Today the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to begin regulating poisonous gases which are being intruded into the atmosphere. I hope they mean it. And I hope they begin in their own back yard, by regulating the poisonous gases being emitted by congressmen such as Senator Harry Reid.
Senator Reid yesterday made the most outrageous comparison between those who are holding the line against health care reform and those who opposed the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. This kind of rhetoric is beyond hyperbole; it is absurd, sophomoric, and mean. The Senator from Nevada will not apologize for his comment; indeed, in a later press conference, he stood adamantly by it.
Either Senator Reid is an unthinking buffoon or simply a jerk. Either way, he exemplifies the kind of rhetoric we are hearing more of these days from the nation's capital - empty of substance, meant to inflame or embarrassment, convenient and cruel, in a word, stupid. This is the kind of rhetoric we have often heard from certain segments of the political right, including certain Christian voices, and which those on the left routinely decry and denounce.
So let's see if the EPA really means it. Before they go fining, taxing, or shutting down various industries, or denying permits and licenses to others, the EPA should put a muzzle on the Harry Reids of Washington. Because if they can smell the foul odor and posionous content of such political gas in their own back yards, how could we possibly expect them to do any better with the nation's economy?
Not infrequently I come across items that leave me saying, "Man, I wish I could be more like that." In the hope that writing about such items might engrave them on my soul - and perhaps be of encouragement to others - I have decided to launch an occasional series of meditations in ReVision.
ReVision, after all, has the purpose of causing us to think again about a matter, with the intent of provoking some response that might lead to conversation or other action on behalf of a Christian view of life. So this "More Like That" series would seem to fit in with the mission of this five-days-a-week musing.
At the Climate Summit in Copenhagen the delegate from Bangladesh weighed in on the importance of reaching agreement on global warming and the necessity of an international treaty on climate change. The gentleman allowed as how, since Bangladesh was going to suffer the most from the continuing effects of carbon dioxide emissions (how he knew that was not clear), it stands to receive the most money from primary polluters such as the United States.
The shady emails from members of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notwithstanding, the world is pressing on to establish yet another means of transferring the wealth of industrial nations to developing countries. Europe and the United States are not only not objecting to this ploy, they're actively supporting it. President Obama is talking about $10 billion in aid to developing nations so that they can join the ranks of CO2 producers and, who knows, perhaps send some of America's money back to us?
The whole climate change industry has always seemed shaky to me, not because I don't think the planet is heating up. It well may be, just as it has done in cycles ever since the first day of creation. My concern is political and moral.
It's not hard to see a certain philosophical agenda at work in all this, one which insists that the transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor is among the highest of political ideals - the greatest good for the greatest number. Money purchases power, as we see all too frequently in our own politics. And where money is involved between nations, regulatory agencies must be established, requiring nations to submit to what is becoming a de facto world government - the continuing proliferation of treaties, protocols, and statutes binding all nations to this or that obligation.
But economics is just the way in. What moral requirements - one child per family? "non-discriminatory" hiring practices? eminent domain? - will follow once the nations of the world have learned to agree on how to move the money around?
Next they'll be wanting to build a tower to heaven in order to make a name for themselves.
There was a period in my life when I swore off the evening news. Those were days of peace and contentment.
But not watching the news doesn't make the world go away, and the more I watch the news, read the periodicals, and reflect on the goings-on of our nation and world, the more at a loss I am for words to express my amazement, unbelief, consternation, concern, and anger. Our leaders are digging a hole of debt from which we will never recover. Smarming their way around the world they are engaging a foreign policy which is feckless and dangerous. And these same leaders are seizing control over more and more of our lives as though it were their destiny from on high.
Finding words to share five days a week about this situation can be difficult, and, for you the reader, tiresome. So today I'm going to let Czeslaw Milosz, the late Polish-American poet and Nobel Laureate speak for me. I thought you might resonate with this poem from 1950, shortly after his defection from a role in the communist government of Poland:
You Who Wronged
You who wronged a simple man
Bursting into laughter at the crime,
And kept a pack of fools around you
To mix good and evil, to blur the line,
Though everyone bowed before you,
Saying virtue and wisdom lit your way,
Striking gold medals in your honor,
Glad to have survived another day,
Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You can kill one, but another is born.
The words are written down, the deed, the date.
And you'd have done better with a winter dawn,
A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight.
Administration officials seem to be at odds over the state of the current recession. One says it's over, another laughingly disagrees. Perhaps more stimulus would do the trick? Would just a little more federal money at last begin to create more jobs and bring this recession officially to an end?
A report on Fox News Monday evening explained that three universities in Iowa found a creative way to put stimulus money to use in the area of jobs. Not in creating jobs, but in ending them. $43 million of stimulus money was used to buy instructors out of their contracts and move them into the ranks of the unemployed.
So is the recession over for them? Talking yesterday with Chris Jones about this, he mused that "we can never overestimate the creative imagination of sin." Nice ring, that. The creative imaginations of Washington lawmakers are certainly soaring in unprecedented ways these days. And if the Iowa situation is any barometer of the clever ways Americans can discover to take advantage of government idiocy, well, we may not see the end of the recession any time soon. But the end of the republic?
Americans, it seems, have lost the ability to be motivated in their actions by anything other than the love of money. Everything Congress or the President proposes is couched in terms of economics.
Citizens of Thomson, Illinois, support the transfer of Gitmo detainees to their community because doing so will create 3,000 jobs and bring billions of dollars to a 600-person town.
President Obama, speaking at a Home Depot store in my neck of the woods, explained that people should improve the weatherizing of their homes because it's sound economics, and saving money is "sexy."
A radical and probably irreversible incursion on the freedom of Americans is on its way to becoming law - "health care reform" - and the primary arguments in favor of this massive government takeover of 1/6 of the nation's economy entail that it will lower the deficit, lower insurance premiums, and allow everyone to have more money.
The nation's shoppers are dashing hither and yon to purchase Christmas presents for their loved ones, enticed to this or that store by massive price reductions in the hope that retailers can end the year in the black. Now we know what "merry" is all about.
Children attend school for twelve years, where they are shaped and prepared to become productive contributors to our getting-and-spending way of life. Then they head off to college for more "refinement" so that they can get the best job - the one that makes more money.
Americans have all become tired and weary dobbins, pulling the debt-laden cart of our economy, their eyes fixed on the dollar dangling before them, with blinders attached to their eyes, firmly installed by every information outlet and center of influence in the land, to keep them from thinking that anything else might be worth pursuing.
Where is all this heading? More prosperity? More happiness?
A Rasmussen poll indicates that while 35% of Americans favor the Democratic Party, and 28% the Republicans, 41% of Americans identify with the Tea Party Movement. Is this a good thing?
What do the Tea Party folks want? We know what they're against, and we know they're very, very upset, even outraged. But outrage does not easily translate into political platforms, candidates, and activity. It simply feeds outrage. When Mr. Obama completes his move to the center of the political spectrum, sometime early summer, I suspect, will the Tea Party organizers be able to sustain the outrage for the fall elections?
It seems to me the Tea Party folks have three options if they want to become a viable political force in this country. First, they have to go through all the formal organizing procedures and protocols that will establish them as a legitimate political party and make it possible for them to raise candidates and get them on the ballot. That's a possibility, but probably not before next fall.
Second, they could mount the most massive write-in campaign in American history, identifying candidates who will support their agenda and urging their followers to write them in on ballots all over the country. Nah.
Third, they can foreswear all aspirations to become a political party and try to discover some real agenda items which will help to restore a measure of sanity and honesty to American politics. Then they could join one or both of the existing political parties and work for their agenda from within. That's not likely to work, either, since the existing machinery tends to grind sharp edges down to smooth stones that look like all the other smooth stones in the party.
But then, I'm not omniscient. Each time I see a clip of the Tea Party folks I remember Thomas Kuhn's argument in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In that classic work Kuhn demonstrated that major paradigm shifts in scientific thinking do not come from within the existing structures of the scientific community. The come from the fringe. A few existing protocols are challenged an debunked, one or two new ideas - foundational ideas - show promise, And the next thing you know, we have a whole new paradigm for how to do the work of science.
Something like this might work to translate Tea Party outrage into real political change, but the leaders of this movement need to be getting their heads together, targeting sacred cows, and ramping up to lead in a better direction.
Senate Democrats are now poised to pass major health care legislation - not reform legislation, just legislation. The votes are now in place, and, because the Senate version is such a squeak-through, it will probably trump the House version and be the final bill, or close to it.
The Democrats are taking a major gamble in this legislation, which is opposed by over 50% of the American public in an election year in which all the House and a third of the Senate will stand. Why would the Democrats take this risk? What are they counting on to see them through?
Four things, it seems to me. First, the popularity of President Obama. We know he will be campaigning on behalf of every Democrat up for election, pleading with the electorate to help him finish his massive re-casting of American government. Second, the inability of the Tea Party Movement to maintain momentum into the fall. You can't run a political movement on sentiment and without visible, credible leaders. Third, the historic ability of Democrats to rally more people - most of them real - to the polls than Republicans. Fourth, the Medicare precedent - Medicare was passed into law with very low public support, but most people now consider it a good thing.
It's a big gamble, but it will probably pay off. By next fall, with President Obama firmly ensconced in the center and the economy looking a little better (although artificially so), most Americans will just go with the flow, and the flow is toward more government intervention and control, which means the Democrats should be fine in November.
The Democrats believe they're holding four aces, and they are gambling that their opponents don't have a straight flush. Unless the Republicans and the Tea Party Movement can reach some rapprochement and get their cards together, the Democrats' gamble may pay off.
The immorality of the pending health care legislation is slowly coming to light. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada today extolled the Democrats' victory and explained all the horse-trading and deal-making as "the art of compromise." He said that any Senator who didn't practice this was not a very good Senator. I assume that by "good" he meant "effective" or "efficient" rather than "righteous."
Hmmm. A new hospital for Connecticut. Special deals for "frontier states." $300 million for Louisianna and the "Cornhusker Kickback" for Senator Ben Nelson and the good folk of Nebraska - soon to become the homeless and jobless capital of America. This is not "the art of compromise." This is the politics of smash and grab. Somebody shatters the glass by putting legislation on the table, and everybody tries to grab everything he or she can get - for his or her state, of course.
Which really means for him- or herself - payoffs to the good people of their state to keep themselves in office in perpetuity. Senator Harry Byrd of West Virginia is the world's champ at this, but many younger members of Congress are off to a good start.
The work of politics is supposed to revolve around the polis - the city or state - and to be concerned with the overall wellbeing thereof. So how does it help the good people of Tennessee to have to pay for Senators Dodd, Reid, Landreau, Nelson, Baucus, et al to be able to pay their way into office for the foreseeable future? That's what it comes down to; with two Republican Senators, all Tennesseans will get from the smash and grab of health care legislation is the privilege of paying for the deals swung in other states by lawmakers interested above all else in retaining their privileged status as national leaders.
The real immorality, however, is that voters have become so accustomed to the bribery, special treatment, and grandstanding of American politicians that we think there's no other way to do this job. That's what Harry Reid seems to think. Will Americans ever sicken of all this chicanery, stiffen their moral backbones, and say, "Enough!"?
America's political leaders are making decisions today that will affect the nation's future for the next generation. Increased government involvement in the economy, policy decisions affecting the environment, the growing sense that our war with Islamic terror will continue indefinitely, and dramatic overhauls in education assessment are just some of the ways that the nation's leadership is trying to reshape the outlook and make-up of the country in the face of grave dangers and growing needs.
It is the part of wisdom to be thinking long-term in dangerous and tenuous times like these. We may not agree with all the decisions being made and the directions taken, but we can be grateful that at least some people in the nation's capital seem to be thinking about something other than their own careers.
But what about in the Church? The same dangers that face the nation face the Church in the nation. Where is the evidence that Church leaders are thinking long-term about the growth and health of the Body of Christ? Will Christians play leading roles in government, the economy, the arts, and higher education in the years to come? Will the Church take up the challenge of aggressive Islamic expansion here and abroad to recruit, train, and deploy a new generation of missionaries to the Muslim world? Will churches train their children to love the Law of God and live it faithfully, so that the old morality may one day become the new morality again?
These are not idle questions. Most churches don't even have a one-year plan; indeed, most church plans consist of little more than perpetuating the status quo indefinitely into the future. Denominations plan in terms of new churches and more members, but not much effort is given to how the Church will press the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit into more and more areas of American life and culture. The American Church is a divided body, and little effort is made on the part of denominational and other leaders to seek the Lord together for revival and renewal across a wide swatch of American life.
Short-sightedness will leave the Church vulnerable to whim, disillusionment, and heresy. We can no longer afford the luxury of each pastor and each congregation pursuing their own little spiritual feifdom. Do I expect to see anything like a general conference to begin thinking about the Church and the future? Sadly, no. But we must issue the call nevertheless. Pastors could begin in their own communities by coming together to identify pressing community needs and brainstorming steps the churches might take together to work for the shalom of their neighbors. That could lead to larger, nation-wide efforts which could have nationwide, worldwide, and generation-spanning effects.
We cannot continue to function in short-sighted ways and expect that the Church we hand over to our grandchildren will look anything like it does today. Pastor, church leader, members of local congregations - look to the far horizon, seek the Lord together, pray for revival, and work as if the wellbeing of the world depended on the faithfulness of the Church.
Esteem of the Church in the secular world has slipped to an all-time low. That, at least, is the impression one gets reading William H. McNeill's contribution to a special issue of The Hedgehog Review devoted to the emerging cosmoplitanism. In the face of a worldwide movement to create a "global community" McNeill is concerned about the world's large urban centers.
All semblance of meaningful community in the megalopolises of the world has been undermined by a wide variety of factors. But McNeill finds the Church a possible source of hope: "What is needed is a form of primary community where people feel secure at home, surrounded by others with whom to share the cares and triumphs of private life, without generating angry frictions with outsiders." He believes the Church might fill this bill: "Within cities, however, one of the greatest inventions of human history was the creation of portable, universal, and congregational religious associations that eschewed violence on most occasions, and by gathering together for worship, once a week or more often, provided members with an effective substitute for the more all-embracing primary communities that hunters and villagers enjoyed."
Churches might fill this need for primary community, but McNeill is not hopeful: "So far, religious responses to uban loneliness and urban demoralization seem the only unmistakable wave of the future that is yet apparent, and its current manifestations seem more divisive than healing for society at large." We see the wisdom of Jesus' exhortation, echoed by Paul, for churches to work together for sound, visible oneness if our witness is to be credible in the world (Jn. 17.21; Eph. 4.3).
So, ultimately, McNeill doesn't hold out much hope for the churches to accomplish this much-needed sense of local community. But he's not yet despairing. He's hit on something he thinks could do the job. Given the failure of churches to achieve meaningful unity, McNeill turns to a more primitive and, he believes, hopeful cure for the loneliness and desolation cities tend to foster.
William H. McNeill believes that finding ways to encourage community dancing and even marching drill and calisthenics can do the job of restoring a sense of community to the cities of the world. Not faith. Not the churches. Dance.
How low has the Church's esteem in the eyes of the world dipped when dance is seen as a more viable remedy for personal and social ills than the faith of Jesus Christ?