Monday, September 26, 2011

Was the Early Church Pacifist?

Lots of people recently have been convinced by John Howard Yoder that the pre-Constantinian church fathers were all pacifists and then, in the fourth century, like the French Communist Party receiving news of the new party line from Moscow in 1941, abruptly reversed themselves and suddenly people like Augustine became rabid theocrats. So the answer to the question in the title of this post would be "Yes!" First they were pacifists and then suddenly they did a 180 degree turn over night. Is this a convincing reading of early church history?

In this post at First Thoughts a while back, Matthew Lee Anderson tentatively suggested that J. Daryl Charles just might be right - and John Howard Yoder wrong - about the stance of the church fathers on pacifism. Yoder famously said that the fathers up to the end of the third century were pacifists (though he thought that their convictions unfortunately weakened a bit during the "long peace" in the second half of the third century between the 9th and 10th great waves of persecution). In opposition to this view, Anderson reports, Charles argues that there is a great deal of ambiguity in the teachings of the Fathers on the issue of serving in the Roman army and pacifism with no evident consensus.

Now, we also must remember that Yoder famously lumped Augustine in with Eusebius and Constantine as creators of what he called "Christendom," which according to Yoder means something like a totalitarian theocracy - kind of like contemporary Iran with bishops replacing the mullahs.

Anderson quotes me offering a rebuttal to Peter Leithart on the meaning of the term "Constantinianism" in Yoder's writings. I pointed out that for Yoder, Constantinianism is an eschatological heresy, not an historical conclusion about what happened in the fourth century. For Yoder, Constantinianism is an illegitimate attempt to reach forward into the future and pull the kingdom of God into the present as if the kingdom had already come in its fullness. This idea is wrong whenever it pops up in history and if it isn't in a particular century or place that does not affect its existence as a theological idea. Well, I still think that is true, but I think Yoder also did contend that the church from the fourth century onward did fall into Constantinianism and Leithart is right about that.

So is Yoder right about the pre-Constantinian Fathers? Is he right about Augustine? Is he right about the "Constantinian Shift"? Is he right about "Constantinianism" being an eschatological heresy? Let's go one at a time.

1. Is Yoder right about the pre-Constantinian Fathers being pacifists? I now think that Charles and those who see more ambiguity in the first three centuries have the better of the argument. It is difficult to be categorical but the most I think we can say is that some early Christians took a pacifist position. But there is nothing decisive like the inclusion of the homoousion in the Nicene Creed to prove that it was an agreed upon doctrine of the ecumenical church. Yoder's view is not supportable by the facts.

2. Is Yoder right about Augustine? I have now read Augustine for myself and I am a bit embarrassed to report that Yoder is spectacularly wrong to lump Augustine in with Eusebius. Yes, the young Augustine got caught up in the excitement of the Theodosian settlement after his conversion in 386. But from about the middle of the 390s onward he gradually worked his way free of these assumptions through his biblical studies and by 410 was in a position to articulate his mature eschatology in The City of God. He renounced Eusebian postmillennialism and adopted his amillennial eschatology of the two cities, in which the State becomes part of the secular - that which belongs to this age - and is thoroughly desacralized. The doctrine of the separation of church and state is rooted in Augustine's thought and there is no basis for theocracy in The City of God.

3. Is Yoder right about the "Constantinian Shift"? I have to say that I think it is overblown by Yoder for one very good reason. Although there is a shift in that the church embraces the state to a considerable extent, the pacifist impulse continues in the form of monasticism while the impulse of the church to partner with the state has more precedents in pre-third century thought that Yoder would have us believe. So there is evolution but not a sudden, wrenching, 180 degree about face.

4. Is Yoder right about "Constantinianism"? I think he is both right and wrong about what he calls "Constantinianism." I think that the term is unfortunate, as is the tendency to equate "Christendom" with "Theocracy." More is obscured by this terminology than is illumined. First, the theologically illegitimate reaching forward and pulling the kingdom back into the present is a perennial temptation of both liberal and conservative, or, better, Romantic Utopian and Coercive Theocratic theologies.

Liberal Pacifism is an example of the former tendency and it is heretical because it envisions the perfection of human nature by the reform of political institutions, which is impossible. The Spanish conquest of the Americas and forced conversion of native peoples is an example of Coercive Theocracy.

I do believe there are examples of tendencies toward theocracy in Western history, although one hates to say so just because the Left unfairly blows them all out of proportion and defines theocracy as Christian morality having any influence on public affairs whatsoever. But where theocratic tendencies do pop up, they are betrayals of Augustinian theology, not implementations of it.

The Bottom Line
The really important point to see is that both Romantic-Utopian and Coercive-Theocratic theologies are both rooted in the same postmillennialist attempt to bring about the kingdom of God here and now within history and without the spectacular Divine intervention the NT refers to as the Return of Christ.

One of the implications of this insight is that Romantic-Utopian and Coercive-Theocratic theologies are not as different from each other as proponents of both might think. Certainly, all attempts to impose Utopian schemes in history tend to degenerate quickly into coercion and violence. This is true of medieval millennial movements, the 16th century peasants revolts and various kinds of Marxist revolutions in the 20th century.

In contrast to all these stands the Augustinian amillennialist, two cities doctrine in which the state and church are kept separate and the state is seen as potentially good and potentially evil in this age. Christians are encouraged to work within the state, but not to sacralize it. Between pacifism and revolution lies the just war doctrine to guide moral decision-making on issues of defending good and repelling evil while realizing that the final defeat of evil will not occur within this age of history as we know it.

The bottom line is that the Church Fathers were neither Utopian pacifist nor warmongering theocrats and we ought to follow their example.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Majority of Americans Say That Obama is No Better Than Bush

I can't deny I've been waiting for this day for over three years and I can't deny that I feel just a little bit of vindication. (I'm restraining myself. Gloating is not good.) Three years ago, when the whole world was swooning over "The One" and "Hope and Change" and breathlessly waiting for the oceans to stop rising on Inauguration Day, I was pointing out that Obama is the most left-wing Democratic nominee for president in history and a man who is so owned by the abortion industry that he supports child murder in the form of partial birth abortion. I hoped he would fail because he does not represent the views of the majority of the American people, but for a time he looked invincible.

But now, according to the New York Post, a USA Today/Gallop Poll just released shows that, for the first time, less than half the American population thinks that Obama is a better president than George W. Bush. The article says:

More than half of those surveyed in a new poll - 56% - say that President Obama has been worse in the White House, or just about the same, as George W. Bush.

A result, from a USA Today/Gallup poll out Friday, could not have gone over well with Obama's political strategists.

"The fact that less than half of Americans say Obama has been a better president than Bush, given the low regard Americans have for the Bush presidency, poses a clear challenge for Obama," Gallup's website declared in a breakdown of the poll, which surveyed 1,004 Americans, living in all 50 states, from Sept. 15-18.

Ouch - that has got to hurt! In media and elite circles, George W. Bush has the reputation that Mahmoud Ahmadinegad actually deserves. And yet most Americans now think Obama is either worse or no better.

Obviously, the "bitter clingers" have a lot of friends who are coming round to their way of thinking. Support for Obama among Independents is eroding quickly. Every time an Obama supporter tries to demonize the Tea Party, more voters move away from the Democrats because demonizing the views of the majority is a sure path to electoral defeat.

Obama's approval ratings have tanked over the summer and got no bounce whatsoever from his campaign speech on jobs delivered to a joint session of Congress. The Real Clear Politics average of approval ratings poll today is 43.3% approval and 51.1% disapproval (a negative 7.8%).

According to another recent poll, 52% of Americans expect Obama to lose the 2012 election and already 49% say they will definitely vote against him - an unusually high number. Only 36% say they definitely plan to vote for him.

It will still be a long and difficult campaign. Obama will have a billion dollars from public sector unions and his high-rolling Hollywood and Wall Street friends and a lot of it will be spent on vicious attack ads, ad hominum attacks on the Republican candidate and the distortion of the truth. And the liberal media bias in the US is probably worth another billion to the Obama campaign. There will be union thugs trying to intimidate voters, constant class warfare and the desperate playing of the race card over and over.

By November 2012 America will be exhausted, discouraged and depressed. The economy will be no better and the most divisive president in US history will have just finished waging the most divisive campaign in US history. The nation will be bruised and battered, but, I predict, not browbeaten by fear and negativity into re-electing Barack Obama. America, I believe, is not quite ready to go quietly into that dark night just yet. There is hope in change.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Some Good Information to Use When You are Challenged to Name One Respected Scientest Who Does Not Believe in Global Warming

Paul Gregory at Forbes has a good article on global warming alarmism called "Can We Really Call Climate Science a Science?". Here is a section in which he discusses evidence against the idea that reversible human activity is causing a climate catastrophe.

Three recent events have brought the controversy over climate science back into the news and onto my radar screen:

First, Ivar Giaever, the 1973 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, resigned from the American Physical Society over his disagreement with its statement that “the evidence (on warming alarmism) is incontrovertible.” Instead, he writes that the evidence suggests that “the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this ‘warming’ period.”

Second, the editor of Remote Sensing resigned and disassociated himself from a skeptical paper co-authored by University of Alabama Climate Scientist Roy Spencer after an avalanche of criticism by “warmists.” His resignation brings to mind Phil Jones’ threat to “get rid of troublesome editors” (cited above).

Third, the New York Times and other major media are ridiculing Texas Governor Rick Perry for saying that global warming is “not proven.” Their message: Anyone who does not sign on to global warming alarmism is an ignorant hayseed and clearly not presidential material.

What lessons do I, as an economist, draw from these three events?

First: The Giaever story starkly disputes warmist claims of “inconvertible evidence.” Despite the press’s notable silence on such matters, there are a large number of prominent scientists with solid scholarly credentials who disagree with the IPCC-Central Committee. Those who claim “proven science” and “consensus” conveniently ignore such scientists.

With his public resignation, Nobel Laureate Giaever joins a long list of distinguished “skeptics,” which includes Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Hendrik Tennekes, retired Director of Research, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, Sallie Baliunas, astronomer, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Ian Clark, hydrogeologist, professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa: William M. Gray, Professor Emeritus and head of The Tropical Meteorology Project, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, William Happer, physicist, Princeton University, Tim Patterson, paleoclimatologist and Professor of Geology at Carleton University in Canada, and Fred Singer, Professor emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia (just to name a few from a long list).

Second: As someone with forty years experience with peer reviewed journals. I can testify that the Remote Sensing editor’s resignation and public discreditation of Spencer’s skeptical paper would be considered bizarre and unprofessional behavior in any other scholarly discipline.

In all fields of scientific inquiry, journal editors base their publication decisions on reports of referees, who are supposed to be experts in the area. Presumably, in the case of the Spencer paper, referees supported its publication. Even if there had been a negative report, good editors often publish controversial papers to open a scholarly dialog. (Can anyone think of a topic that is more controversial and more in need of open scholarly dialog than global warming?). In the case of controversial papers, the editor gives credible critics space to air their objections, and the author is accorded the opportunity to respond.

In this odd case, the editor did not follow the normal procedure of publishing critical comments by specialists who disagree with the paper. He chose instead to disavow and discredit the paper himself, despite the fact that he is not an expert on the subject. Nor did the editor give Spencer an opportunity to respond to his personal disavowal. Instead, rebuttals of the Spencer paper are scheduled to be published in another journal friendly to the warmist position. Spencer will not be given an opportunity to respond in that journal. (Spencer is like the muzzled Trotsky in my quote above. Stalin will decide what others are allowed to hear).

In my field of economics, such unprofessional behavior would destroy the editor’s professional reputation and make him or her a laughing stock. Not in climate science apparently. We can see Jones’ threat to “redefine peer review” in action. Like Stalin, the climate establishment cannot allow climate science to be turned into a “discussion club.”

Third: The media is tarring and feathering Rick Perry, we now see, for agreeing with Nobel laureate Giaever and a host of other prominent scientists. I guess if Perry is a know-nothing Texas hick (or worse, a pawn of Big Oil) so is every other scientist who dares to disagree with the IPCC Central Committee. Such intimidation chillingly makes politicians, public figures, and scientists fearful of deviating one inch from orthodoxy. They want to avoid Orwell’s “watching their comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.” How many are willing to shoulder that burden?

I do not know whether the warmists or skeptics are right. I do know that the modeling of the climate is among the most complex of scientific tasks. In this regard, climate science and economics have much in common. We both must try to understand complicated systems with intricate feedbacks and uncertain causality. As recent experience shows, we economists have yet to find “incontrovertible truth.” We will never reach a consensus. Nor should we. Why should we expect climate science, unlike other disciplines, to reach a consensus when we do not expect this of other fields of scientific inquiry.

About a year ago, I attended a debate between a noted warmist and skeptic. They agreed only on one thing: Climate science is in its infancy. We are just beginning to understand the climate. When we look back, we will understand how little we really understood and how wrong our first findings were. This is the way science is created.

False claims of consensus and inconvertible truth reveal a political or ideological agenda wrapped in the guise of science. The incontrovertible bad behavior of the warmists has led skeptics to suspect base motives, and who could blame them?

The only thing in science that is incontrovertible is the principle that nothing is incontrovertible. The constant resort to "incontrovertible" language by the alarmists is a signal that the person making the assertion has just passed over the border of science into the realm of politics.

Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech Today at the UN: An Answer to Those Who Urge Unilateral Surrender

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most demonized men on the planet today and also one of the world's greatest statesman. With a community organizer in the White House and faceless bureaucrats running the European Union into the ground, surely Netanyahu deserves the title "Leader of the West."

Here are some excerpts from his speech. I post them here in the faint hope that some who normally only hear anti-Zionist propaganda from the left-leaning media and intellectual elites of our culture will read them (and click through to the entire speech) and get the other side of the story for once.

At the beginning of the speech and all the way through, he pleads with the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table and make peace.

Ladies and gentlemen, Israel has extended its hand in peace from the moment it was established 63 years ago. On behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, I extend that hand again today. I extend it to the people of Egypt and Jordan, with renewed friendship for neighbors with whom we have made peace. I extend it to the people of Turkey, with respect and good will. I extend it to the people of Libya and Tunisia, with admiration for those trying to build a democratic future. I extend it to the other peoples of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, with whom we want to forge a new beginning. I extend it to the people of Syria, Lebanon and Iran, with awe at the courage of those fighting brutal repression.

But most especially, I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace. (Applause.)

But he sadly notes the absurd anti-Israel prejudice that has been on display at the United Nations for many years:

Ladies and gentlemen, in Israel our hope for peace never wanes. Our scientists, doctors, innovators, apply their genius to improve the world of tomorrow. Our artists, our writers, enrich the heritage of humanity. Now, I know that this is not exactly the image of Israel that is often portrayed in this hall. After all, it was here in 1975 that the age-old yearning of my people to restore our national life in our ancient biblical homeland -- it was then that this was braided -- branded, rather -- shamefully, as racism. And it was here in 1980, right here, that the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt wasn't praised; it was denounced! And it's here year after year that Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation. It's singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined. Twenty-one out of the 27 General Assembly resolutions condemn Israel -- the one true democracy in the Middle East.

Well, this is an unfortunate part of the U.N. institution. It's the -- the theater of the absurd. It doesn't only cast Israel as the villain; it often casts real villains in leading roles: Gadhafi's Libya chaired the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; Saddam's Iraq headed the U.N. Committee on Disarmament.

You might say: That's the past. Well, here's what's happening now -- right now, today. Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon now presides over the U.N. Security Council. This means, in effect, that a terror organization presides over the body entrusted with guaranteeing the world's security.

You couldn't make this thing up.

So here in the U.N., automatic majorities can decide anything. They can decide that the sun sets in the west or rises in the west. I think the first has already been pre-ordained. But they can also decide -- they have decided that the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest place, is occupied Palestinian territory. . . .

He takes on directly the mainstream media narrative of what is blocking peace and demolishes it effectively:

And the world around Israel is definitely becoming more dangerous. Militant Islam has already taken over Lebanon and Gaza. It's determined to tear apart the peace treaties between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan. It's poisoned many Arab minds against Jews and Israel, against America and the West. It opposes not the policies of Israel but the existence of Israel.

Now, some argue that the spread of militant Islam, especially in these turbulent times -- if you want to slow it down, they argue, Israel must hurry to make concessions, to make territorial compromises. And this theory sounds simple. Basically it goes like this: Leave the territory, and peace will be advanced. The moderates will be strengthened, the radicals will be kept at bay. And don't worry about the pesky details of how Israel will actually defend itself; international troops will do the job.

These people say to me constantly: Just make a sweeping offer, and everything will work out. You know, there's only one problem with that theory. We've tried it and it hasn't worked. In 2000 Israel made a sweeping peace offer that met virtually all of the Palestinian demands. Arafat rejected it. The Palestinians then launched a terror attack that claimed a thousand Israeli lives.

Prime Minister Olmert afterwards made an even more sweeping offer, in 2008. President Abbas didn't even respond to it.

But Israel did more than just make sweeping offers. We actually left territory. We withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and from every square inch of Gaza in 2005. That didn't calm the Islamic storm, the militant Islamic storm that threatens us. It only brought the storm closer and make it stronger.

Hezbollah and Hamas fired thousands of rockets against our cities from the very territories we vacated. See, when Israel left Lebanon and Gaza, the moderates didn't defeat the radicals, the moderates were devoured by the radicals. And I regret to say that international troops like UNIFIL in Lebanon and UBAM (ph) in Gaza didn't stop the radicals from attacking Israel.

We left Gaza hoping for peace.

We didn't freeze the settlements in Gaza, we uprooted them. We did exactly what the theory says: Get out, go back to the 1967 borders, dismantle the settlements.

And I don't think people remember how far we went to achieve this. We uprooted thousands of people from their homes. We pulled children out of -- out of their schools and their kindergartens. We bulldozed synagogues. We even -- we even moved loved ones from their graves. And then, having done all that, we gave the keys of Gaza to President Abbas.

Now the theory says it should all work out, and President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority now could build a peaceful state in Gaza. You can remember that the entire world applauded. They applauded our withdrawal as an act of great statesmanship. It was a bold act of peace.

But ladies and gentlemen, we didn't get peace. We got war. We got Iran, which through its proxy Hamas promptly kicked out the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority collapsed in a day -- in one day.

President Abbas just said on this podium that the Palestinians are armed only with their hopes and dreams. Yeah, hopes, dreams and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran, not to mention the river of lethal weapons now flowing into Gaza from the Sinai, from Libya, and from elsewhere.

Thousands of missiles have already rained down on our cities. So you might understand that, given all this,Israelis rightly ask: What's to prevent this from happening again in the West Bank? See, most of our major cities in the south of the country are within a few dozen kilometers from Gaza. But in the center of the country, opposite the West Bank, our cities are a few hundred meters or at most a few kilometers away from the edge of the West Bank.

So I want to ask you. Would any of you -- would any of you bring danger so close to your cities, to your families? Would you act so recklessly with the lives of your citizens? Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank, but we're not prepared to have another Gaza there. And that's why we need to have real security arrangements, which the Palestinians simply refuse to negotiate with us.

Israelis remember the bitter lessons of Gaza. Many of Israel's critics ignore them. They irresponsibly advise Israel to go down this same perilous path again. Your read what these people say and it's as if nothing happened -- just repeating the same advice, the same formulas as though none of this happened.

And these critics continue to press Israel to make far-reaching concessions without first assuring Israel's security. They praise those who unwittingly feed the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam as bold statesmen. They cast as enemies of peace those of us who insist that we must first erect a sturdy barrier to keep the crocodile out, or at the very least jam an iron bar between its gaping jaws.

So in the face of the labels and the libels, Israel must heed better advice. Better a bad press than a good eulogy, and better still would be a fair press whose sense of history extends beyond breakfast, and which recognizes Israel's legitimate security concerns.

There is much more. Read it here.

The fact is that Israel wants peace and is willing to make peace as long as (1) the other side is willing to recognize the permanent legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state and (2) reasonable security arrangements can be made. If the Palestinians are not willing to make peace on this basis, they should be ostracized, de-funded, not recognized, pressured and vilified by the world community until they capitulate to reason.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It is One Thing to Be Anti-Israel, But This is Going Too Far

I have just read the most unbelievably evil and twisted piece of theological reasoning I have ever read in my life. Reading this open letter to Evangelical Christian Zionists from David Gushee and Glen Stassen was like being hit in the face with a mailed fist from two self-professed "peacemakers."

Gushee and Stassen unleash a sustained hail of accusations against Israel that blames Israel alone for the lack of peace in the Middle East and paints Israel as an evil state in exactly the same terms as the most radical, Islamist, anti-Jewish haters. The theological premise of this letter is that Israel is the source of all the problems in the Middle East and is under the judgment of God.

Moreover, they invert morality by accusing anyone who supports Israel of supporting injustice and being under the judgment of God. Furthermore, they claim that by not surrendering to Palestinian demands for a Palestinian state, Israel is incurring God's wrath and that Mahmoud Ahmedinijad may be God's instrument for destroying Israel with nuclear weapons!

I am not making this stuff up; here are the quotes and the link so you can verify for yourself what they said.

Let us now assume that God indeed promised the offspring of Abraham and Sarah via Isaac and Jacob a portion of the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. Let us even assume that this promise was intended by God to extend even to our own day and beyond. And let us further assume that in the dark shadow of the Holocaust it was an act of divine grace for a substantial portion of the surviving remnant of the Jewish people to have a modern-day homeland in the contemporary state of Israel. These are substantial assumptions that could be challenged for many reasons, but we are prepared to accept them, along with you.

But we do so while keeping in front of us another strand of relevant biblical teaching. The prophets, writing much later in Israel’s history, long after Israel had established substantial political kingdoms, warned repeatedly that God’s covenant with Israel has a dimension of conditionality to it. Whether preaching in the northern kingdom of Israel prior to the Assyrian conquest, or the southern kingdom of Judah prior to the Babylonian conquest and exile, Israel’s prophets repeatedly warned that God’s covenant promise of the land was conditional on her moral performance. In particular, the prophets warned that, in keeping with the stipulations of the Law, Israel would be judged by her treatment of the aliens in the land, of the poor, the widows, and the orphans. At a theological level, we are claiming that even if one accepts a) a divine promise of land to the Jewish people as recorded in scripture, b) a belief that this promise extends even to this day, and c) the modern state of Israel as, in part, God’s gracious fulfillment of this promise, one must also say d) the Bible, in the prophetic writings, also teaches that persistent injustice on the part of Israel has evoked, and still can bring, God’s judgment, which can extend even to war and exile. Israel’s remaining in the land depends on Israel’s now doing justice to Palestinians and making peace with its Arab neighbors that surround Israel. Indeed, Jesus, as prophet and Savior, also prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed because they did not know the practices that make for peace (Lk 19:41-44). And Jerusalem was destroyed, 40 years later. Do you not fear that it could happen again? Does not your love of Israel make you want to do all you can to prevent that from happening? And yet your actions actually make it more likely to happen! . . .

We are not Old Testament prophets, nor do we pretend to see the future. But we have seen enough to claim that the occupation practices of the modern state of Israel are a direct violation of the most basic biblical moral principles. It is immoral to steal anything, including people’s land, homes, and vineyards. It is immoral to dehumanize people, as occurs daily at Israeli checkpoints. It is immoral to choke people’s freedom and deprive them of their dignity. And it is foolish, a violation of every lesson of history, to think that through sheer intimidation and superior military power a people can be subjugated indefinitely without rising up in resistance or attracting more powerful allies who will do so on their behalf. God gave humanity a recognition of justice and a nearly endless capacity to resist injustice. It is wired into our nature, and the Palestinian people and the neighboring countries have it just like everyone else does.

We genuinely fear that someday someone or some nation inflamed with resentment at the seemingly eternal Israeli subjugation of the Palestinian people will “make your land desolate so no one can live in it” (Jer 6:8). That sounds like a nuclear bomb. Have you heard of Mahmoud Ahmedinijad? While in the Middle East we heard from Palestinian leaders a current commitment to pursue their cause nonviolently. We applaud that commitment. We see it as an extraordinary one under the circumstances. We fear that it cannot last forever, for no people will allow itself to be ground into the dust indefinitely. What are you doing to end their suffering and bring justice to them?

We will leave it to God to sort out with the Jewish people of the modern state of Israel the very complex terms of his covenant with them. But we cannot remain silent about the vast array of American Christians who support the most repressive and unjust Israeli policies in the name of Holy Land and a Holy God. We charge that you bear grave responsibility for aiding and abetting obvious sin, and if Israel once again sees war, we suggest that you will bear part of the responsibility. Christians are called to be peacemakers (Mt 5:9), but by offering uncritical support of current Israeli policies you are actively inflaming the Middle East toward war—in the name of God. This is appalling; it is intolerable; it must stop!

We plead with you, our brothers and sisters, to find a better way, a more biblical way, to love Israel. Love Israel enough to oppose rather than support actions that violate God’s clearly revealed moral will. And while you are at it, it might be good to work on loving the Palestinians, some of whom are also our Christian sisters and brothers. When you visit Israel, we urge you to visit with Palestinian Christians and ask them what they want us, their fellow Christians, to support. For they surely need our love. And we are surely commanded to love them, too.

Nowhere do Stassen and Gushee criticize the Palestinians and other Muslims for refusing to accept the UN partition of Palestine in 1947 or for starting one war of conquest after another in 1948, 1967, 1973 and for terrorism up to the present day. Nowhere do they demand that the Palestinians do what Israel has done. Israel has recognized the legitimacy and necessity of a future Palestinian state and the need for a two state solution with secure borders. The Palestinians have never recognized the legitimacy of Israel (with any borders whatsoever) as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians have walked away from the peace process over an over again and with this latest gambit at the UN they have essentially torn up the Oslo Accords and thrown out the entire peace process up to this point.

The idea of "land for peace" is essentially dead. Israel keeps giving up land, but gets less and less peace every time. Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Did it bring peace? No. Israel withdrew from Sinai. Did it bring peace? For a while yes, but now the peace treaty with Egypt is falling apart. Israel withdrew from Gaza. Did it bring peace? No, Gaza has become a terrorist state and a base from which to attack Israel. Have the Palestinians ever said that withdrawing to the 1967 cease fire lines would lead to them making peace with Israel? No.

Did you see the logo for the Palestinian delegation at the UN here? Where is Israel in that map? Israel is, as Mahmoud Ahmedinijad said, "wiped off the map. This is the true Palestinian view. Gushee and Stassen give no indication that they think this attitude might have anything to do with the lack of peace in Palestine. It is all Israel's fault.

Gushee and Stassen apparently are fine with the Palestinian goal of the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and a one-state solution in which Jews become a persecuted minority and they don't care whether it is accomplished by negotiation and diplomacy or by nuclear war. One can only draw this conclusion from what they have written. At the very least, it must be said that they give no indication support for a two-state solution in this letter. They even accuse Israel of renouncing the two-state solution even though they are the only ones supporting it in this dispute!

I hereby wish to disassociate myself from David Gushee, Glen Stassen, their Neo-Anabaptist theology and all those who support their anti-Israel position. I am ashamed of them and I am ashamed that Evangelical theologians ever would associate themselves with the far-left, secular, anti-Jewish campaign to demonize Israel and, at the same time, whitewash the genocidal intentions of Hitler-loving, Islamic radical nutcases like Ahmedinijad.

Gushee and Stassen threaten me and other Christians who stand for a negotiated, two-state solution in Palestine under which the Israelis can live in their own state securely with the wrath of God. I too believe in the wrath of God and fear it too much to take a one-sided, prejudiced, hate-filled position against the Chosen People.

Let God decide between us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Teaching Absolutes: The Mission of the Christian College and Seminary

The Barna Group has an article up describing the results of their research on Americans' beliefs in moral relativism versus absolute truth. And the data they present do much to explain the moral chaos of the society in which we live.
Americans unanimously denounced the September 11 terrorist attacks as a textbook example of evil, suggesting that there is a foundational belief in an absolute standard of right and wrong. Subsequent research, however, has shown that in the aftermath of the attacks, a minority of Americans believes in the existence of absolute moral truth. Even more surprising, the data from a pair of nationwide studies conducted by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California showed that less than one out of three born again Christians adopt the notion of absolute moral truth. The surveys also found that few Americans turn to their faith as the primary guide for their moral and ethical decisions.

Truth Is Relative, Say Americans

In two national surveys conducted by Barna Research, one among adults and one among teenagers, people were asked if they believe that there are moral absolutes that are unchanging or that moral truth is relative to the circumstances. By a 3-to-1 margin (64% vs. 22%) adults said truth is always relative to the person and their situation. The perspective was even more lopsided among teenagers, 83% of whom said moral truth depends on the circumstances, and only 6% of whom said moral truth is absolute. . . .

So, how are Evangelical Christians doing compared to the general population?

Not surprisingly, born again Christians were more likely than non-born again individuals to accept moral absolutes. Among adults, 32% of those who were born again said they believe in moral absolutes, compared to just half as many (15%) among the non-born again contingent. Among teenagers, there was still a 2-to-1 ratio evident, but the numbers were much less impressive: only 9% of born again teens believe in moral absolutes versus 4% of the non-born again teens.

Moral Decision-Making

The surveys also asked people to indicate the basis on which they make their moral and ethical decisions. Six different approaches were listed by at least 5% of the teenagers interviewed, and eight approaches were listed by at least 5% of adults. In spite of the variety communicated, there was a clear pattern within both groups. By far the most common basis for moral decision-making was doing whatever feels right or comfortable in a situation. Nearly four out of ten teens (38%) and three out of ten adults (31%) described that as their primary consideration.

Among adults, other popular means of moral decision-making were on the basis of the values they had learned from their parents (15%), on the basis of principles taught in the Bible (13%), and based on whatever outcome would produce the most personally beneficial results (10%).

Teenagers were slightly different in their approach. One out of six (16%) said they made their choices on the basis of whatever would produce the most beneficial results for them. Three alternative foundations were each identified by one out of ten teens: whatever would make the most people happy, whatever they thought their family and friends expected of them, and on the basis of the values taught by their parents. Just 7% of teenagers said their moral choices were based on biblical principles.

So 13% of American adults and 7% of teens base their moral decision-making on biblical principles. And among those who self-identify as "born-again" only 32% of adults and 9% of teens believe in moral absolutes.

I want to make two points.

First, it is not as bad as it looks. In surveys like this the separating out of practicing, serious Christians is often rough and ready. As you go deeper into the details to the point where you are examining data on regular church-attending teens from Evangelical churches you find the percentages of those who believe in moral absolutes and make decisions based on the Bible going up.

Second, it is still really, really bad. The world is corrupting our youth effectively and co-opting them for a pagan worldview and we are losing the overall war for truth and morality. The issues of abortion, homosexuality, divorce, promiscuity, euthanasia, etc. are issues because of people having pagan, corrupt minds. Of course, corrupt thinking leads to sinning and more sinning leads to a more deeply corrupted mind and there is a negative feedback loop going on. But my point is that there is a great deal of difference between someone knowing right from wrong and falling into temptation only to repent and seek forgiveness, on the one hand, a person whose mind has been darkened according to the process Paul describes in Roman 1 to the point where he can no longer distinguish between good and evil - which is what moral relativism is.

I think we are in a war and people's lives are being destroyed by moral relativism. Babies are being born out of wedlock, children go fatherless, poverty increases, the elderly are warehoused and euthanized etc. There are real life, harsh consequences of this kind of lazy, pagan thinking, which is infiltrating the Church.

The Church needs the Christian college and seminary to do its part. We teach students at a critically formative moment in their lives. Our mission statement should be to increase the percentage of teens and adults who believe in absolute truth and if we want to measure our effectiveness how about keeping statistics on that?

If I was a donor or parent of a prospective student I would like to know if graduates of Tyndale are statistically more likely to believe in moral absolutes and make moral decisions based on the Bible than the general population.

If we surveyed our graduates, I wonder what we would find. Would we dare?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rick Perry Gets It When It Comes to the Middle East

As a result of the pro-Palestinian policies of the Obama administration, the Palestinians have become convinced that they can get statehood without recognizing Israel's right to exist. This week at the UN, unless something changes at the last minute, they will force the US to veto a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.

Here are two clips (total of under 8 min) that offer insight into this complex issue.

The first clip here is of Charles Krauthammer putting the whole gambit into historical perspective. The second clip is a terrific speech Rick Perry made in New York City today here.

It is the clearest, most concise and morally sound speech I have heard on this issue in years. Perry's Middle East policy is extremely well-developed and a refreshing change from the appeasement and moral slime we have been getting from the Obama administration. Listen to it because you will be listening to the next president of the United States.

I just found the transcript of his remarks. What a blessing it must be for the family of Gilad Shalit to hear his name mentioned by a man who is running for president of the US!
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry delivered the following remarks on the U.S., Israel, and Palestinian statehood in New York City earlier today:

Thank you. Let me begin by thanking Dr. Solomon Frager and Aron Hirtz for helping us organize this press conference today.

I am joined today by a diverse group of Jewish leaders from here and abroad who share my concern that the United Nations could take action this week to legitimize the Palestinian gambit to establish statehood in violation of the spirit of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

We are indignant that certain Middle Eastern leaders have discarded the principle of direct negotiations between the sovereign nation of Israel and the Palestinian leadership, and we are equally indignant that the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy of appeasement has encouraged such an ominous act of bad faith.

Simply put, we would not be here today at the precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama Policy in the Middle East wasn’t naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.

It must be said, first, that Israel is our oldest and strongest democratic ally in the Middle East and has been for more than 60 years. The Obama Policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a dangerous insult.

There is no middle ground between our allies and those who seek their destruction. America should not be ambivalent between the terrorist tactics of Hamas and the security tactics of the legitimate and free state of Israel. By proposing ‘indirect talks” through the U.S. rather than between Palestinian leaders and Israel, this administration encouraged the Palestinians to shun direct talks.

Second, it was wrong for this Administration to suggest the 1967 borders should be the starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. When you consider this suggestion was made on the eve of the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit, we see in this American Administration a willingness to isolate a close ally and to do so in a manner that is insulting and naïve.

Third, by injecting the issue of 1967 borders in addition to a construction freeze in East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements, the Obama Administration has put Israel in a position of weakness and taken away their flexibility to offer concessions as part of the negotiation process.

Indeed, bolstered by the Obama Administration’s policies and apologists at the U.N., the Palestinians are exploiting the instability in the Middle East hoping to achieve their objective without concessions or direct negotiations with Israel.

The reason is simple: if they perceive they can get what they want from the U.N. without making any concessions why should they negotiate with Israel?

While the administration is right to finally agree to fight the Arab resolution at the U.N., it bears repeating that we wouldn’t be here today if they had stuck to some basic principles concerning Palestinian statehood:

First, Palestinian leaders must publicly affirm Israel’s right to exist, and to exist as a Jewish state;

Second, President Abbas must persuade all factions including Hamas to renounce acts of terrorism and release kidnapped Israeli Gilad Shalit, and;

Third, Palestinian statehood must be established only through direct negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and the nation of Israel.

By not insisting on these principles, the Obama Administration has appeased the Arab Street at the expense of our own national security interests. They have sowed instability that threatens the prospects of peace.

Israel’s security is critical to America’s security. We must not forget it was Israel that took out the nuclear capabilities of Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. In both instances, their actions made the free world safer.

Today, the greatest threat to the security of Israel and, by extension, a threat to America, is the Iranian government developing a nuclear arsenal. One thing is clear: we must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions must be tightened and increased and all options must remain on the table to stop a brutally repressive regime from acquiring a nuclear capability.

To date, we have fumbled our greatest opportunity for regime change. As average Iranian citizens were marching on Tehran in the Green Revolution in 2009, America was wasting precious time on a naïve policy of outreach to both the Iranian and Syrian governments.

Who knows what the leadership of Iran would look like today if America had done everything in its power to provide diplomatic and moral support to encourage the growing movement of dissidents who sought freedom.

Our actions in recent years have destabilized the Middle East. We have been complacent in encouraging revolt against hostile governments in Iran and Syria and we have been slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt and the increasingly strained relationship between Israel and Turkey.

It is vitally important for America to preserve alliances with moderate Muslim regimes and Muslim leaders who seek to preserve peace and stability in the region. But today, neither adversaries nor allies alike, know where America stands.

Our muddle of a foreign policy has created greater uncertainty in the midst of the “Arab Spring.” And our policy of isolating and undermining Israel has only encouraged our adversaries in their aggression.

With the end-run on Palestinian statehood imminent before the U.N., America must act swiftly.

First, every nation within the U.N. must know America stands with Israel and the Oslo accord principle of direct negotiations without equivocation.

Second, America must make it clear that a declaration of Palestinian Statehood in violation of the spirit of the Oslo accords could jeopardize our funding of U.N. operations.

Third, the Palestinians must know their gambit comes with consequences in particular that America will have to reconsider the $4 billion in assistance we have provided to the Palestinians over the last 17 years.

Fourth, we should close the PLO office in Washington if the U.N. grants the standing of a Palestinian state.

And fifth, we must signal to the world, including nations like Turkey and Egypt whom we have considered allies in recent years, that we won’t tolerate aggression against Israel.

Israel is our friend and ally. I have traveled there several times, and met with its leaders. It is not a perfect nation, but its existence is critical to America’s security in the world.

It is time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel, and in the process establish a robust American position in the Middle East characterized by a new firmness and a new resolve.

If America does not head off the aggression of forces hostile to Israel we will only embolden them.

That would be a tragic mistake.

This is a devastating indictment of Obama's Middle East foreign policy and one sure to resonate with voters. But beyond the politics, what stands out is its moral clarity.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Secular Politics Infiltrating the Church: Hell's Scheme to Bring Down Evangelicalism

From the discussion surrounding the unfortunate cancellation of George W. Bush's speech at a Tyndale event, it has become clear that many Tyndale students are in danger of being led astray into false doctrine by those for whom secular politics, rather than the Gospel, are the most important thing.

Between the time of Augustine and the French Revolution, politics in the West was developed within a basically Christian worldview. The Enlightenment and the revolutionary movements that emerged out of it constituted the rise of a new paganism. In part they were a return to pre-Christian paganism but they also constituted a new, distinctively post-Christian form of paganism. Insofar as these intellectual movements denied cardinal Christian doctrines and defined themselves over against Christianity, they are technically heresies. So the 19-20th centuries are the age of political heresies.

The most influential of these political heresies is Marxism. Marxism is best thought of as a Christian heresy in which key Christian doctrines are inverted like some sort of "Satanic Bible." For example, the idea of an eschatological kingdom of God in which heaven comes to earth is part of Marxism, but it happens through human effort according to the "iron laws" of history instead of happening through the great Divine intervention in history that the New Testament calls the Return of Christ.

Marxism views human nature as plastic and malleable and therefore denies the Biblical doctrine of original sin. Rejecting the Genesis accounts of Adam's fall and Paul's theological interpretation of the meaning of that event in Romans, Marxism views evil in the world as arising from inadequate social arrangements. Instead of seeing sin as inherent in us, it sees sin as inherent in social structures of oppression. This view of the problem also changes the nature of the solution. Instead of seeing individual salvation - redemption through the blood of Christ - as the solution, Marxism views social revolution and the common ownership of material goods as the solution.

Marxism is atheistic; it denies the existence of God and blames faith in God for the passivity of the masses who are slow to rise up in revolution at the urging of Marxist agitators. Religion, said Marx, is the opiate of the people.

Marxism urges the breaking of all of the Ten Commandments as part of its system. It urges us to covet our neighbour's goods and to rise up in a redistributive revolution to steal from the rich and give to the less rich. It worships material wealth and substitutes material wealth for God, thus breaking the first two commandments. Marxism despises the family and tradition and wants to see the family dissolved so that nothing remains except the individual and the all-Powerful State. (Even though Marx advocated the abolition of the State the depth of his sincerity can be gauged by the fact that in practice he wanted to use the State to abolish the State!)

By now you might be asking what this revolutionary, atheistic, anti-Christian system of thought could possibly have to do with Tyndale. Well, over the past century or more, Marxist ideas and Marxist apologists have gradually been worming their way into the heart of Christian institutions, churches, colleges and seminaries in order to corrupt pure doctrine and replace Christian thinking with Marxist thinking.

In the 19th century the German influence on North American Protestant theology was pronounced and it included higher criticism, evolution, idealism and socialism of various sorts. The resulting Social Gospel movement secularized Christianity by turning it from a religion that focuses on heaven and hell, sin and salvation, and Christ and the Bible into a religion that focuses on this life only, socialist politics and Marx and politics. The churches became social service agencies, theology was reduced to a vague humanism centered on tolerance and inclusion, pastors became social workers or community organizers and the enemy became big business, capitalism and the rich. The Bible is full of myths, the resurrection never happened, miracles are rejected and the real message of Jesus was simply "Love your neighbour." Since we are all good people there must not be any hell or judgment and salvation means adjusting the living conditions in this world so that there is equality of income.

In reaction to this horrifying perversion of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ, Christians who wanted to remain connected to the orthodox tradition of the Church took their stand on Scripture and continued to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again. They were called the Fundamentalists and they were hated, ostracized, mocked, despised and feared by the Social Gospel heretics. Fundamentalism flourished between the last decades of the 19th century and World War II.

After World War II, some Fundamentalist leaders decided to try to break out of their ghetto and re-engage the wider culture. They wanted to get involved in higher education, intellectual debate and socio-political affairs. But they wanted to do so without giving up their orthodox, biblical, fundamentalist theology.

It was at this time that institutions such as The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, Christianity Today and Fuller Theological Seminary were founded. Leaders such as Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga, Bill Bright, John R. W. Stott, J. I. Packer, Carl F. H. Henry and Harold Lindsell were prominent.

Over the next 50 years Evangelicalism grew and flourished. Many seminaries, publishing companies, liberal arts colleges and mission agencies were founded and grew rapidly. Evangelical churches grew quickly while liberal Protestant ones emptied out. Evangelicals helped elect the first Evangelical president, Jimmy Carter, and when he disappointed with his liberal policies, they helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980. Leaders like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell became politically influential as Evangelicals began to join with Catholics to resist the increasingly aggressive secularism being pushed from the Left, exemplified in the demonic practice of abortion.

In some ways, Evangelicalism became a victim of its own success. Its rapid growth in numbers meant that much of the movement was a mile wide and an inch deep. Apologetics was always a big part of Evangelicalism because evangelism was at the center of Evangelical concern. But as Evangelicalism became bigger and more successful, it began to seem to be mainstream. The despised Fundamentalists of yesteryear now had the biggest, newest churches in town and went to nice colleges to become professionals and live an upper middle-class lifestyle.

In this situation, false prophet arose who played on the guilt felt by Evangelicals who were materially well off (or whose parents were) and used this as an opening to insinuate Marxist ideas into the thinking of younger Evangelicals. Like all heresies, Marxism uses a germ of truth as bait. Jesus does call us to love our neighbours and God is concerned for the poor. These two biblical truths, however, do not justify violent revolution, income redistribution by government coercion and class warfare. But they provide an opening for Marxist ideas.

One of the main ways Marxism attempts to beguile Evangelicals is through its critique of capitalism. If they can convince you that capitalism is the problem (rather than sin) then you will be open to focusing your attention on fighting capitalism rather than preaching the Gospel. That is good for Marxism, since its goal is to overthrow the capitalist order, and it distracts Christians from preaching the Gospel.

Once the Marxists have convinced a group of Christians that capitalism is the enemy, they can work to encourage you to become ever more envious and covetous. But the brilliance of their strategy is revealed at this point: they don't get you to covet and envy for yourself, but rather, you do so on behalf of the oppressed poor! That seems unselfish and noble.

Next, the strategy is to get you to slowly but surely forget about evangelism and focus all your attention on "social justice ministry." This is a process in which you gradually get used to neglecting the well-being of the souls of the people you are reaching out to and concentrating on their material well-being in this life only. It begins by an innocent-looking theological move in which you are asked to accept the idea that mission includes both social service and evangelism as co-equal parts of the mission. But in practice one always is more prominent than the other and you will soon be told that to make evangelism the most important is unloving and unjust. Before long, evangelism drops out of sight altogether in many cases and Evangelical mission has been turned into a new, updated version of the Social Gospel.

One thing to remember is that practice precedes theory. The theological changes come later. First, we change the actual, on-the-ground way of doing mission that only later do we revise our theology to go along with the new way of doing it.

By the time the actual theological changes are made, it is almost too late because the whole meaning of Christian mission will have already been secualrized and theology grows out of mission.

Marxism is corrupting Evangelicalism today on many levels and in many ways. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear must be alert and understand the times.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Columbia University Welcomes the Man Who Would Finish Hitler's Work

A student asked me if there is anybody I would want to see banned from speaking at Tyndale or if I think freedom of speech is absolute. My answer was that yes, there are speakers who should be banned from Tyndale.

If students want someone to protest, there are plenty of opportunities.

For example, just the other day I came across this article by Mona Charon, which talks about how Columbia University has "Oops, done it again." It is once again hosting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he is in town to speak at the United Nations General Assembly.

And some students, at least a few in the student newspaper anyway, are protesting. Good on them. Charon writes in the National Journal:
The Columbia Spectator is the student newspaper at Columbia University, the school I was once proud to call my alma mater. A report in that newspaper raises the following question: Are leading American universities producing moral illiterates?

According to the Spectator, a group of students who are members of a group called CIRCA, the Columbia International Relations Council and Association, has been invited to attend a private dinner with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he travels to New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week. A student spokesman for the group, asked if the invitation provoked controversy within CIRCA, seemed surprised by the question. “Everyone was really enthusiastic,” said Tim Chan. “They’re thrilled to have this opportunity.”

Ahmadinejad represents everything that campus liberals profess to hate. In order of importance, those things would be: (1) persecuting homosexuals; (2) cruel and abusive treatment of women; (3) brutal treatment of minorities; (4) shooting opponents of the regime in the streets; (5) restricting free speech; (6) building nuclear weapons; and (7) sponsoring terror worldwide. Tehran provides material and moral support for Bashar Assad’s murderous regime in Syria, which has mowed down protesters by the thousands in the past few months. The Iranian regime is also guilty of fetid anti-Semitism, and has the blood of many American soldiers who served in Iraq on its hands — though it isn’t clear that the latter two offenses rate very highly with Columbia students.

Even as members of CIRCA were eagerly anticipating dining with one of the world’s true fiends, the Iranian government was refusing to release American hikers Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, who were recently convicted of espionage after a secret trial and sentenced to eight years in prison. Both Bauer and Fattal are graduates of Berkeley, and believers — if you can extrapolate from their backgrounds in “sustainable development” and freelance photography for leftist outlets like Democracy Now! — in liberal causes. Even if members of CIRCA feel no particular solidarity with the hikers as fellow Americans, they might at least feel something for fellow members of the liberal clerisy. But apparently not.

College students are old enough to be responsible for their own moral decision-making, but the faculty and administration of Columbia University certainly provided an appalling example in 2007 when they invited Ahmadinejad to speak.
It is, shall we say, problematic, that Columbia thinks this Jew-hating, holocaust-denying, anti-Western instrument of a totalitarian theocracy is a lovely dinner guest. Why would they think so? Charon nails it in the final paragraphs of her article:

Something is inoculating Ahmadinejad from the total contempt members of the university community would ordinarily feel toward someone with his views and his behavior. . . .

My suspicion is that the harshly adversarial pose of the university toward American society and culture leads to a misplaced benefit of the doubt toward enemies of this country. It is Ahmadinejad’s very hatred of the U.S. that makes him intriguing to Columbia.

This is an excellent example of how blind people have become as a result of the anti-Western, anti-Zionism, anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-colonialism, anti-patriarchy, anti-Catholic, anti-Tradition propaganda that almost totally dominates most secular universities today. Just because Muslim fanatics are anti-Western, they are treated as allies by the Left. It is just like Jane Fonda going to Hanoi and calling America evil during the Vietnam War. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The answer to the student newspaper's question above is: "Yes, leading universities are turning out moral illiterates." Here we see the results. Bow to dictators and haters; attack and ban those who would stand up to them. The problem with Columbia is that George W. Bush would be protested and Ahmadinejad gets a pass. It is the mindset that sees this as normal that I see as the problem. We are talking about radically different worldviews here.

What unites radical Islamists, anarchists, Marxists, radical Feminists etc. is the conviction that Western civilization and Christianity are evil and must be destroyed. You can see it in the sexual revolution, which is an assault on the family. You can see it in the way the Obama administration refuses to hold Islamic extremism accountable. You can see it in the way the Left treats Israel.

As the writer of Ecclesiastes might well have said, "There is a time to protest and a time to keep silent."

Why Anti-capitalism is Irrational and Harmful

At this stage in history there should not be anybody left who opposes capitalism, or, to use the term I think is more precise: free enterprise.

The 20th century has seen one socialist experiment after another fail. A few small, countries with vibrant capitalist sectors such as Sweden have managed to make the welfare state last a long time without going broke, but now social democratic Europe teeters on the brink of economic collapse. The more the US tries to imitate Europe, the closer it moves to collapse as well. The roll call of utter failure is long and depressing: the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia, much of Africa and South America, etc. Only market economics work in the modern world.

Yet Christians often are found among the out-dated, romantic, Utopian forces that oppose free enterprise and this is a scandal. It makes Christianity look anti-intellectual and anti-scientific. It also make us look like ideologues whose professed concern for the poor is less than totally sincere.

Here are three reasons why anti-capitalism is irrational and harmful:

1. Capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other social force, system or institution in history. The invention of Capitalism in Europe was as significant as step forward as the invention of agriculture in the distant past. Middle class people people today live better than European royalty did a few centuries ago - when 90% of the population was at subsistence level or below.

Marxism has glorious, stirring rhetoric; Capitalism has measurable, observable results. The invention of Capitalism has allowed nations to create wealth by trade, entrepreneurship and innovation. One essential condition for economic success is limited government and it is no accident that Capitalism emerged only in countries where the absolute power and scope of government was kept in check. All forms of Statism including Fascism, Communism, Socialism and the Liberal Welfare State would roll back this check on big government and remove the conditions under which Capitalism works.

2. Capitalism is the only economic system that allows for individual liberty, which is essential to human flourishing. All statist economic systems produce populations of perpetual adolescents who never learn to stand on their own two feet and take personal responsibility for supporting themselves. (Just look at the recent extension of adolescence in our society to the period lasting from puberty to the late twenties.) Capitalism is compatible with personal liberty and personal responsibility because it punishes bad moral choice and rewards good ones. It allows for multiple fresh starts in life.

If a person works hard, avoids drugs and drunkenness, get married and stays married, this person will not be in poverty and will rise to the level of his or her abilities in the world. But whether a person is rich or poor, it is possible under Capitalism to be independent and fully equal before the law with others. This is to recognize the moral nature of the universe and to come to terms with it, which is an essential task of human life.

3. Capitalism is compatible with Christianity. Notice, I do not say it is Christianity nor that it is always accompanied by Christianity. Rather, Christianity makes Capitalism possible and Capitalism itself does not threaten Christianity. All forms of statism involve the all-powerful State attempting to take the place of God and are thus implicitly alternative religions to the worship of the One, True God.

A country that is highly influenced by Christianity in the form of a large church or churches will have the advantage of a strong social force preaching self-restraint and moral living. Only a society in which the majority of the population choose virtue over vice and voluntarily restrain their lusts will be able to preserve political liberty. Without the virtue that everywhere accompanies the spread of Christianity, chaos will cause people to look to the Dictator, the Police State, the Nanny State or some form of statist control in order to make life bearable. In such cases, Capitalism cannot work. Capitalism and political liberalism in general, cannot work in a non-Christian country for long without collapsing into some for of statism.

On the other hand, Capitalism creates liberty for the individuals Christianity is trying to convert to the Faith and in a capitalist society there is sufficient mobility and freedom for individuals to become Christians and function differently on the basis of their faith.

Capitalism implicitly recognizes the truth of two major Christian doctrines: original sin and the need to serve the neighbour. Capitalism is often said to be built on greed, but that is simply a slander. Capitalism involves producing goods or services your neighbour needs, wants and is willing to pay for. If you don't serve the neighbour, you starve. And Capitalism recognizes that people are naturally acquisitive and greedy because of sin and structures economic exchange in such a way that channels this negative energy into socially useful and productive endeavors. If you live next to a greedy, millionaire, would you rather that he channeled his energy into systematic looting and robbery or into building a construction business or a store? If you answered the former, you might be a socialist.

Anti-Capitalism, then, is irrational and harmful to society. The problem with modern Western nations like Canada, America and the nations of Europe is not that we have too much Capitalism; it is that we do not have enough of it. Most of Capitalism's bad press derives from people thinking that distortions of it are the real thing. What Obama is doing with "green energy" or the auto industry is not capitalism but cronyism and statism. What they do in China is more like Mercantilism than Capitalism despite the use of the term "State Capitalism."

Capitalism does require the rule of law. There must be laws enforced by the State which create a level playing field by, for example, limiting monopolies, making bankruptcy possible and enforcing a minimal level of health and safety regulations. The goal is equality of opportunity. But the tendency of the State in modern society is to try to create equality of outcome, which requires government intervention on a scale that is incompatible with individual liberty.

Human inequality of abilities and character is a permanent feature of life in a fallen world. Therefore some will become rich and others remain poor, while the majority will be in the middle. We should care for the poor with charity and accept that equality of income is impossible without a coercive assault on individual liberty that will cause more problems than it solves.

If this life were the end of human existence and if there were no future life - no heaven and hell or Day of Judgment - then human inequality would be tragic. But for the Christian, this life is important but not all we have to hope for. Therefore, personal liberty exercised through moral choice is a necessary aspect of fulfilling our human purpose on this earth. This world is a preparation for the next life and any economic system that depresses individual choice in favor of a vision of social justice as income redistribution and equality of outcome is inimical to religion. In trying to bring heaven to earth, it fails to let us be prepared for the real heaven. As every serious Christian theologian in the history of theology has recognized, relative wealth and poverty (above the level of subsistence) is of secondary importance to character, religious commitment and worship.

This is a hard saying for materialistic, atheistic, socialists. But it shows what a gulf exists between Christianity and all forms of statism. It really is a worldview divide that cannot be bridged except by conversion in one direction or the other.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The George W. Bush Fiasco at Tyndale: A Sad and Shameful Episode in Our History

On Tuesday, September 20, the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, was due to speak at an event organized and paid for by a Tyndale supporter as a means by which people who do not know much about Tyndale could be introduced to the mission of Tyndale.

He was to speak on the role of faith-based institutions in the world of higher education, a subject on which he has a unique perspective as the author of significant, ground-breaking policy in this area during his years in office. The speech was an opportunity for Tyndale to make its case, through a high-profile political figure, for the legitimacy of a Christian university operating in public as a recognized, accredited institution of higher education even though it is privately-funded and even though it dissents from the reigning secularism of the contemporary culture.

I would have thought that anyone supportive of Tyndale would be happy to see this dialogue beginning to occur in the heart of secular Toronto. If Tyndale is to grow and develop as a Christian institution it must secure funding and, more importantly, public recognition as a legitimate alternative to publicly-funded universities. Otherwise, it might as well go back to being a school for the preparation of clergy only. If what we want is to bring Christ into the midst of the public square and bear witness to him there, then having this kind of dialogue with the kind of people who would have attended this event is exactly what we should want to see occur.

But not everybody thought so. A small group of ideologically-driven, left-leaning, former students decided to put up a website, start a petition that accused George Bush of being a war criminal and call for the event to be canceled, Bush's speech to be censored and Tyndale to apologize for having the temerity to invite him to speak.

This led to the cancellation of the event. By whom? We don't know. Why? We don't know. Tyndale's official spokesman has gone silent and faculty and staff have been asked to keep quiet. Why? Nobody knows. What happens next? Good question.

I want to point out a few things here that ought to be taken into consideration in formulating an evaluation of this situation.

First, the tone of smug, self-righteousness, judgmental, condemnation of a fellow Christian by those who profess to be Evangelicals should be a dead give-away that this whole crusade of censorship is not a good thing. George Bush is a sinner just like you and me. He had perhaps the most difficult and complicated job in the world in 2001 and he undoubtedly made some mistakes, although he also did many fine and commendable things. Would any of us have done better in his place? It is easy to think so and easier still when you are blinded by Utopian ideology.

The angry, secular Left hates George Bush because he is not a socialist. That is the fundamental reason they attack him. Barack Obama does not get the vitriol, the hatred, the slanderous attacks, the rush to judgment that Bush gets because Obama is perceived as left-leaning. Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay. He didn't. Obama promised to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He didn't; in fact, he helped start a new one in Lybia. Obama increased the unmaned drone strikes on terrorist targets in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan that have killed many civilians. Obama ordered a Navy Seals team to enter a foreign country and kill Osama bin Laden. That got a few murmurs of disapproval from the Left for a week or two. But generally speaking when Obama does it the Left goes tsk, tsk and then shifts the blame (somehow) to George Bush. The Left does not hate war or violence; it just hates such things if the Right does them and if they can be turned into a stick with which to beat their enemies. Much of the anti-Bush hate is just partisan politics and it stinks of hypocrisy. It is distressing to see Tyndale students and alumni get caught up in the hypocrisy of the angry, secular Left.

The ambivalence of Evangelicals over certain of his policies has caused his natural allies to speak up less vociferously in his defense than they normally would do for a fellow conservative and fellow Evangelical Christian. This factor has made it possible for the Left to demonize Bush to a ridiculous extent and get away with it. He has been turned into a symbol of all that is evil; he is Capitalism, War, Violence, Exploitation, Imperialism, Racism and Sexism all rolled up into one neat package suitable for burning in effigy and spitting on.

In this frenzy of hate stoked by the Left one thing has been forgotten. George W. Bush is also a man. He is a son, a father, a husband, a sinner, a believer and a flesh and blood human being. There is more to the man than just decisions surrounding the Iraq War. He encouraged faith based organizations to get involved in social service work instead of marginalizing them. (I don't fully agree with this program but I acknowledge his good intentions.) He did much for the relief of suffering caused by AIDS in Africa. Ask any African. And he did as much as he could under the constraints of political realities to protect innocent, unborn human beings from the cruel knife of the abortionist.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with his politics; let's have the debate. I would defend George Bush on many points and criticize him on others. But to turn him into the devil incarnate, someone we should not even talk to, someone we should piously separate ourselves from like the Pharisees separated themselves from classes of ritually unclean sinners - that is not following Christ. It is unfair, nasty and unchristian. It is also no way to run a university.

A university should be a place of debate, dialogue and sharp, but civil, disagreement. It should not be a place of propaganda, censorship and angry self-righteousness. All over North America we are seeing marching, chanting protestors shutting down free speech and threatening or carrying out physical violence against Jews, conservatives, Christians, pro-lifers and others. The police have been used to silence the pro-life witness at the University of Calgary and the University of Ottawa. Ann Coulter was prevented from speaking at the University of Ottawa by an angry mob. Modern universities have speech codes, speech police and ideologically narrow boundaries in which public speech is allowed. This is one reason why we need Christian universities - to uphold the noble Western tradition of free speech and open debate.

So when the tactics of the angry, secular Left are brought into the Tyndale community it is doubly sad. Why should anybody bother to make donations to allow us to operate if we are no different from the secular universities around us? Why should students come and pay high tuition to Tyndale when they could go to York and watch angry, left-wing mobs shut down free speech for half the price?

There are a hundred campuses in Canada that would refuse to listen to George Bush. If one or two gave him him a hearing, would the sky fall? We hear a lot about diversity and tolerance but we should remember that those who talk loudest about diversity and tolerance are not talking about ideas. When it comes to the clash of ideas they are rigid, narrow and intolerant. For them diversity and tolerance apply to incidentals: the color of the skin of the person making the speech not what he is saying. Thomas Sowell and Allen West are tolerated - so long as they keep their mouths shut. The same applies to Prem Watsa.

There is an old joke about diversity as applied to the Political Science department. There is the Black Marxist professor, the woman Feminist Marxist professor, the lesbian Marxist professor and the token white male Marxist professor. There is the kind of diversity the Left admires. Heaven help us if we allowed a capitalist professor anywhere near the place.

If the students who were upset would have devoted their website to a discussion and debate over the moral issues raised by Bush's presidency and would have stuck to the issues leaving personalities and partisan politics out of it, they could have done a good service to their university and to the public. If only they had wanted dialogue instead of shutting down the event. They got what they wanted but in the process they did themselves no credit.

What I find so sad and shameful is that they instead chose to adopt the tactics of the angry Left: propaganda, censorship, shouting down and demonizing. Those methods owe more to Saul Alinsky than to the Sermon on the Mount. In important ways they are just as violent as George Bush. Politics for them is war carried on by other means and those with whom we disagree are the enemy, not merely wrong.

We saw this with the viciousness of the attacks that were launched on Tyndale's president by one of the group in particular. (I'm not linking to their stuff; I just can't bring myself to do so. You can look it up if you like.) Sarcasm, insinuation and assumptions about motives are just not fair or good.

You can believe the president of Tyndale did not handle this well but we all should remember that we lack knowledge that might put his actions in a different light - just like we lack knowledge about the situation George Bush faced, which might put his actions in a different light as well. Being president of anything is hard. Setting up a website and taking pot shots is a lot easier.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

American Jews Must Choose Between Israel and Obama

Last night's shocking election of a Republican in a Brooklyn-Queens district in New York City in the special election to replace the disgraced Anthony Wiener should be a huge wake-up call for President Obama. The district is mainly blue-collar, heavily Catholic and Orthodox Jewish, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3:1 margin. This is a very big deal for Obama's re-election chances next year.

The three biggest issues were Obama and the economy, Obama and Israel and the Democratic candidate's support for same-sex marriage in the New York state legislature. It was a clearly a referendum on Obama. Two former mayors of New York, Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani both endorsed the Republican, Bob Turner. The mismanagement of the economy by the Obama administration is obvious. What I want to focus on is Obama's obvious anti-Israel stance and how is may affect the upcoming presidential election.

Dan Senor of the Wall Street Journal lists the evidence of anti-Israel bias on the part of Obama. I quote it extensively because it is so concise and so clearly damning.

February 2008: When running for president, then-Sen. Obama told an audience in Cleveland: "There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel." Likud had been out of power for two years when Mr. Obama made this statement. At the time the country was being led by the centrist Kadima government of Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres, and Prime Minister Olmert had been pursuing an unprecedented territorial compromise. As for Likud governments, it was under Likud that Israel made its largest territorial compromises—withdrawals from Sinai and Gaza.

July 2009: Mr. Obama hosted American Jewish leaders at the White House, reportedly telling them that he sought to put "daylight" between America and Israel. "For eight years"—during the Bush administration—"there was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished," he declared.

Nothing? Prime Minister Ariel Sharon uprooted thousands of settlers from their homes in Gaza and the northern West Bank and deployed the Israeli army to forcibly relocate their fellow citizens. Mr. Sharon then resigned from the Likud Party to build a majority party based on a two-state consensus.

In the same meeting with Jewish leaders, Mr. Obama told the group that Israel would need "to engage in serious self-reflection." This statement stunned the Americans in attendance: Israeli society is many things, but lacking in self-reflection isn't one of them. It's impossible to envision the president delivering a similar lecture to Muslim leaders.

September 2009: In his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama devoted five paragraphs to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during which he declared (to loud applause) that "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." He went on to draw a connection between rocket attacks on Israeli civilians with living conditions in Gaza. There was not a single unconditional criticism of Palestinian terrorism.

March 2010: During Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel, a Jerusalem municipal office announced plans for new construction in a part of Jerusalem. The president launched an unprecedented weeks-long offensive against Israel. Mr. Biden very publicly departed Israel.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton berated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a now-infamous 45-minute phone call, telling him that Israel had "harmed the bilateral relationship." (The State Department triumphantly shared details of the call with the press.) The Israeli ambassador was dressed-down at the State Department, Mr. Obama's Middle East envoy canceled his trip to Israel, and the U.S. joined the European condemnation of Israel.

Moments after Mr. Biden concluded his visit to the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority held a ceremony to honor Dalal Mughrabi, who led one of the deadliest Palestinian terror attacks in history: the so-called Coastal Road Massacre that killed 38, including 13 children and an American. The Obama administration was silent. But that same day, on ABC, Mr. Axelrod called Israel's planned construction of apartments in its own capital an "insult" and an "affront" to the United States. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs went on Fox News to accuse Mr. Netanyahu of "weakening trust" between the two countries.

Ten days later, Mr. Netanyahu traveled to Washington to mend fences but was snubbed at a White House meeting with President Obama—no photo op, no joint statement, and he was sent out through a side door.

April 2010: Mr. Netanyahu pulled out of the Obama-sponsored Washington summit on nuclear proliferation after it became clear that Turkey and Egypt intended to use the occasion to condemn the Israeli nuclear program, and Mr. Obama would not intervene.

March 2011: Mr. Obama returned to his habit of urging Israelis to engage in self-reflection, inviting Jewish community leaders to the White House and instructing them to "search your souls" about Israel's dedication to peace.

May 2011: The State Department issued a press release declaring that the department's No. 2 official, James Steinberg, would be visiting "Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank." In other words, Jerusalem is not part of Israel. Later in the month, only hours before Mr. Netanyahu departed from Israel to Washington, Mr. Obama delivered his Arab Spring speech, which focused on a demand that Israel return to its indefensible pre-1967 borders with land swaps.

Jews in the US are going to have to choose between left-wing ideology and support for the Jewish people and their national homeland in the next election. For conservative Jews it is a no-brainer, but for those who lean toward socialism it is wrenching. I only hope that this becomes the occasion for many of them to realize that left-wing ideology is inherently incompatible with the vision of human rights, democracy and political liberalism they cherish.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 Memorial

George W. Bush gave a speech this afternoon in Shanksville, PA, where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2o01. You can watch it here.

It is eloquent, profound and very moving. As one of the comments said, "How refreshing to hear a president talk for 10 minutes without saying "I" "me" or "mine" once." He was respectful and yet had something important to say.

Compared to Obama's insincere scold the other night, this speech was masterful. George W. Bush sounded mature, thoughtful and deeply convinced of the truth of what he was saying.

When I hear Obama's supporters talk about how eloquent he is, I can't help but wonder if they listen to the same speeches I do. Obama is self-centered and condescending to us "bitter clingers." He embodies and epitomizes the permanent ruling class of the United States, which is so out of touch with the majority of Americans that the fact that he is black is not particularly relevant to anything. He did not get where he is by challenging the politically correct conventional wisdom or prejudices of the Ivy League/Wall Street elite.

The United States will survive this presidency but in a weakened form. And I am not talking merely about economics; I am talking about moral fiber and faith.

Free Speech in Decline in the West

It is back to school week and so it is an appropriate time to reflect with a certain degree of nostalgia on the good old days half a century ago or so when Western society, and universities in particular enjoyed the right of free speech.

How long will it be before this blog is shut down? I don't know; that is why I keep writing. I expect a long vacation at some point in the future and I can rest then.

Mark Steyn has a great piece out on the decline of free speech rights in the West in the decade since 9/11. The terrorists terrorized us and free speech died. Actually, one should not use the passive voice; it was murdered by politically correct, cultural Marxists out to undermine the foundations of our culture so we are softened up for the Revolution. Anyway, Mark reflects on how the jihad against Christianity and the political liberalism that came out of it is going these days:
Had John O’Sullivan and Kathryn Lopez chanced to be strolling by the Driftwood Beach Bar on the Isle of Wight when, in the course of oldies night, Simon Ledger performed “Kung Fu Fighting,” they would have had no grounds for complaint, even if he’d done the extended dance remix. However, the passersby in question were Chinese, and so Mr. Ledger was arrested for racism.

In such a world, words have no agreed meaning. “There were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown” is legal or illegal according to whosoever happens to hear it. Indeed, in my very favorite example of this kind of thinking, the very same words can be proof of two entirely different hate crimes. Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary “moderation” he’s been knighted by the Queen. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal was interviewed on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was “immoral,” was “not acceptable,” “spreads disease,” and “damaged the very foundations of society.” A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard’s “community safety unit” for “hate crimes” and “homophobia.”

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a “barmy doctrine” growing “like a canker” and deeply “homophobic.” In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for “Islamophobia.”

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for Islamophobia.

Two men say exactly the same thing and they’re investigated for different hate crimes. On the other hand, they could have sung “Kung Fu Fighting” back and forth to each other all day long and it wouldn’t have been a crime unless a couple of Chinese passersby walked in the room.

If you don't think this is crazy, you must be missing something. The most important sentence philosophically in that quotation is the one I bolded: "In such a world words have no agreed meaning." Steyn's humorous stories have a philosophically serious point: in the absence of metaphysical realism, the nominalism of late modernity disconnects words from their referents and makes them susceptible to manipulation by the powers-that-be so that anything you say can be twisted into meaning whatever they want it to mean. Not only is truth no defense; neither is the actual meaning of words. You literally cannot know if you said something illegal until Big Brother informs you after the fact.

I started with a reference to universities. Here is an interview by Ezra Levant with the lawyer for the University of Calgary students who have been expelled for expressing their constitutional right to free speech because the bullies in the administration dislike the content of their ideas.

It is amusing that Canadian Association of University Teachers, the leftie union, thinks that Christian universities do not have academic freedom because you have to sign a doctrinal statement in order to be hired. They are fine with Canadian universities deciding after the fact whether what you said is illegal or not according to the latest version of group-think among left-wing faculty and administration members. That isn't incompatible with academic freedom at all.

If the CAUT really believed in academic freedom or free speech in general, they would be fighting the University of Calgary tooth and nail. And they would be up in arms about the angry Left physically preventing Ann Coulter from speaking last year at the University of Ottawa. But no - those atrocities are just fine. What we really need to be worried about is a few small universities where they still believe in God.