to the phone number data collection. But we buy items in public. We go to stores that are public places, we pick things up and put them in a cart where everyone can see them, and we pay for them in front of 15 other people standing nearby at the checkout line. There is no question that what we buy at the store simply isn’t private. The same thing is true for public library records—a major bug-bear in the debate about the Patriot Act. You go to a “public” library. You pick out books in front of all the other patrons. You take them to a counter where another human being sees what you are checking out, and where other patrons may likely see what you are checking out. Records are kept of the books that you take out and when you return them. These records are kept by a public institution, a library belonging to the government. And yet people somehow think that the library has a duty to cover up any knowledge of whatever books you publicly looked at. With these kinds of expectations, I suppose it’s only natural to expect that people will also want the phone company to protect their phone records from the government. When you make telephone calls, the telephone company knows who you called. They even know how long you talked to them. There are thousands of employees in the telephone company and many of them may actually have access to some part of your record even though that record may not include your name and address. They may see exactly the kinds of things the N.S.A. sees—lists of numbers which have called other numbers. And now people expect that the telephone companies, corporations filled with many people, should effectively cover for individual’s concerns about other people knowing what numbers have contacted other numbers. Pardon me, but it seems to me that this is rising to a high level of paranoia and silliness. Isn’t it more important to keep people from getting blown up than that some giant computer somewhere in Washington has two lists of correlated phone numbers. The government still isn’t listening in on your individual phone calls without a warrant, unless, of course, you’re talking to a known terrorist. The government still isn’t prosecuting people based upon these phone lists, let alone making them disappear in the middle of the night as happens in the many totalitarian countries that the same people complaining about this program are often apologizing for. And if information from this program were used in a court, it probably would be excluded, based on a broad interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, even though that does not mean that the government should be prevented from gathering or using the information for intelligence or war-making purposes.

I do believe that people do have a right to be secure in their homes and personal documents. I don’t want the government eavesdropping on just any conversation willy nilly. But on the other hand, we need to have realistic expectations concerning privacy and an understanding that other people do not have an obligation to keep private what is actually public.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Loving Our Cultures

Wednesday morning on the Laura Ingram Show, Laura interviewed Melanie Phillips, the new author of a book entitled Londonistan. Londonistan is a book detailing the British attitude toward the war on terror and the sociological factors that have put England in the situation it is currently in vis-à-vis the war on terror. Phillips details how the English have come to hate their own culture. They have been educated to believe that England is a racist, sexist, oppressive country that enslaved the rest of the world and was only getting what it deserved when terrorists struck in the 2005 tube bombings. A majority of Englishmen continue to believe as a result that the only way to deal with Islamo-Fascist terror is through appeasement. They genuinely believe that they created Islamo-Fascism through their past colonial policy and sustain it because of their sufficient deference to the Muslim world. Melanie Phillips rejects this description of the situation.

There are a variety of interesting dimensions to this problem. Here in the United States we face the same thing. Our own schools—especially colleges and universities—are producing graduates who’ve been taught that the United States is an evil place that oppresses the rest of the world and is responsible for all sorts of moral ills. We are being taught that we must hate our own culture and that we must love the very lifestyles and ideas that we had rejected in the past, such as homosexuality and Marxism.

It is also interesting to me because for most of my life I have been an ardent Anglophile. I have a deep love for English culture and English history. This is not to say that England is by any means perfect or innocent. All cultures have their strong points. Every culture has something that it does right and that is admirable and worthy of emulation. Every culture has things within it that are glorious, wonderful, colorful, fun, etc. It is also true that every culture has within it errors, sins, self-deception, pride and improper attitudes toward others. This is true regardless of what culture you’re talking about because all cultures are the result of human interaction, and human beings are sinful. As a result, all cultures are contaminated by our own human sin.

From a Christian standpoint, the whole trick is to take our lives, our society, our communities, and our institutions and bring them into submission to Christ. The end result should be a pervasively Christian culture. Christians have never done this perfectly. All of the cultures of predominantly Christian countries have been wanting in one way or another due to human sinfulness. But many of the wonderful things about cultures in predominantly Christian countries have come from Christianity and its foundational effect on those cultures. And it also should be recognized that for a culture to be transformed by its Christian beliefs takes time. After the Germanic tribesman began to accept Christianity, it still took hundreds of years for them to give up their violence, looting and pillaging. The desire of those with Norse blood to “go Viking” and the desire of Celts for interminable clan feuding died hard and took a lot of time to extinguish in the light of the cross. And sometimes the adopted ideals of Rome and Greece have had a stronger effect than Christian beliefs in molding the culture of the West.

There are some people who believe that having a “Christian culture” is even inherently impossible. They see culture as identical to “the world” as discussed in scripture. They could never bring themselves to believe that a majority of influential people in a society were actually significantly committed to Christ. While this may be rare, I do not believe that a “Christian culture” is impossible. Christianity is at times more successful and pervasive than many people want to think, even though it does not result in the perfection of society due to inherent human sinfulness. And, there is a difference between the human world system and a predominantly Christian culture – though such a culture is still not the kingdom of God.

I think it is possible to justifiably “love” cultures in the sense of admire, enjoy and in some ways copy, despite imperfections. That love, like all love, should motivate us to want to change and improve the culture rather than merely accepting it as is. C.S. Lewis talks about this transformative aspect of love in his book The Four Loves. It may not be wrong to love (in the above sense) British culture or Scottish culture or American culture while at the same time recognizing that there have been some historical misdeeds and some sinful aspects to those cultures since all human cultures involve sinful human beings and their practices. We seek to bring culture to the feet of Christ. Loving so in this way may not be “loving the world” as condemned in the Bible.

Another interesting problem of the love/hate relationship of culture is the difficulty that today some of the things people are criticizing about culture are the very aspects of culture that were in fact correct. For a culture to be opposed to sexual immorality is currently thought to be in some way inappropriate. But it is appropriate for us to discourage sexual immorality as a society.

I hope that both England and America learn to love the good things in their culture, to admire the good things in the cultures of others, and to be willing to submit culture to Christ and transform culture when it comes to the things that are immoral or unethical. For example, we should not discriminate against people because of their religions. Religious discrimination is wrong. On the other hand, we should recognize that some religions are true and some are false, that all religions teach some good things, but some religions teach some very bad things. And while we tolerate the people who hold to the religions that we consider false or disagree with, there is nothing wrong with having a society that is unabashedly predominantly Christian in its principles and ethics. There is nothing wrong with sharing Christianity with others and trying to encourage people to understand the Christian heritage and culture of the West. And there is nothing wrong with applying gentle social pressure to try to get people to live lives consistent with Christian principles and not consistent with Islamo-Fascism. Our desire to be tolerant of Muslins should in no way lead us to allow enclaves of Sharia law within the United States or England. Surely there is nothing wrong with saying in our motion pictures, our books and our schools that blowing up women, children and non-combatants is an unacceptable way of seeking political change. Nor is it improper for us to assert that we do not believe a global Muslim caliphate is a desirable political change.

In the end, I really hope that people in England can continue to love and cherish the writings of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Milton, Shakespeare, Spencer and Wordsworth, the speeches of Winston Churchill, the music of Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Thomas Tallis, the architecture of the Middle Ages, the Tutor period and Christopher Wren, to love the black umbrella and the stiff upper lip, the academic worlds of Oxford and Cambridge, the little rivers of the Cotswolds, the open vistas of the lake country, the moors of Cornwall, the waterways of Norfolk and the green fields of Kent; and even the political kingdom that through force of arms and strength of will and answered prayer brought the stop to the expansion of the Spanish empire and its inquisition, the demagoguery of Napoleon, the 19th century Islamo-Fascism of the Mahdi of Sudan, the mechanistic will of the Kaiser, the unspeakable evil of Nazism, and now the depredations of the tyrant Saddam Hussein. In some of these wars England was partnered with America; in others she stood alone. For all her faults and sins, including the failure to allow missionaries throughout India, the oppression of colonial peoples, and her wrongs to the early citizens of the 13 colonies, God used England to help stop the oppressive evils listed above and to spread Christianity throughout the world. She has also supplied the world with the most versatile, flexible and useful of international languages known to mankind. And on top of all that I wish for England, I hope that Americans will not follow in the footsteps of the English in continuing in the path of self hatred and self destruction. I hope that we can change the bad things about the United States and love the good things about the United States rather than trying to subvert our country.

Saving Republican Turnout II

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan

The link is to a good editorial by Peggy Noonan on the turnout subject. Hat tip to Drudge.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Saving Republican Turnout

There’s a lot of talk these days about apathy about conservative voters. The Republican Party is quite justifiably afraid that they will lose seats in the upcoming mid-term elections because their base may stay home. For the most part, efforts to rescue base turnout have focused on attitude and proclamations about issues. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will solve the problem.

The real problem with the conservative base, especially with social conservatives like me, is that we have started to come to the conclusion that the party is all talk and no action. Sure, it is true that the Bush administration has done a number of good things for social conservatives. First, the president overturned the Clinton administration’s executive orders that supported abortion internationally, and re-instituted Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy that prevented the use of American funds for abortion abroad. Second, Congress passed and the president signed both the Born Alive Infant Protection Act and a bill to criminalize federal crimes that injure the unborn. It is true that the base has forgotten these important triumphs far too quickly. But it is important for the Republicans to realize that the base has forgotten, and that they’re wondering exactly what the Republican Party has done for them lately. And well we wonder. Republicans have a majority in the House and the Senate as well as control of the presidency. Nevertheless, very little of the legislation that social conservatives want is getting passed. If Republicans want to save the mid-term elections, here are some examples of the things they need to DO in the next six months rather than merely talk about:

1. Pass and sign Dan Lungren’s Marriage Protection Amendment and send it to the states for ratification. This should have been a no-brainer. In the states in which marriage protection amendments or legislation have been considered, the vote is almost always around 70% in favor of protecting marriage. Why politicians in Washington are afraid to tackle an issue that has such a clear super majority in favor of it boggles the mind. This to say that their inaction is angering and frustrating the 70% of the people who want to see marriage protected. In addition, this is something that should be done, not merely discussed. Passing it will go a long way toward convincing social conservatives that the government is not simply using them.

2. Pass a life-protection amendment. The Republican Party has had in its platform for decades a statement that life begins at conception and abortion should be prohibited. It’s about time that something was done about trying to pass an amendment to the Constitution to protect the lives of the unborn in the contexts of abortion, embryonic cloning and other scientific research. Current law not only allows abortion on demand, but it allows so-called scientists to mass produce hundreds of human beings and then kill them for basic research. This anomaly in the law needs to be fixed before things get worse.

3. New research ethics legislation. If the Republicans cannot get a large enough super majority to pass a constitutional amendment protecting life, they should at least put together a legislative scheme preventing the mass slaughter of human beings in so-called research regarding embryonic stem cells and cloning.

4. Legislation encouraging home schooling and private schooling. In most urban areas, public education is training our children to believe all of the wrong things about morality, religion, life and reality. Through vouchers, tax deductions or whatever other creative means can be developed, we need to encourage home schooling and private schooling in Christian schools. If anything, the Republicans should see this as affecting their own future since the public schools are essentially trying to raise people to be good Democratic voters.

5. Care for veterans. As the war in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down, we are going to see more and more articles in the news media about the suffering of individual veterans. The government should do everything they can to get ahead of the curve on this and make sure that they take care of the cases of individual veterans in a humane manner now for the sake of morality rather than later for the sake of damage control.

6. National security. The White House needs to take measures to demonstrate that it is continuing to deal competently with the problems with the war on terror and Iran. While a third of America is unhappy with the president for being at war at all, there is another third that is concerned that he is not strengthening the military, preparing for the long future of the war, dealing strongly enough early enough with Iran, and dealing firmly enough with terrorists in other areas. It may very well be that the administration is actually doing the best job possible under the circumstances considering the need for a balancing of the force footprint vs. force effectiveness. But more needs to be done to show the American people what’s being done and why without compromising tactical security. The administration has created a perception among social conservatives that it is attempting to fight a deadly global war “on the cheap.” This simply will not do.

7. Border security. The immigration problem is very complicated. On the one hand, the Bible asks us to be welcoming of strangers and foreigners. In addition, it is difficult not to have compassion on the individuals living in poverty who want to come to the United States in order to have a decent life for their families. But on the other hand, there is the issue of obeying the law. People who enter the United States without a proper visa or permission are clearly violating the law. If someone is willing to violate the law for economic reasons, they may very well be willing to violate it or ignore it in other circumstances as well. This sometimes makes them less than ideal citizens. There is also the cultural problem. Rapid influxes of people with a different culture who do not seem to have an intent to adopt the culture of their new home make the existing culture uncomfortable. In addition, their different values sometimes compromise the successful pursuit of the values of the host country. But it is usually the case that by the third generation the children of immigrants do begin to truly acclimate to their host country and to adopt its culture as their home culture. The subjective discomfort of the home culture may be a temporary thing if there is not a constant influx of new immigrants. Then there is always the objective problem that some of the cultural values of the wave of illegal immigrants we are currently experiencing are not supportive of the type of government and way of life America has traditionally sought. Again, education and the change in generations may solve this problem. But with American public schools essentially taking a neutral role in issues like morality and advocating a radical left wing view of politics, this problem may prove extremely complicated. If the church undertakes extensive missionary efforts among immigrants, this may mitigate the problems. We can all have a common culture in Christ and in the Bible modifying both traditional American culture and the former cultures of the illegal immigrants to create a newer more biblical way of life. Certainly Christianity is trans-cultural and we should be able to find common unity in Christ. But then on top of all of this is the practical problem that many people are uncomfortable with the presence of so many illegal immigrants, but there is no practical way to deport 11 million people. In fact, doing so would in many cases be cruel. Of course it must be remembered that the immigrants who have been here for many years would have been granted amnesty in the last wave of official amnesties. So illegal status can only go back so far. Nevertheless, the practical problem is a large problem. So, sizing up some of these pros and cons, there is no easy solution to this problem. But there is a great deal of disenchantment among conservative voters with the administration’s current approach. While there will be no agreement on the issue of amnesty, there probably are two issues people could agree on. If the government were to take border security seriously and put up a serious barrier at the border such as the heavy sensor-laden fence that the Israelis have used to separate the West Bank from the rest of Israel, then people would feel that something was actually being done to ensure border security. This would reduce the influx of illegal aliens and allow for greater control of the southern border. Absolute border security may be impossible, but border security to stop small bands of poor people from walking across the border in the middle of the desert is possible. Second, everyone can probably agree to make it easier to immigrate to the United States legally. Expanding legal immigration would be far more fair since it would allow people from all over the world to come to the United States, not merely people who share a common border with the United States. In addition, it would take some of the pressure off illegal immigration because it would give people a greater hope of being able to get in legally. Even if there are people who don’t appreciate immigration, it is certainly better to have a large wave of legal immigrants than a large wave of illegal immigrants who are not properly documented and who have demonstrated by their illegal entry to the country that they have higher priorities than keeping the law. These two things would go a long way toward ensuring a decent voter turnout.

8. Restraint of government spending. This is difficult because while we’re at war we clearly have to spend a lot more money on the military and on foreign aid. We are also going to have to spend a lot more money on intelligence gathering and on television and radio for the Islamic world. At the same time, the government cannot seriously raise taxes without sending the economy back into a recession. As a result, somehow spending is going to have to be cut. This is undoubtedly difficult and painful. Any time spending for domestic programs is cut, the government is portrayed as being heartless, cruel and an enemy of the poor. Nevertheless, there must be significant ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government care for the poor, while at the same time reducing overall expenditures.

9. Cut the pork. This is always a difficult problem because people tend to vote for their own congressman based on what the congressman does for them and yet hate every other congressman because of what they do for their district. In other words, pork is OK as long as it’s your own pork. Other peoples’ pork is bad. Sadly, the Republicans have gotten deeply involved in the pork business since they consolidated power in Washington. While there are undoubtedly legitimate road and bridge projects out there in the United States, somehow a distinction has to be made between the things that really need to be done and the things that are simply pork. And unnecessary spending needs to be cut. At least during war time.

10. Provide leadership instead of following the poles. Sometimes you do have to take political realities into consideration and either back off or compromise. But the poles are shaped by the arguments and speeches of leaders who change culture by their leadership. The Republicans need to be leaders who drive what people think and why they think it rather than trying to decide which way the wind of the future is going to blow and then going there. Pole following is unprincipled and in the end usually fails. But when Republicans do what’s right, explain why they’re doing it, and stand by their decision, the public usually comes along sooner or later. This was certainly the experience of Ronald Reagan.

Last of all, what if you’re a Democrat? If you do these things faster and better than the Republican office holders rank and file republicans will vote for you.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Da Vinci Code Comments IV

In the Da Vinci Code, the author makes no mention of Protestant churches. His primary criticism is against Opus Dei and against the historical church which he refers to as the Roman Catholic Church. But many of the fictitious historical events surrounding the “formation” of Christianity which Brown invents are dated prior to the time the church was known as the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, the church in Constantinople became the Eastern Orthodox Church rather than the Roman Catholic Church. The events at the Council of Nicea are in no way attributable to the current Roman Catholic establishment. Instead, they date from a time when Christianity was not yet divided into western and eastern churches.

It is a bit ironic that Brown attacks the Roman Catholic Church for rejecting the sacred feminine. Historically, one of the problems Protestants have had with Rome is precisely the opposite. While the best sophisticated official Roman Catholic teaching will tell you that Catholics do not worship Mary or the saints, nevertheless, if you go to rural areas of the Philippines, Mexico, South American or the Caribbean you will discover that there are people who consider themselves Roman Catholic and who do in fact worship Mary and the saints without rebuke from their priests. In these cultures the worship of Mary has essentially been substituted for the worship of pagan goddesses. And so, one of the problems protestant Christians have had with Rome is that Rome has kept the “worship of the divine feminine” alive and well in the form of looking the other way when people worship Mary.

Of course the greatest historic divisions between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have been over the areas the means of salvation, the proper focus of belief, and the hierarchy of authority. The Catholic Church has confused salvation with sanctification. In other words, it has confused the process by which God declares us righteous and reconciles us to Himself with the process of our actually becoming more holy in our life and thought. Protestants believe that salvation is by faith through grace. That God essentially gives us salvation as a gift based upon Jesus Christ suffering for sin in our place so that we no longer need to be punished for our sins. This is one reason why Protestants have constantly rejected the association of physical pain or the deliberate infliction of physical pain with holiness that is portrayed in the Da Vinci Code. Second, Protestants believe that the faith that we need to have in order to be saved is faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning work upon the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His identity as the second person of the Trinity. By contrast, the Catholic Church has traditionally thought that the object of faith was the “teachings of the church.” In other words, to be saved you had to believe whatever the church teaches whether or not the church is teaching faith in Christ. The third dispute centers on authority. Protestants believe that the Bible is our authority and that God illuminates the minds of His people to make them able to understand His communication in the biblical text. Indeed, based upon the general revelation to all people, anyone can understand the Bible if they were but willing to do so. The problem is that our human sinfulness causes us to suppress and repress the clear meaning of scripture. By contrast, the Catholic Church has always taught that church tradition and the teachings of the church hierarchy were more important than the clear meaning of scripture. Instead, the church tended to see scripture as a document too dangerous for lay people or even trained priests to interpret outside of the discipline of the Vatican and its magisterium. These differences have practical application. For example, Protestants tend to believe that through the scripture and general revelation, all people have a basic understanding of morality and can apply that understanding to the facts around them without a hierarchy to tell them what to do. By contrast, as Horace Rice admits in his book, “Fifty Questions on the Natural Law,” the Catholic teaching has been that people need the ultimate authority of the teaching magisterium of the church to explain to them how they should actually live. Because the magisterium of the Catholic Church has been wrong about so many things, Protestants reject their authority and appeal instead to the Bible itself. The decentralized character of Protestantism has the advantage of preventing the centralized propagation and teaching of error. It has the disadvantage of leaving Protestantism divided and uncoordinated.

Many of these historical differences have been practically mitigated by the findings of the Vatican II Church Council. Vatican II encouraged Roman Catholics to read the bible and adopted some theological statements closer to Protestantism on many issues. Today you can find many Roman Catholics who read the bible and essentially believe most of what Protestants believe about salvation, faith, and even papal authority. In some areas, including American politics, Roman Catholics and protestant Christians have been able to work together for good. Certainly both should stand together against the slanders of Dan Brown’s book.