Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who Else Wants to Share?

Pull up a chair and get ready for some edification "Spirit of Vatican II style." (It could just as easily be "liberal Protestant style" or "Emergent Church style.")

Does Belief in God Lead to Theocracy?

Not only is the short answer "no;" the truth is that belief in God, as it has functioned in the West, is a bulwark against theocracy and totalitarianism.

Liberals continuously harp on the theme that the Religious Right (i.e. conservative Christians) are dangerous and scary because they want to impose a "theocracy." We see this theme in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and in the constant Marxist talking point that seeks to identify conservative with Fascists despite the fact that they could hardly be more different. Marci MacDonald's recent error-riddled book, The Armageddon Factor, is just one more example of this theme - which has pretty much become the conventional wisdom among liberals and those primarily influenced by a liberal media. Tasha Kheirriden feeds this beast with an article in the National Post entitled: "Religious Conservatism's Slippery Slope."

She correctly notes the role of belief in God in conservative thought when she writes:
But a belief in God is one of the original principles of the conservative worldview. It dovetails with other tenets, including the preference for tradition over reason. It also fits with conservatives’ exaltation of the “little platoons” of society – the family, the church, the local community organization – and, by extension, their opposition to big, godless government.
But is a religious movement founded on belief in God and rights given by our Creator (like the American Declaration of Independence for example), by virtue of that fact necessarily tilted toward theocracy? Kheirridin seems to think so:

But does loving the Lord mean that one should also legislate by Him? Isn’t that what Americans reproach theocracies the world over? When Islamic extremists cry “Allahu akhbar” (“God is great”) as they carry out their murderous rampages, don’t westerners decry them as fanatics? The answer is: yes, because they are, as are any leaders who invoke an infallible being as justification for murder or tyranny.

Faith will always have a place in politics. The views and values of religious constituencies must be taken into account when making law and leading a nation. The failed attempts of communists to replace God with government show that the state cannot snuff out individual belief – or the individual’s right to believe.

But rule by deity is just as destructive as deifying the state. Ultimately, both would curtail freedom in the name of a higher, unaccountable power. American conservatives and their leaders need to be mindful of that slippery slope, as they pack up their tea cups, head home from D.C., and turn toward November.

Notice how smoothly she sidelines religion by privatizing it: the problem with Communism, she thinks, that is that it tried to snuff out individual belief. They should have let religious people be religious in private as individuals. But this is not what conservatives have in mind when they suggest that belief in God is the foundation of a free society. No, what conservatives like Solzhenitsyn, for example, think is that belief in God is foundational to limited government and individual liberty.

The idea is that there are certain rights that are not given by government and therefore cannot be taken away by government (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) and that there are certain forms of human life (the family, the church) which were not invented by government and can only be recognized (not altered or abolished) by government. In this political philosophy, government is not absolute or all-powerful. The separation of church and state is an essential doctrine in constitutional democracy because when church and state come together the resulting State becomes totalitarian. But the separation of church and state does not logically entail the separation of God and the state.

In a theocracy, a religious organization or institution claims the exclusive right to speak on behalf of God and impose its own beliefs and laws on everyone else - as in Iran since 1979 for example. Conservative Christians in the US (in case you hadn't noticed) are very big on the Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence. Their deeply held belief in individual liberty and the separation of church and state fit nicely with their belief in natural law and the existence of a Creator. They completely reject the secularist idea that the founding documents of the US create a slippery slope to theocracy and instead believe (with good reason) that they support limited government, representative democracy, and individual freedom. On the contrary, the secular/atheist approach that privatizes religion and denies God opens the door to the all-powerful, totalitarian, secular State, which is as bad as theocracy.

The whole idea that the minute someone mentions "God" we are inches away from sliding into theocracy is simple-minded. Belief in God as the foundation of the moral order and belief in constitutional government and the separation of church and state is what makes conservatism a bulwark against theocracy. Those who actually fear theocracy should get a grip on where the real threat to constitutional government, civil liberties and freedom of religion really emanates from and it is not the US Christian "Religious Right." It is from Islam and Marxism: the two ideologies that have actually created and maintained totalitarian governments in the 20th century.

Conservative Christians are sworn enemies of all totalitarianism and theocracy. To keep on accusing them of being on a slippery slope to theocracy is just classic propaganda: take what people fear about you and attribute it to your opponents. If a lie is big enough and repeated often enough, many people will end up believing it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Is Obama a Christian?

A recent poll found that 18% of Americans now believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. That was up from 11% who said so in March. The same poll also showed that the number who think he is a Christian fell from 48% to 34% during the same time frame. A total of 48% (the largest group) said they did not know what religion he is. So that means that 66% of Americans either think he is a Muslim or they are not sure what his religion is. This seems, on the face of it, to be pretty incredible. (The poll did not measure what percentage of his liberal base thinks that Obama is a god, although there clearly are a fair number of true believers among the mainstream media.)

However, George Neumeyer at the American Spectator, provides some background that may help to put these surprising results in perspective in an interesting piece entitled "A Relativist, Wrapped in a Muslim, Inside an Agnostic."

Why does a significant chunk of the American electorate think Obama is a Muslim? Let's count some of the reasons: he speaks of his "Muslim roots," says he hails from "generations of Muslims," was born to a line of Muslim males and given by them an Arabic name, went to a Muslim school in Islamic Indonesia, speaks glowingly of Islam whenever he gets the chance, holds a Ramadan dinner in the White House, tells his NASA head to turn the space agency into a Muslim outreach program, and last but not least insults doctrinal Christians routinely.

The voice of the people is the voice of God, the pander bears and demagogues of the left usually say. But not on this one. With great impatience they have appeared on cable shows this week to lecture the American people on Obama's "real" religion. Has the left-wing chattering class ever been more eager to pronounce a president Christian?

The American public hasn't seen this level of hyperactive defensiveness from them, or what they would call a "teachable moment," since that terribly insensitive New Yorker cover depicting Obama in a turban. Or was it the time that Hillary Clinton slyly said that Obama isn't a Muslim "as far as" she knew? Or was it the time the Hillary campaign allegedly sent to the Drudge Report an image of Obama in Muslim garb? Or when Hillary-consultant Mark Penn's offensive memos leaked out saying that he couldn't "imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values"?

So what is Obama?

So what religion is Obama? Probably the most generous description of Obama's elusive religious identity, should one take him at "his word" as it appears in his slippery memoirs and speeches, is that he's neither Muslim nor Christian; he's something else. His late mother, whom he once called a "Christian from Kansas" but actually was a non-believing anthropologist from Kansas, would have found classifying him tricky too. But perhaps he can be clinically described as a practicing agnostic, with deep roots in and sympathy for Islam, who views his now-professed, politically necessary religion with barely concealed disdain while allowing himself from time to time bursts of syncretistic sophistry and quasi-religious uplift.

- snip -
His de facto culture war with Christianity is of more interest to him than the real and ongoing one with radical Islam. He is the Harvard agnostic and dilettante who stands above all religions, save Islam, and judges their "rationality" and usefulness to the utopia to come. Islam is an intrinsically peaceful religion by his lights, while Christianity, unless it assumes the platform of the Democratic Party and sees Jesus as a forerunner to Saul Alinsky, is dangerously bigoted and an impediment to "progress."
- snip -

The more irrational a religion, the more Obama-style "rationalists" and relativists like it, and if the religion is non-western their enthusiasm grows still more. Obama's gushing about Islam stems not only from his "roots" but also from the western agnosticism to which he essentially converted: relativists quietly admire the rupture in the relationship between religion and reason in Islamic culture because they engineered a similar rupture in their own.
Radical Islam and relativism take different routes of irrationality -- the former adopts "faith" without reason while the latter adopts "reason" without faith -- but come out on the same trail of blood: a culture of death, with daily abortions in the west, suicide bombings in the east, and a "leader of the free world," who reads secularist propaganda at the Huffington Post with memory's ear cocked to the "call of the azaan," blind to both.
This is brilliant. Everybody who has been observing the unholy alliance between radical Islam and the Western Left in Europe for the past 40 years and lately in America as well has been asking what is the common factor in the two seemingly disparate phenomena. Neumeyer has nailed it; it is irrationality.

Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that Islam needs to engage with reason and was answered by violence and shouting. Suicide bombings and abortion are both inherently unreasonable and self-destructive for the cultures which practice them.

Seldom has a leader embodied the Leftist-Muslim link in his own person quite like Obama. It's no wonder people have a hard time believing he is a Christian.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

David Fitch on Homosexuality: Where is He Heading?

David Fitch has written a number of posts on the issue of homosexuality. I can't begin to summarize everything he has to say it; he seems to have an awful lot to say about it - for whatever reason. But since I made an off-hand reference to him in a previous post and got some push back, I thought I should clarify what I am saying and not saying about him and why I'm concerned for a brother theologian. So I'll try to give a thicker description of what I see as problems in what he has been writing lately and why.

In a post entitled: "Women in Ministry and the Gay/Lesbian Question: The Post-Evangelical Terrain As I See It" Fitch sets out to address the issues of the ordination of women and homosexuality together and map out how the Emergent Church and the Neo-Reformed approach them in order to set the stage for his own "Hegelian synthesis" position that transcends them both while retaining the strengths of each: The Neo-Anabaptist Missional position. He characterizes the Neo-Reformed position as "No Women in Ministry/Not Affirming to Gay/Lesbian Sexual Relationships" and the Emergent position as "Yes to Women in Ministry/Affirming of Gay/Lesbian Sexual Relationships."

In a post entitled "On Being Missional with the Gay/Lesbian Peoples Among Us" Fitch writes:
Is it possible to “be Missional” among the gay/lesbian communities without a clear affirmative stance towards GLBT relations? Said another way – Is it possible to participate in “God’s Mission” in today’s world while making a clear statement that would not affirm GBLT sexual relations as normative for the Kingdom of God? Many would flat out say “no.” For many, to be missional/emerging is to not only accept but affirm gay and lesbian sexual relations as normative. Any other position is judgmental, positivistic (even primitivistic) towards Scripture and sets us apart and over against the gay and lesbian communities among whom we seek to minister God’s grace.

Although I may agree with some of this, I find myself still at odds with many of the underlying assumptions that drive these conclusions. I’m asking for a rethinking of this question for Mission.

I have been unhappy with the evangelical proto-type response to the gay/lesbian communities in United States. There has been a “sick enjoyment” present in pointing to the sin of GLBT sexual relations on behalf of evangelicals. It’s a defensive and protective reaction. Many times, subtly, the gay/lesbian is used as an object to justify our sense of moral status which so often proves duplicitous. It is like pointing to the sin of the gay/lesbian sexualities enables us to cover up our own deep complicity with the same sexual malformation in ourselves.
Here Fitch accepts the story that the pro-homosexual activists and their liberal Protestant fellow-travelers tell in order to label and dismiss Evangelicals. This narrative is full of gratuitous assumptions about our motivations and is highly judgmental. Yet we are asked to accept it in order to avoid being labeled as judgmental! Sorry, no dice. This is not a fair description of Evangelicals or Roman Catholics or the Bible or the entire Christian tradition up to 1960 - all of which have viewed homosexual acts as sinful, disordered and unnatural.

After rejecting the Emergent approach as simply accepting of homosexual acts, Fitch proposes a third way:
This leads me to put forth what I see as a third option to the above two options (as I have admittedly stereotyped them). Over against position 1.) which “welcomes but does not affirm” (common among the Neo Reformed missionals), and position no. 2 which “welcomes and affirms”(an admittedly simplistic summary of many in the pEC) I propose a 3rd position, the position of “welcomes and transforms.”
In a post entitled "The Mission and GLBTQ Relations: Three Committments of a Welcoming and Mutually Transforming Missional Community #1" Fitch fleshes out what this third way would look like as follows:
I want to propose that such a sexually redemptive community is based on three commitments that reflect the embodied (incarnational) posture of such a community in the world.
1.) We All Come Broken
2.) We Make No Pre-Set Public Statements on What We are For or Against in Sexual Relations (please do not jump to conclusions on this).
3.) We Embody Spiritual Disciplines that Nurture the Life in Christ for God’s Mission in the World including Listening, Reading Scripture Together, Confession of Sin, Repentance, Dependence Upon the Spirit and other practices that affirm Life, Sexuality, Friendships, Creation and place them all within what God is Doing for Restoring the world and Reconciling it to Himself (missio Dei).
Does Fitch really think that Reformed and Evangelical churches do not acknowledge and embody #1 so that a new approach has to be invented to include it? Apparently so.
The biggest problem with the evangelical church’s witness regarding sexuality among our society, nevermind among the GLBTQ, is that we ask others to change their sexual behavior without seeing the duplicity in our own sexual behaviors and orientations. We therefore come into a context, whatever its sexual issues are, from a power position, claiming everyone else is screwed up but us. This defies the incarnational logic of Christ, and the way the Triune God works in the world in Christ by the Spirit.
Again, what we have is a gross caricature of the traditional position. I have never personally seen an Evangelical church that deserved this description and it is the Reformed more than any others who stress that we are all sinners who stand equally before the foot of the cross in need of forgiveness. You can accuse Reformed and Evangelical preaching of a lot of short-comings but not that one. When Fitch writes this sort of stuff he sounds like he learned everything he knows about Evangelicals from reading books by John Spong and James Barr and by watching Kieth Olbermann on TV.

But it is #2 that really sets off alarm bells. We are not to proclaim that sexual sin is sin? Or are we? This is rather unclear. Fitch clearly says that he does not accept homosexual behavior as compatible with redeemed Christian life . . . so why does he say we should make no such statements in public? He apparently thinks that somehow playing down our position on sexual morality until the outsider has come inside the Church will make it easier for the non-Christian to accept our view once we finally disclose it.

This is just weird because the first thing I thought of when I heard this was Robert Schuller and his approach to emphasizing the positive as his explanation for why he never preached on sin. The second thing I thought of was the seeker-sensitive approach to "re-branding" the church in a way that is less offensive to the secular person. And this is proposed as the way to be "Anabaptist" and "radical"? It is enough to make one's head spin.

I have a number of other problems with Fitch's mapping of the question.

1. For one thing, the perspective is too narrow. In reality, what Fitch calls the Neo-Reformed position is the Roman Catholic and Evangelical position and what he calls the Emergent position is the Liberal Protestant position. The Neo-Reformed position actually is the position of the entire Christian tradition until the past few decades when a heretical, doctrinally adrift, and culturally compliant, liberal Protestantism has gone completely off the rails and succumbed to a fit of cultural conformity in the name of "inclusion" and "relevance."

2. This leads to a second problem, which is that the truth is not necessarily half way between any two given positions. If you think that 2+2=4 and I contend that 2+2=104, it is totally incorrect to assume that the correct answer must be about 54. And when it comes to behavior that is emphatically and clearly condemned by Scripture, the mere fact that a doctrinally deviant group claims that Scripture is wrong does not compel a reasonable person to conclude that we ought to seek a compromise position between the two extremes. Fitch would likely claim that this is not what he is trying to do, but it seems that way when you read how he sets up the two extremes and tries to go down the middle.

3. A third problem is more of a quibble over language, but language does shape our assumptions and therefore is very important. He frames the debate as one of "women in ministry" even though the Neo-Reformed position actually leaves plenty of room for women to participate in ministry even while reserving the office of elder for men only. This overstates the actual Neo-Reformed position to the point of making it ridiculous and is thus skews the discussion.

4. Another problem I have with this approach is the way it takes the seems to take the whole idea of sexual "orientations" as a given without being critical of the idea of (1) defining people by their sexual preferences, which is inherently dehumanizing and (2) the idea of a fixed "orientation" that is equivalent to skin color, which is an incoherent concept and scientifically unproven. In essence, I am complaining that too much of the pro-homosexual rhetoric and talking points is accepted at face value as a starting point and this makes Fitch's position a less than serious discussion of homosexuality as a moral issue.

5. As an extension of the last point, I also think that Fitch takes the issue of homosexuality far too seriously. I am not saying that we should not take individual people who are struggling with homosexuality temptation seriously; on the contrary, we should love them and help them find healing and forgiveness through the transforming power of the Gospel. But I find the singling out of homosexuality from a vast array of other sexual sins as if there was something different about it that made it an exception to be troubling. In my experience, this lifting up of homosexuality as a special and exceptional sin is a prelude to coming round to a position of approving of it. Maybe David Fitch is on a journey toward doing that and maybe he is not. But I think we would be better off focusing on people as ordinary sinners made in God's image to whom the Gospel is addressed instead of accepting their self-description as "homosexuals."

Areas of Agreement:
I have been very critical so far in this post and I really need to bring this to a close. But let me just suggest two areas of agreement with Fitch and one suggestion for advancing this discussion.

1. I agree that the ordination of women and the normalizing of homosexuality belong together as part of one discussion. For a long time (over 20 years) I thought it was unproblematic to accept women's ordination and maintain the traditional position on homosexuality, but now I have changed my mind. I think that there is a good reason why these two issues have been linked right from the start of second wave feminism and the sexual revolution in the 1960s.

2. I agree that Evangelicals need a better theology of marriage and a better theological anthropology. I don't think the problem is with our doctrine of sin or our doctrine of sanctification, but I do think we have not done enough philosophical and theological work on these two issues. We have tended to rely on proof texts and leave the heavy theological lifting to the Anglicans. Unfortunately, the Anglicans, for the most part, have wandered so far off the reservation that no one is doing the philosophical and theological thinking that we need if we are to avoid being taken captive by worldly philosophies and heretical thought.

A Suggestion:
In view of the above weakness in Evangelical thought, I suggest that we take a long, hard look at John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Here is a biblical theology that can undergird the traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant natural law position on sexuality and marriage. And here is a challenge to the modern thought that underlies the individualism, hedonism and nihilism of the sexual revolution. The Theology of the Body is philosophically informed and theologically profound. It reinforces traditional sexual morality while simultaneously deepening its meaning and developing profound theological linkages to the doctrine of the Trinity and to implications of virtue for the doctrine of sanctification.

Maybe, if we turn our attention away from dead liberal Protestantism and emergent liberal wannabes, we can re-engage the deep riches of the theological tradition in such a way as to make people realize the shallowness and emptiness of the modern preoccupation with autonomy and self-fulfillment as the meaning of life.

Study Says That Atheist Doctors are More Likely to Kill You

Fr. Tim Finigan at the blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, has a very interesting article on a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics on the issue of how atheist doctors are more likely to commit euthanasia than non-atheists. It deserves to be quoted extensively and makes for fascinating reading.
The Journal of Medical Ethics recently published research by Clive Searle: "The role of doctors’ religious faith and ethnicity in taking ethically controversial decisions during end-of-life care." The full paper is only available to subscribers. (A doctor kindly forwarded me a copy to read but obviously I can't put it on the internet myself.) There is an abstract freely available online.

One of the findings of the research summarised in the abstract is that:
Independently of speciality, doctors who described themselves as non-religious were more likely than others to report having given continuous deep sedation until death, having taken decisions they expected or partly intended to end life, and to have discussed these decisions with patients judged to have the capacity to participate in discussions.
The reporting of this research has been subject to spin that Private Baldrick might describe as "like a very spinning thing." So the BBC reports: Religion may influence doctors' end-of-life care. The report offers the following reassurance:
While it is illegal to give drugs with the deliberate intention of ending someone's life, doctors may administer morphine or other medication to relieve pain or distress which may have the effect of shortening life - so-called deep sedation.
This rather ignores the finding of the research that non-religious doctors were in fact taking decisions that they "partly intended" to end life. Certainly this is supposed to be illegal according to the Mental Capacity Act. But we knew all along that the MCA would lead to doctors taking decisions that were intended to end life. This has been happening for quite some years now and the MCA has made it easier to get away with it.

The obvious conclusion that the MCA has in fact led to euthanasia by the back door is ignored in favour of subtly attacking doctors who do have a religious faith, implying that they do not take into account the patient's needs or best interests. In Britain today, it is accepted that a patient's "best interests" might be to die, whereas a doctor who believes in the sanctity of life, the hippocratic oath or other such unfashionable concepts might well consider that intending to end a patient's life is a perversion of any reasonable understanding of their "best interests." The spin given to the reporting of Clive Searle's research is a clear hint that "religious" doctors should be controlled and prevented from having so much influence in the palliative care of the dying.

At the Outside In blog by Catholic father, Michael Merrick, there is a good article analysing the BBC report: BBC: bringing Dignity to a death near you. Anglican Bishop Nick Baines also writes: Shock report: faith affects choices! fisking the BBC report. He makes the important point:
Conscious atheism or agnosticism should demonstrate equal consistency and be examined for inherent weakness in the same way as religious beliefs should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny. But, atheism cannot simply be assumed to be the neutral default position from which any other ‘belief’ is a dangerous deviation.
In fact, the full text of the research paper (not available on the internet without subscription) actually acknowledges this:
One potential response to the findings about the influence of religious faith is to suggest, as other have done, that religious doctors disclose their moral objections to certain procedures to patients so that patients can choose other doctors if they wish. This assumes that religiosity is the ‘exception’ to be set against the non-religious ‘norm’. It is equally plausible to argue that non-religious doctors should confess their predilections to their patients.
Despite this important qualification in the paper itself, the British Medical Association said:
The religious beliefs of doctors should not be allowed to influence objective, patient-centred decision-making. End-of-life decisions must always be made in the best interests of patients.
Following Bishop Baines, we should require that the BMA recognise that the atheist beliefs of doctors should not be allowed to influence objective, patient-centred decision-making. Particularly when they are nearly twice as likely to kill you intentionally on request as the research finds.
It is high time that the moral implications of atheism be examined and the effect of atheism on the behavior of professionals in our society be taken into account and not assumed to be "normal" or "neutral." Atheism is, in fact, a social scourge.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Crusades Cannot Be Compared to Jihad

It is an article of faith on the left, a standard interpretation of Western history, a big lie repeated over and over again in textbooks, newspapers, articles, blog posts and conversations: the crusades were worse than any Muslim violence and aggression in history. This is false and misleading. It is a line I fell for in my book, Rethinking Christ and Culture, and I now want to correct the record.

This is an excellent article which summarizes the facts of history concisely and precisely: "Enough is Enough: The Crusades and the Jihad are Not Equivalents" by Joe Hargrave at the American Catholic blog. You can read the work of Rodney Stark or many contemporary medieval historians for yourself or you can get an introduction to the basic issues from this excellent little piece. Let me summarize some of the main points here, but by all means please read Hargraves' post for yourself.

First, the crusades were a defensive reaction to Muslim invasion of the Holy Land and continental Europe itself. Muslims did invade, conquer and occupy by force many Christian lands including North Africa and Asia Minor. It is crucial to remember that it was the Muslims who were the aggressors and it was the Europeans who fought defensive wars for the first 1000 years of the rivalry between Islam and Christendom.

Second, when Europeans committed atrocities, such as pogroms against Jews, they acted against the teachings of their religion, whereas when the Muslims did so they acted in accordance with the teachings of their religion.

Third, Christianity has advanced over the last 1000 years and does not advocate religious violence today, whereas Islam has not advanced in a similar way and the militant and violent strains of Islam are growing not declining.

Fourth, the goals of the Crusades did not include forced conversion of Muslims to Christianity, whereas the many Islamic jihads in history have had as stated policy their intention to make conditions as harsh for non-converts as possible in order to coerce conversion to Islam.

Fifth, the Crusades ultimately failed and the forces of Islam invaded Europe occupying Spain and southern Italy and eventually failing to conquer Europe only because of European victories at Vienna in 1529 and 1683. This was a resumption of the attempt to invade Europe that was turned back by Charles Martel in 732 at Tours, France.

Sixth, it was only in the so-called "Age of Enlightenment" when anti-Christian atheism had gripped the European mind that Europe actually invaded and colonized the Middle East and North Africa. Secularism and atheism are more to blame for Western colonialism than Christianity, which has worked to mitigate many of the evils of colonialism (eg. the abolition of slavery).

In this light of these facts, the leftist slander of Christendom and whitewashing of Islam needs to be corrected and reversed.

Remembering St. Augustine on the Anniversary of His Death

St. Augustine died on August 28, 430 AD in Hippo, North Africa. Fr. Z has an interesting post here on where the bones of the great North African doctor of the Church reside today and how they got from Hippo to there.

Thank God for this man of great spiritual insight and wisdom. I hope to get to Pavia in northern Italy one of these days to see the church where the earthly remains of one of the greatest theologians of the Church reside.

The West Needs to Start Taking Islamist Terrorism Seriously

The Toronto Star has been reporting yesterday and today about the Islamic terrorism cell that has been busted in Ontario that was said to be months away from exploding bombs and murdering innocent Canadians. The Star, of course, is a reliably left-wing advocacy paper so its reporting follows the standard leftist-Islamist slant. Part of that slant is seen in the following paragraph, which was inserted into a story on terrorist recruitment:

Imam Hamid Slimi, Chair of the Canadian Council of Imams, says he would like to see the end of what he calls the “demonization of Muslims.”

“Unfortunately, when a man is arrested with a machete and chainsaw on the highway in Toronto it’s not called terrorism . . . but when a Muslim person does something it’s Islam, it’s terrorism,” he said.

This is boilerplate Islamist apologetics because it seeks to advance the narrative that Islamist terrorist events from 9/11 on down are just random acts of violence similar to a crazed nut on the highway with a chain saw. They are just individuals who crack for some unknown reason and unleash a torrent of violence on their neighbor for no rational reason. They are just isolated individuals whose actions have nothing to do with the mosques they attended, the ideology promulgated by the Islamists, the theology of Islam or (heaven forbid) the teachings of Mohammed himself.

This is a narrative that Islamists and their leftist fellow-travelers want you to swallow. Stated baldly like this, of course, it is blatantly contradicted by the facts. The men arrested in this case were plotting over a long period of time, not suddenly cracking. They had been "radicalized," that is, propagandized into accepting Islamist ideology. They were acting with a political goal in mind, not just trying to perpetrate violence randomly and irrationally. Some of them, it appears, had been to Yeman for training. (You don't get "trained" to snap and commit random acts of violence for no rational reason.)

But it is important for people with the worldview that drives the Toronto Star to keep on spinning the news in a certain direction. Islamist terrorists are no different that estranged husbands who suddenly shoot their wives, children and themselves or nuts who stalk and kill for a thrill. They are insane individuals with no real ideology or political agenda.

This is propaganda. This is false. And this is dangerous because if we as a society do not face up to the ideology and political goals that drive Muslim terrorists to act the way they do and act decisively to combat their ideology and defeat their political goals, then we will lose this battle. It is not just the terrorists who need to be defeated by good police work; it is the funding sources that support them, the theology that undergirds them and the networks of religious leaders and organizations that breed them that we need to understand. The first step to addressing Islamist terror is to understand that it is rational, ideological and political not irrational, random and individualistic. The theology that drives the determination to impose Sharia Law on Western countries must be delegitimized and refuted either by moderate Muslims or Christians or both .

What we are doing is the equivalent of sending out the park wardens to shoot the crocodile every time one eats a tourist. Instead, we need to be draining the swamp. The swamp is not Islam as a whole, but it is bigger than just a few isolated terrorists here and there. Part of our dilemma is that we don't have good conceptual tools or a good enough understanding of Islamic history, theology and law to make the proper distinctions between those who make up the breeding ground for terror and those who are just trying to make a life for themselves in the West. More propaganda that ignores the political, ideological and theological motivations of the terrorists is the last thing we need.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Justice is Not Enough

Jim Wallis continues to confuse the definition of justice. In a blog post on Martin Luther King as a social justice Christian, he offers this statement.
This is why in the Old Testament, God commands his people to be charitable but also to work for justice. The people of God are to give offerings of their own free will, but there are also laws that show the government has a legitimate role to play. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus changes people's hearts and lives, and that is something that government policy can never compete with. But, I also believe that personal charity does not do the work of justice.
There is a lot of confusion packed into this one little paragraph so let's take the points one at a time.

1. Justice is rendering to each one his due. So when rich people oppress poor people by bribing judges to render unjust rulings and take their land, for example, that is an example of how working for justice can help the poor. (See Amos, for example.) We should be all for this kind of justice. But Wallis is clearly going beyond this definition of justice in what he calls "social justice."

2. When Wallis says that the government "has a role to play" in the OT, he subtly implies that that role might be a redistributive role, yet the OT does not say that. The OT concern is that the government be honest and uncorrupted so that each one gets what is his due. This concern is not the total answer to the problem of poverty because poverty has other causes than simply injustice or oppression of the poor by the rich.

The poor also get poorer sometimes by themselves without being oppressed by anyone. This is why the Wisdom literature, especially Proverbs, emphasizes the virtues of hard work and condemns sloth. Also, there are many life exigencies such as illness or the desertion of his family by a father that can cause poverty that have nothing directly to do with the government. Many of these situations are best addressed by civil society at a lower level than that of the central government.

3. When Wallis says that charity is not sufficient and that a social welfare state is necessary he is making a prudential political judgment and reading his view into the OT. That is not what the OT teaches. When the OT commands charity, it addresses the individual. It never says that the king should raise taxes and redistribute the proceeds to the poor; in fact, increased taxation by the king is always seen as a form of oppression in the OT. It was one of the things Samuel warned Israel about when Israel unwisely demanded a king.

4. For Wallis, personal charity is insufficient because his vision is a high-tax, welfare state and in such a state individual giving to charity always goes down instead of up. His big government preference, however, is the main factor in depressing individual charitable giving and so his prophecy becomes a self-fulfilling one to the extent that his leftist ideology prevails.

In conclusion, Wallis wants to create a hybrid out of a fusion of justice and charity called "social justice" which is neither just or charitable. It is a continuation of the centralizing power of the monarchy that proved fatal to Israel as a nation in the OT and which was condemned by the 8th century prophets. It involves government unjustly appropriating the wealth of ordinary people in order to redistribute it to those whom government bureaucrats deem to be more in need of it. It squeezes out charity and discourages hard work and productivity.

For Wallis, the term "social justice" is indistinguishable from socialism. There is a legitimate Roman Catholic tradition of social justice teaching which developed in conscious opposition to socialism, which is very different. Unfortunately, such subtle distinctions as the meaning of justice, the meaning of the principle of subsidiarity, and the on-going necessity of charity seem to be lost on Wallis. He is the kind of progressive for whom "progress" ultimately leads to socialism, tyranny, poverty, and the loss of individual freedom and responsibility before God.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Islamophobia is Mostly Hype

Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online doses the "Islamophobia fever" exhibited by the excitable Left with a cold splash of facts.
According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims increased by a staggering 1,600 percent in 2001. That sounds serious! But wait, the increase is a math mirage. There were 28 anti-Islamic incidents in 2000. That number climbed to 481 the year a bunch of Muslim terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans in the name of Islam on Sept. 11.

Now, that was a hate crime.

Regardless, 2001 was the zenith or, looked at through the prism of our national shame, the nadir of the much-discussed anti-Muslim backlash in the United States — and civil libertarians and Muslim activists insisted it was 1930s Germany all over again. The following year, the number of anti-Islamic hate-crime incidents (overwhelmingly, nonviolent vandalism and nasty words) dropped to 155. In 2003, there were 149 such incidents. And the number has hovered around the mid-100s or lower ever since.

Sure, even one hate crime is too many. But does that sound like an anti-Muslim backlash to you?

Let’s put this in even sharper focus. America is, outside of Israel, probably the most receptive and tolerant country in the world to Jews. And yet, in every year since 9/11, more Jews have been hate-crime victims than Muslims. A lot more.

In 2001, there were twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim, according to the FBI. In 2002 and pretty much every year since, anti-Jewish incidents have outstripped anti-Muslim incidents by at least 6 to 1. Why aren’t we talking about the anti-Jewish climate in America?

Where does this "right-wing backlash" hysteria come from? It is propaganda, pure and simply. It is a way of silencing conservatives who raise legitimate questions about what it means to be a moderate Muslim. Of course only a few Muslims practice terrorism, but that does not mean that there is not a large group in addition to the actual terrorists who want to impose totalitarian Sharia law on every country possible. The Left ignores this - to its own peril.

There are millions of Muslims who want to live in the West under secular law and accept the separation of mosque and state. But we betray them when we treat Muslims who want to impost Sharia law, subjugate women and murder apostates from Islam as moderates. They are closer to the terrorists than to law-abiding, peace-loving, ordinary Muslims. The reason the latter type of Muslims love to move to the West is precisely because Islamophobia is a myth and we have genuine religious freedom - unlike the places they are fleeing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Africa to Evangelize Heathen Europe and North America: It's About Time!

Bravo for Henry Orombi, the head of the Anglican Church of Uganda, who recently called for African Christianity to take the Gospel back to the part of the world that originally brought it to Africa but has now lost its way.
Eschewing homosexuality, the leader of Uganda's Anglican Church of 10.2 million Anglicans says African Anglican leaders are poised to take the gospel back to Europe and North America.

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi told 400 African Anglicans bishops in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and Uganda's Prime Minister that there is a hunger for the Word of God in England where he recently spoke to 17,000 people. "I called back home to send missionaries to America and Europe to take back the gospel from these sending nations. It is an ailing church in need of guidance."

Addressing delegates to the All Africa Bishops conference sponsored by CAPA - the Council of Anglican provinces of Africa, Orombi said, "We must be free to go to Europe and to the Mother Church [CofE] desperate for the gospel."

At a later press conference Orombi elaborated on this theme saying that the faith from whence it came [Europe] is now so corrupt, that the African church has a responsibility to go to the outside world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Isn't it exciting the way he gives us a post-colonialist, view from underneath to challenge our Euro-centric preoccupation with sexual hedonism. But the news is his forthright words about the corrupt West. Obviously, when Western missionaries took the Gospel to Africa they unleashed a force that quickly evolved out of their control.

If Africa were embracing the same old, tired, worn-out cultural conformism as the Western liberal Protestants are then we it would still be a colonial project under the direct control of the West. Instead, however, African Christianity is finding freedom in the wide river of historic orthodoxy while Western liberal Christianity trudges up a narrow side creek where it will eventually peter out and die.

Brian McLaren Interviewed by Scot McKnight

The following interview of Brian McLaren by Scot McKnight at a recent conference is an interesting opportunity to hear McLaren's answers to three pre-approved questions. McKnight does not really debate or dialogue with McLaren: he just reads the questions. So it is really like a structured speech by McLaren.

What I found interesting was the way in which McLaren obfuscates on doctrine and sounds the clarion call with utter clarity on social work and politics. He expresses frustration with those who read him to see if his views are compatible with biblical truth saying that when he is in the presence of people like that it feels like the inquisition. He advocates reading an author for what one can get out of it rather than to see if the author is orthodox, which is to present a false dilemma between two kinds of reading with two different purposes - both of which are perfectly legitimate. To suggest that only one way of reading is legitimate when one has been accused of teaching false doctrine is pretty self-serving and question-begging.

He says he was "stunned" that people could read his book, Everything Must Change, and then ask questions about the doctrine of the atonement - as if to think of a question on atonement after reading a book about Jesus is somehow surprising. He says "I talked about war, I talked about poverty, I talked about the environment - and all they wanted to talk about was atonement theory." The scorn in his voice here is crystal clear: how provincial and uncaring these people must be! Yet, if the greatest need of the poor is to know Jesus and the eternal salvation he offers, then it is cruel and unfeeling to place socialist ideology above the spiritual needs of poor people. Yet this is what he does - and then calls his critics uncaring because they object to his rejection of the penal substitution doctrine of the atonement, which is the heart of the gospel.

The discussion on universalism in the third part is not very interesting to me because I don't think we can know or are supposed to know whether it is somehow possible that more than we think will end up saved. All we know from Scripture is that eternal punishment is eternal and some are eternally punished. To go beyond this is dangerous. But it is interesting to see McLaren dancing around the question like a politician who knows he will lose votes if he gives a clear answer no matter which side he comes down on. It simply reinforces the impression that theology qua theology is not very interesting to McLaren; it is simply a tool that can be used to motivate certain people to embrace left-wing positions.

Answering a question about whether some of the things he writes are "provocatively ambiguous" McLaren compares his approach to that of Soren Kierkegaard, who said that when you are talking to people who are in the grip of an illusion, who are wrong but don't know they are wrong, it is difficult to be indirect. This shows what McLaren thinks of his "theological critics." Of course, it is not the liberals who criticize his theology; they have no problem with his theology because it leads him to agree with them on what they deeply care about: namely, politics. But conservatives are the ones who are concerned about possible false teaching and McLaren shows very little patience for them in this interview. They are the ones who are in the grip of an illusion and are so obviously wrong even though they can't see it. And why is he so sure they are wrong? Because they don't accept his leftist views on politics and ethics.

When asked about whether his rejection of "the Greco-Roman narrative" in A New Kind of Christianity does not contradict his affirmation of the faith of the Christian Church in Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren proceeds to redefine the word "faith." In so doing he sounds a lot like Rudolph Bultmann insofar as he makes a distinction between "faith" as trust and dependence on God and "faith" in the sense clearly meant in the question, which was "faith" in the sense of the main teachings of Christianity: the Gospel and the cardinal doctrines flowing from and supporting the Gospel. McLaren makes a great point of affirming the need for "faith" in the Bultmannian sense, which Evangelicals would not deny, but fails to go to affirm the importance of the Biblical Gospel and major doctrines that flesh out the Gospel, which would be just as important to Evangelicals as "faith" in the sense of trust.

McLaren shows a tendency here to view doctrine in a pragmatic manner; true doctrine is doctrine which leads those who hold it to take up a properly left-wing political stance. False doctrine is any doctrine that leads people to oppose left-wing politics. Doctrine is not true or false in itself; it becomes true or false only when its political outcomes are observed.

McLaren is not shy about specifying who in church history is right and who is wrong. He lists St. Patrick as over against Constantine, St. Francis as over against the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in their colonial era and their crusading era. He also identifies with the approach taken by the Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation and in the modern era with movements like the Social Gospel, Liberation Theology, Black Theology, Latino Theology, Feminist and Eco Theologies and so on. Ironically, he gives this list of the "Good Guys" right after criticizing those who look in the Church for only one line of purity stretching down through church history. One wonders if he really objects to the methodology or the conclusions because he seems to be utilizing the same methodology by constructing his "alternative history" of what I suppose could be termed "counter-orthodoxy."

If you don't want to invest the time in reading his books, this 18 minute video is an excellent way to acquaint yourself with his main ideas in a first hand way in a short time.

Q | Conversations on Being a Heretic from Q Ideas on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jim Wallis Admits Taking Donations from Soros after Calling Marvin Olasky a Liar for Telling the Truth

Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today has a post on the Jim Wallis mini-scandal. It turns out that Wallis has been getting funding from billionaire leftist George Soros, who funds dozens of ultra-leftist organizations including pro-abortion, pro-same-sex "marriage" groups and faux "Catholic" groups that promote abortion and seek to fool Catholics into voting for Obama. It comes as no surprise that he has been helping Sojourners given its role of trying to fool Evangelicals into voting for Obama.

But the scandal is not so much that Sojourners got money from him - although he is one unsavory source of funding for a supposedly Christian organization - but that Wallis lied about it when he was accused of taking money from Soros.

Bailey quotes Marvin Olasky, who made the accusation:
Jim Wallis has admitted that Sojourners has received funding in the past from liberal billionaire George Soros' Open Society Institute.

Last month, Marvin Olasky asked Wallis to admit his affiliations on the left when reported on the money from Soros in World magazine.

George Soros, one of the leading billionaire leftists—he has financed groups promoting abortion, atheism, same-sex marriage, and gargantuan government—bankrolled Sojourners with a $200,000 grant in 2004. A year later, here's how Jim rebutted a criticism of "religious progressives" for being allied with Soros and MoveOn.org: "I know of no connections to those liberal funds and groups that are as direct as the Religious Right's ties to right-wing funders."

Since then Sojourners has received at least two more grants from Soros organizations. Sojourners revenues have more than tripled—from $1,601,171 in 2001-2002 to $5,283,650 in 2008-2009—as secular leftists have learned to use the religious left to elect Obama and others.

Apparently, shilling for Obama has been lucrative for Sojourners in its latest incarnation as a front organization for the Democratic Party: 5 million per year is not bad. Later, Wallis doubled down on his deceptive claim that he was a pure as the driven snow.

In a Patheos interview, Wallis suggested that Olasky was lying.

“It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros. Given the financial crisis of nonprofits, maybe Marvin should call Soros and ask him to send us money.

“So, no, we don’t receive money from George Soros. Our books are totally open, always have been. Our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners. That’s where it comes from. In fact, we’ve had funding blocked, this year and last, by liberal foundations who didn’t like our stance on abortion. Other liberal groups were happy to point out to them that our stance wasn’t kosher on abortion, so our funding was blocked.

“So tell Marvin he should check his facts, and not imitate Glenn Beck.”

It is kind of interesting how obsessed Jim Wallis is with Glenn Beck; Beck has obviously gotten into his head in a serious way. But it certainly wasn't very nice of Wallis to call Marvin Olasky a liar. Bailey quotes Olasky's response to Wallis' accusation:

Jay Richards of National Review and Olasky responded to Wallis. Here's Olasky again:

Want to see for yourself what someone apparently did not want you to see? Click here to download the PDF, go to page 225, and you’ll see the grant to Sojourners.

You can also see the 2006 grant by downloading the 990-PF for that year and going to page 125. And by the way, look at page 114 of the 990-PF for 2007: another $100,000 grant to Sojourners “to support the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign.”

Unfortunately for Sojourners and Wallis, the web pages did not disappear quickly enough. Bailey notes:

Wallis released a statement through a spokesperson to Patheos.

I should have declined to comment until I was able to review the blog post in question and consulted with our staff on the details of our funding over the past several years. Instead, I answered in the spirit of the accusation and did not recall the details of our funding over the decade in question. The spirit of the accusation was that Sojourners is beholden to funders on the political left, which is false. The allegation concerned three grants received over 10 years from the Open Society Institute that made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners' funding during that decade -- so small that I hadn't remembered them.

That is one mealy-mouthed admission of guilt. There is no apology to Olasky and a lame attempt to justify himself while taking a feeble shot at conservatives in the process. No CEO of a non-profit would "forget" about a $200,000 donation from a foundation when his total budget was less than 2 million dollars. Jim Wallis has come a long way - or fallen a long way depending on your point of view.

It is now impossible to regard Sojourners as anything more than a front organization for the secular Left and the Democratic Party that has been seized by Leftist extremists.

For more details on the disappearing web pages, see Jay Richards' article at National Review Online entitled "Why is Jim Wallis Denying That He Received Grants From Deep-Pocketed Leftists Like George Soros?"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens, brother of famous new atheist Christoper Hitchens, has written a moving, lyrical and clear-sighted memoir of his journey from atheism to Christian faith. He has debated his brother publicly and takes this opportunity to clarify and elaborate on his arguments against the atheism espoused by the new atheists.

Peter Hitchens is a journalist who writes for the Mail on Sunday and a distinguished author, broadcaster and sometime foreign correspondent who lived for three years in Moscow during the fall of Communism in that country.

One of the best features of this book is that it is written by someone deeply concerned about politics and not by a philosopher concerned with highly abstract, logical arguments for or against the existence of God. As a result, this book deals with the "So what?" question of what difference belief in God makes for politics, ethics, culture and human life.

I have thought for years that the difference between the atheism of the 18th century Enlightenment and the 20th century movement dubbed "the New Atheism" is that the older movement was really about epistemological and metaphysical questions while the newer one is really about politics. The New Atheism is part of the "long march" of cultural Marxism through Western institutions by which the socialists hope to undermine the resistance of Western civilization to the imposition of Marxism collectivism on a free people. Peter Hitchens' book confirms this hypothesis and fortifies my conviction that the New Atheists must be confronted on the level of morality and politics and not merely on the level of logic and philosophical debate. As a former Marxist himself, he is familiar from the inside with the role atheism play in Marxist thought.

Peter Hitchens trenchantly goes after those who claim not to be supporters of the Soviet Union even though they are Marxists and attempt to evade responsibility for the historical incarnations of their creed. Here is a passage which serves as a sample of his attack:
Any student of gullibility among the intelligent and worldly should study first of all the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb on the Soviet Union. Their perfectly enormous book Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? purports to be a respectable and carefully researched account of the USSR under Stalin. Its picture of a rational paradise of human progress is so wholly and completely false and can now be shown to be so at every turn by libraries full of records and by mountains of human skulls. Yet, on publication in the late 1930s it was generally regarded as a respectable work of scholarship and research. It is a sore shame that its authors did not live to see their work thoroughly shown up for what it was, a mass of self-deceiving lies. These lies served a filthy despotism, but perhaps more importantly encouraged the rational, materialist intellectuals of free nations in dangerous delusions, which still trouble us.

In realizing this we need to remember that the Webbs were not themselves revolutionary Marxists or even former Tortskyists, but gentle Fabian social democrats, believers in lawful, democratic process, in the inevitability of graduallism, honorable in their personal dealings, honest according to their own lights. They were kind to their domestic servants, modest in their lives, studious, responsible, and serious, by no means stupid or ill-educated or personally callous. (p. 167)
That such people could be unwitting dupes and enablers of some of the greatest evils the world has ever seen is surely a clear lesson to those who think that it is harmless to dabble in a little bit of fashionable leftism without taking the whole materialist, collectivist system seriously. Peter Hitchens admits that he himself was one of those "useful idiots" and "fellow travelers" who helped undermine Western civilization from within and his conversion represents hope for all those blinded by socialist ideology.

No one needs to learn this lesson more urgently than the typical liberal Protestant clergyman who likes to fancy himself a social democrat while functioning as an apologist for Marxist ideas that are antithetical to the theological, philosophical and political underpinnings of Western civilization and who has never met a left-wing policy he did not like. Such people undermine the faith from within and are the most dangerous heretics around simply because they appear to be so genuinely concerned about the poor and so kindhearted.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The War on Terror Should Be a War on Islamism

Andrew McCarthy has an important article, "It's About Sharia" in National Review Online, in which he discusses a speech that Newt Gringrich recently gave at the American Enterprise Institute on the jihad against the West that is currently underway.

McCarthy's recent book, The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America, is a fascinating look at the campaign for world domination that political Islam is waging and the complicity of Western leftists because of their anti-Christian bias. Perhaps Gingrich has been reading McCarthy's book or perhaps he has been dipping into the work of Melanie Philips or Jamie Glazov or Christopher Caldwell.

But whoever he has been reading, Gingrich seems to be the one re-focusing the debate in such a way as to face up to the reality of the threat we face to freedom.

The former speaker of the House gets the war on terror. For one thing, he refuses to call it the “war on terror,” which should be the entry-level requirement for any politician who wants to influence how we wage it. Gingrich grasps that there is an enemy here and that it is a mortal threat to freedom. He knows that if we are to remain a free people, it is an enemy we must defeat. That enemy is Islamism, and its operatives — whether they come as terrorists or stealth saboteurs — are the purveyors of sharia, Islam’s authoritarian legal and political system.

This being the Era of the Reset Button, Gingrich is going about the long-overdue business of resetting our understanding of the civilizational jihad that has been waged against the United States for some 31 years. It is the jihad begun when Islamists overran the American embassy in Tehran, heralding a revolutionary regime that remains the No. 1 U.S. security challenge in the Middle East, as Gingrich argued Thursday in a provocative speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

Liberals like to disguise the nature of the threat by various strategies. They peddle a Marxist interpretation of the reasons why people fly planes into buildings or blow up subways when they try to link such actions to the poverty of the third world and supposed rage over the neglect of the poor. Yet, the perpetrators do not sound like Marxists with their Islamic Supremicist rhetoric. Sometimes liberals, particularly the Obama administration, talk as if Islamic terrorist were just random acts of senseless violence committed by people who are insane or on drugs. There is no evidence to support this hypothesis whatsoever.

This is why it cannot be a war on "terror." Terror is a political tool and the Islamists have a political goal: the imposition of Sharia law on us.

The single purpose of this jihad is the imposition of sharia. On that score, Gingrich made two points of surpassing importance. First, some Islamists employ mass-murder attacks while others prefer a gradual march through our institutions — our legal, political, academic, and financial systems, as well as our broader culture; the goal of both, though, is the same. The stealth Islamists occasionally feign outrage at the terrorists, but their quarrel is over methodology and pace. Both camps covet the same outcome. Second, that outcome is the death of freedom. In Islamist ideology, sharia is deemed to be the necessary precondition for Islamicizing a society — for Islam is not merely a religious doctrine, but a comprehensive socio-economic and political system.
It is not responsible to call Islam a "religion of peace," as both Bush and Obama have done, when Muslims and Westerners mean two completely different things by that phrase. For Muslims, peace is what you get when all have submitted to the will of Allah as defined by the clerics in charge of the theocracy. For Westerners it means that Muslims live side by side with others in a pluralistic liberal democracy.

When people talk about "moderate Muslims" it is left unclear what is meant by the description. Those Muslims who want to impose Sharia on us and turn the West into an Islamic theocracy, but who think terrorism is counter-productive, are not the true moderates. They are fellow-travelers of the terrorists. True moderates are those Muslims who are willing to live in Western societies under Western law and reject the goal of imposing Sharia. They can be good Muslims and good citizens of Western countries as long as they agree to the separation of Mosque and State. Gingrich gets this:
The war is about the survival of Western civilization, and we should make no apologies for the fact that the West’s freedom culture is a Judeo-Christian culture — a fact that was unabashedly acknowledged, Gingrich reminded his audience, by FDR and Churchill. To ensure victory in the United States we must, once again, save Europe, where the enemy has advanced markedly. There is no separating our national security and our economic prosperity — they are interdependent. And while the Middle East poses challenges of immense complexity, Gingrich contended that addressing two of them — Iran, the chief backer of violent jihad, and Saudi Arabia, the chief backer of stealth jihad — would go a long way toward improving our prospects on the rest.

Most significant, there is sharia. By pressing the issue, Newt Gingrich accomplishes two things. First, he gives us a metric for determining whether those who would presume to lead us will fight or surrender. Second, at long last, someone is empowering truly moderate Muslims — assuming they exist in the numbers we’re constantly assured of. Our allies are the Muslims who embrace our freedom culture — those for whom sharia is a matter of private belief, not public mission. Our enemies are those who want sharia to supplant American law and Western culture. When we call out the latter, and marginalize them, we may finally energize the former.

Newt Gingrich, as McCarthy cogently argues, has set the agenda for the debate that will, in my opinion, go a long way toward toward determining the 2012 Presidential election.

Interview on Contraception

The Interim, Canada's Life and Family Newspaper, recently interviewed me on the subject of contraception. The interview is available on their website as "A Baptist's Opposition to Contraception." Joseph Jalsevac was the interviewer and he had great questions. I think the interview is a good beginning point for anyone who wants to reflect on contraception as a moral issue.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I'm off camping and canoeing for the next week, so blogging will be light or non-existent. I trust that you are getting some time in God's great outdoors this summer and some time away from traffic, noise and pollution. I'll be back the week of Aug. 15 and vacation will be over for this year. I'll deal with comments when I return.

How Same-sex "Marriage" is Changing Marriage

What does support for homosexual "marriage" mean? Many naive people assume that it simply means that the institution of marriage remains unchanged while people who were previously excluded from it are now included. This is wrong. In fact, the only way homosexual relationships can be considered as "marriage" is if marriage is re-defined drastically.

The re-definition of marriage did not start with the push for homosexual "marriage." It began with the rise of promiscuity, the widespread acceptance of contraception, the advent of no fault divorce and the acceptance of cohabitation as "equal" to marriage. This is just another step (maybe step 5 of 10) in the complete and total destruction of marriage as the basis of society.

Canada's re-definition of marriage in Bill C-38 leaves out permanency as an essential part of the definition of marriage in addition to making marriage into a union of any two persons. Next on the agenda is the weakening of monogamy as the ideal. An article by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman shows that this is well underway:
Forty-seven percent of gay couples in a recently published study said that they had "sex agreements" with their partners, which clarify how often and in what circumstances they are permitted to have sex with others. Only 45% said that their relationships were monogamous, while another 8% disagreed about whether their relationship was "open" or exclusive, according to an ongoing study by the Center for Research on Gender & Sexuality at San Francisco State University.

The Gay Couples Study said that the couples interviewed typically put a positive spin on "open" relationships, with three out of four participants describing non-monogamous agreements as "positive" because it eliminates the need to lie to one's partner.

The authors also claimed that, "we found that couples make sexual agreements because they want to build a strong relationship rather than for HIV protection."

"With straight people, it's called affairs or cheating," according to Colleen Hoff, the lead researcher for the Gay Couples Study, "but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations."

"Agreements about whether or not to allow sex with outside partners covered a wide range of types, including 'traditional' monogamous arrangements as well as those that permitted sex with outside partners," the study's authors write. "For those couples who allowed sex with outside partners, most placed rules or conditions limiting when, where, how often, and with whom outside sex was permitted."

The study's authors note that examining homosexual relationships is important because "previous research shows that gay and bisexual men in relationships engage in substantially higher rates of unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) with their primary partners than do single men with their casual partners."

Anal intercourse and other forms of homosexual behavior are associated with a variety of diseases and syndromes, including high rates of sexually transmitted diseases such AIDS, syphilis, and hepatitis, which homosexuals suffer at rates many times higher than the general population. It is also associated with damaged rectum linings and a variety of anal and intestinal diseases that were once known in the scientific literature as "gay bowel syndrome," until the term was dropped following pressure from homosexual activists.

The New York Times, writing about the study in January, before its release, noted that the study tends to vindicate those who have warned that homosexual "marriage" will lead to a redefinition of the institution itself, destroying its traditional meaning.

Noting that "gay nuptials are portrayed by opponents as an effort to rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony," the Times added that "quietly, outside of the news media and courtroom spotlight, many gay couples are doing just that," citing the Gay Couples Study. The Times also noted that the homosexuals they tried to interview were worried about what would happen to the gay "marriage" movement if the truth were known about homosexual behavior.
For once, the New York Times (even the New York Times!) gets it right. Read the rest here.

David Fitch thinks the Church should adopt a stance of "welcoming and mutually transforming" toward homosexuals and refrain from saying that homosexual behavior is wrong. He is basically adopting the position adopted by the Anglican Church of Canada in the 70s, which is a step toward embracing the heretical position the ACC takes today. The constant calls for "dialogue" and "listening" are really meant to facilitate desensitization toward sin and soften up the Church for the radical step of calling good what Scripture calls evil.

A reader asked me what I thought of Fitch's position. I have read four or five of his posts and I think the whole trend of his thought is just a replay of the thought process through which liberal Protestantism moved to get to the culturally accommodated position it is in today.

Of course condemning what "everybody" says is good is unpopular, but Jesus did not say that discipleship was supposed to be easy.

Should There Be Religious Freedom for Groups Trying to Take Away Religious Freedom?

At what point should people who wish to take away the religious freedom of others be prevented from doing so? Clearly, some forms of religion should be prohibited in a liberal democracy - human sacrifice, wife-abuse, Jew-killing and slavery for example. If your religion permits or commands such things you should not have religious freedom to do them no matter how loud the appeals to "tolerance" or "cultural relativism" and no matter what threats are made against the State or individuals. Compulsion is in order and the State should be firm about protecting fundamental rights of all citizens.

Here is the website for a group called Former Muslims United (FMU). They sent a letter to 165 Muslim groups asking them to sign the following pledge of religious liberty:

To support the civil rights of former Muslims, also known as apostates from Islam, I sign “The Muslim Pledge for Religious Freedom and Safety from Harm for Former Muslims”:

I renounce, repudiate and oppose any physical intimidation, or worldly and corporal punishment, of apostates from Islam, in whatever way that punishment may be determined or carried out by myself or any other Muslim including the family of the apostate, community, Mosque leaders, Shariah court or judge, and Muslim government or regime.

This seems like a clear, unambiguous statement of religious freedom and I, as a Westerner, would be confident that any Muslim organization that signed it would have committed itself to abide by the rule of law and the freedom of religion that are basic to Western culture.

Unfortunately, out of 165 Muslim organizations and individuals that received this request, a grand total of 2 individuals replied affirmatively. CAIR (the Council of American Islam Relations) did not. MSA (the Muslim Students Association) did not. Yet these organizations (see the whole list here) are considered "moderate Muslim voices" by the American government. It seems to me that no Muslim organization that refuses to wholeheartedly endorse such a clear and simple statement can be considered "moderate."

Nonie Darwish describes in her article "Muslim Groups Attack FMU with Doublespeak" what they did instead. She describes the campaign of disinformation mounted by Muslim groups unwilling to deny the Muslim teaching that apostates should be killed and yet wanting to lure the Western public into thinking that tyranny is not creeping into the West. :

On Nov. 19, 2009 Sheila Musaji, editor of The American Muslim, wrote an article attacking Former Muslims United (FMU). Ms. Musaji stated “This FMU pledge is simply another attempt to create propaganda. Thus, she [Darwish] planted the idea that American Muslims have not taken a position against punishments for apostasy and attempted to make it seem as if only former Muslims can stand for what is right, and frankly to attempt to increase the visibility of the FMU at the expense of the Muslim community. This is shameful behavior (although typical of members of this group who go beyond denouncing Islamic radicalism to denouncing all of Islam) and is simply another example of attempting to marginalize the Muslim community."
But if Muslim groups have already taken a stand against punishments for apostasy, they should expect to be asked about their position every time there is another well publicized case of Muslim violence or threats of violence in the name of Islam. This is too bad for them, but it is not the fault of those asking the questions. They should blame the radicals. How does it marginalize the Muslim community for Muslim groups to affirm religious freedom? Why is it shameful to ask Muslim leaders to re-affirm what they already claim to have affirmed? Why blame the messenger?

If you go on You Tube and search for "Hamas" and "demonstrations" you will see disturbing clips of anti-Israel and anti-American demonstrations will calls to "Nuke Israel" and comparisons of Israel and George Bush to Nazi Germany. This sort of thing is increasing and it does not inspire confidence, to put it mildly.

Darwish goes on to describe how Islamic governments, sensing the disapproval of the West, try to disguise what they are doing:
Muslim apologists often speak from both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they assure Americans that Islam has nothing in it that condemns apostates to death. On the other hand, they state that announcing publicly that one has left Islam and stating the reasons for leaving, are grounds for charges of treason. After world condemnation of Islamic tyranny, many Muslim countries are working around the law of apostasy by still killing apostates but for a different stated reason. If a Muslim declares publicly that he has left Islam and why, that in itself is considered treason, and thus governments can arrest apostates, torture, imprison and kill him, but they officially state that it is due to treason, as if the person had committed espionage or some other crime against national security.
Now, in my opinion, to take this tact is to turn Islam into a totalitarian political ideology similar to Fascism - one that is incompatible with the West and which the West must eradicate from its lands. We cannot tolerate totalitarian acts on our soil. They can have freedom of speech because sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me. But if they issue threats against specific individuals or take actions to hurt former Muslims they should feel the wrath of the law. And any Muslims who support this barbaric practice should be publicly shamed and shunned so that they find life here difficult and unpleasant.

To speak as if there was no problem of killing apostates is just ridiculous. Well-known cases like those of Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hrisi Ali are all around us. The Danish cartoon violence is well-documented, as is the large number of terrorist attacks - some very recent and others narrowly averted - against the West. You can't blame Westerners for wanting reassurance.

So much for the "religion of peace." If it really wants to be a religion of peace it can start by unambiguously affirming religious toleration for former Muslims. Any Muslim group that will not do so clearly, unambiguously and in writing should be considered as extreme and Islamist.

I would have no problem with "moderate" Islam. I have no problem with Muslim individuals coming to Canada. But I do have a problem with Muslims coming to Canada who will not accept the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and apply the freedom of religion principle to former Muslims. As far as I'm concerned this is a deal-breaker. If we can't get Muslims to agree to freedom of religion then they should be prohibited from entering Canada. Those already here should be stripped of their citizenship and deported at the first sign of persecution of former Muslims. If they see we are serious they will either stay away or accept our deeply-held and hard-won convictions in this matter.

The Struggle for the Soul of the Republican Party

David Frum has an article in today's National Post in which he does his best to confuse the serious issues of political philosophy being debated today in the United States. He begins by asking: "Is Obama a socialist?" and he says that no, he is not, even though he simultaneously admits that a lot of current US federal government policy looks socialist. So why not call Obama a socialist?

Frum says we should not call Obama a socialist because many of the entitlement programs and much of the national debt is the responsibility of George W. Bush and how can we call Republicans socialists? The problem here is that "socialist" is used in the US as a smear; it is such an unpopular view that to label successfully your opponent as "socialist" is to discredit him or her in the minds of the majority of voters. We can call this the "connotative meaning" as opposed to the "descriptive meaning" of the word. In the UK, where socialism is vastly more advanced and more popular, politicians who advance Obama-like policies are content to be known as socialist; it is just a description of what they stand for.

But why does Frum shrink from describing Obama's big government, high taxation, expansion of the welfare state as moving toward socialism or as socialism in stages? He is afraid that the label will be turned back on him and the big government wing of the Republican Party of which he is a part.

The Republican Party has been cautiously progressive, that is, committed to the New Deal for over half a century. The party establishment beat back the Goldwater challenge in the 60s but found itself unable to prevent Reagan from becoming president in 1980. But it fought a quiet rearguard action against the small government wing of the party represented by Reagan in order to prevent the dismantling of the welfare state or even the shrinking of the size of government during the Reagan years. All Reagan was able to do was to slow the rate of growth of the federal government.

So the Republican Party is divided into a big government wing and a small government wing and the uneasy compromise achieved during the Bush years was an agreement to lower taxes without cutting the federal budget. This, of course, is not a viable long-term strategy. It is a temporary truce which allows the Republican Party to avoid a division into two parties that would ensure a permanent majority for the Democratic Party.

Why does David Frum criticize Sarah Palin so much? It is because she comes from the small government wing of the Republican Party. Why does he fear and seek to discredit the Tea Party? Same reason. Why does he not label Obama a socialist? It is because he is just as much a socialist as Obama and he is allowing the progressives to shape the narrative.

The progressive narrative sees the big government, ever-expanding welfare state as America's inevitable destiny. So the political spectrum has to be defined as those who want to proceed full steam ahead toward European-style social democracy (liberal) versus those who want to go more slowly and carefully and bring more of the undecided voters along (conservative), which is how the spectrum is defined in Europe. This debate was at the heart of Democratic debates over health care (i. e. single-payer now or eventually?). In this narrative, then, big government Republicans are "good little Republicans" - essentially just like "conservative Democrats." They get invited to swanky cocktail parties with celebrities and the NYT employs them as columnists. They play a useful function for the goal of the progressives is to control both parties and thus block out any serious challenge to their power.

The Tea Party, however, is a threat because it seeks to take over the Republican Party and marginalize the big government Republicans like Lindsay Graham and John McCain. At stake is the definition of what it means to be conservative. If the Reagan, small-government wing of the Republican Party prevails, then conservative will mean their stance rather than the Bush, big government wing's stance. Frum is not just concerned about the reputation of his former boss, he is concerned about the big government Republican wing losing control of the party.

He distorts the motives of the small government wing of the party badly in the following passage:
In 2009, the US health economy reached a symbolic tipping point: for the first time, more than 50% of the dollars spent on health were spent by some agency of federal or state government. Sounds like socialism, right? But this tipping point was not driven by President Obama. It was driven by the growth of Medicare – and last I heard, it was President Obama who was proposing slowdowns in Medicare spending, and it was Sarah Palin and the Tea Party activists who were denouncing reductions in Medicare as tantamount to “death panels.”
Where to begin in untangling this mess. First, there are two ways to reduce Medicare spending. One is the Democratic way of death panels. Essentially, what they propose is to reduce spending on seniors during the expensive last couple of years of life and ration resources. This will have the effect of letting people die a little earlier than otherwise, but the potential for savings is huge. The other way to reduce the unsustainable growth in Medicare spending is the one proposed by Paul Ryan's "Roadmap." He proposes that Medicare become a means-tested social safety net instead of a middle class entitlement. Basically, he wants middle class Americans who can afford it to pay for their own health care and use government programs only for those in need. But this is anathema to Democrats because it reduces the size and control of government.

Frum does not distinguish between those who want the status quo and those who want to reform the welfare state to preserve a safety net for the poor and needy while simultaneously reducing taxes and growing the private sector. Why? Because this distinction does not fit the progressive narrative. They want you to believe that there are only two choices: bankruptcy or higher taxes. And any other choice involves being heartless, cruel and having no social conscience. This is a self-serving piece of propaganda whether it is spouted by the Democrats or by the Republicans.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Academic Freedom = Freedom from Christianity

The concept of academic freedom has been severely distorted and degraded in recent years. In this post, "No Christianity Please, We're Academics" Tim Larson of Wheaton College reflects on the phenomenon of overt discrimination against Christians in contemporary universities. The exclusion of Christian thinking from the university is a phenomenon which requires some kind of explanation and any such explanation will need to provide a reason why it is possible to assume without question that Christianity is a bad thing when it has been regarded as the moral foundation of our culture for over a thousand years. Here is the beginning of Larson's post:

I had lunch this summer with a prospective graduate student at the evangelical college where I teach. I will call him John because that happens to be his name. John has done well academically at a public university. Nevertheless, as often happens, he said that he was looking forward to coming to a Christian university, and then launched into a story of religious discrimination.

John had been a straight-A student until he enrolled in English writing. The assignment was an “opinion” piece and the required theme was “traditional marriage.” John is a Southern Baptist and he felt it was his duty to give his honest opinion and explain how it was grounded in his faith. The professor was annoyed that John claimed the support of the Bible for his views, scribbling in the margin, “Which Bible would that be?” On the very same page, John’s phrase, “Christians who read the Bible,” provoked the same retort, “Would that be the Aramaic Bible, the Greek Bible, or the Hebrew Bible?” (What could the point of this be? Did the professor want John to imagine that while the Greek text might support his view of traditional marriage, the Aramaic version did not?) The paper was rejected as a “sermon,” and given an F, with the words, “I reject your dogmatism,” written at the bottom by way of explanation.

Thereafter, John could never get better than a C for papers without any marked errors or corrections. When he asked for a reason why yet another grade was so poor he was told that it was inappropriate to quote C. S. Lewis in work for an English class because he was “a pastor.”

In this professor's world, anyone who expresses a Christian thought must be a "pastor." What lurid connotations that word must dredge up from the professor's subconscious would likely be fascinating to explore. But surely such anti-Christian passion requires explanation. What follows is my explanation of this phenomenon.

The Left, which has virtually captured our universities as a result of its "long march" through the institutions of our culture, does not really believe in academic freedom as a good. How could it? After all, from the point of view of the Left, capitalism is slavery and the goal of education is to liberate us from our capitalist oppression and raise our consciousness. So from a left-wing perspective, education is not neutral but liberating when it is done from the perspective of Marxist theory. But when education is not done from a Marxist perspective it is enslaving and therefore harmful. And any "ideology" that perpetuates false consciousness (like Christianity) is harmful.

So academic freedom is good from a left-wing perspective when it allows academics to challenge traditional ideas, especially religious ones and particularly Judeo-Christian ones. Iconoclasm, free-thinking and revolutionary thought are therefore to be encouraged. However, to do so it is also at the same time necessary to stifle traditional, conservative, religious thought. Since academic work is never neutral, therefore academic freedom must be redefined to apply to that which is not revolutionary or, to use the preferred term (which causes less alarm among the natives), "progressive."

So whatever is compatible with Marxism is good; whatever is rooted in Christianity and opposed to Marxism is bad. Freedom is equated with freedom from Christianity and all other forms of traditional or conservative thinking. So the concept of academic freedom is given a Marxist twist and the idea of tolerating that with which the majority disagrees is transformed into political correctness.

I believe that this Marxist deformation of the concept of "academic freedom" explains the phenomena described by Larson so eloquently in his article. He ends with a call to protest and activism, which does sometimes work. I agree that it sometimes works, but not because of any lack of ideological determination on the part of Leftists. It works because a few strategic retreats along the way allows the forces on the Left to keep their powder dry for the crucial battles and keeps the naive from becoming aroused when they still have the votes to win key battles. Better to keep on taking over the key positions until the whole agenda can come out in the open.

I believe that the Left has exploited a twisted and distorted definition of academic freedom to marginalize Christianity and other conservative points of view in the contemporary university in the interests of advancing their Marxist ideology and taking over society slowly without overt violence, but very surely.