Thursday, February 4, 2016

“The Kings of the Earth”: Mao versus Cathy

The Bible gives us an interesting story line regarding the future of government on earth. On the one hand, we have government-led rebellion against God:

The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one. (Ps 2:2)

My loyal readers will recognize this as my default view of all government. But those whose default view is Romans 13 like to come back with another, equally biblical, assertion, that the future holds the prospect of government-led submission to Jesus:

The [new Jerusalem, the eternal city of God ruled by Jesus, the Lamb of God] has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations of the earth will walk in its light, and the rulers of the world will come and bring their glory to it. (Rev 21:24)

So how do we get from the former to the latter? Some folks say the only hope is for Jesus to come back bodily and blow those baddies to hell:

“You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Ps 2:9)

Those who hold any hope for human agency to play a part in the transformation would say that we pray that God will give us godly rulers who will lead our society in righteous ways that allow the church to carry out its mandate to disciple the nations. Such folks don’t seem to find “Um, how’s it working for you?” a question worth answering.

The Quill Pig model is to withdraw – ever so respectfully and politely, but firmly – our tangible and intangible loyalty from rulers who plot against the Lord and give it to those who bring their glory into Jesus’ kingdom. One reason for this is that it’s the only way for the kings of the earth to bring into Jesus’ kingdom glory that is worth having.

To look at what this means, let’s begin with the prototypical king of the earth, Mao Zedong. If anyone has ever prepared for battle against Jesus, it is Mao. He began as a local guerrilla, which is to say, a the run-of-the-mill thieving, murdering, lying, hypocritical politician on steroids.

For those of you who don’t understand guerrilla war, this is how it works: in the name of empowering the little guy with health, education, and welfare, guerrillas show up in a village and tell the little guys there, “Give us food [or whatever] or die.” Now the little guys may or may not believe that the guerrillas can bring them a better life, but they do want to see at least one more sunset, so they give the guerrillas what they ask for. Then, after the guerrillas leave, the government shows up and punishes the little guys for “aiding and abetting the enemy.”

There is every reason to believe that this, in addition to raids on government supply depots and outright aid from the Soviet Union, is how Mao got his start. He eventually killed off most of his opponents and drove the rest out of the country. Once he had established himself as “the powers that be … ordained of God,” he headed a regime that killed more innocent people than any on record and enforced atheism at gunpoint.

Even ISIS is probably more humane than Mao was. Today everyone who is not ISIS considers ISIS’s policy of “convert, leave, or die” (with “leave” and sometimes even “convert” not always an option) as the epitome of barbarity, but if Mao took his predecessor Stalin as a role model, he preferred the even greater barbarism of torturing his victims into forced confessions to killing them outright. (See the account of Stalin’s treatment of Kamenev near the bottom of this.)

Whether we like it or not, he did provide every child in China with a school, a hospital, and future job security, so he can justly claim to have delivered on his promises, thus fulfilling the definition of government given in Romans 13 at least as well as did the government Paul had in mind when he wrote the epistle. If we take the Romans 13 view of government as the default, it is kings like Mao who will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem.

One wonders, however, what would cause a man who hates God as much as Mao did to turn his hard-won booty over to his, shall we say, behated. Will he do it because Jesus comes with legions of angels who can’t be machine gunned or blown up and waterboards him until he hands over the goods? Is this what is meant by the knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth like the waters cover the seas? Or will he chicken out before it gets that far the way we do at tax time, sending in the tax forms before the IRS sends out its SWAT teams to roust us at two in the morning and haul us off to the Big House?

Or is God less interested in physical treasures than in true appreciation of his goodness, an appreciation that will manifest itself in voluntary, heartfelt giving before the threat of heavenly retribution comes over the horizon?

If so, I think he can get it from another king, one unlike Mao: C. Truett Cathy, head of Chick Fil-A.

Before I continue, I may need to head off a couple of objections. One might be that he underpays his employees. I actually don’t know what he pays compared to Walmart or McDonald’s – I suspect he pays less than Goldman Sachs – but I do know that I have been to Chick Fil-A a dozen or so times, and the employees all seem to personify the old Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, honest, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. They look to me like they enjoy coming to work and consider making us customers glad we chose to spend our money there. I would expect them to be working to move on to more lucrative pursuits as soon as possible, of course, but my guess is that any HR person who sees a long tenure at a Chick Fil-A on a résumé expects the applicant to know how to make both the customers and his employer happy.

Another objection might be that fast food is a blight on the world’s landscape, the haunt of second-class people. That may be, but it is also true that fast food places provide a place for people of modest means to be served – “For once I get to tell someone else what I want and expect to get what I ask for” – and to get out from under the labor of preparing meals. They can turn their toddlers loose on a playground where there are no friendly strangers in black sedans and eat food designed to make them want to come back for more some other time. Places like Chick Fil-A are meeting the needs, if only the felt needs, of the little guy.

And finally, I don’t know how happy their chickens are. I would like all chicken to be free range and organic, but I can’t afford it at home, let alone at a fast food place. If you’re a Vegan or from PETA, give yourself a point.

For all his faults, perceived or otherwise, C. Truett Cathy is a king bringing his treasure into the new Jerusalem. His most overt attempt to do so is the well-known policy of not opening on Sunday. This is an attempt to honor God’s words: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Ex 20:9-10a).

(I emphasize “attempt” because the degree of success is open to question. Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh, and unless he uses neither electricity nor items made with steel or other materials produced by factories open on the Sabbath, he violates a strict interpretation of Ex 20:10b: “neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” But that the attempt is sincere is not open to question.)

I think Truett Cathy is trying to show the world what it means to be a Christian, and I would argue that it is the glory of the Truett Cathys of the world that God is after. It is that kind of glory that will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. If Jesus values the few coppers contributed by a poor widow more than the many shekels contributed by the rich, even if that money was earned honestly, how much more is he interested in treasures voluntarily given in exchange for high-quality service than in booty extorted by revenue agents?

Imagine a Truett Cathy paying his bills – and, infinitely more importantly, earning a hearing for the gospel – by educating disadvantaged children or providing health care or caring for the unemployed or the superannuated. Compare that with how Mao educated children and provided health care and cared for the unemployed and superannuated. Imagine how – and why – a Truett Cathy would protect homes from burglars and catch murderers and repair roads and deal with wannabe invaders. Compare that with our local police and highway departments and the diplomats who so arrogantly claim that they “serve and protect” us.

My prediction is that the fulfillment of the prophecy that the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem will be preceded by the withering away of the state as we know it and the emergence of “kings” who act more like Truett Cathy than like Mao or any US president.

Why would anyone want it to be otherwise?

And if it’s not otherwise, how is the best way to get from here to there? Is it by joining or even encouraging the armed forces of the Mao wannabes or the cadres of the Truett Cathys?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


LIBERTARIAN PARTY: PRO-CHOICE ON EVERYTHING proclaims the banner in the picture at the top of Bruce Ashford’s column on "The (Religious) Problem with Libertarianism. The site on which it appears is “a project of the ethics and religious liberty commission” of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Ashford is a professor at an SBC seminary, so we’re talking major-league respectable here. His point is, of course, that that banner says all that needs to be said about libertarianism: the average evangelical equates “pro choice” with “anti-life,” so libertarianism is therefore anti life. His confusion, innocent or otherwise, is such that he never uses the word libertinism in the column, so it is obvious that does not know the difference between libertarianism and libertinism.
Embedded in the fine print is the note that it is only “some libertarians” who believe that “taking the life of unborn babies is wrong,” but by that point the damage has been done. In earlier sentences, Ashford strongly implies that libertarianism is the belief in “removing every possible restriction,” that “What I want must reign supreme,” and that it “deifies freedom, giving it a sort of autonomy that God alone should have.”
This follows another well-respected evangelical leader’s declaration in a public forum, “I am a libertarian at heart.” As I had only ever heard him call himself conservative, I was tempted to be pleasantly surprised until he went on to say, “I want what I want when I want it.”
Seriously? You know at least two libertarians who are in positions of responsibility in their respective churches, you attended a seminary founded by a libertarian, and this is what you think we believe?
(I have heard that Ashford has confessed to doing little research before writing his column, but I don’t expect ever to see anything resembling a public retraction or even correction or clarification. Nor would I expect any kind of public retraction or correction from the latter leader.)
Let’s get this straight (again), beginning with perhaps the best aspect of Ashford’s article, his quote from the conservative Karl Hess, who defines libertarianism as
the view that each man is the absolute owner of his life, to use and dispose of as he sees fit; that all social actions should be voluntary; and respect for every other man’s similar and equal ownership of life and, by extension, property and fruits of that life, is the ethical basis of a humane and open society. In this view, the only function of law or government is to provide the sort of self-defense against violence that an individual, if he were powerful enough, would provide for himself. (The Concise Conservative Encyclopedia)
To which I say, “And the problem is … ?”
Well, OK, Christians will have trouble with the first relative clause because we know that we and all we own ultimately belong to God. But since not every conservative would qualify for membership in an evangelical church and so evangelical conservatives have to make adjustments to their conservatism if they are to conform it to their faith (assuming that they are not actually conforming their faith to fit their conservatism), I have no problem saying that a libertarian evangelical is within his rights to swap out the idea of self-ownership, which is clearly not biblical, and swap in the idea of stewardship, which clearly is.
Further, if we are not to judge our fellow servants because that is God’s prerogative (“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” [Rom 14:4]), it follows that I am to treat those things over which God has made you steward as though they were your property. I am not to expropriate them even if I think I have some morally better use for them, whether I’m Donald Trump taking them to “make America great again” or Bernie Sanders taking them to be “compassionate.”
If words mean anything at all, the pledge of the same Libertarian Party that is “pro-choice on everything” – “I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals” – is the exact opposite of “removing every possible restriction,” and “What I want must reign supreme.”
Evangelical libertarians have the same job of educating secularist libertarians that the unborn are human that libertarian evangelicals have of educating statist evangelicals that libertarianism is not libertinism.
Perhaps we can begin with the second-best part of Ashford’s article, a quote from Abraham Kuyper, the father of Progressive evangelicalism and no friend of libertarianism: “Can it be denied that the centralizing State grows more and more into a gigantic monster over against which every citizen is finally powerless?”
Those evangelicals never consider that maybe they are the libertines, taxing libertarian home educators to support godless public schools that have succeeded in wooing the young away from the church, taxing libertarians who save for their own retirement to support those who don’t, taxing peace-loving libertarians to fight useless wars abroad and at home that not only do not accomplish their stated military goals but kill, maim, and dispossess the innocent by the thousands and millions, shrugging off the carnage and denying responsibility because, after all, they didn’t make the laws.
Freedom to do as one sees fit to one’s neighbor without taking responsibility. If that isn’t libertinism, what is?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Life at Conception Act

Senator Rand Paul has introduced the Life at Conception Act (henceforth LCA) in what I take to be a sincere attempt to end the practice of abortion in the US. I have not read the act, but I’m reasonably sure the title captures the essence: human life begins at conception, therefore to term abortion “the elimination of a product of conception” is simply an attempt to deny that a human is being murdered by using obfuscatory language to deny the personhood of the victim.

This is all well and good so far. Contrary to the willful ignorance of some, libertarians in both small-government and anarchist camps do care about life and want to see murderers brought to justice. This goes (or should go) double for Christians, who want to please God in all aspects of life and who know that God has special concern for the defenseless.

The act is not without its problems, however. The one I want to concentrate on is the lack of the definition of conception. “The Medical Definition of conceptionat says that it is “the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both.” Read it again. Do you see the illogic? How can one “become pregnant” in any meaningful sense without both fertilization and implantation (the latter requiring fertilization)? If one cannot be pregnant without implantation, then fertilization by itself does not conception make. If one can become pregnant without implantation, why is it mentioned as an alternative? Is implantation required or not? I don’t see that the question is answered.

The good folks at define conception as fertilization alone, and that’s fine, but they are not the household name that Merriam-Webster is.

My point is that the experts don’t seem to agree on what conception is. I assume the LCA defines conception as fertilization.

By doing so it will arouse opposition from those who would include implantation in the definition of conception. It will also arouse opposition from those who in the light of Lev 17:11 (“The life of a creature is in the blood; cf. 17:12-13) and Deut 12:23 (“Be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat”) believe that only those beings with blood are alive.

Because the Bible does not define conception scientifically, I think we need to be very careful about taking scientific definitions as God given. The Bible was written to people who knew they were pregnant only when implantation had long since occurred. The product of conception had blood and therefore was a human being with all the rights and privileges thereof by any possible biblical definition, and killing that human being would be at best a self-defense measure and otherwise murder.

But let’s go with conception as fertilization. What can we look forward to as the LCA is enforced? I will assume here – though I don’t for a moment believe it – that there will be no problem enforcing the law against abortions performed on beings with blood. I want to concentrate on the vast majority of killings of products of conception: those accomplished using IUDs, in which term I include drugs and any other technology that prevents fertilized eggs from implanting.

I want to address specifically how this law will impact privacy. We agree that murderers have no right to privacy. The question before us is now much privacy nonperpetrators have, and I address the following to those who support the LCA and the definition of conception as fertilization.

If the LCA defines life as beginning at fertilization, that makes IUDs implements of murder, right? At least with a firearm you can say it’s to shoot burglars. I don’t see any use for an IUD besides keeping fertilized eggs from implanting.

How do you make sure women don’t have IUDs? After all, if you outlaw IUDs in the US, those who want them can go to China or Canada (or to an underground IUD dealer) and get one. Bootleg web sites will give downloadable instructions on how to 3D print them. People smarter than I am will come up with even more, shall we say, effective ideas.

Do you force all women to undergo random X-rays? Do you monitor their menstrual cycles and force them to take pregnancy tests if their period comes X days late? In short, does the US become a giant airport where women have to go through the equivalent of a TSA frisk every month to prove that they are not murderers?

With a regular murder you have a corpse to show that a death has occurred and some procedure to determine if the death was caused by foul play. I’m sure it is possible to determine if a woman has prevented the implantation of a fertilized egg, but do you want all women of childbearing age in the US to go through that procedure, and if so, how often? Otherwise, how do you know the murder has occurred?

These are not nitpicky questions. If you’re serious about enforcing that law, you’d better prepare for a fight from those who disagree with your definition of when life begins. If you’re going to make X a crime, you need to decide how you’re going to enforce the law. How much in the way of money and intangibles are you willing to spend? What cost does God want you to impose on those who disagree with you but are not themselves guilty of murder by IUD?

The Mafia and the police state are unintended (at least by sincere prohibitionists) consequences of alcohol prohibition and marijuana prohibition, respectively. What unintended consequences might we expect from a war on IUDs?

It used to be that missionaries went to places like New Guinea knowing that the people there were murderers by any definition. (Don Richardson’s Peace Child and Lords of the Earth are two well-known biographies of such missionaries.) They didn’t go with guns to arrest, try, and execute murderers. They went with the gospel to try to persuade them to settle their disputes peacefully. Some of those missionaries ended up being murdered.

I would suggest that the US is closer to heathen New Guinea than to the kind of Christian commonwealth that would support the LCA. We need to approach our neighbors as sojourners, ambassadors of a foreign king, not as expecting the culture as a whole to regard us as “the powers that be … ordained as God.” We begin by taking disputable activities off the table and concentrate on the general truth that all are rebels against God. After all, if we can’t get unbelievers to accept that general idea, they will never see their need for Jesus to clean up those specific areas of their lives.

The issue of abortion, and IUDs in particular, is secondary. The pro-abortion viewpoint will be well represented in hell, as will the sexually immoral in general, but so many people who consider IUDs murder and were virgins before their one marriage to a member of the opposite sex. Yes, we want to see people agree with God about IUDs, abortion in general, and sexuality in general, but who Jesus is and what he has done and our need for a savior because of our rebellion against God in every aspect of life is even more important.

Our hope – our sure hope – is that those who come to Christ will turn away from sexual immorality, but if someone is convinced that his sex life is moral no matter what the Bible says, I would suggest that a would-be evangelist agree to disagree on that point for a while and look for places in his target’s life that they agree he falls short of God’s standards in. Once he agrees in principle, we can trust God to work on him with the specifics. I’m living proof that what seems like a good idea one day can be not only regretted but considered repugnant in time.

Maybe there’s a place for appealing to the government to enforce laws on the books, like Paul did when he challenged the Roman guards who were about to scourge him (Acts 22:5; but compare that with Acts 14:19). But I think we need to think twice before we try to get laws that most people disagree with passed, especially when the root of the problem is out of reach of the law, as the human heart is.

At least for now, I think the watchword is “’Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’” I can’t stop abortion in China and other countries where it is even more prevalent than it is in the US. If abortion were outlawed in Pennsylvania today, I wouldn’t be able to stop it in California. I can’t stop Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other in the Middle East, nor Pakistanis and Indians from killing each other in Kashmir. I would love the opportunity to talk to the perpetrators in every case and try to persuade them to desist, but until God opens that door, I have to leave dealing with those people to him.

If he were to open the door, I would expect to go through it unarmed, not to punish but with the assignment of appealing to them to be reconciled to God. No act of Congress is going to open that door, and if the door is open, no act of Congress is needed.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Starving Baby Problem

The school of anarchism to which I subscribe takes the Non-Aggression Principle to its logical extreme: it is never, ever, morally justified to violate people or their property. Period. Not even if “a small violation prevents something worse from happening.”

This is called brutalism by some who see reasons to violate the NAP for “humanitarian” reasons:

There is a segment of the population of self-described libertarians—described here as brutalists—who find all the above rather boring, broad, and excessively humanitarian. To them, what’s impressive about liberty is that it allows people to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on “politically incorrect” standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used as a means, to shout down people based on their demographics or political opinions, to be openly racist and sexist, to exclude and isolate and be generally malcontented with modernity, and to reject civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms.

Let me only point out that ascribing nasty motivations to those with whom one disagrees is “neither right nor safe” (as I have discovered from sad experience). Take any five articles I’ve written, or those written by Murray Rothbard or Lew Rockwell or Tom Woods or Hans-Hermann Hoppe. While we do love liberty because “it allows people to assert their individual preferences,” do we celebrate open racism or sexism (or “homophobia”)? Or are we more likely to say, “I hang with whom I wish to hang with, and I’ll give you the same privilege”?

Just as you can use a hammer to build a house or bash a baby’s head, so the same liberty that allows people to profit from their good decisions also allows people – all of whom are rebels against God, don’t forget – to take bad decisions farther down the road than a “humanitarian” interventionist society might permit. My point in what follows is that liberty or anarchism or brutalism or whatever you want to call it is the best way to deal with the human tendency toward evil.

The reductio ad absurdum that is supposed to send us brutalists packing goes something like this: “What if some parent puts his baby in a display window with a sign that says, ‘Watch this baby starve to death.’ Would you not be justified in breaking the window, ‘kidnapping’ the baby, and thereby saving its life? I sure as hell would do it, and if you would sit by and let the baby die, you’re beneath contempt.” Take that, damned brutalist!

Just so you know, dear reader, I would consider “the liberty to starve your baby to death” a downside of liberty and would want to see the baby live.

I would be tempted to respond that someone once said something to the effect that making general laws to deal with exceptional cases is a good way to end up with bad laws. I don’t know of any cases of people torturing babies to death, but whaddya know, we’re standing in front of that very window with that very sign, and that very baby. big as life, hasn’t been fed for hours, and it’s crying its head off. What do we do now?

You say, “You either break the window and grab the baby, or you call the cops and have them do it. End of problem.”

Since we’re dealing with a first-of-its-kind situation – and, don’t forget, really a hypothetical one – I don’t feel badly about pointing to instances, however rare, that have actually happened, where the cops wouldn’t intervene. Can you imagine the reaction of Hitler’s storm troopers if the baby and father were Jewish? I would expect them to “put it out of its misery,” which would indeed end its suffering and get it to stop crying, but I don’t think a bayonet through the torso is quite what you had in mind.

“Be reasonable,” you say. “That was one out of countless states.” Well, I am being reasonable: you have to have control of what those interventions will look like before you can say that they will accomplish the greater good that supposedly justifies them. That is, you need political power. Mao wasn’t far from right when he said that power flows from the barrel of a gun. Those used to feeling like they look down the barrel are going to be a lot quicker to rely on political power than those who feel like they’re more likely to be looking up it.

As for states that kill their own citizens, Hitler was not alone. Uncle Sam’s ally Josef Stalin literally starved many times as many Kulaks as Hitler gassed Jews, a strategy used earlier by the Ottoman Turks on the Armenians. Can you imagine the Kulaks or Armenians appealing to the powers that be, ordained of God, to rescue a Kulak or Armenian baby being starved by its parents?

“But this is the United States. We don’t do things like that.”

Oh, no? Tell that to the hundreds of thousands who have lost their children during my lifetime to napalm, Agent Orange, “shock and awe,” “collateral damage,” white phosphorus, and depleted uranium, all for “humanitarian” reasons – “We’ve been attacked!!” Tell that to the women who feel, shall we say, buyer’s remorse after taking advantage of tax-subsidized abortions (not to mention those of us who ask, in vain, only that we not be taxed to pay for those abortions). One thing liberals and conservatives agree on is their right to kill babies; if they disagree, it’s over which babies they get to kill.

If “Yes, he’s a racist; leave him alone” or “I am not going to break that window” is brutal, what is Uncle Sam?

I would say that there has to be a better way to solve the problem than to employ the political power that George Washington called “an untrustworthy servant and a fearsome master.”

I would add that the interventionist solution inaugurates an end-justifies-the-means ethical system. It works fine as far as snatching this one baby out of the jaws of death is concerned, but we have to plan for the day that that ethical system, the cute little velociraptor that we’ve just hatched, grows into a quarter ton of muscle and voracious appetite that can run as fast as a car.

Said baby, if he grows up, will no doubt tell the world that he is only alive because someone violated the NAP, and he will be telling the truth. He will also be telling the truth when he says that he owes his life to an end-justifies-the-means action. Convinced of his own innate goodness and self-worth, if he grows up rational, what will stop him from applying end-justifies-the-means solutions to an increasingly wide range of problems? (How’s this for starters?) Might those whose persons and property he violates in his quest for self-fulfillment, whether individual or collective, be forgiven for wishing he had been left in the window?

“Look. The baby’s screaming. Stop worrying about the future. Let’s help the baby!

OK, fine. The same liberty that supposedly allows a man to starve his baby to death in public also allows the community to respond as it chooses. No man is an island, and no decent community wants a member who would starve his baby in public. So we shun him.

Who knows this father? Does he buy food? Can we get whoever sells it to him to refuse to do business with him? Can we take away from him the right to travel on the roads? Can we get the power and gas and oil shut off from his house? Can we get the medical community to tell him that if the baby dies, he himself will never receive treatment?

“None of those ‘solutions’ will get that baby to stop crying anytime soon. I want to fix the problem now!”

As those who provide services at a great discount are wont to say, “Lack of planning on your part does not make an emergency on my part.” The mechanisms I’ve just described need to be in place before the idiot tries to starve his baby in the window. He needs to be asking himself before taking any given course of action, whether it’s starving his baby or painting his house a garish color or trying a new psychedelic substance or calling people bad names or any form of “reject[ing] civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms” how he is going to be part of the community afterwards.

Is an extended argument that the “humanitarian” state tends to isolate people rather than build community needed? Absent the top-down state, people will find it in their best interests to build communities from the bottom up. You want to save the starving baby? Make sure the father never puts him there to begin with.

The ultimate preventive medicine, of course, is the gospel of Jesus. Anyone who would starve his baby in a window is not only an obvious rebel against God but also one who is acting out because he is somehow suffering from that rebellion. More than anything he needs the offer of life through Jesus. If he refuses the offer, it’s his business: the same Jesus who said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” also said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” It may literally be the case that this dead man buries his dead baby. But we’ve made that a very expensive decision.

Still not convinced, my Christian brother? How’s this, then? Many parents consider it their sacred duty to raise their children to be devout Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Scientologists – you name it. According to our theology, they are telling us, “Watch this baby die.” Do you really think Jesus wants us to break the window and take those babies by force and indoctrinate them in what we consider the truth?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Black Lives Matter: The Pus of an Injured Society

When you get a sliver in your finger and don’t remove it for a while, what happens? You get a collection of pus around the sliver as your body isolates the bacteria and other toxins and tries to force the sliver out or make it easy for you to remove it. As ugly as the word is and as gross as the substance can be, pus is itself not bad; rather, it is simply the body’s natural reaction to invasion. When all is going well, it should not – it will not – be there. When it is there, it is a symptom of things not being as they should be.

The Black Lives Matter movement similarly is social pus. It is ugly and gross, and it shouldn’t exist. But it is a natural (in the theological sense of perverse) – and more importantly a rational – reaction to our society being out of order.

The disorder – the sliver – is, of course, the state, specifically tax-funded policing. Most evangelicals, forgetting that police as we know them are an early nineteenth-century phenomenon, will consider them a necessary fulfillment of Romans 13. Well, we’ve had two hundred years to get that system to work, and if asset forfeiture policing for profit, speed traps, a recidivism rate well over fifty percent, and trigger-happy cops who consider Mundanes lethal enemies until we’re cuffed and caged aren’t good evidence that the experiment has failed, I don’t know what would be.

Black Lives Matter is a reaction to the Catch-22 of the self-interest of officers, for whom “officer safety” is the highest priority. Poor black neighborhoods are consistently more dangerous for officers than richer white neighborhoods. Rational officers who want to go home at night, black and white, therefore prefer to patrol the white neighborhoods. While some white Mundanes might resent being policed by black officers, that resentment is nothing compared to black Mundanes’ resentment at being policed by white officers.

But because officer safety trumps “customer satisfaction” and sending black officers into black neighborhoods amounts to putting them as a class at greater risk – that is, de facto discrimination – white officers have to take their turns in black neighborhoods. And they do so feeling they need to take extra precautions – carry an extra-big stick – if they are to come home alive.

Statist religion teaches that those who work for the state are somehow morally superior to the rest of us, so when in real or perceived danger from a Mundane an officer decides to shoot first and ask questions later, the initial public reaction is to consider the shooting justified. Since police investigations are always done “in house” and the courts work hand in hand, if not hand in glove, with the police, the official inquest will almost always find the shooting justified.

If a black officer were to shoot a white Mundane, the official ruling will probably be just as predictable, but such shootings are much rarer because, shall we say, extralegal consequences are much more likely occur. Where it gets tricky is when a white officer shoots a black Mundane – there the “police are always right” mentality runs into the “whites are always at fault when dealing with blacks” mentality. That the inquests in such cases tend to favor the officers shows that the interests of the state trump even the prevailing claim of ubiquitous white racism, the exceptions being when the credibility of the state is threatened.

Do the facts matter? Of course, but the facts have to be weighed. That Officer Jones felt threatened by Mr. Smith is as much a fact as the fact that Mr. Smith was unarmed and walking in the other direction and the fact that anyone can make a mistake and the fact that officers are killed by miscreants and the fact that judges and police have to cooperate with each other. How can anyone say how those facts are to be weighed?

So, to review, white officers in black neighborhoods means heightened resentment by the Mundanes and heightened tension for the officers. Black officers in black neighborhoods means resentment by those officers against workplace discrimination. Checkmate.

How to get rid of the chaos? The answer, of course, is anarchy: defund the police and lower taxes accordingly.

Would worse chaos ensue? Well, you tell me: How many people whose names and domiciles you know would use the absence of tax-funded police to turn criminal? Red and yellow, black and white, all would like to sleep at night, right? There will be some criminals, of course, but we have those now, so that’s no argument. Someone has to fight them, but how those who fight criminals are paid is crucial.

Rich people are moving into guarded, gated communities. We don’t have to worry about their welfare. What about the rest of us? Let’s take the hardest case: the poor.

Those who do the most damage to the poor are not street criminals and home invaders. They are the power elite who steal what little the poor can save by devaluing the currency, who bar the way to gainful employment by making entrepreneurs jump through loopholes that are no problem for the rich but prohibitive to the poor, and who use “not in my back yard” zoning regulations to keep the poor out of sight and off land that they could otherwise live better on.

But street crime also happens in poor neighborhoods. What of that?

There are dozens of private security agencies in the market. Absent a tax-funded police force, there would be more. And you can bet that agents of ABC Security are not going to shoot one of their own customers first and ask questions later. They will also be a bit slower to shoot someone whose protectors are the Mafia. Similarly, the Mafia – and keep in mind, please, that the system we have has not even come close to reining the Mafia in – might tend to be a bit cautious about going after a customer of ABC if ABC has working arrangements with Walmart, State Farm, and Glock.

Perfection? No. Improvement? Certainly.

Black lives matter. The lives of those who deal with miscreants matter. Mundanes’ lives matter.

The system is broken. The present incentives are perverse. Every state-based solution there is has been tried somewhere – and failed, if not to keep social order then to result in growing respect for Jesus. On the other hand, voluntary service and exchange works, however imperfectly, wherever it takes place. The kingdom of heaven will be one of voluntary service, not of coercion. Let’s learn to live that way so we can get rid of the sliver, put a warm compress on the wound, and wipe the pus away.

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Anarchist Reading of Genesis 12

This weekend the terror that the West has unleased on the Muslim world has begun to come home in a big way: hundreds of mundanes died from suicide murders in Paris, Kenya, and Lebanon. As usual, the atrocity of these murders – and they were atrocious – was played up while the reason given by the perpetrators – that they were in retaliation for the Western killing of Muslims that has been going on for over a decade – was given little or no air play.

Instead, prayers were offered in support of the very governments and military machines that have been wreaking the carnage for which these killings are retaliation. When people give thanks for “our military that protects our freedoms,” exactly what freedoms do we have in mind? The freedom to produce pornography? To abort unborn children? To “marry whomever we please”? Or do the pray-ers have in mind “the freedom to gather freely to praise the Lord without fear of being arrested”?

I say these prayers for the military are offered to protect our right to go to church. Well, we’re still going to church, but a lot of people who (used to) live where the soldiers being prayed for are operating aren’t, many of them because they’re dead.

This spectacular failure of Western governments to protect their citizens, to make peace, to do justice, or to do anything that resembles the supposed functions of governments to fulfill Romans 13:1-7 or Proverbs 16:7, provides an opportunity for the children of Abraham to recall what happened the first time the people of the covenant came up against “the powers that be … ordained of God.”

The statist take – so called because everyone I know who follows it also believes that those whose salaries are paid by taxpayers are allowed to do things that those of us who pay their salaries are not – on Genesis 12 is that Abram (Abraham), having walked from the north end of the promised land to the south, went to Egypt to escape a famine. So far so good. But he goes wrong by having his wife tell the people that she is Abram’s sister “so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you” (Genesis 12:13). Pharaoh takes her into his house, and a curse falls on him and on all the people of Egypt. The moral of the story: your sin will affect more than just you, but God is gracious and will forgive and care for you. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and God will bless you.

In other words, Abram did wrong here and poor Pharaoh and the Egyptians were hurt by Abram’s lie, and Sarai could have been imprisoned. (That to a man those of my acquaintance who would fault Abram for lying here have defended the practice of “collateral damage” for which the murders this weekend are blowback I find not surprising in the least.)

Let me suggest that Abram handled the whole situation properly, at least after he left the promised land.

That is, if Abram went wrong, it was in leaving the promised land to begin with. We have no record of God either telling Abram to go to Egypt to avoid the famine or prohibiting him from going. Because the cities in the Jordan Valley were inhabited after the famine, one can assume that these people survived the famine and Abram and his band could have as well. We can also guess that Abram made the same mistake Joshua did before the first battle of Ai (Josh 7) of not asking God before proceeding; had he asked God if he should go to Egypt, God might have told him no.

Given that the story ends well, however, my take is that God regarded this as a teachable moment: Abram had left Ur, an advanced city with, one would guess, the usual tyrannical government, to live literally “God knows where.” Things get tough, and when things get tough, humans want Big Brother to take care of them, so off Abram goes off to Egypt, where there’s a strong central government keeping order (and more importantly keeping people fed). I think God was saying, “All those years in Haran must have clouded your memory of what the kings of the earth are like. I think you need a little reminder that you are not to put your trust in those who consider themselves as gods authorized to oppress their subjects.”

And because Abram handled himself as he should in that situation, God worked miracles and received great glory, and Abram left Egypt better off than he was when he arrived.

Before getting down to the details, I’d like to point out a general parallel between Genesis 12 and 1 Kings 3:5-28. The latter passage begins with the Lord appearing to Solomon and telling him to ask for anything he wants. Solomon asks for wisdom, and at the end of the passage, “when all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice” (v. 28). In between is an incident in which two prostitutes take a dispute to the king. Unlike most evangelical jurists, Solomon does not put them in jail for prostitution: he simply resolves the dispute and sends them on their way. (If I fault him for anything here, it’s for not asking, “What kind of ruler am I that in my kingdom there are so few opportunities for women to make a living that these had to be reduced to prostitution?”) But note the pattern: Solomon asks for wisdom, he goes through a trial, and the people celebrate because God has answered his prayer.

In Genesis 12 we have a similar situation. God promises to be with Abram and to curse those who dishonor him (v. 3 ESV). At the end of the chapter Abram returns to the promised land with more sheep, cattle, donkeys, male and female servants, and camels than he had when he left. In between, Abram goes through a trial when Pharaoh dishonors him. (Yes, it was Pharaoh who dishonored Abram, not, as in the statist reading, the other way around.)

So now let’s look at the passage. The point of contention between the anarchist and the statist readings comes from Abram’s words: “You are a very beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ But if you say you are my sister, then the Egyptians will treat me well because of their interest in you, and they will spare my life” (vv. 11-13).

Supposedly this is Abram selling her down the river so that he can – what? Go back to the promised land without her? Maybe.

Almost everyone I know of says that we find out later in the book why he did this. When he – by then renamed Abraham – repeated his mistake (if such it be) of going outside the land to avoid famine (Gen 20), he told the local potentate, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’” He knew the people in both places were godless, and so he was playing his cards close to his chest. Perhaps he had a holy hunch that as rebels against God we have no right to know the truth, as Paul the apostle later said plainly: “They refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thess 2:10-11). That doesn’t mean that we have the right to defraud our neighbors, but it does mean that we are under no obligation to give them information that will allow them to sin against innocent people.

It could be that Abram expected that it would be some commoner or lesser noble who would take a fancy to Sarai. In that case, his strategy would be simple: If the prospective suitor were an honorable man, he might be able to confide in him that he was indeed Sarai’s husband and enlist his protection against those who would kill him to get her. If he could find no honorable man, he could buy time or postpone the wedding or do whatever he needed to do until the proper time came when he could abscond with her.

The key words are these: if the suitor were an honorable man. And here is where we get to the “white lie.” If the suitor were an honorable man, he would negotiate with his intended’s family – in this case her brother – first and take her only when the wedding had been agreed upon by both sides. Only a dishonorable man would take the woman first and negotiate later.

And here is where we find that – surprise! – Pharaoh was not an honorable man: “When Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace” (Gen 12:15, emphasis mine). There is no mention of negotiation here, and the original readers would have understood that none took place. Just as later on the Persian King Xerxes abducted all the pretty girls in the kingdom for one-night stands (Est 2:1-14), and no one dared raise a peep in protest, so when the incarnation of the local god of Egypt gave the command for Sarai to be brought to the palace, there was no place for resistance.

And here my statist brethren make their most horrifying blunder. While they fault Abram for not telling Pharaoh that Sarai was his wife (though, again, what he said was true and all an honorable man needed to know), I have never – never – heard those people call Pharaoh's abduction of Sarai the kidnapping it was. Of course he had the right to take her. He was the Pharaoh!

Of course he has the right to drop depleted uranium bombs on Iraqi civilians and inflict birth defects on the unborn – he’s the President! Of course he has the right to go through neighborhoods in Baghdad, round up young men, and torture them, even if over 90% of them are not guilty of even contemplating attacking us over here – he’s the President! Of course he’s justified in voting money to finance his own children’s education out of the pockets of home and private schoolers – he’s the sovereign voter!

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.” Oy, veh.

Had Pharaoh known that Abram was Sarai’s husband, he would have killed Abram. End of story. To those who say that Abram should have relied on God to protect him when he told the whole truth, I respond that in that case he should have relied on God to preserve him through the famine in the promised land, and we’re back to the main sin, if so it be, of entering Egypt.

It was nice of Pharaoh to provide Abram – at taxpayer expense, don’t forget – with “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels,” and perhaps Abram consoled himself with them or even considered himself better off with them than he had been with Sarai, but even so, it was Pharaoh calling the shots unilaterally: Abram had no say in the matter, as I’m sure he knew in advance he wouldn’t if he were overtaken by dishonorable people.

Whether Abram cared for Sarai or not, Pharaoh had dishonored him, and God was as good as his word: he acted to free Sarai from captivity in Pharaoh’s harem and Abram’s entire band from captivity in Egypt. Abram left Egypt richer than when he arrived, and Pharaoh had been publicly disgraced. Moral of the story: the kings of the earth are not honorable people; don’t trust them, and certainly don’t give them information they can use against you or other innocents. If God allows or forces you to get under their umbrella, he will see you through the experience better off than you were when you started. (Of course, we Christians know that we may not survive the experience in our earthly bodies, but we’ll still be better off!)

This distrust of royalty perhaps extends into chapter 14, where Abram – acting apart from “the powers that be … ordained of God” – rescues Lot from the four Persian kings. The king of Sodom wants to reward Abram for rescuing him and his people, and Abraham refuses, saying, “You will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’” While Abram’s response was probably based more on the wickedness of Sodom than on the fact that the king of Sodom could give him nothing that he had not extorted from his subjects – Abram had, after all, taken gifts extorted by Pharaoh – he was in a position to negotiate with the king of Sodom that he had not been in with Pharaoh, so he may have wanted nothing to do with any part of the system.

So there we have it. When God’s called-out people first encounter the kings of the earth, they get their fingers burned. This theme runs all the way through Scripture and culminates at the very end. Every interpretation I have ever read of the book of Revelation associates the Beast with apostate religion married to godless, overweening government. The Pharaohs were particularly plain examples of those who devour the forbidden fruit in the attempt to “be as gods,” but Western governments – not to mention Islamic and Marxist governments – are all walking down the same road, not as far along, but doing their best to catch up.

Christians would do well to stay as far away from them as possible. Pursuing justice, peace, and prosperity apart from the guys with the biggest guns in town or even on earth may not keep ISIS away or provide an easy way to educate our children, but it will keep us from being among those who provoke retaliation from our neighbors near and far.

“The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One” (Ps 2:2).

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Ps 118:8-9).

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that” (Luke 22:25-26).

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5).

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [‘national security’ among them, methinks] will be given you as well” (Matt 6:33).

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Marijuana Legalization and the Time of the Judges: A Bit of Q & A on Facebook

In response to a share of on a friend’s Facebook page, I couldn’t shut up.

Me: Where does the Bible make what you do to your body my business? Where does it make how you raise your kids my business? Do you really want me coming into your house in the middle of the night looking for drugs, or going around with infrared machines X-raying your house to make sure you don't have contraband? Or conducting body cavity searches by the side of the road when you forget to use your turn signal?

This whole line of thinking reminds me of the federal bureaucrat that told a Senator in a hearing that she loved his children as much as he did, to which he replied, "Glad to hear it. What are their names?"

Maybe Mormons live longer than Cheech and Chong. A billion years from now they'll be in the same place.

I'm not African or North Korean, so I don't know how to make the Christian church grow by leaps and bounds, but I suspect if I ever learned, I would find that I'm better off not pointing guns at my prospects and minding my own business than by giving them unwanted advice and backing it up with a badge and a gun.

Him: Anarchy begets tyranny. Would you rather be ruled by some kind of a democratic process flawed as it might be or ruled by the mafia or a drug & sex trafficing cartel?

Me: The one time in the Bible anarchy led to tyranny was when the people of Israel, tired of God judging their apostasy (i.e., they were no longer obeying their true king), asked him to step down from the throne officially and give them a human king. He tells them in 1 Sam 8 that they are trading anarchy for tyranny.

So right away you're off a biblical base.

Actually, this was the second time in Israel's history. The first was when Gideon's son Abimelech declared himself king, but that was short lived.

Nazi Germany was a democracy. Israel under the judges was anarchy, and as long as they were obeying God, it was much better than any time in US history (technology aside).

Him: There are innumerable laws now that prohibit all kinds of things and activities and in my 57 years here no one has ever entered my house to look for contraband, I have been stopped by the police maybe half a dozen times and never once did one conduct an kind of search. Has this happened to you Henry?

Me: No, it hasn't happened to me. Kristallnacht had never happened until it happened. I'm told that when asked how people would react to the concentration camps, Hitler said, "They'll never believe it." Who in Zimbabwe in the 1980s when Mugabe came to power expected that in 2015 Zimbabweans would be asking whites to come back?

Conservatives and liberals believe that coercive relationships make voluntary relationships possible: no police, and the family and church and market go down the drain. Anarchists say that coercive relationships poison voluntary relationships: politics is all about who does what to whom, and life becomes a battle to be a who, not a whom.

Me: The Bible nowhere calls for jailing people for anything. Murderers and some rapists are to be executed. Robbers and some rapists and those who cause, e.g., traffic accidents are to make full compensation to their victims. To call for substance prohibition is to go beyond what the Bible calls for, a violation of the regulative principle of worship. We now don't do what the Bible calls for and do what the Bible nowhere calls for. Ending substance prohibition and making the victim, not the state, the plaintiff for violations of people and their property, would get our society going in the right direction.

Yes, I know, many people don't want to go in the biblical direction. Under a decentralized, bottom-up system of private peacekeeping, those who want to exclude users of marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine would be free to do so. ("You want me to pay your bills when you screw up or something bad happens to you? You obey my rules. Otherwise, you find someone else to pay your bills.")

Him: you interpret "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" as divine approval of anarchy, and that God was applauding corporate life in Israel during the time of the Judges?

Me: “You shall seek the Lord at the place which the LORD your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. ... You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you." (Deut 12:5-9)

Note that Moses does not say that they are doing wrong by doing what is right in their eyes -- if they had been offending God, God would have said something, methinks -- only that things were going to change once God established a single place of worship.

The land had peace for forty years twice and eighty years once during the time of the judges. We certainly have had nothing like that since 1776, and I wonder offhand if such long periods of peace happened even under the monarchy. If the kings "did evil in the sight of the LORD," methinks the land had no peace even if Scripture records no overt conflicts. If David and Jehoshaphat and Josiah were typical of kings "who did right in the sight of the LORD," there were wars a-plenty during their reigns.

So yes, God approved of Israel's spiritual state at times during the time of the judges. That's why the cycle had upturns and times of peace. In general, yes, things went downhill, which is why the people eventually asked for a king "like all the other nations have": they considered even a tyrant preferable to God as king (1 Sam 8:7).

Him: Explain to me how in an anarchic "system" the rise to power of malevolent dictators and violent fascist movements would be prevented.

Me: Quite literally, the only thing that will prevent the rise of malevolent dictators and violent fascist movements is the preaching and reception of the gospel. Democratic systems can fall to fascism, as Germany in the 1930s and the United States since Reagan (Can you say "Hillary" or "Bernie"?) are proof. If those under the covenant will live the way they should, they will be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness, that will draw the lost, or at least earn their respect as they did in Jerusalem in the early days of the church. Common grace works wonders -- men faithful to their wives have happier marriages than unfaithful men, honest hard workers get promoted better than lazy embezzlers, and the list goes on, whether any of them are believers or not -- but over the long haul, I would expect that when hardship comes, it will be those who truly trust God who will resist the temptation to resort to worldly means, whether violent crime of armed revolution or the velvet-gloved iron fist of electoral politics, to keep going.

And, of course, I know of no eschatology that does not include a massive worldwide rebellion against God before the Lord's definitive return. I happen to believe that there will be dozens of thousands of years of worldwide heartfelt submission to God before that day, that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. In those days society will be led by true servants who collect what amount to membership dues, not an elite group of tax guzzlers doing what is right in their own godless eyes. I say we're better off peddling that vision than some variation of "my Pharaoh's not as malevolent as your Pharaoh."

Him: How is a religio-political system of appointed Judges, having authority to tell you how to resolve disputes personal and public, and to wage war, anarchy?

Me: Anarchy is when you can say no to zero-sum situations. It is when your body and property are safe from violation either direct or by deceit. The judges seem to have risen to prominence by their reputation. I don't see any instance in which they were appointed. They just seem to have been influential people. They did not collect taxes (smile emoticon no zero sum game). Even King Saul seems to have begun his reign without taxes, since we first hear about him after his coronation plowing his own fields. So I assume they had no standing army to enforce their edicts. When they did wage war, they had to call for volunteers. When they resolved disputes, it seems that the parties would agree beforehand to abide by the judge's decision; otherwise the trial didn't take place.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cooperation, Competition, and Exclusion: A Question for Those Who Feel the Need to Boycott Walmart

The most important voluntary relationship among adults where I come from is marriage. We have modified the idea of marriage so it includes one-night stands and homosexual relationships as well as lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, most Westerners would still consider it the most important of relationships, far more than a man to his mother’s brother (as in many non-Western societies) or parents and children to each other.

Marriage is characterized by both competition and cooperation.

Marriage is at best cooperation: a man and a woman cooperate by serving each other to make a happy home where the members of the family feel loved and where there is enough to eat and wear and shelter from the weather. They cooperate to conceive and raise children and to have good relationships with their neighbors. Christian men and women cooperate to build up the church and bring unbelievers into the kingdom.

But it is also characterized by competition. Men compete with other men for access to a given woman. Women compete with other women for access to a certain man. But what are they competing for? The right to cooperate with that man or woman they most desire to cooperate with. They want to cooperate in this way with not just anyone, but with a certain person. A selfish man will want to cooperate with the woman he thinks will give him the maximum pleasure. The godly man will look for the woman who will maximize his the effectiveness of his work for the kingdom of God and whose effectiveness he wants to maximize.

Either way, not just any partner for cooperation will do. Both the man and the woman will exclude from cooperation everyone except the one they want to cooperate with.

We make friends with those whom we enjoy being with and who enjoy being with us. We include people who we think make our lives better, and we exclude those whose company we do not believe make our lives better. It is those whom we think will make our lives better over the long term that we invite over for meals or go to games with or take on hunting trips.

We might also invite them to help us put up a building or harvest a field or dry cacao. In the US it’s not uncommon for a man to call up some friends and say something like, “I need a hand putting up a shed. We should be able to get it up in a day. I’ll get some beer and roast a pig and we can have a big dinner with our families afterward,” and his friends will come around. Again, he will invite those he wants to invite and exclude others, and if someone he invites has prior commitments or doesn’t like the idea of pork and beer for dinner after a hard day of work, he will spend that day somewhere else.

In a similar way, customers cooperate with businesses. Businesses want money; customers want goods and services. They cooperate with each other so that each gets what he wants. And again, not just any partner for cooperation will do: a businessman will cooperate only with customers who have are willing to part with enough money to provide the business with a profit, and clients will exclude all businesses whose offerings are not of high enough quality or accessibility or are priced too high.

Businesses compete not only for customers but also for employees. Just as we invite our friends to help with projects at our homes, businesses invite “friends” to make the business succeed. The larger the business, of course, the less personal the invitation will be – larger businesses have “human resources” departments to decide whom to include in and whom to exclude from the “friendship” and thus the work accomplished through cooperation – but the idea is the same: a man who thinks he will profit from cooperating with the business offers his services, and the businessman who thinks he will profit from cooperating with that man will accept the offer.

This is how a voluntary system works. People solicit cooperation from those they want cooperation from and exclude the rest. They agree on the terms either explicitly or implicitly.

Let’s say Mr. X recruits his friends to build a shed for pork and beer on his property one day and Mr. Y asks him that day to build a shed on his property the next week. Would God consider X free to decide whether or not to build Y’s shed, and if so what he would get from Y in return? Would God allow him to decide whom to recruit to help him and under what terms? How many sheds would he have to build, or plan to build in the future, before God would want someone else determining with whom X cooperates to build sheds?

In other words, how big does a business have to be before God wants outsiders stepping in to determine whom that business must take on as clients, how much it can charge those clients, whom it must take on as employees, and how much it must pay those employees?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Tangled Web We Weave

You know what this is, right?

It’s a straight line graph, where an increase in the independent variable is matched by an equal increase in the variable that depends on it. In this case, where the dependency formula is y = x, it’s like you get a year older every year you live. With a different dependency formula, say y = 250x, it could show that every week you hide $250 under your mattress, the total you have hidden increases by $250. The line would be steeper, but it would still be straight (everything else being equal).
We tend to think of life being linear, like every day we live we’re a day older, or every dollar we put under our mattress increases the total by one, but some important parts of life don’t behave that way. For example, is adding a second wife the same as getting married for the first time? From the man’s point of view, the first wife would be all the difference in the world. The second wife would be one more body, but as far as sex and housecleaning and probably some other things, it would simply mean more of what he already has. (There is also good reason to believe the man’s problems would increase parabolically, but let’s leave that aside for now.) The change would not be as dramatic as it was for his first marriage. A third would be one more body, but less of a change than the second marriage, and so on to Solomon’s seven hundred wives.
This can be represented by a logarithmic graph. You can see that the numbers on the y axis are multiples of ten, not of one, as on the previous chart.

The steepest difference is between x = 1 (unmarried) and x = 2 (one wife). The second wife (x = 3) increases y, but by less than the first wife did. By the time our Solomon adds his fifteenth wife, the difference is perceptible, but pretty much negligible.
From his first wife’s point of view, of course, that second wife would be an increase from 0 to 1, all the difference in the world. The third wife would add insult to injury, as would the fourth, et cetera, but no one addition would effect as big a change as that between 0 and 1.
A phrase that I think has come into English from computer programming is “[something] is the new [something, usually smaller].” It comes from algorithms like this:
1 x = 0
2 do until x = 6
3 x = x + 1
4 loop
5 print x
6 end
That is, “Start with an x equal to 0 and add 1 to it until you get to 6. Then output x [which by then will be 6] and quit.” Line 3 is where our phrase comes from: first “1 is the new 0,” then “2 is the new 1,” then “3 is the new 2,” et cetera, until x = 5 and the program ends.
The Overton Window plays on this idea. If we think of x as the range of allowable opinion (i.e., ideas that are considered sane or decent or reasonable), then one reasonably asks “If x is OK, how about x + 1?” Jon Stewart did a pretty good parody of Glenn Beck’s version of the idea, but the point of his parody was that if it works to support the point Beck was making, it could be used to support points Beck wouldn’t want to admit to making. Stewart never got around to denying that Beck was right.
If life is logarithmic, we should find that bringing new ideas into the Overton Window becomes easier over time. We are familiar with how this applies to lying.
As the old saw goes, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” When we decide to tell a lie, we do so thinking that one little lie won’t hurt anything. But eventually we have to tell another lie to cover the first, and on and on until we can’t keep the facts and lies straight and the truth comes out.
We see this in tax-funded programs as well. Let’s take for an example something reasonable, like schools. Everyone wants kids to be educated, right? And what better way to fund schools than taxes?
So we have, say, a 1% tax to pay for the school. Soon we find that kids have different needs, so we need more facilities. But we don’t have the money, so now we need a 2% tax. But some people are cheating on their taxes, so now we need an enforcement agency, and not only that, we’re not teaching an important subject, so we need another teacher. Now we’re up to a 3% tax. Then we decide that the Hatfields and the McCoys aren’t getting along, so we need to have separate schools. Now we’re up to 4%. Then we decide that the McCoys’ school isn’t as good as the Hatfields’ school, so now we have to put the students back together, but we need staff to keep peace between them. Now we’re up to 5%. But all the while this is going on, the people who run the system are taking home paychecks, and the longer they work, the more they expect to be paid; after all, their competence has increased. So now we’re up to 6%, and we’re nowhere near finished.
There might be considerable resistance to the increase from 1% to 2%. Those opposed will say – or, as the mainstream media are wont to say, howl – “Our taxes are doubling!” But by the time the item on the ballot is to raise the rate from 5% to 6%, it’s only a 20% increase, and once the taxes are up to 20%, an increase to 21% is only an increase of 5% and will garner hardly a shrug.
I can’t give physics-lab proof that tax projects always grow more expensive, but every case I can think of has, if not each line item than the aggregate. School budgets and other prototypical welfare, as well as military spending and other forms of crony capitalism, always seems to increase. When the dollar amount of one item actually does go down, the money gets moved to another item.
If one tax expenditure always breeds another, the logic would dictate that that would still be the case once the tax rate reaches 100%. By then, the percentage increase of every additional x will be so small that there will be no barrier to implementing it but lack of money. So then we simply put the new item on credit, since after all it’s just a little bit of debt, and a little debt never hurt anyone. You see where this is going.
If one tax expenditure always breeds another, then the only cure to the problem is to get rid of that first tax expenditure. And if there is no tax expenditure, there is no need for taxes. It is taxation that is the second wife that ruins the marriage for the first wife. It is taxation that is like the first lie that precipitates a life of deceit.
We always want more than we have. That’s because we are made in the image of God, who wants more than he has as well. This is why he said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it [= increase its value].” This is why Jesus told parables of rich men entrusting their property to stewards who were expected to increase that property’s value. Whenever a group of Christians starts a school or hospital or church or day care center or soup kitchen, with every advance comes a problem that will require additional resources. God calls us to find ways to serve our neighbors so they will give us the resources we need to solve those problems. For too long, evangelicals have looked to the tax man for financial help, and we are poorer than ever, or at least than at any time in my life, and the church is withering.
It’s time to cut off that first, most important transgression. It’s time to kiss the tax man goodbye and build the kingdom without him. “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s support.”

Monday, September 28, 2015


In response to my posting of this link on Facebook
with the comment
Her penis”? Seriously?
I received the following response:
Yes, her. Here is an area that is not political, but personal. Not all transgender folk who have transitioned have chosen surgical procedures. We should all inform ourselves on how to show respect, support, and acceptance of all people - and not condemn or judge.
I tried twice to respond to the response, but due to either my incompetence or Facebook’s electronic censor, the comments didn’t come through. So, since life happened this weekend and the post I wanted to post didn’t happen, I’ll make do with responding here.
We have no common ground on which to discuss this issue if we can’t agree on what words mean. If a human being born with a penis is not male, what is male, and what is that person?
Where I come from, if it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck and it walks like a duck and it swims like a duck and it eats what ducks eat, it’s a duck. It may think it’s a swan or the planet Neptune or a quadratic equation, but it’s a duck.
In the same way, if it’s (I’m using the only gender-nonspecific pronoun available to me) born with a penis, it’s male. The penis may be really, really small, or the urinary meatus may be downstream of the vestigial vagina rather than at the penis head, but the person is male. If the person has enough female characteristics, it may be a hermaphrodite, but if it has a recognizable penis, it’s male. He may wish he were a woman, he may wish people treated him the way they typically treat women, but he’s a male. For him to be unable to fulfill the role of a male is a problem that cannot be solved by calling it normalcy. Yes, it is normal to have problems, but it is also normal to try to solve the problems, not to try to make them go away by calling the situation normal.
If you want to get me to change my mind, you can begin by showing me how cerebral palsy is normal. Good luck.
A male is someone born with a penis and whose idea of sex necessitates that the other person have a vagina and identify as a female. This is true for well over 90% of all the born-with-a-penis people who have ever lived. Some – perhaps many – males have no access to females, so they will make do with other males, with animals, with robots, or simply with their hands. But what the Bible considers a healthy male is looking for a woman. He needs to control his natural tendencies to objectify and exploit and a thousand other things men do to mistreat women, but his goal is sexual union with a woman.
Absent that and you’re dealing with an abnormality. As we are all sinners, God commands us to treat all people with respect. Part of that respect involves calling normal normal, calling abnormal abnormal, and calling sin sin. Jesus died to free us not only from the judicial consequences of sin but also from its hold over us, whether a sharp temper or self-righteousness or misguided sexuality. Calling any of these normalcy does no one any favors.
To the degree that Shadi Petosky – and more importantly, the person who wrote the article – were inclined to mind his own business, I would simply shrug and walk away. If Christian compassion (which in this instance does not include hassling him about his sexuality until the core issue of rebellion against God is dealt with) were called into play, I would treat him like any other human being that needs Jesus, which is to say like any other human being.
However, I would guess that Shadi votes, and he probably votes to help himself to my money. It’s bad enough to have otherwise decent people do it, but to have people like Shadi and the writer of the article, who can’t tell a man with serious psychological problems from a woman, vote money out of my pocket to fund politicians who substitute a police state for a society of people who mind their own business is, shall we say, an unwelcome opportunity to exercise Christian forbearance.
Maybe my comment should have been, “Shadi Petosky and Essel Pratt and the TSA goons all vote. Are you sure democracy is such a good idea?” Too soon old, too late smart.
Live your life, Shadi. I don’t care what gender you call yourself. I resent those who discovered the penis under your dress more than I resent you, I resent the politicians who keep us in a constant state of war more than I resent the TSA, and I consider the terminology in the article much more harmful overall than your predilections.
Just don’t ask me to subsidize your lifestyle, and we’ll get along fine. Fat chance of that, right?