Sunday, December 18, 2016

After the Election Is Stolen

Surprise, surprise.

The political class, those who today cloak their rapacity in the authority supposedly granted them by Romans 13, are deathly afraid that someone they don’t like will take up that authority, so they are threatening to kill members of the Electoral College who vote for Donald Trump. If enough electors change their votes, Congress could give the presidency to Hillary Clinton on January 6.

It doesn’t look like the establishment will co-opt Trump to their satisfaction. They may still be able to assassinate him, but the “Russia swung the election to Trump” meme has gained so much traction that

electors interested in living out their natural lives will probably “do what’s best for the nation” and vote for an “experienced statesman” rather than a “racist, buffoonish demagogue.” Between Trump, Pence, and Clinton, the safe money says it will be Hillary Clinton putting her hand on the Bible and swearing to uphold the Constitution come January 20.

So evangelicals—who last March would never vote for a serial polygamist with no principles but change their tune in November and carry the flag of said unprincipled polygamist to victory—suddenly find themselves as two-time losers: they lose credibility because they abandon their principles, then they lose the election anyway. The Libertarian Party, the “party of principle” that abandoned its principles and still can’t get 10% of the vote, would be a suitable home for today’s Trumpista evangelicals.

What to do now? Step one: revamp your theology.

Stop beginning your theology of government with Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13–14. Remember what happened to the men who wrote those words: they were both executed by the very people they told us to honor. Clearly they did not mean that we were to regard those murderers, or any other politicians, as our leaders, or our citizenship as in any place but heaven.

Instead, start where the Bible starts, with Genesis 12, where Pharaoh, the biblical paragon of pretension to God’s heavenly throne, simply abducts Abraham’s wife. (Or Genesis 10, where Nimrod is “a mighty hunter before the Lord,” whatever that means; I don’t get the impression God’s people would want to be under his dominion.)

Note how Abraham works outside the political system to rescue Lot in Genesis 14, accepting bread from the priest Melkizedek but refusing to take even a sandal strap from the king of Sodom. 

Remember that yes, Joseph did save his people through the political system, but his descendants spent four centuries in slavery to that same system, and God had to (well, OK …) work miracles to bring about deliverance.

Notice that among all the commands given from Exodus 20 to the end of Deuteronomy, there were no taxes: the tithe and the poor laws and all the rest of the assessments were all voluntary; God specifies no agents to check on who was giving how much. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.”

Notice that when Moses acknowledges that the people will want a king later on, he specifies that the king is to operate under the same rules as those he rules (Deut 17)—he was to be a brother, not a Big Brother, not a father, and certainly not a despot.

Notice that during the period of the judges, when “there was no king in Israel,” the land had peace for forty years twice and eighty years once.

Notice that God gave Israel the monarchy as a curse, not as a blessing (1 Sam 8). Notice that most of the kings of Israel and Judah “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Could this be why the psalmist says, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal man who cannot save”? Ask yourself: Does the history of the monarchies of Israel and Judah, to say nothing of the history of other governments, look more like Romans 13 or like “The kings of the earth rise up, and their rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Messiah”?

What does the destruction of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue by the rock not made by human hands (Dan 2) mean, if not that God’s ways are not man’s ways and that our weapons are not the weapons of the world and that the church will take dominion over the world not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit, through God’s people serving each other and their neighbors with love?

What do Jesus’ words “it is not to be that way with you” (Luke 22:25–26) mean, if not that his people are not to lord it over their neighbors the way politicians do, thus disqualifying the political process as a tool of dominion?

The Clinton presidency will present us with unfamiliar challenges. More than ever American evangelicals will be like the Romans to whom Paul wrote and the diaspora to whom Peter wrote. Those in power will be our increasingly intractable enemies. But Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us. That’s a tall order that will take all our resources to fulfill. Let’s not waste our time considering those people our leaders.

The same holds true if the election is not stolen.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Why of Donald Trump’s Atrocious Presidency and How to Fight It

You probably didn’t hear it here first, but here’s my version:
Donald Trump’s presidency will make Evangelicaldom regret every handclap it raised in support of it.
The why is simple: Mr. Trump does not believe in private property. He will go after it with a vengeance.
People who believe in private property do not—cannot, by definition—support eminent domain, restricted trade, restricted migration, import tariffs, tax-funded education, standing armies, and the war on drugs. Mr. Trump not only supports these things, it was his support for these things that got him elected.
This is not to say that his opponent in the election would have done better. But just as rape is not as bad as murder yet is still an atrocity, Mr. Trump being not as bad as Mrs. Clinton does not make his stated policies less atrocious.
Mr. Trump has, commendably, lamented the expropriation of Christians who refused to play ball with the LGBTQ community, but he has done so by calling said expropriation a violation of religious freedom. My take is that anyone who thinks that fighting Roe v. Wade or Obergefell by playing the “religious freedom” card is hopelessly naïve. No one I have ever heard bleat about their religious freedom would grant religious freedom to anyone who said their religion allowed them to abort full-term fetuses or marry an animal or burn their widowed mother on their father’s funeral pyre. Hillary Clinton was right: the phrase “religious freedom” is simply code for Christian supremacism. Mr. Trump will support Christians’ “religious freedom” only as long as it serves his concept of the “greater good.”
We can depend on Mr. Trump to use eminent domain to dispossess the politically less powerful of their property. He will do so by claiming, probably correctly, that those he oppresses—and that’s the right word—are refusing reasonable offers for their property in hopes of getting a better offer later. Usually foregoing a lesser pleasure in the present in the hope of a greater pleasure in the future is considered a virtue. Deferred gratification is, after all, the mechanism that builds capital.
But while collectivists like Mr. Trump acknowledge your right to pass up the latest car or epic vacation today to build the capital to start a business (or buy a better car or vacation) tomorrow—and, of course, to run the risk that the business or the vacation or the car won’t work out as planned—they deny you the right to wait to see if you can get a better price for your property than what they are offering. And they deny you that right at gunpoint.
We can look forward to systematic violations of the right of the politically unconnected to associate with whom they please, as well as to the deportation of politically unconnected law-abiding people. Mr. Trump’s wall will be as effective at keeping unwilling business owners in as it will be in keeping willing workers out. This will result in the flight of all but politically connected capital and to higher prices on goods and services we currently import or pay illegal immigrants for. I would not rule out a military draft, including females, and a senseless war or two just for good measure.
Mr. Trump did us a yuuge favor during his campaign by showing us how to talk about the Establishment and how to talk to it, and most importantly, how to view it. We’ve seen that we don’t have to kowtow to a naked emperor anymore.
Well, come January Mr. Trump will be the Establishment. One would hope that he would expect and tolerate dissent couched in the terms he used when he was on the outside, but I think we can expect him to be just like the Clintonistas, who went from being pro free speech when they were out of power to thought police once in power. Mr. Trump will likely not tolerate dissent couched in the terms he used in his dissent.
Fortunately, Jesus calls us to a higher standard of discourse than Mr. Trump used in his campaign. And though Mr. Trump made great use of his lack of principles in his campaign, Jesus calls us to have principles.
Specifically, he calls us to obey the words “Do not steal.” Every abomination Mr. Trump will unleash on his subjects can be seen as theft, whether of property (eminent domain and restrictions on migration and investment), labor (taxes), or time and safety (the draft).
The church needs to stand firm for property rights, especially those rights of the politically less connected.
How this can happen when the vast majority of Christians send their children to tax-funded schools and have no qualms about paying into and benefiting from a Social Security system that subsidizes homosexual marriage I don’t know. Having given away the argument by not opposing theft themselves, evangelicals by and large have no moral legs to stand on in opposition to government atrocities.
Which is why I think the next four years will be atrocious.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hanoi Quill Pig

Greetings from Hanoi! I’m here on a tour that dropped into my lap on short notice, and as soon as it landed, I knew I had to come. So here I am, unable to sleep in the middle of the night because of jet lag, in the hotel café listening to Paul McCartney performing “Got to Get You into My Life” on Spotify and communicating with my vast readership of a handful or two.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
— T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
I don’t know what Jane Fonda’s motivations were for coming here during the unpleasantness.

But I think I know what motivated some people I admired at the time to not come:

Well, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
In a word, it was self-preservation.
Compare this to someone who actually suffered for acting on what he at least said he believed.

Click image for video.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me.”
My tour has involved bringing with me things that I thought might raise eyebrows at the customs table, so I spent much of the flight here trying to come up with a truthful answer for Mr. Customs Man if he didn’t “Don’t touch my bags, if you please.”
Well, surprise! On the plane they gave us no long form that takes fifteen minutes to fill out, as they do on descent into the Land of the Free. There was no inquisition at the immigration stand, and it was a straight shot from there to the taxi stand. There was a notice on the wall of what qualified as “nothing to declare,” but beyond that it was the honor system.
My taxi was what I imagine Uber to be: $25 for a straight-shot 45-minute ride in a spacious, clean Toyota Camry, bottled water for the taking, soft music on a top-class audio system. My driver didn’t speak English, but good service with a smile speaks volumes.
The road between the airport and the city were wide and straight and middle-of-the-night empty. The city is clean. The hotel staff bends over backwards to make us feel at home. I’d been told that Vietnamese are standoffish, but I’ve got two pieces of evidence that that’s not quite true, taken during a recent trip to Old Hanoi in the lobby of the hotel.
One of these people is the manager of the hotel.
One of these people hadn't moved since the previous picture was taken.
While I don’t see a sign advertising a private school on every block, as I did in Kathmandu, private schools operate openly (even if they need to be licensed). Home schooling is illegal, but that’s no worse than Germany and Singapore.
I jumped at the chance to come here because part of me wants to be a champion of those who have suffered injustice, but I’ve been disabused of any idea that such is even needed anymore. Hanoi is full of Americans who are here simply to have a good time, and they spend much more money than I will by any standard. Very few people I’ve seen are old enough to remember the war. I may be the only person in the city who hasn’t moved on from it yet.
But the vestiges remain. The first I saw was at Hanoi Bible College, which has been run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. They have recently celebrated their centenary.

“During the years 1965-1972, the US bombed the north of Vietnam, and God’s people in the church had to evacuate. The number of believers was very small. At that time there were only 5-7 believers. After that the number of believers who came to worship was 20-30 old people, including about 15 children, and 5-6 Chinese-Vietnamese people. The situation of 20-30 believers gathering lasted a long time, until the 1980s.”

In a window overlooking a street that is turned into an extension of a lake park on weekends is a commemoration of seventy years since Ho Chi Minh issued the call for his countrymen to fight for independence. In the fine print, he says, “No! / We would rather sacrifice all / but definitely not / suffer the loss of our country / and definitely / not suffer being slaves.” Patrick Henry, anyone?
The closest I ever came to coming to Viet Nam (the name means “Viet people,” not to be confused with the other ethnic groups found within the borders of the current nation-state) during the war was a dream I had in maybe 1971 that I was in combat here. I was terrified and oh, so grateful to wake up. A couple of real-life events I have run away from full speed have convinced me that I do not have the courage to be a soldier.
So I need to take my hat off to anyone who came here believing he was serving his country and the cause of good. But I believe those they fought needed even more courage, fighting as they were with fewer and less-powerful weapons.
But courage, as important as it is, isn’t everything. You have to be courageous in a just cause. I can understand Ho’s bravery and that of his troops as he attempted to throw off the yoke of French imperialism. But he wanted to replace French imperialism with the very communism that had claimed tens of millions of innocent victims in the USSR.
Fortunately for everyone, though the American military failed to achieve the “peace with honor” that Nixon was aiming for, its retreat did achieve peace in the long term. After an understandable, if not justifiable, bloody purge of those who had collaborated (or were suspected of collaborating—more innocent victims of communism) with those who had bombed, shot, burned, maimed, killed, and orphaned hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people, destroyed property, and polluted the land and water with chemicals that are causing birth defects to this day, Viet Nam is at a tolerable level of peace.
The French, the communists, the American invaders, and today’s government share the fundamental assumption that keeps Viet Nam from being truly great: the idea that people and their property are up for grabs by the political class. They have forgotten, if they ever cared, that God said, “Do not steal.” He didn’t make an exception for people in uniforms or representatives at the United Nations. The evangelicals who shared in the bombing of the Hanoi Bible College seem to have considered themselves exceptions to that rule.
Only when Christians en masse claim the birthright that they have to their bodies and property and, even before that, their responsibility to honor others’ rights to their lives and their property, will we see the peoples of the world come to Christ: let me suggest that when we see that justice rolls down like waters, righteousness in Christ will be as abundant as an ever-flowing stream.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ugly Ducklings

Sermon preached at Meadowood Senior Living, November 13, 2016

Many people have said that there is really only one story in the world. Christians would say that that is because all good stories somehow reflect the story of Jesus. Surely the story of Jesus fits in with all good stories.

The story of the ugly duckling has endured for centuries because we can identify with the ugly duckling. We all feel at some point like the world doesn’t appreciate us. We long for someone to see that we really are good people and that the world is wrong to look down on us. We long to be vindicated, to have people know that we are right and they are wrong, to be able to say to the world, “You don’t appreciate me because you’re asking the wrong questions. I’m not an ugly duckling; I’m a beautiful swan.”

And Jesus, of course, is the ultimate ugly duckling: “He had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him.” “The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone.” “God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

This is the template from which our ugly duckling story comes, and the Bible promises that those who pledge allegiance to God’s ugly duckling will someday be vindicated as Jesus was.

Today I’d like to take a look at the ugly duckling of the Book of Psalms, Psalm 83. I call it the ugly duckling because hardly anyone pays any attention to it. I once suggested to some Christian leaders that maybe Psalm 83 would be a good Scripture passage to do as a choral reading in church, and the response was a guffaw; one man said, “No hope there,” and that was that.

To be sure, Psalm 83 doesn’t offer the comfort that we get from Psalm 23 or the down-to-earth wisdom of Psalm 1, and Handel didn’t include it in his Messiah, as he did Psalm 2, but it’s in the Bible for a reason. It’s what’s called an imprecatory psalm, a psalm that calls on God to harm people. It’s asking God to curse people. As Christians, we are called to bless, not to curse, yet Jesus also says that he has come to fulfill all Scripture, not to do away with it. So imprecatory psalms do have a place in the New Covenant, and I’ll try to explain what that is.

So let’s see how Jesus, God’s ugly duckling, fulfills this ugly duckling of the Book of Psalms.

83 A song, a psalm of Asaph. O God, do not be silent! Do not ignore us! Do not be inactive, O God! For look, your enemies are making a commotion; those who hate you are hostile. They carefully plot against your people, and make plans to harm the ones you cherish. They say, “Come on, let’s annihilate them so they are no longer a nation! Then the name of Israel will be remembered no more.” Yes, they devise a unified strategy; they form an alliance against you.

Here we are back in the world of Psalm 2 (“Why do the nations so furiously rage together?”):

The kings of the earth form a united front; the rulers collaborate against the Lord and his anointed king. They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us! Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”

We are in the world of Psalm 2, and we see that the emphasis is on the kings of the earth wanting to get out from under the Lord’s rule. In Ps 83, though, the surrounding nations are out to do active harm to God’s people. In Ps 2 we’re reminded that we live in a world full of rebels. Every human being wants to do his own thing, to determine by himself and for himself what is wrong and what is right. No one wants God looking over his shoulder and keeping track of everything we do.

Here in Ps 83, though, the rebels are not content to turn their backs on God. Now they want to go after God’s people. We see that in places where people who leave Islam to follow Jesus are disowned by their families, fired from their jobs, imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes killed. We see it in animist villages, where the other villagers are convinced that the local spirits dispense good crops or whatever on an all-or-nothing basis; the spirits say, “Unless everyone in this village does as we say, we won’t do good things for anybody,” and they get angry at the whole village because some of the villagers are Christian and don’t obey the spirit’s rules. And we see it here in the USA when Christians are fined and lose their livelihoods because they refuse to profit from—not tolerate, not participate in, but profit from—activities they consider immoral.

People these days complain that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is intolerant, that he unashamedly proclaims himself a jealous God who punishes those who rebel against him—as if a totally good God is somehow supposed to tolerate rebellion against what is good—but the other gods out there are just as intolerant, just as jealous, and just as vengeful against those who will not serve them.

So here in Ps 83, we have God’s people being attacked precisely because they belong to God. “Your enemies are making a commotion; those who hate you are hostile. They carefully plot against your people, and make plans to harm the ones you cherish.” Rule number one for imprecations, for calling down curses on enemies: they have to be God’s enemies, and they have to be causing harm to God’s people and God’s causes. He doesn’t want us calling down curses on whoever the Eagles are playing.

And we have to remember that even the godless rulers of this world, the ones we hear about in Ps 2 or Rom 13 or 1 Pet 2, are “God’s servants to do [us] good.” They may “do [us] good” by cutting our heads off or crucifying us upside-down, as they did to the men who wrote Rom 13 and 1 Pet 2, but Rom 8:28 says that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose, so we have to be willing to follow our commander’s orders, even when he sends us on suicide missions. We have to believe that “Precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of his holy ones,” and that he will reward those who are willing to die for his causes. (That includes putting up with inconveniences, which is sometimes harder than dying.)

[This united front] includes the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek, Philistia and the inhabitants of Tyre. Even Assyria has allied with them, lending its strength to the descendants of Lot.

Here the list of enemies begins with those who should have been Israel’s friends. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of the Israelites’ patriarch Jacob. The Ishmaelites were descendants of Jacob’s father’s half-brother. The Moabites were descendants of Jacob’s second cousin. Jesus promised us that “a man’s enemies will be the members of his household,” and that’s why he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We have no guarantee that these people who are close to us are not going to turn against God’s causes, and we have to be willing to pray imprecatory prayers against them if they do. At the very least, we have to be willing to accept what happens to them if God decides to punish them.

It’s one thing when the Philistines and Assyrians oppose us. They were people groups before the time of Abraham, so we expect them to be nasty, and we’re glad to call down curses on them because they’re not our people. But our own families can be God’s enemies just as those we have no peaceful dealings with. Are we willing to call curses down on those we love?

Does it hurt yet? It hurts me. There are many people who have been good to me who are rebels against God. Do I love God more than I love them? Am I willing to pray what the psalmist prays? It gets harder:

Do to them as you did to Midian – as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the Kishon River! They were destroyed at Endor; their corpses were like manure on the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, and all their rulers like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let’s take over the pastures of God!”

Here the psalmist recounts some of the great victories that God supernaturally gave Israel over the Midianites, enemies that were much stronger than they were. We hear of the victory over Sisera and Jabin, where a woman put the commander of the enemy’s army to sleep in her tent and then ran a tent peg through his head. Oreb and Zeeb were the commanders of the army that Gideon’s small band of men were able to defeat because the Midianite soldiers killed each other, and Zebah and Zalmunna were the kings whom Gideon executed. Again, they weren’t just personal enemies. They were enemies of God, who said, “Let’s take over the pastures of God!” They not only wanted God to leave them alone, they wanted to displace God’s people.

O my God, make them like dead thistles, like dead weeds blown away by the wind! Like the fire that burns down the forest, or the flames that consume the mountainsides, chase them with your gale winds, and terrify them with your windstorm. Cover their faces with shame, so they might seek you, O Lord. May they be humiliated and continually terrified! May they die in shame! Then they will know that you alone are the Lord, the sovereign king over all the earth.

Here we have more of the blood and guts this psalm is famous for: “make them like dead thistles … dead weeds … chase them … terrify them … Cover their faces with shame … May they be humiliated and continually terrified! May they die in shame!” Blood and guts! No hope here!

Not so fast. Maybe you caught the two rays of hope in this passage? “Cover their faces with shame”—Why?—“so they might seek you. … Then they will know that you alone are the Lord, the sovereign king over all the earth.”

This psalm is a prayer that is prompted by the danger that God’s people find themselves in, and it does urge God to use lethal force, but it is ultimately a prayer that God will vindicate himself, that people will know who he really is. He’s not an ugly duckling; he’s a swan. If you’re looking for a good-looking duckling, you won’t find God. (I don’t have time to go into this, but good-looking duckling religions are those that give you a bunch of rules that you can follow to curry favor with whatever is in charge.) But if you take God on his own terms, you’ll find a thing of beauty.

And, of course, we are all rebels against God. We are all guilty of opposing what God is doing. We all deserve to have Jesus pray Ps 83 against us. But he doesn’t. Instead, he allowed us to act out our rebellion by calling him the ultimate ugly duckling and killing him. He did that so that his people would not have to suffer the curses we’ve been talking about. And we deserve to suffer even worse curses, but God raised him from the dead to show that he really is the ultimate swan and to let us know that we can still seek God, that we can know for sure that he is the sovereign king over all the earth, and that he can forgive our rebellion against him and bless us rather than curse us if we repent, and we can be not only his subjects but his children.

May God grant us such repentant hearts. Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On the Election

Someone whose sense I trust asked me what I thought about the election, so I'll tell you what I told him.

I woke up at 2:30 and purposely didn't check the results until I went to my men's group meeting at 6; I let them tell me. The last I had (thought I had) heard, the electoral vote was close, so I was thinking that even if Trump won by, say, 5, the establishment could get a handful of electors to "vote their conscience" and vote for Killery even though their state had gone for Trump, but I think the gap is large enough that they'll be "content" to cut their losses and plan for 2020.

I think I feel like folks in Syria and Iraq feel after a wave of bomb attacks when a bomb hits a part of the house they're not in. Things aren't good, and we need to prepare for something worse the next time around, but we need to be grateful for things as they are.

I don't think Trump is any less a foe of the voluntary society (what people used to understand libertarianism to be) than Clinton, but we may have more room to work. A 40% tariff on imports, bad as it is, is light years more tolerable than nuclear war with Russia or even Iran.

I'm reminded of a cartoon I saw after the hurricane that smashed Haiti only grazed Florida. It was of "the hand of God" between the hurricane and Florida. God has been merciful to us: Trump will damage things, but he won't destroy everything. I think I need to learn how to be loyal opposition here. As long as there is taxation, I must be in the opposition, but I need to learn how to package that opposition so that I can state it in terms of common goals: "You say this is what you want, but the route you're taking to get it" -- whether through eminent domain or tariffs or limiting migration (as opposed to ending the welfare state) -- "is less likely to succeed than removing all vestiges, to say nothing of the substance, of privilege and power from the ruling class."

How to do that when he and most Americans consider taxation a sacred duty when I consider it the abomination that makes all others possible I don't know yet. Let's see where we are in four years.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why Bootleggers Love Baptists

For the purposes of this post, a bootlegger is anyone involved in a commercial activity of questionable moral value, e.g., commercial gambling, sex, or mind-altering substances. A Baptist is anyone who wants to use “the sword” of Romans 13:1–7 to prevent the bootlegger from bootlegging.

“That ought to be a crime! There should be a law against it!”

One of the consequences—Or was it a cause?—of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is the human tendency to believe in salvation by law: if we just make a law against bad things, we can muster our forces against the evil and it will go away.

Armed with Romans 13, Christians, especially since the Progressive era of the mid-nineteenth century, have tried to use political power to wipe out social evils. In doing so they have inadvertently attempted to do God one better: the evils they are attempting to wipe out are evils that God has nowhere said he wants us to eradicate by force.

This is not to say that social evils are not evil. Gambling is a zero-sum perversion of mutually beneficial investment in businesses that offer evidence, but no guarantee, of success. Intoxication is a perversion of the pleasure that accompanies a stomach full of nutritious food. Prostitution is a perversion of marital love.

But God has nowhere commanded his people to use force to eradicate these evils. The Bible speaks to menstruation, wet dreams, and defecation, so it’s not as if he was shy about telling what to do about gambling and prostitution and intoxication. And in fact he does tell us what to do: “Preach the gospel to all creation.”

We are to do our best to convince our neighbors to abandon evil practices. And while “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” is not in the Bible, at least not in as many words, if two and two make four, we will be most likely to convince people to make the right decision from the heart if they know we don’t threaten them.

So sometimes less is more. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay. Let the dead bury their own dead. You follow me.”

There’s another, a “two and two make four,” reason to avoid taking the sword against bootleggers. By doing so we play into the hands of the most ruthless among them.

By arresting the Fantines (i.e., desperate women) and the Xaviera Hollanders (i.e., those who do it for fun) among the sex workers, we eliminate the competition for those who kidnap women and enslave them. By arresting the people who grow pot in their basements and sell it on the streets, we eliminate the competition for the cartels, who are not averse to using their profits to set up political entities: can you say warlord?

And by outlawing penny-ante card games and online poker, we eliminate the competition for brick-and-mortar gambling establishments, which are also not averse to setting up political entities. Hmm, gambling and politics. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—do you suppose they have any connection to legal, cartelized gambling money?

Enough said.

When God said, “Do not steal,” he meant it. What people do with their property is their business until they put their neighbors’ lives and property in credible danger. We may wish that they did something better with it than what they’re doing, but God has not called us to confiscate their property for some “higher purpose.”

We are to do for them what we want them to do for us: first, leave us and our property alone, and only in that context, help us when we ask for it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Should Christian Men Be Pussies?

The impetus for this post comes from an article I read an hour or so ago on the recommendation of a friend. While the entire article is excellent, the section that made me sit up and take notice was this one, quotes from and comments about David Murrow’s Why Men Hate to Go to Church:

Murrow sees some good in [contemporary “praise and worship,” “P&W”] music, [but] overall he thinks [it] may have even less appeal to men than the hymns of old, and “has harmed men’s worship more than it has helped … With hymns, God is out there. He’s big. Powerful. Dangerous. He’s a leader. With P&W, God is at my side. He’s close. Intimate. Safe. He’s a lover. Most people assume this shift to greater intimacy in worship has been a good thing. On many levels, it has been. But it ignores a deep need in men.” ...

[In P&W music] men are to relate primarily to God as a lover, and Murrow observes that the kind of language used in praise and worship songs – “Your love is extravagant/Your friendship, it is intimate/ I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of Your grace/Your fragrance is intoxicating in this secret place” – “force[s] a man to express his affection to God using words he would never, ever, ever say to another guy. Even a guy he loves. Even a guy named Jesus.”

That reminded me of a song the accompaniment band in which I play bass led the congregation in last week. (Do you see the contradiction inherent in that sentence? Since when do accompanists lead?) One line that stuck in my craw then and has been an ear worm since is, “Your name is honey on my lips.” Words like that will be sung no matter where in the church building I am; I play in the band so I don’t have to sing them. I’m certainly glad my atheist, beer-chuggin’ libertarian friends weren’t in church for the occasion.

After reading the article I went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. Blame the Brazilian kebabs I had for dinner or the potato chips I snuck just before I went to bed. Blame my guilt at not being able to say that Jesus’ name is honey on my lips. Blame my ingratitude to God that I go to church with men who would rather follow Ahab to an imperialist war than to share the ignominy of Christ with Micaiah when I wish I were in Nepal with the men who told me they’d rather follow Micaiah. Blame my sins that I won’t talk about here.

But suddenly I remembered that the orchestration class my wife was teaching on Friday was interrupted when the dean came into the room, turned off the lights, and said, “We are on lockdown,” and barricaded the doors. The students went to the back of the room and cowered, not knowing what was up, terrified that there was a shooter on campus. After half an hour they were informed that there had been an armed robbery in the town and the perps were still at large, but it was another forty-five minutes before the lockdown was lifted and class could resume, but of course by then the class period was essentially over. I don’t know what the hourly tuition at that school works out to, but I’ll bet that if I got that much per hour for my work, we could be in the market for a decent house, not the shacks we’ve been looking at.

The thought of Christian young men in the prime of life cowering in a classroom like a bunch of elementary school students waiting for a shooter to show up turns my stomach. If a shooter lets loose in any public space where there is a Christian man, I say he’d better hit the Christian within the first five seconds, because after that, Mr. Epitome of Gentlemanliness will have unconcealed his carry and blown the perp’s brains out. (The other better solution, which may be right, for all I know, is to do it the Amish way: you go about your business—none of this lockdown stuff—and what happens, happens.)

The rise of the US police state has brought with it a pussyization of men, including Christian men. Instead of “Everybody cower!” the word should have been, “There has been an armed robbery in town. Men, we need you to stand outside the buildings for a while,” with the understanding being that those men—I’m talking about the students as well as the faculty here—were armed and knew how to use those weapons properly. Those robbers should have known before they got to the campus—and the truly sad part is that there is no evidence they ever even went in the direction of the campus—that they would be outnumbered and outgunned dozens to one if they dared to set foot there.

But no, while in every society I can think of until recently any man worth the name would have considered himself the primary defender of his family and the weak members of his community, American pussies are proud to leave defense to “the few, the proud,” the people in uniform. And, frankly, I’m part of the problem. The word gun is not one I utter with affection. No wonder every day is Honor the Vets Day or Honor the Police Day or Support Our Troops Day—they’re the only men left in society who truly act the part. (Well, there’s the Duck Dynasty hunting crowd, but only the rubes in Flyover Country respect them, and besides, most of them are military or police veterans.)

The taxman may take our money and use it for things we think are abhorrent—like late-term abortion, like imperialist war, like the godless indoctrination centers we call schools, like queer marriage, like crony capitalism and colonial and postcolonial dictatorships overseas, and like a secret police and spy network that always seems to have connections with the “lone nuts” who commit atrocities—but dammit, the taxman is the only one we can trust to protect us. We can’t be trusted to be the “armed American behind every blade of grass” who made Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto reluctant to bomb Pearl Harbor and utterly opposed to any talk of invading the US mainland.

Maybe if churches offered firearms safety courses instead of gooey songs about Jesus, we’d see more men in church.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beer and Faith

I was going to begin this post with the quote from Benjamin Franklin to the effect that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, but it seems that he never said it. So I have to begin a bit more prosaically.

We have had to move out of our house, and we are trying to do it on the cheap, so we have ended up having to do a lot of running around and heavy lifting. Between age and the hot weather, it is very tiring.

Much more frustrating, though, is that we have not found a place to move to. Not only that, we don’t know how we are going to finance the work we’ve wanted to do since we were married, helping churches in cultural minority groups to incorporate local music styles into the life of the church. And I really think the message I’ve been trying to get across in this blog is something that would help the church more effectively fulfill the Great Commission, but so far it has been just me and the tumbleweed out here in the wilderness.

On Friday, after a long day of chasing down a truck to borrow and then moving our beds, I was pretty much worn out. I didn’t care what I ate for dinner. All I knew was that I wanted to wash it down with a bottle of beer.

Now the owner of the truck is a good friend, and he always has beer on hand, but I don’t feel like our relationship is such that I can simply show up and ask him for a beer. And I don’t feel like our budget allows me to buy it. So I was resigned to, I don’t know, yet another Chick Fil-A dinner and ice water.

We arrived with the truck, my friend’s wife invited us for dinner—my wife had been craving green beans, and there they were in the mélange—and got my wife some ice water. There was a bottle of beer right there on the table in an insulated sleeve, but it was my friend’s, and his wife offered me … ice water.

The darkest hour is just before dawn. Resurrection power works best in graveyards. Name your cliché, it fit. Before I could open my mouth to thank them for the gracious offer—after all, it was hot and my mouth was dry—my friend grabbed a beer out of the fridge and put it in an insulated sleeve just for me and my drinking pleasure.

This was a growing experience for me.

I’ve always pooh-poohed the “God of the parking spaces.” With people being killed and tortured and jailed for their faith in Christ, others having lost their families and jobs because they follow Jesus, others driven from their homes by war or brigands, others suffering from diseases and disabilities, others going years without being able to find employment that pays their bills or that matches their gifts, how selfish can it be to pray that God will provide a parking space close to the store or, get real, beer for dinner?

If the most important thing I’ve got going in my life is what I drink with dinner, then I can hear Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List saying, “I’ve seen swimming pools deeper than you.” But like I said, Ginny and I both are searching for ways to use our gifts for the kingdom.

Maybe the lesson I should be taking away from this is that wanting to do what we want to do “for the Lord” is just as selfish as wanting a good parking space or beer with dinner. But what I took away was the prayer I prayed with Ginny after we finally got the old house cleaned up: “Lord, if you were kind enough to answer my selfish longing for beer for dinner, I think I can trust you to find us a house that will allow us to be close to a church we can serve in and close to neighbors we can reach for you, and you can lead us to people who can profit from our gifts.”

Maybe that beer was, if not proof then at least good evidence that God loves me.

Or we may both die or be stricken with Alzheimer’s tomorrow. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. But those moments of optimism were a foretaste of heaven.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Theologizing Fidel Castro

I have a real-life, flesh-and-blood question for my conservative evangelical friends who believe that it is a Christian’s duty to “honor authority.”

In 1956, Fulgencia Batista was Cuba’s head of state and Fidel Castro was a revolutionary. Castro and Che Guevara and their gangs would show up in villages, say to the people, “Do as we say or we’ll kill you,” and do as they pleased.

Castro was, we would agree, a rebel against God, a murderer, and a thief.

Three years later, Batista was history and Castro was the head of state. Before long, he had a representative at the United Nations. And he was still sending his agents—now they had official uniforms and a chain of command that ran all the way to the UN—to the villages to tell the people, “Do as we say or we’ll kill you,” and to do as they pleased.

Same people, same actions, same victims. Same rebel against God. But now Castro is the power that be, ordained of God, right?

As such, according to Romans 13, Castro “hold[s] no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. … He is God’s servant to do [Cuban Christians] good. … He does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. … [He is God’s servant], who give[s his] full time to governing.” Not “would be if he followed God’s law”: is.

Let’s leave aside his closing of churches and otherwise stifling of dissent and concentrate only on the issue of taxation as defined in Romans 13. (Yes, I’m being snarky. Neither “taxes” nor “revenue” is defined, so they can include anything.)

If he can take away whatever tangible property he chooses, to say nothing of liberty and life, in 1959 as God’s ordained agent, why could he not do it in 1956 as God’s future ordained agent?

Why would his victory over Batista not have vindicated any prediction (prophecy?) he might have made that he would become leader?

Would it have been wrong for a Christian who realized that God was going to give Cuba into Castro’s hands—to ordain him as his servant—to have joined up with him before the march into Havana?

If it was wrong to join him before the march on Havana, why is it OK to take a job in his government now?

If it was right to forcibly oppose Castro when he was a revolutionary, why is it wrong to forcibly oppose him now?

And if it was wrong for Castro to do as he chose with people’s property in 1956, why is it OK in 1959?

If it’s not OK for Castro to have free rein over people’s property in 1959, why not?

I would suggest that anyone who gives Romans 13 precedence over the prohibition against stealing in Exodus 20:15 and the statement in Psalm 2 that the kings of the earth are unalterably opposed to the Lord and his Messiah is morally paralyzed in the face of the Castros (and Maos—Mao’s story differs from Castro’s only in the details) of this world. Only when Christians refuse to carry out the immoral decrees of the powers that be, however ordained of God they might be, will the church be able to wage war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Proper Respect for Authority

Last night I was watching the movie Courageous and took away from it a lesson I don’t think the producers intended.
The movie is about a bunch of police officers who risk their lives hassling people about such things as burned out tail lights and drug dealing, but apart from that it does impart important lessons about integrity and parenthood.
In one scene Javier, a friend of the policemen, a low-skill but really high-integrity worker who has recently fallen victim to downsizing, has just shown a factory owner that he is “faithful over little” at the bottom rung of the ladder, so the owner offers him a job higher up at a pay level that would enable Javier to pay the bills for what sounds like the first time in a long time.
At this point in the story, the factory owner is assumed to be my idea of duly constituted authority. He has acquired the capital needed to start his business by living below his means to save his own resources and by earning the trust of others to get loans for the rest, and he has remained in business by meeting the desires of his customers at a price they are willing to pay.
Unfortunately, that all goes out the window before he finishes offering the new job: one requirement of the job is that Javier be willing to fudge records when the owner instructs him to.
By this time in the movie the perceptive viewer knows what Javier is made of, so it’s no real surprise when he says (something to the effect of), “I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity you have given me to work in your factory, but I cannot take this new job because I would have to lie. That would bring disgrace to me and to my God.”
He expresses gratitude for the things the owner has done right, he refuses to go along with the evil that the owner asks him to do, and he lets the result be whatever God allows.
In that sense, he did better than either Jeremiah or Micaiah did in their respective situations. I see nothing in either biblical account of Micaiah’s confrontation with Ahab that indicates that Micaiah thanked Ahab for what social order did exist at the time in Samaria. For that matter, I know of no instance in which Elijah thanked him, unless his prophecy that Ahab would die because he had allowed Jezebel to have Naboth killed counts as thanks. Nor do I see Jeremiah giving thanks to Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, or Zedekiah.
If a factory owner, someone who for all we know has come by and maintains his position of authority honorably, has no right to ask us to do evil, by what logic does a king, who acquires his status by virtue of victory in war and his operating budget by extortion, become the voice of God?
What Javier said to the factory owner—not “I don’t make the policies, I only carry them out”—is what all government employees should say (mutatis mutandi) when asked to violate their neighbors’ rights. There would soon be no Christian soldiers or policemen or bureaucrats, but that’s as it should be. They can practice their purported trade of peacekeeping as private employees and do so for the glory of God, not some godless political entity.
“In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my hope, my strength, my song.”

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Giving Up on Bathroomgate

So the president has determined that entry to bathrooms (and, I suppose, eventually shower rooms) in public schools is to be determined by the entrant's self-perception. Horrors, horrors!

What else can we expect from government?

I just flew from Kathmandu to Douala, Cameroon, via Dubai and Addis Ababa. At the government-run airport in Addis, I needed a bathroom break, but there was a cleaning lady in the entrance to the first one I went to, so I moved on. The second was clear, so in I went, did my thing, and came out of the stall to find ... you guessed 'er, Chester ... ladies mopping the floor around the guys taking leaks at the urinals.

So on to Douala and another needed bathroom break. At the entrance to the men's toilet was a well-dressed (and very pretty) lady, who kindly let me know I was in the right place and opened the door for me. I got done, came out of the stall and was greeted by that nice lady (with her hands bowled to let me know I was to tip her, for keeping me company, I guess).

So mixed-gender bathrooms are the new reality.

I remember having a crush on Rosie in seventh grade and being embarrassed at having her see me even walk into a bathroom. Never mind that for one week of that crush I saw her going into the bathroom pretty often, my view of females was that they didn't need bathrooms because they didn't do the same nasty things in them.

The new generation will grow up with no such misconceptions.

I have a friend who grew up among the Dinka of Sudan, where no one ever wears clothes (or did then, anyway). He told me, "Everyone I saw there was naked, but I never saw anyone who was immodest." I can relate. In our village in Papua New Guinea the women routinely wore outfits that would get them arrested anywhere in public in the US, but I found the atmosphere in US shopping malls, where people were clothed, much more sexually charged.

It's possible to act sexy while all the interesting parts are covered. It's also possible to be naked and make it plain that sex is off the table. Whether people choose to be sexy or not is a separate category, though it overlaps, from what people wear. Given a choice between "How I Met Your Mother," where everyone is clothed, but the humor is all about extramarital sex, and a nudist colony where the ethos is "we're at Chick Fil-A, just with no clothes," I much prefer the latter.

But that's not why I have no sympathy for evangelicals who are upset that their kids will be in bathrooms and shower rooms with the opposite sex. People who send their kids to public schools are traffickers in stolen goods, and those who vote to fund them, whether directly through school levies or indirectly through "candidates who support schools," are thieves.

If you don't want your kid in that kind of bathroom, stop taking money from others to educate them and start your own school. See if you can get Chick Fil-A or Walmart or the local Toyota dealer to sponsor it. Heck, I might even kick in some dough.

Meantime, get used to it. It won't kill you.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Nice Place to Sit Out World War III

Albert Einstein is quoted, though never firsthand that I can find, as saying that while he did not know what weapons will be used in World War III, he knew that World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones.

Two possible roads from WWIII to that conclusion come to mind. The first is that WWIII will simply bomb and radiate all of humanity back to the Stone Age. The other, and perhaps the one more likely to be taken, is that those on the periphery, after watching the survivors of combatant nations envy their dead, will decide that it is better to settle issues by lot, or by soccer game, or by a one-on-one battle à la David and Goliath (1 Sam 17:9)—anything that will enable people to continue to make a living—than by an atomic version of “might makes right.”

For a G-rated version of what will be an R-rated event to which the unwilling as well as the willing will be admitted, grab some popcorn and watch the 1983 movie The Day After. (If you want to skip the introduction of the characters, start watching at about minute 40.) Is the “freedom” to subsidize ethanol, abortion, homosexual marriage, and “too big to fail” banks really so precious that you would put yourself and your neighbors through that?

I am writing this from Nepal, where I have been enjoying the company of pastors and other committed Christians who are providing resources for their countrymen who want to translate the Bible into minority languages. The dust and pollution and trash are horrific, not only in Kathmandu but even here, some miles away, around an ashram built by the Jesuits in the 1960s. Making a living is difficult for most people. And many of the men here have told me of being beaten and imprisoned for their faith, though I have also heard how they have found ingenious methods of getting the message out.

But when some of my new friends asked me yesterday if I would like to return to Nepal, I immediately said yes. The people I’ve had connections with are friendly and the food is good. However, lover of ease that I am, the reason I thought of first was that Nepal will probably not be part of World War III. Yes, I think the same God who decided that the sin of the Amorites was full and ordered their complete destruction at the hands of the Israelites, and who decided that the sin of the Judahites was full and ordered the complete destruction of their nation at the hands of the Babylonians, would be acting consistent with his nature to destroy the USA.

I thought the fall would take place at Y2K, the dawn of this century, but it didn’t happen, so I’m not going to make predictions. But the establishment darlings, Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, are itching to push the button. Bernie Sanders is toast. And while Donald Trump seems to be the closest thing to a peace candidate with a shot at the White House, I remember that Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all ran as peace candidates—need I say more?

The next president will believe, as Randolph Bourne said, that “war is the health of the state.” How do I know? Because he or she will be a Keynesian, and Keynes taught that disasters like war, earthquakes, and the like are actually good for the economy because they enable governments to raise taxes and put people to work rebuilding. Keynesians credit Hitler’s and Mussolini’s massive public works projects with pulling their respective economies out of depression, Roosevelt’s projects with putting people to work and getting them through the Great Depression, as well as the wartime spending that ended the Depression for good, and Reagan’s massive increase in federal spending with ending the recession of the early 1980s.

With the US economy headed for hospice, godless (and, alas, “godly”) Americans expect their Führer “Do something—anything!” So the next president will need to take drastic action to increase public spending. What better action than war? War in Syria! War in Ukraine! War in Nepal!


The fact is that if God wants me to go through World War III, there will be no place to get away from it. And the American survivors of World War III are no less (though no more) deserving of a chance to hear the gospel than are the Nepalis. Beatings and jail time are not the only way for us to show the world that God’s “grace is sufficient” for us.

I see no way I could live here without being a burden to someone. Furthermore, the work to which God has called my wife is tied to a suburb of Philadelphia. And there is much to be done there before the dark days come when no one can work.

My prayer for the Nepali church is that she will not make the same mistake we have made in the West of trying to use the world’s means—political power—to accomplish kingdom ends. May Nepali believers take Jesus’ command not to be like the kings of the Gentiles seriously and so to please the Lord, to show themselves to be the children of God, and to allow God time to make their enemies into not only their friends but his friends.

And after World War III, may they know how to make peace without resort even to sticks and stones.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Trumpster’s Job Monstrosity

Part of what makes Trump a monster, and the centerpiece of his appeal, is his stand on immigration and jobs: “Foreigners [or manufacturers] are stealing American jobs!”

My question: can anyone really own a job?

Linguists call some nouns in some languages obligatorily possessed because they describe a relationship and so cannot exist apart from that relationship. A father is a father because he has a child, so the words for father and son and daughter are all marked for possession: “my father,” “his father,” “my son,” etc. Same with husband, wife, cousin, grandfather, et cetera. This is how it worked in the language my wife and I learned in Papua New Guinea:

my _____ your (singular) _____ his _____
wife naka apäki ntaka säpa kanka kayäpa
father naka äpo ntaka sän kanka kän
grandfather naka täito ntaka säwo kanka kayäwo
mother’s brother naka aamo ntaka saamo kanka kayaamo

A given tree may or may not be owned, so trees, rocks, and the like had no such markings, nor did things like houses or clothes, though it’s not impossible that a language somewhere would mark manufactured items as obligatorily possessed.

But what about a job? Can a job ever really be possessed?

If I can speak of “my job,” it’s only because someone has asked me to do something with the understanding that I will somehow be better off (or suffer less) if I engage in a specified activity than I would if I did not. Implicit in that relationship is that the other person is the one who determines whether I “have a job” or not. One could say that our language expresses the idea backward from the reality: if anyone truly possesses a job, truly controls the situation, it’s not the person who does the work; rather, it’s the person who gives the job, the one who pays the salary (or, in the case of prison administrators, lessens the punishment).

So to say “the corporations are stealing American jobs and sending them overseas” is nonsense. They are taking what in reality and in every aspect except language are their jobs and giving them to whom they please.

Americans bitch about the “unlivable” wages paid by Walmart, but when people much worse off economically than we are jump at the chance to earn those “unlivable” wages, we need to consider the possibility, however remote, that part of “American exceptionalism” includes a worldview that is backward from reality.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why Does Anyone Want The Federal Beast to Survive?

I listened to Alex Jones’s interview with Donald Trump last night. The Donald Trump I saw there bears little resemblance to the guy who was on stage in Houston last week, at least in mannerisms. He’s polite, he makes sense – and he’s a monster.

He wants to “make America great again.” He wants to make America rich (again?). Who could object to that?

He wants to “build up our military.” We already spend more on our military than almost the rest of the world combined. What’s to build up? But you go to an airport to get on a plane, and you see that even that military has failed to make us (feel) safe.

Certainly our politicians and diplomats are abject failures when it comes to enabling us to be a nation at peace. I heard precious little about diplomacy.

He wants to take ISIS’s oil. Using the military. (Have we heard that before?) What about the people whose land the oil is on? Well, “we” (meaning Exxon-Mobil) take it over using eminent domain.

What about property rights for the rest of us? Um, no. If the state needs it for “progress,” it goes to the state, and the state determines how (or if) the (former) owner gets compensated.

How will he deal with the deficit? “Waste, fraud, and abuse! Waste, fraud, and abuse!” This is an original idea? Isn’t it the mantra chanted by all fiscal conservative wannabes? Wasn’t it Reagan’s mantra? (Trump considers Reagan the best of the presidents since Lincoln.) Yet Reagan was the one who presided over the hockey-stick increase in federal deficit spending. I’m not reassured.

Now I consider Trump to be the least monstrous of the five leading candidates. He is no more militaristic than the others and seems to be less eager to go to war. With the exception of Cruz’s opposition to the ethanol subsidy, he is no less a foe of the welfare state. But he’s still a monster.

Look at the other federal government names that come to mind: Barack Obama, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Lindsey Graham, Harry Reid, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Janet Yellen, John Roberts. These are the people at the top. Would you want any of them to see their dreams for you come true? And we expect the entity beneath them to work for our good, or for the good of anyone not in the inner circle? Why would anyone want this behemoth to survive? Wouldn’t life be better without any of it?

If the federal government disappeared tomorrow, Pennsylvania, where I live, would still be one of the top economies in the world. To say nothing of Texas or Tennessee or California. We are paying the federal government to make us enemies of each other – tell me the Republicans and the Democrats on the street don’t hate each other – and enemies abroad for all of us. We need people to do that “for” us?

How would Pennsylvania deal with ISIS or Iran or Russia or Mexian immigrants, or Social Security or Medicare? I don’t know. But my guess is that we wouldn’t have to, at least not much more than Costa Rica or Panama or Cuba do. I suspect we would see some kind of confederations spring up. I don’t expect to see slavery reinstanted.

But I would suspect the Amish would continue to be the Amish, and other nonconformist groups to try to live out their visions. Not all will succeed, but that’s life.

The church might have the resources to start the schools, hospitals, and orphanages for which it was once famous and respected.

The Iowans might continue to produce ethanol. Fine: if I don’t have to subsidize the production or pay for it at the pump, it’s not my concern.

We might dissolve into squabbles between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, collectivists and individualists. Some of those squabbles might turn nasty. State police have proven to be as nasty as the feds in enforcing bad laws. But the distance between here and somewhere better could be reduced if there’s enough good neighborliness left among the little guys. And if there’s not, then there is literally no hope for the people, nation or no nation.

In the end, what will save the people – and it’s the people, not the abstraction represented by Old Glory, who are important – will be grace. Long term, it is the grace of God through Jesus. For this there is no substitute. Shorter term, however, it’s the common grace of voluntary service: we consider people and their property sacred, and we get ahead by meeting their felt needs with goods and services they are willing to pay for.

Some regions of what is now the US are more amenable to that mentality than others. It’s time for the church in those areas to realize that our nationalism is crippling our efforts to live it out, and we need to look for peaceful, God-honoring ways of demonstrating and providing an alternative. And praying that the behemoth dies peacefully, and soon. And we need to do all that decently and in order.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Progressive Government Cannot Not Be Corrupt

Progressivism, whether liberal or conservative, is the idea that if we just put the right people in charge, they will be able to concoct the proper mixture of a fair and prudent tax code, expenditures on bread and circuses, and “regulation” of private and pubic life, and we will all live happily ever after. As the idea that if the godless are set free to make up their own rules the result will be anything approaching the justice, prosperity, and peacewe all hope for is thoroughly unbiblical, Christians should have rejected it out of hand. However, the church in the United States, having been taught to be properly grateful for a nation that has granted its residents freedoms undreamed of in most places and at most times in our history, has failed to notice that that nation no longer values the freedoms it once granted and has drunk as deeply of Progressivism as the population at large.

I hereby attempt to provide a remedy for this turn of events. Having demolished the idea that there is some ideal tax system in which “everyone pays their fair share, I now turn to the second leg of the Progressive stool, the possibility that funds garnered through taxation can be disbursed justly and prudently.

When Progressive governments fail, the charge is usually “corruption,” a catch-all term that encompasses incompetence, mismanagement, and various forms of embezzlement and theft. The solution proposed, usually around election time, never varies from the Progressive mantra of “We just need to put the right people in charge!” The fact that we put these crooks in charge to undo the damage done by the last group of crooks we put in charge doesn’t seem to register.

But to show you that even if there were some right people to put in charge the job would not be done correctly, I’ll put you in the driver’s seat and let you see for yourself that even the right person cannot not crash the car.

You’re the head of the education department in the state of Bruhaha. A good Progressive, you consider your job to be assuring a quality education for all the children in Bruhaha, especially the poor, and you are doing your best.

For a long time you have been wishing there were money to build a new school in Ton County, the poorest county in your state, and one day money does come up for just that purpose. After much serious consultation, the decision about where to build the school has boiled down to a choice between Upton and Downton. The communities are about the same size, but folks in Upton have more money than those in Downton because there is a factory in Upton run by a Mr. Jenrus.

Because Downtonian children do not have the advantageous home life of those in Upton, you are leaning toward locating the school in Downton so it can become a sort of community center for all Downtonians, as well as serving the Uptonians, who seem to be able to afford their own community amenities, from a distance.

One day you get a call from Mr. Jenrus, whom you know to be a man of his word. He also happens to have three children who will be attending the new school. He has heard that you want to locate the school in Downton and would like you to reconsider your decision. He offers to add at his own expense needed classroom space and equipment to the school, to add an extra twenty percent to the teachers’ salaries so better teachers can be recruited, to buy a bus, and to make sure the bus and the road between Downton and Upton are maintained for years to come so that the Downtonian children will be able to get to the school quickly whenever it is open – all this if only you will build the school in Upton. If you insist on building the school in Downton, then because he is concerned about the welfare of his children – who so far have been privately tutored and sent to boarding school and whom he does not want to spend the extra time on the bus – he will not only not put his money into the school, he will sell his factory to the highest bidder and move somewhere he can guarantee a good education for them.

So you have a choice between a better-financed school in Upton, one that would arguably serve the people of Downton better than a less-expensive school in Downton, or a lesser school in Downton that would be closer to those whose needs are greater than those in Upton and the possibility that the factory in Upton would close or be sold to someone with nothing close to a heart for the community.

If you figure that your idea of a community center is more important than the extra classroom space and higher-paid teachers, then you’ll go with Downton. And if you’re wrong about that – the community center never comes about – not only will the people in Upton have your hide, so will those in Downton who disagreed with you from the beginning.

If you go with Upton, you will be de facto and by definition following the money, which goes against the stated Progressive goal of slanting the playing field so the disadvantaged are less so. And, of course, Mr. Jenrus will probably want to show his appreciation to you. This appreciation might take the form of a thank-you note, an invitation to a dinner party, or a twenty-percent discount on all Jenrus Factory products, or two weeks for you and your family on the Riviera. Or it might be a generous contribution to your campaign when you decide to run for governor.

In any case, how do you know if Mr. Jenrus is being corrupt or properly grateful? After all, he didn’t say anything up front about feathering your nest if you decided to take him up on his offer. And many people besides Mr. Jenrus have benefited from your decision, so he would probably not be the only one showing his appreciation for you in tangible ways.

But now the precedent has been set. Given that the human heart is deceptive, desperately wicked, and therefore unknowable, how can you – let alone the population at large – know the next time a similar decision needs to be made whether you are deciding the issue on the merits of the case or “in the best interests of the community,” which just happens to benefit you and your friends? How much of the decision-making process will involve keeping people from thinking you are simply responding to bribes, whether explicit or implicit?

And remember – you’re spending other people’s tax money, presumably including some from New Upton and New Downton.

This lose-lose moral hazard faces every official in tax-funded institutions. But it doesn’t face leaders of voluntary institutions, as you’ll see if you climb into this car over here.

You’re C. Truitt Cathy. You want to build Chick Fil-A High School in New Ton County. For a site you have a choice between New Upton and New Downton. You’re leaning toward New Downton because you want to glorify God by helping those who are poorer, but Colonel Sanders has offered to give the school an appreciable boost only if it’s built in New Upton.

You’re spending your own money for subsidy either way, so it’s not a question of you making a profit or either community suffering a net loss. In fact, it’s a win-win situation, the only question being which way yields the better result over the long term.

But you know that the tangible gratitude of the New Uptonians if you build in New Upton will exceed that of the New Downtonians if you build in New Downton. You want to be a good steward before God so that he will receive the glory and the thanksgiving, but you also know you can’t please everyone no matter what you do. Will the New Downtonians benefit long-term more from a better-funded school or from a shorter commute? Is a better-funded school even necessarily a better school?

You scratch your head for a while and decide on ….

(I didn’t hear a crash. Did you?)

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Pope and The Donald

“The action is the reaction.” - Saul Alinsky

I wonder if the Pope was knowingly putting Alinsky’s law into practice when he told the crowd in Mexico that Donald Trump is not a Christian. He’s a liberation theologian, liberation theology being revolutionary leftism using Christian jargon, and Alinsky was a leftist, so I’m sure the Pope is familiar with Alinsky, at least second hand. He must have known that Trump’s reaction and the reaction of American evangelicalism would be much more important than his own words. If so, he was right.

Jerry Falwell Jr. jumped in to claim Trump is a Christian, and there’s even a picture of “the hedge fund priest” blessing Trump.

If Trump had just said, “So I’m not a Christian. So what? What’s it to ya?” life would be fine. But he didn’t, and I bet the Pope knew he wouldn’t. What a great way to drive a wedge right down the middle of US evangelicalism.

Donald Trump the serial polygamist a Christian? Really? What church is he a member of? What creed does he subscribe to? Could he become a member of your church?

So we have the warmongering evangelicals backing Cruz who, I gather, could pass muster with theologically fastidious churches, and those sick of the war overseas and the war on drugs rather reluctantly backing a nonbeliever, which is fine, but one who muddies the punch bowl by claiming to be a Christian.

I just saw the cover of a book called The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church. Add number seven: The Donald.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Quill Pig for President!

I’ve decided it’s time to announce my candidacy for president. I have a hard time believing that my failures could be any worse than Hillary’s, Bernie’s, Donald’s, Ted’s, or Marco’s successes.

I don’t plan to run. I’ll leave running to the guys with money. I’ll just stand and let God bring the office to me. The chances of that happening are infinitessimal but still greater than zero.

So it’s up to you, dear reader, to get me into the White House. It won’t cost you anything. All you need to do is Like this post, get two of your friends to Like it, and remember to write my name in in November. I figure after I’ve got 100 million Likes, I can think about a running mate, and with that many votes, the gatekeepers can’t not give me the election.

So, here’s my platform. This will not only make America great again, it will make living here great again!

  • On my first day in office, I will rescind all executive orders.

  • I will veto all legislation until the Federal Reserve is abolished.

  • I will veto any legislation that includes off-budget expenses. All government expenditures will be on budget.

  • I will veto any budget that exceeds 80% of the previous year’s tax revenue and taxes individuals more than 80% of their previous year’s tax assessment.

  • I will veto any spending for the War on Drugs.

  • As commander in chief I will withdraw the US military from foreign soil and authorize only operations that directly defend the territory within our borders.

There it is. Short. Sweet. Perfect.

But it might need some explanation. It is, after all, not what one would expect from an anarchist.

The president was never meant to be a king, and executive orders are easily abused. So I’ll scrap the whole institution by rescinding all previous executive orders, and of course I will use the power of the veto, not executive orders, to accomplish my own goals. If Congress overrides my vetoes, I will abide by the legislative process, but I will not strike deals that let them off easy.

Ever since the Federal Reserve has had control of the money supply, America has been involved in deficit spending that would have been impossible, spending that has financed needless, useless wars in Europe, Vietnam, and the Middle East, and foisted debt on three generations of the unborn, including the two Ponzi schemes of Medicare and Social Security. The moral hazard of fiat money is too strong for rational beings to resist. I will do everything in my power to put it out of existence.

Another symptom of the fiat money system is the ability of the government to fund secret and crony activities off the budget. And again, rational beings can be expected to be better at obtaining such funds than at discerning the “common good” (whatever that is). I will do everything I can to veto federally sanctioned fiat money.

The government has gone rogue because it has the money to go rogue. Even without deficit spending, it has too much spending power. As a result, social life begins at the federal level and trickles down to the local level. It’s time to end the failed experiment of top-down, command-and-control governance and return political power to the states. After eight years of 20% reductions in the budget, the federal budget will be one-sixth its present size, and total government expenditures will be even less than one-sixth what they are today.

As a result, the states will cease to be de facto provinces and become once again what the Declaration of Independence called “free and independent States” like “the State of Great Britain.” The eight-year transition period will allow the states to determine how or even whether they will replace the newly defunded federal programs, how they will handle immigration, how much water people may have in their toilet tanks, and countless other issues currently mishandled by the feds. Some states will become socialist paradises with their own fiat currencies; others may approximate free markets with private or other currencies.

The War on Drugs is a war on freedom, and it has spawned abominations like RICO asset forfeiture and laws against possession of cash, as well as providing fertile soil for the growth of criminal gangs far worse than those that grew up as a result of alcohol prohibition. I will veto all legislation with funding for the War on Drugs.

Finally, the purpose of the US military is to protect the United States, not Ukraine, Israel, Japan, or South Korea. This task does not require a military that costs as much as the rest of the world’s armed forces combined. Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto warned against invading the US because “there will be an armed American behind every blade of grass,” and things have not changed for the worse on that score. With the federal budget reduced, it will be up to the states to decide how they will defend their own interests alone and in bottom-up partnership with other states.

So there you have it.

Do you want your life back, or would you rather have Hillary, Bernie, Donald, Ted, or Marco run it for you? If you think you can do a better job than they can, you know what to do: Like this page on Facebook, and get your friends to follow suit.