Of course, we cannot really know what's on the heart of politicians, except insofar as it pleases them to reveal their motives in any matter. I can't imagine any politician offering as his explanation for some public policy position that he just likes the feeling of power or that he frankly believes the government is a better judge of what's right and good for people than, well, people themselves.
Most political explanations - like those Harry Reid is trumpeting over the Senate's proposed health care reform bill - are couched in terms of wanting to do good, to do the right thing, the best thing for all Americans. Shall we give them that? Even if we do, we have solid Biblical grounds for questioning whether the right way to get people to do a good thing is to coerce them by law. After all, not even God does that.
When Paul sent the slave Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, it was with the idea that the latter would free him and take him in no longer as a slave but as a brother. Onesimus had run away to Paul in Rome, become a Christian, and was now being sent back to Philemon as a matter of course. Paul wrote that, given all that Philemon owed him, he had every right to demand of him the freedom of this new believer. But he wasn't going to do that. Rather, he wrote, he would appeal to Philemon in the name of love to set Onesimus free so that the former slave could flourish in Philemon's service as a co-laborer in the Gospel.
Paul appealed to Philemon's heart; he didn't try to lord over it. He pled love, not "rights." And here we get a glimpse at the apostle's view of how to induce people to do the good thing, the right thing in any situation. You don't force them, either by threats or laws or increased taxes. You appeal to them on the basis of love, for the sake of greater good to come, and as members together of the family of faith.
Oops...there's the problem. Not even President Obama seems willing to invoke the teachings of his faith in the pursuit of public policy. I suppose it's just easier, given the current majorities in Congress, to force people to do what he wants, and to feel really righteous and good about it all. He needs to know that what he is doing does not comport with the teaching of his professed faith.
It's never right to do the wrong thing. It's never right to do the right thing in the wrong way. It's only ever right to do the right thing in the right way, and the current attempt to reform health care in America, which may well be a good thing, is being done in the wrong way, a way that bypasses love and the common weal for the sake of self-righteous political agendas.
No, I haven't read the health care reform bills currently before the Congress, either from the House or the Senate. But what has been reported about them leads me to think the abundance of verbiage is not so much designed to craft a careful law as to cover crafty lawmakers.
As usual, lawmakers are finding ways of getting their favorite slice of the pie. Don't want a public option? No problem. Get your state to opt out. Want federal funding for abortion? We can do that - and not do it, too. Did your state recently suffer a devastating natural disaster? Well, OK, we'll continue to pay the Medicare benefits for your elderly (you wouldn't vote against your own elderly, would you?). Need a little money for the local med school? Can do.
I like our form of government. In the wrong hands, however, it's a joke; worse, it's a travesty, just like these health care reform bills. Selfish people writing clever legislation to conceal sweetheart deals, set-asides, and pork, and all the while congratulating themselves on their civic achievement is not my idea of the American ideal.
Soon all this double-speak, pious gesturing, and swindling of the taxpayers will be over. And then, if things continue as they have for many years, it will all start over again. I hear there are a lot of Christians on Capitol Hill and even in the White House. If the health care reform bills are the best we can hope for from Christian politicians, then heaven save us from the Christians.
Esther de Waal writes, "Who knows the secrets of the world? Not the learned men, but the poets." I note that she didn't include lawmakers in the possible answers. And yet America's lawmakers act as though not only do they and they alone know the secrets of economics, health care, and all other matters of public policy, they also feel duty-bound to codify their wisdom in laws thousands of pages long, encrypted with legal language only a "learned person" can understand.
The health care reform bills currently before the Congress are some 2,000 pages long each. The reconciled bill, if it comes to that, certainly will be longer than either the House or Senate version. This one bill - one act of law - contains more words than the Ten Commandments, the Code of Hammurabi, Magna Carta, The Mayflower Compact, and The United States Constitution combined.
Remember that old joke about 500 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? It came to mind yesterday when it was reported that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin had instructed Patrick Kennedy to cease from taking the Lord's Supper because of his position on abortion. The Catholic Church has been clear and unwavering in its opposition to abortion, and for the Church to take such a stand - no matter who the disciplined person - is simply to be consistent with its own convictions.
Church discipline as a tool to encourage holy living has long been in relative disuse among evangelical churches. These days a kind of "live and let live" - really, "sin and let sin" - attitude has taken hold, in which church leaders acknowledge that we're all sinners and don't really have any right to judge one another. Let's just hope for the best and keep it low profile.
But in fact Christian do have a responsibility to judge one another, as Jesus plainly teaches, and to use the standards of His holy and righteous and good law to encourage one another along the path of holiness. When we refuse to do this we simply encourage sin to take root within the community of faith, which it does, and has, with disastrous results.
Mr. Kennedy's supporters tried the spurious approach of saying that Mr. Kennedy is a "good Catholic" and doesn't allow his religious views to mix with his political responsibilities. Which is just another way of saying, as Bishop Tobin sees it (rightly), that Mr. Kennedy is not a good Catholic at all. The faith of Jesus Christ pervades every aspect of a believer's life, and every believer is accountable in every area of life to pursue holiness in the fear of God. You can't set the Lord aside for political - or relational, vocational, avocational, or any other sort of - reasons.
Thanks to Bishop Tobin for consistent practice of his pastoral duties. May his tribe increase.
Looking ahead to 2010, Adrian Wooldridge, writing in The Economist ("The World in 2010" special issue) observes that this is an excellent time for government to be hiring really smart people. After all, nobody else has any money to hire them, and governments in America and elsewhere seem willing to spend money to create government jobs, so why not hire the brightest people available to make government work smarter on less?
I'd like to ask Mr. Wooldridge, What planet are you visiting from? When governments get on a growth binge - like American government is at present - they're not interested in working smarter on less. They're interested in working more aggressively in order to accumulate more power over the private lives of citiziens.
Mr. Wooldridge seems to sense as much, because he doesn't think governments want to hire smart people. They just want to get bigger,and 2010 promises to be a banner year, "another year of disappointment: instead of getting smarter, governments will succumb to the old cycle of bloat followed by retrenchment." Well, let's hope not. Indeed, let's pray and work so that it may not be so.
What many Americans undestand, but few are willing to admit, is that modern governments exist primarily to serve the interests of elected officials, who ensure that their interests will be met by gratifying the whims and wishes of self-interested constituents. Bloated government is not the problem; selfishness is the problem, up and down the political machinery of the land, beginning with the electorate. We may be hearing high-minded language about returning to the Constitution of our Fathers and blah-blah-blah, but, at the end of the day, government will continue to grow as long as people continue to look to government to solve every problem, meet every need, and ensure their wellbeing against every contingency. Such dependency ensures growing government at the expense of individual liberty.
And since I don't see that situation changing in the next year - short of a nation-wide revival - I suspect that government will get fatter and not smarter during the year ahead. But I also suspect that very few of us will really mind.
I rise today to salute America's two favorite holidays. This is only appropriate, of course, as they are both upon us just now, one today, and one in a month or so. That these are America's two favorite holidays is obvious in a number of ways: heightened economic activity, special sporting events, elaborate public celebrations (Macy's Parade, TV specials, etc.), decorations and music unique to the season, and favorite traditions happily engaged by people all over the land.
These two holidays have become almost linked into one glorious season of celebration - rather like the megalopolis that takes in much of the east coast of our country. And so today, in honor of these holidays, and in recognition of how they seem to overlap and spill into one another, I propose that we consider renaming them, giving them a name that would be both accurate and apt, so that we might all understand clearly what this season is all about.
I used to work for a gentleman who did not like the word, "thing." Items have names, he would insist, and those names are important for identifying the function of each item. The more we use the names
The Obama Administration is gearing up for another go at establishing universal standards of educational achievement for America's schools. The present system is too diverse to suit the President and it has not succeeded in lifting the nation's children to the highest places of international achievement. According to The Economist (November 21st), "Arne Duncan, the education secretary, is offering more than $4 billion in total to states that pursue certain reforms - in particular, adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to compete in a global economy."
American education has descended to its nadir. If our highest aspiration for students is that they be the very best in the world at getting-and-spending, then we have missed the whole point of human development. We are not merely economical creatures. We are also moral, relational, aesthetic, spiritual, social, and creative beings. Apparently, however, all these aspects of the human person are to be made subservient to the one overarching goal of not being an economic drain on our neighbors. Let the kids get that instruction among their peers or from the pop culture.
But the sorry state of American education is not the fault of the Obama Administration. Parents and teachers whose greatest hope for children is that they get a good job are the main source of our pedagogical woes. In Scripture parents committed to teaching their children the ways and works of the Lord (Ps. 78.1-8). That meant children would grow up with a sense of moral obligation - to love God and their neighbors - as well as a disposition to wonder, give thanks, and exercise stewardship over the earth; pursue industry and show charity in work; and take responsibility for their famillies and those in their communities who were in need. "Making a living" is never touted as a goal in the Biblical philosophy of education; rather, it is simply one means whereby well-educated, faithful men and women worked together for a good society.
So if we wonder why our society isn't as good as it might be, look to the schools, but not the schools only. Look to parents, teachers, politicians, preachers, and all who neglect God's plan for the development of children, and substitute a religion of mammon for that worldview which the Founders of this nation embraced and taught.
Early reports indicate that tonight President Obama will take ownership of the Afghan war. He will ask for more troops. He will promise to train Afghan forces with greater earnestness and speed. He will demand of President Karzai that he get his house in order and take responsibility for the wellbeing of his nation. And he will chart an exit strategy to point the way home for America's fighting men and women.
I'm ambivalent about this whole situation. I know we can't just walk away from Al Qaeda, and the Taliban aren't going to lay down their arms any time soon. I also know that we can't fix Afghanistan and Pakistan overnight, so that the Taliban and Al Qaeda will in a short while have no haven of refuge or base for training. The President will declare a clear plan based on lofty ideals, high hopes, and unrealistic objectives. He will have given us his best thinking and strategizing, but it's not likely that we will be able to achieve the relatively quick exit he will propose - not, that is, without leaving the problem intact.
Nevertheless, we need to pray for the President and do what we can to support his effort to win this war. Anyone can criticize, and there is a place for pointing out errors in thinking and bemoaning tactical blunders. But this is not Mr. Obama's war. This is America's war, and it is a just war and will be for as long as it takes to win it. They take the low road who try to make political hay out of whatever the President decides to do in seeking to win this war. If the early reports are correct, President Obama is making the biggest decision of his presidency, and it's not a decision his friends or opponents should try to use to the advantage of political party or agenda.
America's war in the hands of America's president needs the prayerful support of the American people. The government is seeking to wield the sword against a most heinous form of evil - evil that strikes without notice against innocent people, then conceals itself amid other innocents to avoid retaliation. No matter how long it takes to suppress, control, and discourage such evil, good nations must commit themselves to the task.
This just in: Scientists may have "selectively" used (or not) data in making the case for global warming. Is anyone surprised? Look, when you want to see or do something so that such-and-such is the outcome, you will make choices and follow paths that will get you where you've decided you want to go. And with big names like Al Goreet al pumping the global warming gas bag, and politicians and corporations lining up to sign on, there will always be "scientists" ready and willing to provide the data they seek.
In exchange, of course, for recognition, papers at international conferences, citations in important documents, and, yes, government grants. What would surprise me is if the present brouhaha over selective science doesn't lead to boxes full of such items stashed away in freezers.
Don't let those white coats and pocket protectors fool you: scientists are as vulnerable to sin and errors of judgment as the rest of us. There is nothing objective, pristine, or pure about scientific activity. The reason all "respectable" science today is Darwinian, and the reason the only "approved" science for teaching in public schools is Darwinian is because that's the outcome people want - no need for God or the morality He requires, no need for faith and pompous preachers telling us what to believe. The scientific community will be our cadre of pompous experts and tell the rest of the world what's "go" and what's not when it comes to truth and such.
The majority of the public, however, could care less. What difference does it make? Actually, it makes a good deal of difference - economically, politically, spiritually, and ethically. If the public is not willing to see in this current flap of funny science a glimpse behind the curtain of the whole charade, then we will miss a significant opportunity to see science for what it truly is - one, and one highly fallible, means of getting at Truth, but by no means the only one.
So what do you think? Will Tiger's adultery cost him anything more than a brief period of shame and embarrassment, and a few million bucks if his wife decides to divorce him? Will he be any less adored as a celebrity? Any less feted for his athletic greatness? Will any of his endorsements be cancelled?
I suppose we were overdue for some famous person to be outed for an indiscretion. They've been coming 'round like clock work of late. So much so that the nation gasps, wags its collective head, than moves on to the next thing. Celebrity indiscretions seem to go with the turf. After all, when everyone is telling you you're larger than life, why shouldn't you act like it? And if our celebrity heroes can get away with larger-than-lifeness, why not the rest of us, too?
Tiger Woods' fall into "transgressions" (his word) is sad. It's also pathetic, pathetic for what it says about the state of our national morality. Live and let live has become the order of the day. We'll get over it. Tiger's wife and kid will get over it. The students in his special school will get over it. His fans will get over it.
And that's just the problem. The nation keeps "getting over" these moral outrages, and the only thing we learn is that, while there may be some momentary awkwardness associated with being found out, sooner or later, they'll get over it.
And we'll keep getting over it until adultery - or lying, embezzlement, fraud, or whatever - becomes the "new morality", just like fornication, recreational drug use, and abortion. Hopefully, though, Congress will pass a law to make sure that no federal funding goes to support adulterers.
The Economist (November 21st) reports on a meeting of business management experts to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Peter Drucker, who died four years ago. Drucker was the guru of gurus in business management, the queen bee of all modern management theorists, even those who went astray from his principles.
Certainly Drucker's principles of management - or principles deriving from those who learned from him - have affected the Church in America, and not always in positive ways. The Church is not an organization in the true sense; it's actually more of an organism. Church leaders err when they forget this and try to impose whatever management ideas may be fashionable on the task of leading a local congregation. At the same time, Drucker, like Moses' father-in-law in Exodus 18, identified useful principles for helping churches to realize more of their potential. But even Drucker's views - wildly successful though they have been - must be filtered through the Scriptures before they are put to use in building the Church.
The Economist points out four reasons why Drucker was so successful for nearly 60 years. First, he identified a need when few people acknowledged the discipline of management even existed. He spoke to that need, teasing out its intricacies and helping people to see a fuzzy issue with greater clarity. Second, he demonstrated his truth claims from a wide range of disciplines and historical epochs, thus persuading managers that his principles carried a certain objective reliability. Third, he resisted fashionable trends in managment and stuck to what he could demonstrate from a broad spectrum and long line of examples. Finally, he communicated clearly and in a relevant manner to those tasked with leading businesses and corporations.
These four reasons for Drucker's success could benefit church leaders as much as anything he ever wrote on management. We have truth to declare, and even though few want to hear it; yet we know it is precisely what they need. We can show the truth of our claims from a wide range of cultures and time periods, disciplines and endeavors. The truth we proclaim remains the same yesterday, today, and forever, and thus we must hold fast to it in preference to fashionable spiritual trends. Finally, we must learn to speak clearly and in terms relevant to everyday situations to show the power of our views to make all things new.
Drucker is not very exciting reading, but he makes good points. His life, however, is perhaps a better model than his theories for how church leaders might begin to navigate the ship of the Church out of the doldrums and back into the strong currents of contemporary society.
Climate-change gurus and heads of state will be gathering in Copenhagen this week - wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen - to work on damage control. The revelations of data-monkeying by members of the IPCC (International Panel for Climate Control) make climate-change treaties a little iffy these days.
Or maybe not. The scientific community has gained such a near-divine status in the eyes of most people that if they simply decide to shrug off the evidence of data suppression and data manipulation by IPCC scientists, it will probably all blow over in a short while. But, as I said last week, we must not miss the significance of these revelations.
What they show us is that science is not the values-free, all-objective enterprise it touts itself as being. Scientific work is shot through with presuppostions, faith commitments, and personal agendas, and what we see with the IPCC emails is probably not too dissimilar from what happens in many disciplines, albeit not so intentionally deceitful.
"The cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be," quoth Carl Sagan back in the '70s, and all his colleagues nodded in smug agreement. But science is not capable of making that judgment. Science deals in material realities and, so, by definition cannot pronounce on the existence or not of immaterial - spiritual - realities. Except, of course, with the authority of science back of it. Sagan also wrote that "arguments from authority are worthless." Presumably he didn't mean those made by scientists.
Science is a way of knowing, but only one way. Moreover, science is limited in what it can to what it can see, feel, hear, taste, touch, and manipulate (oops) in the lab. The scientific enterprise - like all human enterprises - is grounded in faith - in certain convictions and working assumptions that must be taken by faith - and that faith is based in human reason alone. So the conference in Copenhagen will be a gathering of faith-folk, a cult of religious priests and their state sponsors, wondering and full of wonder about the world we live in, but unwilling to consider that anything other than their own chosen epistemology can lead to real truth.
Meanwhile, school children will continue to be nurtured on the faith of science as though the IPCC scandal never occurred at all.