Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Mediation on the Text of the Week

Like Nothing Else on Earth

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.
My soul longs, yes faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Psalm 84: 1,2
What makes a person happy? It is a question worth asking because people overwhelmingly identify happiness as the experience or state they value above all else. But there are few who attain such a state of happiness. For most it is a fleeting experience. But to be happy only for a time is a sure indicator that whatever brought happiness was not the true or genuine cause of joy.

This is one reason why so many marriages in our modern world fall apart. From the outset they are made to bear a weight that is beyond the institution itself. The idea that marrying another person will make or ensure one's happiness is a foolish notion. Of course, when it does not transpire as expected, the marriage is discarded. Clearly the marriage had not “worked out”. The marriage partner had not made one happy, after all.

Our text speaks of a joy and felicity in terms that are so exuberant that it is almost embarrassing in our culture which values understatement and reserve. The depth of passion and longing for the courts, the dwelling place of the Lord of hosts is striking. The Psalmist was either exaggerating, or was subject to religious dementia. Many would think that these are not sentiments of a balanced and reasonable person.

In fact they reflect a person who is remarkably sane and profoundly in balance. For the Psalmist has found the secret of life itself—the secret of happiness. It is a secret known to all Believers to one extent or another. Felicity is to be found not in myself, but in another. But the “other” is not my husband, wife, child or any other creature. Happiness is found, known, and experienced by being in the presence of the Lord of hosts. It is experienced truly when we are able to visit with Him, in the place where He dwells.

Where then does the Lord dwell, that we too may yearn, long, and seek to visit with Him, in His house? For when we enter His dwelling place, we see Him. Seeing Him, and being in His presence, fills His people with joy and happiness. It brings us into the very purpose and meaning of life itself. Therefore, where does He dwell, that we may enter and visit with Him? Let us go quickly, without delay.

In asking this question, we know that only God can answer it. For the dwelling place of God is at His appointment and determination, not ours. Our fathers talked about the evils of “will worship”--something not often spoken of in our days of ignorance. “Will worship” is that act of pride and pretense which asserts that we can summon and conjure the Lord at the time and place and media of our pleasure. The Psalmist, however, was in no doubt. If he was to visit with the Lord it was to be in the Lord's house—where He had chosen to put His Name, where His holy altar was established. Our joy, then, is to go to the Lord at the place of His choosing, not to vaingloriously summon Him to the place of our election and pleasure.

Under the Older Covenant this place was in space and time; it was localised upon the earth. That place was at the Ark of the Covenant and its surrounding Tabernacle and the great altar. In time this was fixed, by divine appointment and command, in Jerusalem at the temple. The Psalmist is, thus, speaking about the extremes of joy and happiness he found when he entered through the Beautiful Gate, came into the vast courts of the Gentiles, then passed through to the place of sacrifice and attended upon the holy place. There he joined with the Lord's people to sing psalms of praise, to enter into public and private prayers, offer up sacrifices, and hear God speak through the words of His appointed servants.

Under the New Covenant, in which we now live, the dwelling place of God which He has appointed, is once again localised upon the earth. It is at a particular space and time—at His appointment and choosing. He dwells there. He meets with His people in that place and at that time. He blesses His people there with His presence. They find that this place is lovely. It is the place where their heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Where is this place and time where the Lord has chosen to dwell? It is wherever God's people gather together in the Name of Jesus Christ His Son. He had chosen to be there and dwell there. Did our Lord not declare, “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”? (Matthew 18:20)

Thus the question of where might the place of the Lord's dwelling be is easily answered. He has appointed His house and chosen dwelling place to be wherever His people gather in the Name of His Son to worship Him and attend upon Him. Gathering to this place makes us truly and profoundly happy; it sheds a divine light upon all else, so that our entire existence becomes one of happiness and felicity.

My soul longs, yes faints for these courts.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Is Tolerance a Virtue?

Beware of Appeals to Tolerance

“Free” societies extol the virtue of tolerance. The two concepts of freedom and tolerance are closely related. If people are to be free to be, do, pursue and achieve as they please the rest of the population must extend a permissive tolerance towards them. This would appear to be self-evident.

Yet, it is also self-evident that society cannot continue without a profound intolerance. Without prescribed rules and regulations, laws and institutions of punishment, no society can exist for long. It turns out that tolerance, while having an intuitive appeal, is a problematic idea. Most people espouse it, without much rigour or honesty at all. People like to view themselves as tolerant and “big hearted”. To be accused of intolerance is tantamount to accusing someone of having a sexually transmitted disease. It is one of modern society's nastiest skewers.

We take the view that everyone without exception has to be both tolerant and intolerant. Every single human being approves, approbates, and therefore tolerates something. Equally, every single human being is intolerant of its opposite. Consequently, neither toleration nor intolerance is a virtue. It is the object of tolerance or intolerance that makes it so.

It is standard operating procedure for the Unbeliever to accuse the citizen of Jerusalem of bigoted intolerance. You will not tolerate homosexuals! You are bigoted towards abortion! Your intolerance makes you a hater and a wrecker. We, however, are profoundly tolerant, says the Unbeliever. We welcome all. We may not necessarily agree, but we accept and tolerate. That makes us more human. It means we operate on a higher more positive level of being.

This sort of discourse is nothing more than a lazy dissent into ad hominem name calling. The real and substantial issue remains this: since all human beings are both tolerant and intolerant, what should we be tolerant about and what should we be intolerant towards? And on what basis are such determinations to be made—that is, by what standard are they to be measured?

And, are there different standards of tolerance and intolerance to be applied by different institutions of society? For example, all sins are not crimes. Therefore, the State may tolerate practices that some believe to be profoundly evil and immoral, and which particular individuals and families utterly reject. On the other hand, the State may legitimately be intolerant towards something which other institutions in society find perfectly acceptable—such as immigration, as in whether a member of my extended family should be allowed residency in my new adopted country. What is the basis or standard by which such decisions or differences might be tolerated and promulgated?

When Unbelievers accuse Believers of intolerance they are calling upon their own particular religious beliefs to make the judgment. Nine times out of ten they are failing to take the log out of their own eye. It will turn out that they also are deeply intolerant—just over different things.

Moreover, Believers are often far more open and liberal and tolerant to so many more things than Unbelievers. After all, it is the Scripture itself which teaches that doctrines of "taste not" and "touch not" are demonic. All of creation is good and holy and given by God our Creator as a gift to men. It is often the Unbeliever these days who is the wowser, being deeply intolerant towards certain foods, carbon footprints, types of lightbulbs and so forth. It is the intolerant Unbeliever who says, "No" to nuclear power. Believers view our created world as a wonder to be loved, enjoyed, used, and subdued. Believers celebrate life, food, feasting and the wealth of labour and industry. It is the Unbeliever in our day who has become the nagging and querulous wowser.

We are always amused by people who proclaim that they are Liberal. Usually this claim is made with a degree of self-satisfaction or pride. It turns out that there are only two kinds of Liberals: those who believe everyone else should be like them, and those who believe that no-one else need or ought to be like them. If the former, a malodorous bigotry, intolerance and illiberality are always present. If the latter kind, they are irrelevant to any discussion whatsoever.

However empty arguments over tolerance or intolerance might be, we should never lose sight of the emotive power of appeals to tolerance. Unbelievers will continue to hurl the accusation of intolerance against the Church and citizens of Jerusalem. We need to be acutely aware that in an age where government-run humanist education dominates; where, consequently; educational standards are falling steadily; and where over thirty percent of the adult population is now functionally illiterate, fewer and fewer people are able to think critically and rationally. Therefore irrelevant and emotional appeals to tolerance will be increasingly powerful to the lazy or easily led, regardless of their irrelevance or dissembling nature.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Read, Weep, Pray, Work

Soft Tyranny Which Athens Loves

We reproduce below one of those rare pieces which looks deep into the heart of our modern darkness with coruscating clarity.

While it is written of America to citizens of the United States, virtually every sentence is applicable to this country. While this is a longish piece, it is well worth reading and reflecting upon.

Is America Becoming Europe?
Where once we were citizens, we have become clients.

By Paul Rahe

In the face of Europe’s all-too-obvious moral, political, and demographic decline, Americans should not gloat or be smug. Unless something changes in the near future, the odds are good that we will follow our European cousins on the path that leads to servitude. In the course of the last century, we, too, have contracted what I call the French disease — under Democrats and Republicans alike, the malady advances at a quickening pace.

Today marks 150 years since the death of Alexis de Tocqueville. Is the democracy that he wrote about with such sharp insight dead as well? The steady erosion of mores, manners, and religion suggests, at the very least, that its condition may be critical.

Many of the moral obstacles to majority tyranny identified in Democracy in America have now disappeared. In the United States, the legal profession and the courts were once, as Tocqueville observed, a restraint on the populist impulse. Today, their game is demagoguery, and their aim is to anticipate, strengthen, guide, and profit from the impulse that they once restrained.

In the name of democracy, legal activists and politicized judges are willing to sweep away forms and formalities; in the name of progress, they are prepared to run roughshod over the legislative branch, especially in the states and localities; and, in the name of compassion, they are prepared to sanction systematic theft. Whether genuinely responsible for a tort or not, the defendant who has deep pockets is made to pay.

Civil associations still exist, to be sure. But, within the administrative state, the only ones that really flourish are lobbying operations, staffed at the national level, with little local presence and virtually no civic engagement. Moreover, to an increasing degree, civil associations subsist as shells for the sole purpose of securing federal grants and subsidies. As such, they are instruments of the administrative state and not of civic agency.

In effect, what Tocqueville once said with France in mind now pertains to the United States as well. Most Americans may still “admit, as a general principle, that the public power should not intervene in private affairs, but, as an exception, each of them desires that it aid him in the special affair that preoccupies him,” and for this reason “the sphere of the central power extends itself imperceptibly in every direction” despite the fact that many individuals wish “to restrain it” overall. (Emphasis, ours)

Our country has aged and, as Tocqueville predicted, it has steadily become more centralized. “Time works on behalf” of this process, he wrote. “All accidents are to its profit; individual passions come to its aid without [anyone] being aware of it.” In consequence, where once we were citizens, we have become clients and ours is the age of the lobbyist.

As a people, if we are to judge solely by attendance in church, Americans are still comparatively religious. But no one today would describe religion as “the first” of our “political institutions,” as Tocqueville once did, for it is no longer generally the case that our churches provide us with a moral anchor and impress upon us a severity in morals. Most of the mainline Protestant sects now fiercely advocate a toleration and compassionate embrace of that which they once regarded as abhorrent: if sanctimony is sustained, it is solely in offering succor to sin.

Those Catholic priests and evangelical Protestant ministers who are genuinely unsympathetic with the culture of self-indulgence all too frequently lack the moral authority required for persuasion. In our day, as in Tocqueville’s time, they fear their flocks, and they tailor their sermons to accommodate current fashion. The American Catholic Church is quick to hand out annulments, and the evangelical Protestants wink at serial monogamy punctuated by a recurrence of divorce.

Moreover, in the course of the last 60 years the courts have interpreted the First Amendment to the Constitution in such a fashion as to ban religion from the public sphere in a manner reminiscent of the militant laïcisme that has long formed the basis for public policy in France; and, in keeping with the logic underpinning these court decisions, some states have excised the phrase “under God” from the version of the Pledge of Allegiance recited in public schools.

It is as if the First Amendment were designed to provide Americans with freedom from religion and to protect the polity from contamination at its hands. In the same period, elite opinion, especially as situated within the universities, Hollywood, and the national media, gradually became virulently hostile to and contemptuous of religious faith; and, in certain, highly influential quarters, strong religious convictions are now treated publicly as a disqualification for election or appointment to high office.

Religious Americans who feel threatened by these developments may be inclined to push back, but they are thwarted at every turn. If the present trend continues, they will eventually come to occupy in America the pariah status to which they are to an ever increasing degree consigned in many countries on the continent of Europe. At this point, Christians will sink into an embarrassed silence.

There is no need to dwell on the state of American sexual mores. It suffices to say that the sexual division of labor, so admired by Tocqueville, has gone by the boards; that young faculty members who wonder out loud whether its abandonment was a good thing risk having their careers brought to an untimely end; that stay-at-home mothers are quite commonly treated with condescension, if not open contempt, especially by women in the professions; that, among sophisticates, manliness and femininity are considered hopelessly passé; that in public, as a matter of good manners, we are now required to pretend that, apart from the role that biology assigns the two sexes in procreation and nursing, the differences in conduct generally exhibited by women and men are no more reflective of the dictates of nature than is the assignment of gender to particular nouns in ancient Greek, Latin, German, Italian, and French; and that a university president, such as Larry Summers of Harvard, who fails in public to give lip service to this pious pretense courts immediate dismissal. It goes without saying that chastity and fidelity are no longer as fashionable as they were in Tocqueville’s day, and the unavoidable consequence is that quite frequently, in America, the home is no longer the haven from inquiétude that it once was.

In the United States, divorce has become so commonplace that, by way of anticipation, couples on the verge of marrying often sign pre-nuptial agreements specifying its terms. Matrimony — the public ritual in which, as the word’s etymology reminds us, motherhood is the aim, and, to that end, a man pledges to take responsibility for a particular woman’s future offspring — is itself on the wane, especially among those not college-educated.

Moreover, to an increasing degree, ambitious young women in college, and high school girls who are college-bound, prefer casually “hooking up” to the rituals of courtship and romantic love; and, within our educated elite, a species of serial concubinage called “partnership” is now in vogue. When one is introduced to someone’s “partner,” as often now takes place, one might be inclined, if one were mischievous, to ask what business the two are in, what are the terms of the contract between them, how long their partnership is expected to last, how many other partners they have, and precisely what it is that they share — but a frank exposure of the subterfuge would be thought unconscionably rude: so, out of politeness, we must pretend that nothing is amiss.

In keeping with this new ethos, in which marriage delayed generally comes to be marriage denied, out-of-wedlock births have soared; the overall birth rate has plummeted, especially among those who are themselves native born; and the casual killing of children as yet unborn is anything but rare.

Our euphemisms betray us. We have “adult bookstores” that no genuine adult would visit and “gentlemen’s clubs” that no gentleman would frequent; and in the name of “reproductive rights,” over the 35 years that have passed since the U. S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, we have put a violent end to nearly 50 million human lives. With what we have sacrificed, one could populate a country of considerable size.

Perhaps worst of all, many of the best educated among us — coarsened by a cowardly surrender to the fashionable conviction that killing a helpless human being for one’s own convenience is a matter of right — have come to adopt what Tocqueville called the “impious maxim” that “everything is permitted in the interests of society.”

Just as, in the past, compulsory sterilization was commonplace and medical personnel associated with the Public Health Service, intent on improving our understanding of syphilis, were willing in the name of progress to deny proper medical treatment over a period of decades to ill-informed, comparatively helpless African-Americans known to be infected with the disease, so today their spiritual heirs think nothing of creating human beings in order to harvest from them, by way of premeditated murder, stem cells useful for medical research.

In our progressive age, we mistake wants for rights and talk of the latter incessantly, but no one who is not generally regarded as retrograde seriously holds it to be self-evident that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; [and] that among these” — the first and most important, the one that takes priority over all others — is the right to “life.” If we continue on the path we now traverse, soon, like the Dutch, we will casually kill the decrepit and old. After all, in Oregon, a progressive state which has always seen itself as a model for the nation, “physician-assisted suicide,” as it is so delicately called, has been sanctioned by the law since 1994.

In sum, the difference between the United States of America and France would now appear to be merely a matter of degree. In our mores and manners, in our attitudes with regard to religion and morality, as well as in our political institutions and practices, we are more like Tocqueville’s compatriots than like the Americans of his day. And the fears that he expressed with regard to the French now apply with considerable force to us as well, for we have forgotten that human life is sacred, that it is unjust to take from one to give to another, that libertinism is fatal to liberty, and that strong, stable families and personal self-discipline are prerequisites for sustaining a government limited with regard to the ends it may pursue and the means it may employ.

In the process, we have jettisoned much of the equipment — political, social, moral, and psychological — that in the past enabled us to join together, stand our ground, and resist liberal democracy's despotic drift; and now, denied the benefit of that equipment, we face a worldwide financial panic and an economic downturn more severe than any encountered since the stock market collapsed in 1929.

Once again, as in the 1920s, rational administration has failed us. As on that other occasion, the Federal Reserve Board and the Department of the Treasury pursued over an extended period under more than one administration an easy-money policy bound in the end to give rise to “irrational exuberance” in the markets and to a bubble followed by a catastrophic decline in prices and a collapse of the credit markets. And, to make matters worse, we responded to this set of circumstances precisely as we did on that earlier occasion — by electing a president and choosing a Congress intent on dramatically increasing the scale and scope of the administrative state.

Our new masters have ample room for maneuver. They have it in their power to deepen the economic crisis and worsen our distress in the manner of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By instituting a second New Deal, as they would very much like to do — by sharply raising taxes on fossil fuels, dividends, and capital gains; by targeting the earnings of the well-to-do; by confiscating our 401(k)s and IRAs and substituting government retirement accounts at fixed interest; by pursuing protectionism, expanding the regime of programmatic rights, and forcing workers into labor unions — they can discourage investment, curb entrepreneurship, reduce foreign trade, and decisively slow economic growth, or even bring it to a lasting halt, while offering to those consigned to the dole thereby a dependence upon the generosity and good will of an all-encompassing state. Just how ambitious and ruthless they will prove to be on this occasion, just how far in the next few years they intend to hustle us down the path we tread, remains as yet undetermined.

The only thing that is crystal clear is the direction of our drift and the nature of the threat we face. Walter Lippmann’s warning is as apt today as when he issued it in 1937 — for “the premises of authoritarian collectivism” are once again, as they were then, “the working beliefs, the self-evident assumptions, the unquestioned axioms” behind “nearly every effort which lays claim to being enlightened, humane, and progressive,” and hardly anyone today “is taken seriously as a statesman or a theorist who does not come forward with proposals to magnify the power of public officials and to extend and multiply their intervention in human affairs.” (Emphasis, ours)

Like the younger Roosevelt, our new leader poses as a secular Messiah; his minions believe, as did the progressives of an earlier time, that “there has come into the world” in recent times “some new element which makes it necessary for us to undo the work of emancipation” achieved by our forebears and “to retrace the steps men have taken to limit the power of rulers”; and in the ranks of our compatriots they will find many prepared to sacrifice self-reliance and personal independence for a promise of security no government can keep. The hour is, indeed, late.

To those caught up in the maelstrom, recent developments may well seem dramatic, but, in truth, they serve merely to highlight the plight that we have been in for more than three-quarters of a century. In consequence of our abandonment of our religious and moral heritage, of our rejection of the spirit of individual responsibility and the principles of limited government, over our own people today, as over the French, there “is elevated an immense, tutelary power,” whose aim is to take “sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate.” (Emphasis, ours)

In America, as in France and in Europe more generally, this power is “absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident, and gentle.” It works willingly for our “happiness,” but it exacts a price, for “it wishes to be the only agent and the sole arbiter of that happiness.” It provides for our security, it foresees and supplies our needs, it guides us in our principal affairs, it directs our industry, it regulates our testaments, it divides our inheritances, and it covers the “surface” of our society “with a network of petty regulations — complicated, minute, and uniform.”

Generally, it is gentle; almost never is it harsh. “It does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them.” Only on the rarest of occasions “does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way: it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies.” And, step by step, relentlessly, with every passing day, as we gradually succumb to the spirit of irresponsibility and self-indulgence, this power grows in influence and scope, making us more and more like “a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” (Emphasis, ours)

Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. This is adapted from Soft Depotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect, which has just been published by Yale University Press. This article appeared in National Review Online, 16 April, 2009

Friday, 26 June 2009

Andrew Sullivan on Michael Jackson


The Atlantic carries this piece by Andrew Sullivan.

There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.

But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.

I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.

I hope he has the peace now he never had in his life. And I pray that such genius will not be so abused again.

The Hysteria Mounts

Duplicity and Its Friends

Readers of this blog will know that towards the end of this year the big and the bright and the powerful will gather in Copenhagen under the auspices of the UN in an attempt to get a world treaty or agreement on actions to stop the world "warming."

This is a quite critical meeting for the global warming movement, because the infamous Kyoto protocol is about to expire. Well, if truth be told, Kyoto expired years ago--as soon as it was promulgated. No nation, except those permitted to "pollute" has met its carbon output targets. The whole shenanigan has been risible.

So the matter becomes more urgent. Things have got worse. Which means that because Kyoto has failed, things have got warmer. Yes, we know that there is no evidence to support that, but trust us. We know that the earth is actually getting warmer underneath it all. It is like a subterranean cancer, growing all the time, no matter how much we might be freezing on the surface.

We have to take some really big actions now, which will mean pain, mostly for the poorest and most vulnerable of the earth. But the elites will respond. They will say, "this is good for you, this degradation we are making you suffer. It's hurting us more than it's hurting you." And the elites will feel good about it.

At least, that's the plan. But the global warming crusade is in a spot of bother. It's harder to get traction amidst a global economic crisis. So, in order to re-energize the troops, the cheer leaders and the crowd manipulators have been very active over recent months, putting out dire prediction after dire prediction. Scaremongering worked in getting Kyoto "through"; they believe it will work again.

The latest example of the dubious craft is documented in the Wall Street Journal. The protagonists are none other than the most revered and esteemed former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and a pesky academic, who was one of the contributors to the now thoroughly discredited IPCC report, which was, of course, intrinsic to Kyoto.

Firstly, the scary stuff.
Global warming alarmists are fond of invoking the authority of experts against the skepticism of supposedly amateur detractors -- a.k.a. "deniers." So when one of those experts says that a recent report on the effects of climate change is "worse than fiction, it is a lie," the alarmists should, well, be alarmed.

The latest contretemps pits former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, now president of the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum, against Roger Pielke, Jr., an expert in disaster trends at the University of Colorado. Mr. Annan's outfit issued a lengthy report late last month warning that climate change-induced disasters, such as droughts and floods, kill 315,000 each year and cost $125 billion, numbers it says will rise to 500,000 dead and $340 billion by 2030. Adding to the gloom, Mr. Annan predicts "mass starvation, mass migration, and mass sickness" unless countries agree to "the most ambitious international agreement ever negotiated" at a meeting this year in Copenhagen.
Ok, so let's sit up and pay attention. Mass starvation, migration, and sickness. It's obviously going to be considerably worse than swine-flu, this global warming stuff. Kofi has got our attention. We are ready to line up behind that Copenhagen treaty, no matter what it says. Sign? Of course we will. Just tell us where. Our pens are out and quivering.

But wait. Hold on. Let's talk about context, shall we?
Even on its own terms, the numbers here are a lot less scary when put into context. Malaria kills an estimated one million people a year, while AIDS claims an estimated two million. As for the economic costs, $125 billion is slightly less than the GDP of New Zealand. Question: Are targeted campaigns using proven methods to spare the world three million AIDS and malaria deaths a year a better use of scarce resources than a multitrillion-dollar attempt to re-engineer the global economy and save, at most, a tenth that number? We'd say yes.
Good one. That's better. The heart has stopped palpitating. The economic costs of global warming are slightly less than the GDP of New Zealand! And that is getting less by the day. Whew. We can slip the pen back into the pocket, with a rueful chuckle over our ready gullibility. You had us going there for a moment. But wait, there is more . . . .
But the Annan report deserves even closer scrutiny as an example of the sleight of hand that so often goes with the politics of global warming. Unlike starvation, climate change does not usually kill anyone directly. Instead, the study's authors assume a four-step chain of causation, beginning with increased emissions, moving to climate-change effects, thence to physical changes like melting glaciers and desertification, and finally arriving at human effects like malnutrition and "risk of instability and armed conflicts."

This is a heroic set of assumptions, even if you agree that emissions are causing adverse changes in climate. Take the supposedly heightened risk of conflict: The authors suggest that "inter-clan fighting in Somalia" is a product of climate change. A likelier explanation is the collapse of a functioning Somali government and the rise of jihadists in the region.
Mmmm. A four-step chain of causation. It would seem that Kofi has been fiddling with a rather long bow. If he does not watch out, the hysteria he wants to drum up may eventuate, but in the form of hysterics. It would not be seemly for Nero to be laughed at while Rome burns, even if he did have a very, very long bow. So, watch it, Kofi. Eggs on faces, and all that.

But then, the WSJ brings in the second protagonist.
Enter Mr. Pielke, who, we hasten to add, does not speak for us (nor we for him). But given the headlines the Annan report has garnered, his views deserve amplification. Writing in the Prometheus science policy blog, Mr. Pielke calls the report a "methodological embarrassment" and a "poster child for how to lie with statistics" that "does a disservice" to those who take climate change issues seriously.

Mr. Pielke's critique begins by citing a recent peer-reviewed paper by three German researchers that "it is generally difficult to obtain valid quantitative findings about the role of socioeconomics and climate change in loss increases." Reasons for this, the researchers explain, include "the stochastic [random] nature of weather extremes, a shortage of quality data, and the role of various other potential factors that act in parallel and interact."

The report does admit to a "significant margin of error," but this hardly excuses the sloppiness of its methodology. "To get around the fact that there has been no attribution of the relationship of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and disasters," Mr. Pielke notes, the Annan "report engages in a very strange comparison of earthquake and weather disasters in 1980 and 2005. The first question that comes to mind is, why? They are comparing phenomena with many 'moving parts' over a short time frame, and attributing 100% of the resulting difference to human-caused climate change. This boggles the mind."
Kofi's report is a "poster child on how to lie with statistics." It would seem that Kofi has form. Well, yes, of course he does. You do not get to run the UN without having form. Lying is an intrinsic and absolutely necessary part of the job.

Note that Pielke--who believes in global warming, remember--is effectively accusing Kofi and his coterie of throwing all caution to the wind and coming up with something blatantly and overtly deceptive and misleading. Talk about the syndrome of the embarrassing advocate. Either they must think that the whole world thinks as they think, so that anything claimed or said in favour of the global warming threat is believable, or they are becoming increasingly desperate. This is the very point the WSJ raises:
It gets worse. The Annan report cites Hurricane Katrina as a case study in the economic consequences of climate change. Yet there's not even remotely conclusive evidence that temperature increases have any effect on the intensity or frequency of hurricanes. The authors also claim that global warming is aggravating the El Niño effect, which has "ruined livelihoods, led to lost lives and impaired national economies." Yet new research "questions the notion that El Niños have been getting stronger because of global warming," according to Ben Giese of Texas A&M.

We could go on, except we're worried about the blood pressure of readers who are climate-change true believers. Our only question is, if the case for global warming is so open and shut, why the need for a report as disingenuous as Mr. Annan's?
It has long been said that laughter is the best medicine. But when confronted with desperate liars, or the naively credulous, it is also the best disinfectant.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Silent Revolution

Change We Can Believe In

We who live in the West can have a jaundiced view of things in the world. We live in a culture which is not just hostile towards our Lord Jesus Christ, it is scathingly derisive and dismissive. We can be excused somewhat if we fall into the trap of thinking all of the world to be equally hostile to the Lord Jesus Christ.

But a trap it is nonetheless. Mark A Noll, professor of history at Notre Dame, has had published recently a volume entitled The New Shape of World Christianity. At the beginning of the book, he gives us an overview of the "Rip Van Winkle" effect.
And the most important thing to realize about the current situation of Christianity throughout the world is that things are not as they were. A Christian Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep under a tree midway through the twentieth century and then woke up this past week to the sound of church bells (or a synthesizer with drums) on a Sunday morning, would not recognize the shifted shape of world Christianity.

It is as if the globe had been turned upside down and sideways. A few short decades ago, Christian believers were concentrated in the global north and west, but now a rapidly swelling majority lives in the global south and east. As Rip Van Winkle wiped a half-century of sleep from his eyes and tried to locate his fellow Christian believers, he would find them in surprising places, expressing their faith in surprising ways,under surprising conditions, with surprising relationships to culture.

The first thing that stands out is the growth in absolute numbers of professing Christians in the world.
The result of population changes—in general for the world, specifically for the churches—is a series of mind-blowing realities: More than half of all Christian adherents in the whole history of the church have been alive in the last one hundred years.

Consider the following snapshot to get an idea of how the Kingdom has changed demographic and geographic shape.
The magnitude of recent changes is the first thing, though not necessarily the most important thing, to grasp about the new world situation. A series of contrasts can underscore the great changes of the recent
  • This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called “Christian Europe.” Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China; only in 1971 did the communist regime allow for one Protestant and one Roman Catholic Church to hold public worship services, and this was mostly a concession to visiting Europeans and African students from Tanzania and Zambia.
  • This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya,South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined—and the number of Anglicans in church in Nigeria was several times the number in those other African countries.
  • This past Sunday more Presbyterians were at church in Ghana than in Scotland, and more were in congregations of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa than in the United States.
  • This past Sunday there were more members of Brazil’s Pentecostal Assemblies of God at church than the combined total in the two largest U.S. Pentecostal denominations, the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ in the United States.
  • This past Sunday more people attended the Yoido Full Gospel Church pastored by Yongi Cho in Seoul, Korea, than attended all the churches in significant American denominations like the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church or the Presbyterian Church in America. Six to eight times as many people attended this one church as the total that worshiped in Canada’s ten largest churches combined.

  • This past Sunday Roman Catholics in the United States worshiped in more languages than at any previous time in American history.

  • This past Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly black congregations. About half of the churchgoers in London were African or African-Caribbean. Today, the largest Christian congregation in Europe is in Kiev, and it is
    pastored by a Nigerian of Pentecostal background.

  • This past Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe, including historically Catholic Italy, Spain or Poland.

  • This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.

  • And for several years the world’s largest chapter of the Jesuit order has been found in India, not in the United States, as it had been for much of the late twentieth century.

    In a word, the Christian church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last fifty years than in any comparable period in its history, with the exception of the very earliest years of church history.

The King is upon the Throne. All nations are to be made His disciples. All enemies are to be placed under His feet. His Kingdom is coming, and there is no force in heaven or upon earth that can stop it.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

And Your Problem Is . . . ?

The Blight of Envy

One of the most offensive cultural traits of the city of Athens is the canker of envy which insidiously permeates and leavens all of its life. Envy is a truly destructive attitude of heart which poisons the mind, speech, and actions of anyone caught in it. When it becomes socially normative it incarcerates a community in poverty and degradation. It is the ultimate expression of an attitude which sees evil in others, rather than oneself, and which wallows in a deep pit of alleged victimisation.

Fearing the social hatred that envy produces, people prefer not to excel or succeed. When envy dominates a culture, the success of others is cursed. The envious take perverse pleasure in cutting others down to size. It is a price which many people prefer not to pay.

In New Zealand we have long heard of the "tall poppy syndrome". Those who succeed become targets of abusive criticism and a yearning desire to bring them down. We like poppies of all shapes and sizes, provided they are all the same. "Tall poppy syndrome" is just one manifestation of how much Athenian society is racked with envy.

Socialism is a particular political philosophy which glorifies and institutionalises envy, calling it just and good. Everyone should be the same. Egalitarianism is regarded as a positive social and economic virtue. When socialism is acceptable, envy is everywhere.

A recent example is provided by an article in the NZ Herald. The headline read: "We are Getting Richer, But the Gap is Widening." The retort ought to snap back: "And your problem is . . .?" However, when most people think a bit further they concede that there must be something inherently wrong or unjust with a situation where the gap between rich and poor in a society is growing, even though the lot of the poor is improving overall. It is envy which is whispering in the ear.

In Auckland, we are told, there are "rich" suburbs and "poor" suburbs. In the past period surveyed, the median income standards of the "rich suburbs" grew at a much faster rate than the "poor" suburbs, even though the "poor" suburbs median income has grown by 14 percent over the last fifteen years--in real terms. Ah, you say, that's got to be good. Oh, no. Why? Well, the median income in the "rich suburbs" grew by over 30 percent--more than twice the rate.

The late David Lange once infamously remarked that he would rather have no increase in living standards at all than a situation where the median income of the rich increased at a faster rate than that of the poor. To Lange, riddled with envy, this would mean that society was becoming more unjust. The perverse nature of envy is that it would rather cut the tall poppy down than aspire to be as tall. That is why it is such a destructive emotion and poisonous motivation.

For the past thirty years our political, economic, and social leaders have lamented the steady relative decline of New Zealand within the OECD. We have been urged to become a nation of entrepreneurs, innovators, risk-takers, creators, hard workers--and on, and on, ad nauseum. But these same leaders, out of the other side of their mouths, extol the rectitude of higher rates of taxation for the "rich", redistributive taxation, "rich prick" taxes, and so forth. All these forms of taxation are grounded in an "ethic" of envy.

So, over a million people, presumably with a desire to succeed and make progress, leave the country. Their voting feet tell us that they believe they will not be able to succeed in New Zealand. There are better opportunities elsewhere. But one has a sneaking suspicion that another motive is also at play. People realise that the price of success in New Zealand is too high. It will attract the excoriating judas-kiss of envy throughout the community.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

For the Avoidance of Doubt

Coruscating Clarity

We have been gratified that virtually overnight the nation has become fixated upon clarity, clear speaking, and to all intents and purposes has decided that equivocation in matters of law or referenda is a serious cancer in the body politic.

This has to be a major step forward in the reformation of our nation. The matter at issue, of course, is the upcoming referendum on the galatically stupid and very harmful anti-smacking law. Critics have criticised the referendum because the question that it asks is allegedly unclear or ambiguous or is a "loaded" or "leading" question.

For example, one luminary has slammed the referendum question as follows:
The wording of the forthcoming referendum isn't just ambiguous, it's an indictment of the intelligence of those behind it. "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" No thinking person regardless of their personal parenting philosophy can answer that question in good faith.
We are grateful to Finlay Macdonald for that particular piece of coruscating brilliance. Another luminary, none other than the Prime Minister himself, has almost descended into whining that the referendum question is "so confusing that if you want to vote yes, you have to vote no". With all due respect to the Prime Minister, we are aware that the government education system is failing, but we did not realise that education and literacy standards had fallen so low in New Zealand that the following question would be unclear: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Well, maybe it is unclear. Who are we to judge. After all, we are certainly not luminaries. We do not write op-ed pieces in prestigious newspapers. Neither do we hold high political office in the land. We are just plain ordinary run-of-the-mill simple folk.

So, duly chastened, we went in search of clarity. We found it. Not only did we find it, but it was a piece of writing approved by the very same John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who put it forward as a way to clear up all the confusion that surrounded the issue of whether smacking a child would be illegal in New Zealand. Clearly, if you would pardon the expression, we could expect wording that was beyond reasonable doubt.

Here is the current, amended law:
Parental control
(1) Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of—
(a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
(d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.
(3) Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1).
(4) To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.

What on earth does that mean? Yes, dear folks, we have before us the paragon of clarity. Legalistic precision. Clear as mud.

This is John Key's version of clarity. This is the sort of thing which the Finlay Macdonald's of this world find to be crystal clear. It is so clear that nobody knows what it means. It is so turgidly dense that we are told that "subsection (2) prevails over subsection (3)" which is a clear indication that the two sections are contradictory. It is so opaque that is requires an "avoidance of doubt" qualification which says that the police are empowered to have discretion on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the law has been broken to the extent that it warrants prosecution.

Against the background of this legal morass--where the law has become in every possible way and sense an ass--we find the referendum question to be blindingly and refreshingly obvious, simple, and clear. It is so clear, in comparison, that it threatens to burn our eyes. It is so patently obvious that it does not even need a "for the avoidance of doubt" clause.

We are convinced that with the current law as the background, the child-smacking referendum question is offensive to so many precisely because it cuts through the legalistic obfuscation and confusion of the current law so cleanly. The question is focused, sharp, and honed to cut. It is succeeding already.

That is why John Key's opinion on the alleged confusion of the question comes across as whining. That is why Finlay Macdonald's scribblings are risible. The question can be asked, and answered in good faith, dear boy precisely because the law, as it now stands, is such a stupid, confused mess. A veritable dog's breakfast.

That is also why good parents in New Zealand are now intimidated by the State and live in fear. Mr Key has forgotten or chooses conveniently to overlook that having the State take children away from parents by force is a worse punishment than prison itself. It is the ultimate sanction any parent faces. And the de facto consequence of the current law is that it encourages the State to do just that, whether or not police decide to prosecute a parent for smacking a child to train and discipline him or her. That is why parents feel intimidated and cowed. That is why the current law is destructive and harmful and ultimately an evil piece of law.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Feet Upon the Mountains

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Isaiah 52: 7
In ancient cities watchmen were set upon the walls. Their role was to warn of impending danger and cry out to marshal the city to arms if threats emerged. If the rulers and the kings of the city were away at war, the watchmen would wait eagerly for some news of the outcome of battle. It was common during and after battles to despatch runners to return to the city with news.

This is the background setting for the images and metaphors used by the prophet in our text. The watchman sees the messenger running on the hills leading up to Zion. The runner cries out from afar that the Lord has been victorious in battle and that, therefore, the city would know peace and salvation and happiness. The watchman on the walls thinks that man running on the hills is one of the most beautiful things he has ever seen.

Paul picks this declaration up and applies it to those who go into the world preaching the Gospel. (Romans 10: 15). Their feet are lovely on the mountains. We learn from this that in the person of our Lord Jesus and in His passion and resurrection and ascension and investiture as the Lord over all things, God has won a great victory. It is a victory over sin, evil, the principalities and powers of the air, and the Devil himself. It resulted in the ruler of this world being cast out (John 12:31).

As a result, He sends His heralds into all the world announcing His victory, calling all men to come to lay down their arms and come to His side, that they might be forgiven and restored. This is good news indeed. It will mean peace and happiness for Zion, God's holy city and civilisation upon the earth.

We are privileged to live in an epoch of redemptive history where one of our most important and honoured responsibilities is to send forth such messengers and heralds to the uttermost parts of the earth, proclaiming the Lord's victory through Christ crucified, the release of captives, the healing of human kind, and a restoration of the holy and the beautiful. The more blighted and devastated the world appears, the more this duty should weigh upon us and the more zealous we are to become.

The driving motivation is not just compassion upon the needy—although that is an inextricable component. It is also a deep conviction that such evil and devastation is utterly inappropriate to the Age of our Lord. There is no good reason to accept such things, as if they were inevitabilities, any longer. A Gallic shrug in response to human suffering, degradation, enslavement, an insouciant c'est la vie, is no longer appropriate. No—it is more than inappropriate—it is unbelieving: it is to break faith with Christ, and His victory, and His investiture as Lord of all.

Some will protest that the announcement of such good news in the face of such human depravity and suffering would be little more than cruel mockery. But not so. For the Lord has promised to use the preaching of His Gospel of Messiah crucified for the salvation of men to be the very instrument to bring men into His life and peace. The evils of the Roman Empire were extreme and gross. It was broken down, not by the councils and stratagems of men, but through the peaching of the Gospel of our Lord.

As we contemplate a world where (we are told) one billion people are now malnourished and starving, “rogue” states plan for war, where there are rumours of pandemics, devastation, global warming and fears on every hand—let us be adamantly certain that these things ought not to be. Such things are not appropriate to the days of our Lord. But, let us be equally clear about our response. It is to send forth an army of preachers of the Gospel.

As the Word of the Lord says:
[the Lord] abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
Romans 10: 12—15

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Kingdom of God in China

Interesting Developments

We have heard many accounts of the vigour of the Chinese church and the rapidity with which it is growing. Yet we at Contra Celsum have long waited for something more. No, we are not referring to some unbiblical idea of a "second blessing"--be assured. Rather, the issue has turned around the historical rootlessness of the church in China.

Like many nations in the east and elsewhere the great missionary movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries took the Gospel to China. But more often than not it was a Gospel intermingled with platonic idolatry. The Gospel was about "getting saved" and escaping from the world, not about God's people inheriting all the covenant blessings of God in Christ as our new federal head. Covenant continuity through generations and in history was not a strong suit of the great missionary movement.

So, we believed that a time would come when the Chinese church would discover for itself the historic Christian faith. They would begin to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit had been teaching the Church for the previous two thousand years. If a recent article in The Guardian is accurate this may now be happening.

Andrew Brown writes about how Christians in China are discovering the historical Church. Chinese Christians are apparently becoming very interested in Augustine and Calvin.
Although Calvinism is shrinking in western Europe and North America, it is experiencing an extraordinary success in China. I spent some time on Monday talking to the Rev May Tan, from Singapore, where the overseas Chinese community has close links with mainland China. The story she told of the spread of Calvinist religion as an elite religion in China was quite extraordinary. There may be some parallels with the growth of Calvinism in South Korea, where the biggest presbyterian churches in the world are to be found, but it's absolutely unlike the pattern in Africa and Latin America. There, the fastest growing forms of Christianity are pentecostal, and they are spreading among the poor.

But in China neither of those things are to be true.

Calvinists despise pentecostalists. They shudder at unbridled emotion. If they are slain in the spirit, it is with a single, decorous thump: there's to be no rolling afterwards. And in China, the place where Calvinism is spreading fastest is the elite universities, fuelled by prodigies of learning and translation. Wang Xiaochao, a philosopher at one of the Beijing universities, has translated the two major works of St Augustine, the Confessions and the City of God, into Chinese directly from Latin. Gradually all the major works of the first centuries of the Christian tradition are being translated directly from the original languages into Chinese.

Apparently this development has happened outside the boundaries of the official Chinese churches, but is now starting to have a significant impact within the walls.
All of this is happening outside the control of the official body which is supposed to monitor and supervise the churches in China. Instead, it is the philosophy departments at the universities, or the language departments and the departments of literature and western civilisation that are the channel.

"The [officially recognised] churches are not happy with universities, because it is not within their control. And their seminaries are not at the intellectual level of the universities," says Dr Tan. "Chinese Christianity using Chinese to do Christian thinking has become a very interesting movement."

Many of the missionaries who tried to bring Christianity to China before the communists took over where presbyterians, and other sorts of Calvinist. But that does not explain why Calvinism should be the preferred theology of the house churches and the intellectuals now. Dr Tan suggests that this is because it is Protestant: that is to say it can be made much more convincingly native than Roman Catholicism, since presbyterian congregations choose their own pastors. This is, I suspect, enormously important at a time when China is recovering from a century and a half of being the victim of western powers; the pope's insistence on appointing Catholic bishops is unacceptable to the government and perhaps to the people too.
Brown points out that Calvinism, which stresses the kingship of Christ over all of life, has great relevance for a Church in opposition, as indeed is the Church in China.
Calvinism isn't a religion of subservience to any government. The great national myths of Calvinist cultures are all of wars against imperialist oppressors: the Dutch against the Spanish, the Scots against the English; the Americans against the British. So when the Chinese house churches first emerged from the rubble of the Cultural Revolution in the80s and 90 s "They began to search what theology will support and inform [them]. They read Luther and said, 'not him'. So they read Calvin, and they said 'him, because he has a theology of resistance.' Luther can't teach them or inform them how to deal with a government that is opposition."

And, though the communists stigmatised Christianity as a foreign religion, they also and still more thoroughly smashed up the traditional religions of China: "The communist, socialist critique of traditional religion, and of Confucianism has been effective", she says: "The youngsters think it is very cool to be Christian. Communism has removed all the obstacles for them to come to Christianity."
We believe something else will be really cool. It will be the day that world acknowledged Christian theologians from China help the world-wide Church rediscover its own heritage once again, and teach according to the prophets and the apostles, and, therefore, also make use of the biblical insights of Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Owen, and so forth.

Brown concludes:
It would be astonishing if China were to become a great power in the Christian world, as well as in the economic one. But things just as strange have happened in the past. Who could have foreseen, when Augustine was writing those huge books now translated into Chinese, that barbarous Europe would become the centre of Christian civilisation, and his homeland in North Africa would become entirely Muslim?
And would it not be equally astonishing if, even as China were to become a great power in the Christian world, the homeland of Calvin and Luther were also to become entirely Muslim? There are many factors which suggest this may well be the case within a hundred years. For the Scriptures make it abundantly clear when a nation or civilisation turns away from God to idols, He gives them up to the tyranny of the idols they worship.

Friday, 19 June 2009

A More Faithful Prophet

Muggeridge Speaks

We have begun re-reading the autobiography of Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time. It serves as an illuminating window upon the world-spirit of the West in the twentieth century. We commend it to any Believer in the West who has found himself groaning and asking, How has it come to this? Muggeridge cuts through the necrotic flesh of the times with the ruthlessness of a surgeon striving to heal.

In 1933 as an impecunious and disillusioned liberal, Muggeridge secured a position in Geneva with the International Labour Organisation--a division of the League of Nations. He writes:
The League of Nations in those days focused the hope of the enlightened everywhere; all eyes were upon it in the confident expectation that it would succeed in making war as obsolete as duelling, and armed forces as unnecessary to nations as wearing a sword had become to individual citizens. In some mysterious way, just willing this would bring it to pass; by renouncing armaments, nationalistic policies and other works of the evil one, good would triumph, and peace reign forevermore.

Sooner or later, everyone who was anyone came to Geneva to celebrate this new era of universal peace that was being inaugurated there. . . . What a time this was for Geneva! Not since Calvin has the spotlight of history so shone on it; and, of course, with the spotlight, came the world's newspapermen, their favourite haunt being the Cafe Bavaria, whose walls were lined with appropriate cartoons in deference to this special clientele. Thither they came, hot-foot from Berlin or Paris or London or New York, their stringers respectfully in attendance, with stories to write, expense accounts to draw on. . . .

They were the Knights-errant of our time; rescuers of nations in distress, champions of the downtrodden and oppressed, who smote the offending dragon hip and thigh with breathless words rattled off on their typewriters. . . . Above the tobacco smoke and the clatter of glasses, words and phrases resounded. Civilian bombing . . . Would they be able to re-phrase the resolution to make it acceptable to the Great Powers? . . . Drafters hard at work . . . Eden optimistic and sees light at the end of the tunnel. . . .

Here one knew what was happening; felt the world's pulse, and listened to its heartbeat. Here, as the Guardian would have put it, "a new way of conducting international relations was being forged; quiet reasonable discussions round a table instead of bluster and gun-boats. . . .

Alas, as it turned out, barely was the Palais Des Nations completed and ready to be occupied that the second world war was ready to begin. While Hitler's panzers were actually roaring into Poland from the west, and Stalin's divisions lumbering in to meet them from the east, the League was in session in its new premises, discussing--the codification of level-crossing signs. At the time I remember feeling a sort of relief. At least there would be no more compromise resolutions . . .

How wrong I was! Another Tower of Babel, taller, more tower-like and more babulous, would spring up in Manhattan, to outdo the League many times over in the irrelevance of its proceedings, the ambiguity of its resolutions and the confusion of its purposes. What will they be discussing there, I ask myself, when the guided missiles begin to fly?

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, Volume 2: The Infernal Grove (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1975), pp.8--10)
How fatuous and irrelevant the West has become. It has not got better since those League of Nations days. Witness the complete irrelevance and inability of the UN to "deal" with any trouble spot on the globe--and when UN troops do arrive you had better lock up your daughters. Meanwhile we have all those fatuous and harmful treaties, and declarations, and empty statements of human rights.

The practitioners of realpolitik amongst the world community use the UN as a tool to be used to advance their own causes, and manipulate and undermine other nations. That is why the UN Council of Human Rights is dominated by nations whose human rights record is appalling. These nations know they can use it to make the naive idealists amongst the Western nations uncomfortable and guilty and can use it to lever concessions which are to their advantage.

It is well past time to give up on the naive utopianism of internationalism. It needs to be retired to a dusty corner of history to a room entitled "Useless Antiquarian Relics". What a far better place the world would be without the UN. Muggeridge saw its folly acutely over seventy years ago. It has only got worse. But humanists are such slow learners.

But hope continues to spring eternal in the breast of the desperate and the credulous.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

It's Only a Crime on a Bad-Hair Day

The Orwellian Masterpiece

Nandor Tankfull stared vacantly off into the middle distance. "How did that happen, man?" he wondered. He had left Parliament at the last election, announcing that he wanted to "chill out" and regroup. He had spent many years, far too many wasted years as a Green MP trying to de-criminalise wacky-backy. He had failed. Too many entrenched interests, funded by big tobacco of course--and, well, yes oil companies as well. They funded everything. They had effectively taken control of the main political parties years ago. People like John Key and Helen Clark were just puppets.

Now, after spending some time in the bush, growing and smoking your own, as one does, he had returned to civilisation only to find that in his absence marijuana had been de-criminalised. He would ordinarily have been deeply depressed, thinking that all those years he must have been the real impediment to decriminalising his favourite weed all along. No sooner had he left Parliament than it was no longer a criminal offence. But thankfully he was too chilled out. His befuddled brain was trying and failing to grasp the new reality.

Sue Bradford stared at her old friend, pitying his confused state--yet at the same time chuckling inwardly. She snorted another line. "You don't know the half of it, Nandi. The trouble with you is that you were always too direct, too obvious. Me, I am subtle in a sorta bus-like way. It's all about feints and false moves. You should have read Sun Tzu's Art of War when I told you."

Nandor wondered what she meant. He asked his old friend to explain. "Well, take this snowflake I am snorting. It's effectively decriminalised as well, now." She went on to explain that for years she had perpetrated the feint of campaigning against child abuse. "It was all a front, Nandi. Isn't that what Lenin and Stalin taught us years ago when we were reading them in the Socialist Action League? Remember. All those apparently legit organisations, but all fronts for us hard core radicals. In the end as you play their games, they trip themselves up and you watch them gut themselves."

There was a bitter stridency to her tone now. No doubt the coke was kicking in. Nandor looked normal and vacant. She began to describe the clever dissimulation of campaigning against child abuse. Then, having eventually manipulated the stupid Clark over a political precipice, Sue described how she had put that oh-so-secret call in to the President of the Law Commission, suggesting the clever compromise. "But the trick is that it mustn't be seen to come from me, Geoffrey", she had purred down the phone.

"No worries," the ge'ed up former law prof had said. "Leave it to me. I know just the man to use." So it had come to pass. The gullible John Key, the oh-so-clever-by-half-currency trader, fell for it hook, line, and sinker. It was like something straight out of Molotov's playbook. "Key got to look like a statesman. Clark was shafted and made to look a fool. I got what we wanted all along. Drugs are now effectively decriminalised in New Zealand."

Nandor had never thought of Sue as an intellectual. But it was clear that she was operating in realms in which he had never travelled. It was all too hard to grasp. Sue was patient, as one is when dealing with a lesser mortal. She carefully explained how it all worked. Firstly, all smacking of children was now a criminal offence. Anyone who smacked or exercised any force at all against children was now committing a criminal act, according to the law. Secondly, the real point lay right here. "Regardless of the law, you are not a criminal unless the Police decide to prosecute. That's it, Nandi. That's the stroke of brilliance. At one fell swoop we changed the definition of crime and criminality in New Zealand. And they were too dumb to see it."

A glimmer of light began to glow in the deep recesses of Nandor's drugged brain. "OK, I get it. Maybe. Or not."

Sue's patience was fast wearing thin. "Get with the plan, Stupid," she snapped. "It's all about seizing control. The law now makes everyone a criminal, which is to say that no-one is a criminal, unless . . ."

"Unless the Police or the State decide to prosecute," said Nandor slowly and carefully. Sue sighed with relief. "At last, dumbo. You have got it. Eureka! We learnt this years ago in the Socialist Action League. If everyone is a criminal and is committing criminal acts, then the State can act at any time, when it wants, and how it wants against whom it wants. If crime is what the State says it is, when it decides to take notice, as and when it pleases, everybody is under its total implicit control at all times."

"So that's why you are saying that grass is now kosher." Sue nodded. She explained how everything was now OK--drugs, murder, theft. It was all effectively decriminalised. They would only became criminal matters if the Police decided to take action. If you controlled the Police you were effectively free to do anything. The rule of law was now extinct--at least in principle. Crime was now defined by the Police and its actions, not the law. New Zealand had just taken a huge step forward in progressing to be a police state.

"And the stupid idiots in Parliament don't know it. That's the beauty of this. They are now defending the Revolution. We have got them arguing that smacking is a crime only when the Police say it is. We have actually got them agreeing and saying, 'It is working well!' And they are having to say it so emphatically. Hah. They don't even know what they are actually doing."

Nandor began to think about the new world Sue had almost single-handedly created. If it were up to the police to decide what was a crime and what was not, the law had become a spent force. But to go further, if the laws on the statute books were expanded so that everyone going about their normal business was effectively defined to be a criminal, then they could be picked up at any time. Whoever controlled the Police would have almost unlimited powers. All opponents could be criminalised at will. And it would all be "legal". Parliament and the courts were now mere appendages. Everyone would be fearful and subject to threat and intimidation.

As Nandor reflected on how the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition party were all cheerleading for this brave new world, he smiled, took a deep long drag, and nodded. John Key and Phil Goff were only puppets all right. But the game had changed and they didn't know it.
Sue had just become a legend in his own mind.

Hat Tips: Stephen Franks; Half Done.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Culture Wars, Round VI

Genuine Culture Wars Rising Again in the West

For two centuries or more, Unbelief has triumphed in the West. We have been living in a post-Christian world. For most, Christianity is no more than a vague cultural memory, something that once was, but has now passed away.

But it will not stay that way forever. For the Lord is always at work smashing the idols in the minds of their subjects—one by one. The false gods of the Church leaders of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were broken by world wars. Yet Church leaders desperately clung on to them. They hardened their hearts. They still wanted to prove to the world that they, too, believed in the sovereignty of rational man. They preached a “compliant” god, who would always change and adapt and be whatever unbelieving scientific empirical research said he ought to be. Because of their treachery, Unbelief in the culture grew stronger and stronger. Why wouldn't it, when even the Church leaders disbelieved.

But gradually, the true Culture War has broken out again. It has become more overt. It is now far more clear that the issue of conflict is between those who believe in the sovereignty of the Risen Lord, and those who believe in Man as god. A growing army of Christian believers understand the issues and understand that their fathers were false prophets.

Moreover, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Risen Lord will win this battle. But how? The triumph of Jerusalem over Athens will not come by the sword or by force. It will come as large numbers of people repent of their sin and turn to the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. But what will lead them to come? The Scripture leaves us in no doubt.

Firstly, the false gods always end up being shattered. This means that there will emerge a widespread, growing conviction that man really is wicked and that the thoughts and intentions of his heart are only evil continually. It will become increasingly obvious that the ratiocinations of the mind of fallen Man are not to be trusted. People will realise that Unbelief is always grinding an axe. It always begs the question. It always has an agenda. It will become clear that Unbelief has always been deeply and bitterly prejudiced. Unbelief has always assumed from the outset that the God of the Bible does not exist. Unbelief may entertain the possibility that some gods may exist--and it will endeavour to tell us how, what, and when they do. But one thing it will always emphatically maintain is that the God revealed in the Scriptures most certainly does not exist.

As the rationalistic idols are shattered, more and more people will come to be epistemologically self-conscious. They will see Unbelief for what it is: the carefully nurtured cant of enmity against God Himself, cloaked with reasonableness. People will come to see this as sinuously serpentine, the deep subtlety of the Accuser of old. What particular means the Lord will use to bring this conviction upon any society in particular is not clear, but it always involves letting us see man as he really is, man in the fruit of his folly, man with his vain hopes dashed.

Our modern age has glorified Man as few have before. It is likely that the smashing of the idol will involve God showing us the ignobility of Man in new and extreme ways. Unbelief will be shown up to be foolishness, eventually becoming deeply offensive and distasteful as a consequence.

Secondly, the stronger wickedness and Unbelief become, the weaker they turn out to be. Evil is self-destroying, self-defeating, self-immolating. Abortion is an unmitigated evil. Yet it is the wicked who kill their own. They exercise vengeance upon their own seed, thereby culturally weakening Unbelief, cutting it off at its roots. Homosexuality is sinful. But it is sterile, unable to reproduce itself. Homosexuality is self-negating, self-destroying. Materialist man, swelling with pride in his technological prowess, becomes a global-warming obscurantist whose drive to protect material reality leads to enforced impoverishment and economic decline. Evil integrates into the void of cultural impotence.

Thirdly, as the idols are smashed, the sound of the Gospel preached will be heard once again. As bruised and battered souls seek refuge in churches they will hear once again of Christ the Lord, not through the treachery of a Fosdick, but the fidelity of a Spurgeon; not the false god of a Norman Vincent Peale, but the faithfulness of a Wesley. And people will look to Him and will be saved. This is how the Culture War will be won. There is no other way.

An imperative in this endeavour is that the Church must give up its fawning love-affair with this world. It must no longer seek respect in the Academy in the vain attempt that it will somehow win a favourable hearing. To be sure, the Academy needs to be spoken to, not ignored. But the method is to be apostolic; it is to bring the polite but firm confrontation of a Paul to the philosophes and intellectual magpies of the Areopagus.

A second imperative is that the Church must not persist with this constant craving to be liked and respected by the world of Unbelief. How this has damaged Jerusalem! How we all—believer and unbeliever alike—have paid for this folly! The Lord God said, “I will put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.” Many professing Christians retort, saying, “No thanks. I am going to remove that enmity so the seed of the serpent no longer dislikes me and other Christians.” Christ made it very clear: if we are not prepared patiently to endure the “scorn and mockery” of Unbelief which so troubled Brunner we are not fit to be His disciples. For He endured it and remained jealous for the Name of God. He expects nothing less of us.

Let us be clear upon this. There will always be Unbelief, no matter how tenuous it may become, prior to the Final Advent of our Lord. The best circumstances in which Unbelievers could possibly live in this life is in a world and culture which predominantly respects the Lord and His Word. Blessings upon blessings will be upon such a land, as indeed the Scripture promises.

In the blessing of God's people, Unbelievers shall also receive blessing. If we truly want Unbelief grudgingly to appreciate and respect the City of Jerusalem the only way forward is to stand unashamedly and unreservedly upon the rock of God's holy Word. For if we are ashamed of God, He will be ashamed of us. But if we honour Him, He will honour us.

If we have a true love for mankind, let us be sure of this: as God pours out His Spirit and blesses His people, Unbelief itself will increasingly share in the good gifts of God.

Thus, if there is to be any hope for the West, genuine Culture Wars must break out afresh. There are no short cuts. We must go back to the mistakes and sins of our fathers and repent of them and correct them. It will be a hard fight from here. But our Risen Lord is amongst us as Captain of the Lord's Host. In the end, Pharaoh and his riders He will cast into the sea.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Election in Iran

What is Happening?

The Wall Street Journal has carried a piece by Amir Taheri on the recent Iranian election. He presents material we have not found in our media and gives some insight into what may be really going on.

Firstly, the evidence that the election was rigged.

No one knows exactly how much electoral fraud took place. The entire process was tightly controlled by the Ministry of Interior under Sadeq Mahsouli, a general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and a senior aide to Mr. Ahmadinejad. There was no independent election commission, no secret balloting, no observers to supervise the counting of the votes, and no mechanism for verification. It is impossible to know how many people voted and for whom.

Mr. Ahmadinejad was credited with more votes than anyone in Iran's history. If the results are to be believed, he won in all 30 provinces, and among all social and age categories. His three rivals, all dignitaries of the regime, were humiliated by losing even in their own hometowns. This was an unprecedented result even for the Islamic Republic, where elections have always been carefully scripted charades.

Many in Tehran, including leading clerics, see the exercise as a putsch by the military-security organs that back Mr. Ahmadinejad. Several events make these allegations appear credible. The state-owned Fars News Agency declared Mr. Ahmadinejad to have won with a two-thirds majority even before the first official results had been tabulated by the Interior Ministry. Mr. Ahmadinejad's main rival, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, retaliated by declaring himself the winner. That triggered a number of street demonstrations, followed with statements by prominent political and religious figures endorsing Mr. Mousavi's claim.

Secondly, its possible that there is a coup taking place within the country.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all issues of national life, published a long statement hailing Mr. Ahmadinejad's "historic victory" as "a great celebration." This was the first time since 1989, when he became supreme leader, that Mr. Khamenei commented on the results of a presidential election without waiting for the publication of official results. Some analysts in Tehran tell me that the military-security elite, now controlling the machinery of the Iranian state, persuaded Mr. Khamenei to make the unprecedented move.

A detailed study of Mr. Khamenei's text reveals a number of anomalies. It is longer than his usual statements and full of expressions that he has never used before. The praise he showers on Mr. Ahmadinejad is simply too much. The question arises: Did someone use the supreme leader as a rubber stamp for a text written by Mr. Ahmadinejad himself?
Thirdly, where to from here.

Buoyed by his victory, Mr. Ahmadinejad has already served notice that he intends to pursue his radical policies with even greater vigor. At yesterday's rally, he promised to pass a law enabling him to bring "the godfathers of corruption" to justice. His entourage insists that former Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, and former parliament Speaker Nateq Nouri, all midranking mullahs, may be among the first to fall in a massive purge of the ruling elite.

It is too early to guess whether these dignitaries would march to the metaphorical gallows without a fight. Even if they fight, they are unlikely to win. Nevertheless, Messrs. Rafsanjani, Khatami and other targeted mullahs could influence others who wish to prevent a complete seizure of power by Mr. Ahmadinejad's military-security clique, which is determined to replace the Shiite clergy as the nation's ruling elite. Nor is it at all certain that Supreme Leader Khamenei would stand by and watch his power eroded by a rising elite of radicals.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory has several immediate consequences. First, it should kill the illusion that the Khomeinist regime is capable of internal evolution towards moderation. Mr. Ahmadinejad sees Iran as a vehicle for a messianic global revolution.

Second, the election eliminates the elements within the regime -- men such as Mr. Mousavi and Mahdi Karrubi (another of the three unsuccessful candidates who ran against Mr. Ahmadinejad) -- who have pursued the idea of keeping the theocracy intact while giving it a veneer of democratic practice. According to a statement published yesterday by Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister who was among 132 anti-Ahmadinejad activists arrested over the weekend, the regime's "loyal opposition" would now have to reconsider its loyalty.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory has the merit of clarifying the situation within the Islamic Republic. The choice is now between a repressive regime based on a bizarre and obscurantist ideology and the prospect of real change and democratization. There is no halfway house.

The same clarity may apply to Tehran's foreign policy. Believing that he has already defeated the United States, Mr. Ahmadinejad will be in no mood for compromise. Moments after his victory he described the U.S. as a "crippled creature" and invited President Obama to a debate at the United Nations General Assembly, ostensibly to examine "the injustice done by world arrogance to Muslim nations."

Iran's neighbors are unlikely to welcome Mr. Ahmadinejad's re-election. He has reactivated pro-Iranian groups in a number of Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. He is determined to expand Tehran's influence in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially as the U.S. retreats. He has also made it clear that he intends to help the Lebanese Hezbollah strengthen its position as a state within the state and a vanguard in the struggle against Israel.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

But We See Jesus, Crowned

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Habakkuk 2:14
The prophecy of Habakkuk is well known to the Lord's people. It speaks of the prophet's consternation that the Lord of history would use the ungodly and evil Babylonians to punish His own people, Israel. But the Lord assures Habakkuk and the Church that His use of the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment does not mean that He is winking at their sin and idolatry.

Babylon, too, will fall under the aegis of the Lord, and will know His retribution—in His way, and in His time. But lest any think that this world is one ceaseless turmoil of sin, wrath, and judgment with neither direction nor purpose, think again. For all people, all nations, all epochs and all times are moving towards one goal and direction. All Unbelief and all is fruits upon the earth will become dessicated and ephemeral. The earth instead will become filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.

Our text impresses us with the comprehensiveness of the outcome. The waters covering the sea are deep, expansive, wide and complete in their extent. There is no one part of the sea floor that escapes the all encompassing weight of water pressing down from above. The image conveys the totality of the presence and manifestation of the glory of the Lord. None, and no place will be exempt. There will be no islands of resistance nor pockets of Unbelief remaining.

This is the direction of history. History is neither static nor circular. It is being meaningfully directed towards this great end. This indeed is progress one can believe in.

This great enterprise of subduing the earth under the glory of the Lord as promised through Habakkuk began at the resurrection and the ascension of our Lord. The Great Commission of Matthew 28: 18—20 is the epochal announcement that tells us the time has come—the time of the in-gathering and the extension of His kingdom, so that all the nations will be discipled, learning to observe all His commands from the heart. From this we learn how His glory is to come, how history is to progress towards this breathtaking and glorious climax. It will come to pass through the conversion of all peoples to Christ under the sound of the Gospel preached.

In other words, the Great Commission is not some fools' errand—something which we are to work at, all the while knowing in our heart of hearts that it will fail and that the nations will not be discipled to Christ. The Lord is emphatic: His glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. It will be self-consciously known to mankind, for the prophet Habakkuk speaks of the the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covering the earth. Our imperious, risen Lord commands us to go forth and subdue the nations under the willing and joyful sound of the Gospel. His power and authority ensures its success.

We are blessed indeed to live and serve in this period of redemptive history—which ultimately is the only history that is real and abiding. It is essential that we take our understanding of what is really going on around us and throughout the world from the Scriptures and not simply the newspapers.

Paul in Hebrews tells us how we are to do this. Speaking of the glorious kingdom that commenced at the Ascension of our Lord, when all things were placed in subjection under His feet, he says:

For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.
Hebrews 2: 8,9

Our eyes of faith are to remain clearly upon Him whom we see—crowned with glory and honour. Clearly there is much to secure and do, for all around us there remain parts of the world that are not yet in subjection to Him. There is much in this world that as yet does not manifest the glory and honour of the Lord. And while there is one sliver of reality which is not subject, there is work to be done and progress to be made—for He has left nothing that is not to be subject to Him.

This day, and this week, and this month will see progress in bringing more and more of all reality into subjection to Him. Around the world many thousands will be converted. His people will grow in faithfulness and service. And we, as His servants, will be used of Him to bring His glory into the creation just that little bit more—for we have been made His servants, brethren, and co-labourers in this relentless sweep of history.

Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.