Monday, January 31, 2005

Three Cheers for the Shiites and Kurds

By accounts so far, the election yesterday went better than expected. Hurray! How could a Christian wish them anything but success in their movement toward freedom and democracy? Regardless of our debates over the way the war started and other issues, I have nothing but high hopes that it will turn out as well as the idealogues in Washington hoped it would.

Three cheers for the Shiites and Kurds, and may the Sunnis find their way to participation too.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Bush, Inaugurations, and Fights for Freedom

It looks like I'm finally done with a long project, so I can give my two cents on Bush's inaugural address. How could I have held off so long, you're thinking.

One thing I want to make clear again is that I really think Bush has good intentions. I'm not one of those who think it's all about oil, for example. And I'm really willing to believe that he's a born again Christian, although I don't think he has technically used these words of himself (I could be wrong).

Of course this doesn't mean I idealize him as a Christian whose example I want to follow. Anyone who knows me, particularly in class, know my failings. They are enormous, so I'm not saying I'm better than Bush on any number of things that are important--especially for being President.

On the other hand, there are some things I think he could improve on. I was disappointed that he didn't take the time to address the Tsunami immediately because he was on vacation. Sure, I respect the need for a President to have space--just like a pastor needs to have some space that the church can't get into. I don't think he did wrong--but he was not the best President that day.

And I was a little irritated that I had to be soothed by Gulianni after 9-11 while Bush was flying around somewhere in Air Force One. Sure, they needed to make sure he was safe. They did nothing wrong--but he was not the best President that day.

But none of these things are very serious or important. They're trivial matters that were just a little disappointing to me. I suspect Bush errs a little on the self-centered side, or at least he's not as caring and daring as I prefer in a President (remember Bush senior yawning and looking at his watch during Presidential debates).

But the address.

It scared me. Are we really going to try to overthrow every totalitarian regime in the world? Of course it was not a good speech because of its vague generalities. I've come to expect this from Bush. He repeats the same phrase over and over without really saying anything specific.

So what did it mean? What was he trying to say about what we will be doing the next four years? The speech didn't really tell me. Are we going to invade Iran and North Korea?

Well, we're not, even if Bush was thinking this. There's no way America will let him. If he proposes a new war, there will be a debate this time, and his reasons will come under scrutiny. There will be no "don't debate in reverence to those who lost their lives to 9-11." There will be no "don't debate because we need morale to be up."

Congress simply will not give Bush approval to attack any nation that does not attack us again. It's one thing to try to defend a vote you mistakenly made in the past. It's another to vote on something you're going to do with a lot more experience than you had the last time.

Of course, I could be wrong...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Infant Baptism

I guess one of Bence's classes got somewhat heated over infant baptism, so I thought I would weigh in.

First of all, I have divided feelings on the issue. On the one hand, I value my baptism. I can remember it, and it is meaningful that I can remember it. It symbolized for me my commitment to Christ. Notice the operative terms in this paragraph: I... I... I... for me my. Believer's baptism is "me" centered, and modern Western culture is individualist in orientation.

On the other hand, I think children are "in" until God brings them to the point where they can choose not to be. Did the early church baptize infants? I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if they did, for the ancient world was a group oriented culture (e.g., Acts 16:15, 33). I do believe that the children of Christians ate the Lord's Supper along with everyone else, since it was originally a meal (1 Cor. 10). The assumption would have been that they were "in" until one way or another they made it clear they were not.

Incidentally, my read on the New Testament leans toward the "security" rather than the "one sin you're out side." New Testament authors treat the members of their churches as if there is a long period of iffiness before a person is out and damned.

So I like the symbolism of infant baptism that puts a claim on the salvation of our children--not a presumption that they will be saved, but a commitment to cooperate with God's prevenient grace and a symbolic affirmation that they are more "in" than "out." They are sanctified by the believing parents and thus made holy (1 Cor. 7:14).

I believe children of an early age go to heaven when they die--whether they are baptized or not. I don't think they're like animals who don't count, and I have a hard time believing God sends them to hell when they had no chance at all.

Now also important is my belief that baptism doesn't actually save you. I think in theory you can make it to heaven without baptism (a relief to you Salvationists, Quakers, and babies out there). Nevertheless, I think it is an important symbol that the New Testament universally affirms as expected.

In fact, I think it is more than just a symbol in the sense that as a sacrament, I think it actually catalyzes God's grace to you. I would go so far as to say that I believe an infant who has been baptized has a better chance of eventually becoming a Christian than one that has not, even though I know this poses some issues for the matter of free will (but then again, so does the idea of praying for the lost).

And so, I see benefits to both. Believer's baptism is more meaningful to me because I make the choice and receive the sacramental benefit consciously. But as a parent, infant baptism places a claim on the child for God in a sacramental way and says, this child is God's--stay away Satan.

I wish we could do it twice, frankly, if it didn't seem to play games of disbelief with God. I would rebaptize someone if they wished, however, because I believe God is very pragmatic.

So where do I come down on this issue? I am sympathetic to both practices. Because baptism doesn't actually save you, I don't think the timing is as important as some people make it (the Wesleyan Church thankfully allows baptism at any age or even never at all).

But ultimately I had my children baptized because I didn't want them hanging in limbo during this period of their life (yes, in a Wesleyan church). God considers them "in" during this period, so I wanted them to be symbolically in as well. I also wanted them to receive any sacramental benefit it might carry.

And lastly I deplore the self-centered individualism of Western culture. Christianity isn't all about me. You (plural) are the temple of God, not you singular (1 Cor. 3:16). I think the next few years will see an increasing awareness among American Christians of how hyper-self-preoccupied we are--without even realizing it, I hate to say.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Bush's "Bring It On"

Now that the election is over, Bush is more willing to talk about his miscalculations. Frankly, I can't blame him too much for not talking about them before the election. I mean, I don't expect him to be stupid. He clearly made the right political move in staying on message and not admitting to mistakes.

But his recent comments are so "old news" to me and anticlimactic that why is he even talking about it? Isn't this exactly what I and so many others have been saying forever now?

Here is an excerpt from AOL news on Bush's recent comments:

"On July 2, 2003, two months after he had declared an end to major combat in Iraq, Bush promised U.S. forces would stay until the creation of a free government there. To those who would attack U.S. forces in an attempt to deter that mission, Bush said, 'My answer is, Bring 'em on.'

"Sometimes, words have consequences you don't intend them to mean," Bush said Thursday. "'Bring 'em on' is the classic example, when I was really trying to rally the troops and make it clear to them that I fully understood, you know, what a great job they were doing. And those words had an unintended consequence. It kind of, some interpreted it to be defiance in the face of danger. That certainly wasn't the case."

What was that all about?

I and and so many others have been saying forever now that the War on Iraq far from slowing down terrorism has simply "brought it on" with such force that we are in a much more precarious world-wide terrorist situation than before 9-11. Bush wasn't admitting this much, admittedly. He was just reving up the troops. I mean, he had no idea that we might actually face some serious opposition. At least that's not what Wolfowitz was telling him... :)

I don't want to hear feeble admissions. Just don't make any more colossal blunders and get us out of this mess.

Nonsense Over Prayers

Michael Newdow is at it again. He is trying to get the courts to ban Bush from praying in Jesus' name at the inauguration.

I get so angry at both sides on issues like this one. On the one hand, who cares whether this guy feels like such prayers "force him to accept unwanted religious beliefs." Of course they don't, but what a wimpy argument. Let's move churches away from public thoroughfares so that he is not forced to acknowledge that some people believe in God as he passes. Come on, no one's forcing him to believe in God, the sissy. Oh no, I just saw a mosque, I'm being uncontrollably sucked into the vortex of Islam. Get a life.

On the other hand, America is not a Christian nation. It may be a nation with a large degree of Christian influence in its history, but Christianity is not its official religion. While I don't think the establishment clause means separation of church and state, if it does mean anything it means that America does not have a specific religious identity. If Christians want to make it a Christian nation, they will have to change the Constitution, perhaps even practice civil disobedience.

But be willing to suffer the consequences. If you want the 10 commandments in your courthouse as an endorsement of a specifically Christian ethic to the exclusion of others, you are doing so unconstitutionally and prepare to be removed from office. There's nothing wrong with being willing to go to jail for violating the law on principle. But don't pretend like you're somehow acting within the current Constitution's limits.

The Constitution advocates pluralism, the equal practice of all religions side by side. In doing so it does not endorse any. This is the difference between separation of church and state and the non-establishment clause. Non-establishment allows for pluralism. Bush can pray a Christian prayer and if we elect a Muslim next, he can pray a Muslim one. We can have the 10 commandments in our courthouses, along with the Code of Hammurabi and other laws. We can say "in God we trust" as a traditional formula without specific endorsement of any one understanding of God. We can have manger scenes on courthouse lawns, but get ready for Kwanza and Hannukah too.

Separation of church and state, on the other hand, is the attempt to eliminate religion from the public forum. This is almost to establish atheism as the national religion.

So Newdow needs to get a grip and allow that the rest of us are free to unoffensively practice our religion in the public forum. Meanwhile fundamentalists need to get through their head that they will have to change the Constitution to make this a Christian nation. America is currently a melting pot, a religious neutral zone. Its current set up is not to eliminate religious life, but to allow all to practice their religion as unencumbered by governmental interference as possible. Maybe we as Christians should work to take over America. But as it stands, we haven't yet.

P.S. My philosophy class is using a blog if you're interested: