Monday, August 31, 2009

Robert Hart on the Inclusive Language Agenda

Well, if you thought that I was extreme on this issue; you might want to ask Robert Hart about where he sees the inclusive language agenda taking the Church - and then duck! He points to pantheism as the ultimate destination of feminist theology and he explains just exactly why feminine images of God were rejected by Scripture and what the implications are of embracing them today despite the Scriptural witness. He discusses the New Revised Standard Version in a post entitled "God the Father." He writes:

"I have commented about The New Revised Standard Version of the "Bible" (NRSV) quite critically in previous essays: "In fact the first mistake is in combining the first two verses of Genesis into one sentence, making it seem as if the world may have existed before God’s creation [as follows:] 'In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form…' The Hebrew simply does not justify this 'translation.' The first two sentences are not joined in the original. The older 'And, the earth was without form and void...' is literally correct, and it cannot be used to suggest Pantheism." If I erred at all when writing this, it may be in using the word "mistake."

. . .

Nonetheless, just because the trendy renderings are wrong does not mean they are a mistake. I think it more likely that an agenda has been behind this, something quite deliberate.

. . .

It has never been enough for promoters of "Feminist Theology" to take Inclusive Language only as far as human beings are concerned (which is itself unnecessary and confusing at best). In ways subtle, or at times not subtle, the agenda has been to replace God the Father with a goddess (about which I written before). To teach Creatio Exnihilo, "creation out of nothing," is to teach that God made everything by his Word, that He willed everything that is not God, every nature that is not Divine Nature, into existence, being alone Uncreated and eternal. This is God the Father, by His Word and by His Spirit making all things and giving them life. Against this revelation of Scripture, Feminist Theology teaches a universe equally eternal with God, indeed a universe that is God, in which life comes forth. In many parts of scripture where the active word "made" is found ("without him was not anything made that was made"-John 1:3), newer versions say something passive, such as "came into being." If instead of God the Father we have a Mother Goddess, a universe that is itself one with Divinity, such passive language takes the ideology of Inclusive Language to that ultimate realm of Godhead. Even regeneration is no longer the work of a Father who has begotten His children, so that "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth," (James 1:18) is made passive: He "brought us forth." God the Father becomes a fossil, and a new Mother Goddess, a pagan deity, takes over.

This may be new to western people with a Christian background. But, it is very ancient and has precedents that are rooted in Pagan cultures as diverse as the worshipers of the Ashtaroth and of Kali. To one infant sacrifice was offered, and the other consumes and destroys with demonic violence. Whereas genuine motherhood, as God created it, is about life and even nourishment and care, this demonic sort of Mother Goddess worship has always been about destruction. There is no logic to this, but history proves it to be a kind of demonic theme. Our culture, at the same time in which God the Father has been rejected in favor of increasing tendencies towards Pantheism and a Mother Goddess, has become very much, as Pope John Paul II phrased it, the Culture of Death."

Read the rest here.

No one can prove that each and every feminist or feminist-sympathizing theologian has this long term agenda consciously in mind and no one needs to try. This is not conspiracy theory; it is something rather more pedestrian. This is a case of small, seemingly insignificant errors compounding until the foundations are shaking and no one seems to know exactly where it all went wrong.

The confused and dazed conservatives in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Episcopal Church fit into this category. How did we get from being sympathetic to a movement for equal rights for women to normalizing homosexual activity and de-gendering God? Fr. Hart's point is not necessarily that anyone consciously willed this outcome; it is simply that one thing leads to another. Which is why we are exhorted in Scripture:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Col. 2:8)

"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not plut up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep you head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." (II Tim. 4:2-5)

"What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us." (II Tim. 1:13-14)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ted Kennedy: Successful Politican - That's All

The news coverage of Ted Kennedy's passing has been so obviously colored by the empathy of the main stream media for Kennedy's leftist views that it is rather embarassing. The left portrays itself as the party of compassion, the ones who care about the little guy - unlike the hard-hearted conservatives who only care about rigid laws and principles. Yet, it is precisely rigid laws and principles that really protect the little people and it is those who think they live above such petty rules and principles who turn compassion into a hypocritical marketing slogan and provoke cynicism about politics.

Kennedy was a long-term senator who influenced a lot of legislation and exerted a lot of political influence in his party. That is it - not a knight of Camelot, not a saviour figure, not a man of granite principle. Just an influential pol who parlayed a famous name into a long political career. We should mark his passing with respect and express condolences to his family. But the media just can't seem to help itself when it comes to a Kennedy.

It is hard to respect a man who claims to be a Roman Catholic and derives huge political capital from his association with his Church in a heavily Catholic state and then who, when the political winds shift, chooses influence within his party over what his religion teaches on the greatest civil rights issue of our generation - namely abortion. He is probably one of the very few men in America during the second half of the Twentieth century who could have led a successful movement to overturn Roe v. Wade. But he made his choice and never, so far as we know, ever repented. He could have been a hero, (and maybe a martyr), but he chose to be successful as the world measures success.

His over-the-top deployment of the politics of personal destruction with Robert Bork helped to polarize American politics and helped fan into flame the culture wars. His infamous speech attacking Bork contributed to the degradation of political speech in America. His personal life would have driven a non-Kennedy out of politics. When the chips were down, he looked out for number one on that fateful night on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969. Compassion is cheap when it comes to society in general.

I've read a lot of columns and stories on Ted Kennedy this week. For my money, Mark Steyn has the best take. It is called "Airbrushing out Mary Jo Kopechne. Only a Kennedy could get away with it." Isn't that the truth? Read it here.

Since I slammed the MSM in this post and since the New York Times is as mainstream as it gets, I thought I should acknowledge this fairly balanced article in today's paper.

Theology of the Body Conference in Toronto

A Toronto organization called "God, Sex and the Meaning of Life," in cooperation with the Natural Family Planning Association, is bringing Christopher West to Toronto for a conference Friday evening and Saturday, Oct. 16-17, 2009. West will be speaking on Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body." The event will be held at Canada Christian College and organizers are hoping for a thousand people to attend. 700 have registered already, so don't put off registering if you are interested in going. Details are here.

Christopher West is an expert on Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" and has written several popular books on the subject of human sexuality, as well as "The Theology of the Body Explained" a 600 page commentary on John Paul II's work. He leads "The Theology of the Body Institute." From the press release:

"Most people have heard the “whats” of Catholic teaching, but very few have ever heard the “whys.” With profound insight, Christopher West demonstrates that the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage “makes sense”, and, in fact, is the “logic” of Christianity—because it corresponds perfectly with the deepest stirrings and desires of the human heart.

World renowned Catholic author and international speaker, Christopher West, received his Master of Theological Studies degree from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He teaches Theology of The Body in the U.S. and Australia, and is a research fellow for Theology of the Body Institute in Pennsylvania."

This conference is suitable for teens and adults and is one of the few opportunities we have in a secularized culture to hear the Biblical basis for the distinctive and transformative Christian view of human sexuality. I encourage everyone to consider taking advantage of this opportunity.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Socialism and Immorality

I've mused before on the question of why it seems that socialists are always on the wrong side of the culture wars. Why do people who profess the highest sort of moral concerns for the poor always seem to be in favor of sexual promiscuity, abortion and eugenics? Why is there a necessary connection between the economic left and the cultural left? Why is the anti-poverty activist, that great champion of the downtrodden, so willing to support the murder of the poorest and youngest and most vulnerable among us?

I certainly don't agree with everything in F. A. Hayek's, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism. He is a classical political liberal and has much more faith in the "invisible hand" of the free market to be moral than I have. While I don't doubt the role of the "invisible hand" in generating wealth and spreading it around, I do think some government regulation of the economy is necessary to prevent monopoly, ensure standards, etc. To be fair, I think he is quite open on such issues too - it's just that sometimes he waxes so poetical about the laws of the market that he makes it sound like it is self-sufficient and in need of no human guidance. He can sound very much like a Stoic advocate of the world-soul making itself manifest in history in an almost Hegelian manner. I would like to question him about his understanding of providence.

But on one point, Hayek provides a convincing explanation for the connection between personal immorality and social justice. He speaks of "constructivist rationalism," by which he means the tendancy to take over the process of evolution and direct it by human reason:

"Thus I confess that I always have to smile when books on evolution, even ones written by great scientests, end, as they often do, with exhortations which, while conceding that everything has hitherto developed by a process of spontaneous order, call on human reason - now that things have become so complex - to sieze the reins and control future development. Such wishful thinking is encouraged by what I have elsewhere called the 'constructivist rationalism' . . . that affects much scientific thinking, and which was made quite explicit in the title of a highly successful book by a well-known socialist anthropologist, Man Makes Himself . . . a title that was adopted by many socialists as sort of a watchword." (p. 22)

For Hayek, evolution produces a series of rules or laws that rise to the top by natural selection and these constitute the traditional legacy of mankind. Wisdom is necessary to discern the valid from the mistaken interpretations of these laws, which are similar in some ways to traditional natural laws except that they arise is an evolutionary worldview, rather than a static one. The point is, for him, that we can modify these rules and constantly in fact do so. But we cannot ignore them totally.

The great Canadian philosopher, George Grant, often spoke of this tendancy of humans to want to take over the future direction of evolution as the science of cybernetics - the same hubris C. S. Lewis talked about in The Abolition of Man. Books like Lee Silver's Remaking Eden advocate this sort of human control of future evolution and are frightening because the technological mastery necessary for this is so close to being real.

Socialism proposes that we ignore the collective wisdom of the human race in the name of constructivist rationalism. Socialism is based on the assumption that nature, including human nature, is malleable and can be refashioned by human rationality. Of course, there are always Marx's iron laws of history, but these laws reduce everything to economics, which suggests that everything else - except for the inevitable rise and fall of capitalism - is within our control to shape and mold as we choose. So if we wake up tomorrow and decide to construct a new society in which monogamy, (to take the example discussed in the last post), is redefined nearly out of existence, we can successfully undertake to do so. Nothing stands in our way that we cannot overcome by the application of human reason to the problem. Our will is supreme.

This being so, it becomes immediately clear why traditional sexual morality, the traditional family, the sanctity of human life and other elements of traditional morality are so quickly and readily suspected, criticized and often rejected by socialists. The person who aborbs socialist ideology with regard to economics and politics is thereby primed to become an immoralist and to dismiss traditional moral teaching - the accumulated wisdom of humanity - as merely "bourgeois morality" and all laments over its passing as merely "nostalgia."

The irony is that this "supreme will" by which we attempt to remake the world resembles nothing so much as the absolute will of the terrifying God of Nominalism - the unconstrained and totally arbitrary will of the God in whom Modernity finds it so necessary to disbelieve. Socialism turns out to be one more bitter fruit of the nominalist revolution of the 14th century.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Perennial Temptation of Anabaptist Theology

Anabaptist theology has traditionally stressed the imitation of Christ and following Jesus strictly in the way of non-violent discipleship. So has the monastic movement. However, because of tragic events during the 16th century Reformation the Anabaptists followed a sectarian path and became estranged from the Church as a whole, while monasticism remained within the Catholic Church. Monks and nuns remain in the church and live lives that focus on confession of sin and partaking of the sacrifice of the mass, in which they confess their brokenness and find grace through the reception of the body of Christ over and over again. This counterbalances their temptation to perfectionism.

The perennial temptation of Anabaptist theology, however, has always been to become so committed to, and so entranced by, the prospect of following Jesus faithfully that it loses sight of the impossibility of doing so perfectly. Perfectionism is a constant temptation because it counsels us to disregard or even deny the Augustinian (and Biblical) doctrine of original sin. When that happens, Anabaptist theology ceases to be a religion of grace and falls into the heresy of works righteousness. This need not happen necessarily, but it can happen and has happened many times. I remember talking to a member of a rather conservative Mennonite church in Lancaster County last summer whose parents left the Amish church over the issue of works righteousness.

The concept of the covenant community, which is united by its common commitment to following Jesus in the path of discipleship, is part of the Christian tradition and is, in fact, the basis of all monasticism. But when the voluntary community of believers falls prey to the temptation of Pelagianian perfectionism, then it embraces a similar heresy to that embraced by theological liberalism in the modern age: the idea of human pefectability and progress.

The difference between Anabaptists and liberal Protestants is that liberal Protestants believe that the social gospel can be applied to the whole of society even if most people in society are not Christian believers, whereas Anabaptists limit the applicability of the perfect community to that believers' church - a separated and sectarian voluntary fellowship. But as Anabaptists leave the relative isolation of rural Mennonite communities and enter higher education in cities in large numbers, the temptation is to apply pacifism to the whole of society and to join with liberals who preach a similar pacifist perfectionism for all of society. This is a way of making their Anabaptist faith "relevant" to the wider world.

Anabaptists who encounter conservative theology that stresses original sin, the need for repentance, faith and conversion and the need for ceaseless struggle with sin and sanctification throughout this life, find their pacifism regarded as a heretical (or at least theologically naive) form of perfectionism and so they often feel rejected by theological conservatives. Thus, the natural desire to find a congenial relationship with the wider church often tends to focus on liberal Protestantism, even though theologically they may well have less in common with liberal Protestants than they have with conservative Protestants.

The move from the perfectionist, visible, local, church fellowship to the social gospel is a plausible move once the doctrine of original sin has lost. This, move, I would say, is the perennial Anabaptist temptation. Only a strong doctrine of original sin and a high view of grace, together with a realistic view of progressive sanctification with no attainment of perfection in this life, can prevent a drift into a form of theological liberalism.

The perennial Anabaptist temptation is just that: a temptation. It is not an inevitability.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Does Monogamy Mean?

I suppose you thought that was clear. I'm sorry to inform you that, while you were out of the room, the definition became highly problematic. It is a telling commentary on the whole sexual revolution that in order to achieve its social-political-legal goals the English language itself must be abused and violated - I almost said raped.

The other day news outlets reported on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America vote to ordain unrepentant, practicing, homosexuals with headlines like this one from The Washington Post: "'Monogamous' Gays Can Serve in ELCA." Straight-forward, right? Wrong.

"Monogamous" here doesn't necessarily mean what you think it means, although there is no hint of the ambiguity pumped into this word by the advocates of the pansexualist agenda in the article - naturally. For an explanation we turn to Terry Mattingly, who is quoted in a recent post by Rod Dreher.

Mattingly, reporting on his experience covering the Ilif School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary attached to the University of Denver, described by one University faculty member as " the most liberal institution in American that still called itself Christian," explains the varying definitions of monagamy held by various liberal groups:

"First of all, there are gay theologians whose definition of this term is very traditional, arguing that gay unions are forever and that those taking vows must remain sexually faithful to one another. Twin rocking chairs forever.

Then, there are those who, in effect, say that “monogamy” essentially means serial monogamy (this, of course, is the definition used by most heterosexuals today in a culture rooted in easy divorce). In other words, things happen and relationships break up. However, partners are supposed to be sexually faithful to one another while the relationship lasts. Twin rocking chairs for right now.

Finally, some say that gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians can be “emotionally” faithful to a partner, while having sexual experiences with other people — secondary relationships that do not threaten the primary, “monogamous” relationship. The twin rocking chairs are symbolic.

There are, of course, lesbigay theologians who reject monogamy and almost all other traditional limits on sexual experience. Take, for example, the trailblazing Episcopal priest and
seminary professor Carter Heyward, author of books such as “Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God.”

I think that the radical liberation theologians who think that the future belongs to them and who advise heterosexuals to loosen up and come along for the ride are the most honest of all. They don't just want tolerance for their lifestyle; they want to change your lifestyle because heterosexism (what used to be called the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic) is evil and harmful.

Dreher also points us to some forthright quotes from Andrew Sullivan posted on Kendell Harmon's blog, Titus Online. Sullivan writes:

"Dan [Savage] and I agreed that moderate hypocrisy - especially in marriages - is often the best policy. Momogamy [sic] is very hard for men, straight or gay, and if one partner falters occasionally (and I don't mean regularly), sometimes discretion is perfectly acceptable. You could see [Erica] Jong bridle at the thought of such dishonesty. But I think the post-seventies generation - those of us who grew up while our parents were having a sexual revolution - both appreciate the gains for sexual and emotional freedom, while being a little more aware of their potential hazards. An acceptance of mild hypocrisy as essential social and marital glue is not a revolutionary statement. It's a post-revolutionary one. As is, I'd say, my generation as a whole."

"Same-sex unions often incorporate the virtues of friendship more effectively than traditional marriages; and, at times, among gay male relationships, the openness of the contract makes it more likely to survive than many heterosexual bonds. Some of this is unavailable to the male-female union: there is more likely to be greater understanding of the need for extramarital outlets between two men than between a man and a woman; and again, the lack of children gives gay couples greater freedom. Their failures entail fewer consequences for others."

This is a peek into the post-sexual-revolution world. It is a world where couples are "friends" and promiscuity is normal because "monogamy is hard." You don't hear this kind of honesty on the floor of liberal Protestant denominations as the debate is going on because it would spook the little old ladies and naive bishops who think it's nice that the homosexuals want to become just like us - respectable and all that.

But the deeper problem here is that they are becoming like some of us because once heterosexual monogamy becomes optional (as it did in liberal circles in the 1960's and 70's) then homosexual behaviour starts to look much less alien and ceases to be unthinkable. The unifying principle here is "promiscuity is good, monogamy is bad" - not just for homosexuals, but for all of us.

I have more respect for the radical sexual liberation theologians who are honest enough to tell us ahead of time what is coming down the pike - like Hitler did in Mein Kampf - than the liberal Protestants who pretend that all we are doing is extending the old, traditional, institution of marriage to a group which has up to now been unjustly excluded from it and that no one is trying to change your view of marriage at all.

Please, for the sake of honesty, let us stop pretending. We know where this is heading: toward a society in which marriage as it was prior to the sexual revolution no longer exists and the hook-up culture is universal (except for barely tolerated whackos and nutjobs who still believe in the old traditions). Sex and procreation are becoming completely separated and even sex and friendship will be only loosely connected in this "brave new world."

Aldous Huxley saw it all coming 80 years ago and wrote it down in his book. We can't say we weren't warned that one day soon we would regard monogamy as dirty.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Smart People Tend to Be Liberals and Socialists

It is true; I freely admit it. Go to any university and poll the faculty; it will be overwhelmingly liberal, (which is why William F. Buckley Jr. famously remarked that he would rather be governed by the first 500 names in the Boston phone directory than by the faculty of Harvard). Examine the intellectual class in general and you will find that most people are liberals who tend toward socialism or outright socialists. No wonder J. S. Mill called conservatives "the stupid party."

F. A. Hayek, in that fascinating book of his old age entitled, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, also admits this fact even in the process of dismantling socialism as mistaken in fact, illogical and manifestly wrong. He writes:

"One's initial surprise at finding that intelligent people tend to be socialists diminishes when one realizes that, of course, intelligent people will tend to overvalue intelligence, and to suppose that we must owe all the advantages and opportunities that our civilization offers to deliberate design rather than to following traditional rules, and likewise to suppose that we can, by exercising our reason, eliminate any remaining undesired features by still more intelligent reflection, and still more appropriate design and 'rational coordination' of our undertakings. This leads one to be favourably disposed to the central economic planning and control that lie at the heart of socialism. Of course intellectuals will demand explanations for everything they are expected to do, and will be reluctant to accept practices just because they happen to govern the communities into which they have been born; and this will lead them into conflict with, or at least to a low opinion of, those who quietly accept prevailing rules of conduct. Moreover, they also understandably will want to align themselves with science and reason, and with the extraordinary progress made by the physical sciences during the past several centuries, and since they have been taught that constructivism and scientism are what science and the use of reason are all about, they find it hard to believe that there can exist any useful knowledge that did not originate in deliberate experimentation, or to accept the validity of any tradition apart from their own tradition of reason. Thus a distinguished historian has written in this vein: 'Tradition is almost by definition reprehensible, something to be mocked and deplored.'"

Hayek here is making two closely related points. The first is a point about the temptation smart people face to over-estimate the uses of reason. Elsewhere, Hayek quotes Hume to the effect that our reason does not and cannot control our instincts and appetites. So the first point has to do with a Pelagian view of the self as unfallen and perfectly able to control one's own actions and desires by reason. The second point is one about the sociology of knowledge and how constructivism and scientism, which have no logical connection to real empirical science, are nevertheless absorbed by people by osmosis from those who deceptively use science to peddle their pet philosophies. One thinks of Col. 2:8 here.

Hayek then goes on to point out the dangers in this way of thinking.

"These reactions are all understandable, but they have consequences. The consquences are particularly dangerous - to reason as well as to morality - when preference not so much for the real products of reason as for this conventional tradition of reason leads intellectuals to ignore the theoretical limits of reason, to disregard a world of historical and scientific information, to remain ignorant of the biological sciences and the sciences of man such as economics, and to misrepresent the origin and functions of our moral rules.

Like other traditions, the tradition of reason is learnt, not innate. It too lies between instinct and reason; and the question of the real reasonableness and truth of this tradition of proclaimed reason and truth must now also scrupulously be examined." (pp. 53-4, italics original)

The moral of this story is that intelligence does not equal wisdom. To be smart is good, so long as one does not make an idol out of autonomous rationality and bow down before it. Conservatism is (in Russell Kirk's words) "reason operating within tradition" and socialism is reason operating autonomously while holding tradition in contempt. Revelation, of course, is passed on to us by tradition (including the Scriptures and commentary on them).

More on Abortion and Health Care

OK, so now it isn't just the Roman Catholic bishops, the Evangelicals and saying that Obama is misleading the public on the issue of whether or not the House Bill 3200 as written (including the Capps ammendment) will result in public for abortion, now even Democratic Congressmen are saying it too:

"Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, says dozens of House Democrats may join him in opposing a final health care compromise unless the House bill's abortion language is changed.

Mr. Stupak tells Time magazine that President Obama either does not understand the House bill or is intentionally misleading people when he asserts that there would be no government funding of abortion under the so-called public option.

"We are going to do everything we can to stop the rule, or the bill, from coming to the floor," Mr. Stupak said, adding that as many as 39 Democratic members of Congress may join him in the effort.

The reason: The House bill would require everyone who signs up for government-run health insurance to contribute to abortion coverage. "You are spreading the cost of the procedure over a public plan," Mr. Stupak said.

Mr. Stupak told the magazine that Mr. Obama's statements during recent public events signal one of two things: Either he does not fully understand how abortion is treated in the House bill, or "if he is aware of it, and he is making these statements, then he is misleading people."

Obama has let this process spiral out of control over the last four weeks. If he ends up losing health care reform because of his abortion extremism, then no one in the world will be able to deny that he is the most ideologically-driven, proponent of abortion-on-demand ever to reach high office in the US. He will be revealed as a fanatic who would rather throw away his chances of re-election than fail to deliver the goods for Planned Parenthood. He will also look incredibly stupid and will lose the ability to drive his agenda forward even with both houses of Congress in Democratic hands.

He needs to realize that Democrats cannot get re-elected in many parts of the country if they support a bill that requires public funding of abortion, especially when that bill is unpopular to begin with for other reasons. If he thinks the Blue Dogs will commit political suicide for him, he is playing a high stakes poker game with a bad hand.

Very interesting times! They say a week is a long time in politics; what a difference seven months makes.

What is Social Justice?

Everywhere I go in Evangelical circles these days I hear people talking about "social justice." Whether it is a session on the "Missional Church" at AAR or a website promoting the "Emergent Church" the talk is not of how to evangelize, but how to promote social justice. Many of the books Evangelicals are reading by authors from Jim Wallis to Ron Sider to Rick Warren to Tony Campolo promote the view that the Evangelical churches have neglected social justice for too long and have a long way to go to "catch-up" with the liberal Protestants and other "progressive" movements.

So what exactly is social justice? It seems to me that two related but not identical themes are often conflated confusingly in the minds of those talking about social justice. Evangelicals, of course, are congentially sympathetic to the argument from Scripture; if you want to convince Evangelicals of the rightness of your view, appeal to Scripture. And advocates of social justice do that. They speak frequently - almost ritualistically - about the huge number of verses in the Bible that talk about the poor as compared to whatever issue is being proposed as the priority for Evangelicals. So, for example, there are more verses on poverty than homosexuality or abortion or whatever, therefore God's highest priority is social justice.

The Charitable Imperative
So what about all the verses that talk about the poor? It seems obvious that we can break them down into two distinct groups. The first group talks about neglect of the poor by those who have means to help but who don't choose to do so. This is a sin of ommission; it is apathy. So, for example, we have a passage like James 2:14-17.

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

This passage is clearly teaching the same message as Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan: namely that charity is a duty for Christians. We must not be so hard-hearted as not to share with our neighbour out of the abundance with which God has blessed us. We should personally make sacrifices in order to help the poor.

The Condemnation of Injustice
There are many other verses, on the other hand, which condemn the oppression of the poor. The classic one, I suppose, is the powerful story of Nathan confronting King David over his adultery with Bathsheeba and his murder of Uriah. In the story (II Samuel 12) Nathan tells the story of the rich man with many flocks and herds and the poor man who owned only one little lamb, which was a pet for his family. The rich man stole the poor man's lamb just because he could and for no reason other than the raw exercise of power and selfish will. Nathan condemns the king because he oppressed the poor by unjustly taking what was not his.

We know that during the time of David there was a great deal of centralization of land ownership, corrupt law courts that allowed the rich to cheat the poor and a growing number of impoverished people who were disconnected from the land. Surely, Nathan was making multiple points simultaneously with this powerful parable; adultery and murder are wrong, yes, but in addition so is cheating the poor who don't have the power to protect themselves. The king is supposed to be the shepherd of the flock and supposed to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. It was a personal morality point and a poltical point all wrapped up in one story.

Many of the condemnations of the prophets concerning the treatment of the poor have to do with cheating the poor (dishonest scales, bribery of government officials, corrupt courts). The main point of such preaching is that the poor man deserves equality before the law; no one is above the law. The poor deserve justice. This idea is not an invention of the French philosophes and it is not a modern idea; rather, it is rooted in the 3000 year old Judeo-Christian tradition.

Natural Justice versus Social Justice
Now, the idea of justice here is one of "natural justice" by which I mean equality before the law and equality of opportunity. No man is to be cheated, held back or have justice withheld from him just because he is poor or from a lower class. This is distinct from the peculiarly modern notion of "social justice," which states that if all men are to be equal they must have relatively equal wealth or status. This vision is democratic, levelling, and socialist. The minimum requirement for "social justice" is the bureaucratic welfare state that uses social engineering to administer all areas of life in order to create equality in status and wealth between all members of society.

"Social justice" is a concept distinct from both charity and natural justice. It is a distinctly modern idea and it is incompatible with limited government, a market economy, individual freedom, and a strong and flourishing civil society including strong families, churches and voluntary associations. "Social justice" is incompatible with "natural justice" rooted in the concept of man as created in the image of God and with the ideal of "charity" as taught in Scripture.

The Bible Does Not Teach Social Justice
"Natural justice" is incompatible with "social justice" because people are not by nature equal in IQ, work ethic, physical strength or genetic background. Additionally, people are born into vastly different socio-economic circumstances and different kinds of communities. All this natural inequality of endowment, however, is not incompatible with equality before the law and equality of worth and value as God's creatures. But it does have to be eradicated by a process of social engineering if equality of status and wealth is to be achieved.

And part of that social engineering will require that the law treat wealthy and poor people differently, taking from the former and re-distributing wealth to the latter. The rich cannot enjoy the same equality before the law as the poor or else wealth simply could not be re-distributed. Either the ideal of the law is that Justice is impartial and blind, or the ideal is that she is the bureaucratic nanny state which seeks to take from the rich and give to poor so as to create an artificial equality that nature has not been able to produce.

(If you believe that the Bible supports socialism or the redistribution of wealth, you are of course perfectly free to make that argument. All I am saying is that an exegetical argument needs to be made; you cannot assume from the charitable imperative and the condemnation of injustice before the law that the Bible is thereby saying that the welfare state is either just or required.)

The social justice ethic also scorns and ultimately undermines charity. The idea that the well-off should give of their personal resources and that civil society should foster a wide range of private charitable organizations (something Evangelicals have historically been very good at) is pooh-poohed as too little and too weak a response. Only the State has the power and the resources to make a real difference in the area of social justice; hence, Christian mission becomes basically one of trying to lobby the State so as to stir it to action and then to steer its efforts in the right direction.

So the Bible teaches the charitable imperative, i.e. the command to be charitable to the poor, and it strongly condemns all forms of injustice toward the poor. It teaches that all of us are equal in the sense that we are created in God's image and therefore all of us enjoy equality before the law. Justice requires that all be treated in the same way by the State.

This means that the relief of the suffering of the poor is the responsibility of the Church (and of all individuals whether Christian or not who have means to help) and this responsibility cannot be shuffled off onto the State. The State's responsibility is to ensure natural justice, i.e. equal treatment of all before the law. But the modern ethic of social justice, which requires a bureaucratic welfare state committed to social levelling is not the "obvious" implication of the extensive biblical emphsis on charity and justice for the poor.

Liberal Protestants have re-defined sin as economic inequality, salvation as social justice, eschatology as progress and the Kingdom of God as the welfare state. This is the program of the 19th century liberal "Social Gospel" movement and I fear that many contemporary Evangelicals are repeating the same decline into heresy as many of their forebears did a century ago. To read the modern idea of "social justice" into the Bible is to co-opt the Bible in suport of an alien agenda and to misconstrue it.

I know that many Evangelicals who talk about social justice do not consciously do so with the distinctions I have made in this article in mind. So it would be easy to brush this aside and say, "Well, that is not what I mean by social justice." But in the interests of clear communication and clear thinking, we ought to make sure that we are using terminology consistently. And I think you will find that if you make an effort to talk about natural justice and charity in certain circles, and are careful to make yourself understood, you will run into resistance and disagreement that you never realized was there before. Then it will be up to you to decide what you believe.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama Accuses Christians of "Bearing False Witness" About Health Care and Abortion

In a conference call organized by liberal faith groups, Barack Obama accused Christians of lying by spreading lies about health care reform. On that call Obama said:

"We’ve heard that this is all designed to provide health insurance to illegal aliens. That’s not true. There’s a specific provision in the bill that does not provide health insurance for those individuals. You’ve heard that there’s a government takeover of health care. That’s not true. You’ve heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true. This is all, these are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation, and that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper."

So who has been saying that the proposed health care reform bill will result in abortion being paid for by public funds? Only the Roman Catholic Church plus representatives of a broad swath of Evangelical Christians.

Here is what Justin Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said recently in a letter to every member of Congress:

"[The House Commerce and Energy Committee] created a legal fiction, a paper separation between federal funding and abortion: Federal funds will subsidize the public plan, as well as private health plans that include abortion on demand; but anyone who purchases these plans is required to pay a premium out of his or her own pocket (specified in the Act to be at least $1.00 a month) to cover all abortions beyond those eligible for federal funds under the current Hyde amendment. Thus some will claim that federal taxpayer funds do not support abortion under the Act.

But this is an illusion. Funds paid into these plans are fungible, and federal taxpayer funds will subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions. Furthermore, those constrained by economic necessity or other factors to purchase the "public plan" will be forced by the federal government to pay directly and specifically for abortion coverage. This is the opposite of the policy in every other federal health program. Government will force low-income Americans to subsidize abortions for others (and abortion coverage for themselves) even if they find abortion morally abhorrent.

Please consider the broader context. No federal program mandates coverage for elective abortions, or subsidizes health plans that include such abortions. Most Americans do not want abortion in their health coverage, and most consider themselves "pro-life," with a stronger majority among low-income Americans. About 80 percent of all hospitals do not generally provide abortions, and 85 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider. By what right, then, and by what precedent, would Congress make abortion coverage into a nationwide norm, or force Americans to subsidize it as a condition for participating in a public health program?"

Here is what a broadly-based coalition of Evangelical and pro-life groups and individuals (for a complete list click here) are saying:

"Question: Won’t the Hyde Amendment and Capps Compromise prohibit tax payer funded abortions?

Answer: On July 30, the House Energy and Commerce Committee added to H.R. 3200 an amendment written by staff to Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) and offered by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Ca.), both of whom have consistently pro-abortion career voting records. This “phony compromise” explicitly authorizes the “public plan” to cover all abortions. This would drastically change longstanding federal policy. This means that any citizen who wants to take advantage of the public plan will be compelled to purchase coverage for abortion on demand. The federal agency will collect the premium money, receive bills from abortionists, and send the abortionists payment checks from a federal Treasury account. It is a sham to pretend that this does not constitute funding of abortion. If this passes, the federal government will be running a nationwide abortion-on-demand insurance plan.

Under H.R. 3200 as amended by the Capps Amendment, some private plans may elect not to include abortion, but private plans that cover elective abortion will be federally subsidized. Both bills provide funds for the new premium-subsidy program through a new funding pipeline that would not be subject to the Hyde Amendment, which is merely a year-to-year provision that currently prevents federal funding of abortions in the Medicaid program. As the Associated Press accurately reported in its August 5, 2009, analysis, “A law called the Hyde amendment applies the [abortion] restrictions to Medicaid . . . The [Obama-backed] health overhaul would create a stream of federal funding not covered by the restrictions.”

Further, there is no doubt whatever that the Obama Administration would immediately use the Capps authorization to cover elective abortions in the public plan. On July 17, 2007, Barack Obama appeared before the annual conference of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Speaking of his plans for “health care reform,” Obama said, “In my mind, reproductive care is essential care. It is basic care, and so it is at the center and at the heart of the plan that I propose.” He also stated that, “What we’re doing is to say that we’re gonna set up a public plan that all persons and all women can access if they don’t have health insurance. It’ll be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services.”

So, who is lying? has not been kind to some claims made by the pro-life movement about Obama's radicalism and has tended to swallow his side of the story on other issues. However, on this issue, they have this to say:

"Will health care legislation mean "government funding of abortion"?

President Obama said Wednesday that’s "not true" and among several "fabrications" being spread by "people who are bearing false witness." But abortion foes say it’s the president who’s making a false claim. "President Obama today brazenly misrepresented the abortion-related component" of health care legislation, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. So which side is right?

The truth is that bills now before Congress don’t require federal money to be used for supporting abortion coverage. So the president is right to that limited extent. But it’s equally true that House and Senate legislation would allow a new "public" insurance plan to cover abortions, despite language added to the House bill that technically forbids using public funds to pay for them. Obama has said in the past that "reproductive services" would be covered by his public plan, so it’s likely that any new federal insurance plan would cover abortion unless Congress expressly prohibits that. Low- and moderate-income persons who would choose the "public plan" would qualify for federal subsidies to purchase it. Private plans that cover abortion also could be purchased with the help of federal subsidies. Therefore, we judge that the president goes too far when he calls the statements that government would be funding abortions "fabrications.""

For the Factcheck analysis, click here.

My Analysis:

Obama is accusing Christians of doing what he and his adminstration actually are doing. He is brazenly trying to hide behind a technicality most people don't understand, and those who do don't accept, in order to pretend that he is not expanding access to abortion through his so-called "public option." This is using a mis-leading half-truth to deceive.

This is part of an overall pattern of deception by which Obama is trying to do what worked so well in the election campaign and peel off a few votes from Evangelicals and Catholics by giving people who are inclined to support him except for his abortion extremism a fig leaf behind which to hide. This worked when he was running against George Bush; but it is not working now that he is actually governing and not just campaigning. His moderate rhetoric won't do him much good in 2012 when matched up against his extreme record. And the discrepancy between the smooth talk and the radical action is making more and more people disillusioned as time goes on.

It is important to understand that when claims are made that religion is important to the Obama administration and that Obama seeks support from the faith community, the reality is that Obama is the liberal president, not the Evangelical or Catholic president. He is trying to seduce liberal Catholics away from the hierarchy and peel off a few "moderate" evangelicals. But his support is from theologically liberal Protestants and Catholics, not orthodox and evangelical ones. For him, religion is important as long as it is theologically liberal religion.

For Further Information:
The Health Care Website of the USCCB:

An article by Justin Cardinal Rigali called "Abortion is Not Health Care"

Stop the Abortion Mandate:

Don't Like Obama? Blame George Bush

Obama's popularity with the American electorate is in free-fall. Rasumssen Reports website, which does daily polling, reports:

"The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 29% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty percent (40%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -11. Today is the President’s fourth straight day with an Approval Index rating in negative double digits (see trends). . . . Overall, 49% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President's performance. Fifty-one percent (51%) now disapprove."

There is little mystery why the president is suddenly so unpopular with voters. 40% of voters say that cutting the deficit is the highest priority, while reforming health care is a distant second at only 21%. Yet 71% of voters think Obama's policies are driving up the deficit. Voters are pessimistic about Obama getting it right. 67% think deficit reduction is the least likely goal to be achieved, while only 7% think it is the most likely goal to be achieved.

Can we say buyer's remorse? All that hype about Obama being a centrist and a moderate doesn't look so plausible now, does it? Many Republicans and a clear majority of moderate voters, who were justifiably angry at the Republicans for starting an unnecessary war in Iraq, letting spending get out of control and exhibiting disgusting personal ethics, voted the Republicans out thinking they were getting a moderate Democratic president who would not attempt to make fundamental changes to the American economy in the midst of a recession. They thought it was safe to send the Republicans a message. Instead, they got the most hard-line, ideological leftist in congress as president.

This was clearly a tragic situation and the blame for the current mess rests more than any other on one man: George W. Bush. He should have known better than let the imperialistic hawks convince him to do something that discredited conservatism at a crucial moment. If George Bush had governed like a true conservative - emphasizing fiscal restraint, avoiding overreach in international affairs and pursuing an incrementalist policy in social conservativism as he did very effectively - then he would have been a success and Obama would now be a junior senator on the extreme left of a party without power.

The problem is not that George Bush was too conservative; the problem is that he was not conservative enough. Fiscal restraint, geopolitical restraint and gradual, organic change in social policy are characteristics of true conservatism, whereas free spending and reckless interventionism are marks of a kind of nationalistic, utopianism that cries: "we can spread democracy to every country of the world with our army."

Now it appears that the Republican Party will be given another chance. The last thing the GOP needs to do is move toward the center in terms of policy or do anything to alienate the social conservatives, who are essential to any future election victory. It needs to nourish its base, find a leader who does not scare moderates and purge itself of playboys and lobbyists, at least at the highest levels. It is the majority party and will get another chance at power. But it must learn from the hubris of the Bush administration and not take for granted the good will of the electorate.

Conservatism as "Reason Operating Within Tradition"

In his extremely illuminating classic work, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, (ISI, 1976, 3rd ed. 2008), George H. Nash picks up where Russell Kirk leaves off in his, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, and traces the rise of the conservative movement in the post-war period up to the Reagan period.

In the post-WW II period, three distinct strands of thought came together to create the conservative movement that gradually grew and flourished until it climaxed with the election of a conservative president in 1980.

1. The first strand was the "classical liberals" or "libertarians," who opposed the threat of an ever-expanding State to individual liberty and private enterprise. They were convinced that America was drifting toward socialism and that this was primarily a failure of liberals to resist the collectivist temptation. F. A. Hayek (The Road to Serfdom) and Ludwig von Mises (Socialism) were immigrants of the Austrian school of economics, who opposed Kenysian theory and did much to reinvigorate classical, 19th century liberalism. Frank Chedorov was an example of a radical libertarian who stood in the tradition of Adam Smith, Henry Thoreau and Albert Jay Nock. It is interesting that, in his 1951 bombshell, God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley used the term "Individualism" as the label for what he represented as over against "Collectivism."

2. The second strand was the "new conservatism" or "traditionalists" such as Richard Weaver (Ideas Have Consequences), Peter Viereck, Russell Kirk (The Conservative Mind) and Robert Nisbet (The Quest for Community). These men were critical of the 19th century, which had produced the horrifying disasters of 20th century totalitarianism and the secularized, rootless, mass society. They looked to European thought for inspiration (primarily Edmund Burke) and emphasized a return to ethical absolutes and a rejection of relativism, utilitarianism and pragmatism, which they saw as having corroded Western civilization and prepared the way for totalitarianism.

3. The third strand was the militant anti-Communism, shaped by people like Whittaker Chambers, (Witness), James Burnham, (The Managerial Revolution), and Frank Meyer (In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo). These were all formerly men of the left who brought to the right the zeal of converts and first-hand understanding of the true mentality of Communism. This strand eventually was overshadowed by the larger-than-life figure of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was a polarizing figure. No matter how much his methods and his personal style can be criticized, he was vindicated on the one, central point: that there actually was an infiltration by Communists of the American intelligence and government establishment. Even those who found McCarthy's methods distasteful, had to admit that Communism was a real, not an imaginary, threat.

These three strands of conservatism coalesced to form a coherent movement, which is not to say that they ever lost their distinctness or ceased to debate each other vigorously. They did unite in rejecting the atheistic, materialism of Ann Rand. Conservatives found that an atheistic, materialistic capitalism was no better than an atheistic, materialistic socialism. Rand's objectivism was seen as Nietzschean and as corrosive of the Western heritage as Marxism. So an outer limit was established to the embrace of capitalism.

The first two strands of the movement increasingly came into conflict in the 50's with the libertarians criticizing the traditionalists for being only too willing to utilize the coercive power of government to enforce virtue, which they saw as inimical to freedom. They also criticized the traditionalists of undervaluing reason and being too uncritical of tradition. After all, some of our ancestors were stupid and evil; surely we must make critical distinctions? From the other direction, the traditionalists accused the libertarians of simply being liberals and having no means of avoiding the degeneration of liberalism into statism and collectivism. They were afraid the process of decline that had happened in the late 19th century would simply happen again if the same classical liberal principles constituted the sum and substance of the conservative movement.

Frank Meyer was the man who laid the basis for a synthesis of the these two strands of conservatism and who enabled the movement to continue as a coherent entity rather than splitting into tiny, powerless, irrelevant cliques. Nash writes:

"What were the principles that comprised his attempted synthesis? 'Absolutely fundamental,' he argued, was 'the freedom of the person' - 'the central and primary end of political society,' 'the decisive concern of political action and political theory.' to Meyer, man was a 'rational, volitional, autonomous individual': freedom was 'of the essence of his being,' - indispensable, in fact, to his pursuit of virtue. Political order was to be judged according to its contribution to individual freedom. Moreover, the political sphere was sharply limited. The State had but three limited functions: national defense, preservation of domestic order, and the administration of justice between man and man. From this perspective Meyer proceeded to demolish the claims of those - collectivist liberals and new conservatives - who disparged the individual and his reason in the name of the State or 'community' or society. . . . There was no such independent entity as society, Meyer contended. . . . Society and the state were made for men, not men for them. . . . The 'achievement of virtue' was not a political question at all; it was none of the State's business. Freedom - uncoerced choice - was the absolutely indispensable condition of the pursuit of virtue. 'Unless men are free to be vicious they cannot be virtuous. No community can make them virtuous. Freedom was the ultimate political end; virtue was the ultimate end of man as man." (pp. 267-8)

This quote encapsulates the synthesis of classical liberalism and traditional conservatism that was embodied in the American founding - that conservative revolution. Meyer considered this to be the true heritage of the West "reason operating within tradition." (p. 269) Political freedom is a political goal, but freedom has a higher purpose than merely the satisfaction of momentary appetites by isolated individuals; it is actually instrumental. It is a pre-condition for true religious freedom and the virtuous life lived in civil society. The state is necessary, but dangerous if it becomes totalitarian in the sense of claiming to be capable of and authorized to shape all aspects of human life. The state is a mechanism of coercion and therefore not the appropriate mechanism for religion or the pursuit of virtue; hence the genius of the separation of church and state. But a certain view of limited government, the division of powers and free enterprise - which is expressed in the American but not the French or Russian Revolutions - is the necessary political pre-condition for the freedom that pursues virtue and thus allows man to be fulfilled in his being and achieve his earthly telos, which in part is a recognition that his ultimate telos is not merely earthly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Are So Many Theologians Socialists?

It is startling to realize how few contemporary academic theologians reject the collectivism of the varying types of socialism and how many accept the Marxist critique of capitalism and liberalism as beyond debate. Why are so many theologians socialists? I ask this question because there are several prima facie reasons why theology and socialism might be perceived as being at odds.

First, there is the fact that most socialist regimes during the past century have been anti-religious, sometimes violently so. Persecution of the Church in China and the Soviet Union is only the most obvious example. Even less totalitarian socialist governments, like the one currently in power in Spain, lose no opportunity to demonstrate their fervent hope that religion will wither away as quickly as possible.

Second, socialism appears to put a great deal of faith in the government to achieve social justice, a faith that seems naively over-optimistic at first blush. In a supposedly "post-modern" era when the optimistic faith in reason displayed by Enlightenment theorists is widely derided, it seems odd that the doctrines of the perfectibility of man and the possiblity of a government ruled by reason (which surely are necessary for the implementation of socialism) are so readily accepted and importance ofthe division of powers and limited government so easily dismissed.

Thirdly, the Marxist forms of socialism (and almost all forms trace major aspects of their theory back to Marx) is a species of atheistic materialism, which is about as opposed to Christian theism as it is possible to be. Great debates have occurred over whether Marxist critique is valid minus its materialistic presuppositions, but surely that is a point in need of defence and cannot simply be assumed.

These are just the three most obvious impediments that occur to me off the top of my head to any Christian embrace of socialism. Nevertheless, to attend, say the American Academy of Religion, and to let it be known that one is not a socialist is to attract bemusement, or vitriol or in extreme cases denunciation and exclusion. Why is that?

F. A. Hayek, in his classic The Road to Serfdom, distinguishes between two aspects of the meaning of socialism. On the one hand, "It may mean, and is often used to describe, merely the ideals of social justice, greater equality, and security, which are the main aims of socialism." So people often proclaim themselves socialism as a kind of shorthand for being in favor of social justice." (p. 83) So to call oneself a "socialist" may just mean one is in favor of social justice goals.

Hayek continues: "But it means also, the particular method by which most socialists hope to attain these ends and which many competent people regard as the only methods by which they can be fully and quickly attained. In this sense socialism means the abolition of private enterprise, of private ownership of the means of production, and the creation of a system of 'planned economy' in which the entrepreneur working for profit is replaced by a central planning body." (p. 83) This is a description of the means by which the ends are to be achieved.

I think that when most theologians claim to be socialists (or critical of liberalism or capitalism) they mean that they are socialists in the sense of embracing the goals of social justice. To be honest, I don't think most give much thought to the means by which those goals are to be achieved.

To the extent they do give it any thought, however, they likely think that rather benign, certainly democratic, means can be used. They probably do not seen themselves as supporting extreme measures like nationalization or abolishing all private businesses. In fact, many are now coming round to the idea that it is better to leave most profit-making business alone so that they can generate the necessary funds to be re-distributed by means of a progressive tax system. So some sort of democratic welfare state probably fills their imaginations and tends to elbow aside images of totalitarianism and communism.

Democratic socialism is seen as a nice compromise between a liberal democratic state dominated by neoconservatism, on the one hand, and a Stalinist dictatorship, on the other. Marx, you see, was wrong about the need for bloody revolution; democratic socialism can come by means of social evolution.

The question I would raise, however, is whether this democratic socialism toward which we supposedly are evolving is anything other than a form of statism and collectivism in which one by one our freedoms will gradually disappear? It may be a more benign form of conquest, but conquest it must be from an individual or minority standpoint.

Are the goals of social justice really achievable apart from a tough-minded use of less palatable means? If the goal of social justice is to satisfy human desires, is there sufficient consideration being given to the fact that human desires are insatiable and so will never stop expanding? Can there actually be, therefore, a stopping point between democratic socialism and a full-blooded collectivist state in which central economic planning and totalitarian control of the government set the limits of what can be expected by the population? Is democratic socialism really a separate economic system and sustainable over time? Or is it a half-way house and inherently unstable? Finally, is it really safe, given the fallen reality of human nature, to risk losing natural justice, limited government, the division of powers, private property, vigorous civil society and free enterprise in the pursuit of utopian vision of social justice? And have theologians really given sufficient thought to these questions?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

U.S. Government Unveils Health Care Partnership With God Inc

Iowahawk has struck again! He is the funniest thing on the Internet and you have to love the Internet because it is amazing that such entertainment is totally free.

Iowahawk mocks those who need mocking and mocks mercilessly those who need merciless mocking.

"WASHINGTON (Iowahawk Business PR Wire) -- U.S. Government CEO Barack Obama announced today that his firm had embarked on a new joint venture with metaphysical industrial giant God, saying that "We are God’s partners in matters of life and death."

"This partnership is a natural," said Obama. "We both are unfathomably large, we both control people's lives, we both work in mysterious ways, we both have a fanatical customer base. Instead of competing, it just made basic business sense to work together to become the premier developer of mission critical life-and-death operating systems."

The announcement came before the annual GodCon trade show in Las Vegas, where Obama gave a product demo of the iGod heath care rationing device, the first of what he said would be "many development projects" between US Government and God. He encouraged independent God developers to support the closed-source iGod/iGov health care platform, warning that "woe be unto the unlicensed app developer, for he shall be smote by a vengeful hail of ACORNs."
Other iGod apps currently in beta test include an end-of-life calculator, income leveler, and a wireless database detector for anti-government heretics and apostates.

"I believe this exciting health care partnership opportunity with the Almighty will be every bit as successful as our previous peace partnerships in the Middle East, and will pave the way for an eventual merger," said Obama. No date has been set for Government-God merger plans, but the FTC has signalled it would give quick approval.

To finance the project, Obama said US Government would seek US$2 trillion in a 103rd round of involuntary venture capital."

Go Iowahawk! Read the rest here.

Ten Theses on the Kingdom of God and Social Justice

Here is a list of ten theses on the kingdom of God and social justice by Matt Harmon, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary at his blog "Biblical Theology." The first five are here and the second five here. I've listed them below, but if you follow the links he has a one paragraph elaboration of each one. I think they are quite good and extremely relevant.

1. We must learn from church history.

2. We must allow biblical and theological convictions to shape our engagement in social action.

3. We must not collapse the already/not-yet tension.

4. We must recognize that evangelical engagement with these issues will take different forms
within different political, cultural and social contexts.

5. We must prioritize proclamation of the gospel without neglecting social action

6. We must realize that our actions are not self-interpreting.

7. We must recognize the trend towards increasing social action and decreasing evangelism within the church.

8. We must think through and articulate the connection between specific social action and the

9. We must not allow people's physical needs to blind us or them to their even greater spiritual needs.

10. We must recognize the challenges that come with working with others of different beliefs.

HT to Justin Taylor at "Between Two Worlds"

Why a "Public Option?"

The centerpiece of Obamacare is the so-called "public option." This is the heart of what the Left wants and it is no surprise that it is stirring up a tremendous amount of controversy. After all, the US is still a center-right country despite being governed, for the moment, by a very left-wing administration. But why is Obama so wedded to the "public option?"

He says that the government has to provide choice and competition by starting a government-run health insurance company to compete against the privately-owned companies out there now. This is clever, justifying the partial socialization of the health insurance industry by an appeal to "competition" and "choice," which, of course, are what the free market provides.

Is it the role of government to compete with private enterprise? Can private enterprise ever hope to compete with an entity that does not pay taxes, has unlimited resources behind it and can simply ask its owner to change legislation to favor it when the going gets tough? Oh, that is not what we plan to do, says Obama. It will be run just like any other private company. Really? Then why bother? No wonder so many see this as the camel's nose in the tent, the start of the fast evolution to a single-payer system.

If the goal is to get those without health insurance covered, why not mandate that all health insurance companies offer some sort of basic personal insurance coverage that everyone can buy and pay for on a sliding scale depending on income with government subsidizing the individual, who is legalized required to be insured, but who gets to choose his or her insurer? Why not do that? Because that would not give the government the kind of control it seeks.

What kind of control does government seek, then? Obama has told us repeatedly. He wants to make health care less expensive by leveling it down and rationing. No more shall the majority have "Lexus" care while a minority has "Toyota" care. Instead, everyone gets Toyota care. But how can government mandate that? It can't - unless it is both the insurer and the regulator of levels of care. That is where all the talk of "independent panels" which decide what is "fair" comes from. And that is why a "public option" is so necessary.

In a free market system the government has a role to play and that role is to be the regulator of the marketplace so that social goals like universal coverage and minimum basic level of care can be ensured. To fulfill this role, the government has to be the "honest broker" not one of the competitors in the marketplace. But that requires the government to stay out of the details and leave it to the market to decide how much care for whom at what cost. The Left is not satisfied with that role for government. It wants to be able to decide as we go along what individuals deserve in terms of care and at what cost. This is supposedly more "efficient" and more "rational."

F. A. Hayek, in his marvellously lucid book, The Road to Serfdom, clarifies the difference between the liberal and the collectivist way of making decisions. In the liberal vision it is the individual making rational choices that determines the level of coverage, the kind of care etc. and the government sets the ground rules in advance - blindly in a sense. The rules are "blind" in the sense that they are not made with any particular individual in mind. They are general and the same for all. In the collectivist vision, however, it is the central planning authority that makes the rules and they have to be made, not in advance, but on the fly because conditions and circumstances are constantly changing. The rules are tailored to individual cases because they aim not at treating everyone "fairly" according to some abstract principle, but at equality of outcomes for all regardless of individual circumstances. Thus, the rules must not be either blind or fixed in advance. In the collectivist vision, the Rule of Law has to be replaced by central planning.

Two competing views of justice are engaged here in a titantic struggle. The collectivist vision, born in the thought of the 18th century French philosophes and put into practice in the French and Russian Revolutions, has already engulfed most of the Western world and the US is practically the lone holdout - the last bastion of the kind of liberalism that arose out of the English constitutional tradition from the English Revolution to Edmund Burke and the conservative wing of the American Founding Fathers such as John Adams.

The choice is (confusingly) between a socialism that calls itself liberal and a liberalism that is now espoused only by conservatives. The former has a view of justice that aims at equality of outcome, that is, everyone gets the same health care. The latter has an abstract and principled view of justice that aims at equality of opportunity, which means that not everyone gets the same care, but everyone gets the same basic care and what he or she gets beyond that depends on the rational choices of the individual.

Climbing Out of the Tank?

I read somewhere the other day a caustic comment about Jim Wallis by someone (I forget who) to the effect that it is one thing to be in the tank for Obama but it is another to swim down to the bottom of the tank and chain oneself to the grate until one drowns. Well, there are signs that The New York Times may be struggling to climb out of the Obama tank - or at least keep its head above water.

The gripping saga of the "How the Newspaper of Record's Faith in the Messiah Began to Waver Ever So Slightly" begins with a story by Jim Rutenberg on Aug. 13 headlined "False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots." Written in the breathless style of an intrepid reporter uncovering the news that Hilary Clinton's "Vast Right-wing Conspiracy" has raised its ugly head again, it began:

"The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama’s health care proposals would create government-sponsored “death panels” to decide which patients were worthy of living seemed to arise from nowhere in recent weeks.

Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party’s last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator, the nature of the assertion nonetheless seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality."

Now, the fact that this story was written by Jim Rutenberg is significant because, as Richard Baehr points out:

"There is perhaps no other Times "news writer" who has proven himself so willing and able to prostrate himself in service to the political agenda of the New York Times. Rutenberg was the lead author for another front page New York Times whopper in 2008 -- a fake story that slimed John McCain, insinuating that he had an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iselin, and was no more than your basic Congressional influence peddler."

The Aug. 13 Rutenberg story then accused the Washington Times of being anti-Obama in its reporting:

"The specter of government-sponsored, forced euthanasia was raised as early as Nov. 23, just weeks after the election and long before any legislation had been drafted, by an outlet decidedly opposed to Mr. Obama, The Washington Times."

That questioning of their journalistic integrity did not sit too well with the editors of the Washington Times and they "complained" to the New York Times. Lo and behold, on Aug. 15, The Washington Times published this statement:

"A senior editor of the New York Times apologized to The Washington Times for publishing a front-page story Friday that accused The Washington Times of being "decidedly opposed" to President Barack Obama.

Dean Baquet, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, telephoned Washington Times editors, offered an apology to the staff and said he would run a correction. "I would never say your paper has been anything but absolutely fair and objective to Obama," Mr. Baquet told The Washington Times' Managing Editor-Print David Jones.

"We agree and accept the Times' apology," Washington Times Executive Editor John Solomon wrote to his staff. The New York Times story examines the genesis of the accusation by Obama critics that the pending health-care reform proposal in Congress includes "death panels."

The story asserted: "The specter of government-sponsored, forced euthanasia was raised as early as Nov. 23, just weeks after the election and long before any legislation had been drafted, by an outlet decidedly opposed to Mr. Obama, The Washington Times."

Mr. Solomon called that shorthand, "wrong, inaccurate, irresponsible and insulting." Mr. Baquet telephoned Washington Times editors after Mr. Solomon complained.

Then, on Aug. 20, we find a story on The New York Times headlined: "A Basis Is Seen for Some Health Plan Fears Among the Elderly." The story begins:

"White House officials and Democrats in Congress say the fears of older Americans about possible rationing of health care are based on myths and falsehoods. But Medicare beneficiaries and insurance counselors say the concerns are not entirely irrational.

Bills now in Congress would squeeze savings out of Medicare, a lifeline for the elderly, on the assumption that doctors and hospitals can be more efficient.

President Obama has sold health care legislation to Congress and the country as a way to slow the growth of federal health spending, no less than as a way to regulate the insurance market and cover the uninsured.

Mr. Obama has also said Medicare and private insurers could improve care and save money by following advice from a new federal panel of medical experts on “what treatments work best.”

The zeal for cutting health costs, combined with proposals to compare the effectiveness of various treatments and to counsel seniors on end-of-life care, may explain why some people think the legislation is about rationing, which could affect access to the most expensive services in the final months of life."

Read the rest here.

So in the space of a week, the Palin "Death Panel" accusation went from being a "stubborn yet false rumour" to "not entirely irrational." Quite an amazing turn around, that. In other words, "kindly disregard what we said the other day. Sarah Palin just might be right after all, though it is too painful for us to come right out and say so."

When even the New York Times begins to waver in its fervent worship of "The Messiah" you know the wheels are coming off the Obama bandwagon.

Are You Scared Yet?

Obamacare increasingly is being perceived as the biggest threat to American freedom and security since the Cold War. It makes the undermining of the constitution in the name of the War on Terror by the Bush administration look like child's play. (And Obama has done nothing to roll back those attacks on civil liberties - nothing.) But why would I say this about Obamacare? What is so scary about it?

Well, let Nat Hentoff, the self-described "member of the Proud and Ancient Order of Stiff-necked Jewish Atheists" tell us. He is "a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the libertarian Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow." His column on Real Clear Politics, entitled "I Am Finally Scared of a White House Administration" begins this way:

"I was not intimidated during J. Edgar Hoover's FBI hunt for reporters like me who criticized him. I railed against the Bush-Cheney war on the Bill of Rights without blinking. But now I am finally scared of a White House administration. President Obama's desired health care reform intends that a federal board (similar to the British model) - as in the Center for Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation in a current Democratic bill - decides whether your quality of life, regardless of your political party, merits government-controlled funds to keep you alive. Watch for that life-decider in the final bill. It's already in the stimulus bill signed into law.

The members of that ultimate federal board will themselves not have examined or seen the patient in question. For another example of the growing, tumultuous resistance to "Dr. Obama," particularly among seniors, there is a July 29 Washington Times editorial citing a line from a report written by a key adviser to Obama on cost-efficient health care, prominent bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel (brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel).

Emanuel writes about rationing health care for older Americans that "allocation (of medical care) by age is not invidious discrimination." (The Lancet, January 2009) He calls this form of rationing - which is fundamental to Obamacare goals - "the complete lives system." You see, at 65 or older, you've had more life years than a 25-year-old. As such, the latter can be more deserving of cost-efficient health care than older folks.

No matter what Congress does when it returns from its recess, rationing is a basic part of Obama's eventual master health care plan. Here is what Obama said in an April 28 New York Times interview (quoted in Washington Times July 9 editorial) in which he describes a government end-of-life services guide for the citizenry as we get to a certain age, or are in a certain grave condition. Our government will undertake, he says, a "very difficult democratic conversation" about how "the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care" costs."

Hentoff understands that health care rationing is the heart of Obama's health care reform. "Death panels" sounds sensational, but rationing is the real issue.

As Frank S. Rosenblum recently put it: "We do not need health care reform. We have the best health care system in the world. We need health insurance reform." Surely this is the point. Ask 10 people what is wrong with the health care system in the US and 10 of them will say that the problem is that not everyone is covered. They might also mention the widespread problem of companies not covering pre-existing conditions and the difficulties involved in moving from one job to another. If one is a Democrat, he or she might say that the system is too costly as well. But the broad-based public support for health-care reform is really support for health-insurance reform. The world acknowledges that US health care is the best in the world. Americans know this: Rasmussen polls show that 68% of Americans rate their current health insurance as good or excellent.

Why then is Obama fixated on reforming health care itself and not zeroing in on the insurance-related problems? Or, to put it another way, why is Obama determined to use insurance-related problems as a pretext to change health care itself in dramatic ways?

The issue of getting a handle on out-of-control costs is often raised, but Americans who examine the programs already being run by the rederal government - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - are literally laughing in the faces of politicians who tell them that reform is necessary so the government can run health care more efficiently. Maybe if just one of those programs were being run efficiently, the people would take this strategy seriously.

People are not as stupid as the leftists running the Democratic Party apparently believe them to be. Even while clinging to their guns and religion, they can see that the only way to save serious money is by rationing and that means less care for some, namely the elderly.

They understand that the point of the so-called "public option" is for government to get its foot in the door and eventually force its will on private insurance companies by setting the bar for which services for whom will be covered and how much payments for certain procedures for whom will be. Democrats want the government wants to be the one deciding how much care those nearing the end of life shall receive so that costs can be controlled "rationally."

It is that word "rationally" that should scare the you-know-what out of you. "Rationally" was the Nazi watchword. A rational world wouldn't have any old sick people draining money out of the system; nor would it have any disabled people left alive or any terminally ill people of any age left to die naturally. None of that is "rational" from the perspective of the worldview of the Left.

Collectivism always tries to put government in the position of deciding who gets what and its view of equality involves centralized control to ensure that equality of outcome takes place. Collectivism is inherently totalitarian and only works when the control is centralized and concentrated in as few hands as possible. Hence, the "Death Panel" scenario is actually an accurate metaphor to use in describing such a system, regardless of picky debates over the wording of this or that clause and exactly what a given department of the bureaucracy will or won't do.

Obamacare is all about taking power that is currently dispersed among many health insurance companies and many employers and individuals and centralizing that power in the hands of the federal government, which will make it possible for collectivism to achieve its goals. In this sense, it is an example of socialism in practice.

Obamacare is fundamentally unjust and immoral. Not because it wants to ensure that all Americans are covered by health insurance; that would be a great goal to go after and it would win broad support. But because it is not primarily about health insurance reform, but rather it is about a collectivist, bureaucratic, rational approach to health care itself.