Saturday, 31 July 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Deep Within the Recesses of His Own Head

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

According to the secular catechism we all learned somewhere, violence is primitive, barbaric, superstitious, and intertwined with that other great throwback, religion. And Christians (who profess not to accept that catechism in its entirety) are nonetheless affected by it, and are dutifully apologetic for the Crusades.

Evangelical Christians, who do not want to ditch the Virgin Birth or the substitutionary atonement, but who do want to ditch something in order to show the secularists around us that we are making some progress, will often ditch the idea of religious violence, granting the notion that their fathers in the faith used to take great joy in collecting Philistine foreskins. The principal symptom of such capitulation by evangelical and Reformed thinkers is acceptance of the ideal of a secular state. We need a secular state in order to keep the inherently violent nature of religion from bursting forth upon us again.

William Cavanaugh helpfully notes what this notion legitimates.

"In what are called 'Western' societies, the attempt to create a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion that is essentially prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of the liberal nation-state" (The Myth of Religious Violence, p. 4).

These are the gods that brought you out of the land of Egypt, and after generations of this kind of thing in our approved schools, it turns out that everybody knows what everybody knows.

This is why, if someone suggests bringing an explicitly religious concern into public policy discussion, the vigor with which he is shouted down exhibits the kind of negative enthusiasm you might reserve for the advocate of releasing 10,000 plague-carrying rats into Central Park.

That fundamental religious paradigms are in play can be seen by how we process the ongoing nature of our own continuing violence. The Enlightenment, contrary to some pollyannas, did not eliminate warfare. The exclusion of religion from the public square did not keep guillotines from getting set up there. But when we go to war, our violence is pristine, surgical, necessary, and scientific. Now my concern here is not whether any contemporary warfare could be justifiable from Christian principles (for I believe that there are occasions when it can be), but rather to point out how we do in fact justify it. We do not appeal to Augustine's just war approach, but rather to our foundational secular myths. In fact, if a general in Iraq obliquely referred to a biblical justification for what the troops were doing there, he would be frogmarched back to the Pentagon for the dressing down of his life. If a chaplain there were to teach the troops from the Bible on the nature of justifiable warfare, and the fact became known, he would find that his next duty station was somewhere near Anchorage, counting the days until early retirement. 

This foundational myth -- that secularism saved us from the death trap of sectarian, religious strife -- is a myth that needs to be denied, root and branch, every chance we get. Recall that a worldview consists of four elements -- catechesis, narrative, lifestyle, and symbolism. To deny the catechesis of secularism, which says with Protagoras that man is the measure of all things, without denying the other elements of their worldview, is to be impotent in our criticism of secularism. A Christian who accepts the secular narrative of the rise of liberalism, who adopts the lifestyle that is mandated for us all, who submits to the symbols that are imposed upon us, and who yet reserves the right to continue to think the contents of the Apostles' Creed deep within the recesses of his own head, behind his eyes and between his ears, is a missionary who has gone native. As much as it sounds spiritual to talk about the spirituality of the Church, what has actually happened is that the visible Church has been dropped into a vat of that great and universal solvent, which other generations used to call unbelief.

We should not deny the secular myth because the myth is not ours, or because it is getting in the way of what we want to do. We do not deny it because it is inconvenient for us as Christians. We deny it because it is false. The Thirty Years War was fought by religious people, sure enough. It was fought by Protestants and Catholics, certainly. But there are some inconvenient and stubborn facts that are tangled up in this version of the myth. For example, did Protestants always fight Catholics throughout the course of the Thirty Years War? Did Protestants ever team up with some Catholics to fight with other Catholics? If that happened, what might the explanation for that be? Might it have been the fact that the conflict was actually being driven by the rise of incipient nation-states?

Might it have been that when the dragon came and captured us all, he told us a great story about how he was delivering us from dragons?

The S-Files: An Inspiration to Us All

A Beacon in a Dark Night

We at Contra Celsum are pleased to announce another S-Award.

Our social "glue" is disintegrating. As things fall apart and "beggar my neighbour" becomes the order of the day, contrary examples stand out like a beacon in a dark night. We at Contra Celsum want to honour publicly Tania Lewis--a heroine, not just because of her cool headed bravery, but because of her instant assistance to someone in dire need.

According to the NZ Herald the incident unfolded as follows:
A mother-of-two is being hailed a hero after saving a woman from an attack by a hammer-wielding man who then pursued the pair in a violent car chase. . . .

Police say Ms Lewis "put her life on the line" for a stranger during the drama in Whangarei on Tuesday evening. Ms Lewis had just taken a colleague home after work when she saw a woman running from a nearby property, waving her arms. "She said 'Please stop, you've got to stop'," Ms Lewis told the Herald yesterday. "I could see she was in shock, she had marks on her neck.

"I said 'Get in the car, you'll be safe with us'. I thought 'I'll just get her to the cop station or something'." But a man who was chasing the woman lunged at Ms Lewis's car with a hammer as she tried to drive off.

"He looked really scary. He had this real blank look on his face."

As the women - and Ms Lewis's 20-year-old son Kalin - sped down the street, the man gave chase in his own vehicle. "I thought 'I can't stop here because we're going to take the full impact'. He just wanted to kill her. "I quickly turned into the left lane, heard him screeching and he chased after us down the road and rammed into us from the back."

Ms Lewis slammed on her brakes and the man swerved in front of them. She drove around him "blaring my horn, hoping that everyone would get out of my way" as they came to a major intersection.

The man tried to ram her again as she turned into another street. "The force of it pushed us up on to the footpath. I knew we couldn't do anything and my son yelled 'Get out and run'.

"Then he [the attacker] went around the front of our car and rammed into the front of it.

"He saw [the woman] and went up onto the footpath to try to run her over and I've seen that and I've gone and grabbed her and we've just run to get out of the way."

The pair ran onto a property and crouched behind a house. The man was arrested a short time later.

Tania Lewis: recipient of a Contra Celsum S-Award, Class I, for performing a citizen's duty in a manner that was Smart, Spirited, Spunky, and Salutary.

Postscript: The Herald also reports that Tania worships at The Equip Church in Whangarei. The church is planning to give her a medal for bravery. Well done.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Three Things Sarah Palin Needs to Master

Culture and Politics - Politics
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, July 17, 2010

Readers of this blog may recall that in the last presidential election, I brought myself to vote for the Repuglican ticket for the first time in many years, and I did so because of Sarah Palin's presence on that ticket. She is genuinely and sincerely and believably pro-life, and that, in my mind, is the driving issue of our time. The abortion carnage is our nation's great defining evil, and it is organically connected to almost all our other evils.

But then Obama the Prophet was swept into office, the first black president of the United States. A number of people were quite pleased with that fact, including people who didn't support him or vote for him. But the sheen wore off quickly, and the mismanagement of the Bush years was replaced by mismanagement on a larger, grander scale than anyone had dreamed possible. All of a sudden, the first black president didn't seem all that cool anymore. Who can name the first black mayor of Detroit, and who really cares anymore? Now that we are rapidly becoming a continent-wide Detroit, the milestones we have passed are all covered with debris by the side of the road, we can't see them anymore.

Since Obama came to office, Sarah Palin has played it smart, for the most part. She has established a donor base that is not dependent on the established Repuglican leadership. She has shown herself adept at making news via the new forms of social networking. She has been shrewd in her endorsements, and has a winning record there. In short, she has done well for herself. All that is acknowledged, and hats off. But here are three things she needs work on.

The first is related to the Palin-derangement syndrome. When people do or say deranged things, her initial response has often been just fine -- but she has a tendency to move on and lecture the funny bunnies. But the "have you no decency" response will not work in this game, even if she is right. Especially if she is right. She really needs to learn how to not respond at all to that kind of stuff or, if she must respond, to do so with a one-liner that is smart, funny, and of a nature to keep her critics barking at the moon for the next three weeks. She needs to learn how to deliver a quip and move on immediately, leaving her critics to their existential anguish.

The second thing she needs to be very careful with is her attempted reinvention of feminism. I am second to none in my desire to steer clear of mama grizzlies, but a metaphor is not a movement. And, if it were a movement, it would be a movement that a lot of people (like me) who share Palin's desire to head the other direction from our current Obamacrash wouldn't want to have anything to do with. We are not all feminists now. As I argued in our long discussion after Palin was selected by John McCain, conservative Christians ought not to have any problem with an occasional woman leader in the civil realm. It is quite true that every other leader of Israel was not a Deborah, but it is also true (and I think I can say this without fear of contradiction) that Deborah was Deborah. Can we agree that far? So I think the biblical precedents are there, and I think that Christian men would be better served by hunting around for a spine than by critiquing a woman who apparently got one of theirs by mistake. At the same time, you don't see Deborah telling the women of Israel to rise up to make their voice heard, and for everybody else to watch out for the mama whatever-dangerous-mama-fauna the land of Canaan was then home to.

The third thing to watch out for is the politicians' disease when it comes to answering questions, and how it affects Palin in particular. As we all know, politicians are trained to talk without saying anything. There is a weird kind of political discourse out there, the chief object of which is to remain gaffe-free. One of the best ways to remain gaffe-free is to say nothing whatever. For some politicos, when their general competence is obvious, this maneuver simply looks like they know what's what and are refusing to tell us. Sometimes that move looks canny, sometimes deceitful, and sometimes statesmanlike. But when Palin does it, she just looks vapid. It does no good to point out that everybody else does it. The game is not fair; the whole thing is uneven and the system is rigged. Palin has certain advantages of personality and charisma, and she also has corresponding disadvantages -- this being one of them. Unless she is saying something substantive that arrests the attention, her voice will be a scritchy and abrasive covering on something that seems hollow. Palin can refuse to talk a lot, but whenever she talks it must be substantive.

So there it is. When her people contact my people, I shall be happy to develop these comments further.

Faux Prosperity

The Ghoulish Half-Life of Debt Created Wealth

Bernard Hickey, writing in the NZ Herald, calls the numbers on our parlous economic situation. He sees signs that that the hard rocks of reality are now emerging as the tide of false debt-driven prosperity recedes. How many will face shipwreck is not yet clear.
In years to come New Zealanders will look back on the winter of 2010 as the moment we finally realised the last decade of growth was a sham.

It will be the moment when it dawns on home owners, small business people, retailers and real estate agents that our household debt has hit saturation point and we just can't swallow any more.

It will be when we realise that without that extra debt our economy doesn't grow much, unless we can produce more useful goods and services for each hour that we work.

Our productivity hasn't grown much in the past decade and now we can't disguise it any more by spending borrowed foreign money.

The giant Ponzi scheme of adding more debt to buy more houses (or spend more on the same houses) then relying on capital gains to make up for it only works as long as some sucker is jumping in at the bottom with yet more debt.

It is now clear that New Zealand has been in a twilight zone since the onset of the global financial crisis two years ago, wondering why everything seemed the same.
Here is the latest economic data which he finds indicative of our winter of discontent.

* Mortgage approvals hit a record non-holiday period low last week of 4867, or $601 million. Annual household debt growth has slumped to 2.5 per cent from over 10 per cent two years ago.

* The housing market went deathly quiet in May and June, latest Real Estate Institute figures show. Turnover has dropped about 20 per cent from a year ago. It's not just a winter thing.

* Retail sales in May were again frustratingly weak. Core retail sales fell for the fourth month in six months and supermarket sales fell in May for the first time ever.

* BNZ's confidence survey shows a sharp decline among small business owners in particular as the real estate market goes into the doldrums.

Many small business owners fund themselves from mortgages on their houses and when the values of those properties stop rising it's hard to raise extra finance.

One banker said of the market: "A few loan applications, but 80 per cent rejection generally due to risk too high. Generally small business wanting to borrow have left it too late, with balance sheets in poor state."

Banks are being more cautious as their funding becomes more expensive. Borrowers are more cautious because house prices have stopped rising and they realise interest rates are rising.

The coup de grace was the Reserve Bank's decision on June 10 to put up the OCR.
The past ten years have been a fools-gold rush, aided and abetted by a reckless spendthrift, wastrel government and a somnambulent Reserve Bank that lacked the courage to face the outrage of consumers and political functionaries by relentlessly bursting the consumer and housing bubble of easy credit.

Oh, but don't worry. The government has managed to put up the price of everything and make our trading economy significantly less competitive in one cowardly foul killer blow--the imposition of ETS taxes on July 1st, which because they are a tax on energy, increases the cost base of the entire economy. We hope in vain that our trading partners will be impressed by this act of self-absorbed, self-righteous narcissistic madness.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Ironies on the Right

Blind to Contradictions

It is well known that about the only policy area in which conservatives in the US support President Obama is his warmaking. Tea party Republicans have stood pretty much four square behind the US Commander in Chief, with their only criticisms being for his alleged timidity, tentativeness, and an untimely withdrawal plan.

Yet, on the other hand, Tea Party conservatives loathe and despise "big government" and are right on the money when they complain of the genetic and systemic incompetence of government to solve problems. Generally speaking "small government" conservatives see a sharply reduced role for government as legitimate--beyond which government becomes incompetent and more oppressive.

Yet it appears that it is starting to dawn on some clearer thinking heads that there is an inescapable, inherent contradiction between these two conservative positions. If Big Government is both illegitimate and incompetent in the US, why would it suddenly morph into legitimacy and competence in Afghanistan? This question calls into question the sense and reasonableness of counter-insurgency military strategies. Flatly, government-run "nation building" is an oxymoron.

US conservatives are starting to confront the contradictions--yet still are skirting around the issues. One, the Hudson Institute’s Ann Marlowe, who recently completed her sixth “embed” with American troops in Afghanistan, argues for a belated “reckoning” on controversial if prevailing counterinsurgency policy. She writes:
Many of the American soldiers I know in Afghanistan are themselves deeply skeptical of the American non-strategy. And many of these soldiers are Republicans. They often find themselves “enacting governance on the local level,” in the words of Captain Mike Tumlin of the 82nd Airborne, trying to sideline or remove Afghan officials who steal from, or murder and rape the very people they’re supposed to serve, only to see their hard and sometimes bloody work brought to naught by corrupt higher-ups in Kabul. They’re not fighting for a good government against the evil Taliban, but for one evil against another.

She concludes as follows:
Why should Republicans tolerate waste of our tax money, merely because it happens in Afghanistan? Exactly which Republican values do the Karzai brothers—merchants in drugs and explosives, skimmers of contracts and runners of protection rackets—exemplify? Why is it honorable for Republicans to sacrifice the best of our young people for a miserable kleptocracy?
Now she does not quite get to the point. A typical response to her question amongst conservatives would be to call for counter-insurgency to be done better, more efficiently, more ethically. On a good day, conservatives might go further and argue that Afghanistan itself is too poor, too primitive, and too fractured to enable any strategy to work, including counter-insurgency.

But they have not yet unblocked their ears to the question that is screaming out from the rooftops: if conservatives know that government is utterly incapable and incompetent to change the human heart, build solid marriages, create a civil society, and run a public health system in the US why would they believe that it could possibly accomplish such things in Afghanistan?

As it is, the spend of taxpayers' money and the waste is hard to believe.
We’ve spent $51.5 billion to date on the Afghan war, about four years’ worth of that country’s GDP—enough to give every Afghan $2,000 to $2,500. About half of our expenditure has gone to standing up the Afghan National Security Forces. That $25 billion also equals the entire Israeli defense budget for two years.

For what we’ve spent, we could have re-created the Israeli Army, Air Force and Navy in Afghanistan. Only we didn’t. Instead, at enormous cost, we have fielded a marginally competent army and a barely capable police force, both of which lose between 25 percent and 70 percent of their men annually.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more than $3 billion has been openly flown out of Kabul Airport since 2007.

It's time US conservatives took their own political ideology more seriously. If not, the doctrine of American Exceptionalism, long a favourite of "small government" conservatives, might come to indicate a condition of exceptional national folly.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

The Overton Thingy

Culture and Politics - Politics
Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, July 13, 2010 8:20 am

Yesterday I finished The Overton Window by Glenn Beck, the only Beck book I have read. This is what I posted at my Goodreads account about it.
I picked this one up in an airport on a whim. I had been hearing people froth about it, and wanted to see if it was as bad as they were saying, which apparently was bad enough to make the back teeth ache. But, as it turns out, it wasn't. Beck wrote a fictional pop-thriller, which means the prose has to be assembled out of two by fours, but as a result it was sturdy. And Beck is clever, and so gets a number of good lines off. But not surprisingly his main problem is theological, which I may write more about over at Blog and Mablog. As much as Beck loves his country, and wants to fight for it, his theological anthropology is the rot in our foundational timbers.

Our problem is humanism, and we cannot effectively counter radical leftist humanism with apparently milder right wing forms of it. The humanist believes that mankind is basically good and, going back to Socrates, the explanation for evil is ignorance. If man is basically good, where does all this evil come from? It has to come from ignorance, and the solution to ignorance is education. The solution to the political pathologies we see in Washington today is to get involved and "get informed." But the biblical answer is repentance, and repentance all the way down. Our solution is not to get angry at what "they" are doing to us, but rather to be grieved at what we have done to ourselves. One of the basic things we have done in this regard is flatter ourselves -- and Beck's approach here is part of the problem.

The protagonist is named Noah Gardner, and his father is Arthur. The archvillain in this book is the protagonist's father and, in a nice touch, is going to enslave the world through his PR agency.
As Noah is starting the process of becoming a real patriot, his father asks him this question. "Do you believe that people, human beings, are basically good? That -- as your loyal friend Molly would no doubt preach to us -- all they must do is awaken and embrace liberty and the highest potentials of mankind will be realized?" (p. 208). The answer, eventually, is "Then yes. I do believe that people are basically good."

Just as Grendel was a straight line descendant from Cain, so all the wickedness in Washington (which Beck, to his credit, does see) is a straight line descendant from that chirrupy Pelagianism. But this is a monster that cannot be fought unless we acknowledge its paternity.

Death and Dying

The Importance of Hospice-Type Care

There is an important article about to be published in The New Yorker on how modern technological medicine has often made the last months and days of life so much harder and more difficult. The advanced technological procedures have also made it much, much more expensive. The article is entitled Letting Go: What should medicine do when it can’t save your life? and is by Atul Gawande, a surgeon.

The following excerpts give the general themes.
This is the moment in Sara’s story that poses a fundamental question for everyone living in the era of modern medicine: What do we want Sara and her doctors to do now? Or, to put it another way, if you were the one who had metastatic cancer—or, for that matter, a similarly advanced case of emphysema or congestive heart failure—what would you want your doctors to do?

The issue has become pressing, in recent years, for reasons of expense. The soaring cost of health care is the greatest threat to the country’s long-term solvency, and the terminally ill account for a lot of it. Twenty-five per cent of all Medicare spending is for the five per cent of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months which is of little apparent benefit.

Spending on a disease like cancer tends to follow a particular pattern. There are high initial costs as the cancer is treated, and then, if all goes well, these costs taper off. Medical spending for a breast-cancer survivor, for instance, averaged an estimated fifty-four thousand dollars in 2003, the vast majority of it for the initial diagnostic testing, surgery, and, where necessary, radiation and chemotherapy. For a patient with a fatal version of the disease, though, the cost curve is U-shaped, rising again toward the end—to an average of sixty-three thousand dollars during the last six months of life with an incurable breast cancer. Our medical system is excellent at trying to stave off death with eight-thousand-dollar-a-month chemotherapy, three-thousand-dollar-a-day intensive care, five-thousand-dollar-an-hour surgery. But, ultimately, death comes, and no one is good at knowing when to stop.
In the first Christendom, dying was a much more natural part of life, with a prescribed set of procedures.
Dying used to be accompanied by a prescribed set of customs. Guides to ars moriendi, the art of dying, were extraordinarily popular; a 1415 medieval Latin text was reprinted in more than a hundred editions across Europe. Reaffirming one’s faith, repenting one’s sins, and letting go of one’s worldly possessions and desires were crucial, and the guides provided families with prayers and questions for the dying in order to put them in the right frame of mind during their final hours. Last words came to hold a particular place of reverence.
Contrast the modern approach, where death occurs within an Unbelieving secular humanist context:
These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition—advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age. In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t. So everyone struggles with this uncertainty—with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost. As for last words, they hardly seem to exist anymore. Technology sustains our organs until we are well past the point of awareness and coherence. Besides, how do you attend to the thoughts and concerns of the dying when medicine has made it almost impossible to be sure who the dying even are? Is someone with terminal cancer, dementia, incurable congestive heart failure dying, exactly?
Gawande offers the following contrast between palliative or hospice care and remedial care:
“That’s not the goal,” Creed said. The difference between standard medical care and hospice is not the difference between treating and doing nothing, she explained. The difference was in your priorities. In ordinary medicine, the goal is to extend life. We’ll sacrifice the quality of your existence now—by performing surgery, providing chemotherapy, putting you in intensive care—for the chance of gaining time later. Hospice deploys nurses, doctors, and social workers to help people with a fatal illness have the fullest possible lives right now. That means focussing on objectives like freedom from pain and discomfort, or maintaining mental awareness for as long as possible, or getting out with family once in a while. Hospice and palliative-care specialists aren’t much concerned about whether that makes people’s lives longer or shorter.
Moreover, sometimes palliative care can prolong life, along with less pain and suffering.
Like many people, I had believed that hospice care hastens death, because patients forgo hospital treatments and are allowed high-dose narcotics to combat pain. But studies suggest otherwise. In one, researchers followed 4,493 Medicare patients with either terminal cancer or congestive heart failure. They found no difference in survival time between hospice and non-hospice patients with breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Curiously, hospice care seemed to extend survival for some patients; those with pancreatic cancer gained an average of three weeks, those with lung cancer gained six weeks, and those with congestive heart failure gained three months. The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer. When Cox was transferred to hospice care, her doctors thought that she wouldn’t live much longer than a few weeks. With the supportive hospice therapy she received, she had already lived for a year.
Here is the concluding summary:
The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end.

More often, these days, medicine seems to supply neither Custers nor Lees. We are increasingly the generals who march the soldiers onward, saying all the while, “You let me know when you want to stop.” All-out treatment, we tell the terminally ill, is a train you can get off at any time—just say when. But for most patients and their families this is asking too much. They remain riven by doubt and fear and desperation; some are deluded by a fantasy of what medical science can achieve. But our responsibility, in medicine, is to deal with human beings as they are. People die only once. They have no experience to draw upon. They need doctors and nurses who are willing to have the hard discussions and say what they have seen, who will help people prepare for what is to come—and to escape a warehoused oblivion that few really want.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

No Peace Treaties with Amalekites

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Friday, July 09, 2010

The notion of Christendom is not just a personal pipe dream. It is not a collection of "wouldn't it be nice" surmises. A Reformed understanding of the gospel, of worship, of education, of politics, and so on, is incoherent apart from a commitment to Christendom. Christendom is an essential part of a Reformed theology in its historical setting. This does not mean that said Christendom must be up and running -- just that there needs to be a commitment to it by faith. When Abraham saw his descendants as heirs of the whole world, and not by law either, he did not have Christendom up and running at just that moment. But he still knew that the world was his, and that his heirs would walk around in it.

A faithful Reformed missionary in Egypt knows that Christendom is not right outside his window. But Jesus is right outside his window, and everywhere else too. We do not yet see everything subject to man -- but we see Jesus. Christendom is easier to see when it can be photographed, but we are called to see it whether it can be photographed or not.

This whole issue is what systematic theologians might call a "big deal." Underneath a lot of the current controversies that are roiling the Reformed world are the issues of paedocommunion and postmillennialism. The thing these two doctrines share in common is that they are both, in different ways, an optimistic testimony about the course of future generations. Paedocommunion nurtures the next generation in optimistic faith, and postmillennialism is the grounded hope that God will continue to nurture His Church across multiple generations. Generations do not occur in the resurrection -- they are a phenomenon found in this world, and they are directly connected to the questions that swirl around the formation of a culture. No culture without cultus.

A culture is religion externalized, and thus it makes sense to ask of every culture what form of worship lies at the center of it. It is a stark fact that the center of secular culture is not the worship of God the Father through the name of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. That being the case, Christians ought to have no devotion whatever to secular culture. Devotion to their culture means devotion somehow to their gods, and we should always refuse to bow down to their gods.

If this historic Reformed faith is resurgent (and it is), and if people are starting to pay attention to it (and they are), and this poses a threat to those in the Reformed world who have signed a peace treaty with the Amalek (. . I meant to say the secular state), then it might seem like a good idea to distract everybody by getting people to be suspicious about our Reformed bona fides. This can easily be done by saying that we are wobbly at best on sola fide, or that we are sacramentalists of some sort, and that such things are clearly Not Good.

But if they were to raise the real objection, which is that we believe that Jesus is Lord of Heaven and earth, and that the earth ought to admit it sooner rather than later, a lot of people in their own churches would wonder (and perhaps say), "What's wrong with that?" It is easier to say that we don't really preach the gospel than to say something far closer to the truth, which is that we believe that the unchained gospel is in the process of conquering the whole world.

After all, how potent is a gospel that allows you the freedom to sign peace treaties with Amalekites?

Enemies of the Working Man

Locked in a Time-Warp

When union organizers staged a protest at the National Party's annual conference, storming police lines, pushing, shoving, panting, spitting, and chanting, everyone over fifteen years old in the country experienced deja vu all over again. The same old faces, considerably older now: Bradford, Minto, McCarten leading the charge, acting like twenty-one year olds. It was a "we're here to protest. What's the cause again?" moment.

Apparently, the overriding objective was to demonstrate militancy. It was a strange anachronistic display, as if the aging activists wanted to convince themselves they "still had it in them" and they yearned for the good old days when zealotry trumped reasonableness. Maybe they had been stirred to action by the Club Med riots in Greece. All in all, it was a strange moment.

To their credit they demonstrated they still had the rat trap mind of the activist zealot. Employers were evil, collectively and individually. Workers were righteous, collectively and individually. The National Party was confabulating with the wicked. Bradford, Minto, and McCarten were taking their stand with the defenceless righteous on the front lines of the war.

Unfortunately, evil is not materialistically determined. Consider, for a moment, the absurd folly of the notion. The poor are sinlessly perfect, righteous altogether. We must stand with them to defend them and make them--well--richer, better off, more materially endowed. So that they can become wicked too, for, remember evil is determined by material wealth. What a travesty of an idea. Yet, nations have been racked by this idiotic notion for centuries. How could people be so stupid?

On the other hand it is easy enough to understand. All people, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, are sinful. Being sinful they would believe anything but the truth. There are a myriad of fantastical schemes to avoid the obvious--and Bradford et al have been captured by one of the more asinine. The truth is that employers and the wealthy are indeed evil; are conceived and born in iniquity. Employees likewise. The Fall was not a respecter of economic persons: it has been and is universal in its impact and effect.

Therefore, unless checked and disciplined, employers will naturally exploit their workers for their own gain. Employees, likewise, unless checked and disciplined, will naturally defraud and exploit their employers. Now the law clearly has an important role to play in checking and disciplining every economic actor: both employers and workers. The law of contract is particularly relevant. Both employer and employee have entered into a contract: both are obligated to keep the terms of contract. If either fails to do so, then theft and fraud have occurred. Critical here is an emphasis upon integrity, good faith, and keeping one's word. Enlightened and biblical employment law will focus reflect a very high view of contract law.

The second check-and-balance is the discipline of the free market place. It is both ironic and sad that Bradford et al appear to have very little understanding of how open and free competition for goods and services can be a wonderful protection for employees. By trying to protect employees by means of controls, regulations, laws, and "balancing the scales of power" they end up ignoring the fundamental market power which employees actually have. Businesses need labour. Without work being done by workers, businesses simply cannot survive. Therefore the ability to find, recruit, and retain an effective staff is critical for every business. Moreover, in a competitive marketplace, the more productive and effective the staff of a particular business, the more subject they become to competitors recruiting them away. It is a virtuous circle.  This places all business owners under a competitive discipline which protects and enhances the prospects of employees.

But it also serves as a significant discipline upon employees. They have to make themselves more and more valuable to their employers, in order to advance their prospects not only with their particular employer, but potentially amongst the competitors (or suppliers or customers) of their employer. In a free labour market, every employer knows that in order to progress and develop they have to create leverage from their industriousness, effectiveness, and productivity. Just like their employer, they will do far better if they learn to function effectively in a competitive marketplace, making it work for them.

An open and free marketplace for labour and employment places both employers and employees under a significant discipline which acts as a restraint upon sinful, selfish, and exploitative behaviour. Attempts to short circuit this discipline by creating a protective cocoon around employees, such as minimum wage rates, only serves to damage the opportunities and prospects of employees over the medium term.

A third discipline that needs to be maximised in order to control the worst instincts of both employers and employees is open information and disclosure. With the dawning of the "information age" and the technology which drives it, we now have the potential to discipline both employers and employees in more effective ways than ever before. For example, we have websites which allow students in schools and universities to rate their teachers. Whilst these can be abused, generally they are effective. The more widespread their use, the more effective they become. If unions, for example, wanted to exert maximal market discipline upon employers they would create and promote websites encouraging and enabling all their members to rate their respective employers under a number of categories and headings. Employers exposed as scurrilous or sub-standard by such means would have the discipline of the marketplace visited upon them exponentially.

Andrew Little, unionist leader, recently cited a case where an employee was allegedly hired under the 90 day "free-trial" period and sacked on the 89th day without warning or word of explanation. Whilst there may be mitigating circumstances, on the surface this would appear to be an evil and exploitative act on the part of the employer. Name and shame, like sunlight, is the best antidote. Go to it. We recall that when the 90 day "free trial" period was introduced both unions and the labour party threatened a "name and shame" campaign. Excellent. Why have we not seen it? This is precisely the right kind of intelligent market based discipline and self-regulation that we need. It is sad that Mr Little neither named, nor shamed.  He simply cited an undocumented case as a justification for more class warfare. 

But constructive name and shame disclosures generate light rather than heat. They also deal far more surgically with fallen human nature, unlike the approach of Bradford et al. Her naive and blunt tactics surely generate heat. But they are positively ante-diluvian, belonging to an ignorant age of class warfare, long since discredited. It is only a narrow minded, vapid mentality that can cling to such empty shibboleths.

In the long run it is this which is the actual enemy of workers.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Your Doctrine is Too Small

Theology - Life in the Regeneration
Written by Douglas Wilson
Thursday, July 08, 2010

J.B. Phillips famously wrote the book Your God is Too Small, and I would like to do a little riff off of that. Your doctrine is too small.

What is that supposed to mean? Often particular Christian doctrines are set forth in a way that contains enough of the truth to annoy unreasonable people and not enough of the truth to answer the concerns and objections of reasonable people. Let's take three examples -- the sovereignty of God, the necessity of the new birth, and the potency of the Incarnation. In each case, when the doctrine is stated in its small version, the reaction is to fix the problem by reeling it in, by making it smaller.

When Jonathan Edwards was struggling with the doctrine of God's sovereignty, he found the solution where it ought to be. Learn to see God's sovereignty as "bigger than that." If the sovereign God is simply an omnipotent Zeus, contained together with us inside the universe that is, and he goes around making people do whatever he wants, then the freewillers are right -- he is just a bully. Not only are the freewillers right, they are often courageously right.

But the problem here is that he is seen as a bully because he is seen as too small, and it is no solution to make him smaller. A Calvinist (who has made this mistake) agrees that God is like this, but argues a theology of prudence. "Look, go along with the bully, wouldja?" The Arminian resists this, but does it by preferring to see the bully as a kinder, gentler Zeus. The end result of this business is a wimp subbed in for the bully. But the triune God of Scripture is the Creator of all that is, and there is a Creator/creature divide. To attribute exhaustive sovereignty to any entity on this side of that divide (apart from the humility of the Incarnation) is to ask for, and find, monstrosities in your theology. But the solution is not to be found by dragging the whole thing down to a religion just above tree top level. God dwells in the highest heavens. He does what He pleases, and what He pleases is righteous, holy, and good. 

While evangelicals have rightly seen the need to be born again, this too can be seen in a way that is far too small. If the old nature/new nature question is seen as a toggle switch somewhere down in your heart, and at some time in your life you have to pray a prayer that makes God flip that switch, and if you don't do that you are going to go to Hell, this truncated vision is going to lead to extreme sectarianism. Evangelicals will become star-bellied sneetches, and this one isolated experience is the point of their distinction. Lack of regeneration is seen as the switch in this position, and you have to have it in the "on" position. Now when people see the spiritual pride that often arises from this kind of thing, the temptation is to back away from the evangelical position -- well, maybe being born again is not all that it is cracked up to be. Regeneration is seen as too small, and the reaction is to make it smaller. The movement is from a message preached by a narrow hot-gospeler to a broad latitudinarianism that walks away from the little bit of truth that was there.

But when a man is born again, all of him is. Regeneration commences at the point of conversion, and this principle of new life then grows and spreads everywhere. Regeneration is not a little toggle switch, but is rather the main power breaker. And after it is flipped, there are still five thousand other switches to find and adjust before this new life spacecraft is ready to fly again. And that is what is happening -- we are readying a spacecraft to fly to the heavens. We are not changing a light bulb in the barn. Don't see regeneration as a little thing -- there is no way to do that and maintain the necessity of it without that position degenerating into a doctrine that insists that God has no sense of proportion whatever.

And, then, the Incarnation.  When the eternal Word of God became a man, He thereby honored the material world, and did so in a very permanent way. This has always been embarrassing to the Hellenistic mind -- this has been seen as a doctrine that maintains that God abandoned His spiritual dignity. No, this actually is the divine glory. But once the doctrine is stated, if it is limited to the body of Jesus, it remains too small. Incarnational heresies take something that is true as far as it goes, but is still too small, and then try to whittle away at it, making it smaller.

The orthodox should not try to hold the line by holding the line, but rather should move on to the other outlandish ramifications of this truth. If Christ is the groom, and the Church is His bride, His body, what does this mean? We have not understood the Incarnation unless we have come to understand that at some point in the proceedings, the incarnational power that God has placed in the world runs amok. And when it runs amok, this has ramifications for beer, sex, mowing the lawn, planting hedges, gravy, beekeeping, driving on the freeway, and diet soda. And no, those ramifications do not mean pantheism.

Just as grace does not mean antinomianism, but will always provoke charges of antinomianism, so also an understanding of the incarnation as God's reckless grace to the whole universe will provoke charges of some heresy or other. And perhaps some will veer off into those heresies, but it cannot be unorthodox to say that our orthodoxy has been too small, and that we need a whole lot more of it.

"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" (1 Cor. 2:9).

Meditation on the Text of the Week

The Gospel in a Nutshell

We believe in the God Who justifies the ungodly. This lies at the heart of the Christian faith, as revealed in God's Word. In Romans 4:5 we read, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness."

God justifies the ungodly--that is, us--not by ignoring our sin, and acting as if it did not exist. We ourselves do this sort of thing. When we say, "I am going to act as if this never happened" we are overlooking something and pretending that it never occurred. When God justifies the ungodly, however, He does not do so by means of lying or dissembling. He openly and candidly tells us that we are ungodly. In the first three chapters of Romans the Spirit inspires Paul to accuse and convict the entire human race, descended from Adam, of sin. There are no exceptions. None.

God justifies us by binding us to a Representative, the Man Christ Jesus. Christ represents us in living out an entirely and completely holy life--faithfully keeping all the commandments of God in thought, word and deed all the days of His life. His righteousness is credited to us, because He is our God-designated representative. But He also represents us by personally assuming all the guilt of our sin and standing in our place for its punishment. Christ binds His righteousness to us; He also binds our sin to Himself.

By this means, God justifies the ungodly. It is in Christ and being bound to Him that all our blessings originate; it is from Christ that all blessings flow. Our faith is nothing more or less than our entrusting ourselves to God and His Christ, to do what we could not do--remove our sin and bring us into God's presence holy and cleansed. That is why Paul declares that "faith is reckoned as righteousness."

Thanks be to God for His Messiah. And thanks be to Messiah for His faithfulness to His heavenly Father and to us.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Letter From America

Race-Card Fraud

Thomas Sowell
Republished from NationalReview ONLINE

There is not now, nor has there ever been, anything post-racial about Barack Obama.

Credit-card fraud is a serious problem. But race-card fraud is an even bigger problem.

Playing the race card takes many forms. Judge Charles Pickering, a federal judge in Mississippi who defended the civil rights of blacks for years and defied the Ku Klux Klan back when that was dangerous, was depicted as a racist when he was nominated for a federal appellate judgeship.

No one even mistakenly thought he was a racist. The point was simply to discredit him for political reasons — and it worked.

This year’s target is the Tea Party. When leading Democrats, led by a smirking Nancy Pelosi, made their triumphant walk on Capitol Hill to celebrate their passage of a bill in defiance of public opinion, Tea Party members on the scene protested.

All this was captured on camera and the scene was played on television. What was not captured on any of the cameras and other recording devices on the scene was anybody using racist language, as has been charged by those playing the race card.

(On Tuesday, July 21, Rep. Andre Carson, a member of the black Congressional caucus, alleged that Tea Party people repeatedly called him and his colleagues, "Niggers."  He has been challenged to come up with concrete evidence to back up his incendiary allegations.  He recently released the following statement to CNN’s John King:
“The incident on March 20th happened as I’ve described. It has been reported by numerous media outlets because it is a fact. Andrew Breitbart has tried everything possible to try and rewrite history related to the events of that day—including citing as proof a video that was shot a full hour after the incident happened.
I’ve refused to engage him in some tit-for-tat because he has zero credibility on this issue. He wasn’t even on the Hill the day the incident happened.
If he wants to spend his time inciting people and defending language and actions that the overwhelming majority of Americans find reprehensible, then that’s his prerogative. But it’s not doing this nation—or the Tea Party movement–any favors.”
Watch this video, courtesy of Andrew Breitbart, ed.)

When you realize how many media people were there, and how many ordinary citizens carry around recording devices of one sort or another, it is remarkable — indeed, unbelievable — that racist remarks were made and yet were not captured by anybody.

The latest attack on the Tea Party movement, by Ben Jealous of the NAACP, has once again played the race card. Like the proverbial lawyer who knows his case is weak, he shouts louder.

This is not the first time that an organization with an honorable and historic mission has eventually degenerated into a tawdry racket. But that an organization like the NAACP, after years of fighting against genuine racism, should now be playing the game of race-card fraud is especially painful to see.

Some critics of the Tea Party have seized upon banners carried at one of its rallies that compared Obama with Hitler and Stalin. Extreme? Yes. But there was nothing racist about it, since extreme comparisons have been made about politicians of every race, color, creed, nationality, ideology, and sexual preference.

Some Obama supporters have long regarded any criticism of him as racism. But that they should have to resort to such a banner to bolster their case shows how desperate they are for any evidence.

Among people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, those who are likely to be most disappointed are those who thought that they were voting for a new post-racial era. There was absolutely nothing in Obama’s past to lead to any such expectation, and much to suggest the exact opposite. But the man’s rhetoric and demeanor during the election campaign enabled this and many other illusions to flourish.

Still, it was an honest mistake of the kind that decent people have often made when dealing with people whose agendas are not constrained by decency, but only by what they think they can get away with.

On race, as on other issues, different people have radically different views of Barack Obama, depending on whether they judge him by what he says or by what he does.

As Obama’s own books point out, he has for years cultivated a talent for saying things that people will find congenial.

You want bipartisanship and an end to bickering in Washington? He will say that he wants bipartisanship and an end to bickering in Washington. Then he will shut Republicans out of the decision-making process and respond to their suggestions by reminding them that he won the election. A famous writer — Ring Lardner — once wrote: “‘Shut up,’ he explained.”

You want a government that is open instead of secretive? He will say that. He will promise to post proposed legislation on the Internet long enough for everyone to read it and know what is in it before there is a vote. In practice, however, he has rushed massive bills through Congress too fast for anybody — even the members of Congress — to know what was in those bills.

Racial issues are more of the same. You want a government where all citizens are treated alike, regardless of race or ethnicity? Obama will say that. Then he will advocate appointing judges with “empathy” for particular segments of the population, such as racial minorities. “Empathy” is just a pretty word for the ugly reality of bias.

Obama’s first nomination of a Supreme Court justice was a classic example of someone with empathy for some racial groups, but not others. As a Circuit Court judge, Sonia Sotomayor voted to dismiss a case involving white firefighters who had been denied the promotions for which they qualified, because not enough blacks or Hispanics passed the same test that they did.

A fellow Hispanic judge protested the way the white firefighters’ case was dismissed, rather than adjudicated. Moreover, the Supreme Court not only took the case, it ruled in favor of the firefighters.

Obama’s injecting himself into a local police matter in Massachusetts, despite admitting that he didn’t know the facts, to say that a white policeman was in the wrong in arresting a black professor who was a friend of Obama, was more of the same. So is Obama’s Justice Department overlooking blatant voter intimidation by thugs who happen to be black.

There is not now, nor has there ever been, anything post-racial about Barack Obama, except for the people who voted for him in the mistaken belief that he shared their desire to be post-racial. When he leaves office, especially if it is after one term, he will leave this country more racially polarized than before.

Hopefully, he may also leave the voters wiser, though sadder, after they learn from painful experience that you can’t judge politicians by their rhetoric, or ignore their past because of your hopes for the future. Voters may even wise up to race-card fraud.

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Tolerable Religion

Good Luck With That

The case of the homosexual netball instructor has been fizzing amongst the chattering classes over the past three days. There has been lots of tut-tutting, head shaking, and eyeball-rolling.

But why? Is the parallel universe of Unbelief so obtuse that it can be taken by surprise at the actions of a Christian school, as if such things ought no longer to exist in our oh-so-modern world. Granted Unbelievers probably despise Christians and the Gospel. Granted, like Christopher Hitchens, they may find Christ's blood atonement deeply offensive. But such ire is normal and expected. Unbelievers at root despise and hate the Messiah of God.

But why would Unbelievers expect that a Christian school would not act consistently with its faith? Why would Unbelievers not rush to defend the religious liberty of the school to be faithful to its own beliefs? They do profess the doctrine of non-establishment of religion, and religious liberty, non? Unbelievers do defend the notion that New Zealand is a secular society in the sense of not establishing any one religion, but granting tolerance and freedom to all, right?

Look--the matter is simple. The Christ declares that all homosexuality is fornication--sexual uncleanness. It is grouped along with all other forms of fornication and it therefore violates the seventh commandment. One would reasonably expect that Christians would uphold that doctrine as part of their believing fidelity to Messiah. You would also expect them to apply this teaching to their lives, both individual, familial and corporate. Thus, when a school is operating as a Christian school--that is, a school which is based upon, and operates according to, the teachings and commands of the Christ--it is entirely reasonable and right that such a school would apply His teaching regarding homosexuality as fornication. Why tut tut about it?  Since all teachers and instructors are role models--and intended deliberately to be such in a Christian school--it is unremarkable and normal and expected that an employee who comes to espouse and represent a lifestyle of fornication would be dismissed, and thereby directed to seek employment elsewhere, presumably in a secular state school.

This is what freedom of religion is all about--is it not?

Well, maybe not. Middleton Grange is an integrated Christian school. That means it operates as a state school under a special charter of integration. Unless its charter specifically identifies that its teachers and employees must live faithful Christian lives as appropriate role-models of Christian discipleship and that failure to do so will constitute disqualification to serve as an employee in the school, it will have placed itself in a very weak position. There is a fundamental contradiction between being a Christian school, on the one hand, and a state secular school, on the other. When you cede ultimate control of your school to the secular, pagan State, and accept its money as a quid pro quo, you may well end up being told just exactly what sort of religion is tolerable and acceptable. In other words, you have accepted an overlord, whose claims and pretensions of power are asserted to be greater than Messiah.

But that does still not explain the outrage and surprise of the chattering classes and the media, unless they are so arrogant they think they have the authority to determine what the Christian faith ought to be. In which case, we remind them that a day is coming where they will indeed have the opportunity to make their case before Him Who is King of all kings, and Lord of all lords, and Judge of all the earth. Good luck with that.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Avoid that Bummer

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, July 10, 2010

Many of our prophetic voice brethren are willing, like Jonah, to speak truth to power. They, also like Jonah, would be entirely flummoxed if power listens to them.

Jonah's reluctance to preach to Nineveh was not driven by cowardice, or anything like that. He hated Nineveh, a godless power, an oppressor of Jonah's people, and he knew that if he preached to them, there was a very real risk that they might repent, and that God might accept their repentance. And repent they did (Matt. 12:41), and Jonah's complaint was one he anticipated. Isn't this disaster what I said would happen (Jonah 4:2)? If there is one thing worse than a godless Ninevite power structure, that would be a Constantinian Ninevite power structure. Hear what I'm sayin'?

And so here is the trick. If your whole schtick is that of being a prophetic voice, then you have to figure out what to do about the off-chance of real repentance. If that happened, then not only would the Ninevites repent in dust and ashes, but your whole political theology would have to repent in dust and ashes also, and that would be a bummer. Whatever happens, we have to keep our radical political theology. If we want to keep our theology cutting edge, we have to make sure it never cuts anything.

And so it is necessary to configure the preaching in such a way that repentance is structurally impossible. Define Constantinianism as a heresy, and figure out ways to identify the presence of that heresy regardless of what happens. Find it in coercion, and find it in the soft coercion of no coercion. Find it in established churches, and find it nations where the churches are not established, but are influential. Find it where the churches are marginalized, and not influential at all. Meet the challenge! Find it when the magistrate goes right, when he goes left, and when he stays put. Whatever you do, find that heresy, and you can soothe your ruffled Jonah feathers with this. Nineveh didn't really repent.

Facing Geo-Economic Reality

An Axis of Foolishness

New Zealand cannot afford the luxury of its economic pretensions. It is dominated and controlled by an axis of two political forces. The first is an ideological coalition of eco-greens, whose influence is far wider than the Green political party. This ideological consensus also dominates the Labour and Maori parties, and leads the ideology of the National party as well.

The ideology rests in the pretension that there is such a thing as a green economy--a paradigm of economic development which is "eco-friendly": that is, a path to productive prosperity which does not require despoiling the landscape or using up natural resources. This brave-new-world economy would use predominantly, if not exclusively, natural renewable resources (for example, wind, solar, hydro power). This "eco-friendly" economy would require minimal intrusion into the natural ecological order. In the ideological parlance it would have a minimal "footprint".

The prophets of this brave new world assert as a matter of religious certainty that this new "eco-friendly, zero footprint" economy will be enormously productive: they promise a Klondike-like path to wealth. The zealots of the coalition even have pretensions of leading the world into the global new-world-economic order. This utopian vision is now the de-facto economic policy of the country and it spreads right across the political party spectrum.

One result of this economic ideology is an agreed focus and emphasis upon "eco-winner" industries. Tourism is a prime example. It is no mistake that current Prime Minister, John Key has opted to run the Tourism portfolio because he thinks the economic potential is huge. But note carefully: the tourism industry in New Zealand is a particular kind if tourism. For example, it is not the same tourist industry as exists in Las Vegas (visits to the Grand Canyon notwithstanding). Ours is an oxymoronic industry which focuses upon offering international visitors an experience of un-human-touched landscape (whether mountains, rivers, plains or whatever). Undeveloped, untouched natural resources is a key to economic prosperity we are constantly told.

A second "winner" industry because it is seen as "clean", with close to zero footprint benefits, is intellectual property, and in particular the IT sector. Even the greens love this industry.

The second front of the axis which controls virtually all political discourse is economic entitlement "rights." This is the modern ideological manifestation of non-revolutionary, gradualist socialism. Its hold over the minds and hearts of the populace and the ruling class is vice-like. It is the modern paradigm of social and political discourse. We fear its death grip hold over hearts and minds will not ease until the majority are converted to, and discipled by, the Lord Jesus Christ (which will indeed happen at some time, but at His pleasure).

These two ideologies--economic entitlement rights and the new world eco-friendly, zero footprint economic model--have formed an axis which holds the entire country in its thrall. Entitlement rights require a large and intrusive government apparatus, endless regulations and petty micro-government rules, high debt, and high oppressive taxation and which produces a large dependant welfare class. The prevailing political consensus is not just to maintain, but over time increase, entitlements. Political discourse between left and right is largely a debate over how much and how quickly.  Buttressing this objective is the utopian dream of a highly efficient, zero-footprint economy which will deliver "big bucks" and economic prosperity so entitlements can be afforded and more "wealth" can be shared.

Both ideologies are humanist utopian dreams and will eventually fail, dismally. Just across the Tasman sea is Australia. Its economy is currently growing at between six and seven percent. Ours is hardly registering any growth at all. Migration to Australia out of New Zealand--where people are in search of higher paying, lower taxed jobs--has recommenced. Bleeding to death by a thousand cuts. Welcome to our brave new world. 

New Zealand remains firmly on track to becoming the Niue of the OECD. This will remain the case at least until the naive utopian pretensions of the eco-friendly, zero footprint economy are exposed and shattered.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

"Nation Building" Hubris

Learning From Our Mistakes: Nation-Building Follies and Afghanistan

Posted by Ted Galen Carpenter Jul 10th 2010
First published in Andrew Breitbart's Big Peace

When the United States first invaded Afghanistan, the objective was clear and direct: defeat al Qaeda and oust the Taliban regime that had given the terrorist organization a safe haven from which to plan the 9-11 attacks. The mission has since become something very different—and utterly impractical. U.S. officials now stress the goal of supporting an indigenous political structure that will provide security to the Afghan people and implement good governance (apparently under the enlightened leadership of Hamid Karzai and his corrupt henchmen). Western military and civilian personnel are involved in everything from setting up schools to drilling wells to building roads. They may avoid using the term nation–building, but that is clearly what is taking place.

Afghanistan is an extremely unpromising candidate for such a mission, given its pervasive poverty, its fractured clan–based and tribal–based social structure, and its weak national identity. Furthermore, U.S. and NATO officials should be sobered by the disappointing outcomes of other recent nation–building ventures. The two most prominent missions, Bosnia and Iraq, ought to inoculate Americans against pursuing the same fool’s errand in Afghanistan.

The Dayton Accords ended the Bosnian civil war, but Bosnia is no closer to being a viable country than it was in 1995. It still lacks a meaningful sense of nationhood or even the basic political cohesion and ethnic reconciliation to be an effective state. If secession were allowed, the overwhelming majority of Bosnian Serbs would vote to detach their self–governing region (the Republika Srpska) from Bosnia and form an independent country or merge with Serbia. Most of the remaining Croats—who are already deserting the country in droves—would choose to secede and join with Croatia. Bosnian Muslims constitute the only faction wishing to maintain Bosnia in its current incarnation.

The economic situation is equally bad. Indeed, without the financial inputs from international aid agencies and the spending by the swarms of international bureaucrats in the country, there would scarcely be a functioning economy at all.

Although Bosnia is a nation–building fiasco, it eventually may be less of a disaster than Iraq. Americans who cheered the success of the surge strategy, and now swoon at the prospect of General Petraeus achieving a repeat performance in Afghanistan, were premature in their elation. Tensions are again simmering, both between Sunnis and Shiite Arabs and between Arabs and Kurds, and there have been numerous violent incidents. Months after national elections, the political squabbling is so bad that Iraqis have been unable to form a new government.

Moreover, Iraq has already ceased to be a unified state. Baghdad exercises no meaningful power in the Kurdish region in the north. Indeed, Iraqi Arabs who enter the territory are treated as foreigners—and not especially welcome foreigners. Although the Kurds have not proclaimed an independent country, the Kurdistan Regional Government rules a de facto state with its own flag, currency, and army.

None of this bodes well for Iraq’s national unity or even stability going forward. There are already calls by American pundits to abandon—or at least delay—plans for the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. combat forces, lest the country again erupt into chaos.

Despite a 15–year effort and the expenditure of billions of dollars, the Bosnian nation-building mission is a flop. Despite a seven–year effort (and counting), the expenditure of at least $800 billion, and the sacrifice of more than 4,300 American lives, the Iraq nation-building mission is, at best, a disappointment Yet, instead of learning from those experiences, U.S. leaders seem intent on pursuing the same chimera in Afghanistan.

Foreign policy, like domestic politics, is the art of the possible. Containing and weakening al Qaeda may be possible, but building Afghanistan into a modern, democratic country is not. The increasingly evident failures of nation–building in Bosnia and Iraq—both of which were more promising candidates than Afghanistan—should have taught us that lesson.

Hitler Was a Reasonable Man

Tricks Played By the Living Upon the Dead

We have been following a doco series on the Sky History channel on the rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany. This series has been particularly valuable because it effectively sets the rise of National Socialism in the economic, social and political context of Europe. It shows that the emergence of Nazism was "mainstream-normal" and inevitable. It also uses actual, former Nazi participants as interviewees and commentators. These are people who knew Hitler personally and interacted frequently with the Fuehrer and top Nazis.

Revisionist history has cast Hitler as insane. This documentary series shows that Hitler was a perfectly rational and reasonable man, as were the Nazis generally. The views he held were perfectly understandable then, and, we may add, now. The Nazis were of course operating within the world-view of Unbelief. They were both rationalistic and humanistic. They believed in the ascendency of the human race over animals; they were also strongly Darwinistic and evolutionistic in their outlook--as is Unbelief today.

Last night's episode discussed at some length how Hitler was fascinated with the concept of the survival of the fittest and that one could only achieve and maintain superiority of being through struggle. Fighting against and defeating less advanced beings was critical to establish and maintain superiority. This struggle was part of the natural order--it was how human life came into being and preserved itself. Now this was, and is, pretty standard stuff amongst biological darwinists--although since the advent of the Nazis the biological darwinists have squirmed and weaseled and sought to "tone things down" a bit.

Given this standard mainstream humanist world view, it was perfectly reasonable and understandable for Hitler and his colleagues, his academicians and scientists, to argue that the human race consisted of species that were inferior and superior, that there were those more and those less human. The Jews, of course, were sub-human. Uber-humanity could only be achieved and maintained by struggling against Jews (and gypsies and the handicapped) and destroying them. This was simply standard, text book, mainstream applications of the Darwinian cosmology--which, needless to say, is still the dominant Unbelieving cosmology to this day.

For the past two centuries, the Darwinistic cosmology has been at the centre of Unbelief. Ideologically, Hitler and the Nazis were mainstream Darwinists. As Unbelievers they were not insane, nor stupid, nor ignorant, nor extremist. They were perfectly reasonable and rational: every position they took was understandable (and compelling) within the paradigm of Unbelief. For a modern Unbeliever to argue against the Nazis, without acknowledging their moral, ethical and philosophical legitimacy, their reasonableness, and their legitimacy-within-the tent, is hypocritical, so say the least.

Modern Unbelief has, of course, resiled from the Nazis, and now profess their horror. But this is merely revisionist history, where the living are playing tricks upon the dead. It is both fashionable and comforting to present Hitler as a raving lunatic. Actually, he was a mainstream Unbeliever, just like the stock-standard Unbelievers of our day. He was a family member, and a mainstream one at that.

Take the idea of the human race consisting of a continuum--with some more human, some less human than others. This is straight out of the Darwinian Unbelieving cosmology. Today those that are considered lesser human are not blacks or Jews--but they might as well be. Today, to be sure, it is unfashionable and so yesterday to consider black and Jews to be sub-human. Fashions change.  Then they change back.  Today, the sub-human are yet-to-be-born children. The Darwinian struggle against inferior humans, necessary to achieve and maintain true self-realisation and uber-humanity, now takes place in the womb of mothers, who kill and abort to assert their true human autonomy. They assert rights over those they consider sub-humans, even as the Nazis asserted rights over Jews and gypsies. Academicians and scientists, politicians and press applaud and cheer as loudly and fanatically as any crowd clamouring before the Fuehrer. Given the world-view of Unbelief it is perfectly reasonable and understandable for them to do so. If you stand where the Unbeliever stands, how can you demur?

Or, take the euphemistically misnamed practice of euthanasia. The Nazis openly practised eugenics. Once again, given the world-view of Unbelief it was a perfectly reasonable stance to take. Equally reasonable and understandable is the modern appetite for killing the old, the sick, and suffering, and the terminally ill. As blogger MacDoctor put it:
Governments being what they are, as soon as euthanasia is legalised, there will immediately be a subtle drive to euthanase dying people. It will not escape bureaucratic attention that having granny die a few months earlier will save the government health budget millions a year. Recall that the bulk of expenditure in healthcare is spent on the last year of life. The vast majority of these people are clearly terminal in the last three to six months of this period. Imagine the cost-savings of involuntary euthanasia.

While I am fairly certain involuntary euthanasia will never become a healthcare cost-cutting tool, there is no doubt in my mind that pressure will be subtly placed on the terminally ill to “end it all”. It will be put as an “escape from suffering” or “to spare the family” or “to not be a nuisance/burden”. But it will still be coercion no matter how it is dressed.

Is this really how we want our society to be? Driving the elderly and infirm to a premature death in the name of convenience? Are we really so unable to train our physicians in the proper care of the terminally ill? Or is the word compassion only reserved for those who would kill rather than care?

Ah, yes--in the Darwinist cosmology--the dominant cosmology of Unbelief in our day--compassion is to be ascribed to those who dispatch the sub-human. It is an act of compassion upon and caring for us all who remain. As Neil Simon wrote: "these are the days of miracles and wonders."

The Christian grants that, within the framework of Unbelief, Nazism, genocide, abortion and euthanasia are eminently rational, reasonable and understandable. But the rational is not the right. Unmitigated and eternal evils they remain. They are sinful and abhorrently wicked beliefs and practices. Those who advocate and practise them--whether they be yesterday's Nazis or today's mainstream liberal modern--are under the condemnation of God. Whoever lifts his hand in arrogant Unbelief to strike against any other man falls under the condemnation of the God whose image that man bears. The Bible is very clear: the blood of the fallen cries out from the ground to God  for vengeance.

God always hears the eloquent plea of the blood of the slain.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Doug Wilson's Letter From America

The Streetcar of Democracy

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Monday, July 05, 2010

Christians who argue for a secular public square are caught on the horns of a dilemma. Either Jesus wants this or He doesn't. Or maybe He doesn't care. If He doesn't want it, then why do they? If He does, then are they not advocating a civil arrangement based on the will of the Lord, which would be a theocracy?

When we are talking about a theocracy in the abstract, we are not yet talking about the content of the laws, only that the laws are based on the will of God. Biblical law, rightly understood, would not be draconian, but that needs to be discussed in its place. Right now, the question is whether or not public morality needs to be grounded in the will of God or not.

So let's take this a step further. If the laws are not based on the will of God, but rather on the will of the people, Demos, then what happens when a large majority of the people think that the laws should be based on the will of a god? This is precisely the dilemma that democracy faces in the Middle East. The president of Turkey has said that democracy is like a street car -- you ride it until your stop. Then you get off. What happens when an Islamic state forms as a result of democratic processes? What happens when Hamas actually wins the election in Gaza, and they didn't do it by cheating?

In effect, Demos the capricious god gives way to another god. But on secularist principles, why would Demos not have the right to abdicate like this? Who says that Demos can't abdicate?

When a Christian secularist looks at this kind of scenario, if Demos is the final word, then cannot Demos vote itself out of having the final word? Can it not enthrone Allah? If Allah is not the true God, can it not, at any rate, enthrone the mullahs?

Or what about Jesus? On what basis could a Christian secularist object to an election that voted in Jesus as Lord? He could only do it by saying that Jesus refused to be nominated, and then point to a text that showed us how Jesus required our civil affairs to be arranged, and that He was particularly insistent that we be sure to leave Him out of it. But the whole point for the secularist is that there is no such text which, ironically, opens the door for a democratic Christian republic.

Now of course, I believe that Jesus is a king, not a president, and the Great Commission requires us to proclaim that the coronation has already happened. Jesus is not running for anything, and we do not "make" Him anything. He is the Lord of lords, the King of kings, and the President of presidents, and there is nothing whatever that we can do about it. That is already the case. The world will gradually come to recognize this, and will become Christian, and this is good news indeed. This is the good news.

This is incidentally why I believe that Christian republics and commonwealths are formed by preaching, baptizing, and discipleship, and not by campaigning, legislating, pundit-blogging, and so on. This gospel work will have political results, but it is not politically established. The magistrate is a necessary part of the process, but only as a servant to the gospel. The magistrate must wear Christ's livery, and not the other way around.

So here are the options: 1. Jesus doesn't care whether or not nations are explicitly Christian. 2. Jesus is opposed to nations being explicitly Christian. 3. Jesus wants nations to be explicitly Christian.

And here should be our responses to these possibilities:

Response to #1. Well, if Jesus doesn't care, that means we have the right to care. So let's make this a Christian nation, shall we?

Response to #2 Okay. Let's have a Bible study and find out why "disciple the nations" really means "don't disciple the nations, whatever you do."

Response to #3. Yes, Lord.

None So Blind

Defending Monopolistic Mediocrity and Failure

An old adage says that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Stephen Joyce recently declared that over one million adults in New Zealand are functionally illiterate--that is, they can neither read nor write sufficiently well to make their way in the world. The commentosphere erupted in indignation for a second or so.

Whilst we have known this for a long time, the fact that, once again, it has hit the headlines, albeit briefly, we want to reiterate some fundamental points. Firstly the problem is systemic, and the blame lies fairly, squarely and without dispute upon the state funded and controlled education system in New Zealand. The ills are with the government education system itself.

Secondly, and related to this, voting more money for this failed system does not work and will not work. Vote education has increased hugely, exponentially over the past thirty years. At the same time, illiteracy has worsened. More taxpayers money handed over to a system that is already incompetent just produces more incompetence--very expensive incompetence. Politicians on both sides of the House routinely congratulate themselves that they are committed to education and can demonstrate their commitment by voting more of your money to it; they are willing dupes, engaged in little more than self-congratulatory grandstanding.

Thirdly, the root problem is that the state educational system is a giant monopolistic bureaucracy. Teachers are fundamentally bureaucrats, carrying out government policy as stipulated by the Ministry of Education. The better teachers resent it; the inept and incompetent teachers find security therein. All monopolies are inefficient because they do not have to work for the loyalty of their customers or those who use their services. Monopolies serve themselves at the expense of their customers. They can afford to. Their self-interest is not checked by competitors. The customer or consumer has no alternative but to pay up, as it were. The bigger the monopoly, the greater the inefficiency and waste and ineffectiveness. The state education system in New Zealand is one of the most comprehensive monopolistic educational bureaucracies in the world.

Fourth--and consistent with the nature of all monopolistic bureaucracies--the system ends up being controlled by those that run its operations. They both control the flow of information to the government, thereby shaping policy that suits their own interests, whilst being in a position to standover any governmental policy initiatives they do not like. In a monopoly everyone becomes captive to the operational staff. It is inevitable.

All the operational staff in the state educational system are organised into unions--whether Ministry bureaucrats as part of the PSA, teachers as members of the various teacher unions, or professional educational academics who are part of tertiary teacher unions. All are dedicated to maintaining and extending the control of their organisations over the educational system. Their primary commitment is to the interest of their members, and not to the students, who serve as cannon fodder for the self-interest of the unions. They are even less concerned about the interests of parents. The educational unions mouth empty slogans about the interests of parents and pupils only when it is condign with the current propaganda campaign being run.

The comprehensive nature of monopoly control over education has been demonstrated repeatedly in New Zealand. No government has had the courage to confront and defeat the deeply entrenched educational monopolists. Every policy initiative attempted over the past thirty years to increase local accountability and decrease the monopoly control of the educational bureaucracy has been effectively squashed by the state educational bureaucracy: bulk funding of schools, the voucher system, and the relaxation of school zoning are prime examples. Each of these introduced greater autonomy to local schools and meant that local schools had to compete to a degree for parent, teacher, and student support.

That competitive element meant that some schools were able to compete so as to do better than others--which is a dread and horror to the monopolistic bureaucratic educational system.

We firmly believe the system will not produce better educational results until the state educational monopolistic system itself is seen as the problem. The monopoly needs to be broken. Education is a service, like any other economic service. It cannot justify its sacred cow status. Its persistent systemic failures place it in the same notorious category as the old Ministry of Works, the Electricity Department, New Zealand Rail, the Union Steamship Company, and the National Airways Corporation. All proved inefficient, dismal failures. Huge improvements were realised when the state monopolies in each of these areas were broken down. Education will not be any different.

We note with wry amusement how almost all involved in political discourse through the spectrum of belief and opinion regard education as being in a special category which makes it an essential and intrinsic component of modern government. But this dominant mantra cannot survive critical scrutiny. The fact that everyone may have a (freedom) right to education does not constitute an argument for education being delivered via a state monopolistic bureaucracy.

We propose the following plan to destroy the hidebound state education monopoly and to achieve genuine, enlightened reform:

1. Introduce an immediate universal educational voucher system for all pupils and all schools in the country. The Ministry of Education would provide annual vouchers to parents of every school child in the country to be redeemed at the schools of their choice, provided the schools consent to take the child. Voucher systems have now proved their worth wherever they have been applied around the world. They have been widely supported by parents. They have also been universally opposed by teacher unions wherever they have been introduced.

2. Abolish all national curriculum rules, standards and guidelines immediately, apart from stipulating that all schools must adopt the Cambridge testing systems--which deliver a truly international educational qualification. (Cambridge runs a narrow, focused curriculum on core subjects; schools would be free to augment with other subjects and activities as and where they wished. Each school would be required to register as a Cambridge Affiliated School on-line. All Cambridge waypoint and examination test results would be made available to parents; all aggregate school results would be published. All additional testing regimes would be at the discretion of each respective school.)

3. Abolish all school zoning.

4. Abolish all teacher registration. This currently serves to protect the monopoly bureaucracy. It contributes nothing--repeat, nothing--to the quality of teaching in this country.

With the introduction of these reforms within five years the educational sector in New Zealand would be world class. It is that easy and that simple. It would also be less expensive: the vast state educational bureaucracy could be largely dismantled. The educational vote could then largely go into what the current government likes to call "front line services". But this must be done quickly (like the life-line reforms of the 1984 Labour Government), otherwise the educational monopoly will mobilise and destroy the programme.

But our timid government will not go nearer than a bull's roar to such enlightened educational reform. It lacks the courage and fibre to man up for the inevitable stoush. It prefers its own comfort and sinecures to doing something really constructive for the future of our children. Thus, systemic failure of state education in New Zealand will continue unchecked and unaltered indefinitely. A high quality educational monopoly is, and will remain, an oxymoron.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Speaking Truth to Power

What Might God Say to the President of South Africa?

Justin Taylor blogged recently as follows:

P J Smyth of GodFirst Church in Johannesburg recently preached a sermon entitled “What Would God Say to the President of South Africa” with South African President Jacob Zuma in attendance.

Well done, Pastor Smyth!

You can read the notes here.

Here are his three main points:

1. I have made you the President of South Africa
2. Anticipate submissive and prayerful followership by Christ-following South Africans
3. In view of me appointing you, lead confidently and humbly

An excerpt from the third point:

So lead confidently in the assurance that you are God’s appointment, but also lead…Humbly, because within this epic encouragement lies a sobering truth: You are God’s servant (Romans 13:4), and as such the day will come that God will relieve you of your responsibilities and give them to another, and the day will come when you will need to give an account to God for how you have led. A servant of South Africa certainly, but more than that a servant of God. He gave you the job, to govern his people, according to his template of right and wrong.

Hat Tip: Justin Taylor

Courage and Self Sacrifice

A Mother in Truth

Here is an unusual event--rare, and therefore precious. The NZ Herald has carried a report on Jolene Patuawa-Tuilave, a mother who sacrificed her life for her unborn child. In our view, Jolene was a heroine, worthy of the highest honours men can bestow in this life.

Jolene has now passed from the sight of mortal men. She leaves behind her baby son Lui, just 10 weeks old when she died. She also left behind husband Rob and step-daughter Vitolia, 6. When Jolene was expecting, breast cancer struck her again. She refused treatment on the grounds that it would threaten the life of her yet-to-be-born baby. Her doctors had told her that she needed treatment to survive, but that they could not treat her if she was pregnant. Implication: abort the child and save your own life.
"Basically what it came down to was she had a choice, baby or life. She chose the baby," said colleague and friend Spencer Webster.

We could speak of her courage, her love, her commitment to her child. All would be true. But above all she has showed us the essence of what it means to be a mother--a true mother. She literally laid down her life for her child.  For that, she deserves the highest, albeit posthumous, award that we could bestow.

We know that her sacrifice will be treated as an embarrassment in some quarters. Because of that we also acknowledge that she will likely not be publicly honoured as she should. But we honour her. Our thoughts are with her husband and family and especially young Lui. Your mother has set you a pathway. As you grow, honour her by walking along it.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Professing to be Wise, He Plays the Fool

Nick at the Politburo Table

Nick Smith, New Zealand's Climate Change Minister is displaying his coruscating brilliance yet again. You have to wonder just how mentally challenged old Nick really is. Firstly, you would have to be a sandwich short of a picnic to agree to take responsibility for the climate. Secondly, Nick seems oblivious to his misfortune that every time he opens his loquacious mouth these days he merely changes feet. Fool me once . . . .

We suppose it is too much to ask that old Nick would stop and listen to himself with even the barest modicum of self-critical sense. He recently trumpeted his previously reviled, now worshipped ETS, using the following mindless mantra:
The emissions trading scheme provides a price-signal advantage for sea freight and rail over road transport because it's far more fuel-efficient.
So, sea freight and rail--previously dying forms of outmoded, inefficient, costly, slow, and cost-ineffective means of freight transport--now are more competitive against road transport because of old Nick's new tax upon petrol. Wow. So we are now being subjected (forced) to use the slow, outmoded, inefficient, more costly, and cost-ineffective modes of transport and freight--and this will benefit us how?

Old Nick sounds like a Minister for the Five Year Plan, or the Great Leap Forward. This sort of talk was common around the Politburo tables decades ago. No doubt it was also no stranger when Muldoon attempted the command economy, with its wage and price controls. What a blast from the past!

The entire enterprise of trying to plan an economy centrally to take it in a certain direction deemed holy by the Party has failed in every place where men have been stupid enough to attempt it. This is not by accident. This is God's world and it runs and functions His way. Those who attempt to operate or run it otherwise are doomed to abject failure. When governments attempt it, as our rulers are currently doing, we are all doomed to suffer. We will all inevitably bear the costs of their folly.

But wait--maybe the unanimous verdict of human history has been too hastily delivered. Maybe old Nick is a superman who can leap over the tallest buildings. Maybe the entire weight of evidence damning centrally planned economies is wrong because old Nick will make the difference.

A couple of weeks ago, while changing feet, old Nick bared his soul. He told us that he would die a happy man if he could only depart this terrestrial ball having seen New Zealand's carbon emissions reduce. Sadly, we need to inform this wisest fool in Christendom that his great wish will not be granted; if he continues in his folly, he will most certainly die an unhappy man.

Pity those whose calling it is to play the fool. No-one can take pleasure from watching it.