T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

Whose Kids?

May 21, 2010
The "Texas Textbook Wars" illustrates a problem of which most Americans are completely unaware. In Texas, as you know, 15 people - 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats - are deciding what the curriculum and textbooks shall be for millions of Texas school children. Because of the size of the Texas schools program, their decisions will impact textbook publishing and curricula for school systems all over the country.

In essence, this means that 15 people - Texans, no less, or Texans, at least, depending on your view of Texas - are about to determine the course of the education of America's children for the next decade. I can't think of a better example of the danger of turning the education of our children over to the State. Government has proven itself completely incompetent to manage the education of America's children, but here it is yet again, setting the course for the next generation of school children, and most Americans are simply yawning and reaching for the remote.

Back in the early 19th century, when public school was just beginning in America, parents retained the control they had had over the education of their children since the earliest colonial days. Each political precinct in the growing nation had its own school board - 160,000 compared to somewhere around 16,000 today, and, of course, Texas - and the school boards were responsible to the parents to teach the curriculum the parents required of them. From the beginning of the American experience parental control of the education of their own children was the norm. No longer.

If there ever was a better argument for private schools, home schools, classical schools, and most other alternatives to public education, I don't know what it is. No state government, nor the federal government, should be given the reins for the education of our children, yet here we are with a nightmare scenario, and few people seem to care. By whatever means parents can resist or avoid this pedagogical travesty, they certainly should. This is not to impune the good work done by many public school educators, including many Christians. It's simply to point out that this system is insane, and we are insane if we simply sit by and let it continue to operate as is.

T. M. Moore
Esther Duflo is an award-winning economist at MIT who works in the field of development economics. This is the branch of the dismal science which seeks to lift poor people out of poverty by throwing money at them by one means or another. The extremes of development economics are, perhaps at one end of the spectrum, government aid programs that seek to channel money to the poor through other governments; at the other end are the microfinancers, who make small loans to aspiring capitalists in impoverished neighborhoods.

Esther Duflo is not convinced either of these - or anything in between - is working. She doesn't insist they aren't, she just doesn't know. But she cares about the poor and believes that economic solutions must be found as part of a comprehensive answer to try to help them to a better way of life. So her calling is to study impacts. She spearheads an effort to use random sample testing, in a variety of economic development projects, in order to see which are working and which are not. Ian Parker tells her story in the May 17 issue of The New Yorker.

Dr. Duflo summarizes her calling: "I have on opinion - one should evalutate things." And that's what she does, in test after random test in poor countries around the world, challenging the settled assumptions of development economics and trying to see what actually works. She will not accept merely anecdotal (testimony) feedback; Dr. Duflo wants hard facts, and she and her teams are determined to shake-up the field of development economics, which she sees as going from fad to fad and pointing to the occasional success story as indication of success. Esther Duflo is committed to finding the hard facts, however. Her commitment is "to use evaluation to explore theories."

Now this is a good idea and another indication of the truth of Jesus' statement that the children of this age are wiser than the children of light. Because isn't it about time that we began to examine some the settled assumptions of how we do church in this country? Are "seeker" congregations really winning people to Christ in tranforming ways? Is big and pop really better at making disciples who deny themselves and take up their crosses to follow Jesus?

With all the push and striving to become more contemporary, business-like, and market-led in America's churches, you'd think we might want to know whether such a dramatic shift is really worth it. But where is the evaluation? Where are the hard data to support this radical change in the way we do church? There isn't much, and much of what is is still mainly anecdotal.

Meanwhile, contemporary and "seeker-friendly" or not, the Church continues to drift to the margins of society. Somebody really ought to open up the hood and see if what we're doing is working.

T. M. Moore
"Plug the damn hole!" With that outburst of frustration yesterday President Obama signalled that he may be coming to an understanding of something many of us tried to tell him before he took his oath of office: there are limits to what government can do.

The President came to office promising "hope and change," insisting that he was going to reinvent the American government so that government could be more responsive and efficient in meeting the pressing needs of the people and creating a more just and prosperous society and world. A majority of the voters believed it was so, thus indicating their own naive understanding about the limits of government.

Now, almost two years into the era of hope and change, we are discovering that government cannot make Iran or North Korea behave. Government cannot persuade the Russians or Chinese to go along with American foreign policy objectives. Government can't tell the Israelis what they can and can't do. Government can't save Chrysler. Government can't get the unemployment rate down. Government can't reform Fannie and Freddie. Government can't stop corrupt and self-serving earmarks. Government can't stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Government can't get the Republican Senate to cut it a break. Government can't muster the courage to seal the border with Mexico. And government, by the President's own admission, can't satisfy or buck the political left.

Government won't be able to fix the health care system or return the environment to pristine pollutionless condition, either. Yet government will doubtless continue to promise, probe, press for change, and push expansive legislation, all indicating that the biggest thing this government cannot do is learn the great lesson presently being written large in real-world America:

Government is not God.

But as long as this government continues to posture as though it were God, we can be sure of this much: God will limit the effectiveness of this government and allow it to put in jeopardy the wellbeing of the very people who hoped in its promises for change - promises it is, by definition, unable to deliver.

T. M. Moore

Pay for Grades?

May 28, 2010
One of the most recent attempts to improve school performance by children involves paying them for grades. A report in The Economist (May 22nd) describes two separate studies done with American and Israeli school children, in which the children were offered money to improve their grades. Each test took a bit of a different tack - one paying for test outcomes, and the other paying for the number of books read.

The results are inconclusive. One of the problems with American kids is that they simply don't know how to do any better. It's not that they're lazy or uninterested in education. They just don't know how to improve. Which means they aren't being taught how to learn. Which means they aren't being educated at all.

Those children who were paid to read more books actually did a little better on their exams, and they continued doing better and reading books after the incentive was removed. Here the kids were enticed to pursue a learning methodology - reading - and the outcome was at least more encouraging than with those students who could not improve their test scores, not even with a wad of money awaiting them.

I'm troubled by these reports for two reasons. First, it's alarming to know that America's children do not know how to improve their learning skills, that they have not been given the basic tools for learning that they will need for the rest of their lives. Second, the idea of paying students to study harder reveals, in my view, the base economic motive that permeates American education today. Students are encouraged to learn for economic reasons, so that they can get a good job and enjoy the good life. Learning for the joy of learning is evidently not a sufficiently compelling motive.

But I suppose it's only what we should expect. In our day economics is the motivation for everything, so why not consider making it a more direct incentive in the education of our children? But learning - and living, for that matter - just to make a few bucks to spend on frivolous and fleeting things seems a travesty of education, not a solution. It's where we end up, however, when our highest purpose in life is to enjoy financial success and the comforts of things.

Christians are not immune to the attraction of money and things. But we serve a higher purpose, one we are called to embody in every facet of our lives, shout from the housetops, and proclaim to every creature. The Church's failure to demonstrate a compelling example of living for a higher purpose has yielded the floor to crass materialism. But this can never satisfy the deep human need for significance.

T. M. Moore

Better Railings

May 31, 2010
The crisis in the Gulf of Mexico is fraught with so much uncertainty - why it happened, whether it could have been prevented, how to stop it, who's to blame, what the long-term effects will be - that it may seem audacious, if not foolish, to posit any unequivocal conclusions from the matter. Nevertheless, I intend to do so, at least on one point.

Biblical justice has five aspects, the first of which we may call preventive justice. In any social order pleasing to God and reflective of His goodness and love, humans will consider in advance what steps they must take in order to prevent occurences of injustice. Hence, the command to build a railing around one's roof, so that one's neighbor doesn't swoon in the not mid-day sun and fall off (Deut. 22.8).

Preventive justice requires that we envision possible ways our actions may be harmful to our neighbors and that we take measures to preclude any such occurences. Thus, we are to be careful when burning in the out of doors, that we do not endanger the property of others (Ex. 22.6). Similarly, we must not allow our animals to graze in the fields of others, but must keep them in our own fields only (Ex. 22.5). If we dig a pit for any reason, we must be careful to cover it, lest our neighbor or one of his animals fall in it and become injured or killed (Ex. 21.33, 34).

This is preventive justice, and it reflects the kind of love of neighbor and creation that responsible parties must practice before untoward conditions arise, in order to ensure the continuity of justice and goodness in society.

Now we have learned the the oil industry, whether through poor planning, indifference, or simple inability to foresee certain possible calamitous eventualities, has not yet devised a means for capping a deep-water oil spill before it brings damage to coasts and the people and other creatures that live there.

But be sure of this: Oil-drilling in the Gulf will not continue in a status quo ante mode. The oil industry will be required by Congress - and rightly so, I believe - to devise better measures for preventing the kind of injustice that we see currently being foisted on the people of Louisianna and elsewhere. The works of the Law, Paul reminds us, are written by God on the heart of every human being (Rom. 2.14, 15). We act in the best interest of society when those "works" come to expression in enforceable statutes. So if the rails currently in place around the oil drilling industry are not sufficient to protect our neighbors and our environment, you can be sure that new ones will be required.

And, in the process, God, His Law, and the Biblical concept of justice will be vindicated.

T. M. Moore

Engulfed

June 2, 2010
I could hardly believe it when, shortly after the BP had begun its "top kill" attempt to shut off the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama called a national press conference - his first in nearly a year - to take responsibility for ending this crisis.

I wondered aloud, Now, how is he going to do that? Then I wondered, Who does he think he is? And then, What's he trying to do? I suppose in some ways I'm still wondering that. Charles Krauthammer opined that the President may have been encouraged that the crisis was almost over, and the "top kill" effort was going to succeed, and so he wanted to make sure that he was in line to get the credit for it. That sounded rather cynical, although not implausible. Perhaps he was simply trying to make a show of compassion for the people on the Louisana coast, and to rally the workers to keep on giving it the old college try. Or, perhaps, like Captain Ahab, he had decided to vanquish this oily whale, or be vanquished by it himself.

It's looking more like the last.

Whatever the outcome, it's clear President Obama and his entire Administration have become engulfed by the crisis in the Gulf. It is overwhelming their resources, distracting them from other business, causing heads to roll within the camp, and leaving the federal government looking weak, if not impotent.

I wonder now if the President wishes he'd never made that boast before the entire nation. Has Mr. Obama's unbelievable and unjustifiable confidence in the powers of government caught up to him? Did poor judgment lead to an opportunistic grab for attention? Or have stubbornness and pride - remember, Mr. Obama declared that the earth would begin to heal the day he was inaugurated - begun to undo him? Pride comes before the fall, the Scriptures remind us. We should pray for the President, who will surely be permanently damaged by this seemingly unsolvable situation.

But we should also pray, since there are still nearly three years left in his presidency, that he might learn something from the disaster in the Gulf, and his response to it, and humble himself before the God in Whom he still professes to believe.

T. M. Moore

"Comprehensive"

June 4, 2010
If you've been listening to the Obama Administration over the past year, you will have noted that one word more than any other appears in their policy proposals. The word is "comprehensive."

The President insisted that the stimulus package not be done piecemeal, but that a "comprehensive" effort should be mounted. Same with the automobile bailout. He rejected every Republican suggestion to try to fix the health care system with small, targeted programs - being able to buy insurance across state lines, or tort reform, for example. No, the President had to have "comprehensive" legislation.

Now Mr. Obama is stalling on immigration reform even as he potshots the Arizona law and other proposals to staunch the flow of illegals into the country. It was all he could do to agree to send 1200 National Guard to the border. He wants "comprehensive" immigration reform.

Everything has to be done in a "comprehensive" manner, or not at all. What's this about? It's about the President waiting and schmoozing and back-room-dealing until he gets everything he wants into the program, and enough votes lined up to get it, and then going all-out for his "comprehensive" expansion of the government into more of the private sector.

Don't be surprised, over the next months, to hear talk about "comprehensive" programs to regulate offshore drilling, fix America's schools, and overhaul who-knows-what. President Obama's is the most ambitious and expansive administration in American history, and we are fools if we sit by and let this kind of kudzu government spread out of control.

Government is a servant of God, not God. Government is a defender of good, not the definer of it. Government in this country at least is of, by, and for the people, not over them. The Founders devised a limited form of government, checked and balanced against unnatural and unwise growth and corruption. From now on, when you hear a White House official or Congressional leader talk about "comprehensive" anything, make very sure you "comprehend" precisely what's at stake.

T. M. Moore

On Schedule

June 7, 2010
Economists, Wall Street, and just about everyone else greeted last month's report of new jobs with a groan. One person who showed real enthusiasm, however, was President Obama.

Over 400,000 new jobs were added to the market last month, and the President insisted that this was an indication that the recovery was underway and the economy was on the mend. He seemed unperturbed by the fact that all but 41,000 of those jobs were temporary, and those were all in the government sector. So the President has taken your tax dollars to hire 400,000 part-time workers and declares this a sign that his economic policies are working.

The worst part of this whole scenario is that the President is sincere. He believes that it's government's job to revive the economy and put the unemployed back to work, and if he can do it by hiring census workers and whatnot, well, that just means his view of the recovery is right on schedule.

This President is in the business of growing government, increasing the role and reach of government into the private sector, and he seizes any and every opportunity to show that government can do what he believes. Last week he scolded and threatened BP, insisting that the government would make sure it paid every last dime of what it owed to the people whose work is being harmed by the oil spill in the Gulf. Apparently he didn't feel it was necessary to point out that BP had already processed and paid 17,000 claims, without denying a single one. But he was going to make sure the people knew that his government would make them pay anyway.

Does the market, and do the citizens of the land really need the government's heavy and instrusive presence in the economy? To some extent, certainly; but to the extent President Obama has established over the past year? Well, that remains to be seen. I, for one, am more than skeptical.

Government's role is to preserve justice and promote goodness and order in society. Making the economy work is not something government does particularly well - witness the Postal Service and Amtrak. The best thing for the economy would be for the government to allow people to keep and use their money as they see fit, rather than to appropriate as much as possible to redistribute according to its own vision of the good society.

That government governs best which recognizes its true and God-given responsibility, and that functions within the limits and constraints of divine law. The Founders knew that; let's not lose sight of it now.

T. M. Moore
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday announced that, just as soon as they managed to stop the oil, team Obama would spearhead an effort that would return the Gulf of Mexico to a condition better than it was before the spill.

Now take a minute and think about that. How many years will it be before all the oil has been dispersed, all the wildlife replaced, all the wetlands renewed, and every business and family restored to status quo ante? Surely this Administration will be history before the effects of this disaster are finally eradicated. After all, researchers can still find abundant evidence of the Exxon Valdez spill, now so many years ago.

So just how does Secretary Salazar and team Obama plan to accomplish this herculean feat? Certainly it's a noble aspiration; every American should participate in some way to restore the Gulf of Mexico and the way of life of those who live along the coast. But as good as new? No, better!?

Well, this President did remark that on the day he was inaugurated the earth and seas would begin to heal. Maybe he's getting ready to conjure a little miracle in the Gulf, just to show he really meant it?

Or maybe the hubris of this Administration, with its Messianic promises and fantabulous expectations and aspirations, is beginning to show through. Does Mr. Salazar think we're all stupid? To return to the Gulf to a condition better than it was before the spill would require the ability to manipulate the forces of creation in ways reserved only to One - and He does not rule in Washington.

Herod regrets forever the moment he encouraged the people to think that he was God. There's a lesson there for Ken Salazar and the rest of this crop of pretenders.

T. M. Moore

Count on It

June 11, 2010
Five years after Hurrican Katrina churches from all over the country continue to send teams of carpenters, electricians, engineers, and everyday folk to the Gulf Coast to help in repairing the shattered lives of people there. The media tired of this story shortly after it began five years ago. But Christians - unlike politicians - are not motivated in their good works either by public opinion or polls.

So don't be surprised when churches all over this country begin taking up collections, gathering all kinds of resources, and sending folks in teams to the Gulf Coast again to help the people whose lives are being horribly disrupted by the oil spill that continues to damage the region. It's what Christians do. If your church has not yet begun to mount an effort, it's simply because no one has thought to bring it up. If you bring it up, everybody will jump on board. It's what Christians do.

Count on it, while BP and the Obama Administration continue their blame-shifting, responsiblitiy-dodging dance, and the situation worsens, churches will be there with real people showing real care and compassion and making real sacrifices to help the people, wildlife, and environment of the region. I have no doubt, either, that they'll still be there long after BP has signed the last check and the President has taken the last bow for saving the region. It's what Christians do.

I don't even know what Christians are starting to do yet for the region, but I'm already bursting with pride to know that we will be there, and we will continue to be there, until we've done everything we can to help return people's lives to normal and to spread the love of Jesus around as far and wide as we can. It's what we do. Don't expect much media coverage, but then, we don't need it.

Send us news of what your church is doing to help people in the Gulf, and we'll publish it in this space and on our website to encourage other congregations to do the same. Pray for the people of the Gulf, and give thanks and praise to God for yet one more opportunity for the Body of Christ to come together and help fellow-believers and other countrymen in a time of deep crisis.

T. M. Moore
As President Obama's approval ratings continue to decline, Democratic lawmakers continue to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of the nation, and Republicans enjoy the favor of the Tea Party movement, many are hoping that the mid-term elections this fall will mark a watershed and turning-point for the country.

They are hoping that the era of big government, big spending, and big deficits will be put behind us and the nation will rediscover the course from which subtle but foul winds have blown it over the past many years. And they are hoping that new faces in Washington will take the helm of the ship of state and sail her back into the friendly breezes of freedom, constitutionality, and moral decency.

I think that all who hope this way will be disappointed.

Politics is not the hope this nation needs. Can Americans really be so short-sighted as to think that Republicans, once in office, will not try to use the reins of power to their own advantage? And do they not understand that this means discovering ways of making government responsive to interest-groups and the media? And do hopeful Americans really think that the majority in this nation, who have begun to suck the teats of entitlement, will be ready simply to turn away from that source?

The soul of the country has been damaged by the false hope of politics. We are becoming, as F. A. Hayek warned, a nation of serfs - ready to give up any freedom as long as someone will promise to take care of us. No amount of new faces in Washington can cure what ails the American electorate.

This is a work only the Spirit of God can accomplish. But He will not begin to do so until we first repent of the idolatry of hoping in government for the wrong things, weep for the compromised and corrupted condition of our souls, and seek the Lord earnestly, day by day, for revival. Short of such seeking, the nation will continue on its course, because politics is a broken stick on which to lean in life for the things that matter most.

T. M. Moore

Oiling Along

June 16, 2010
There's that terrific line in a song of Professor Higgins, when he is describing the expert linguist who thinks he can expose the fraud of Liza Doolittle at her coming-out ball - only to fall flat on his face: "Oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way around the floor..."

President Obama, oozing charm, oiled his way across the airwaves last evening to re-assure the American public that, while there's still a good deal of damage to come, he and his team are on the job and they're gonna get the bad guys and clean up the mess. And then they're gonna discover new sources of energy so that we don't have to rely on nasty, dirty, beach-fouling fossil fuels ever again.

He had four preliminatry points and one major point. The four prelimiary points were (1) what he and his team have been and are doing to stop the "gusher" (Sara Palin is right - this is hardly a "leak"); (2) that he will "force" BP to escrow enough money to cover all reparations, and have that fund administered by an "independent third party"; (3) that Navy Secretary Mabus is beginning to develop a long-range plan to restore the Gulf; (4) that a reformed Minerals Management Service will begin working with a new National Commission to develop a plan for future disaster prevention.

All this was the warm-ups. Then came the real agenda: comprehensive energy and climate reform. He congratulated the House for having already passed such a bill, and seemed to admonish the Senate for dragging its feet. He nailed "big oil" and all other fossil fuel producers and promised that, like going to the moon, we will solve the problem of alternative fuels.

I hope we will, but I don't think we're going to be able to shut down our need for fossil fuels in anything but a gradual way, over at least a generation, and I don't think we're helping ourselves by vilifying the oil companies and bashing them over and over and over. So can we get past this and begin to talk about all Americans partnering together for a new energy future?

The low point of the speech for me was the end. The President confidently declared that "God is with us" in the midst of this crisis, and that he, the President, is counting on the hope that "a hand may guide us" to a brighter future, and so God bless us, etc.

That struck me as very presumptuous. We are a nation that has slaughtered unborn children like spilled barrels of oil, except with less regret. We have pushed the mention of God's Name off every square inch of public property and out of every meaningful policy discussion. We have derided and ignored His Word, flouted His Law, and sat by while His people were brutally persecuted in countries with whom we do business. And we dare to presume that He "is with us" and "will bless us"?

Mr. President, that's a stretch. You, as a Christian should know better. But, alas, you don't.

T. M. Moore
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