Thursday, 31 December 2009

Douglas Wilson's Letter from America

The Case Against Distance Learning
Liberal Arts Education, Part III

Douglas Wilson

I have being writing on distance learning, and how, while it provides some important things, like information, it is utterly incapable of providing other things, like how to deal with people. In a learning community, in a school or college, your fellow students are people, your teachers are people, the administration is made up of people, and, as it turns out, so is the board. And just to make things more interesting, we have to reckon with the fact that all these people are sinful people, who have not yet attained to the perfections they will display on the day of resurrection. And, more's the pity, neither have we attained to that blessed state.

But living in believing community is one of the central instruments that a loving God has given to us to prepare us for that great day. Living among fellow sinners, learning how to deal with it properly, is the principal form of industral grade sandpaper that the Holy Spirit uses on us. But many pietists, including many educational perfectionists, withdraw from that treatment, shrinking from it, and all in the name of maintaining their smooth surfaces. But hiding the rough cut lumber in an unlit shed is not the same thing as sanding.

Allow me to come at this from another angle, and address for a moment what I consider to have been one of the top blessings that our family benefitted from as our three children wound their way through their many years at Logos School and New St. Andrews College. It was the blessing of countless micro-battles with their classmates; it was the blessing of learning how to stand up against unhelpful peer pressure, as well as the flip side of this, which is the lesson of learning how to exert godly peer pressure.

It is important to note that these are micro-battles with Christian kids in superb Christian schools, and with other kids who will grow up to be fine communicant members of orthodox Christian churches. These are micro-battles in learning leadership, not macro-battles with orcs.

One time after he graduated, my son was talking with some boys at Logos, and he asked them what the current hot movie was among their peers. They told him, and naturally it was some atrocious thing or other, I forget which one. He then asked them what this told them. The answer was that "their standards are not very good." Nate replied that what it really said was these boys who were disapproving of those standards weren't the leaders in their class. If they were leaders, some of the kids would still go off and watch Screen Gunk, but they would be ashamed to bring it up to their class -- because of all the hooting that would follow.

Over the years, I have observed class after class at Logos, and -- with regard to this issue -- you can put a bell curve on every class. Every class has a bunch of kids who "get it" and bunch of kids who "don't get it." Now remember that a bell curve is a relative thing -- the kids who "don't get it" at Logos are not in the same class with the kids who "don't get it" in some inner city school where the teacher has to teach from behind a cage.

The character of each class as a whole is determined by which half of the bell curve the leaders are in. The kids with some force of personality or charisma will fall on one side or the other. If the leaders are among the kids who don't get it, the kids who get it don't evaporate, but they do keep their heads down. If the leaders are among the kids who get it, the kids who don't get it don't evaporate either, but they do keep their heads down.

This is how classes determine their class character. The leadership may be formal, and it may not be. Sometimes the class president, the one who organizes the parties, is the spiritual thermostat for the class, but not necessarily.

Now, at Logos, there are classes where the kids don't take full opportunity to learn what it means to lead, shape, and direct in the way they ought to learn it. The lesson is available to learn, and is right there on the surface, every day. Nancy and I spent years debriefing the kids at the dinner table, talking about what to do on the playground when this happened, and what to say in the classroom when that happened. This included dealing with biblical failings in teachers sometimes, as well as among fellow students, and it meant dealing with failings in our own kids. "Next time something like this happens . . ."

In order for this to work, the parents have to have a genuinely open relationship with the kids, and in order to have that, the parents have to have the full and complete loyalty of their kids. We are in this as a family, and we deal with it as a family.

Like I said, the fact that this profoundly important lesson can be learned in a good Christian school doesn't mean that it will be learned. It sometimes isn't, and the opportunity flies past. But when a student gets his education from books and an online tutor, the opportunity is never there. This lesson is not in the curriculum at all. There is a difference between a missed opportunity and a non-existent one.

As I have mentioned before, NSA is a college that is friendly to and supportive of applicants who have not come to us from a traditional school. Many have come to us from distance learning situations, and we are the first place they have been in where the student next to them physically has a winsome face, and after class suggests that they go and do something perfectly idiotic. Now a number of these students who have come to us have been superb students, and have done quite well. But there have been more than a few who don't have any earthly idea about the biblical way to stand up to someone, about anything.

This would not have been fixed if their parents just enrolled them in a good school. It might not have been. But it would have been fixed if their parents "enrolled in the school with them," if you know what I mean, and the dinner table every night was a jolly place for roast beef, mashed potatoes, friendship, laughter, casuistry, ice cream, and all followed with Narnia readings.

Let me finish with one illustration of the kind of thing you should be looking to create. One time when our youngest daughter Rachel was in junior high, we let her go to a youth group event at another church with a friend from school. In the course of the meeting, one of the songs was "Spring Up, O Well," containing the verse about the blood of Christ, along with all the splish-splash hand motions. Our kids knew that, as far as our family was concerned, that kind of thing was, as my girls would put it, "not okay." The youth leader noticed that Rachel was not participating, and so he called her out -- Rachel needed to get into it more, and so they were all going to sing it again, with Rachel leading in all the hand motions. And so Rachel refused, the youth leader pressed it, and she said that she couldn't do it because it was disrespectful. This is the kind of thing you are after, and I can't remember the number of times our kids had the occasion to exhibit this kind of backbone.

Many would say that our kids must be full of beans anyhow, and so the whole thing must be dependent on the luck of the draw. Yes, our kids are full of beans, and that means they know how to throw down. But what we are talking about here is one of the principal glories of education, which is that learning how to throw down with biblical standards and in biblical ways. And that is found, not in the luck of the draw, but in the words, "That was good, son. Next time . . ." If you want a sample of that kind of inspired dinner table conversation, look to the book of Proverbs.

If we had been in a situation where our kids were doing distance learning (which parents who are in that kind of situation should do), a central part of their education would still have gone missing.
Posted by Douglas Wilson - 19th December 2009

The Techtonic Plates Shift in Geo-politics

Things Have Changed and We Are Responsible

We have posted several articles on the emergence of China as a leading, if not increasingly dominant global political power.

China recently executed a British citizen convicted of drug trafficking. It is claimed that he suffered from a bi-polar mental disorder and so was an easy mark for recruitment as a drug mule. The British government has reacted angrily to the execution. China abrasively told the UK government to "pull its head in".

Chinese stridency--previously uncharacteristic--reflects how rapidly the balances of global political power have shifted. Consider the following report from Christopher Bodeen, published in the NZ Herald.
Beijing's insistence in carrying out the death sentence reflects both the communist government's traditional distrust of foreign interference and its newfound power to resist Western pressure.

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British accusation," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference. "We urge the British side to correct its wrongdoing to avoid causing damages to bilateral relations."
Note carefully the tone and frame of this response by the Chinese Foreign ministry. The implication is clear--if Britain does not shut up, it will be the worse for them. Not for China.

What is now dawning on the West (far too late, of course) is that they have little or no leverage any longer over China.
But with its rising global economic and political clout, China appears increasingly willing to ignore Western complaints over its justice system and human rights record. And as it relies more and more on China's cooperation to solve global problems - from the recession to climate change - the West has few ways to exert pressure on Beijing.

China's leaders "feel freer than their recent predecessors to disregard world pressures," said Jerome Cohen, an expert on China's legal system at New York University School of Law.

Whereas in the past, the West may have held out its approval as a carrot for China to improve its record on human rights, analyst Kerry Brown said now countries like Britain are now the ones eager to maintain good relations.

"There is a feeling that we have very limited leverage on China. We have to pick our territory where we can have an impact," said Brown, a China expert at the Chatham House think tank. "It's becoming more complicated by the day."
Clearly a new age has dawned--at least in a global geo-political sense. The Scriptures say that the borrower becomes the lender's slave. The twin debts racked up now for decades in the UK, the US, and Europe of balance of payments deficits and fiscal deficits are a direct outcome of the politics of consumption, of using other peoples' money to sustain an unsupported living standard. This has meant, in a nutshell, that China has funded the sybaritic self-indulgence of the West. With the "developed" world deeply in hock to China, the latter is now making it clear that the West must now learn to dance to China's tune, not the reverse.

Moreover, the West has manufactured a pseudo-global crisis: man caused global warming. The unintended consequence of this has been a self-imposed monastic-like restriction upon economic growth and energy exploitation in the West. The self-imposed nonsense of needing to reduce emissions of carbon-dioxide has resulted in the self-abnegation of the West before China. The West is now little more than a mendicant friar pleading for a little consideration.

The point is that there was nothing inevitable about this development: it has been entirely self-caused. When the electorates in the West decided that it was OK for their governments to borrow and steal to sustain a standard of living to which they were not entitled, the outcome was inevitable. It was all going to collapse. It was just a matter of time.

The once mighty West is well on its way to becoming little more than a whimpering lap dog. Unbelief has no-one to blame but itself. When a nation decides to break the Covenant of Grace, the fall of the curses of that Covenant becomes inevitable. The only real long-term hope is that men and women throughout the West turn back to the God of the fathers, humbling themselves before Him.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Letter From America

Getting your Fannie Walloped for Christmas

David Bahnsen, December 27, 2009

Editor's note: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are US Government sponsored enterprises. They have been set up to underwrite housing finance. Their reason for existence is paternalistic and ideological: the State's arrogating to itself the duty to ensure that citizens live in owner-operated houses. Fannie and Freddie have been blamed for, if not causing the housing crisis in the US, exacerbating it and making it far worse. The US Government decided to "underwrite" Fannie and Freddie in the early days of the credit crisis up to the tune of $100bn; later Obama decided to expand the underwrite. Then, when the attention of the US public was diverted to other things--that is, on Christmas Eve, "when not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse" the Government quietly and surreptitiously moved to expand the underwriting of these bloated monstrosities without limit. David Bahnsen takes a carving knife to these stuffed turkeys.

When it comes to a discussion of the various monstrosities the government is responsible for before, during, and after the economic meltdown of 2008, I can tell how serious someone is (perhaps “informed” is a better word) by whether or not they lead with the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac plot. If they say something like, “the Federal Reserve is the most evil institution in all of government”, I know they probably voted for Ron Paul (if he was on the ballot in their state), but I also know that they are not taking this thing very seriously.

The same thing goes for TARP and the “bailouts of Wall Street”. If I hear more than two sentences of rhetoric about the “fat cats on Wall Street” who got bailed out, I know that they probably do not know the difference between a bond and a stock.

The truly serious students of this mess know now, and will know in generations, that all of the talk about bailouts and money supply and stimulus and executive compensation and credit default swaps and regulation and whatever the other terms are that happen to be within CNN’s vocabulary limits do not come close to telling the real story of this mess the way that the story of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do. And I am actually, at least not in this writing, even referring to Fannie’s role in causing this whole mess.

For now, I am just talking about the extraordinary job that Washington D.C. is doing in pummeling the citizens of America via its deplorable, unconstitutional, and evil coddling of the bloated pig failures that are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

This weekend, just as you were putting your kids’ sweater vest on for Christmas Eve service, and just as the entire nation was tuning out its access to the news for at least a few days, the Treasury department decided to press release a little itsy bitsy story that I think some of us would like to talk about further.

At the end of 2009, the Treasury department would be required to get permission from Congress to modify their support for Fannie and Freddie. But that will not be necessary, for what Treasury has now done is remove the dollar limit it previously set for what it would provide these insolvent shams of companies. Yes, the $200 billion figure previously agreed to is now obsolete.

For those keeping score, the initial commitment was a mere $100 billion. Then Obama came around and said $200 billion sounded more like it. And now, the commitment has been raised to “whatever the the firms net loss is over the next three years”. So, if $200 billion can not get them back to even, $250 billion it is. What’s a little “bridge loan” among friends (you know, just till they get back on their feet)?

In what is perhaps the most offensive insult to the taxpayers since this string of insults began, a senior treasury official said that he does not expect either company to need the additional support the Treasury is making available. For those students of history I alluded to earlier, TARP was signed into law in October of 2008 several weeks after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. It was a week before Lehman ever went bankrupt that the Treasury department placed Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship, and injected tens of billions of dollars into the companies. Huh? How could they do that? TARP was not yet law. The financial crisis had not started on September 8????

Well, acting on the same hunch that the “entities would not need to tap the funds available to it from Treasury”, Congress gave Secretary Paulson a blank check for Fannie and Freddie in July. The argument then was, “as long as we have the bazooka in our pocket, we will not need to use it”. That didn’t last too long, now did it. I actually am exaggerating, because technically the check given to treasury was not blank until now. Before it had caps and things like that. But what good are caps when you are defrauding the entire investment community, not to mention the American citizenry? And what good are caps when they can be removed by Treasury right when you are pouring your third glass of egg nog?

Fannie and Freddie were sham companies from their very inception that were allowed to operate off of the most eggregious violation of “honest weights and measures” in human history through something called “the implicit guarantee”. Investors believed that the government would back the bonds issues by these companies because the government implied that they would. At the same time, the bonds stayed off of the balance sheet of the government because they were not backed by our “full faith and credit”.

This multi-centi-billion dollar sham has cost the taxpayers more and more money since the day the conservatorship began. All they had to do was wipe out the equity (which they essentially did), wipe out the preferred equity (which they essentially did), make a clear and decisive action about the Fannie/Freddie bonds (are they sovereign debt commitments or not?), and then begin selling off what remained of the company as a series of nimble, debt-free, profit-driven, companies.

Instead, the government’s unforgivable addiction to controlling social policy through the U.S. housing and mortgage market has caused irreparable harm to the U.S. taxpayers. The executives the Feds have brought in to run this trillion dollar loser are receiving millions of dollars of bonuses, but not a peep is uttered in the media (these guys, after all, do not dine in Manhattan). There is no clarity to the government’s relationship with Fannie and Freddie; rather, citizens are forced to read in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve that we are upping the ante in our bet on these money losers.

The truth is this, my friends: Unlike the TARP funds, which are being paid back at a huge profit to the Treasury in droves, Fannie and Freddie are never, ever, ever going to return any capital to the United States taxpayer. And unlike profit-driven banks and brokerage firms, there will be no earning their way back into independence. Fannie and Freddie are permanent fixtures of the United States federal government.

The stakes are now far too high for the politicians to ever admit what a trillion dollar disaster this has been. These entities give Congress far more ability to control the housing and mortgage market in this country than you could ever imagine (and believe me, I do not mean that as a good thing).

You didn’t ask for it. They are not legally authorized to do it. But you got it. Merry Christmas.

Soft Despotism in the UK

Archbishop Laud Redivivus

The Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Southgate, North London is planning a Family Conference in March this year.

The promotional blog post provides a snapshot on the state of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the UK today. The picture is not pretty.

Emmanuel Evangelical Church Family Conference
13 March 2010

Christian families are under mounting pressure from the secular world. Anti-Christian dogma is promoted in the media under the guise of ‘tolerance’. Education has become a battleground, and increasingly intrusive legislation is being proposed by our government. Recent proposals have included:

* ‘Parents will lose the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes once they reach 15.’
* ‘Home-educating parents will be forced to register annually and undergo criminal record checks.
* ‘Home-educated children will be interviewed privately by government officials; parents who refuse to allow this will find their children sent to a state school.’

Pressure is also mounting elsewhere:

* The British Humanist Association has declared that ‘there probably is no God,’ and demanded that Christian parents stop raising their children as believers in Christ.
* A BBC presenter speculated that ‘authoritarian’ evangelical parents could use home education as a cover for child abuse.

Yet there is always hope. Jesus Christ is the risen and ascended King of Kings. He has received from the Father all authority in heaven and on earth, the nations have been made his inheritance, and one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Until then, the church has been commissioned to maintain the unity of the Spirit, to live as children of light, to speak the truth in love, to nurture our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and to disciple the nations.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

The Case Against Distance Learning
Liberal Arts Education, Part II

Douglas Wilson

But before anyone gets riled at the title, allow me a few caveats first.

The first is that a strong element of distance learning is essential to every form of real education. Every university library is full of distance learning packets called books. When I read Augustine or Calvin, this is because back in the day they thought certain thoughts, encoded them in squiggles on a page, after which a number of copyists, printers, translators, booksellers and librarians transported those squiggles across enormous distances of space and time. I then sit down with that book, flip on a light, decode the squiggles, and (usually) think the same thoughts in my head that they were thinking in theirs. So that's distance learning, and if you were to take it out of the process of education, all real education would cease.

So if the online revolution were simply expanding that kind of distance learning, no one who loves knowledge could be against it. But that is not the only thing the online revolution is doing, and it is there we must spend some time. But in order to spend that time profitably, I have to first focus some attention on some commonplaces that have taken root in the homeschooling world.

In making this point, I will not use the word socialization because homeschoolers have (rightly) ladled a good bit of scorn over the top of that word. Who wants kids who were socialized in the practical aspects of cocaine deals in study hall? Who wants the socialization that comes from condoms on bananas in sex ed class? Who wants the socialization of skanky wear to the prom? Who wants the socialization that trains children to be good little worker bees for the collectivist Hive? Nobody around here, right?

But those counterfeits notwithstanding, there is such a thing as life in true community, understood in a biblical and God-honoring way. And it is not possible to learn how to live in community, embodying the life of the Trinity, without actually doing it with other people (who are unfortunately not just like you) present. It is not possible to learn how to lead apart from the challenge of living, studying, and learning among others who are kind of angular. On the flip side, it is not possible to learn how to follow or imitate in the right ways unless you are following people who sometimes miss calls, make mistakes, or sin. When you are all by your lonesome self, you can think you are doing swell, but that is only because you disconnected the feedback loop.

In short, the Bible assumes education in the presence of others. It does not outlaw distance learning (after all, Paul did mail the letter to the Ephesians), but it nevertheless assumes learning in the context of three-dimensional relationships. The books are present, certainly, but they do not replace flesh and blood.

"A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40).

Tragically, there is a fear among many conservative believers that this promise from the Lord is too easily negated by sin in the other disciples. In other words, we are afraid that our student, enrolled in the class, will more likely be conformed to the ungodly student next to him than he is likely to be conformed to the godly teacher in front of the class. But that is not what Jesus assumes. John became more like Jesus than he became like Judas.

Now there are situations when this fear makes perfect sense, but only when the godliness of the teacher or the institution is a facade. A godly teacher disciplines because love always protects the important thing, the central event. When a disruptive student tries to take the context of godly learning away from the others, that student should always be disciplined. If his misbehavior is known and he is not disciplined, then the teachers and the disrupting students are actually joined together in an unholy alliance, one that tries to make godly students recoil from the experience of learning -- or at least from the experience of learning there.

So here is another place where distance learning, even a tad too much distance learning, makes some sort of sense. Holiness alone is better than ungodly community. But a holy community is better than being holy alone, or holy apart. But another qualification is immediately necessary. A holy community is not a sinless community. A holy community is one that deals with the inevitable sin in the way the Bible says to.

I have seen many situations where homeschooling parents of high school students, and now college students, keep their kids away from evil and corrupting influences, and they are doing right to do so. Dark Satanic Mills University is not the place you want your virginal young daughter attending. And because the parents ought not to give up on the importance of learning when they have to make this kind of hard choice, they should opt for the godly materials that are increasingly available -- online tutorials, textbooks, etc. I am doing my level best to make such options, such materials, ubiquitous. Let's flood the zone, and not apologize for it.

But I cannot in good conscience do this without pointing out that when such materials are used instead of godly communities of learning that are present and available, the principled stand has morphed from righteous to perfectionistic. The problem with perfectionistic pietism is that it is generally the royal road to impiety.

The latest thing, the dernier cri, is all about distance learning that takes you away from the messy and glorious task of learning how to live with fellow sinners. When we give way to this temptation to retreat from life together, about the only thing we will succeed in establishing is the geek quotient. And by the time it is fully grown, and we start to suspect the mistake, we discover the concrete has already set.

Posted by Douglas Wilson in Blog and Mablog 15th December 2009

It's the War, Stupid

Folly, Upon Folly

One of the more escapist gifts I received at Christmas was a Jack Reacher novel, Nothing to Lose. For those of you who know who Jack Reacher is, you probably will understand why the next day was spent lazing in a warm Auckland summer's day, enjoying another world.

All of which is a bit prosaic but one (more serious) aspect stood out. Reacher, as fans will know, is ex-US military. Lee Child, the author, is a Brit but nonetheless has made his fortune writing about an ex-USMP. The historical background of his lead character has been the US military: mostly, the military has been cast in a positive light.

In Nothing to Lose--a more recent Reacher novel--a different note was struck. The hero is scathingly critical of US army bosses and the political policies which have led the US military into constant engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. The plot has Reacher intersect with military deserters, fleeing to escape deployment, and Child/Reacher show themselves sympathetic to their cause and plight. The world is changing. I can feel it in the air. I can taste it in the water. So said Galadriel, or something similar.

Two days ago, Sarah Lazare, an American anti-war activist wrote a piece in Al-Jazeera. It reads pretty much as one would expect. But the headline is instructive: "The US Military is Exhausted", it reads. Lazare writes:
Many from within the ranks are openly declaring that they have had enough, allying with anti-war veterans and activists in calling for an end to the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some active duty soldiers publicly refusing to deploy.

This growing movement of military refusers is a voice of sanity in a country slipping deeper into unending war.

The architects of this war would be well-advised to listen to the concerns of the soldiers and veterans tasked with carrying out their war policies on the ground.

Many of those being deployed have already faced multiple deployments to combat zones: the 101st Airborne Division, which will be deployed to Afghanistan in early 2010, faces its fifth combat tour since 2002.

"They are just going to start moving the soldiers who already served in Iraq to Afghanistan, just like they shifted me from one war to the next," said Eddie Falcon, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Soldiers are going to start coming back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), missing limbs, problems with alcohol, and depression."

Many of these troops are still suffering the mental and physical fallout from previous deployments.
She documents the growing unease and resistance within the US military itself to the long-drawn out wars which are exhausting its soldiers. When one considers that some US divisions are facing their fifth combat tour and recall that means it would have been in active duty for a period much longer than the entirety of World War II, it underscores the seriousness of the situation.

But it is more than that. Israel has been on a war footing for decades. But it is much easier to maintain when it is patently and tangibly obvious that one is defending one's home and family. Israel struggles with its bellicosity only when the connection between war and defence is not immediately obvious (as for example when it maintained an occupation force in Southern Lebanon). When one is confronted with death and destruction in Afghanistan the bow is exceedingly long drawn to make a connection back to defence of one's kith and kin in the United States.

American political leaders and rulers, both Democrats and Republicans, have been far too ready to put the troops in harm's way, justifying it by talking up a "clear and present danger". But after a while "nation building" in Afghanistan has a tenuous connection with an elite, wealthy, and well-educated London-based Nigerian trying to blow up a US airliner coming in to land at Detroit. Sure, that particular threat was and is real--and must be faced and dealt with--but exactly how is this connected with nation-building-in-Afghanistan, again?

Another good read enjoyed recently was Apache Dawn, by Damien Lewis which a friend passed on. It is a fascinating piece on an Apache helicopter squadron, part of the UK Army Air Corps, fighting in Helmand province, Afghanistan in 2007. "Gripping and revealing" said the blurb. And it was. Two things relevant to our subject stand out in this book. The first was the attitude of the village people liberated from the Taliban. The British had an operational convention of participating in local village councils or suras once they had driven out the Taliban. Regularly they were told by the locals that they disrespected the Afghan national army and the government functionaries. They had proven themselves in the past to be corrupt, dishonest, and venal. At least the Taliban were honest, they would say. That speaks volumes. Try winning hearts and minds in that context.

The second was the experience of the helicopter pilots when they returned from their hair raising tour of duty, back to the UK. Having just come out of a theatre of intense fighting, with death and destruction and heroism and sacrifice on every side, they returned to a world which just did not care. Not only had they long ago forgotten that their countrymen were fighting on the other side of the world, they did not care that they had forgotten. It was unimportant and irrelevant to their reality.

It would seem that this is inevitable when governments get involved in wars which are not truly wars for defence and national survival, but rather are wars in someone else's back yard for the purpose of trying to make that back yard a better place. And this, more than anything else, is why post-traumatic stress syndrome is now endemic both in the UK and the US forces (but note, not in the Israeli Defence Force).

The doctrine of using military force to try to make things right around the world is at best naive and ill-considered. At worst, it is evil and destructive. When men overreach themselves, and stop minding their own business, the consequences are always--always--bad. We see it in private society and affairs; in communities and neighbourhoods. We see it as clear as a bell.

Why is it that when it comes to nations somehow we fail to see it, until it is too late, and the consequences are heaped upon us as the birds come home to roost?

Monday, 28 December 2009


Regrets? I've had a Few

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression?

The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past.

Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ.

Never look back at your sins again.

Say: ‘It is finished, it is covered by the Blood of Christ’.

That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you.

What you need is not to make resolutions to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying.

No! You just begin to say:

I rest my faith on Him alone
Who died for my transgressions to atone.

Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 35
Hat Tip: Justin Taylor

A Sorrow That Leads to Death

Humanists Always Get Christmas Wrong

The modern humanist's version of Christmas is relentlessly secular. He manufacturers all sorts of work-arounds to re-interpret, re-frame, reconstitute Christmas so as to avoid its meaning and implications which are, after all, painful.

Christmas is painful because it reminds us that we need atonement. We are lost, cut off, and alienated from God. There is never a day in which we have not sinned in thought, word, or deed. It is not just that we do the odd, occasional wrong. It is that we are sinful and sin touches and perverts everything. We commit true moral evils by what we commit and omit. The joy of Christmas is that God has provided atonement for our sins and that the atoning One is the child born of Mary in Bethlehem.

This should be good news to all who realise their unworthiness and moral defalcation. Humbling news, but good news. But humanists have a thousand work-arounds to avoid this truth, to pass hurriedly by on the other side of the road. To accept Christ's atonement on our behalf is the ultimate humiliation of man, whilst at the very same time it is his ultimate glory. The humanist always wants the glory, but not the other.

One Judy Lightfoot, an educator from Seattle, wrote a personal reflection about Christmas that involved her coming to understand she was sinful. Well, she did not put it in those terms--she did not believe she had true moral guilt as a sinner before a holy and angry God. But she came to a point in her life, she said, where she understood that although she was successful in the world's eyes, she had done some truly evil things.
On the whole, I thought quite well of myself until several years ago, when one winter night I sat up in bed next to my sleeping husband with the sudden realization that I’d done terrible things. You know the kinds of regrets you periodically remember through your life, and the way they sting every time? That night I thought about how I’d cherished grudges against a difficult colleague — perhaps because news of her serious illness had arrived that day. Right on top of it came the thought that my marriage to the father of my children hadn’t lasted nearly as long as hers, and that I’d gotten divorced — more than once. Then the abortion I had in grad school came crowding in. And so on. The memories were old and familiar, but taken together they imposed a new and heavy weight. I’d cultivated my pleasure in someone else’s pain. I’d broken solemn promises to “love and honor until death do us part.” I’d even ended a human life. And so on.

Maybe it was because I’d been reading C. S. Lewis, but sitting there in the dark I realized that I had cut myself a lot of slack. My pride in being a pretty good person had rested on thinking like the Pharisee who plumed himself beside the tax collector: comparing myself with others I deemed less worthy (“Which one of you did it?” …“Not me!”). You know the drill: “I may be selfish and greedy sometimes, and I may cut corners on my tax returns, but I'm no Bernie Madoff.” My sense of virtue was merely comparative, and it had separated me from other people in ways I hadn’t been aware of. But with this recognition my blind pride began dissolving — leaving room for something new to be born as days went by. Was it merely a coincidence that this happened around Christmastime?
Now at this point, the interest of every Christian perks up. We have all heard hundreds of such personal accounts and we would all be able to add our personal "amen". The conviction for sin, such that we own up to it for what it really is, without excuse, flattery, or equivocation is something all Christians know. It is those who mourn and weep who are blessed. Maybe Judy is going to tell us how, under this new realisation of who she really was, that she began to long for God and His Saviour.

But no. In this case, another great humanist work-around emerges.
I’m still excessively proud of my writing, my productivity, my good taste, my politics, and my résumé. Habits of mind hardened through my decades on this earth still tend to make me hypercritical, judgmental, and competitive with others to the point where I can sometimes actually be glad when they fail. But instead of shuddering when struck by my shortcomings I can smile (wryly) because my radical imperfection helps me. I don't mean that I open an accounting business: “I've got some black marks, so I better earn some gold stars to balance the books.” I mean that a sense of my sinfulness is a bridge linking me with others who might otherwise seem unapproachably different.
So the sum of this darkened soul's personal conviction for true moral guilt and evil is that it has made her more tolerant of the imperfections of others. It helps her live in amity with others she may not otherwise like. Well, clearly Judy is too good to need a Saviour. She will not be found in Church, beating her breast, crying, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."

The Scriptures speak truly when they declare there is a sorrow that leads to death (II Corinthians 7:10). It is the sorrow for sin that leads to work-arounds to avoid the open hand of the Saviour.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Doug Wilson's Letter From America

To Gain His Everlasting Hall

Bethlehem was the opening gambit in the last campaign of a long war. Many centuries after our father Adam had first plunged our race into the insanity of sin, God finally made His opening move. Jesus Christ, born of a woman, born under law, was born to fulfill every one of the numerous promises that God had made during our long night.

At the beginning of our world, scarcely had our race fallen into sin and darkness but our Father God promised that the seed of the woman would have vengeance upon the serpent, promising us a glorious deliverance. And so, for long ages, the faithful looked ahead to that undefined day figuring, studying, mentally groping, but fundamentally trusting. What form would the dragon slayer take? What form would the serpent worm have in the day when his head was finally to be crushed?

The servants of God, earthly and celestial both, were well aware of the great obstacles, but knew at the same time that the wisdom of God was far greater than any obstacle. But although they knew this, the campaign plans were still beyond classified. The apostle Peter describes it this way:

Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into (1 Pet. 1:10-12).
It has always been like this. Our good God, our overflowing God, our God of yes and amen, has always been able to promise far more than we are able to believe. I am not here speaking of unbelief, or of hard hearts, which is another problem. I am speaking here of a true and sincere faith, a God-given faith, but one which is still finite, and which God loves to bury under an avalanche of promises. We serve and worship the God who overwhelms, who delights to overwhelm. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore, cascading waterfall of infinite pleasures, with no top, no bottom, no back, no front, and no sides. Nothing but infinite pleasure in motion, and every one of those pleasures attached to His promises.

What does the apostle Paul tell us about the salvation that this God would introduce into our history, into our story?
"Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:6-11).
Because these promises stagger us, we have developed a workaround, something to keep us from feeling the crushing weight of God's promised goodness to our world. That workaround consists of pushing the fulfilment of His promises out past the day of resurrection, safely storing them all in a time when we are allowed not to think about it. But this passage from Paul is not talking about the eternal state. It has nothing to do with the eternal state. He lived in the third chapter, we lived in the tenth chapter, and he was talking about the fifteenth chapter. He was not talking about the next book, the one we shall all read in the resurrection. These are promises concerning our future history.

And so it is always thusóour poets and seers see more than we do. They write poems and hymns, they write carols that are uninspired, but are still prophetic utterances nonetheless. Just as Isaiah spoke far beyond what he could grasp, so also did Wesley. Just as the Jews memorized and chanted the words of Isaiah, words that were beyond their grasp, so also we have memorized carols that speak of the depth of glory that is coming, and we are always singing out of our depth. We are not singing about what will happen after the resurrection. We sing about the years to come, here, in our midst. We are singing about promises and blessings that will overtake our childrenís children.

I do not say this by way of chiding or blame. As we have noted, the apostle Paul said that it was designed this wayóeye has not seen, and ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him. Do you love Him? Then brace yourself, and sing to a world that needs to brace itself.

We were in desperate straits. Christ came to "ransom captive Israel" and to "disperse the gloomy clouds of night." In our insolence, we were "doomed by law to endless woe" and were necessarily and justly to "the dreadful gulf below." But this darkness we had created was invaded by the heavenly host, "Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way," and the night above the shepherds lit up as though a lightning bolt had refused to go out, had refused to stop shining. The road was weary, but now we may urge others to "rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing." We needed this salvation just as He gave it. "O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know." The God who knows our frame timed it perfectly.

And so the ache was healed. "In Bethlehem, in Israel, this blessed babe was born." This was "Israel's strength and consolation," He was the "dear desire of every nation." "Now He shines, the long expected," and "glories stream from heaven afar."

All creation is summoned to rejoice. He is the "high born King of ages", "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing." Nothing whatever is excluded; we invite "all that grows beneath the shining of the moon and burning sun" to join in our praise. This gospel is proclaimed, and the antiphon is sung by the "mountains in reply." All of it bursts forth, both "heaven and nature sing." This is right and fitting because "he comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found." All cursed things may sing this blessing.

The nations are gathered before Him. On behalf of those nations, He is "risen with healing in His wings," and so we summon all the nations to join us. "Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies." Africa, come! We urge the Far East not to tarry. South America, behold your Lord. And we beseech our own nations to repent our apostasies and turn back to Him again. This is not optional; the poets have commanded it. "He makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness." The saints of God are therefore insistent. "Powers, dominions, bow before Him," as we declare "honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory." We lean into the future expectantly, looking forward to the time, "when with the ever circling years, comes round the age of gold."

"With the dawn of redeeming grace," what is the only possible response? We gather to "hymn and chant with high thanksgiving," and however high the thanksgiving is, the object of our praise is higher still. "Come, peasant, king, to own Him." We praise Him, and He calls us, calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall." And in the skies above that everlasting hall, the ascending hymns fill up "the endless day."

Indeed . . .

"Nor eye hath seen, nor ear

Hath yet attained to hear

What there is ours."

"O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."

Amen, and amen. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen again.

Posted by Douglas Wilson - 24th December, 2009

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

The Coming of Our Lord in 2010

As we celebrate and remember the coming of our Lord into this world, to redeem it as its Prince of Peace, we do so against the backdrop of war and rumours of wars, of portending calamities and crises. It has ever been so, yet it will not always be the case. For the Prince of Peace has not only come, He has risen and been invested by God the Father with authority to rule over all the nations of the earth. All His enemies are being put under His feet. Peace, His peace, is gradually, ineluctably, coming.

The peace of Christ does not come in a vacuum; it does not come from above as an alien imposition. It comes incarnationally. It comes from the inside out. It comes from within as sinful men, women, and children hear the Gospel of God's mercy and grace to them in Christ, and believe. United by faith to Christ, by the Spirit, they are dead to the old life of sin, of pride, vainglory, anger, selfishness, wranglings, disputations and quarrelling. They have risen with Christ and are alive in His love, joy, peace, gentleness, longsuffering, and peacemaking.

As the number of Christian families grows, Christian communities eventually emerge, then towns, then regions, then nations. The peace of Christ comes from within, where sin is quenched and righteousness breaks forth. The Kingdom of God comes from within in the human heart then moves relentlessly and unquenchably outward, changing everything. The yoke of Christ is light because the heart is made light; it is easy because the heart no longer rails against its Lord.

Thus, we assess the Kingdom not by its empirical manifestations in 2009th year of our Lord. We assess the Kingdom by faith. Not by what it is now, but by what it will become as gradually and carefully, all His enemies are placed under His feet. As we look around, we do not see all His enemies subdued--in fact their brassy trumpets boastfully bray in many places--but we do see Jesus, crowned with glory and honour at the right hand of the Father. Therefore, we know the future. We know not only what is happening, but what is going to happen. We look forward to the 2010th year of our Lord with great joy and hope.

For we know that this coming year, thousands upon thousands, myriads upon myriads of men and women around the world will come to faith, having been born again by the Spirit of God. No man can stop or prevent this. They will weep the bitter tears as over a first born's death; they, looking for the first time upon Him whom they have pierced, will be broken. But their mourning will be turned to shouts of joy as they understand and believe for the first time that His blood and death atoned for them, and His righteousness stands for them, and that, therefore, God has overlooked their sin. Because they now believe in Christ, He is not ashamed to call them His very own, much-loved brethren.

And we know that this year myriads of children will be born into Christian homes, and sealed with the marks of His covenant. They will never know a time when they were not loved and cherished by all the adults around them. Grace will dwell in their families, and their houses will be houses of healing. Their days will be filled with smiles, and laughter, and joy. Whilst they will soon realise that there dwells within them a dark beast of sin, they will also be taught to call upon Him for mercy and deliverance every day of their lives. The homes into which they have been born will be to them the very means of grace to bring them to faith and repentance.

There will also be an inexhaustible army of labourers and servants of the Lord--in Christian schools, in hospitals, in ministries of mercy and solace, being the very healing and serving hands of Christ Himself in a needy world. There will be faithful Christians serving in police forces, armies, courts, magistracies, bringing light and salt to a deceitful and desperately wicked world. How wonderful it is to be living in these days.

We eagerly anticipate the 2010th year of our Lord. These are in truth the years of Jubilee. Maranatha. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Fallout Continues

I Was There. I Saw It

We posted yesterday on how Copenhagen demonstrated the rising independence and geo-political power of China. Now a "fly on the wall" article in the Guardian by Mark Lynas has been published--demonstrating just how disdainful and dismissive China actually has been of the US and the West.

Now some of the this probably reflects hyped up conspiracy theorising. Moreover, as we read this it will pay to keep in mind the ferociously tribal commitment of Lynas and the Guardian to Warmist propaganda. Nonetheless we do not doubt the general thrust of his description of the matter.

Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.
Clearly, Lynas believes that China had a strategy to rort the conflab before it actually took place. This is a damning indictment of China acting
not in good faith, but with a degree of duplicity.

He goes on to whack environmental groups who swallowed the Chinese perspective and drone-like blamed the West for the talks' failures.
China's strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world's poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait. The failure was "the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility", said Christian Aid. "Rich countries have bullied developing nations," fumed Friends of the Earth International.
We think this is a bit over the top and too byzantine to be credible. The environmental groups did not swallow China's line: they already are deeply imprisoned in a Marxist world view which wants redistribution by fiat actions of a world government, period. If the talks in Copenhagen were to fail, the environmental groups had already predetermined decades ago that they would regard it as the fault of exploitative rich nations.

But, it is the sub-text of Lynsas's article that is much more credible. China was a "law unto itself" at the talks. Obama's "new" approach to US foreign policy--multi-lateralism--was brushed aside like a pesky fruit fly.

Here's what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors. Obama was at the table for several hours, sitting between Gordon Brown and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. The Danish prime minister chaired, and on his right sat Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN. Probably only about 50 or 60 people, including the heads of state, were in the room. I was attached to one of the delegations, whose head of state was also present for most of the time.

What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country's foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world's most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his "superiors".
China was clearly telling the rest of the world to go take a running jump--ever so politely, ever so subtly, of course. But a running jump nonetheless.

China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak "as soon as possible". The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.
How has China been able to put itself in such a strong position? It is not in debt to the rest of the world; rather the rest of the developed world is indebted to China. That matters--far more profoundly than most in the West would ever understand. To the average pollie and man-in-the-street in the West, debt is just a pen-stroke, nothing less, nothing more. Money and wealth is free. A rude awakening draws nigh!

Moreover, most Western leaders had eviscerated themselves into positions of weakness because they had foolishly refused to be responsibly sceptical about global warming propaganda. They had to a man virtually become true believers thinking that the situation for the globe was desperate. The desperate do not make good negotiators--ever. They are easily manipulable.

And so it happened. The Western leaders had so wound up their political constituencies on the urgent and real dangers facing mankind--so as to justify the extraordinary imposts of rules, regulations, and taxes upon a gullible electorate--that when it came to negotiation they were totally enervated. If they went back home with nothing, they would have to tell their constituencies that they had effectively destroyed mankind. Such monumental failure would be political suicide. Or, they would have to spin the failure a different way, suggesting that climate change is not such a problem after all. That too would represent political suicide. The upshot is that China was able easily to control the complete panoply of Western leaders and their governments.

This does not mean China is not serious about global warming. It is strong in both the wind and solar industries. But China's growth, and growing global political and economic dominance, is based largely on cheap coal. China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to.
This may come as a bit of a shock to the elites in the West. China is not western. Imagine that! It is resolutely focused upon one thing above all else--its own economic development. It is the only way it can stop the Chinese people revolting against their government. It is in a chute, going faster and faster. It cannot stop. It cannot get off. Develop or the nation will be consumed in a furious conflagration of internal revolution. Ever realistic, ever pragmatic the Chinese government views the West with its fanaticism over global warming as either mad or puerile. Either way, it is going to have nothing to do with it.
Copenhagen was much worse than just another bad deal, because it illustrated a profound shift in global geopolitics. This is fast becoming China's century, yet its leadership has displayed that multilateral environmental governance is not only not a priority, but is viewed as a hindrance to the new superpower's freedom of action. I left Copenhagen more despondent than I have felt in a long time. After all the hope and all the hype, the mobilisation of thousands, a wave of optimism crashed against the rock of global power politics, fell back, and drained away.

Better get used to it, you silly billy. China is not going to be swayed in the same way as a Gordon Brown, or an Obama, or a Kevin Rudd or an Angela Merkel can be so easily manipulated--by fatuous appeals to guilt and pity. Such things are only (temporarily) effective in a culture which has elevated demand rights into a religion. For our money, China's real-politick is a refreshing and salutary change.

We suspect that in time it will be so far reaching globally that it will see the end of the United Nations. Now that would be something worth celebrating. The world would be a much safer place if nations and governments stopped trying to poke their noses into the affairs of other countries, but instead concentrated upon their duties and responsibilities toward those whom they govern. Like China, for instance.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Geo-political Shifts

A New Power is Rising in the East

It is safe to say that the overwhelming view of Copenhagen is that it was distinctly underwhelming. From the Climate Change zealots to the opportunistic conspiratorial capitalists, the consensus is that it was a failure. In the end, it was much ado about nothing. Jonah Hull, blogging in Al Jazeera gives us a sense of this:
Mid-afternoon on Saturday December 19 and Yvo de Boer, the UN's chief climate negotiator, has just uttered the words that perhaps best describe the nature of the deal here.

Asked what it means that the Copenhagen Accord has been 'taken note' of by the parties, he replied: "'Taken note' means that it has been recognised by the parties without anyone actually having to subscribe to it."

That is the shape of success at Copenhagen.

Hailed as an "essential beginning" by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, the accord is little more than a guideline for future talks. It commits no single party to any single firm action. There are no precise targets, no accountable promises, no deadlines.

Certainly, it is success clawed from the jaws of defeat. But it is an expedient success that will be trumpeted by a few as far more than it is.

In reality, this conference simply could not afford to be deemed a failure. The global momentum to recognise and act against climate change - however long that action may be in coming - stood to be lost or irretrievably damaged.

Copenhagen could not be allowed to fail. Therefore, the political spinmeisters would have called it a significant step forward if all the delegates had stood on their heads for twenty minutes, chanting Kumbaya. But the reality is that its declarations were nothing more than a gesture, and a hollow one at that.

Nevertheless, substantial change occurred--changes that will shape the world for decades, even centuries to come. No, we are not referring to the delicious divine irony which saw He who sits in the heavens laugh at the conspiracies of kings and rulers to re-establish the Tower of Babel and a united, one-world government. (Psalm 2:1--4) All Christians understood the significance of a massive snow storm unleashed upon the West--that is, Europe and North America--just when Copenhagen had reached the zenith of its gaseous windbagging.

Yes, it is true that we had to smile seeing the mighty President of the United States, who had strutted forth on to the stage at Copenhagen, assuring the world (with a unfortunate turn of phrase) that he had come to Copenhagen "to act", only to beat a hasty retreat, fearing that he might not be able to return to Washington if he did not arrive before the worst of the snowstorm hit.

And, yes, the inconvenience and frustration of Eurostar commuters notwithstanding, we had to smile at seeing the mighty trains using the Chunnel grind to a halt in that blizzard, because it appears they had been engineered inadequately for such cold weather--the coldest, we are told, in living memory--at least the living memory of the design engineers, even as President Martinet Sarkosy was irritably stamping his feet at the failure of the world to listen to his hectoring jeremiads about global warming.

These things were ironic and deliciously so. Christians joined with the Lord of heaven and earth in laughing at the arrogant hubris of the men of straw, the hollow men. But Copenhagen was also a harbinger of things to come. The global balances of power are shifting to the east and the south of the globe and Copenhagen proved a demonstration of the case.

It emerged soon after the debacle that the West regarded China as the bete noire of the summit. It destroyed the vaunted hopes of West, leaving them in tatters. Ed Miliband fulminated against China, accusing it of destroying any possibility of an agreement. Jonathan Pearlman, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, reckons that at Copenhagen, China took a "great political leap forward". He says that the older international doctrine of Deng Xiaoping has been superseded by a new willingness to "go it alone".
Deng Xiaoping set forth a so-called 24-Character Plan for securing China's place in the world. ''Hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership," the then Chinese leader espoused early last decade.

But this year will be remembered, say analysts, as the year China abandoned its diplomatic quietism and Beijing displayed a clout on the international stage to match its global economic weight; the year Deng's maxims were renounced.

The lesson for Australia and the United States, as China's audacious diplomatic manoeuvring at Copenhagen demonstrated, is that they will increasingly have to accept a world in which China is willing - and able - to assert interests at odds with those of the West.

''Until now it has been possible to say that China's economy has been growing but its political power has been lagging behind,'' says Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute.

''Not any more - 2009 has been the year in which China's growing political power has become an inescapable fact of international politics … The idea that we can dictate to China its position on issues is an anachronistic fancy. Copenhagen has been a demonstration of that.''

The recent global credit crunch probably proved the death knell of the old Deng Xiaoping doctrine. China has had to face up to the risks and consequences of being the major owner of US debt: it inevitably has realised that the borrower (the US) is the slave of the lender (China). Consequently, although the West hailed China's moves to support the West in what was essentially a Western problem, it has become more and more clear that it was doing so for its own reasons, not out of deference or respect for the West. Copenhagen confirmed the point.
A dramatic show of China's willingness to exercise global leadership occurred during the financial crisis, says Professor White, when its role was largely welcomed and encouraged by the West.

But Copenhagen has demonstrated - to Western eyes - a less agreeable side to Chinese assertiveness.

Across the developed world, China's brazen stonewalling of efforts to reach a legally binding treaty on climate change was greeted by a stunned, angry and almost visceral response.

Australian officials, led by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, were understood to be irate.

The US President, Barack Obama, was reportedly stood up by Wen Jiabao and barged in on a meeting that the Chinese Premier was holding with other leaders.

The British climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, showed even less restraint, accusing China of ''hijacking'' the summit.

''The last two weeks at times have presented a farcical picture to the public,'' he wrote in The Guardian. ''This was a chaotic process dogged by procedural games … We cannot again allow negotiations on real points of substance to be hijacked in this way.''

Malcolm Cook, the Lowy Institute's program director for East Asia, says that for the first time the world is experiencing the emergence of global powers - China and India - that are also developing nations.
As if to underline the point, the Indian Environment Minister has openly acknowledged that his country worked with China to scuttle the West's self-righteous, vaunted hubris.
India says it worked with China and others to thwart pressure from the developed world to agree to binding emission targets at the Copenhagen climate conference last week.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh says all of Delhi's concerns were safeguarded, including resisting calls for global reductions in carbon emissions.

He says the BASIC group of countries comprising China, India, South Africa and Brazil, have emerged as a powerful force in climate change negotiations, in the face of what he called relentless pressure from richer countries.
Geopolitical power is moving relentlessly to the south and the east. This will carry its own threats and challenges, but one thing is to be celebrated: at least the self-loathing of the Western elites, the hatred of their own historical roots, and the deep guilt over their inherited blessings, will no longer hold the globe in their thrall.

Far more enlightened national self-interest will likely return and that has got to be a much better outcome than the vacuous pretensions holding sway in the West which seek to make all countries follow the West's dubious example. The West is a paper tiger. Its Babel-like attempts to build a brave new world upon the foundations of human rights are not just empty vainglory--they have proved dangerous and deadly. Beware when an arrogant nation tries to tell other peoples what they ought to be doing.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Letter From America

What’s Pork for the Goose is Pork for the Gander
The Health Care Debacle Explained

By David L Bahnsen on December 21, 2009

The majority of the political world right now is obsessed with the Senate’s having obtained sixty votes in the cloture motion to move along their passage of this deeply flawed and tremendously watered down bill. In all my years of obsessively following politics, I have never seen such huge political blunders made by one side, and I am utterly shocked that the Democrats have traded so much of their political capital and 2010 chances for such an impotent, expensive, and idiotic piece of legislation. The entire debate started around one major issue: a public option for health care run by and paid for the government. They repeatedly said that the entire debate hinged on accomplishing this singular component. It is dead and gone. When all is said and done, the far left in this country are passing a bill that:

(a) Breaks Obama’s promise to not raise taxes on the middle class
(b) Calls for massive, and I mean massive, reductions in Medicare coverage, the likes of which will make “health care rationing” look like the understatement of the year
(c) Pushes the cost of coverage uniformly higher (no one is cutting any expense here; they are just shifting who pays for it)
(d) Alienates some of the Dems most loyal followers – the radical abortion lobby – who are piping mad that federal subsidies will be taken from their precious abotion industry
(e) Forces people who do not want insurance to buy it (I am not referring to people who can not afford it; I am referring to people who do not want or need it), or else be fined by the federal government

This is a bill that makes no one happy. Howard Dean, the leader of the Democratic Party, pleaded with Democrats to vote it down. Olympia Snowe, a RINO if there ever was one who would love nothing more than to side with the left, is disgusted that they are so determined to force this thing through despite the fact that none of the changes are effective for years. (Politics, anyone?). The self-anointed Messiah of the human race, BHO, has seen his untouchable political popularity collapse like a Tiger Woods endorsement contract. Republicans are disgusted that such a huge spending bill is becoming law, and one that so eggregiously violates the basic principles of our country’s founding (”buy insurance or you go to jail”; ay yi yi). No one is happy. Yet the Democratic chest-beating goes on. It is a sight to behold.

And to top it all off, they could not get their needed 60th vote without bribing a member of their own, Sen. Ben Nelson (soon to be ex-Senator) of Nebraska. This laughing-stock whore traded his vote for special treatment in his own state’s medicaid program, concessions given to him by the Senate that the 49 other states will pay for. I have watched with curiosity over the last 24 hours as Democrats have defended this horse-trading (”this is the way politics gets done”), and as Republicans have expressed outrage that this kind of thing could ever happen (”this is not legislation; it is corruption”). Well wait a minute!

It most certainly is corruption, and there is absolutely no way a true American patriot could say that the buying of a vote with unconstitutional special treatment is in the least bit ethical. But let me suggest something to my Republican friends and colleagues. If we want to oppose the politics of corruption that allows a blatant pork bill concession like this to pass the most massive expansion of government in a generation, perhaps we need to be opposed to such pork and earmarks whenour own people are doing them!!! What the Dems are doing is morally repugnant, but hasn’t our own party maintained a sizeable faction for several years now defending the role of backroom earmarks and horse trading politics to “meet the needs of local constituents”, even when done on the dime of the other states? If it is pork when they do it, it is pork when we do it. Period.

I do not know what comes of this atrocity in the coming months. By the time this gets out of committee, I would not be surprised if the only line left in the bill is, “We shall change nothing whatsoever but it shall be a civic requirement for people to walk around saying Barack Obama passed sweeping health care reform.” This is not over yet. But I hope patriots and those who are actually sensitive to cogent political philosophy are taking notes: Hypocrisy comes at a cost. The Dems are about to find that out in ways that will turn their world upside down. Maybe us Republicans are finding it out now?

Oh, This Hurts

Ugly Nakedness Exposed
Warning: Do Not Read If you Do Not Like Displays of Ugly Nudity

You have to have a bit of sympathy for our floundering Prime Minister. He goes off to Copenhagen having been "persuaded" by his Ministers, Smith and Groser that a meaningful and substantial global climate agreement was possible. Now that it emerges that nothing meaningful was done at that monumental farce, our Prime Minister has resorted to blameshifting. According to the Herald, Key has taken to blaming a flawed UN climate change agreement process.
There is a lesson to come out of Copenhagen and that is that trying to build uniform consensus across 193 countries on such a complex issue is not going to work. It is not the right process.
Excuse me. The process which now is apparently so fatally flawed was well known at the outset--in fact months and months and months ago. How come you have only worked out now that it would never work and was doomed to failure? What planet have you been inhabiting? But, never mind. Our Energizer Bunny Prime Minister has had time to reflect and he thinks actually a deal could be done in Mexico in 2010. But, we need, he says, to get rid of the influence of small countries. They have been allowed too much say.

Which countries, you may well ask? Ah, well, unimportant third world countries. You know. Bolivia. Sudan. When it comes to "solving" climate change these minnows are irrelevant. Mmmmm. Clearly no prospects of a Free Trade Agreement with them, then.

Mr Tips, at NZ Conservative, puts the slurs of our Prime Minister in perspective:
Well, the Bolivians and Sudanese are going to love that quote. But hang on, that must mean they are smaller than us? Well, actually no. Bolivia*- 9 million people and sitting on one of the largest natural gas reserves in South America and get this - 50-70% of the world's lithium. Kind of important in making electric cars? batteries? Sure its a basket case now economically but with a bit of help...ahh now hang on, can't have those South Americans getting rich now can we?

Sudan*, ahm... by area, its the largest country in the African and Arab world? 42 million people, full of natural resources (including human cannon fodder for its recent civil wars), and apparently one of the fastest growing economies. Ah...again, can't have those Africans getting their agriculture industry well developed and oil exports up so that they can control their internal political struggles. A divided or ignored Sudan is good for the West right?
Oh, but hold on. If these "small" countries are irrelevant to the problem of climate change, why have you imposed a draconian, distortive, corruptible Carbon Emissions tax upon every citizen, child, grandchild, and the yet unborn in this country. You have afflicted, not just a small country, but a minute one--our own? Remember you told us that it was important that we be seen to pull our global weight. What an absolute joke. But countries far more significant and larger than ours, you airily dismiss as irrelevant to the issue, being too small. In fact, any more of this, and the Hollywood casting agents will be approaching our Energizer Bunny PM to replace Heath Ledger in the next Batman movie. From Prime Minister, to David Letterman stoolie, to the Joker. What a career! How apt. You have made us proud, Prime Minister.

Even the floosie wanna-be global statesman, Kevin Rudd has played this far, far smarter than you. Australia will do as much or as little as the rest of the world does, is his mantra. Hard to criticise really--and a very easy defence for Australia's trade, don't you think. But us--well, we are so righteous and significant that we need to flagellate ourselves to save our trade.
But we could even tolerate the embarrassment were it not for the actual and real damage he has done to every one of us.

One cannot help thinking that Mr Key has sadly overreached himself and us. He has wanted to play big and foot it on the world stage. He went to go swimming with the big boys. But now the tide has gone out on "climate change" he has been exposed as swimming naked. Not a pretty sight.

No wonder he is angry at the process. But the complaining, "It's not fair" is a bit unbecoming on the lips of a Prime Minister who has done such substantial damage to our economy with his reckless ETS and who has doubled the size and slope of the mountain of difficulty we now have to climb in order to preserve, let alone increase, our standard of living.

Good one, John. When that Hollywood casting agent calls, don't hang up. You would be perfect for that role.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Doug Wilson's Letter From America

A Liberal Arts Education: Why Bother?

Douglas Wilson

On this subject of higher education in the liberal arts, there is much to develop in every direction. And by "develop," I mean "shoot at." It is what our military calls a target rich environment.

What is a liberal arts education for? Why go to college? Why pay big bucks to go to college? What is the point?

There are two main reasons for going to college, one pragmatic and the other teleological, and one of the things we have to work through is the tendency of Christian parents (who share the sinful tendency of pragmatism with their fellow Americans who are unbelievers) to make their decisions in terms of the pragmatic considerations only.

Now the issue is the "ism" here in pragmatism, and not the functionality. Nobody thinks you ought to spend multiple years and dollars to do something that gets you nowhere.

First, the pragmatic consideration. A college education gets you a college degree, which is a door opener for many of the choicer jobs. Never mind that many people are not working in the same field their major was in, the mere fact of a college degree allowed them to clear the first hurdle in applying for the job. This is, pure and simple, a pragmatic consideration that everyone who wants to make a living should take into account. It is a real factor.

The second reason for going to college is teleological -- the point here being to get a real education in the midst of a faithful community. A liberal arts education is not vocational training for English teachers -- it is preparation for life and leadership.

There are all sorts of reasons why Christian parents would want their kids to be able to do an end run around the corrupting influences that stand between them and their pragmatic degree. I get that, and I applaud it. But for the life of me, I don't understand the idea of trying to get around the point of getting a real education.

This dynamic is currently at play both at the high school level, and the college level. We have to work through it. Distance learning online for homeschoolers is a wonderful development . . . depending. The classes offered by Veritas are meeting a real need . . . depending. The Omnibus textbooks, of which I am an editor, are a Godsend . . . depending. For college credit, the new College Plus program is about time . . . depending.

Depending on what? If Christian parents are avoiding the corruptions of unbelieving institutions in order to get their student a piece of paper that will be a very practical help in the years to come, then God bless them all. But if they have come to think that that piece of paper is "just as good as" what they might get from "sitting in some classroom," then far from presenting an alternative to the world's way of modernist education, they are simply demonstrating an advanced case of the same disease. Educational repentance in higher education means turning around. It does not mean running on ahead.

More on this to come.

Posted by Douglas Wilson in Blog and Mablog 15th December, 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Is Integrity Too Much to Ask?

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold , a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call His name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14
Every year, at this time, the Christian faith and the Living God are held up to ridicule by Unbelievers. We expect that, really. Nothing much has changed from the days of Rome when Christians were ridiculed as cannibals and orgiastic, amongst other slurs. Unbelief will always be true to itself in the end. Anything at all may be true in its random world of brute chance, apart from the Christian God. He cannot possibly exist.

Therefore, it is entirely predictable, expected, and oh-so-mundane to be subjected to all kinds of Unbelieving innuendo, slurs, and misrepresentations at the very time when Christians honour and recall the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of all the earth. Unlike Ali-G, Christians do not demand respect from Unbelief, nor do they expect it. When it occurs, it surprises on the upside, and we are thankful. Meanwhile, regardless of the antipathy and prejudice of Unbelief we continue to seek to do good to all men, as the Lord has instructed, and according to His definition of what is good.

What is not acceptable, however, is when professing Christians demonstrate that they have gone over to serve the Dark Lord, even while remaining within the bosom of the Church. It is not acceptable to have them mouth the very taunts and ridicules of Unbelief against our Lord, His Church, and His people. We completely reject the arrogant and vain attempts by these pseudo Christians to "rescue" us from the historical Christian faith, to drag us into the fatuous modern world. We utterly repudiate their specious plans to make the faith of our fathers "more relevant"--by which they mean, to eviscerate the God of the Scriptures, replacing the true faith with an entirely different religion.

In recent days, we have seen just such hubris by a leader in the Anglican church, St Matthews in the City in Auckland, New Zealand. A billboard was put up by that congregation ridiculing the doctrine of the virgin birth of our Lord. The apologia for this blasphemy was that it served to make the christian faith "more relevant" to our world. Now, we candidly admit that there is little new here. Routinely at this time of the year we are dubiously festooned with so-called church leaders being quoted by eager newspapers striving valiantly to make the Christian faith "acceptable" to Unbelief. In all their striving they have a common message: "the Christian faith is your faith. We think and believe as you do. We, too, you see, are servants of the Dark Lord. "

But it is tiresome, is it not, to have these wolves in sheep's clothing continuing to parrot their calumnies and lies, as if they represented and spoke for the faith which has been once for all delivered to the saints. We expect such slanders and slurs from Unbelief. But it is completely intolerable to have the servants of Unbelief arrogantly trying to help us poor Believers, freeing us from our superstitions and ignorance even while being dressed in the garb of the very Church they are seeking to discredit and undermine.

In wartime, traitors are always treated to summary justice. In spiritual warfare against the Prince of the powers of the air, traitors are due similar, quick justice. "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned." Titus 3: 10,11. (The word "factious" is from a root meaning heretical--the action of trying to break apart the faith by teaching heretical doctrines.)

As the traitors reveal their true identity and loyalties, the Church must identify them, warn them, then reject them. If they persist in their lies, they prove beyond doubt that they have never been part of the Church to begin with. It is time to take note and take action.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Letter From America

Abortion in New York Magazine

Al Mohler

Week by week, New York magazine offers insight into the culture and consciousness of the nation's trendy population in Manhattan. This magazine, combined with The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker, provides constant insight into the thinking of the New York elites.

The magazine recently featured a major article on abortion, and it just might be the most important article on this issue in recent history.

In "The Abortion Distortion -- Just How Pro-choice is America, Really?," writer Jennifer Senior offers an incredibly insightful and important essay on the moral status of abortion in the American mind. Senior is clearly writing to a New York readership -- expected to be overwhelmingly pro-choice and settled in a posture of abortion advocacy. Given the passage of the so-called "Stupak amendment" to the health-care reform bill adopted by the House of Representatives, many in the pro-choice movement responded with amazement that a pro-life minority has been able to muster such support. Jennifer Senior posed the most awkward question for her readers: Is America really pro-choice?

Consider this:

According to a Gallup poll from July, 60 percent of Americans think abortion should be either illegal or “legal only in a few circumstances.” Only seventeen states pay for the procedure for poor women beyond the standards of the 1977 Hyde Amendment—meaning if the woman’s life is in danger or she’s been the victim of rape or incest. Just two months before the health-care bill’s passage in the House, a Rasmussen poll found that 48 percent of the public didn’t want abortion covered in any government-subsidized health plan, while just 13 percent did. (Thirty-two percent believed in a “neutral” approach—though what on Earth that means is hard to say.)

As a matter of fact, Senior went all the way back to 1973 in order to document her assessment that America was never as pro-choice as many liberals had assumed. The legal impact of Roe v. Wade could not overcome the fact that, as Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University noted, the decision "was one of the few Supreme Court decisions that was out of step with mainstream public opinion."

Senior suggests that America is "a very ambivalent pro-choice nation." She acknowledges the numerical data that indicates an increasing pro-life direction for the American people and, speaking to a pro-choice readership, laments that "it sometimes gets lost how truly numerically challenged we are."

So, just how did the Stupak amendment pass?

The idea that a bunch of pro-life rogue wingnuts have hijacked the agenda and thwarted the national will is a convenient, but fanciful, belief. Even with an 81-person margin in the House, and even with a passionately committed female, pro-choice Speaker, it was the Democrats who managed to pass a bill that, arguably, would restrict access to abortion more aggressively than any state measure or legal case since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.

Along the way, Jennifer Senior makes some fascinating observations. In terms of the motivation to be engaged in the issue of abortion, she quotes Harrison Hickman, a former NARAL pollster, as saying: "If you believe that choosing the wrong side of the issue means spending eternal life in Hades, of course you're going to be more focused on it." That is a very powerful affirmation of the fact that one's worldview really does matter.

She also understands the great generational shift taking place on the issue. She recognizes that the current generation of younger voters "is the most pro-life to come along since the generation born during the Great Depression." Why? This same generation is the first to grow up with ultrasound images taped to the refrigerator door. Their understanding of the fetus is dramatically different from those who never had to face those images. Furthermore, Senior also raises the fascinating insight that the big technological advance experienced by this generation was IVF -- a technology that allowed having babies rather than not having them. This generation understands the issue in terms of infant human life. They do not see a mere fetus. They recognize a baby. Nancy Keenan of NARAL is cited as saying that the biggest defenders of abortion are now a "menopausal militia."

Senior also deals with the troubled moral conscience of the pro-choice movement and abortion providers with remarkable candor. She reports that abortion counselors "will also tell you that the stigma attached to the procedure is worse than it's been in years." She cites Charlotte Taft, operator of a Dallas abortion clinic, who acknowledged to a reporter that women know "abortion is a kind of killing." Jeannie Ludlow is cited for her uncomfortable experience in seeing repeat-abortion patients. The horror and reality of late-term abortions is documented -- even as the continued "right" to such procedures is advocated.

By any measure, Jennifer Senior has written one of the most honest, revealing, insightful, and important articles on abortion to appear in recent history. At the same time, it is one of the most troubling. Once again, we are reminded that the American conscience is not settled on the issue of abortion. We should be thankful that recent events and cultural developments -- aided and abetted by technology -- have made a real difference, helping and forcing Americans to understand that abortion is the killing of a human life.

In a very real sense, we should be thankful that the American conscience remains unsettled on this issue. A good and honest conversation about the reality of abortion is one of the best means of serving the cause of life. Jennifer Senior's honest article can serve as an incredibly potent catalyst for such a conversation.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

New Atheism: A Bridge to Nowhere

David Hume: The Dragon that Atheists Cannot Slay

By Douglas Wilson
Minister, Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho
First published in the Washington Post.

A billboard in my small town has informed us that it is possible to be good without God. And I recently had a radio discussion with Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard, on the very same question. And this problem is also posed at the climax of the film Collision, in which Christopher Hitchens and I are . . . um . . . colliding.

When I was a boy, we used to get corrected on a point of grammar that may have been abandoned these days. I don't know, for these are dissolute times. But it used to be that if we asked something like, "Can I go play ball with the guys?" the maternal eyebrows would go up, and we so corrected it to, "May I go play ball with the guys?"

Can I be good without God? Sure. Knock yourself out. May I be good without God? Again, sure, but here is where the question starts to cut both ways. The question is double-bladed because it is here that we realize that we are alone by ourselves, and we are not really asking anybody for anything. I may be good without God for the same reason that I may be evil without Him or, as it suits me, indifferent without Him. There is no one here to get permission from. For anything. Mom doesn't care if I go play ball, and she doesn't care if I shoot my sister. She doesn't care because she doesn't exist. Turns out I have been asking questions of a deaf and indifferent universe.

Near the end of our film, Christopher admirably acknowledges that you can be a fascist and an atheist, a communist and an atheist, a sado-masochist and an atheist, and so on, and you can do it all without contradicting anything within the tenets of atheism. Christopher does not think of this as a concession to my central point, but I do want to press it. He wants to go on to insist that atheism does not commit you to the "absurd belief" that if you are an atheist then you "have no morality."

If we piece all this together, the only thing he can possibly mean is that every atheist has the authority to generate his own code of morals, and that these morals do not need to conform to the tenets promulgated by the International Society of Nice Atheists, and that they further do not need to conform to the code of morals being generated in the fevered brain of the fellow next to me. But notice what this does. It makes all morality a matter of radical personal choice.

But once we do this, how can we come back in later to restrict or limit the choices? Once the individual generates his code, he certainly may seek out other like-minded people in order to form what sociologists call a plausibility structure. But there is no such thing as an overarching moral code, independent of the individual, one that is authoritative over him. There is no ultimate reason why he cannot decide to defy his societal norms (his plausibility structure), or move to northwest Pakistan to join up with another plausibility structure--one with more excitement and explosions.

Once we have gotten to this point, we may certainly fight with those who have made different choices. But we may not appeal to a standard that overarches both of us, which they are disobeying and which we are not. They have as much right to generate their code as we do ours. We may fight with them, but we have lost the ability to reason with them.

Centuries ago, David Hume pointed out how deep and broad the chasm was between is and ought. The new atheists, for all their vaunted skill in engineering, have not been able to build a bridge.

Douglas Wilson is the minister of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and a senior fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College. He has written numerous books, including "Five Cities That Ruled the World, Heaven Misplaced, and Reforming Marriage."