Friday, 31 July 2009

ObamaNation Building, Part III

The Bubble Wrap of Our Grumbles

Douglas Wilson

All right, so let us continue our discussion of Christians on the dole. And let us realize two things about it. First, in the Western world, the dole has metasticized; it is complicated. And second, a large measure of these complications have arisen from the rationalizations that we have allowed ourselves over the years. The problem is corporate, and the solution will be corporate repentance, which will be made up of individual repentance in countless instances.

But what should individual repentance look like? The center of that repentance is that we must stop kidding ourselves, and to do that we need to fix some attitudes. We should be careful to tell ourselves the truth about the economic consequences of the system we are in, instead of consoling ourselves with the personal blessings and conveniences that may have come our way because of the system we are in.

We are talking about millions of people, and their economy, which means that we need to take into account the distinction between "effects that are seen" and "effects that are not seen." Has medical treatment under socialized medicine ever saved somebody's life? Sure. That's an effect that is seen. What about all the people who will die after the whole thing goes down into insolvency and bankruptcy? That is the effect that is unseen by most, and therefore unaccounted for.

If you are grateful that your widowed aunt has her Social Security, that is good. You should be. But if you are equally grateful that your grandchildren are going to have Social Security benefits, then we need to take time out from our debate here so that someone can teach you how to count. How many people will die after our gods fail us?

So let's begin with what repentance does not look like. It does not look like acquiesence. It does not look like the chilling conclusion of 1984, where Winston wins the victory over himself and makes his peace with Big Brother. My son-in-law and daughter and small gang just got back from a three-year stint in the UK, where the only medical care available is through the National Health Service, from which may a merciful God deliver us. At the same time, if the Lord has you living in such a situation, and you break your leg, is it a sin to go get a socialized cast? Of course not.

A British Christian does not have an obligation to lie by the side of the road, refusing to get into the ambulance because of "the principle of the thing." If you were to do that, they will give you a socialized cast and a socialized pill to quiet you down. But when we move from seeing something as a regrettable necessity, which it is, and come to embrace it as the compassionate future, we have at that point been smitten with a judicial blindness. Doctors who are paid by the government to "treat what ails ya" are not going to be distributing sweetness and light by the fistful. Things are going downhill, and to pretend the opposite is the larger problem. . . .

We should be ruthless with ourselves and our possible motives when it comes to those areas where rationalization is likely. Just to spell it out, getting "free" goods and services is an area where rationalization is likely. Socialism is such a bad idea that the adoption of it can only happen through an appeal to sin. And the kind of sin that makes socialism appealing would include envy, self-pity, laziness, ingratitude, faux-compassion, and self-justification.

For example, let's take the envy and self-pity. We (all of us) live in the midst of incredible wealth. No people in the history of the world have been as blessed as we are. Looking at a bell curve, this includes those on the second quartile from the bottom -- the lower middle class. It also includes a host of people in the lowest quartile. These people are doing really well, far better than most people in the world today, and much better than most people who have ever lived to date, including Nebuchadnezzar who didn't even have an iPhone. But at the same time, these people who are doing really well also live in close proximity to those who are doing really, really well, and within shouting distance of those who are doing really, really, really well. And so they are being encouraged to think of themselves as poor, which is kind of true, after a fashion. But it is comparative poverty, relative poverty, and this means the verses we cite on our self-pitying behalf don't mean what we think they do.

Consider. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies a number of Americans in our lower echelons as "poor." Sixty-two percent of these folks have satellite or cable. Ninety-seven percent have color television; over half of them have two or more of them. Almost three quarters own a car, while thirty percent own two cars or more. Seventy-six percent of our poor households have air-conditioning. Forty-six percent own their own homes. The homes they own, on average, have three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

The average poor American has more square footage than the average person (not poor person) who lives in Paris, London, Vienna, or Athens. Only six percent of our poor people live in overcrowded conditions, while more than two-thirds of them have more than two rooms per person. Seventy-three percent have a microwave oven, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher. Got the picture? [Source: Jay Richards, Money, Greed and God (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 87ff]

Compare this to real poverty, absolute poverty. Fifty thousand people die every day of poverty-related causes. Since 1990, that has tallied up to 270 million people who have died because they were poor. 10 million children a year die of hunger or treatable diseases. Eight hundred million people go to bed hungry every day. Over a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day. James 2:15-16 is talking about the people in this paragraph, and not most of the people in the paragraph above it.

But it is not surprising that we have gotten ourselves confused -- we use the same noun poverty to describe the condition of people in these respective states. But the confusion is not just over the definition of a word. This is a confusion that causes real damage. Instead of responding with gratitude for all God has given us, and seeking to export the gospel preconditions of the economic system that made this possible to those who desperately need it, we have taken to whining about our comparative disadvantages, and doing so in a way calculated to bring Third World economic expertise over here. And having behaved this way for a generation or two, we are getting our wish. Obama is spending us into the poorhouse, and this is not really disputable if you just take the trouble to count. This is just another testimony to the enslaving power of sin. The issue is sin, bad attitudes, envy and ingratitude, and not the presence or absences of "resources."

If a people are ungrateful to God, they will do poorly over the long haul. If they are grateful to God, they will do well. We here in America are refusing to be grateful -- our health system, the best in the world, is dogmatically declared to be broken. Come with me to Haiti. I'll show you broken.

So let's cash this out. We are talking about various forms of petty thievery, larceny in the heart, on the individual level. The collective effect of this is spectacular grand larceny on a national scale, followed by a national crash, but on the individual level, the pending flood just looks like a raindrop. Now to be crystal clear, that larceny does not exist in the hearts of those who recognize all this for what it is, and who are doing their level best keep from taking undue advantage. Go back to our kids in the UK. If they thought, "While we are over here, let's load up on all the free benefits," that would be an individual manifestation of the corporate problem. But if they used the system when they had to, recognized it for what it was, and tried honestly to minimize their need for it, they are just doing what they have to do.

Take another example -- two men are laid off and both take their unemployment. One of them begins looking for work the first day, and goes off unemployment three weeks later when he finds a job. The other guy makes sure that he takes the maximum time allowed, and gets a job the day after his benefits expire. He has done this multiple times, and has it down to a science.

Now in both cases, unemployment is a bad idea. Unemployment offers perverse incentives to both, but one of them refuses those incentives. Our unemployment system as it now exists is not a true insurance program -- if it were being run by a private company, that company would be bankrupt. But if it were a private company, it wouldn't be bankrupt because of people like the first guy. This is another way of saying that public unemployment insurance is not losing money because of the first guy. I can hear the "what abouts" now. What about a diligent guy, pounding the sidewalks every day looking for work, but he fails to get work for the entire period that his unemployment lasts? What about him? He shouldn't tie himself in knots over it -- it is like breaking your leg in the UK. Not the best plan, but the providence of God is usually something you should roll with.

But larceny does exist in the hearts of those who have come to think of these entitlements as their "right." Among Christians, this larcency is usually petty larceny, and it is usually accompanied by the sin of grumbling. People who filch things from their boss, for example, almost always do so in a context of grievances, and grievances are usually borne of ingratitude. Almost no one wakes up in the morning and thinks, "My boss has always treated me in a world class fashion. I think I'll rob him blind today." No, man is a rationalizing, self-justifying creature. If we are going to steal something, particularly something little, we tend to tie it up in the bubble wrap of our grumbles. "Management hasn't treated me right. The Church doesn't do this. The Christians who knew I was hurting didn't help out when I needed it. The conservatives who told me to get a job just don't understand. Don't you understand? They owe me."

And who are "they"? Oh, I don't know -- that mysterious benefactor who funds all this with his magic dollars. Sure, he's paying something, but I am pretty sure he owes me way more than that. Because I am put upon, the system owes me something. And this opinion is reinforced and stroked by our envy-ridden culture in countless ways. And if someone questions it, they are not just questioning a math problem. They are questioning an entire complex of self-rationalizing conceits. And that explains the reaction.

First posted in Blog and Mablog

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Privacy and Public Discourse

The Case of Two Coy Beneficiaries

How diverting the madding crowd has become. We have been thoroughly entertained by the brouhaha over Paula Bennett, the Minister of Social Development (an oxmoronish government department if ever there was one) publicly releasing the welfare benefits being received by two individuals.

Some (Sue Bradford, et al) have muttered darkly about beneficiary bashing. Others have claimed an illegal breach of privacy on the part of the government. Others have expressed outrage over two defenceless individuals being persecuted by the power of Big Brother. The media (some, not all), sensing an outrage in search of a scandal, have rallied round to posture breathlessly. The blogosphere, as normal, carries opinions and views of all stripes. Zen Tiger at NZ Conservative has opened a discussion thread on the rights and wrongs of government releasing personal information as part of a political debate.

So, let's recap. The government is axing certain welfare payments. Two individual solo-mother beneficiaries complain publicly. They use their own circumstances as case studies of why the axe is evil. They are perfectly entitled to do so. But having entered public debate, and having made their own circumstances public as case studies to promote their argument, they cannot--as the same time--claim the privilege of privacy. It does not work like that. Unless, of course, they believe they are above contradiction.

Imagine if an employee called up a TV station, complaining that employers were unfairly hammering vulnerable workers during the recession. As a case in point, he claimed his employer had reduced his wages so that he had been forced into a mortgagee sale, lost his house, and his family were now living on the street. After the inevitable outcry the employer in turn released a statement saying that it had not reduced wages, but it had reduced overtime. Then, the employee responded with a complaint that his privacy had been breached because the employer had no right to disclose publicly that he had been working overtime. That was a private, employment matter.

Yes, that is how stupid this whole brouhaha has been. Shame on cheap politicians trying to make political capital out of it. Shame on the two complainants whose coyness is unbecoming their political activism. Shame on the gullible and complicit media (not all) whose laziness and ineptness beggars belief.

Thankfully, it would appear that the vast majority of commoners have seen right through the posturing of the politerati and applaud the application of a common sense kick up the posterior.

Now the women are reporting they feel bruised. They deserve it. If you live in a glass house don't throw stones. By all means make your views part of public debate. When you do, you have a choice. You can either be completely silent on your personal circumstances, and focus instead upon the issues and principles in a general frame, or your can make your own circumstances intrinsic to your argument. If the former, you are entitled to privacy from your opponents. If the latter, you are not. End of story.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Hard Climate Data: Even Cold In the North

Summertime . . . When the Livin' is . . . . Cold

We know that we are having an unusually cold winter here in New Zealand. But it seems as if the Northern hemisphere summer is turning out a bit of a fizzer as well.

Deroy Murdock gives us the skinny.

The chills of Global Cooling


As cap-and-trade advocates tie their knickers in knots over so-called "global warming," Mother Nature refuses to cooperate. Earth's temperatures continue a chill that began 11 years ago. As global cooling accelerates, global-warmists kick, scream, and push their pet theory -- just like little kids who cover their ears and stomp their feet when older children tell them not to bother waiting up for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Consider how the globe cooled last month:

-- June in Manhattan averaged 67.5 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.7 degrees below normal -- the coldest average since 1958. The National Weather Service stated July 1: "The last time that Central Park hit 85 in May...but not in June was back in 1903."

-- In Phoenix, June's high temperatures were below 100 degrees for 15 days straight, the first such June since 1913. In California's desert, Yucca Valley's June average was 83.5, 8.5 degrees below normal. Downtown Los Angeles averaged 74.5 degrees, five below normal.

-- Boston saw temperatures 4.7 degrees below normal. "This is the second coldest average high temp since 1872," veteran meteorologist and Weather Channel alumnus Joseph D'Aleo reports at "It has been so cool and so cloudy that trees in northern New England are starting to show colors that normally first appear in September." Looking abroad, D'Aleo noted: "Southern Brazil had one of the coldest Junes in decades, and New Zealand has had unusual cold and snow again this year."

-- New Zealand's National Climate Centre issued a June 2 press release headlined, "TEMPERATURE: LOWEST EVER FOR MAY FOR MANY AREAS, COLDER THAN NORMAL FOR ALL."

-- South African officials say cold weather killed two vagrants in the Eastern Cape. Both slept outdoors June 26 and froze to death.

Simmer down, global-warmists retort. These are mere anecdotes, hand-picked to make them look silly.

Well, one would be foolish to challenge space-born satellites that gauge Earth's mean temperatures ---cold, hot, and average. Here again, evidence of global cooling accumulates like snow drifts.

"There has been no significant global warming since 1995, no warming since 1998, and global cooling for the past few years," former U.S. Senate Environment Committee spokesman Marc Morano writes at Citing metrics gathered by University of Alabama, Huntsville's Dr. Roy Spencer, Morano adds: "The latest global averaged satellite temperature data for June2009 reveal yet another drop in Earth's temperature ... Despite his dire warnings, the Earth has cooled 0.74 degrees F since former Vice President Al Gore released 'An Inconvenient Truth' in 2006."

Earth's temperatures fall even as the planet spins within what global-warmists consider a thickening cloud of toxic carbon dioxide.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory at Mauna Loa, Hawaii consistently and reliably has measured CO2 for the last 50 years. CO2 concentrations have risen steadily for a half-century.

For December 1958, the Laboratory reported an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 314.67 parts per million (PPM). Flash forward to December 1998, about when global cooling reappeared. CO2 already had increased to 366.87 PPM. By December 2008, CO2 had advanced to 385.54 PPM, a significant 5.088 percent growth in one decade.

This capsizes the carbon-phobic global-warmist argument. For Earth's temperatures to sink while CO2 rises contradicts global warming as thoroughly as learning that firefighters can battle blazes by spraying them with gasoline.

So, to defeat so-called "global warming," there is no need for the $864 billion Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, the Kyoto Protocols, elaborate new regulations, or United Nations guidelines. Instead, let the cold times roll.

It is one thing to have a national debate about a serious problem, with adults differing over which solution might work best. Reasonable people, for instance, can dispute whether growing federal involvement would heal or inflame our healthcare system's serious maladies.

But as so-called "global warming" proves fictional, those who would shackle the economy with taxes and regulations to fight mythology increasingly resemble deinstitutionalized derelicts on an urban street corner, wildly swatting at their own imaginary monsters.

(Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)
And the data just keeps coming in. This from Chicago:
Have you left your air conditioner in the closet this summer, and worn long pants more often than shorts? If so, you may not be surprised to find out that Chicago is seeing its coldest July in more than 65 years.

The National Weather Service says 2009 has seen the coldest July since the official recording station was moved away from the lakefront in 1942. The average temperature this month in Chicago has been a mere 68.9 degrees.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

ObamaNation Building, Part II

The Sticky Mass of Government Helps

Douglas Wilson

Here are a few random thoughts to follow up on yesterday's post about Christians entangled in the sticky mass that we are pleased to call federal helps, aids, loans, seductions, boondoggles, and entitlements. As I said yesterday, there are qualifications that can and should be made on this -- it is a complicated subject -- but I am convinced that we rush to offer those qualifications far too readily, and we routinely violate the principle that "difficult cases make bad law." So there will be some qualifications in this post, but not as many as I think some would like.

First, I would like to reiterate what I said the outcome of this compromise actually is. I did not say that Christians who sign up for Medicare should be excommunicated or shunned. I did not say that they should be flogged. I said that entangled Christians are not and will not be in the vanguard of reformation. And that is nothing other than a simple observation that should be filed under gospel truth. Slaves who understand themselves to be slaves are pitiable. But slaves who think they are part of a "new way to freedom" don't understand the world they live in. Someone with a Ron Paul bumpersticker parked outside the Medicare office is risible.

Second, I thought of filing this post under "Retractions" instead of "Obama Nation" because of something I have overlooked in I have said or written about a portion of this on some earlier occasions, and which was very similar to what one commenter posted -- which is, "I am only going to take out what they made me pay in." But here is an argument against that angle.

The Social Security Administration is kind enough to mail me periodic statements about how much money they have extracted from me over the years. I have thought before that there would be no problem, when I become eligible for Social Security, in taking payments until that amount were reached, plus twenty percent for restitution, and to tear up the checks thereafter. But here is the flaw in that, as I see it now.

If an officious neighbor named Smith thought that I was not to be relied upon to save for my retirement, and he came over with a gun every month and successfully took yet another "contribution" from me, promising to return it to me starting when I was 65, why would I refuse to take it when he started mailing it back to me? I know, it would be irritating in that he wasn't acknowledging he had done anything bad, but still . . . why wouldn't I take the money?

Well, I would take it, on the supposition that he had taken my money, put it gilt-edged securities, earned a tidy profit on it, and was now returning it to me. But you don't know Smith. He didn't do that. What he actually did was go on a bender every weekend, and he pretty much peed all that money down various gutters around town. And when he shows up again with a willingness to repay me, it will not be with the money he took from me. He doesn't have any of that. But he still has his gun, and he is going to go get my repayment from another, younger, more squeezable sap than I now am. Not only so, but the nature of this robbery is such that the burden on those paying into the system ten and twenty years from now will be much more grievous than what I had to put up with -- and what I have had to put up with has been pretty obnoxious.

So, if the government shows back up with your money, go ahead and take it back. But if they have to knock over a few more gas stations, shooting the occasional attendant, in order to fund their collapsing Ponzi scheme, taking that money really is problematic. Suppose, just suppose, that when it comes to the month before you are going to begin receiving checks, the president announces that he is going to save the faltering Social Security system by printing up a bazillion new dollars. That lunacy is going to land on people, and it will be more than a couple of gas station attendants. The genius of Ponzi schemes is that it pits the early victims against the later victims, instead of pitting all victims against the criminal.

Third, someone asked what difference is makes whether we participate or not. Well, in one sense it does not matter -- but only in the sense that no one raindrop believes that it is responsible for the flood. Each individual's part is miniscule, and if only one or two people change, that won't change anything. But what we want is reformation of the Church, and we want God to see us repenting, and extricating ourselves as best we can. Perhaps God will show mercy. But if we are just going along to get along, and as we go we are developing perichoretic justifications for the welfare state, then we deserve what we are going to get, good and hard.

Fourth, the entitlement mentality is pernicious, and it really does get into everything. That entitlement mentality is now increasingly common, even among Christians, and even among Christians who take it on reluctantly. When someone says that they simply cannot afford to have a child with medical costs the way they are, then why don't we respond with, "Well, don't have a child then"? That makes everybody go yikes! and they immediately say that they have scruples about the use of birth control.

Okay, I'll bite. It sounds like you can't afford to get married then. It's lawful to not have children if you're not married, right? But . . . but . . . we want all the privileges of marriage, plus the privilege of our convictions about birth control, and we want someone else to pay for a chunk of it. Now, please note -- I am not saying this as big fan of birth control, as anyone who has read much of what I have written and taught about marriage and family can attest. But let me put it bluntly because we need to regain a sense of perspective. In my Bible, a prohibition of birth control is not found in the Ten Commandments, and a prohibition of stealing can be found there. We in the Church have developed ourselves some seriously dyslexic scruples. The use of birth control is the gnat. Feeding, clothing, sheltering, and educating the children you bring into the world is the camel.

Fifth, I acknowledge that we need hospital reform, tort reform, insurance reform, entitlement reform, across the board. We need one kind in the medical establishment, and we need another kind in the deep weeds of alternative medicine. I am not defending any particular institution here as is. In my view, the AMA has better ideas on how to safely deliver a baby than someone who has only gotten to Lesson 3 in her midwifery correspondence course. But before you rush to the keyboard, at least the midwives know that you're not supposed to kill babies on purpose, contrary to the stated opinions of the AMA.

Christians may be forgiven for looking sideways at hospitals where the baby murders are conducted on the fifth floor, and the high tech help for your baby (should you choose that) is found on the fourth floor. Make sure you hit the right button in the elevator. But the superiority of scientific medicine (when it is not being evil, as it frequently is) is simply my opinion -- for a vindication of that opinion, we would need an unregulated insurance industry. Which we don't have -- that's one of the reforms we are still waiting for.

And last, I want to emphasize again the distinction between absolute poverty and relative poverty. It is illegitimate to cite verses like James 2:14-16 with the full emotional amperage, and then apply it to someone who had his application for subsidized housing turned down. Not getting your student loan is not the same as being destitute. If James were given a tour of a typical house as found among the American poor, the word he would use to describe it would not be "destitute." There needs to be much more development of this issue, which I hope to do soon.

Originally posted at Blog and Mablog

Monday, 27 July 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

The Glory of Being Slow

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak,slow to anger.
James 1:19
God is:

Exodus 34:6
"The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.'"

Numbers 14:18
"The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation."

Nehemiah 9:17
"You are a God ready to forgive,gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them."

Psalm 86:15
"But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."

Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8
"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Psalm 145:8
"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Joel 2:13
"Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster."

Jonah 4:2
"That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster."

Nahum 1:3
"The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet."


Proverbs 14:29
"Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly."

Proverbs 15:18
"A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention."

Proverbs 16:32
"Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city."

Proverbs 19:11
"Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense."

James 1:19
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger."

This week's meditation on the text of the week has been provided by Justin Taylor and was originally posted on his blog, Between Two Worlds.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

ObamaNation Building, Part I

Just One More Piglet

Douglas Wilson

I should begin by saying that I am not an alarmist, and that I don't believe that the bar codes at Safeway are really antichrist codes. Further, I believe that beast of Revelation was the Roman Empire, long gone, lo, these many centuries, and that the woman who rode the beast was apostate Judaism. This means the book of Revelation is not unfolding before your very eyes every time you hit refresh on Drudge.

This is as much to say that the book of Revelation was not written to us. But, like all Scripture, it was written for us, and is profitable for instruction, correction, and training in righteousness. And this is why, ironically, out there dispensationalists are often wiser than sophisticates who have a fallen Rome safely tucked away in some academic category.

"And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb" (Rev. 14:9-10).

This is not a description of our day. But it applies to our day. The United States is not Rome. But every secular power is Rome-like, and they always want you to take their mark, whatever that mark might be. The reference to the hand and forehead is a counterfeit knockoff of what the Jews were required to do in God's covenant with them. The Jews had to bind the Word of God to their hand or to their forehead, and of course those who want the word of man to reign supreme will necessarily vie for the same place of honor. Listen to man, they say, and not to your God. Heed the words of man. Talk about them when you walk along the way, when you rise up, when you lie down.

And all of this is connected to where dinner comes from (Rev. 13:17). Idolaters always want to get a bit and bridle on the economy so that they can have additional leverage to compel their idolatries. In a free economy, the idols have to use persuasion only (which some of them do quite well), but idols always perfer persuasion and coercion. They like having a full tool box.

And so . . . this leads to a few observations. Before unloading them, let me say that I know there are some qualifications that could be made here. But I am not going to make them, not because certain exceptions to my sweeping generalizations cannot be allowed, but rather because all the people who have a real problem in this area (and their name is legion) like to grab at any offered exception and stretch it so that it always (and quite conveniently) covers their particular situation. Whew. That was close.

So Christians who live in subsidized housing are part of the problem. Christians who use federal money to get their free education are part of the problem. Christians who get on Medicare so they can ding the taxpayers if anything goes wrong with their hobby of homebirthing are part of the problem. Christians on food stamps are part of the problem. Christians who use tax money to fund their mercy ministries are part of the problem. Christians who think that their health care would be more affordable for them if I paid for it are part of the problem. And just to anticipate self-serving objections, Christians who drive on roads built by the government are not part of the problem.

Those Christians who are just one more piglet scrapping for a federal teat are not going to be in the vanguard of reformation.

Posted at Blog and Mablog

Friday, 24 July 2009

Mixed Emotions are the Required Response

Clayton Weatherston

The blogs have been sizzling and the airwaves have been reverberating over the Weatherston trial and verdict. There have been many aspects commented upon. The issue of provocation as a defence has been prominent.

The Government's signal that it will remove it as a defence (at the recommendation of the Law Commission) is troubling. It is a sound adage that extreme cases do not make a solid foundation for good law. Madeleine offers some thoughtful criticism of this move--although the Law Commission assures us that provoking circumstances can be accommodated in the current sentencing flexibility available to judges.

Questions have been raised about the mental state and wellbeing of Weatherston. Macdoctor argues that the case illustrates the need for more use of forensic psychiatric facilities. Zen, in his inimitable style, had extended the justification of provocation to all kinds of quixotic public behaviour--a post which we found--well--provoking. Zen gravely informs us that the defence of provocation should be referred to as "Clayton's defence".

Moving from the satirical we have also been confronted with outpourings of invective, disgust, and vituperation against Weatherston from many quarters. Today the newspapers are carrying stories of crims within prison putting a bounty on Weatherston's head; some are calling that fair justice.

Still others have expressed repugnance at the idea of retributive punishment and vengeance within the penal system--particularly after the recent speech by the Chief Justice questioning the utility and effectiveness of longer prison sentences. And so it goes on.

There are a few issues which go to the heart of the prevailing religion in any society. The dominant theory of the day of crime and punishment is one of them. Here you will find on display society's systems of ethics, its register of what it considers extreme sins, and its principles of justice, crime, and punishment. In the court house and what is subsequently inflicted upon the person of the convicted criminal you will find religious belief writ large.

It is also an area where you will find some of the starkest contrasts between the Christian faith and Unbelief. In the first place, Jerusalem resiles from invective, disgust and vituperation against the person of the criminal. Believers are pervaded with a deep sense of personal and corporate depravity which sees every guilty criminal as a potential mirror. The story is told of the Puritan watching someone being marched to the gallows who bowed his head and said, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Believers know that they can never say (at least truthfully) that they are so good that there are some crimes and despicable acts they could and would never, ever commit. Given the "right" circumstances and enticements every Christian knows that they would be capable of any and every bad thing--at least if they are walking in the light.

Moreover, Christians know and believe that all humans bear the image of God Himself--and therefore even the worst criminals must be treated with appropriate respect condign to their being an image bearer. Therefore, outpourings of contempt, vituperation, and hatred are inappropriate and unacceptable.

Furthermore, Jerusalem knows and understands that vengeance upon evildoers has been claimed by God as His exclusive preserve. Society is expressly prohibited from taking vengeance upon criminals. "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" (Romans 12: 19) This undergirds all Christian justice, all Christian penology.

Vengeance will be taken, both in the life and the one to come, but it has been laid down for us that it is a realm exclusively reserved by God. This means that all justice, courts, decisions, and policy toward criminals is seen not as elements of public policy, but first and foremost as divine acts. Within Jerusalem, when a criminal is judged and punished in the manner commanded by God Himself, it is seen as a divine action not the will, act, or behest of the creature. In matters of crime and punishment, we obey; we do not command.

Further, for Christians capital punishment and the death penalty as the most extreme and final punishment in this life is accepted and submitted to because God, to Whom alone belongs vengeance and retribution, has stipulated it, and laid it down.
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behaviour, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, and avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.
(Romans 13: 3,4)
Finally, Jerusalem knows that there is an important element of prevention which plays out when the system of crime and punishment is biblically grounded and understood to be the preserve of God Himself. Part of the actual effect of righteous justice is to lead people to fear to do wrong. Evil acts have consequences that are fearful.

We are thankful that we have a justice system in New Zealand that works, albeit imperfectly, inconsistently, and in part--despite it being terribly flawed. We are thankful that crimes such as murder are still regarded as criminal acts and criminals receive retribution and punishment, at least in some degree. However, our gratitude is always tinged with sadness and fear--lest we too fall into evil.

We cannot endorse in any sense whatsoever the idea that a criminal may deservedly suffer harm at the hands of other criminals in our prison system. The moment we do is the moment we, mere creatures, have claimed vengeance for ourselves. At that moment the foundations of justice itself have gone.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Change We Can Believe In

The Ethics of Welfare Prostitution

Five days ago, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argued in the Telegraph that the West is facing fiscal ruin. He may or may not be right--this time round. But, if not, in the long run he will be on the money. The collapse of Western governments and economies will come from the relentless rise of state entitlements, as property is taken from some citizens and distributed to others.

In the end, the demand for entitlements will outstrip the ability of the government to supply, due to diminishing wealth and economic growth. The final result will likely be a complete meltdown of financial markets, catastrophic depression, political instability, and probably a collapse of law and order.

The virulence of the West's disease can also be seen in New Zealand. Unbelief cannot deal with the problem, it can only throw petrol on to the fire. At root is the notion of entitlement, based on a universally held belief in demand human rights. Athens has now become enslaved to the belief that there is a behemoth of goods and services to which all citizens are entitled. The state must intervene to ensure that citizens get their entitlements.

These entitlements (healthcare, the dole, the Domestic Purposes Benefit, New Zealand Superannuation, government funded education, etc) are due all citizens because Athens philosophically and religiously believes in demand rights. There are certain things (goods and services) which individual human beings have a right to have--and the right is of a demand type: that is, they can demand that others provide these things for them. This, in turn, legitimises the state expropriating the property of citizens through the taxation system to meet the demand rights entitlements of other citizens. Failure to provide these demand rights entitlements is framed as injustice.

Even the right wing in New Zealand, let alone the "centre" political parties, all agree that demand rights exist. The only debate amongst Unbelief is the level and extent of the entitlements. An example is Lindsay Mitchell's latest piece on Maori welfare. She lays down her views on state welfare per se:
There exists an extreme view that the state has no role at all in welfare provision. It is not one I share. Nevertheless, the state should limit its involvement to that of providing a safety net of last resort. Self and family responsibility must come first. Middle class welfare – the provision of cash or services to those who can afford to meet their own needs – must be avoided. (Emphasis, ours)

David Farrar of Kiwiblog agrees:
I broadly agree with that proposition. Welfare should be targeted at those in genuine need. It should not be dished out so families can buy a nicer ipod.
Now, Mitchell being an Act party member would be to the right of Farrar who identifies himself as a centre-right liberal. But both operate within the same paradigm of entitlements and demand rights: the only debate is over amount or extent. When they debate with the Left it is over the amount and quantum of demand rights, not their existence.

It is like the woman who was asked whether she would prostitute herself for a thousand dollars. She declined. But when asked whether she would spend the night with a man for ten million dollars, she affirmed that she would. So, said, her interlocutor, we have established that you are a prostitute--we are only debating the price.

The problem is that demand rights are fundamentally unethical and immoral--whether they are demands for a "safety net of last resort" or asserting an entitlement to the latest ipod. Demand rights necessarily involve state enforced expropriation and theft of property from one group of citizens to another. Regardless of how much or "little" is taken, it is always theft.

Modern western democracies are locked in to this perverse ideology. They cannot turn away from it, any more than they can turn away from their Unbelief. For in the West man has become divine and can therefore assert demand rights at will. And, of course, demand rights have an inevitable dynamic of growing and expanding. If you are a prostitute and someone offers you twenty million instead of ten, you go with that person. All politicians and political aspirants--we are bold to say without exception--are compelled to support at least the current entitlements. Yet the road to political power is always paved with promises of expanding demand rights and more entitlements. As soon as an entitlement is asserted and granted, it cannot be revoked without widespread social disturbance and cries of injustice.

In the end the whole immoral, unethical and tawdry system will collapse in upon itself. It may happen in this current crisis--but if not, it will eventually transpire.

Our view is that it is impossible to change this system. It requires a rejection of secular humanism, which lies at the heart of Unbelief. What, then, can Jerusalem do? A great deal. But the revolution needs to be in our hearts, in our families, and in our Christian communities (churches, schools, welfare associations, and so forth.) In a nutshell, Christians need to learn to live in manner which eschews all demand rights and entitlements in principle, then progressively institutionalise that rejection in practice. This will not happen quickly. But it must happen if we are to have reformation in our nation.

Douglas Wilson in Moscow, Idaho has been publishing a series of pieces on this very matter for his audience in the United States. We will progressively reproduce them in Contra Celsum. While he is addressing the issues facing Christians in the United States, it is immediately apparent that we have the same issues in this country.

Working for the reformation of Christendom is our duty. It is also our great joy. The work needs to be done on many fronts. Rejecting the false religion of demand rights, and adopting biblical habits and working toward building strong independent and self-reliant Christian communities is a vital part of the war.

We promise all our readers that reading Wilson on these matters will be an uncomfortable experience--although his irenic spirit and great sense of humour makes the medicine go down more easily.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The SAS in Afghanistan

The Apiata Syndrome

The Government has signalled that the SAS may well be returning to Afghanistan. There have been reports of President Obama and the US administration pressuring the Prime Minister to redeploy the SAS, since their last tour of duty was rated as a great success.

We find ourselves saddened with this news. However, before the gung ho and the jingoists weigh in, grant us the opportunity to explain our moroseness. Firstly, this imbroglio is a stark reminder that our nation has a completely bankrupt and irresponsible defence policy--equally espoused by all governments of whatever stripe since the seventies. That policy can be summarised in one word: "Others". We have virtually no armed capability at all. In all practical terms, our country is undefended. Even the Chiefs of the Armed Forces have formally reported to Parliament acknowledging the navy cannot sail, the airforce cannot fly, and the army cannot fight.

New Zealand's defence policy is to hope/rely/pray for other nations to come to our aid if we are attacked. This is a shocking dereliction of duty on the part of the state. It is a naive, asinine, stupid, self-indulgent, and a bankrupt position. To expose its crassness it is simply a total unwillingness by the government and the people to take responsibility to defend themselves. They want others to do it for them. We do not deserve to be a nation; we will certainly not long remain one.

So our "elite" SAS is going into Afghanistan. Let's be clear here. The SAS is not an elite unit: it is virtually our only fighting unit. Numbers are confidential, but estimates are of around 500 members. The rest of the armed forces are neither trained nor equipped for combat.

When President Obama pressures John Key to send the SAS back to Afghanistan, he will probably conclude that we have no choice but to comply. If we do not, the Others "defence" doctrine will be in tatters--which would be an even worse situation to what exists now, inconceivable as it may seem. It is shameful that the governments of this country cannot and will not be honest with the people. The Prime Minister needs to stand up and be counted and tell the country honestly why the SAS has to go into Afghanistan--and it has nothing to do with protecting ourselves against terrorists (see below). It has everything to do with continuing the Others "defence" policy.

We find no pleasure in the kind of superficial, self-deceiving ratiocinations arguing for deployment in Afghanistan in the NZ Herald. It argues that most New Zealanders recognise that unless the Taleban are defeated, Afghanistan will once again become a bolt-hole for terrorists and terrorism. We wonder, dear Editors, why you have not all along argued for similar deployment of New Zealand troops in Somalia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and (in earlier years) why you have not urged for NZ deployment in Ireland, Basque controlled Spanish provinces, and Chechnya. All have served or are serving as bolt-holes for terrorism. We could probably afford to send ten poorly equipped SAS troops to each location before we ran out.

The Herald also gravely informs us that it is the right time to be "getting in". President Obama has begun a new campaign. It is far broader than "search and destroy" missions against the Taleban. It is attempting to deny the Taleban political traction in southern Afghanistan through winning the "hearts and minds" of the people. The Herald writes:
The assumption is that if local people can be made more secure and the Taleban kept away from them, much greater progress can be made in reconstruction and economic development. That, in turn, will garner the support of Afghans, allow the country to be stabilised, and pave the way for the eventual withdrawal of the international coalition.

The strategy involves troops going out on patrol to reassure local people, and means far less use of alienating devices, such as unmanned drones. It is far riskier, as the British have found, and requires far more troops than mounting raids from strongly defended bases.

It is also likely to take 10 to 15 years to implement successfully, starting with at least two years of heavy combat. That is another reality Mr Key must accept as he assesses New Zealand's commitment.
For some reason this kind of "war" seems more palatable, more humane, more enlightened, more winnable. It is not. It is naive and foolish. What would be the chances of success if a foreign nation (say, Iran) turned up in New Zealand with their army, air force, and navy; occupied our nation; and sought to win our hearts and minds, with the promise that, if we agreed, and changed our ways they would withdraw? In the meantime, they threw a few petro-dollars at us, shot a few miscreants and resisters, and sought to teach us the benefits of living under Allah; insisted that our women dress in the burkha and urged local leaders to apply sharia law--while all along we knew that they would have to leave some day.

What would be their chances of success? None. The Iranians and their ways would be alien, completely alien--and, therefore, offensive to us. Add to this the truth that the Pashtun tribe and the Taleban are virtually synonymous and highly respected in the south. Add in also that for the past five hundred years or more, no power has ever been successful in subjugating or controlling Afghanistan. The latest to try were the Soviets and they failed dismally. Obama will fail similarly--and it will have nothing to do with how nice the US soldiers are, how super-duper their equipment, or how well meaning everyone is. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that they are foreigners and invaders and have no locally recognized right to be there in the first place.

But the Editors at the Herald have grand schemes in their sights, so full speed ahead. They conclude their editorial with utopian schemes and dreams:
Nonetheless, this is not a struggle that New Zealand can shirk. Sending the SAS has nothing to with currying favour with the White House. It is about the way Afghanistan provided a training ground for worldwide terrorism. Last week's bombing in Jakarta reinforced the fact that every effort must be made to prevent that happening again.
The New Zealand presence in Afghanistan will make our country a legitimate and necessary target in the eyes of Islamic terrorism. They already know that we are a soft and easy target. It increases substantially the risks of attack--here, in New Zealand. It would be something we would not be able to cope with, nor defend against. We simply do not have the resources. The Others "defence" doctrine would mean that we would get a lot of international sympathy, but nothing more. The doctrine will prove a failure--which always was going to be the case.

Maybe there will be a silver lining to the cloud. Maybe a thorough-going terrorist attack will help persuade our irresponsible and reckless government that the Others doctrine must be jettisoned and that New Zealand must begin to take its own defence seriously. Maybe it will persuade the nation that we need to pay the price and that for years we have been living in a socialist fools' paradise where endless billions of taxes have been squandered pampering a lazy, indulgent, demanding, coddled people, while the gates to the city have been left wide open and undefended, all because it was "too expensive" and we could not afford it. Well, more to the point, we could not afford guns because we have long preferred instead our indulgent lashings of state funded butter.

The Apiata syndrome--a whole nation basking in glory won by a few on foreign fields--is alive and well. But that is what socialism is all about: others paying a price so every else may be indulged. The Others "defence" doctrine is a pure application of socialist principles to national defence.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Watermelon Green

Global Swarming

Douglas Wilson

In the previous post on stewardship, one commenter asked a reasonable question. Why is it that I consistently use green as a term of contempt? And when do I, if ever, speak of the genuine demands of biblical stewardship in the environment? Consider this as a first pass in attempting to answer that question.

First, why is it that I regard a Christian's baptismal vows, which renounce the devil and all his works, to include a rejection of being green, going green, or thinking green? Is it because I don't like the color? Is it because my motto is "Earth first! We'll pave the other planets later"? Not a bit of it. Scripture begins with a garden, and it ends with (green) garden city. Not only am I okay with this, but I regard it as every Christian's duty to live in a manner consistent with that overarching vision. So why do I gag on "green"?

It is for the same reason that you would not catch me in a Parisian mob, yelling "liberty, equality, and fraternity," even though all three of those things are good things. I am not pro-choice, even though choice is good. I believe that Christ came to liberate the proletariat, even though I would never speak of it that way. Virtually every instance of greenthink you will encounter today is watermelon green -- green on the outside, red on the inside. The thing is a statist sham from top to bottom, a naked, violent and abusive power grab. The issue for me is coercion and violence, and has nothing whatever to do with their promise to change the weather, for Pete's sake.

Here is their game. "What can we talk people into caring about, so that we may then manufacture a crisis in that area, using that bogus crisis to seize power through the mechanism of the state, with that power being all-encompassing?" If any Christians are hardy enough to object, they just throw the word stewardship at them. What I am throwing back at them revolves around an understanding that the devil is the father of lies, and when he lies he does so fluently, speaking in his native language (Jn. 8:44). Jesus, by way of contrast, told us not to judge on the basis of superficial appearances, but to make a right judgment (Jn. 7:24). It is not enough to say that "the nice man," who seemed very concerned, told me CO2 is a pollutant, and that nice weather is pollution. I mean, crikey. The fact that people are just galumphing along with this is a marvelous thing.

So what do I urge Christians to do positively? The question is a fair one -- it is not possible to fight something with nothing, and it really is necessary for us to set forth a positively vision, one that is distinctively Christian. So when do I do that? Whenever I am writing about the progress of the gospel toward that garden city, these are the terms I use. I speak of these things using the vocabulary of the cultural mandate, exercising dominion, postmillennialism, the kingdom, the lordship of Christ over all things, being fruitful and multiplying, and liberty. These things are my green.

What can we do to get from here to there? How shall we then live? We should love God and love our neighbor. We should do what God says to do in the Bible, which incidentally does not include any attempts to supplant God. We should get a job and work with our hands, for example (Eph. 4:28). We should not attempt to play God, realizing that He said that He would bring these things about gradually, as the yeast works through the loaf. As we learn how to worship Him more faithfully, and give ourselves diligently to the task in front of us (that which is near and clear), that is what He will use to bring about what He has promised. But our current attempts at "stewardship," to use an example of my wife's, is like a newborn demanding the family checkbook in order to make sure the phone bill gets paid.

Those secularists who want to play doctor and "heal the environment" are violating one of the basic tenets of the Hippocratic Oath -- "first, do no harm." In the mass of their movement, there is a great deal of gullibility, and at the top there is a great deal of evil. Christians have better things to do than tagging along behind them, trying to figure out a way to attach John 3:16 to one of the floats in their parade. For many Christians, cultural engagement is nothing more than taking whatever the world dishes up, and then trying to find a verse or two to decorate it with. It is like science fair projects in many Christian schools. Do the astronomy project, set up the display board, and then at the last minute try to find a verse with stars in it.

While on this subject, the problem with Chesterton's vision of "three acres and a cow" is not that he desired such a society. Who wouldn't want to live in the Shire? The problem is that, if we resist the temptation of keeping things "perfect" through coercion, in about three weeks there will be one industrious fellow with six acres and two cows, and another fellow, less industrious, a former farmer, who will be down at the tavern, drinking too much.

But my insistence that we not intervene in utopian ways now ought not to be taken as an indication that I think that everything is just fine the way it is. No -- our world is broken, and the creation groans. As we do justice, love mercy, and walk with humility, God will use that to bring about His good purposes. This world will be restored, fully restored, and our labors in the present will be used by Him to contribute to that restoration (1 Cor. 15:58). This entire world will one day sparkle an emerald green.

But that restoration will not be advanced by blunderers, who call CO2 a pollutant, or tyrants, who pollute the land with the blood of innocents. Neither will it be advanced by those Christians who tag along behind such, thinking that they can become leaders by following.

Republished from Blog and Mablog

Monday, 20 July 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

We are Free Indeed

For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His
Romans 6:5
This one short verse contains the heart of the Gospel—the good news of God's mercy and salvation to fallen mankind. The essence of eternal life is contained in our being united to Christ's death and resurrection. All that is good to us from God, comes in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. We are blessed by being in His train, by being united to Him.

We who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ are legally united to His death. Adam, the first head of the human race was legally representative of all humanity—so that in his sin and its punishment, all his descendants were adjudged by God to be equally sinful and all were, therefore, bound over to the punishment of Adam's sin, which was and is death.

Our Lord Jesus Christ comes forth as the second Adam, the new, replacement Adam. He is legally united to all His people—all whom the Father has given Him—so that when He died and was punished for sin, He bore the guilt of all the sin of all His people, including the first sin of Adam which had been laid to our charge. This is the ground of why we are able to believe in the mercy of God toward us. The evil which we have done in thought, word, and deed has been fully and completely punished in His death in our place. We have been united to Him in His death.

But there is more. We have legally also been united to Christ in His resurrection. Note the change in tense in our text. We have been already (perfect) united to (lit: “planted together with”) Christ in His death; we most certainly shall be (future) united to Him in a resurrection like His. The day is coming when we will be like Him in His resurrection, bearing new and perfected life in body, mind, and soul. These things are as certain and life and death itself.

God's dealings with us are now mediated through the Son. Just as His dealings with us had once been mediated through Adam, the consequence of which was certain death—even death within the womb, before an unborn child had done anything good or bad on their own account—so now, the death and resurrection of Christ is mediated to us; all His perfect work is put to our account. God deals with us accordingly.

We are conscious, then, that we have been known by God long beforehand. Long before we were, He has set His love upon us in Christ, from eternity. We have been embraced and taken up in a salvation so complete, so perfect, so impeccable that it is beyond our comprehension. Even our faith, which joins us to Christ existentially, so that in our believing we come to know and experience Him as our covenant Head—even our faith comes from God and is not of ourselves.

This, then, is the Gospel. From beginning to end it is God and the work of His Christ, anointed as our representative before God. To Him belongs all glory, all honour, and thanks. The debt we owe can never be paid, but it demands (and receives) our unending gratitude.

Far too often we spoil the happiness and felicity of the Gospel by not daring to believe it. We think it too good to be true. We start to mix it up with our unworthiness, or our failures, or our sins. It is when we start to consider ourselves too much that we think less of Him and the perfection of His work for us. Every day it would be good to remind ourselves that God regards us and considers us to be perfect, without any blot, blemish, or imperfection. He regards only the perfection of His Son that abides upon us.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

More Evidence of Prison Corruption

Judicial Hypocrisy

New South Wales has just completed what is claimed to be the most comprehensive survey in history of prisoners within that state's prison system.

It reports: "One in six inmates was aware of a sexual assault in jail in the past year, one in three had used drugs on the inside and half of inmates considered it 'easy' to get them."

If we were to ask how many prosecutions have taken place for sexual assaults or drug use in prisons, we would doubtless find the number to be cuddling zero. Once again this highlights the bankruptcy of the prison institution and of the state in its approach to it. (We believe that it is safe to assume that prison life in NSW is roughly equal to reality in New Zealand.)

So, in this most vicious and degrading manifestation of modern slavery, which is the prison system, we are apparently justified in concluding:

1. That sexual assault and prison rape is OK. It's a crime outside, but inside it's tolerable and tolerated.

2. That drug use in prison is OK. It's a criminal activity outside, but inside, it's OK.

If we are not entitled to draw these conclusions, then why aren't the police and corrections staff investigating and prosecuting crime within the prison system? Clearly they are not, or they must be the most inept and ineffectual policing ministries imaginable. Here is a captive population; accessible at all times to police detectives and investigators; susceptible to infiltration by undercover officers--the list goes on. Surely it's not that hard.

So, since the police are clearly neither inept nor ineffectual in their professional duties, the only other possible alternative is that the government is willing to tolerate crime in prison.

We call for a zero tolerance policy toward all crime committed within prisons. If society and the government and the electorate is going to continue with the modern prison system, it has to front up and do it properly, justly, ethically, and fairly. Winking the eye at prison crime is none of these. It remains an enduring shame and blight upon the community. The government is being derelict in one of its fundamental and most basic duties.

Friday, 17 July 2009

What's So Wrong With Being Selfish?

The Siren Song of the Sisterhood

The Delphic Oracle was an institution in Ancient Greece to which humans and heroes repaired when they wanted some guidance or insight. The "revelation" was delivered by the priestesses who served the shrine at Delphi. The Oracle was famed for its cryptic, double-edged answers. So often it told devotees what they wanted to hear, but the message contained the seeds of destruction.

Modern Athens also has its Delphic Oracle attended by its priestesses. The Oracle continues to give guidance to others but this time more generously. It bestows its wisdom on the City of Unbelief whether it asks for it or not.

Our readers may be interested in the latest revelation. In this case the Priestess is Jessica Wakeman. The Oracle has moved from Delphi to CNN in Atlanta. Hear the profound wisdom of the gods of Unbelief.

What's so wrong with being selfish?

By Jessica Wakeman

There's no better way to get everybody fighting than to bring up the "having kids" or "not having kids" debate. The so-called "mommy wars" are a surefire way to make everybody defensive!

But the discussion can get nasty when women with kids accuse women sans kids of being "selfish," because they aren't interested in giving up certain freedoms and pleasures in favor of raising a child.

Frankly, I am surprised when women use the word "selfish" in this context. After all, isn't one of the upshots of feminism supposed to be that women have more choices than ever before and each of us is free to do what makes us happy?

Let me be clear: I respect whatever other women choose to do because I'd want them to respect what I choose to do. Kids, no kids, puppies, iguanas, I don't care what your choice is. But I do care about the kind of judgments us women make against one another. But there's something about this particular judgment that has me puzzled -- really, what's so wrong with being selfish?

1. Women should be allowed to care about pleasing ourselves-- and only ourselves -- without being judged. What is wrong with a woman being selfish? Really. Think about it for a second. Why shouldn't we be selfish if it means we're meeting our own needs and taking care of ourselves? What's wrong with caring more about bringing pleasure to your own life than anything else?

It should not be as controversial as it apparently is for women to think of themselves first if they are not hurting anyone. Reasonable people agree a woman should make herself happy, but why do these people suddenly because so unreasonable when those women say it would make her happy to just focus on herself?

2. Some women just want to have fun -- the same fun they've always had. Are mothers who call other women "selfish" are just a little bitter because it's harder for them to meet some of their "having fun" needs.

I have no doubt that having kids is "fun" in its own way, but women with children sacrifice so much that they surely can't have "fun" the way they used to -- spend their money on themselves, drive a better car, stay out at all night dancing, splurge at Nordstrom's. I don't think it's wrong not to want to change that.

3. There isn't one way to be selfless. Children ask selflessness of women and to think of others' needs before their own. But no way, no how, do moms have a monopoly on selflessness.

Even if they're shopping, drinking, partying, sleeping around, whatever, women without kids can still be selfless. They donate their time and money to causes they believe in, mentor younger people in their office, care for their elderly parents, and play babysitter for the evening so their sister can get a night out. They are still being selfless -- they're just prioritizing having more fun over being more selfless.

And furthermore, why do the judgmental women with children prioritize selflessly meeting the needs of a few people --their kids -- over childless women selflessly meeting the needs of possibly more people?

4. Life isn't one size fits all -- different things make our lives fulfilling. Women with children sometimes realize that their lives were unfulfilled or shallow before they had kids. But childless women experience these realizations too, only about their jobs, their hobbies, their passions, and their extended families.

Deciding that having kids is the best way not to be shallow implies women aren't good enough unless we're sacrificing ourselves for children. Put another way, it implies it's not OK for us to choose what brings us pleasure.

The Delphic Oracle has evolved. Clearly there are some obvious differences between this utterance and those delivered to the heroes of Ancient Greece. Wordiness, for one. But the Oracle has lost none of its cryptic double meaning. Wakeman's self-congratulatory indulgence perfectly captures the spirit of the age, reflecting back to modern Athens what it wants to hear. But, as in ancient times, those who follow the Oracle without caution rush headlong into the traps which have been set.

The trap is that the culture will end up in Hades. So, eat, drink, and be merry; we would forbid it not, for all are free to dance their destructive dervishes in their way of choice. Tomorrow your culture, your world will die. It has always been thus with narcissism.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Fear that Stalks the Land

Athens is a City of Relentless Phobias

We have all met people who evince an overdeveloped sense of fear. Something is "out there" and it is coming to get them. There are many instances and "causes" of such paranoia. The rich, the Fates, the world, colleagues, bosses, the gods--all are variants of the overall theme that life is a minatory existence. The fear is tangible, real, and often life-dominating.

What is a distinct and clear reality for individuals can also be manifest in societies, cultures, and generations. As a whole, people can live in fear. Cultures can be riddled with apprehension. Entire generations can be dominated by phobias.

Our view is that socially dominating phobias are characteristic of all cultures of Unbelief. If a City of Unbelief denies the providential government of all things by the omnipotent God, anything is possible--and a good chunk of those possibilities are bad. Consequently, the world becomes a fearful place. There are demons of one kind or another out there.

Therefore, it is not by accident that our modern post- and anti-Christian culture has also become increasingly gripped by phobias. As time passes, the world of Unbelief is manifesting itself as a world of the paranoiac and neurotic.

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, recently described this phenomenon.

Be afraid!
Pig flu, bird flu, global warming, crime ... Why professional panic-mongers are making us terrified.

We could have a grown-up discussion about the outbreak of flu in Mexico which has led to between 150 and 180 deaths and spread to numerous countries across the globe. And we could take comfort from the fact that in almost all cases outside Mexico those infected have been mildly ill and appear to be making a recovery.

But, unfortunately, that is not the discussion we are having. “All of humanity is under threat,” the World Health Organisation warns. “Killer flu arrives in Britain,” a newspaper informs us. We live in a world where just about any outbreak of flu is transformed into a health scare and treated as a precursor of a global pandemic. Typically, a health warning soon turns into a threat alert and once again we are reminded that we live in unusually dangerous times.

It is not hope but fear that excites and shapes the cultural imagination of the early 21st century. Indeed, fear is fast becoming a caricature of itself. It is no longer simply an emotion or a response to the perception of threat. It has become a cultural idiom through which we signal a sense of growing unease about our place in the world.

Popular culture continually encourages an expansive alarmist imagination by providing the public with a steady diet of fearful programmes about impending calamities - man-made and natural. Alarmist television programmes about old and impending disasters and films such as The Day After Tomorrow, which transmit the idea that a sudden change in climatic conditions threatens the destruction of the planet, self-consciously erode the line between fact and fiction.

Some experts and health professionals are quite happy to deploy alarmist fiction to promote their cause. Raising awareness through the promotion of fear is frequently justified by zealous crusaders. One climatologist, David Viner, acknowledged that the film The Day After Tomorrow “got a lot of details wrong”. But hey, so what! He argued that anything that “raises awareness about climate change must be a good thing”.

The open advocacy of fear indicates that it has become a cultural metaphor for interpreting and representing the world around us. Indeed, in some circles fear is used as a form of affectation to signify a sensitivity to the many hidden perils facing people. “I am really worried about my child surfing the net,” parents tell one another, as a way of displaying their parental responsibility. To acknowledge fear is to demonstrate awareness. This self-conscious affectation does not mean that people are necessarily more scared than previously. It merely signals the idea that they ought to be.

It is not necessary for our imagination of fear to correspond to our experience of life. Compared with the past, people living in Western societies have less familiarity with pain, debilitating disease and death than ever before. We are far better placed to deal with the outbreak of new disease than was the case in the past. Recent outbreaks of Ebola, Sars and West Nilus virus have been contained with relatively small loss of lives. In 2006, Thailand and Vietnam were able to report that bird flu had been contained, even though they had been at the epicentre of the epidemic a year previously. Yet despite our growing capacity to deal with the problems facing humanity, we are led to believe that we are likely to be overwhelmed by the disasters that loom ahead.

Fear can be a sensible response to the circumstances we face. As individuals, fear often helps us to concentrate the mind when we engage with unexpected and unpredictable circumstances. There are many experiences that we should rightly fear. These are threats that are based on our personal experience. It is reasonable to fear a gang of drunken louts who cross our path or the behaviour of a vindictive employer.

However, today, many of the threats that we are instructed to fear are not based on direct experience. They are often shaped by alarmist media accounts of swine flu in Mexico, paedophiles preying on our children or desperate Middle Eastern terrorists plotting our downfall. These are threats that do not emerge out of our immediate personal experience. We can neither fight them nor flee from them. They are about dangers that we can not directly confront but simply experience passively.

The growing divergence of our sensibility of fear from our daily routine indicates that we are not talking about simply an emotional response to our experience. What is at issue is a more general cultural perspective on how we make sense of our lives. One of the principal features of our culture of fear is the belief that humanity is confronted by powerful destructive forces that threaten our existence. With so much at stake, how can responsible people fail to raise the alarm? That is why it has become so easy for television producers to blur the line that used to divide reality from science fiction. That is also why officialdom appears to be in the business of transmitting scare stories to the public. Politicians and officials take the view that if they warn us to be afraid about some impending catastrophe they will protect themselves from the accusation of irresponsibility.

Recently, the White House announced that “there is no need to panic about the outbreak of swine flu”. But when is there ever a need to panic? The very attempt to reassure conveys the assumption that fear is the default state of mind. This sentiment was implicit in a recent report of the Mental Health Foundation, which claimed that more than three-quarters of the UK population believe that the world is more frightening today than 10 years ago. The aim of this well-meaning report was to warn us about the destructive consequence of the promotion of fear (It claims that 15% of us are suffering from so-called anxiety disorders). Unfortunately, its focus on the fearful consequences of fearing reinforces the very outlook the report seeks to tackle.

So why is a relatively prosperous, secure and healthy society afflicted by the myth that it is living through an unprecedented dangerous era? The principal reason for the flourishing of fear-mongering is the relative weakness of a moral code through which society can confidently give meaning to what is right and what is wrong. . . [Society] compensates for its moral disorientation through embracing health warnings, threat alerts and the rituals of risk management. We no longer tell young teenagers that pre-marital sex is immoral or bad but that it is bad for their health and their emotional wellbeing. Instead of denouncing moral transgressions, fear entrepreneurs are more likely to castigate “risky behaviour”, “unhealthy choices” or “green sins”. And the swine flu outbreak? According to one moral tale, it is a punishment for the evil of factory farming - nature biting back at industrial animal production.

Fear entrepreneurs rarely attempt to spread alarm for its own sake. As in the case of the boy who cried wolf, fear-mongering represents a call for attention. Through raising the alarm, individuals and groups draw attention to their cause and claims in order to influence the public’s behaviour. So public campaigns against obesity often justify their alarmist message on the grounds that it puts pressure on people to change their behaviour.

As a result, a public health professional such as Ian Roberts can boast that “the social stigma attached to obesity is one of the few forces slowing the epidemic”. The message is: change the way you live, get on your bike or walk, eat less, cut out meat and you will save yourself and the planet. One environmental researcher claims that “given the crushing burden of obesity on individuals and society, all potential sources of motivation need to be stressed”.

Entrepreneurs regularly harness the prevailing culture of fear to promote their businesses and sell their products. They can sell us digital devices to track the movement of our children, vitamin supplements to prevent them becoming ill, and health insurance to try and ensure that we, and even our pets, are in a position to obtain the relevant help should catastrophe strike. They continually warn that the public faces all kinds of dangers that threaten health, security or wellbeing. In some cases, hazards - such as the supposed unsafety of tap water - are fabricated, leading to a significant transformation in lifestyle and behaviour.

The health and pharmaceutical industry - one of the most profitable sectors of the economy - has been well served by the constant outbreaks of health panics. Shares in Roche, which makes anti-flu drug Tamiflu, and GlaxoSmithKline, which makes anti-flu drug Relenza, have seen significant growth over the past few days.

Meanwhile, food scares have significantly influenced our eating habits, and concern with global warming has led to the emergence of a new cadre of green entrepreneurs who argue that unless the entire economy is reorganised, we are doomed.

But it is important to note that fear-mongers are principally moral entrepreneurs. Their warnings often convey a message about how people ought to behave in order to avoid consequences that are not only dangerous but also evil. Frequently, through raising concern about problems, they turn physical threats into moral hazards. Through their crusades, physical threats also come to constitute evils. So warnings about climate change quickly metamorphose into calls for a responsible low-carbon lifestyle. Going green, ethical living, vegetarianism or carbon rationing are promoted because they alleviate the threat of a catastrophe and because they represent morally sanctioned forms of behaviour. They also constitute an alternative to “green sins”. This term, initially used tongue-in-cheek, refers to new forms of moral transgressions.

Eating and food has also become a morally charged activity. Consequently, scaremongering about the “epidemic” of child obesity continually shifts from its alarmist propaganda about health consequences to a moral condemnation of slothful behaviour.

The traditional sin of sloth has been recycled into a health warning that demands that people alter their behaviour. Obesity serves as an exemplar of 21st-century moral hazard. The main protagonist of this scare is the flabby indolent child whose parents are indifferent to his diet and feed him on a regular diet of junk food.

The massive growth of fear-mongering campaigns and crusades during the past quarter-century is unprecedented. The dramatisation of fear acquires its most extravagant form in relation to the very big catastrophic hazards that apparently threaten the survival of the planet. International terrorism, climate change, influenza type pandemic, the Aids epidemic, over-population and potential for disastrous technological accidents are only a few of the many mega-hazards confronting society.

Health scares targeting children and women have become a flourishing enterprise, and are often linked to anxieties about food or the alleged side-effects of drugs, pollution and new technologies. Personal security constitutes another important subject for fear-mongering. Anxieties about crime, immigration and anti-social behaviour are regularly promoted by law and order advocacy organisations.

Fear promotion even attaches itself to the domain of personal relationships. Parenting has turned into a minefield and children are continually depicted as “at risk”. Powerful warnings about child abuse, peer abuse, bullying, harassment, rape, domestic violence and elder abuse communicate a health warning about the perils of personal relations. Finally, many scares convey a warning about the danger of moral corruption. Possibly the most potent symbol of the threat of moral degradation is the paedophile: a threat which is further amplified through sensationalist accounts about paedophile rings, internet pornography, and other forms of immoral sexual behaviour.

Most of us are far too busy trying to tackle the challenges of day-to-day existence to live our lives, according to the dictates of fear entrepreneurs. Research indicates that what concerns people are the problems of everyday life - jobs, money, the wellbeing and future security of their children. Of the high-profile public panics, crime and perceived threats to children have the gravest impact on our imagination. Most research suggests that there is a discrepancy between how fear is represented, discussed and reported in public and the way it is experienced by individuals.

Our private fears are often about our status - not being taken seriously or respected - and about knowing our place in the world. Nevertheless the dramatisation of fear influences behaviour by encouraging anxiety about the future, along with cynicism and confusion.

Worse still, it incites us to regard ourselves as victims of circumstances beyond our control instead of authors of our destiny. That is why it is so important to rebel against the power of the fear entrepreneurs. Most of the time - as in the case of the current swine flu scare - that means getting on with life. Instead of relying on the experts, we need to cultivate the informal ties that bind us to friends and family, who are the best guarantors of our security.

Rising Truancy Rates Predicted

Say Goodbye to Lost Generations

Scrubone has helpfully published the advice of Barnados to parents who are struggling to get their children to go to school. Apparently a swift smack on the bottom used to do the trick, but now that it is illegal more and more parents don't know what to do to get their children to attend school.

But, no probs. The wise and practical folk at Barnados have devised appropriate alternative ways to motivate children to attend school. If it were not so serious, it would warrant Barnados being awarded comic-of-the-decade status.

Read Scrubone's piece, and weep.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Unintended Consequences in Afghanistan

The Danger of Good Intentions

We argued recently for the reform of foreign policy along more classical Christian lines. At the level of government interference in the affairs of other nations the duty is to maintain a splendid isolation and a strict, but armed, neutrality. At the levels of cultural interchange, trade, and non-governmental contact there ought to be as much contact and interaction with other nations and peoples as citizens and corporations freely desire.

The closest modern exemplar of splendid isolation is Switzerland. We believe this to be a more fundamentally and consistently Christian position than the foreign policies of the post-Christian West which appeal to vague religious or philosophical notions about universal "human rights" as a pretext to interfere in the affairs of other nations.

Human affairs, cultures, traditions, beliefs and motives are so complex and disparate that interference in other nations in a manner which seeks justification and leverage from some supposed "human rights" almost always creates more problems than it solves. It tears apart the historical fabric of cultures, creating a vacuum abhorred by nature.

The media is now starting to focus upon "Obama's War"--the escalation of American military activity in Afghanistan. Body bag numbers are starting to rise. It is clear to the more enlightened US military minds that the defeat of the Taleban will require cultural and social change in southern Afghanistan. Yet the more attention is directed at the comprehensive transformation required, the longer the estimates of American involvement in Afghanistan become.

The NZ Herald carried an article recently on the difficulties faced.
Though Western politicians have long described the war in Afghanistan as being fought to defend the Afghan people against the Taleban, the tougher truth is that the Taleban, almost exclusively composed of members of the Pashtun tribes who comprise at least 40 per cent of the country's population, are an integral part of the Afghan people.

In part, the Taleban represent the conservative, rural, religious Pashtun Afghanistan; in contrast, the more modern, cosmopolitan, urban Afghanistan of Kabul, the current government and its power base among the country's non-Pashtun ethnic minorities, are the people who stand most to profit from the success of the Western-run "modernisation" of the country.

The Taleban are southern, rural Afghanistan. You can defeat them militarily for a time, but they will come back, and back, and back for they are the people of that region. Afghanistan itself is deeply divided--with the fractures going back generations, if not centuries. Appeals to universal human rights will just not cut it folks. All that will happen is the stirring up of hatred of the invader.
Though some fight for cash, interviews with captured and active Taleban reveal the insurgents to be less motivated by economics than many think. Power, politics, culture, feuds, ethnicity, tribal vendettas and Afghan history also play a big part. Often the Western coalition is unwittingly deepening longstanding divisions in an Afghan society fragmented by decades of conflict and competition for scarce resources. The National Army should bind the country closer together. But its upper ranks are dominated by former communist officers who in the 1980s fought with the Russians against the fathers of many of the new Taleban commanders.
Northern Afghanistan is controlled by warlords and powers that are odious to the tribes in the south. US involvement has already led to dubious compromises. For example, CNN recently reported that President Obama has called for an investigation into an alleged atrocity by one northern Afghan warlord where hundreds of Taleban prisoners are said to have been executed. The warlord involved (Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum) has been a US ally and received US funding and military support. He is close to President Karzai and is currently serving as Minister of Defence.

This is a no-win situation. To change Afghani culture will not be accomplished even in fifteen years of US military involvement (which Pentagon advisers are now arguing as necessary). But the electorates in the West will not tolerate such a long involvement, especially when it means deaths.
In a bid to assuage the public and find an exit, politicians are now frantically "relooking objectives" in Afghanistan, as one London official put it. Having been told that the troops are there to build a better future for tens of millions of people and to liberate Afghan women as well as stamp out the runaway narcotics industry and catch Osama bin Laden, the sudden shift in rhetoric grates.

No one seems very sure what "victory" actually looks like any longer. Winning, an ISAF officer says, "means a viable Afghan governance capacity at provincial or district level" which is hardly what the dead soldiers' families thought that they were fighting for.
It is almost inevitable that Afghanistan will become a suppurating wound in the US body politic. We can hear our opponents saying--well, it worked in Iraq. That war was won. Mmmm. We believe that "winning" was more the result of Al Qaeda making themselves odious in the eyes of the warring Iraqi Shiite and Sunni factions. Now we will see the reality of the peace that was won as the US withdraws. Our expectations are not high. (Al Qaeda will not be able to make that same mistake in Afghanistan because Al Qaeda is dominated and controlled by the Taleban.)

Good intentions do not ensure good outcomes when one nation interferes in the affairs of another. As one Boston University historian recently put it:
When it comes to the exercise of power, the idealist intent on doing God’s work is likely to wreak as much havoc as the cynic who rejects God’s very existence. Those who credit themselves with acting at the behest of the purest motives are hardly less likely to perpetrate evil than those who dismiss ideals as sheer poppycock.

Only those who recognize the omnipresence of sin—recognizing first of all that they themselves number among the sinful—can possibly anticipate the moral snares inherent in the exercise of power. Righteousness induces blindness. The acknowledgment of guilt enables the blind to see. To press the point further, the statesman who assumes that “we” are good while “they” are evil—think George W. Bush in the wake of9/11 —will almost necessarily misinterpret the problem at hand and underestimate the complexity and costs entailed in trying to solve it. In this sense, an awareness of one’s own failings and foibles not only contributes to moral clarity but can help guard against strategic folly.

Whether feigned or real, therefore, innocence poses a problem. Good intentions informed by the simplistic belief that the world can be fixed and things set right only succeed in killing people.

President Obama is full of good intentions. His war is well intentioned. Its fruits and outcome are likely to be something else entirely.