Monday, March 30, 2009

Liberal Band-aids

As readers of this blog know, I used to describe myself as conservative in theology and liberal in politics but now have decided to embrace my inner conservative more fully. Let me give a short answer as to why. Culture precedes politics. Is that short enough? OK, let me tell you a story.

Remember the one about the dangerous road and concerned citizens who decided to do something about the many accidents near a dangerous curve that cars kept failing to negotiate, thus going off the cliff? They took up a collection to station an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to get the injured people to hospital faster. This is social service. But then somebody got the idea of launching a political movement to get the government to straighten out the road. This is politics. Moral: the church needs to go beyond social service into politics in order to avoid just putting bandaids on injustice. It's hard to argue with this point.

However, the problem is that, while the move into politics is a move upstream from the problem, it doesn't go far enough upstream. Politics is the expression of the shared values of a community and it is impossible to get a group of vicious people to legislate virtuously. If you really want to build a culture of life, it is necessary to have a critical mass of people who actually live in affirmation of life. Even if you have pro-life laws, if the culture of life declines the laws will be flouted and eventually altered. The laws reflect the culture. They also shape the culture; I'm far from denying the educative role of the law. That is why I said "a critical mass of people" above and not a totally pro-life culture. We don't wait for unaniminity, but we can't proceed with a tiny minority either.

Let's take the issue of unwed mothers. Conservatives like me are active in pregnancy help centers where we provide friendship, peer group interaction, information, prayer, mentoring, practical help etc. for unwed mothers. This is a admittedly a bandaid approach. But every responsible parent puts a bandaid on a child's skinned knee; bandaids are good not bad. They are just not the total answer to complex social issues.

So how do we move upstream on this issue? Liberals say increase the welfare state and let the government pay for raising the child since the father won't. Is that going far enough upstream? I think not. The real issue is sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility. Girls must be taught to say no; boys must be taught the meaning of responsible fatherhood. Increasing welfare won't address this issue and might even make the problem worse by further undermining personal responsibility. Insofar as it does help, it is still a bandaid. Surely the richest society in the world has something more to offer pregnant women than abortion and a welfare cheque. Money can't replace morality.

The folks who support Sojourners tend to despise those who support Focus on the Family. Why is that? It puzzles me to think that anyone concerned about the fact that illegitimate births are skyrocketing in our society would think that building up the family is irrelevant to social issues ranging from crime to poverty to education. Perhaps liberals perceive social conservatives as impediments to their "solve all problems through government programs" agenda. But do liberals really think that even if the problem could be solved without increasing the size and scope of government, it still would be preferable to do so through the government? It appears to me that the answer is yes. Liberal ideology simply holds that justice and peace can only come through the infinite expansion of government programs and the infinite expansion of the bureaucratic, managerial state. This is where I get off the liberal bus. (see previous post.)

One more point. Why do liberals put their faith in government to such an extreme degree? It is because they want to have a just society without becoming just people. It is an attempt to substitute a rational system of distribution for virtue. Liberals want to be personally irresponsible while being socially responsible. To be a conservative is to face up to the need to engage morality as well as politics for that is what culture is all about - morality. I think that politics only starts to get interesting when we move into issues of right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice. And liberalism just isn't interested in going this far upstream.

What Lies Beyond Marxism and Capitalism?

It was a commonplace in the 90's to remark about how the fall of the Berlin Wall, coupled with the move of China toward state capitalism, symbolized the end of Communism as an historical force. During the current economic meltdown, it has become a commonplace to speak of the end of capitalism as an economic system. But this is old news. Marxism was finished once the crimes of Stalin became widely known and Capitalism had to absorb many Marxist ideas into itself as the welfare state emerged out the New Deal. It was either that or perish in the fires of revolution. Capitalism has been like the corpse of Lenin under glass for quite some time now.

Now that we are moving decisively beyond the two great religions of the Enlightenment, what lies ahead? It seems to me that there are two possibilities: either a revival of Christian faith in the West, which will lead to a distributivist economic system and freedom or the continued rise of the bureaucratic, managerial, state and the loss of freedom.

The bureaucratic, managerial state is operated by a special class of experts who function as managers throughout the state apparatus, which continuously grows and expands until all human life comes under its purview. At that point, human life can be managed effectively for maximum efficiency and rational planning can ensure human happiness. There is every reason to believe that most people will gladly trade freedom for security, as Dostoevesky's Grand Inquisitor argued in The Brothers Karamazov. The state is nameless and faceless. No one person is in charge; no one is accountable. The state is ubiquitous (a property of Jesus Christ) and it is all-powerful (an attribute of God). The state eliminates the vagaries of chance, individual initiative, disease and fortune and provides total security for every person. The state controls most of the wealth, of course; individuals are put on "an allowance." Personal initiative or eccentricity is diminished and the pleasures of the flesh are emphasized. Through expert planning the state not only rules or governs; its controls and manipulates.

But unlike the "hard totalitarianisms" of the mid-Twentieth century, this "solft totalitarianism" does not provoke fear, hatred and resistance from its citizens because the state appears as the Great Benefactor of the populace. In other words, human nature has changed and no longer yearns for freedom from state control because people have been conditioned to love security, fear freedom and accept state control.

This dystopia is perfect in every respect, as prophet like Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), and Fyodor Dostoevesky (The Brothers Karamazov) have foreseen, except for one little detail. C. S. Lewis points it out in The Abolition of Man. In the great war of man to conquor nature, (which is the chief enemy of the bureaucratic, managerial state), the conquest of nature turns out to be the conquest of human nature as well and this means that it is the conquest of some men by other men. In other words, Nietzsche's vision wins out in the end.

If I were to boil down what it means to be a conservative today, I would say it means to oppose the bureaucratic, managerial state and all its works - including eugenics, the increasing separation of human reproduction from sexuality, high taxes and big government social programs, the endless regulation of all aspects of life, the ursurpation of authority over the family, the usurpation of authority over the Church, policies designed to ensure the continued destruction of the family farm, globalization, the government monopoly on education, and the glorification of greed, lust and sloth as the highest ideals.

If I were to answer the question of what it is, exactly, that conservative seek to conserve, I would answer: humanity itself.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

When They Stop Believing in God They Call Themselves Modernists

This will do just fine as a definition of "liberal" as far as theology is concerned.

I'll bet you always wondered how bishops were appointed in the Church of England. "Yes Prime Minister" explains all.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Alasdiar MacIntyre: "How I Survived 20th Century Academic Moral Philosophy"

On March 10, 2009 Alasdair MacIntyre was awarded an honoury degree by Trinity College, Dublin. Here is a lecture he gave at that time. It describes his pilgrimage as a philosopher and Christian. Take the time; it is well worth while.

Walter Wink, the Powers and the Mission of the Church

Ryan Klassen has posed some excellent and nuanced questions in response to my previous post on the Evolving Church. I respond here rather than in the com box so as to give a more complete answer and so as to give the discussion a higher profile. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

First, let me a define the term "liberalism" because this is important. If we have in modernity, traditional, orthodox Christianity (Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, Pope Benedict XVI) on the one side and atheistic Materialism (Rousseau, Marx, Freud, Dawkins, Singer) on the other, then theological liberalism is a form of Christianity that tries to mediate between the two without denying the essence of either. Here "liberal" is a noun as in "He is a liberal." So, when I use the term "liberal theology" or "liberalism" or "liberal Protestantism" I am referring to the attempt by Christians to be modern without ceasing to call themselves Christian.

There is a completely different use of the term, which is a comparative one on a scale from very conservative to very liberal and in this use of the term one can be relatively more or less liberal. I am more liberal than some of my faculty colleagues and less liberal than others. Here "liberal is an adjective. So J. I. Packer is more "liberal" than R. C. Sproul becaue Packer signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement on justification. But that sort of thing hardly makes Packer a "liberal" in the sense that John Spong is a liberal. We all know that Spong is a liberal and Packer and Sproul are not.

Now this is a noteriously slippery term. A myth can simply mean an organizing narrative that makes sense out of the world. In this sense Darwinism is a myth, Nazism is a myth and Christianity is a myth. But usually, when they use the word myth, people mean an unscientific story, that is, an organizing narrative that is not literally true because it contains supernatural elements that the scientific mind rejects. So, for them, Nazism is a myth in this sense because it is based on unscientific racial beliefs, so it is rejected. But Darwinism is not a myth, but science, and therefore it can be accepted.

Now what about Christianity? I submit that for an orthodox Christian, Christianity is a myth in the first sense of being an organizing narrative that makes sense out of the world, but not in the second sense of being unscientific. Traditional Christians don't have as narrow a view of science as modern secularists do; Christians think that if there is a God, there is no reason He could not intervene in his own creation and cause a miracle to occur. But a liberal is likely to try to reinterpret the Christian myth (first sense) in such a way as to make it compatible with science so that it does not have to be understood as a myth in the second sense and therefore rejected. So whereas traditional Christians challenge the extension of science into scientism, liberals just accept the atheistic and materialistic understanding of science and try to re-interpret Christianity in such a way as to make it compatible with such thinking. This is what Bultmann's program of demythologizing set out to do.

Wink and the Powers:
Wink writes in the first book in his trilogy, Naming the Powers, "What I propose is viewing the spiritual Powers not as separate heavenly or ethereal entities but as the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power." (p. 104) Notice that he speaks of "the inner aspect" of material entities; this does not entail the separate existence of a spiritual being. An angel is a rational intelligence without a physical body. Wink does not believe in such beings -whether fallen or not. On the next page, he confirms this: "None of these 'spiritual' realities has an existence independent of its material counterpart." (p. 105) So for Wink, angels and demons do not exist. The "Powers," for him, are thoroughly demythologized, that is, re-interpreted as simply the "ethos" or "spirit" of a material organization or entity. Again, he writes: "We encounter them primarily in reference to the material or 'earthly' reality of which they are the innermost essence." (p. 105) He can insist that the Powers are real precisely (and only) because they are aspect of a material thing. The spirit of the football team exists because the football team exists; disband the team and the spirit disappears because it did not precede the team in existence, it does not exist separately from it, and it does not continue to exist after the team ceases to exist.

Liberals bend over backwards to try and give the impression they are not abandoning or denying Christian doctrine, but merely re-interpreting it. So, is demythologizing the spiritual beings spoken of in the Bible as angels, demons, principalities, powers, thrones, dominions, etc. re-interpreting the Bible or denying it? That is the question.

I believe in angels and demons. I also believe that the spiritual and material worlds are not completely cut off from each other. They affect each other; that is why prayer is so important. We can live according to the spiritual rule of Christ and his angels in this life or we can live under the rule of the Devil and his demons. To do the former is to live in the kingdom of God. That is the context in which the Christian life is understood in the Bible and that is the reason why spiritual battles are so crucial.

One other aspect of the Biblical worldview that is in sharp contrast to the modern one is that in the Bible good and evil are personal categories, wheras in modernity they are impersonal and structural. In the Bible persons are tempted, persons sin and persons repent. God is a personal being and so is the Devil. We are personally in submission to them or in opposition to them personally. But in modernity sin is a matter of evil institutions and structures, while people are basically good in themselves. Evil is a force of nature, not an evil, fallen angel. Salvation is repairing the structures of society, rather than repentence by a person of his sins. In modernity the battle against moral evil is transfigured into the battle against nature (which, BTW, is the source of the ecological disaster that is modernity. Christianity is not the cause of ecological disaster, the rejection of Christianity by modernity is. But I digress.)

Despite his best efforts, I think Wink capitulates to the materialistic worldview by re-interpreting the powers language in sociological/political terms. But, perhaps surprisingly, my opinion is he does not do this primarily out of concern for scientism; rather, he does so primarily out of a concern to make sin a matter of political structures, rather than the human heart. The key for Wink is not making the powers part of the material world (although that is the effect), the key is making them impersonal, which is accomplished by making them part of the structures of the material world. Salvation in Wink's perspective can now consist of political reform and social action, rather than personal repentence, faith and good works done in gratitude to God. This brings us to the mission of the church.

Wink and the Mission of the Church
At Nicaea, the whole debate between Athanasius and Arius came down to one iota. It was the difference between "homoousios" and "homoiousios," between one in being with the Father and similar in being to the Father. Who is Jesus Christ? Is he the greatest of God's creations? Or is he God incarnate? This seemingly tiny detail - just one little Greek letter in one Greek word - was the pivot between heresy and orthodoxy, human philosophy and Divine Relation, damnation and salvation, hell and heaven.

Now there is an equivalent of this iota in Wink's writings. He identifies the reign of God with Democracy (Liberalism). Having argued that the message of Jesus is nonviolence, he writes:

"Ideally, democracy is nonviolence institutionalized. It is the only political order that rejects domination in principle and grounds itself in equality before the law. . . I am not thinking of democracy American style or Swedish style of Indian style, but democracy generally - a system for the nonviolent resolution of conflict and disputes through representative forms of government and cvil life." (Engaging the Powers, p. 171.)

Wink admits that actual democracies are imperfect, but his detailed description of what he means by the reign of God, as opposed to what he calls "The Domination System" in this book, leaves no room for doubt that modern political liberalism is the grid on the basis of which the kingdom of God is defined. The Kingdom is always greater than our political systems, more perfect and without flaws. But it is an extension of modern political liberalism, a development and purification of it. (A book that does a great job of tracing the development of this modern ideology is the historian Christopher Lasch's The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics). What I am saying is that Wink has taken the biblical phrase "kingdom of God" and has given it a definition drawn from modern progressive politics - from political liberalism or democracy. (BTW, this aligns him with Ronald Reagan as well as with Barack Obama. Their disagreements over how liberal their liberalism should be are in-house disputes compared to their overall agreement on liberalism being the right framework.)

The biggest difference between the Kingdom of God and modern political liberalism is that in the former God rules the people and in the latter we the people rule ourselves according to the ideals of equality and liberty. The French Revolutionaries knew it was a battle to the death between two incompatible visions and that is why they attacked the Church with a ferocity not seen since the last Roman emperor to persecute the Church, Diocletion in the 290's.

Wink also writes in his book, When the Powers Fall, ch. 4, Toward Democracy, "Democracy, as we mentioned before, is not the equivalent of God's reign." (p. 64). I am not accusing Wink of simply equating contemporary political democracy with God's reign. No one would be stupid enough to do that, (except maybe practictioners of American civil religion). But I am saying that, for Wink, the difference between contemporary democracy and the Kingdom of God is one of degree, not kind. No prooftext lifted out of his writings can settle this interpretation by itself. It is a question of the overall shape and texture of his vision of God's reign as that emerges throughout his project. If Wink can be much friendlier to the Church than the French Revolutionaries, it is only because the Church today poses less of a threat to the revolution, having been assimilated in large measure to the modern project.

I do not view Democracy as the best approximation of the Kingdom of God we can imagine. On the contrary, I see Western liberal democracies as being in the grip of the culture of death because they have rejected God's law and rule. Having embraced secularism and materialism, the Western democracies are trying to rule themselves as if God did not exist. The result is massive disobedience to God's will as seen in the sexual revolution, the lack of respect for the sanctity of human life and the embrace of pantheistic earth worship. All this is part of Wink's ideal of democracy. For Wink, radical second wave feminism with its embrace of pornography and promiscuity and the pantheistic spirituality of Matthew Fox are the opposite of the Domination System and are approved. Is is possible that, in the end, it is not only the domination of evil powers that Wink is trying to escape, but also the rule of God?

I believe that humans are limited creatures who cannot rule themselves. Our only choice is whether we shall be ruled by Satan or by God. To the extent that we try to rule ourselves we place ourselves unwittingly under the rule of Satan and we continue the project began by Eve in the Garden when she believed the Serpent. When modern liberal democracies do not accept basic moral limits in the form of commands from God which must be obeyed and limits that must not be transgressed, they become not merely imperfect, but demonic. To live in the Kingdom of God is to accept the law of the Lord like the Psalmist did - joyfully as a source of life and fulfillment. This is what it means to live in the Kingdom now.

Our job as Church is not to reform the powers. Our job is two-fold: 1) to preach the Gospel in defiance of them and 2) to stand firm against their attacks. In Eph. 6:10-18, Paul urges Christians to stand four times (to stand against the devil's schemes, stand your ground, to stand, stand firm). The Church is under demonic attack but must use the weapons of spiritual warfare (truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word of God, prayer). The implication is clear; the greatest danger is that the Church will be deceived into accepting a false gospel or in some other way undermined by the Devil's lies. All we have to do is preach the Gospel and witness to Christ, but that is very difficult. Christ does the rest. He triumphed over the powers already in the cross (Col. 2:15) and resurrection and he will bring everything into submission to himself when he returns (Phil. 2:10, I Cor. 15:24-28).

The Kingdom of God is beyond our imagination. It is more than simply modern Western democracies purified of flaws. It can only be described in apocalyptic language (eg. Isa. 11:1-11, Rev. 21). But most importantly, the Kingdom of God is where the will of God is done perfectly (Matt. 6:10) and where God's intentions for creation are completely fufilled (Lk. 4:18-19). Only God can bring about the Kingdom by a decisive in-breaking into history. This in-breaking has begun with the Incarnation, but it will be completed in the Second Coming. We live between the times and our essential mission as Church is to bear witness to Jesus Christ and call the nations to acknowledge his Lordship now while there is still time to do so freely.

I don't object to the idea of calling the nation to righteousness here and now, even if we all know that that righteousness is imperfect. But I do object to re-defining the rule of God into the rule of man. I view Democracy and Liberalism as a modern rebellion against God and as heresies. The Kingdom of God is very different and must not be confused with them. This is my complaint against Wink - not that he wants to challenge the Powers, but that he does not do so in the name of the a Biblical enough concept of the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Holding Obama's Pro-life Supporters Accountable

Here is an open letter to Obama's pro-life supporters from the website "Moral Accountability." The website was set up to hold Obama and his supporters for living up to the claims made for him to the effect that he was the real pro-life candidate in the last election and would work for abortion reduction. Without this key support from Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, Obama might not have been elected. Splitting the pro-life vote was a keystone of his electoral strategy. We must not forget and we must face the facts as they emerge. It is early yet in the Obama presidency, but it is looking very bad so far. The letter begins:

"We share with you a commitment to the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family. It is for this reason that we oppose abortion, embryo-destructive research, euthanasia, and every other form of direct killing of innocent human beings. We believe that these practices are grave injustices that no society should promote, facilitate, or even permit.

Despite Barack Obama’s record of support for legal abortion and its public funding, and his pledge to lift President Bush’s limitations on the federal funding of embryo-destructive research, you felt that Obama would, all things considered, make a better president than John McCain, and you encouraged your fellow pro-life citizens to join you in voting for him. Some of you argued that Senator Obama, despite his vocal support for legal abortion and equally vocal opposition to pro-life legislative initiatives, was actually the superior candidate from the pro-life point of view. His economic and social policies, many of you said, would strike at the causes of abortion and reduce its incidence. You predicted that lives would be saved.
When it came to embryo-destructive research, many Obama supporters argued that there was no difference between their candidate’s position and the position of Senator McCain. Both, unfortunately, proposed to lift President Bush’s restrictions on federal funding of this lethal research. So that issue was a “wash.”

We have always feared that your hopes and expectations would prove to be unfounded. We have never found it plausible to think that Obama’s policies will reduce the number of abortions. Indeed, we suspect that the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, to mention just one of pro-life laws Obama pledged to eliminate, will (as the abortion lobby itself has predicted) increase the number of abortions in the United States, perhaps by as many as 300,000 per year. But the jury is still out on that one, so let’s lay it aside for the moment.

On March 9, however, the verdict came in on the issue of embryo-destructive research, and the news is very bad."

Read the rest here:

More Damning Evidence on the Ineffectiveness of Condoms and the UN Coverup

The National Catholic Bioethics Center in the US has more on the "Condom Scandal."

Apparently, the UN AIDS Agency tried first to alter, then to cover up scientific evidence that showed the ineffectiveness of condoms and the effectiveness in partner reduction in halting the spread of HIV infection in Africa. The researchers (Hearst and Chen) had to publish in Studies in Family Planning (a major peer-reviewed journal) in order to get the message out.

This scandal is now spreading to include the UN, the Western media, condom manufacturing companies and pro-homosexuality advocacy groups. The liberal Protestant churches and liberal, dissenting Catholics are also deeply implicated. Only the much maligned Evangelical and Catholics AIDS activists have been following the best strategy for reducing the pandemic and they have been getting blasted for sticking to their guns in the face of propoganda and ideologically-driven opposition. This is a matter of life and death and it is shocking. Nobody should complain when we use the phrase "culture of death" to describe what the modern West is in the grip of - ever again.

Here is an abstract of the article in question, entitled, "Condom Promotion for AIDS Prevention in the Developing World: Is it Working?" by Hearst and Chen

Here are some excerpts from a fascinating article from The East African entitled "UN AIDS and the Myth of Condom Efficacy Against AIDS."

"In 2003 Dr Hearst and his research assistant Sanny Chen, then of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, carried out an extensive literature review commissioned by UNAids on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV virus in sub Saharan Africa and other developing regions.

The initial report, titled: Condoms for Aids prevention in the developing world: A review of the scientific literature, concluded that although condoms were about 80 per cent to 90 per cent effective as a public health strategy in halting the spread of Aids in some concentrated epidemics (epidemics affecting men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and commercial sex workers) in places like Thailand and Cambodia, condoms were seen as ineffective in preventing the spread of HIV/Aids in generalised epidemics like those taking place in Eastern and Southern Africa.

“These findings surprised us and were not what UNAids wanted to hear at all,” recalls Dr. Hearst who says that his report provoked serious debate within UNAids."

Critics of the organisation believe that the facts unearthed by Norman Hearst and others were simply too hard for UNAids to swallow since they contradicted the organisation’s belief system — that condoms and not behaviour change are the ultimate solution to preventing the spread of the pandemic in sub Saharan Africa and other developing regions. In short, it was a clear case of ideology taking precedence over epidemiological facts.

“Top brass at UNAids have admitted to me privately that they knew in the 1990s that in Africa, long term concurrent relationships were more dangerous than casual/commercial ones,” laments Helen Epstein, speaking from her home in Harlem, New York. Epstein is the author of the recent book The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West and the fight against Aids.

They knew since the 1990's? They knew what to do and didn't do it? And they have the nerve to spew out hate against the Catholic Church for doing the right thing? They have the nerve to mislead naive members of the public into thinking that the Pope was wrong?

Here is another scientific article by Helen Epstein entitled "AIDS and the Irrational" from BMJ, an online, international, peer reviewed medical journal.

There are some other links at the bottom of this article to other articles. Once you start poking around, you realize that the relevant information is all over the place. It is no great secret. Here is a link to Helen Epstein's book, The Invisible Cure: Why We are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa.

and Edward C. Green's more positive book: Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries

(Apparently what the average Joe can scare up on the web in a couple of hours is inaccessible to The Times of London.)

Finally, take a look at this clip from a TV show in the UK in which a Catholic woman who obviously knows what she is talking about gets ambushed by a host posing as moderator. She is shouted down and the lies are so thick it is sickening. Then tell me rational debate is possible on this issue.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Special Olympics for Obama?

By far the best response to Obama's gaffe on the Leno show about Special Olympic athletes has come from one those athletes, who has challenged Obama to a game:

"Kolan McConiughey, a Special Olympics competitor who has bowled three perfect 300 games, tells TMZ that the Prez has to score a lot higher than 129 to beat him. Kolan says he bowls an average of 266.

Kolan - who works at a grocery store in Ann Arbor, MI - said he'd love to go to the White House to beat Barack on his own lane. Kolan said, "He's cool, but he can't beat me." We posed the challenge to the White House. They said "no comment.""

The left-wing media has basically let Obama off the hook on this one. But imagine the horror with which the New York Times would reacted if Bush had made this remark? Which is to say that the NYT would not have genuinely been horrified; it just would have seen an opening to stick it to an ideological foe.

This is a good time to be reminded that Obama fully supports abortion for eugenic purposes. He thinks it should be legal for anyone wanting to abort a baby that might be born with a disability. But he is an abortion moderate. Jim Wallis and the NYT said so.

Harvard Researcher Backs Pope's Statements on Condoms

Well, here is an unusual and hopeful twist on the Western media's frothing attack on Pope Benedict XVI for speaking the truth. First, here is what Benedict said last week:

"I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress"

The Times of London, in a spasm of anti-Catholicism, was all over the story revelling in the pounding the Pope was taking so soon after the Williamson affair. One story began like this:

"The Pope is surrounded by the loyalty of the faithful," said a commentator for RAI, Italian public television, as it dutifully broadcast Pope Benedict XVI's colourful open air Mass live from Yaounde in Cameroon today, halfway through his first trip to Africa as pontiff. The Italian press, however, normally equally deferential to the pontiff, told a different story on its front pages: "Aids and condoms, Europe lines up against the Pope" ran a typical headline in La Stampa, which added: "The Church is immobile. The Pope really must pay greater attention to the political impact of the positions he takes."

The reaction to the Pope's remarks on condoms – made on the papal aircraft before he even set foot in Cameroon – has certainly been vociferous. Yesterday the French, Belgian and German governments publicly rebuked Pope Benedict, saying his assertion that condoms could make the Aids problem worse (or, in the amended Vatican version, "risked" doing so) posed a threat to decades of public health policy designed to "protect human life".

Alain Juppe, the former French Prime Minister, said: "This Pope is starting to be a real problem." In Germany, the Pope's homeland, the health and development ministers said in a joint statement that 'condoms save lives, as much in Europe as in other countries'."

Support for Benedict came, however, from an unusual source: "The AIDS PRevention Research Project" at Harvard University.

"We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.”So notes Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, in response to papal press comments en route to Africa this week.

The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’” “There is,” Green adds, “a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”Green added: “I also noticed that the pope said ‘monogamy’ was the best single answer to African AIDS, rather than ‘abstinence.’ The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other major factor is male circumcision).”

I recommend a visit to the Harvard site. The first thing you see when you bring up the home page is a banner that proclaims: "I will not share my partner" with the tag line: "Casual sex is dangerous. HIV kills." What the Harvard researchers say confirms common sense and the traditional wisdom of all cultures in world history except modern Western culture of the past 50 years. Only those driven by an irrational ideological fervor could disagree. It is Science and the Pope against the ideology of the Sexual Revolution. Martin Ssempa has been an AIDS activist for the past 20 years in Uganda and he also supports the Pope. He says:

"Here in Uganda when AIDS came we did not think it was caused by lack of condoms. No it was the presence of promiscuity. What the Pope is saying is true. It however makes those who are determined to live in a life of promiscuity feel spotlighted," Ssempa said.

Ssempa has put his finger on the problem. In the biggest public health fight of our time the irrational ideology of sexual promiscuity is hindering efforts to bring the pandemic under control.
The reason they lash out against the Pope is because he is exposing their complicity. They accuse him of doing what they themselves are, in fact, guilty of doing. Pray for Benedict XVI; may he live to be 100! It is telling, is is not, that no Protestant leaders are being attacked by the ideologues of promiscuity? Only the Pope. Liberal Protestants ought to be ashamed of their complicity in the culture of death. Their freedom from persecution has been paid for with the price of their consciences. Although I am a Protestant, the head of the WCC and the Archbishop of Canterbury do not speak for me. When Pope Benedict XVI speaks it makes me wish I was Catholic and he can speak for me anytime.

Here is an interview in Christianity Today Online with Edward C. Green, director of the Harvard AIDS Prevention Project. He is a liberal who voted for Obama and he says the Pope (and Evangelicals who have been saying the same thing) are right to say that condoms have not been effective in stopping HIV infection in Africa.

National Review and Christianity Today got the story. What I want to know is why this is not front page news in the liberal media today if there is no ideological bias? I checked the New York Times, The Times of London, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. This is very disturbing proof that the main stream media is captive to an irrational ideology that is costing millions of people their lives.

The only mention of Edward C. Green in the NYT was an op-ed piece written by Green 5 years ago. The Times of London had a link to the National Review Online article with quotes from Green on Feb. 4, but couldn't bring itself to get an interview with Green itself. Yet The Times of London ran 4 stories on the Pope's "gaffe" and printed all kinds of negative, ill-informed letters. In addition, anti-Catholic Times blogger Ruth Gledhill literally went on an on about how awful it was for the Pope actually to say that condoms don't work, as if anybody still believed that outdated nonsense. Is there an agenda at work? You bet. The strategy is ignore, but if an opportunity presents itself attack and then never apologize or acknowledge when you were wrong. The goal is to discredit the Pope and by extension Christian orthodoxy. The promotion of the Sexual Revolution is a religion to these people.

Lament for Christendom

Western Christendom is dead. Even so, the mopping up operation continues as every last trace of the influence of Christianity is systematically eradicated from every square inch of the public square and a post-Christian paganism settles into power. I find it absolutely unbelievable that, in such a time as this, any Christian would not feel a sense of loss as the good benefits brought to the West by Christianity pass into history. Yet, everywhere you go you hear people continuing to beat a dead horse and angrily denouncing any sign that any public decision might be made on the basis of a Christian ideal. When I listen to Christians talking eagerly about the coming age of persecution when the church will be better off, I think they must be either stupid or naively sentimental. And in this case, sentimentalism is deadly. The coming persecution will not be good. It will be painful, long lasting, bloody and depressing.

The longing for the passing of Christendom is sentimental and naive unless there is a recognition that what follows is not a neutral state and neutral culture, but a state and culture dominated by a non-Christian religion bent on converting Christians to itself. If you think a culture can be liberal individualist for a long time, you are deceived. Liberal individualism is parasitic on Christendom and when the host dies the parasite dies with it. If you think the coming paganism will be good for minorities, women and children, the elderly, the disabled, and dissenters, then you are mistaken. What comes next after Christendom is a tough paganism that will aim at eradicating Christianity itself. Most Western Christians will be too compromised, too weak, too lacking in conviction and too cowardly to choose persecution, suffering and martyrdom. Most will abandon their witness in exchange for peace and security. Brother will betray brother, children will betray parents and friendships will end as people make their choices.

Liberal Protestantism and Liberal Catholicism will morphe into pagan religions (the process is already well-advanced in some circles) and find a niche in the new order. The very fact that they accept the new paganism will be all the justification the rulers need for persecuting those Christians who are not so "reasonable" as to convert. They will be the new court prophets for the idolatrous regieme. This too will be hard to bear.

No one wishes to return to Christendom imposed by violent coercion. It is the loss of Christian faith that I lament - the Christian faith that made it possible to maintain Christendom for a time without violence. But alas, Christian faith does not persist accross the generations automatically. Once again we are driven to ask: "When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith upon the earth?"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Amidst the Powers" - Evolving Church Conference 2009

Here are some thoughts on the Evolving Church Conference held yesterday at "The Meeting House." (Full disclosure: Tyndale was a sponsor, along with a few other institutions, and I was one of the workshop leaders.)

Morning Worship
It was the usual Christian imitation of the rock concert format, except they had a smoke machine. I was sitting there thinking that I can't believe this church has a smoke machine. The only inauthentic thing was that there was no pungent smell of pot in the air - otherwise it was just like a rock concert. I got to wondering if the smoke used in rock concerts was an imitation (or parody) of incense in Catholic worship. Then I wondered if the inventers of the rock concert had gotten the idea for smoke from Catholic worship in the first place. Then it occurred to me that Evangelical Christian worship today is imitating rock concerts, which were parodies of Catholic worship. Its a good thing Marva Dawn is speaking on worship! We could easily have done without the mini concert by Derek Webb after lunch. It was all right if that sort of music is your thing. But it was a very full day and this was not needed.

Keynote Speaker #1 - Walter Wink
Wink gave a 50 minute talk in which I did not hear the name "Jesus Christ" once. (He may have slipped it in somewhere, but I did not catch it.) There were a few references to God. For Wink the powers are totally demythologized; they are the spirit or ethos of an organization that can outlive individual members. There was no mention of the resurrection or the second coming. His mantra: "The powers were created good, the powers are fallen, the powers can be redeemed" was similar to the Biblical view, but not quite there. The creation and fall parts are fine, but he weaved a tangled web out of redemption.

He talked a lot about how we should work hard to redeem the powers (government, universities, businesses etc.) whereas we are instructed in Ephesians that we are to stand against the powers when they attack us and in Colossians that Christ has already conquored them in his death and resurrection. Christ redeems the powers - in his first coming and in his second coming - and our job is to bear a witness to Christ, not to redeem the world or the powers, in the meantime. With all the demythologizing that was going on, I'm afraid that eschatology got short shrift. Insofar as there was any escatology, it had to do with a totally immanent version of liberal progress empowered by human effort rather than a decisive in-breaking of God into history in the form of the Second Coming of Christ.

I don't see why Evangelicals would get excited by a liberal who uses some biblical language to express an essentially secular political message. The liberals should get their own mythological language to express their faith. Lifting "powers" language out of the NT theological framework centered on Christ just distorts the Bible, rather than getting us anywhere. This was made blindingly obvious by Marva Dawn's exposition of Ephesians later in the day.

3. Workshops
I can't really comment a lot since I was busy leading my own workshop. They gave me a small room and not everyone could get in. I guess that is better than a big room half full. The Q&A went all through the break, so that was good.

But I heard that Marva Dawn's workshop on worship was very good. She basically told us that there is no biblical support whatsoever for the idea that we should "use" worship as a means of attracting nonbelievers to church services. Worship should be focussed on God and believers should be attracted by our lives of love. How radical is that? What would change in our churches if we took her seriously? Plenty. It seems like an absolute principle in most churches that we must have worship that is "contemporary," which for most churches means late 50's soft rock because that is what the baby boomers like and they are in the majority. Yet to be contemporary is to be cut off from our past; it is to make the past irrelevant and we are left on our own making it up as we go instead of faithfully handing on the Gospel as the NT instructs us to do.

4. Stanley Hauerwas
It was good to catch up with Stanley for a bit and to discuss his views on contemporary Yoder interpretation. (He is as upset as I am by the current trend to re-interpret Yoder as a Protestant liberal wanabe. Despite the fact that he is a reformed cusser, he got hot enough to swear mildly about Denny Weaver.) His talk was a bit academic for the context, but a humble (yes, I said humble) and interesting meditation on war, (which had no bad language in it whatsoever.) I thought it was not Stanley at his best, but it still seemed deeply spiritual at its core to me.

5. Marva Dawn
Her talk was very good. At last one had a reason to open a Bible! She expounded Eph. 6 and made a lot of excellent points. Her view is as Biblical as Wink's was unbiblical and her winsome personality was endearing. One off-putting moment was her school-girl gushing over Obama. (Gag!) She came right out and said he is a Christian, which is a difficult thing to be categorical about, from my perspective. He certainly self-identifies as a Christion - no question there. But he had no Christian upbringing, made a committment to Christ as an adult under one of the most liberal pastors in one of the most liberal denominations in America and doesn't seem to attend church much. (I have not heard of him attending since the election campaign began, except once or twice when he was a guest speaker. If anyone has more information on this point, I'd be happy to hear it.) At best, he seems to be some sort of vaguely liberal Protestant with a loose connection to church, which I think you have to agree is a pretty fuzzy category. At any rate, I really enjoyed Marva's talk and admire her work in general.

All in all, it was an interesting conference and a worthwhile day. It was great to catchup with old friends and former students. Thanks to Chris, Daryl, Steve and Nathan for orgainizing an efficient-run and interesting event.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

People for the Ethical Treatment of People

Over at ProLive ProWoman, one of the smartest and most insightful blogs around, Andrea Mrozek is offering for sale a new line of T-shirts. Recognizing that many in our society put the well-being of animals ahead of that of humans, she thought of this as a slogan: "People for the Ethical Treatment of People." The tag line is "Because you wouldn't treat a dog like this." From the new release introducing the new shirts:

It‟s really weird that just when the environmental movement has convinced us to treat animals with dignity, we‟ve turned our backs on women and children by offering and funding the „choice‟ of abortion, says Andrea Mrozek, founding director of ProWomanProLife. We worry whether we‟re treating everything from owls in woodlands to seals in the arctic properly. But what about people?"

To order, go to

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'll Stop Going on About Marriage If You Shut Up About the Poor

The way Christians are wavering these days about the benefits of upholding marriage as our commonly-held social ideal is just unbelievable. All the social science confirms common sense and tradition; children do best when they live with their natural parents all the while they are growing up - by any important measure you care to mention. Divorce, promiscuity, living together without being married, homosexuality - they all harm children by disrupting the ideal. And what is good for children is good for society as a whole, whether we are talking about physical health, mental health, productivity, happiness, or whatever. Every member of society is a child before he or she is an adult and what kind of childhood we have is crucial to what kind of adult we become.

The sexual revolution is a total failure. Elevating the convenience of adults over their duties as parents does not even make adults happier, let alone children. The rest of the world thinks the West is insane. We are not the speartip of progress; we are the barbarians. We have regressed to the state of Greco-Roman society prior to the civilizing influence of Christianity. There is no real future for the West as presently constituted.

Increasingly, we hear calls from Christians for the state to "get out of the marriage business" so that homosexual couples can be treated the same as heterosexual ones. Why? Because Christians lack courage. We don't like it when people yell at us and call us names. That is the sum total of the reason. Everything else is excuses. Excuses include the arguments from "equality" and "fairness" and "secularism." We should not, we are told, impose our faith. I don't for one minute believe this is a seriously held position. No one believes this who has thought about it for more than five seconds. Liberals who claim to agree with the secularists that secular, Western societies should not embody the morals of one religion (Christianity over atheism) are just full of it. I don't believe it and neither do they. And I can prove it.

Liberal Christians go on and on and on about "the poor" and "our responsibility" to help the poor. We all need to get involved in working for "peaceandjustice." But why? Really, why? If I'm an atheist who has read Nietzsche and I ask the question why, what is the Liberal answer? If I don't believe the poor are created in God's image, why not just let nature take its course? If they die, the human carbon footprint will be reduced and that is good for the environment. If informed by Jim Wallis in breathless tones that over a billion people live on less than $2 per day, I could simply suggest that if they all were left to starve it would solve a whole bunch of problems at once. Why do I have a "responsibility" to them? Who says? A bunch of professional peaceandjustice protesters? Why should I care what they think? I'm an atheist, remember? Why should they get to impose their liberal Christianity on me? The West is secular, remember? They are just all deluded with their sentimental humanism and they should shut up and stop putting guilt trips on all those of us who don't share their narrow and mystical religious ideas.

I don't see the difference between atheists telling us that marriage is a social construction that has outlived its usefullness and atheists telling us that sentimental humanism is a social contstruction that has outlived its usefullness. How are they different? One is as religious as the other.

If Christians let the atheist Nazis shut them up on marriage, then they should, to be consistent, also shut up about poverty. After all, many kinds of humanistic ideas regarding loving neighbours and respecting human life are rooted in Christianity. So if secularism is really such a great idea, let's run with it and see what happens.

After a few decades, a lot of people just might get a bit nostalgic for that old-fashioned Christian concern for love, fidelity, self-sacrifice and compassion.

The Poverty Issue Solved!

Halden Doerge thinks he has solved the marriage debate.

He suggests that the government get out of the marriage business and issue identical licences for civil partnerships to homosexual and heterosexual couples. Then religious people can go to their church or synagogue or whatever to get a religious marriage as well. Problem solved. Privatize marriage! A classic liberal solution from someone who claims not to be a liberal.

So let's test the logic with regard to poverty. I suggest that the government get out of the poverty business. A lot of people disagree with the government raising their taxes and doling them out to the poor. (I don't, but that is beside the point, I'm just one person.) A welfare state imposes certain religious beliefs on those who don't share them. Why should Nietzscheans be discriminated against? Is this just a matter of the majority imposing its morality - just because it can? (How ironic, the triumph of the will over the Nietzscheans!)

So we privatize poverty reduction. People pay low taxes to the government and those who are religious or who have some sort of unscientific, unprovable, mystical belief in sentimental humanism can then channel charity for the poor through their religious or social aid agency. Problem solved! Everyone is happy. Nietzschean Atheists no longer have to be second class citizens.

So the question is, can liberals accept the same solution for poverty as for marriage? Or are they inconsistent? Do they think that some things, in order to be effective, have to be done by society as a whole rather than by isolated individuals here and there? Well, if this is their argument, I agree, but I'm consistent enough to agree on both poverty and marriage.

Second Thoughts on Obama from the Evangelical Left

In an article in USA Today on Monday, David Gushee writes of his growing discomfort with the Obama presidency on the issue of "abortion reduction."

During the campaign, Gushee, along with Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Joel Hunter and other Evangelical leaders were drawn into supporting Obama, along with Catholics like Doug Kemiec and Nicholas Cafardi. They all had left wing leanings and were seduced by loose talk of "abortion reduction." But no actual policies for abortion reduction were proposed by Obama other than a general rise in welfare payments. In order to buttress their claims that welfare could reduce abortion, a flawed study was put forward, which has since been discredited. In short, there never was any reason to think that Obama was committed to reducing abortion in any kind of meaningful way. But it gave cover to those who wanted to vote for the left in general. Now, however, David Gushee is honest enough to admit that the abortion reduction rhetoric is all style and no substance.

So far Obama has made four major decision relating to abortion:

1. The decision to repeal the Mexico City Policy, which prevented US government funding from going to organizations working in the Global South, which were providers of abortion services. This policy kept Western NGO's from imposing abortion on poor countries and Obama reversed it.

2. The Obama administration announced it intention to review the rule allowing health care professionals to be conscientious objectors and not participate in abortion. There are many who want to force Christians out of health care or make them participate in grave moral evil. Obama seems to be putting leftist ideology above individual conscience here, although there is a chance this change will not be made. The US Catholic bishops are fighting this initiative with everything they have got.

3. Obama appointed a pro-abortion extremist, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, as head of the massive Department of Health and Social Services. Sebelius has been disciplined by her own bishop, Archbishop Naumann, for her pro-abortion policies, yet she is now in a position to impose the will of NARAL in hundreds of areas.

4. Then Obama reversed Bush's ban on embryonic stem cell research, despite the fact that it means the destruction of human life at its earliest stages for utilitarian purposes.

Gushee recognizes that he has been tempted to support what is morally evil in hopes of good outcomes in other areas:

"Mexico City, conscience clause, Sebelius, embryonic stem cells. In each case, I have been asked by friends at Democratic or progressive-leaning think tanks not just to refrain from opposing these moves, but instead to support them in the name of a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life. I mainly refused.

But I do confess that my desire to retain good relationships with the Obama team has tempted me to give what was asked in return for the big payoff of a serious abortion-reduction initiative that I could wholeheartedly support."

Gushee recognizes that we cannot fight a utilitarian mentality with a utilitarianism. And he recognizes that our responsibility as Christians is to be moral, rather than politically successful. He writes:

"But this kind of calculation is precisely what has gotten Christian political activists in trouble in the past, not just for 40 years but for 1,600 years. We gain access to Caesar in order to affect policy; we hold onto access even if it involves compromising some of what we want in policy; in the end, we can easily forget what policies we were after in the first place. I think this definitely happened to the Christian right. It doesn't need to be repeated by the Christian center or left."

Gushee of all people, as a highly educated ethicist and theologian, knows full well that left leaning Christians were engaging in compromise with Caesar long before the rise of the Religious Right. The whole Social Gospel movement was just this very thing. And the past election was just another chapter in the long-running saga of Evangelicals shifting left-ward as they became fascinated with politics and the seemingly infinite power of government to effect social change. It is so easy for the State to replace God in our thinking.

I would argue that the Religious Right was more prinicipled in this respect than the Left insofar as it cared about specifically moral issues - marriage, abortion, euthanasia, pornography - than a general, ideologically-pure, liberal ideology of individual freedom. Yes, the Right was pro-capitalism, but it was anti-capitalist to the extent it stood in defence of the unborn and of marriage. (If the Left was really as anti-capitalist as its rhetoric would indicate, they would oppose big business when it commodifies human sexuality, which they don't. My point is that we are all more complicit than we like to think.)

The big mistake of the Religious Right was its utter and shameful failure to apply the just war criteria properly to the second Iraq war. Support for that war probably cost the Republicans and the anti-abortion cause this past election and the effects will be felt for decades to come in the form of needless deaths due to abortion and euthanasia. We let the unborn down when we let the people of Iraq down. (Although I opposed the Iraq war from the start, I include myself because it was my people, my movement, my Evangelical andCatholic allies who let Bush off the hook and we as a movement are to blame.)

I respect David Gushee for his willingness to admit that he was wrong. I just wish other Evangelical leaders who helped elect Obama would be as courageous and honest. I give the last word to Gushee and it is a good word:

"My understanding of the majestic God-given sacredness of human life tells me that a society that legally permits abortion on demand is deeply corrupt. It pays for adult sexual liberties with the lives of defenseless developing children. That practice, in turn, desensitizes society to the implications of paying for prospective medical cures with defenseless frozen embryos, which themselves are available because our society pays for medically assisted reproductive technology by producing hundreds of thousands of these embryos as spares. And yes, that same commitment to life's sacredness has grounded my opposition to paying for national security with torture, or paying for today's affluence with tomorrow's environmental destruction."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Benedict XVI Tells the Uncomfortable Truth

The world's press is in a flap today as the stern orthodoxy of Western Liberalism was challenged by Pope Benedict XVI. Western liberalism seeks to impose the values of the sexual revolution on the Global South and it sees itself as beyond challenge or criticism: "We know what is best for you primitive types and we are going to explain it again to you."

Pope Benedict XVI, however, is not a man to be cowed by political correctness and the rigid orthodoxy of the mainstream Western media. He has the courage to tell Africans that sexual promiscuity is destructive on so many levels - emotionally, economically, physically, relationally etc. He knows that condoms cannot replace morality and self-control. He knows that condoms will promote promiscuity in Africa just as they have in the West. He knows that condoms only provide a false sense of security that leads to gradual loss of self-restraint and promiscuious behaviour that tears families apart and leads to death and grief.

The West is in the grip of the culture of death, yet seeks to export its evil philosophy to other cultures. To send missionaries to preach Christianity in Africa is seen as cultural imperialism, but to allow global corporations to preach consumerism and sexual promiscuity (for profit) is seen as enlightened and good. Why? Because Christianity is seen as untrue and the modern Western culture of death is seen as the pinnacle of human achievement.

I remember listening to a searing question from an African Anglican bishop to the audiance at Wycliffe College: "Your forefathers brought the Gospel to us and we are very glad. But why do you Western Christians no longer seem to believe that Gospel yourselves?" A good question. Maybe we have become so addicted to pleasure that we have forgotten God. It couldn't be that simple, could it? Well, Jesus apparently thought so, according to Luke 8:14.

Rod Dreher has a great post on this issue entitled: "Dog Bites Man, Pope Hates Condoms."

It spells out in excruciating detail why the Western media just don't get it. One of the comments even explains the statistical reasoning behind the fact that encouraging condom usage increases the risk of infection. I'll try to give the layman's version.

Condoms provide a sense of security that encourages risky behaviour. But the effectiveness of condoms, even when used properly, is only a percentage. So if you have so-called "unprotected" sex once and so-called "protected" sex 5 times (with a condom effectiveness rate of 80%), your chances of getting HIV are identical. This presupposes that condoms were used 100% of the time, which is not realistic. So your actual chances of getting HIV are higher with the psychology of condoms. The only real solution, as the example of Uganda proves, is to change behaviour and reduce the frequency of sex outside of marriage or a similar long term relationship. Nothing else will save this generation.

BTW, will someone tell me why the Western media is so full of faux rage that the Pope didn't go to Africa as an evangelist for their religion?

The absurdity of the Pope's critics is finally taken as seriously as it deserves. See Diogenes' terrific post "African Wife-beaters Urged to Practice Safe-Sox" here:

Here is how it begins:

"The Association of Compassionate Christian Caregivers today severely criticized traditional Catholic teaching on marital "love" and called upon the churches to encourage wife-beating Africans to take the "prudent, practical steps" to reduce the risk of HIV infection when assailing their spouses.

"The science is not in doubt" says Fizzy Osbourne, spokesman for the International Planned Widowhood Federation, "all the evidence shows that bare fists used to pummel infected spouses cause skin ruptures that increase the rate of transmission to the uninfected partner."

Consumerism and the Sexual Revolution

You can read the Bible for a lifetime and then all of a sudden someone can point out a symbol or a phrase that illumines its meaning in a whole new way. It isn't that it changes your interpretation of the Bible, it is just that the truth of the Scriptures comes to light from another angle. The Bible is unlike any other book because of its Divine author and its depth cannot be plumbed by human wisdom.

In a Touchstone editorial, Russell Moore points out something that is startling when you first hear it, but obviously true. Why didn't I see that before?

"It is no accident, after all, that our Ancient Foe first appears in Holy Scripture as a snake - imagery that follows the devil all throught the canon to the closing vision of the Revelation to St. John. As philosopher Leon Kass puts it, 'For the serpent is a mobile digestive tract that swallows its prey whole; in this sense the serpent stands for pure appetite.' Indeed he does - and the whole of Scripture and of the Christian tradition warns the Church against the way of the appetites, the way of consuming oneself to death." (Touchstone, March 2009, p. 3)

Among trendy lefties, it is customary these days to attack "Capitalism" as the source of all the evils in the world, but I find this to be an evasion. Capitalism is such an abstraction and so vague and ill-defined that it is hard to pin down. Blaming Capitalism pushes moral responsibility out there, away from me, onto "the rich" or institutions, which are like giant machines grinding along, or systems. But it is people who are sinners and it is people who collaborate with the giant machines - or not. The sin which is prior to both Marxism and Capitalism, with their materialistic metaphysics, is actually greed. That is why I prefer to speak of consumerism than capitalism as the root problem. The practices of capitalists that we rightly abhor are done because of greed and before a business or industry can become corrupt individuals within it (and/or its customers) must first become corrupt.

The real problem with the sexual revolution is not merely disobedience, but disordered desires and the unwillingness to control appetite. The best image for the sexual revolution is therefore the serpent - "a mobile digestive tract that swallows its prey whole." Its funny how left-wing Christians like to attack capitalism, but not sexual chaos, even though both are manifestations of the same vice and closely related.

I wonder if the reason is not that left-wingers have become modernists in a very specific sense. Is it possible that left-wing Christians are left-wing in the first place because they have bought into the lie of modernity that the basic and most fundamental problem with our economic system is that it needs rational analysis and correction? In other words, our economic problems can be solved by the application of scientific rationality. Technological expertise can solve the problem, defined as a problem of distribution, because we are fundamentally good but just suffering from ignorance.

This hypothesis would explain much. For instance, it would explain why an abstraction like "Capitalism" would be identified as the problem. And it would explain why those who would reform our economic lives believe that our sexual lives can be left in chaos while this economic reform is going on. If economic reform is a matter of the application of technological expertise, then we can solve our economic inequalities without virtue. We just need reason.

A chorus of voices insists that the Enlightenment is over; I'll believe it when I see it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Imagine America After the Dreams of the Left Have All Come True

  • Imagine an America with its military budget reduced by 95%.
  • Imagine an America with no Republican Party, but instead with another mainstream party slightly to the left of the Democratic Party and with a socialist third party that regularly gets 20% of the popular vote.
  • Imagine an America with a government health care plan for everyone.
  • Imagine an America with no National Rifle Association, no National Religious Broadcasters Association and no Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Imagine an America with very little Christian TV and radio and only a tiny handful of Christian colleges and universities, all of which are poorly funded and/or unaccredited.
  • Imagine an America with legalized same-sex marriage and no privileging of heterosexual marriage in any way.
  • Imagine an America with abortion on demand fully paid for by the government available in every hospital.
Does this sound to you like the dreams of Sojourners, the Episcopal Church and other left-wing religious lobby groups all come true? Their rhetoric insists that these changes would make America more just, more humane and more biblical. They speak of these changes in hushed tones as "too good to be true" and sadly unlikely to come to pass because of the Religious Right, the Pope and other such obstacles to Progress.

Does this sound like Canada? Actually, it is an accurate description of Canada. I live in Canada, which is to say that I live in what the US left thinks of as the Kingdom of God. But I have no illusions about this being the Kingdom of God, just as the citizens of Moscow knew that the USSR was not the socialist utopia beloved in the imaginations of Western leftist intellectuals. I know that Canada is a lonely, materialistic and cynical society. We still have poverty. We still have injustice. We still have a population that knows not God. Material deprivation with religious faith is a much more human way to live that material abundance with no religous faith; Western leftist intellecutuals simply do not understand this basic fact of life; it they did they would care about things they don't care about now.

Be careful what you wish for America; you just might get it.

My problem with left-wing Christians is not that they are too ambitious and have plans that are too big. It is that their vision is too small and too obviously derived from the empty liberal individualism of the non-Christian society around them. It is not biblical enough, not humanist enough, not radical enough and, frankly, not worth getting worked up over, i.e. not that important.

The United States of America is a diverse, dynamic and lively country, which is sinking into the culture of death but is not quite there yet. It is the last place in the Western world where a significant minority of Christians still oppose abortion, the sexual revolution and other deadly manifestations of consumerism. The dreams of the Left, if acheived, will only take America down into the degradations of the culture of death. America today is like Gondor, still holding out but weak in her leadership and judged to be ripe for conquest. America after the dreams of the Left have come true will be what Gondor would have been had the quest to destroy the ring failed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama Takes the Politics (and Ethics) Out of Science

The moralistic smugness surrounding the Obama decision on embryonic stem cells is indicative of the fact that this new administration is no different from the previous one when it comes to ethics. Different issues - same ethical approach. The whole tone of "Now we will keep politics out of science" and "No more ideology in scientific decisions" betrays such a smug, shallow perception of the ethical issues surrounding this decision that it fails to rise above the level of the Bush-Rove-Cheney "patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundral" game.

William Saletan, in an article on Slate nails the similarity between the stem cell decision by the Obama administration and the torture decision by the Bush administration. There are two main points of similarity.

1. The rhetoric is strikingly similar. Everything is reduced to black and white; the universe in Manichean. In one case, it is the "evil-doers" who are out to attack America because she is free and so "you either are with us or you are with the terrorists." We have to practice intensified interrogation (torture lite) because they are so evil and we are so good. In the other case, it is a never-ending Scopes Monkey Trial in which the forces of obscurantism, reaction and fundamentalist fanaticism are arrayed against the saintly scientests (in white coats, of course) labouring selflessly day and night to find cures for deadly diseases.

Its funny how the liberal media can't spare five minutes for some investigative journalism into who stands to profit financially from this research in big Biotech. Somehow, the Pentegon and the CIA are utterly corrupt, but billion dollar corporations manipulating human life for profit are as morally pure as the driven snow. Not a word of caution is uttered here even by the neo-Marxists who make a career out of railing ceaselessly against the "evils of capitalism." Something strange is going on here. It couldn't be . . . ideology, could it? But wait, relax, Obama just abolished ideology in science. (Follow the link above to see the announcement and memo accompanying it.) Whew . . . that is a relief!

In both cases the extremity of the Manichean struggle of the war on terror and the war on disease justifies over-riding normal morality and assulting human life. Anyone who objects is a "terrorist lover" or "cares more about blobs of cells than real human beings." I'm afraid this kind of rhetoric would not get a passing grade in my college classes; but it apparently is A-OK for The New York Times and the Oval Office.

2. The ethical theory is identical. Saletan make the obvious point that the moral reasoning behind this superficial rhetoric is identical in both cases. It is utilitarianism and it presumes to make judgments about when some human life becomes expendable in the name of benefits to other human life. There are no absolute rules and no non-negotiatable boundaries in utilitarianism. Here we see how utterly necessar and practical is the stand taken by John Paul II in his magisterial encyclical Veritatis Splendor, in which he taught that some actions are just plain morally evil no matter what the circumstances or rationalizations. If we cannot live by some absolute rules, we will lose our humanity.

William Saletan gets it exactly right when he titles his article "Winning Smugly" and, having congratulated the Left on winning the stem-cell war, warns them not to lose their soul in the process. It is not clear to me, however, that it is possible to continue building a culture of death without losing one's soul.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The "Pro-Choice" Position is Just a Smokescreen for the Culture of Death

In a move that reveals that they are not pro-choice, the Obama administration revealed plans recently to remove safeguards that protect health care professionals who are opposed to abortion from being forced to engage in an activity they consider murder. Make no mistake, the main target here is nurses. Most doctors can avoid it by choosing other specialties and because they have more power within the system, although there have recently been moves to coerce doctors to refer for abortion against the Hippocratic Oath and their consciences. But nurses, most of whom are women, are often pro-life and afraid of losing their jobs if they do not participate in what they regard to be murder. Across the Western world there is a move to coerce nurses and other health care professionals into going against their consciences or losing thier jobs. See this story:

All this just shows one thing: the rabid pro-abortionists are not really pro-choice. They are only pro one particular choice. It is really about social engineering and eventual government control of human reproduction. As long as the social engineers can persuade and tempt women into doing what they want they are pro-choice, but when the abortion rates are high enough they begin to talk like this advisor to Gordon Brown's government, Jonathon Porritt, who was quoted by the Times of London recently as follows:

“We still have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Europe and we still have relatively high levels of pregnancies going to birth"

Note that the real issue for him is not the rate of abortions, but the number of births. He wants the population to be reduced - now - and is not squeamish about calling for government to get busy and make it so. The Times article goes on to note:

"Porritt, a former chairman of the Green party, says the government must improve family planning, even if it means shifting money from curing illness to increasing contraception and abortion."

Read the story here:

I suppose it make a macabre kind of sense - the less we spend on health care the more people will die, which is the next best thing to preventing them being conceived in the first place. The point here is that the environmentalist movement - Porrit is former chairman of the Green Party - is so fanatical in wanting to reduce the human population that it is just as happy to kill living humans as it is to prevent conceptions. Contraception, abortion, suicide, euthanasia - it is all the same to them; in every case a carbon footprint is erased. When you realize that these are the kinds of people the Blair-Brown government has been listening to over the last 14 years, you begin to see why the UK has moved so far down the road to Huxley's Brave New World.

The pro-choice position never had any moral coherence; it always begged the question of why this choice should be legal (i.e. the choice to kill). Now we are beginning to see what is really driving the culture of death. It is not choice or human dignity or human welfare. It is an anti-human, fanatical faith in death as the solution to all problems. And it is a rival faith to Christianity. One or the other must give way eventually.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hans Boersma on Violence

In a previous post "Judgment, Force and Violence: Some Crucial Distinctions" I advocated defining Divine Judgment as righteous and good, force in terms of disciplinary, police and just war categories and violence as irrational, out of control and without limits.

In the collection of articles, Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ, (Fresh Wind, 2007) the recent book by Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (Baker2004) is repeatedly attacked for defending the traditional satisfaction theory of the atonement as part of the doctrine of the atonement necessary for seeing the importance and meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ.

1. Violence versus Judgment: For example, Wayne Northey attacks Boersma for stating: "Put provocatively, God's hospitality in Christ needs an edge of violence to ensure the welcome of all humanity and all creation." (Northey on p. 367 of Stricken, quoting Boersma, Violence, p. 93). The problem here is that Boersma uses the term "violence" to describe God's righteous judgment for which saints in both the Old Testament and the New Testament are said to yearn with all their hearts. If Boersma had used "judgment" instead of "violence" he could have made it harder for the critics to imply that God is mean-tempered, irrational and out of control - i.e. violent.

2. Violence versus Force: Similarly, in the Introduction, Boersma writes: "I draw on what I have come to regard as positive elements in the historic Christian faith and in particular in the Reformed tradition. This comes to the fore in my reevaluation of violence as something that is not inherently negative; in my insistence that boundaries can function in wholesome ways and need at times to be defended." Northey pounces on this and says that Boersma never specifies exactly what kind of state violence is "not inherently negative." Again, if Boersma had distinguished between violence and force, this question would lose much of its force. To defend boundaries in a violent way is surely a different matter than defending them according to limits and rules. Northey and the rest of the authors in Stricken by God? would doubtless remain unsatisfied, but Boersma's position would be immensely strengthened by his not having to defend violence.

A Setback for Evangelical - Catholic Relations

Keith Pavlischek at First Things has a few hard, but fair, things to say about the Evangelical Lefties who hitherto have held themselves out as "prophetic" and unwilling to "compromise" like the Religious Right people, who supposedly are just tools of the Republican Party. He notes that Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis and co. had better lay off the sanctimonious "More prophetic than thou" stuff now that they are providing Obama with cover for his pro-abortion agenda. See the statement by a number of religious leaders supporting the Sebelius appointment. Note the signatures.

Pavlischek is disappointed with some of the names on this list and so am I. I am particulary saddened to see Ron Sider's name here. I expected to see Tony Jones and Brian McLaren - they have pretty talked their way out of Evangelicalism with their increasing liberal theological views. And nobody considers Randall Balmer a spokesman for Evangelicalism. But Ron Sider is theologically sound, an honest man and a principled ethicist. The same goes for David Gushee and Glen Stassen. Seeing their names here makes me wonder if it is possible for anyone to adopt left-wing views on economic matters and not, sooner or later, be drawn into supporting the culture of death. I always thought there was no necessary connection between the two - but watching what is happening with the Obama election makes one wonder.

A similar list of Catholics in support of Obama's appointment of Sebellius was released by Catholics United.

Notice how efficient the Obama administration is in spinning its policies so as to keep the public from realizing what they actually are up to? Recruiting Evangelical and Catholic leaders with name recognition to support their pro-abortion appointments creates confusion in the public mind about what is going on. And getting to Senator Brownback was a masterstroke for them, although it will prove to be a disaster for Brownback down the road.

But I have to say that what is most disturbing about this whole incident is the fact that it is a set back for ecumenical relations between Evangelicals and Catholics. Archbishop Naumann, Gov. Sebelius' pastor, has asked her, in view of her aggressive support for legalized abortion, to refrain from communion until she has made a confession of her sin and publicly renounced support for abortion. The liberal Catholics who are backing her are going against their own church and the Evangelicals who are backing her are poisoning Catholic - Evangelical relations. Why do we need Evangelicals supporting the culture of death? Isn't that what liberal Protestants are for? (I suppose this just goes to show how irrelevant liberal Protestantism has become. Nobody even cares if they sign these sorts of statements anymore.)

It is all too rare for Catholic bishops to use church discipline on high-profile Catholic politicans who profit at the ballot box from their Catholic reputation, only to flaunt the teachings of the Church in order to further their own careers. This is dispicable and the Kennedys, the Bidens, the Pelosis and all the rest ought to be ashamed of themselves. Archbishop Naumann presumeably knows Kansas politics and Gov. Sebelius better than we do and we ought to be supporting his judgment. He is the third Archbishop in a row in that diocese to clash with Sebelius, so this is not personal. It is a matter of Christian ethics and moral theology. It is not even a matter of whether a secular state should allow abortion; it is a matter of whether Christians should compromise morally in an attempt to advance their political careers. This is a completely non-partisan issue, which has been politicized in a devisive manner by the signers of these two statements of suport for Sebelius. Courageous Catholic bishops who take a stand - often at great personal cost - deserve the respect and support of all those who love Christ and want to witness to the Gospel in public, rather than hiding in their little ghettos out of the firing line and out of sight. Sure it is easy and popular to support Obama now, but do they have to be quite so dutiful and tame about it? Is there anything Obama could do that they would oppose? It is hard to imagine - and that is a shame. It is time for the Evangelical Left to start acting like real prophets, rather than acting like tame court prophets.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann speaks out. Read it here.

I was going to say that Archbishop Naumman needs our prayers at this time, but after reading his letter I'm inclined to think that we Evangelicals need his prayers even more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Judgment, Force and Violence: Some Crucial Distinctions

If I were to re-write my book, Rethinking Christ and Culture, I would employ some careful distinctions between the concepts of judgment, force and violence. Having seen what people like J. Denny Weaver do with the idea of violence (eg. in his The Nonviolent Atonement) I think that a great deal of mischief arises from the failure to distinguish adequately between the three concepts.

Judgment is properly and primarily applied to God alone, although there is such a thing as a pale imitation of it among humans. The paleness of the imitation is the result of original sin; we may try to judge righteously, but we often fail completely and never get it perfectly right. God, on the other hand, is presented in Scripture as "the righteous Judge" (eg. Ps. 96) who judges in a perfectly eqitable, just and fair manner at all times. God is holy, so he hates sin and God is righteous, so he must punish sin. Therefore: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who supress the truth by their wickedness" (Rom. 1:18 NIV) There is nothing in the teaching of Jesus or the New Testament as a whole that contradicts this essentially Jewish, Old Testament teaching about the nature of God. The whole concept of human government, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is built, as Oliver O'Donovan points out, on the function of right judgment.

Force is the use of disciplinary, police or military means to make laws effective and stop evil. It can also be used to shape character. Force is different from violence in that it is 1) constrained by law, 2) limited in scope and 3) rationally deployed. Force consists of various grades up to and including lethal force. But force always operates within rationally determined limits; if it exceeds those limits it turns into violence and this is a constant threat. The difference between God's wrath and human force is that God's wrath is always an exact reflection of his perfectly righteous judgment, whereas human force is, at best, an approximation and, at worst, a demonic mockery of God's perfectly righteous judgment. An example of disciplinary force would be parental punishment of children or expulsion from school by the school authorities. An example of police force would be policemen arresting murderers or thieves. An example of military force would be just war, but not total war, crusades or nuclear holocaust.

Violence then can be defined as the human use of force when it is unconstrained by law, unlimited in scope and irrational. Force may turn into violence at any moment; it lives on the boundary between law and lawlessness. Parental discipline can become violent if parents are not self-controlled. In certain situations, large scale use of force almost inevitably morphs into violence, as for example in a large scale war in which irrational powers such as nationalism or racism come into play and take over the whole enterprise. This is one of the most troubling problems with the actualy deployment of just war theory in the real world, yet it is inescapable in the fallen human condition.

In liberal Protestant theology, Divine judgment, divine wrath, human force and violence are all collapsed into one category and rejected as a package. The resulting nonviolent stance then becomes a rational principle by which all ethics and theology are revised. Most of the 16th century Anabaptists did collapse force and violence into each other, (with the exception of people like Hubmaier), but many contemporary Mennonites are going further in collapsing Divine judgment into the same package as well. This is not really an Anabaptist move; it is a liberal Protestant one. Ironically, people like Ted Grimsrud and Denny Weaver often criticize Mennonites who follow the 16th century tradition for being influenced by Evangelical Protestantism, even as they themselves embrace liberal Protestantism and re-interpret their Anabaptist heritage in terms of it. To deny Dvine judgment is to embrace Pelagianism and to reject the whole idea of salvation from the penalty of sin. It is to turn the Gospel into a message that God already accepts; all we have to do is accept our acceptance. We are fine just we are; no repentance is required and ammendment of life is unnecessary so long as we become non-judgmental of others.

To regard God's judgment of sin as violence and to redefine God as nonviolent is to reject the God of the Bible and to fashion an idol in His place. This idol is a mythical symbol of the rational principle of nonviolence, which is derived from modern liberal political philosophy, from which also comes the notion of freedom from constraint and tolerance as the highest goods. To be nonviolent means essentiallly to be tolerant and to exalt individual freedom as the absolute.

This philosophy is incoherent and impossible to implement in the real world, but it destroys the rational morality of the Enlightenment out of which it sprang and the revealed morality of biblical law against which the Enlightenment rebelled. The end result is that when tolerance and individualism break down in the face of a challenge from determined enemies, for example in the event of 9/11, liberals find it difficult to distinguish between responding with force and responding with violence. This explains why civil rights and prohibitions of torture crumbled so quickly in the panic of 9/11. It also explains why Pope Benedict XVI was right in his Regensburg Address to suggest that our dilemma is that certain strains of both Islam and the modern West have cut themselves off from rational traditions of metaphysics which could provide the basis for fruitful dialogue between cultures and have embraced a voluntarism that can lead only to nihilistic violence. As Benedict XVI said, God is rational and His judgments are not violence; the world is governed by the Logos and we humans are created in God's image. Theology and philosophy that fail to recognize these truths are leading us off the cliff of nihilism and are dangerous to the future of world peace.

Western political philosophy and liberal theology are dead ends for the future of world civilization because they teach individualism in politics, relativism in ethics and atheism/idolatry in theology, i.e. a false view of freedom rooted in a false anthropology and a false doctrine of God. Only a revival of Christian metaphysics rooted in revelation has a hope of beginning a dialogue with the rational and religious elements of Islam, which would have the potential to lead to peaceful co-existence on the basis of a shared moral foundation. Crucial to such a metaphysics are fundamental distinctions between judgment, force and violence.