Sunday, October 24, 2004

Theology 2: Faith Seeking Understanding

A second matter of prolegomena is a question of approach. Do we presume Christian faith and work to substantiate it? Do we allow for modification or deconstruction of our starting point? If so, to what degree? If we start from a particular Christian faith stance, which one? Or should we start completely from scratch and see if the evidence demands the verdict of faith?

I think for a Christian, the most appropriate place to begin is with faith. If we start from scratch, it is not at all clear that we will reach orthodox faith, since much of what Christians believe may be the result of what is called "special" rather than "natural" revelation. If some of Christian faith would not be known apart from God's special introduction of it into history, then starting from reason alone would not get us to complete truth.

On the other hand, there is enough diversity of Christian belief and change in Christian belief over time that we should probably keep the core faith with which we start relatively small. Basic orthodoxy as it has been believed by the Christians of the centuries provides us with an appropriate starting content of faith. Let's basically start with the Apostle's Creed.

The Bible is also of central importance. But we must remember as we use the Bible that its authoritative meaning has as often as not been a "spiritual" meaning rather than a historical-critical/literal one. Such non-contextual interpretations often disagree with one another, calling for great caution in the use of them. Jesus and Paul both model a certain looseness in relation to the original meanings. These are all important cautions to keep in mind.

To me, the Christian God is a God of truth. "All truth is God's truth." On the one hand, it is true that the evidence does not always lead us to the truth in some matters. Evidence is almost always partial, and we are ultimately stuck in our heads with at least partially skewed perspectives.

Nevertheless, I start out with a bias against the notion that God is a trickster. I do not think He has completely stacked the deck against reason and the evidence. Surely the evidence we have does not point in a dimetrically opposite direction from the truth. Surely it usually will point us in the direction of truth.

My initial bias is thus that it makes sense to believe in God and Christ on the basis of the evidence. While I do not expect the opposite conclusion, I would have to consider a fideist or blind, irrational faith position if we were to reach such a juncture.

Let us begin our quest then in the next entry. Presuming that the Christian God exists, what are His attributes? Is belief in Him reasonable?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Theology 1: Egocentric Predicament

For the indefinite future I want to think about theology. I know a bit about what the church has believed as well as what my church believes. But there are any number of issues where I am not entirely sure what Christians have believed on an issue. That may mean the issue is not yet fully decided.

I hope to dialog with the church as I go along, but I am more just wondering for now. I want to think about things, hoping that the Holy Spirit will help in the thinking and feeling.

One thing theologians debate is where to begin a discussion of theology.

God is the best answer and the one most often given.

But unfortunately, we have also become acutely aware of ourselves as knowers these last two hundred years or so. The post-modern situation has fomented this problem to a crisis.

So it seems that before we can begin our discussion of God, we must clear the air about prolegomena, things that should be said before beginning.

I am stuck in my head. I do not see the world as it is. I see the world as it appears to me. I filter it through the "dictionary" in my head that defines so much more than words.

Mary Douglas once said that "Dirt is matter out of place." It's true. I draw lines around my world and categorize things into boxes. I am not able to hold all the data of the world together as individual data in all its relationships to all other data. I have to schematize and categorize.

In early 97 when I was in Sierra Leone, I found myself witnessing on an afternoon with some nationals. I remember a moment of puzzlement when in the middle of a collection of houses, I suddenly found a hut. This was in the middle of a city, Freetown. House, house, hut, house. It was as if I were suddenly up country in a "primitive" village.

As we approached the hut, two girls returned from school. They both had uniforms on, like you would wear to a parochial school. I watched these girls stoop and enter the hut.

It was just weird to me. I couldn't put my finger on why but my surreal alarms were going off.

In retrospect, I believe what was wierd about this moment was the fact that my paradigms were in conflict. My brain was searching its files for the right category and it came up wanting. My paradigm of the city and of civilization was in conflict with my paradigm of the "primitive" and African village.

Clearly this was not a conflictual matter for any of these individuals.

Now I believe reality exists. I believe this by faith because I don't think I can absolutely prove anything other than "I think therefore I am" (or to be even more accurate, "thought" exists). In the evidentiary sense, therefore, I believe the world is real because this concept "works." I am, therefore, a pragmatic realist.

I evaluate the schemas that I bring to bear on the world on the basis of their use and ability to account for the data and to predict events. I believe the chair I sit on exists because my memory tells me that the things I call chairs have worked almost every time I've sat down (unless someone has pulled it back while I wasn't looking or unless I sat askance on it and fell off).

Therefore, from an evidentiary standpoint, I evaluate truth vs. falsity on the basis of 1. how well the truth proposal accounts for the data I have and 2. its ability to predict events or how well it corresponds to analogous events.

I must acknowledge, however, that I am stuck in my head. While I believe by faith that reality exists and that my mental schemas can correspond effectively to the world, my schemas are not absolute. They are "myths" I use to express the world, which must ultimately be consigned to mystery. These myths work and the better they are, the more precisely they predict events.

So I think the equation for distance in physics is distance equals velocity multiplied by time. Actually, that's a bad example. This equation is true by definition. If velocity is distance in relation to time, then by definition the time multiplied by the velocity yields distance.

This serendipidously leads me to a very important aside. There are a number of axioms about reality that I cannot prove but must assume to think logically. They are things like "any number times one equals that number." We should consider in a later entry whether the foundational nature of logic and number is a proof for the existence of God.

Anyway, by and large my schemas are exactly that, paradigms and mechanisms by which I process the world. I believe these can be better and worse. But ultimately they are more about me than about the world.

This is the starting point for discussing any "knowledge." I take a pragmatic realist position first: the greatest criterion for truth is whether that truth "works." Beyond that I affirm by faith a kind of "critical realist" position. I believe by faith that the world outside myself exists. I believe that my schemas of the world can adequately predict and explain the world, although they are ultimately functions of my head and not the actual reality of the world itself. The actual reality of the world must remain a mystery to me. And as Wittgenstein said, "Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent."

Of course that's never stopped me before... :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A Footnote

I don't know how many people are reading my blog. I know some people in the dorms of Indiana Wesleyan University do. I know a few friends from the beyond have checked in occasionally too. Then there are the occasional visitors from the vast emptiness of the internet who come because they just happen to hit "next blog" the nanosecond after I posted.

I've (thankfully) noticed a difference between some students in my classes their first semester at IWU and then later. Although many take what I say with a grain of salt from the very beginning, some seem all too sponge-like at the beginning. I see those same students around campus their junior or senior year and I can tell they've changed. They know other professors have contrasting positions, and they've come to their own conclusions on many issues.

In short, I trust no one just swallows my comments here. Especially since I am sometimes venting. A blog is an interesting thing. It is like a diary, where you put your feelings. But the fact that others may be reading makes it a bit different.

And by the way, it is enjoyable to interact with others on the things you think when you're driving in your car. It's different from when you're up in front of a class officially representing a university or in a pulpit representing a denomination. And for the record, I think God understands my ignorance and accepts me all the same. I am open to any correction from Him as a standing rule.

But I suppose there is still some responsibility attached to a blog like this, if you know it's being read a little. I absolve whoever might read this blog from any need to take me seriously (most didn't need absolution).

In case you haven't read my comments to the comments made to my blog. I thought I'd mention some of the kinds of things I have expressed in my responses:

1. There is a part of me that feels a little sad when I convince people to change their minds on something. Part of it is the weight of feeling responsible for it. What if I'm mistaken? I'm known somewhat for telling my classes, "Feel free to disagree." Sometimes that means I don't feel completely certain.

At other times it's because I hate to burst people's bubbles. When I discuss how Matthew interprets the OT, I have no problem at all with Matthew. But I'm a little sad to burst the bubble of those who thought Hosea 11:1 straightforwardly predicted the event of Matthew 2:14-15.

There's no debate that Matthew is using the word "fulfill" differently than the way most people think. But I feel sad to be the messenger of this truth to others. Matthew is certainly inspired, but he wasn't saying what my Thompson Chain Reference KJV Bible implied when it catalogued all the OT Scriptures that were "fulfilled" in Jesus.

2. I honestly don't feel like I know who God wants to be elected this year. I view Bush as in over his head, but I think he has good intentions. He really does scare me in terms of the major damage I see him capable of. I'll muse about one reason why he might make me so angry sometimes in a second.

In one note I said the following: "I take fatalistic solace in the fact that Bush will be elected in Indiana no matter who I vote for." What I meant was that even if I cast my vote mistakenly, my vote will not change the outcome. In other words, I feel free to be genuinely mistaken. Of course if I vote, I'll hope I'm voting correctly. But in a twisted way, I won't worry about being wrong because the outcome will be the same.

I really don't think Kerry will do anything anti-Christian as president. I am genuinely open to being convinced that he will. On the one hand, he will not help stop abortion, that's for sure. But I don't think he will promote abortion either. There were fewer abortions under Clinton than under the current Bush, but that probably has to do with the economy as much as anything.

I want to see abortion illegal. I see it as murder. But given the current situation, I think we have to change the culture before that will happen and stick. I see our current efforts to do it through the legal process largely counterproductive and ineffectual. It does not target the hearts and minds, and I think will be consistently unsuccessful.

It is a paradigm I think we have unthinkingly absorbed. One that I fight against as a parent. It is the model that disciplines for justice's sake rather than for redemption's sake. These are my thoughts. These are some I am not 100% sure of, so critique them strongly. My community does not lean this way, so unless I am a prophet, you should bias yourself against me.

On any number of other issues I think the Constitution is in conflict with our Christian values (e.g. matters of homosexuality). I think the model of free will in these areas seeks to influence others for Christ while allowing them to make the wrong choices to their detriment. I think this is the way God does it. But again, my most immediate community seems to disagree with me. So unless I'm a prophet, you should perhaps bias yourself against my position.

3. Why am I so angry at Bush? I could be angry at Kerry. I think Kerry and Edwards are stretching the truth just as I believe Cheney has. There's not going to be a draft. Kerry is probably no great war hero. He can't afford his proposals any more than Bush can his.

I think Bush has made me feel stupid. I really wanted to believe he was doing the right thing leading up to the whole Iraq thing. Now I feel like a fool for even thinking he knew what he was doing.

I feel bad for Colin Powell. Here's someone I really respect and would have liked to see become President one day. I feel like Bush has smeared and shamed his good name both in the administration and in the world.

But most of all, I think Bush reminds me of myself about twenty years ago. Maybe that's the real root of my anger, or not. I look back at myself and the things I thought I knew and I think, "Boy, I was so stupid." I look at Bush and I see someone who thinks they know a lot but are maybe just a little shy of real depth, just as I think was. I see the gullible zealot of my earlier years.

Maybe I fear deep down that I am still as gullible as ever. I perceive Bush as a second rate thinker and scholar, a thinker wanna be. Maybe I'm angry at Bush because I fear I am as two-dimensional in my thinking as I think he is. I don't know.

Then again, maybe it has something to do with my mother. But since Freud may be involved, be sure to think of me and my blog more as the voice of a jester than of a thinker.

Monday, October 18, 2004

A Prophecy: Bush's Third Strike

There are no more debates. Bush is up in the polls. Unless something goes very wrong in Iraq to pin on Bush, it looks like he'll win. Bush should be feeling pretty good about right now.

So what will I be blogging about in a couple years?

I sure hope it isn't the new war Bush has got us into. Frankly, I think he's learned his lesson no matter what he's saying. Under similar circumstances, he'll wait a lot longer before going to war, especially if the nation in question actually has some weapons to fight us with. Any solicitations for international support will not give him the benefit of the doubt again.

I sure hope it isn't about some dirty bomb that slipped through. I will at least partially blame Bush if this happens, because he got us on a tangential mission in the "war against anyone we can see since we can't get at the real terrorists." While we should have been focusing on securing nuclear material and getting Iran and North Korea out of the nuclear business, we've been bleeding to death in Iraq.

No, I think I'll be talking about the immense social crisis Bush's privitization of social security will create. Now I don't know much about the specifics of how it all works. It wouldn't be the first time I was way off. All I have is Bush's record so far and a clear pattern of operation:

Strike 1: "No Child Left Behind"
Here's the pattern: 1. Bush has a good goal. In this case, his thinking was two fold. First he wanted to make sure our children could read, write, and do arithmetic. Second, he bought the non-educator propagated myth that the problem is all the liberal teaching we're funding and that it's cheap to teach a child to read and write.

[The problem with this way of thinking is that the number one problem in the educational system is not the teachers and their liberal tendencies. The problem is the social background of our kids that creates such immense discipline problems in the schools. The teachers want to teach. Some students want to learn. A great deal of other students come with such baggage that these other two parties can't connect.]

Step 2 in the pattern: Bush implements the goal by force rather than with real understanding of the real issues and without any contingency plan if things don't go right. In other words, he has no real plan for how to make it really happen or to deal with problems.

Step 3: things don't work the way he planned and usually crash and burn in some way. In the case of education, Bush has set the right standards but has not dealt with any of the real problems and obstacles. He has held a gun to our educators heads and said, "You figure it out or I'll shoot you." We may have some success on this one, but not many educators think he knew what he was doing.

Strike 2: "The Iraq Debacle"
Here's the pattern again. In step 1 the goal is to free the Iraqi people from an oppressive regime and create an island of democracy in the troubled Middle East. Great goals!

Step 2: Bush goes in without real international support and tries to force the issue with a pre-emptive war against a nation that was not about to attack us. Bush has no plan to make it happen, expects them to welcome us with open arms, sends neither enough troops nor the right equipment, has no sense of how Iraqi people actually think, etc...

Step 3: The mess you currently see. Looting. Beheadings. Over 1000 soldiers dead. And next year we'll reach the 200 billion dollar mark in expenditure (remember that Iraqi oil was supposed to pay for this war and that the blowing up of Iraqi pipelines have been used repeatedly as an excuse to jack up oil prices this last year). The world is not safer yet. We've created new monsters like Zarkawi (by the way, Zarkawi is making his link to Al-Qaeda today, not revealing one that had existed previously).

So what will Bush's next immense lack of foresight be?

Prophecy: Strike Three, the Privatization of Social Security

I'm betting that he will throw millions of elderly people into massive crisis as he again 1. Aims at a good goal, to reform the social security system.

But you can bet he's not smart enough to pull it off. I wonder if anyone would be, but he in particular doesn't inspire confidence in me. I bet millions of elderly people will be thrown into crisis--maybe even after his administration has gone the way of the Dodo. I can't tell you the specifics. I'm just going on Bush's track record. I'm wondering if it will be the most colossal problem of all.

I bet Congress will have to pass massive emergency spending bills to rescue millions of elderly people who suddenly find themselves without a social security check. At worst, I bet it will throw the Stock Market into a dither and create a recession or depression the likes we haven't seen in almost a century.

Now some may see this as a good thing--the system needed to be done away with. Maybe so, but capitalists who look forward to the ultimate good usually don't think too much about the people who get run over in the process. I bet many elderly people will fall through the cracks. I bet many will even die in the neglect of progress and crisis.

It's the insignificant ones that capitalism and evolution don't care about. I bet our families will have to take in some of our elderly aunts and uncles who no longer have a social security check coming.

I'm probably wrong. But I see a pattern here. Bush is all too willing to "wing it" on things he really doesn't know much about. And every time he wings it, lots of people get hurt.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Christian and the State 6: Conclusion

If the American system is roughly universal egoist and roughly based on the social contract model, how is a Christian to interact with it, given what we've said thus far?

I see two "zones" of interaction:

1. Where the egoist system and Christian values overlap, we should work with the system for the good of all. I would like to call this domain the "zone of concrete consequence." Murder has visible and concrete consequence. The universal egoist bans it so that no one kills him or her. The Christian supports such laws so that no one kills anyone else.

The egoist forbids stealing so that no one will steal his or her stuff. The Christian supports such laws so that no one steals anyone else's stuff.

What about the poor? The universal egoist should reasonably think about the poor for two reasons. The first is that it is always possible that he or she will become poor unexpectedly. In such case the egoist would want some system in place for them to recover.

A second reason is that the discontented have a way of revolting. In previous centuries, these were bloody indeed. "Let them eat cake" is a recipe for disaster. In our world poverty engenders crime and drug traffic.

In short, the empowerment and improvement of the disenfrancised is in everyone's ultimate best interest.

Of course as Christians this issue is a no brainer. In Luke especially Jesus especially targets the poor. When John the Baptist asks Jesus if he is the Messiah, Jesus recounts the "social" ministry he has been engaged in as proof.

Christians should support every aspect of state that empowers those either born or brought into powerlessness. We will even try to stretch the bounds of what the egoist state is willing to do.

Where the egoist system allows individuals to do what they want, as Christians we will try to walk a fine line between the freedom that is the goal of egoism and protecting others from themselves. Seat belt laws stand on a nebulous border here. There is a cultural line that will change over time.

But when there are potentially concrete negative consequences, we will work with the system to avoid them. When there are potentially concrete positive consequences, we will work with the system to reinforce them.

2. I'll call the second zone the "zone of theological consequence."
What do we do when Christian theology tells us that something is wrong, but we cannot clearly see any concrete consequence? For example, what about suicide?

On the one hand, we can plausibly set up a network of protection for those whose desire to commit suicide is chemically caused. On medication, these individuals would want us to stop them from commiting suicide--this is an area of clear consequence.

But what if a person in their "right mind" wants to commit suicide? I don't see how the egoist system could forbid him or her. But most Christians would think theologically that this is a perilous course of action. We would want to stop them. What do we do? The system really has no room for a law against such suicides (I suspect the existing laws will eventually be deemed unconstitutional), but we want to stop these individuals.

And what about homosexual sex or homosexual lust? Clearly the majority of homosexuals don't get AIDS. And in an egoist system, it is questionable that bodily damage to yourself counts if the pleasure you get offsets it. Lesbians in particular do not clearly have any concretely negative consequence for their actions.

But Christians believe that homosexual sex is inappropriate, even when it does not inflict bodily damage. Although laws against it exist, the current Supreme Court has already moved in the direction of considering such laws unconstitutional. What is a Christian to do? We believe that the practice brings eternal harm and want to influence such individuals to change. But at the same time we might have difficulty finding clearly negative concrete consequences in most cases.

We could mention many other issues where most Christians believe something is wrong that does not have demonstrably concrete consequences--or at least bad consequences that we will convince the egoist of.

For example, what of the day after pill or stem cell research? An embryo with 100 cells does not have a nerve tube and cannot feel pain. How will we convince the egoist that this embryo has an egoist claim?

What of sex between consenting adults, say between two 60 year olds whose spouses have both died? How will we convince the egoist that there are concrete consequences that mean we should outlaw this?

In this zone of theological consequence I discern two basic approaches among Christians.

Approach 1: I'll call this the Calvinist approach. Because the true Calvinist does not believe in free will, because the true Calvinist believes that God has chosen who will be saved, the sovereign model of God to the exclusion of free will applies the same model to church-state relations. The Calvinist insists on making the state conform to God's will as he or she understands it.

In our system, the Calvinist approach often tries to co-opt the system (Christ over culture). It takes it over. It tries to use the legal process to make the law conform to its theology.

If the system resists, it may take an opposing stance, Christ vs. culture. It may bomb abortion clinics or engage in civil disobedience of a more Christ-like nature.

The greatest danger with this approach is the fact that it may try to impose a will that in the end is its own rather than God's. The other danger is that this is the wrong model for understanding God. To me it is interestingly close to the fundamentalist Muslim picture of God.

Approach 2: I'll call this the free will approach. This approach does not believe that God would allow anyone to go to hell without a real chance to choose Him. He enables us at some point to make a choice for or against Him. Some choose Him; others do not. God gives humanity the freedom to choose Him for our betterment and the freedom to choose against Him to our detriment.

This approach takes a model of influence rather than force. On matters where Christian values coincide with concrete consequence it works with the system for good. On matters of theological consequence it adopts a model of influence but clear separation. God will judge the world in the end.

Its danger is that it might allow sinners to harm themselves when they might be redeemed by more active "steering." If you favor the Calvinist approach, this is also the wrong model for understanding God.

Which approach do you favor? Since I believe in the second model of God, I lean heavily toward the second model.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Round 3

Well, the debates are over. More time to work, which is good. Less time to watch the fireworks, oh well.

I thought both did well enough. I thought both were sincere. They both were clearly appealing to their bases.

Bush was our down home good guy, the guy you laugh with at the barber shop. Kerry was the guy you chat with from your horse while you're fox hunting (as I so often do). No offence to either.

I don't think the math of either really works, but that's typical again of these election games. Promise everything in the campaign. Keep a few promises your first four years, even if it hurts the nation. If you get a second four years, then be realistic. Juvenal said it 1900 years ago--just give them "bread and circuses" and they'll be happy.

I thought Kerry took the "liberal" positions we might expect on many issues, although the political climate has forced him to move toward the center on several matters of foreign policy and economy. I think he will have to follow through on many of these issues if elected, regardless of his biases.

Bush stuck to his guns on his issues. If he's anything, he doesn't alter his course. That's good if you like his course, really bad if the course is off or if you don't like his trajectory.

Kerry apparently either decided to target his base (especially women tonight) or doesn't understand fundamentalists on issues like gay rights and abortion. I'm guessing he was targeting his base because he figures he has never stood a chance of getting the fundamentalists in the first place. He consistently takes a relativist position on these issues--"I have my views, but I can't impose them on others."

Of course Bush generally comes close to saying the same, but his base is willing to overlook his comments as what he needs to say to get by. They believe he will (wink, wink) work things their way once in office.

In short, whoever's policies you support, that's who won tonight.

Confessing Christ in a World of Violence

The following is a document drafted by several leading evangelicals, principally Richard Hays of Duke, George Hunsinger of Princeton, Richard Pierard of Gordon, Glen Stassen of Fuller, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners.

Confessing Christ in a World of Violence

Our world is wracked with violence and war. But Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). Innocent people, at home and abroad, are increasingly threatened by terrorist attacks. But Jesus said: "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). These words, which have never been easy, seem all the more difficult today.

Nevertheless, a time comes when silence is betrayal. How many churches have heard sermons on these texts since the terrorist atrocities of September 11? Where is the serious debate about what it means to confess Christ in a world of violence? Does Christian "realism" mean resigning ourselves to an endless future of "pre-emptive wars"? Does it mean turning a blind eye to torture and massive civilian casualties? Does it mean acting out of fear and resentment rather than intelligence and restraint?

Faithfully confessing Christ is the church's task, and never more so than when its confession is co-opted by militarism and nationalism.

* A "theology of war" is emanating from the highest circles of American government.

* The language of "righteous empire" is employed with growing frequency.

* The roles of God, church, and nation are confused by talk of an American "mission" and "divine appointment" to "rid the world of evil."

The security issues before our nation allow no easy solutions. No one has a monopoly on the truth. But a policy that rejects the wisdom of international consultation should not be baptized by religiosity. The danger today is political idolatry exacerbated by the politics of fear.

In this time of crisis, we need a new confession of Christ.

1. Jesus Christ, as attested in Holy Scripture, knows no national boundaries. Those who confess his name are found throughout the earth. Our allegiance to Christ takes priority over national identity. Whenever Christianity compromises with empire, the gospel of Christ is discredited.

We reject the false teaching that any nation-state can ever be described with the words, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." These words, used in scripture, apply only to Christ. No political leader has the right to twist them in the service of war.

2. Christ commits Christians to a strong presumption against war. The wanton destructiveness of modern warfare strengthens this obligation. Standing in the shadow of the Cross, Christians have a responsibility to count the cost, speak out for the victims, and explore every alternative before a nation goes to war. We are committed to international cooperation rather than unilateral policies.

We reject the false teaching that a war on terrorism takes precedence over ethical and legal norms. Some things ought never be done -- torture, the deliberate bombing of civilians, the use of indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction -- regardless of the consequences.

3. Christ commands us to see not only the splinter in our adversary's eye, but also the beam in our own. Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed that the distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another, or one group and another. It runs straight through every human heart.

We reject the false teaching that America is a "Christian nation," representing only virtue, while its adversaries are nothing but vicious. We reject the belief that America has nothing to repent of, even as we reject that it represents most of the world's evil. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

4. Christ shows us that enemy-love is the heart of the gospel. While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). We are to show love to our enemies even as we believe God in Christ has shown love to us and the whole world. Enemy-love does not mean capitulating to hostile agendas or domination. It does mean refusing to demonize any human being created in God's image.

We reject the false teaching that any human being can be defined as outside the law's protection. We reject the demonization of perceived enemies, which only paves the way to abuse; and we reject the mistreatment of prisoners, regardless of supposed benefits to their captors.

5. Christ teaches us that humility is the virtue befitting forgiven sinners. It tempers all political disagreements, and it allows that our own political perceptions, in a complex world, may be wrong. We reject the false teaching that those who are not for our nation politically are against it or that those who fundamentally question American policies must be with the "evil-doers." Such crude distinctions, especially when used by Christians, are expressions of the Manichaean heresy, in which the world is divided into forces of absolute good and absolute evil.

The Lord Jesus Christ is either authoritative for Christians, or he is not. His Lordship cannot be set aside by any earthly power. His words may not be distorted for propagandistic purposes. No nation-state may usurp the place of God.

We believe that acknowledging these truths is indispensable for followers of Christ. We urge them to remember these principles in making their decisions as citizens. Peacemaking is central to our vocation in a troubled world where Christ is Lord.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

An Ode to Derrida

Once upon a pan'cras churning
Went the Da to death a learnin'
Over the under takers he received the endless snore

Derrida went over the hill
To fetch beyond the pale
Death fell down and up he went
or down to the hereafter

Cancer comes without a care or bias
Can Sir Derr be present though he's gone?
All that's left is traces chasing traces
The dog is gone and only left a tale

So live that when your summons comes
Comes summons so that you no longer live,
Ol' Jacques had lived in Lethe,
For Lethe now he pines
As his pine box remembers
What in life he had forgot

Because he would have stopped for death
Had no effect on her
So buy some kind of presence here
Lest absence hear and kindly stop by in life, leaving a kind of emptiness.

Christ/State 5: Universal Egoist/Christian Overlap

To return to the train of thought on Christianity and Government, I suggested in the previous point that while a theocracy would be ideal, it runs into two problems/objections.

The first is that we do not have a perfect "point man" (or woman) on earth between us and God. The interpretive factor means we should stand somewhat loosely between our Christianity and the state. To confuse the two or impose one on the other risks an oppressive system.

The second is that God has not modeled a Christianity equals state perspective for us. The New Testament actually has a "two worlds" model--Caesar's stuff has nothing to do with God's stuff. And God has created a world where the weeds and wheat grow alongside each other (Matt. 13). He gives those who choose to disobey the freedom to do so to their detriment.

These factors push us away from trying to legislate coextensively with our Christianity. God does not call us to make the state look like a particular church. God has created a world in which a Satan or an Adam can fall. "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?", Paul says. "God will judge those outside" (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

The situational nature of NT teaching means that the story does not necessarily end with the NT model of church and state. For example, the early church had no role to play in government, unlike our current democratic situation. Nevertheless, the NT does not model the "make the state look like the church" approach so prevalent in conservative Christian circles. We might call this approach the "civil religion" approach, where the American flag and Christian flag stand side by side on our church platforms.

In point of fact, there is a good deal of overlap between the secular, universal egoist system we have been suggesting (and which approximates the basis of our Constitution) and what we would want in a Christian state. The universal egoist system tries to create an environment in which the happiness of all is maximized. Everyone is allowed to do whatever makes them happy as long as they do not impinge on the happiness of others.

On the one hand, the Christian approach is not egoist at all. We are to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6). We are to "look not only on your own interests but the interests of others" (Phil. 2). In attitude, the Christian approach is diametrically opposite to the egoist one. We are to surrender our rights and freedoms for the building up of the body (e.g., 1 Cor. 9).
But there is an overlap because both systems work for the happiness of all. The universal egoist works for the happiness of all so that the individual can be happy. The Christian works for the happiness of all because we love our neighbors.

The overlap in terms of law are the rules that keep us from harming one another. The egoist forbids murder so that he or she is not murdered. The Christian works against murder so that the neighbor is not murdered. The egoist forbids stealing so that his or her stuff isn't stolen. The Christian works against stealing so that the neighbor's stuff isn't stolen.

Next entree: what do we do with the points at which the Christian wants to protect the egoist from his or her own misguided pleasure? The egoist system has little room for this.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Importance of Mystery for Faith

These last few years I have really come to appreciate the importance of mystery for faith. On the one hand, I think most of us at least pay lip service to the idea that God is beyond our feeble human comprehension. I am less certain that we actually live out this belief.

I really believe that I will have to spend some time in heaven with a dunce cap on my head. How many times have I thought I have "captured" God's thoughts in my puny mind? Balancing out this goal of faith humility with my confident affirmations of faith seems a delicate task. It seems like we are always struggling to walk this fine line between essentials and non-essentials. It's like there should be a kind of footnote on all my thoughts--"These thoughts come by the grace of God by way of my limited human understanding."

But I think there is another very important reason to recognize the mystery of our faith, one in addition to our need to give God His due and acknowledge our feebleness. When we stake our faith on things that, in the end, are not a part of faith, we run the risk of endangering our faith if we begin to doubt those things.

For example, I'm convinced that one of the main reasons there was so much opposition to translations like the NIV when they came out was because many had bound their Christian faith inappropriately to a particular wording of the King James Version. When this was called into question, their faith became insecure.

In some of the lines of Paradise Lost, you can hear Milton's questions in the voice of Adam as he contemplates the emptiness of space. We are hearing the crisis that ensued when people finally became convinced that the earth went around the sun and that the earth was not, apparently, the center of the universe. Milton wrestles just a little with the insignificance of humanity in a vast universe.

One of the problems is that our Christianity is almost always incarnated in the form of a contemporary cultural understanding. In other words, it is always very difficult in some areas for us to see the difference between what in our faith is passing and what is transcendent. We can see differences between us and the world, but we often have difficulty seeing the places where we are conformed to or inappropriately impacted by the world.

An underlying sense of mystery is a valuable safeguard for our faith in such instances. We draw the core small and have strong beliefs on the rest, but we stake our faith on the core and place the rest under the heading of "mystery." If something challeges our faith in this category, we acknowledge our feeble understanding and leave it to the mysterious omniscience of God. Not that the form of our faith was even necessarily wrong--but I remind myself that my faith ultimately does not stand or fall on that particular issue.

What is the core? No one can lay any foundation other than that which is laid: Jesus Christ. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ, will come again! It is the existence of a God who cares and acts on the world, it is the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, that is essential to Christian belief. If we go much beyond these, we have entered areas where we can be mystified and yet our faith still stand.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The Bible as Sacred Space

Has there ever been a special place that immediately brought back fond memories as soon as you arrived? I enjoyed my years at college greatly, and I got more excited the closer I came on my way back from a break. My college was nestled in the hills of South Carolina, and I always enjoyed the final trek away from the main road and back into the country. It was the same at seminary. I always took a back road up through the hills of Kentucky.

There are many other places that immediately evoke warm feelings and pleasant memories. And of course there are places that bring other feelings and memories. There are songs that immediately conjure the feelings of ended relationships or the thrill of newly begun ones. The other day as I was walking to my car on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University, the sound of the charilon sounded, "Nearer my God to Thee." Thanks to the movie Titanic, I immediately became melancholy, pictures of those stuck on the Titanic dancing in my head.

It occurred to me the other day that the words of the Bible also occupy a kind of sacred space. God could surely speak to us anywhere through any words--a Reader's Digest for that matter.

But when we walk into the "room" of the Bible, something inside us suddenly becomes more open to hear God. We suddenly find our spirits transported to a spiritual and heavenly place where God speaks to us. It is a place of quiet loudness, of silent communication.

The Bible is a sacrament of revelation, a means of grace by which God takes words and makes them divine.

As you choose...

One question in the debate last night made my heart sink.

I spent three months in Germany this last spring with my family. Back in 1993-96 I lived in England while doing my PhD. Back in the 90's I was the fun American. I was the tutor who ordered pizza for all his mentees once a semester and who was sure to have a tin full of chocolate "biscuits" ready at a moment's notice.

During two months in Germany back then I was our fun representative to Europe. My presence invoked all the images of our comedies and movies to them.

The feeling was a little less friendly this past spring--even from my old friends.

One question last night referred to a recent trip someone's famliy had taken around Europe. The person noted how much latent hostility they picked up toward America right now.

As Americans, we are voting on many things this election. As Christians, abortion is probably the issue that alone determines how most of us will vote, and there's nothing wrong with that. Others vote primarily because of their views on the economy or on education.

But in the eyes of the world, this election is about one thing. Up till now, those able to make the distinction have been able to aim their anger and hostility toward Bush's administration and Bush himself. Surely the American people are not behind this immoral pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign nation, they might think.

And anger there is. Many in the Arab world were already angry enough at us to fly planes into our buildings. We have now alienated our borderline friends as well, countries like Egypt. No doubt our actions have inspired the creation of many new terrorist groups like the one beheading people in Iraq. Zirkowi's (sp) group is not Al Qaeda and didn't even exist before we invaded Iraq as far as I can tell. I believe that Bush has helped these people recruit thousands who otherwise might have continued to view bin Laden types as extreme (e.g. college students at the university in Cairo).

Even if the leaders of England, Italy, and (formerly) Spain have backed us, their people emphatically have not. Turkey, which once was incredibly friendly toward the US (if you know Drury and Lennox, ask them about their earlier backpacking adventures). Some of its people now have great anger toward us.

We have alienated "Old Europe," which incidentally still controls the EU. Bush treated them with a "who needs you" attitude back when he thought the Iraqi's would write songs in his honor. Well, they may have written songs about him! But of course now that he realizes we need their help he's eating static.

Now maybe you don't want to travel like I do. Maybe you don't like history and like to go to these places. The fact that much of the world is angry toward us right now might not "hurt" you as much as it does me. Of course there are important matters of economy that are linked to foreign relations as well (e.g. oil), and these could adversely affect all of us whether we like to travel or not.

I might describe the situation today like this: we had a bank account full of world sympathy after 9-11. We also had countless nations around the world who "owed us one" from various favors we had done them throughout the years. Our actions in Iraq have not only drained the bank of world sympathy, they have called in all our debts. No one owes us any favors any more.

To the world, this election is about one thing--is our invasion of Iraq just the action of a dangerous president, or does Bush represent the will of the American people in this war?

To the world, a vote for Bush is a vote that says all America supported this defiant invasion.

As you choose, prayerfully vote according to your values. But you should also be aware that in the world's eyes, you are only voting for or against this war.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

In Favor of Bush

Since the question of who to vote for is often a very sensitive issue for our faith, I thought I might post some arguments from a faith perspective in favor of Bush. Clearly I don't think this question is as "slam dunk" as some do, but for many Christians these factors are significant enough reason to vote for Bush regardless of all other issues.

1. Bush may very well be a born-again Christian.
I say "may be" because only God can truly see a person's heart. As I've written elsewhere on the blog, I actually think that Bush has good intentions for America and the world. I think that he probably did pray and wrestle with going to war. I think he probably did pray anxiously the night that we first bombed Baghdad.

Indeed, I think that Bush really does want a free and democratic Iraq and means well for the Iraqi people. I don't buy the oil conspiracies of the Michael Moore types. I think Bush really thought he was doing a good thing for the world when he invaded Iraq. Bremer let slip the other day that we didn't go in with enough troops to keep a handle on things like looting and insurgency. Why? I think part of the reason is that Bush really thought they would be overjoyed for us to liberate them and didn't anticipate the kind of resistance we would face. He meant them well.

I think that to some extent Bush operates with some of the same biases that fundamentalists have, and this is a strong reason for fundamentalists to vote for him. He comes closer to evangelical biases than Kerry does, and this again is a strong reason for evangelicals to vote for him.

Of course I refuse to demonize Kerry on the issue of faith. He does not have an evangelical faith. But he may very well have a genuine Catholic faith, although he is clearly not a "party line" Catholic (e.g. his position on abortion). I heard a recording on the radio of him leading a 1992 prayer breakfast in which he read from John 3 with ease and seemed to speak genuinely of the need for faith beyond what is seen. Of course I don't know what he really meant by his comments.

I will say that the urban legend going around about Kerry saying John 16:3 instead of John 3:16 is the typical religious propaganda that circulates this time of election--and that infuriates me. The same story was told about Gore in 2000 and was even on Paul Harvey. Cal Thomas has written the true origin: Bush senior originally said it at a prayer breakfast (you might remember how he sometimes got his words twisted around). Who is it out there that has to demonize every Democratic candidate by making up these stories, preying on the gullibility of their constituencies? Both sides do it all the time, and I find it infuriating.

But clearly Bush is the one who will operate more with evangelical biases in the day to day, behind the scenes decisions and appointments. Kerry will not operate with evangelical biases. Indeed, he won't even operate with Catholic biases. He will no doubt function with a "separation of church and state" model and will appoint liberal Democrat types behind the scenes. This fact alone is enough for many evangelicals to vote for Bush.

2. Bush will try to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court like Scalia and Thomas.
As we just mentioned, Bush will no doubt appoint individuals who will not try to create new law by way of the courts. We have gone a very long time without any new appointments to the Supreme Court, and there is a strong possibility that the next president will appoint several. For many Christians, this fact alone is enough reason to vote for Bush.

With regard to the issue of abortion, clearly Bush and his appointees will work more behind the scenes against abortion. Only Bush would possibly (and I say possibly, not definitely) appoint judges that would vote to reverse Rowe vs. Wade, sending the issue back to the States. I won't say that there will be fewer abortions under Bush, though. But clearly we would not have an anti-abortion president in Kerry. As far as the President is a gateway and behind the scenes influence on this issue, Bush is our man.

I will mention as I have before that some of the Christian rhetoric on this aspect of voting is smoke and mirrors. I don't think enough of us (including myself) are doing the right kinds of things to "win the hearts and minds" of the American people to where they see abortions as the death of a child. God wants us to obey Him, but created a world where we could make the wrong decisions to our detriment. I don't think you can change people with laws.

3. Kerry's voting record doesn't fit with the views of most Christians in our circles.
After Kerry's acceptance speech, Pat Buchanan said that he would vote for Kerry after that speech--if he didn't know how he had voted the last twenty years.

I don't think Kerry is really a flip-flopper at heart (as SNL said last week--he's not a flip-flopper; he's a panderer). His voting record shows his biases just as Cheney's does his. Kerry is a liberal Democrat. Even though he has presented himself more toward the middle, his inclination is no doubt going to be that of a liberal Democrat. Congress and the platform on which he has run will tether him a little, but we know where he basically stands. He protested against the Vietnam War. That says a lot about his biases.

Again, for many Christians this is a strong reason not to vote for him.

4. He tends toward the indecisive.
Whether his fundamental biases are basically the same--liberal Democrat--Kerry does seem to be somewhat indecisive and panders to his audience. I don't know if he would have taken us to Afghanistan, although surely he would have pursued bin Laden. For some this is a weakness in leadership that makes him a bad president to have at this time.

I have no doubt missed many reasons not to vote for Kerry and to vote for Bush. Help me out by making comments below.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Assurance of Salvation

Since I have been writing more side-notes than my "How to Vote" train of thought, I'm going to stop calling these side-notes. The How to Vote ones are numbered anyway.

I went to hear Steve Deneff and Chris Bounds last night on Savation and Sanctification. They both mentioned the idea that we might not just be able to be "saved" whenever we choose. The Wesleyan Church officially affirms instantaneous works available today on these issues. On this issue it actually disagrees with John Wesley and follows nineteenth century trends.

These suggestions are radically different from the concept I grew up with, namely, that you can claim salvation and sanctification at any time. The altar call of camp meetings and revival put you on the spot: come down here now or go to hell. I was an extremely shy child and these altar calls were torturous to me--and I mean that seriously, not as an overstatement.

Similarly I sought an instantaneous moment of entire sanctification. The model I remember being preached, one that haunted me, built off the picture of Jacob not letting go until God blessed him. The message I heard (although maybe I misunderstood) was that my salvation and sanctification rose and fell on my faith. The message was that I must abandon all else until I had experienced these things.

The search for these defining moments, which I took to be moments of discernable experience, may very well be the single greatest source of pain in my life--at least it must rank in the top two or three. I can also discern it at the root of some of the immense questions about God I had to work through in my late seminary years.

You see, I sought as sincerely as I knew how to have these experiences so glibly taught in my childhood and youth. I sought as someone without a clear sense of direction on how to seek--not from others, not from God. Try though I might, they would not come with the ease they had been preached and that others seemed to profess.

I prayed for saving grace (although I did not call it that) minute by minute of some days, even moment by moment (I am not exagerrating; I am being literal). "Lord, please forgive me if I've sinned. Lord, please forgive me if I've sinned. Lord, please forgive me if I've sinned." I usually could not think of any specific sins I had committed--especially since the last plea.

I asked God repeatedly into my heart without any sense of peace or change. The camp meeting song, "It was on a Sunday, somebody touched me" was also torturous, as we were expected to stand when they got to our day and I didn't know when (or if, I suppose) to stand.

Thankfully there was a day when by the mercies of God I felt peace after praying for forgiveness. Now I was able to pinpoint a moment of peace. But what was going on before that moment? Would I have gone to heaven if I had died? Was the problem that my pastors had created a "saving template" that in the end was not absolute? Or was I led to have false expectations of the process? Was the problem in me somehow?

Despite that moment of peace, asking God for forgiveness continued in my life from time to time. Not that I was strongly aware of intentional sins in my life. As far as I knew, I would have done anything for God, no matter what. I consistently tried to do what I knew to be right.

Judy Huffman knew me in these years--I was no rebel. On the contrary, I was one of the most conservate students at Southern Wesleyan. I once felt so guilty for dating a girl who wore earrings and slacks that I believed I had to break up with her--even though I desperately didn't want to.

I was committed not intentionally to violate the known will of God. I'm sure I did sins of omission, maybe even subtlely intentional sins. But I never sinned "with a high hand." I would be hard pressed even today to tell you a single instance where I intentionally did something I believed to be wrong in that period.

But I remember another Sunday at college when I spent the entire lunchtime in the same old pattern, begging God for some sense of his presence, asking for the forgiveness of my sins. On the way home from church I had confessed to a friend that I wasn't sure if I was saved. She was dumbfounded.

About a year prior to this I had claimed entire sanctification. On my way to college for the first time I had stopped overnight at the home of my sister, whose husband is a Wesleyan pastor. I had entered the sanctuary of their church determined that I would not leave until God "blessed me" with entire sanctification. Thankfully, I felt a peace at that time--thankfully because I had no intention of leaving that church until the work was done. I would not continue traveling to college until I was sanctified, even if I missed the semester.

As I look back now, it is hard for me to believe that there isn't something wrong with this picture. There are several suggestions you could make to explain what was going on. You could pinpoint the problem in God, but that doesn't seem very likely. :)

You could pinpoint the problem in me, and I know some would do that. Knowing how willing and desperate I was, I think I would almost have to conclude I was predestined for hell if the problem was in me. Some would question whether I had experienced true faith, but I doubt anyone who knew me in these years would question the authenticity of my complete belief and commitment to Christ. Perhaps I am wrong. But this was what created the doubts of my late seminary years--how can God be anything close to what we believe as Christians and not respond to the shrieking yearning of my heart?

Perhaps I am wrong, but the only answer that makes any sense to me is that my head was wrong, way wrong--that I had inadequate and inaccurate expectations of how God works or at least can work. The peace that I have now comes from a sense of God's grace--and His mysteriousness. I do not insist that God act just one way with all people--not that I'd have a problem if He did. But I'll let Him decide how and when he gets us to heaven.

The most likely answer to my questions seems to me that the preaching of my youth was out of focus--or at least that I understood it out of focus. I did not learn to wait on God's timing and to trust that He was okay with me in the meantime.

Which time that I prayed did God give me His Holy Spirit (this is more the question than when I was "saved" because salvation is much more a question of the judgment than of this present moment)? Perhaps it was the moment of peace. But I wonder if God would have received me all along because I was walking according to the light I had experienced.

Is there something fundamentally wrong, damagingly wrong, almost cause you to lose your faith in God wrong with the "claim it now" approach to salvation and sanctification? I don't feel qualified to answer this question.

But what if it is up to God when you experience His presence and assurance. What if you can't do anything to make this happen now? I now recognize the influence of the nineteenth century Phoebe Palmer on this change in Wesleyan theology. If these things truly happen by God's grace, then we can't make them happen just any old time.

I wonder if our message should more be informative. God wants to save you. He wants to give you His Holy Spirit and make you His child. Wait on this encounter.

But what happens if you die before this event happens? Do you go to hell? The picture of God I absorbed growing up would have said so. But what if this is the true moment of accountability, the moment when you could actually receive His saving grace and find the assurance of salvation? If you are walking in the light you have experienced, would you go to hell if He had not yet enabled you to have saving faith? Would that then indict God for judging us for something we could not possibly have done otherwise? He becomes the Calvinist God.

We do know that there were Christians in the early church who were baptized, yet had not received the Spirit. The apostles had to lay hands on them. These events reinforce Wesley's sense that the means of grace can facilitate the coming of this "moment."

But this one thing I do know: the approach I grew up with pushed me ever more in the direction of viewing God as absent and silent. He became the One who didn't answer when I screamed to Him in prayer. In short, it was not the God of peace that I now rest in!

I don't know it all. Maybe I don't anything, especially when it comes to questions like these. I look forward to the light that others can bring and to the light God will share when we see Him face to face.

This one thing I do know. I feel completely at peace with God, and I do not fear Him. If He gives me the strength, I will do anything He commands.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

How to Vote 4: The Ideal Christian State

I suppose the ideal Christian state would be a theocracy, where God ruled us directly. He would be the judge and police of all matters, and He would set the laws.

I suppose we have a phrase for this concept: the kingdom of God. This kingdom has begun, but it is not fully here. After the judgment, we who are in Christ will see this kingdom, and it will be wonderful!

But apparently it is not something that we can set up on earth with absolute success. Consider

1. The closest we seem to have come was early ancient Israel and perhaps the earliest church (all possessions in common, etc). But the theocracy under Moses and Joshua did not change the human condition. The period of the judges is not particularly an example for us to follow (cf. the less emphasized aspects of Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, etc). And the early church clearly had its problems as well (conflicts between Peter and Paul, Aramaic and Greek speaking Jews, etc.).

The problem is again the human condition. This condition not only includes the ever present power of sin in the world but also our fallen minds. Unless God appears directly to all of us, His will always comes mediated through human beings. The Bible is no exception since there is no interpretation we might have that does not pass through our minds. Calvin's Geneva thus turns out not to be a true theocracy, but the imposition of his interpretations on Geneva.

2. A second consideration is the fact that this is not how God himself set up the world. He set up the world with the possibility to reject His will. When the kingdom arrives, all those that are a part will be those who willfully submit to His will. Those who choose otherwise will not be a part of the governed in the kingdom. In the meantime, He apparently gives us the choice of disobedience.

The question is thus how our Christianity might reinforce, replace, supplement, or correct the scheme we suggested in the previous entries (sic, o mysterious one). The system we have suggested from a non-Christian view does not seem totally bad, for it aims at maximal happiness. And surely our happiness is in general a worthy goal, although perhaps not the only goal, especially if God's nature is love. Yet there are probably inappropriate means of happiness that we will want to consider.

Let's explore this question in more detail next entry. How should our Christianity affect the system we have outlined? We do not have the luxury of starting from scratch. In our democracy we can modify our laws, we can certianly supplement them. Some of our consideration is thus only theoretical--we cannot just throw out our current system and replace it. But if we could do anything, would we affirm it as it is, supplement it, correct it, or replace it?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Side Note: Bush: "It's not my job..."

Just a quick note. I guess Bush said yesterday, "It's not my job to take an international poll; it's to defend the country." He meant that he doesn't have to get world support to defend the United States.

Of course I agree, but this is the "fallacy of diversion" he has been using forever now, hoping that the American people are too stupid to notice (OK, that's an overstatement because I think he is being sincere in his own conscious mind. But it was effective, wasn't it?).

To quote Bush from Thursday night, "I know that Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that." But he's hoping the American people won't notice and think it was actually Saddam Hussein who masterminded 9-11.

Bush has every legitimate right to pursue those who have attacked the U.S. He may even have the right to go it alone in pursuit of those who are just about to attack us (I would require him to have nearly indisputable proof before I would allow this exception). But he doesn't have the authority to attack someone who hasn't attacked us or that might attack us in 10 years or that might support those who want to attack us.

Only with broad international support after every other reasonable avenue has been exhausted might I grant legitimacy to an action of this nature. In other words, I'm afraid President Bush is not God after all. I guess you will have to take a poll on this one.

This president is a fearfully dangerous man. My five year old son has no intention of shooting me, but I'm not going to give him a gun. This misguided president has a gun called the United States armed forces, and I don't trust his aim.

P.S. It's not too easy to find anyone else in the world who does either, a comment I make as someone who has lived in England and Germany for three and a half years of my life, including the three months I spent in Germany this last spring.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Side Note: A Tale of Two Candidates

I often do not enjoy debates but I was satisfied with last night’s. I don’t think either candidate embarrassed himself, and I felt that both fairly represented their positions. To my satisfaction, Bush confirmed my interpretations of his personality, character, and motivations. I thought Kerry fairly voiced my concerns with Bush’s policies, and he reminded me that he has been in the Senate for twenty years.

On presentation, I give the debate to Kerry. He was calmer (surprisingly Bush was the one who went over the time limit more and who asked repeatedly for an extra minute rejoinder) and looked more confident and comfortable. I kept thinking of the SNL skit where Bush has the answers written up his sleeve and pant leg—Bush kept pausing until he could find the right place in his notes. It was also apparent why they didn’t want us to see the candidates when they weren’t talking—Kerry did a much better job on presence.

On content, I personally would give the debate to Kerry as well, no doubt because he voiced the same objections I already had to Bush’s foreign policies. Obviously someone who agreed with Bush’s foreign policy would agree with Bush’s content more. Bush had the same problem last night that he had four years ago when I was more or less backing him: he tends to repeat phrases over and over without really specific content: “you can’t send mixed messages.” I think he did better last night, though, than he did four years ago in debate.

I don't really dislike either of these men; they both seem at least nominally likeable to me. Bush has really upset me with the war on Iraq and Kerry is probably a little snobish, but I am not massively turned off by either of them like I was with Gore and Clinton.

I respect Bush because I think he really is basically a straight shooter—what you see is largely what you get. I was a little suspicious of his opening comment about praying for the Floridians. He may have been sincere, but it sounded a little like a “nudge, nudge; wink, wink” to his Christian base. In other words, "You know I’m your man, the Christian, the one God wants you to vote for." I hope it was a sincere statement, because it would really upset me if he was using religion to get votes.

Having said this, Bush has some very clear weaknesses. I really think he knows that he has made fundamental mistakes and miscalculations with Iraq. That’s why he fidgeted the whole second half of the debate. He so much as said, you have to stick by your decisions (even when you’ve really messed up) because to do otherwise sends the wrong message to your enemy.

The so called "mixed messages" about Iraq thing is a sign to me of why Bush is actually a poor leader. "Tough decisions" involve acknowledging mistakes and then reseting your course appropriately. It seems to me that troops are trained to "do what you have to do" to get the job done. Bush gave them the wrong job at the wrong time. He's put them in a bad situation, but they will do what they have to do now that they're there to get the job done. That's the stuff of the honorable soldier. It's belittling to think they are not better situated than any of us to handle a "nuts" kind of situation (cf. Battle of the Bulge). Maybe the rest of us softies (or those who did not actually see combat in Vietnam) can't mentally get to such resolve. Maybe in fact it's the American public that Bush doesn't want to send a mixed message to.

You will not convince me that Bush would go to war with Iraq again if he knew then what he knows now. Is this stubbornness? Maybe. But we might also see it as him sticking with his “mixed messages” theme. If I admit how colossally I goofed and that I have foolishly killed over a 1000 American soldiers, what impact will that have on the troops (not to mention my reelection campaign)? By the way, the mention of a specific wife who lost her husband reminded me of the stuff Clinton used to do that made me cringe.

Bush confirmed my suspicions for why we really went to war. It was an overall strategy to stabilize the Middle East, primarily by creating a positive, democratic example in Iraq (pushed by conservative think tanks in Washington). As Bush said several times, “A free Iraq is going to make the world a safer place.” It will “set an example to part of the world desperate for freedom.” I really think these people have good intentions, although they don't know how to go from the classroom to real life where there is friction and opposition.

But you can’t make the invasion of a country a means to a different end, especially without international support. This doesn’t pass any ethical test I can think of. Bush’s business degree might help him with the economy, but I have a feeling he got C’s or lower in history and philosophy class. Okay for a business major; unacceptable for a president.

My thoughts on this subject have really crystallized of late—I agree that most of us will never use a great deal of the knowledge we learned in our college “gen ed” courses. Most of us do not need to know about Alexander the Great or utilitarianism to be successful in life. You don’t need to know Latin to pull a 2 million dollar a year salary with Enron. But most of us also would not make good presidents. A president should know more than we ordinary people. Those who don’t learn from the past are destined to repeat its mistakes. I don't want a C student as my president. I want the best I can get.

I hope people actually get the indisputable point that Iraq had no substantial connection to bin Laden. If I were on Saturday Night Live, I would really capitalize on Bush’s “Of course I know that Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that.” I’d have the person playing Bush say it with the tone of someone who had really gotten confused and was trying to cover it up by protesting just a little too loud.

On a more serious note, Bush’s clear inability to have any affect on the nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran is sobering. These are the places he should really have been concerned over more than Iraq. I fear that by diverting our attention to Iraq he has seriously compromised the real battle on terror in the world. I am really dumbfounded that anyone seriously thinks that the war on terror is really Bush’s strong suit.

The things Kerry said were acceptable to me. If he errs a little on the "soft" side, this is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is more Christ-like. We will not repair our relationships with the rest of the world--especially the Arab world--while Bush is president. Regardless of any contradictory sounding things Kerry has said (I don't think he has really contradicted himself as much as the sound bites make him sound, especially when you take into account how politics works), I don’t think we would be at war with Iraq if he had been president. And that would mean we would be in a much better place all around than we are now.

It’s not personal. I think Bush is a nice person, even with his foibles. But he’s failed as a CEO of the company. I think the appropriate course of action is best summed up by Donald Trump: “you’re fired.”

P.S. contrasting points of view are welcome