Monday, September 26, 2005

where in the world

The Sword of Enlightenment will be on location in Allentown for a few days for training. So far the workshop has been interesting and refreshingly easy. And I'm actually learning some very useful stuff; that doesn't happen every day anymore. And the nice restaurants aren't so bad either, especially when I'm not paying. But the Crowne Plaza I'm staying in...holy crap. Not as nice as the Dahab Hilton (before the Muslim fanatics took notice of it) but easily the nicest hotel I've stepped foot in since then and probably even better than some of the stuff I'm about to see in Vegas. You know it's a good place when you walk in and find half your bed covered in pillows and towels folded together in intricate designs that take an IQ higher than mine to untangle. A bit extravagant and useless--a couple of pillows and a small stack of towels would have served the purpose just as well--but I'll take it.

The building we're in during the day isn't so bad either. Brand new, one of those LEED (environmentally friendly) type buildings I used to design stuff for back in the day...quite a nice place. Gonna be tough going back to the ol' nuke plant after a week here and a week out west. It's a shame I can't travel more often.

Anyway, that should suffice for an update for now. Still need to write plenty but it'll have to wait for when I have time. Or when I'm not in someplace as nice as this with enough amenities and new surroundings to draw my attention.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

we know history repeats itself...

At the Hebrews study tonight we went wrapped up chapter two and one of the themes discussed was the author's continuing argument before the Jews that Christ really was God despite being human. A lot of verses in the chapter--7 and 9 are the ones I recall off hand; there are plenty more--discuss Christ's glory and power and how we as believers will eventually share in that. An obvious thought occurred to me but I don't remember thinking of it in such a light before.

Today's popular "comic book" eschatology seems to imply that Christ will return in some blaze of glory amidst an epic battle to decide the fate of all humanity. Some can't wait for this mega-glorious return so they can finally be victorious over all enemies. (I'm not saying His return won't be glorious or victorious--keep reading.) Instead of seeing symbolism or figurative language here, they see a vivid description of what we are waiting for on earth. And so they eagerly await what they are sure will be a most triumphant return. At least in their eyes.

Now wait a minute...does that sound familiar? It should. Recall the Jews of biblical times. They had the exact same sort of high hopes for an earthly conqueror who would right all that was wrong in their world and establish them as rulers over those around them. And when their Conqueror came to establish God's kingdom, they were too blinded by their own pride and expectations to submit to Him. They were so sure God would come in the form of a mighty warrior that they couldn't fathom their savior as a lowly human like the rest of us. They weren't even willing to consider the possibility, despite the fact that God never promised the Messiah would bring them earthly conquest and domination. And so their false perception of God's coming kept them out of the kingdom they awaited so eagerly.

I don't know just what Christ's return will look like or exactly what to expect, but I do know that the Bible stresses preparedness at all times and not being unduely focused on the future over the present. Christ Himself said "the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Luke 12:40) and "[i]t is not for you to know the times or dates" of His return and subsequent establishment of His kingdom (Acts 1:7). Jesus was speaking directly to His disciples/apostles in these verses so we know the context implies that believers are referred to here. Paul wrote on this in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 as well, stating "about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." Given that Paul's words are addressed to his "brothers" (v. 1) we can conclude that even to believers Christ's return will be as unexpected as the arrival of a thief.

So why do so many focus on the details of the second coming when the Bible not only doesn't provide such details but warns us against trying to discern times and dates we can't know? I guess it's a fascination for some, an interesting puzzle of sorts. I'm sure others really believe that they know how Jesus' return will play out. And I'm not saying their conclusions are wrong; I don't claim to have the inside scoop myself. But they are unquestionably wrong to put so much faith and emphasis on them. And given the circumstances of his coming the first time around, I'm inclined to believe we're in for something similar. He won't come in a way we expect or have planned for (in a worldly sense) so it's not helpful--it's quite dangerous actually--for us to lose sight of the big picture in our quest to conform his return to our own expectations. Hopefully that's not going on as much as I think it is, but I have my concerns.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

slow weekend

For blogging anyway. Been rather busy with hiking, football games, and of course sleeping, so I didn't get around to putting much up. I had hoped to write plenty over these couple of days; I've got lots on my mind that needs to be posted. Stuff from Acts to Christian groups to missions to...whatever. And I actually have something positive to say! Hopefully later this week...

You know, it's a shame every weekend isn't a three-day weekend. Those work wonders for extra time. (So wouldn't some discipline and motivation, but those take effort and therefore don't count.) They kinda help with sanity, too. But alas...three weeks til vacation, baby!

more on disaster relief

Go read this article by Herman Cain over at Fox News. He lays out how the private sector, especially much-maligned large corporations, have taken the lead in the Katrina recovery and are responsible for the lion's share of the good work going on down there. The private sector was prepared and able to respond quickly while the powers that be in all levels of government focused on blaming everyone but themselves. Okay, kids, who wants to rely on the government in a crisis? Anyone?

Some of Mr. Cain's good punch lines:
...we are once again witnessing that the most effective compassion comes from the private sector.
Without a free economic market, the companies that can help the most wouldn’t have the incentive to hurry to the scene. They know their products and services will be needed – so they’re doing all they can to assist those who want to begin the rebuilding process.
But will the media recognize that corporate profits are used for corporate charity? It’s doubtful. They don’t want to admit that America’s marketplace encourages success, which in turn allows the successful to be charitable. It’s times like these when that truth is most obvious.
The obvious connection here is that a free market implies minimal government interference. The more the feds or anyone else tries to jump in and control things, the more confusion they cause and the slower the recovery process will be. The best thing FEMA and its minions can do is stop wasting our money trying to "coordinate" and let private folks and companies handle the relief effort. They've been doing a good job so far with no government assistance, or better put, because of no government assistance.

FEMA: the madness continues

I've already laid out my view of FEMA's worthiness (or lack thereof) in this post. But with the bureau's ongoing woes I can't resist piling on a little more. This Fox News article tells us the good news that the FEMAcrats have scrapped their ludicrous system of handing out debit cards. Should we be surprised that this thing disappeared about as quickly as it was created? The only thing that should surprise us is that the government actually did anything so fast.

This hellish idea of instant money with no checks or protections was doomed from the start. Free dough? No provisions to restrict purchases? Are you kidding me?! Heck, let's just throw some money at oppressive third world dictators while we're at it--they'll spend it all on behalf of their people, promise. But, unfortunately, the Einsteins at FEMA were apparently in too much of a hurry to save their sinking public image to bother thinking through the potential outcomes. (Given bureaucrats' profound intellect and ability to come to the right conclusion on, well, nothing, I'll admit that my "they were in a hurry" argument could be rather weak. The chances of the feds conjuring up a manageable solution would have been slim to none anyway.) Imagine yourself as a poor just lost a lot of stuff...almost everything...someone hands you a buttload of you go and spend it all on the most vital things for you and your family, right? Uhh...yeah. Such astounding fiscal management skills are what got you to where you were before, right? Of course, I get it. Give people who are much more likely than Average Joe to blow money on useless wants a fistful of free money to do just that.* Great thinking, guys! That's so must also be the architects of FEMA's impeccable disaster response plan.'s starting to make sense now, I think I see how this fits together.

But wait, they're not discontinuing the handouts. They're just going back to the old way of handing out money (direct deposit with reams of paperwork). Hopefully that means more accountability so taxpayer money will...wait, that's not it either. The same handouts are still in effect, they're just handed out differently. So the end result hasn't changed. People are still getting free federal money that will no doubt be used as play money in far too many cases. And people are still getting paid by some federal government monstrosity because they were living in a high-risk area at the wrong time. (See the post linked above for my take on this.) Sorry but I just don't see the logic behind this, or how any taxpayer who supports reasonable federal spending can support this. It's that Robin Hood economics coming back to bite us again; the "you can't help others on your own so we'll take your money and help them for you" mentality once again rears its ugly head (combined with the usual "Don't like it? Tough, we're the gummint" mentality, of course).

So, while the article looked promising at first, it's just another disappointment in the ongoing fiasco that is the Katrina (government) relief effort. Serves me right for actually getting my hopes up about federal management of the situation. Will I ever learn?

*Perhaps this deserves more treatment, so allow me to make an could-be unfair generalization that's not true of all poor people and paints plenty of honest folks in a bad light but yet holds true for plenty of others. In a lot of cases people are poor because their fiscal discipline and financial management skills lead them to that point. In other words, they are severely lacking in the aforementioned areas. Either they have a track record of such behavior, meaning they're largely or at least slightly responsible for being where they are, or they've never had that kind of wealth to work with, meaning they likely don't have the practice and experience of managing money wisely (not their fault necessarily, but facts are facts). So some did it to themselves and, if given the chance, will do so again. Others will have money dropped on them and will likely mix too many wants with needs, and thus a significant amount of resources will have been wasted. These people need help but not in the form of large sums of cash with no strings attached. That's not help, that's an enabler.

Another way of thinking of it...How often are we
not held responsible for how we spend money? We have to deal with credit checks. We have to submit receipts to our employer to prove we actually spent what we say we did (unless, of course, you work for the government). We have to prove in painstaking detail to the IRS how we spend some parts of our income. (Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the government cares so much about how I spend my money and yet is so willing to throw part of my income around with no way of upholding accountability?) And on and on. There's nothing wrong with making people be good stewards of money they are given. It happens all the time. So why not now?

Monday, September 05, 2005

a new kind of crime

Something else comes to mind concerning this immigration thing. Illegal immigration is a different sort of criminal activity from just about every other kind of lawlessness we encounter. I bet when most of us think of laws being broken, we think of specific actions or instances in which a person does something that is clearly outside the law and harmful to society. But illegal aliens not only chose to "invade," if you will, but they continuously break the law merely by being here. They don't have to do anything but breathe and they're still constantly violating our laws. They aren't so much guilty of some specific action at some point in time as they are of just being alive in a land they're not allowed to be in. It's a continuous, ongoing sort of lawbreaking that can't be separated into multiple actions.

So to prove someone guilty in this sense, one must only ask the defendant to produce the documentation giving him right of passage in this country. If he can't produce the evidence he's guilty by means of his existence on this side of the border. It seems that in the courts the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to prove he is indeed allowed to be here. That thought is a bit scary at first but that's the way the law works in this case.

Actually, as I think about it more this isn't such a foreign concept--not to Christians anyway. We don't deserve death for the specific actions we've committed over a lifetime, we deserve death for being sinners that fail to meet God's standard of holiness. We aren't convicted on the basis of actions, we're convicted on the basis of our being. Thus the guy who lives an outwardly holy life is still under the same condemnation as the guy who lives an outwardly filthy life. Now I'm not claiming we citizens are somehow in God's position here or that we hold such ultimate authority over illegals; to imply such would be blasphemous. I'm simply saying we're dealing with a crime of "being" not "doing" in much the same way God deals with us as sinners.

colson and immigration

Been catching up on BreakPoint emails lately and, lo and behold, one from a couple weeks ago was about illegal immigration. Colson takes the position we all could have expected, that is, he stays above politics and discusses how we as Christians ought to be dealing with the issue. But he also points out how it's being ignored by politicians as a "no-win" issue that's just too dangerous to touch. And without taking a stance he mentions the two immigration reform proposals being floated in Congress. (In my opinion one at least has some teeth and the other is one step away from being an all-out amnesty fest, but that's me talking not Colson.)

He does seem to try to defend illegal immigration to a small extent by pointing out some of its benefits.
There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. The majority of these come from Mexico and Central America. Contrary to the stereotype, however, they are not all farm workers or domestics. Nearly one-third of them own their own homes, and many have U.S.-born children. In other words, they have roots in this country. Many of them provide cheap labor, which we all benefit from.
Okay, does it really matter if a criminal owns his own home or has native-born children? Does that make him less of a criminal? Is the law somehow not as applicable to such people? After all there are plenty of criminals and prisoners whose roots here go back centuries. But they're still under the law. I don't see a legitimate argument here. I almost get the impression Chuck is trying to whitewash the issue but I have too much respect for the guy to think that's his intention.

Colson also has something to say about how we treat immigrants:
...And we must oppose blatant disregard for the law. If immigration laws are too restrictive, the answer is to amend them, not ignore them.

But along with these concerns, we also need to recall God's command to welcome the foreigner and sojourner in our midst. The Scriptures tells us that hospitality toward the aliens in its midst is the hallmark of a good society. In fact, extending the hand of friendship toward those who are different from them is a way the people of God distinguish themselves from their unbelieving neighbors.
That first part is great, not that I would have expected him to have a different take. But I think the second paragraph, while also instructive, could use some clarification. I don't think we have a responsibility as Christians to encourage lawlessness in order to welcome friends and sojourners in our midst. We ought to reach out to immigrants and help them adjust, provided they are here under the right terms, but we shouldn't try to make it easier for illegal aliens to live below the radar. In that case I believe we have an obligation as citizens under a worldly authority to help uphold the laws of our land, provided the laws aren't antithetical to those espoused in the Bible. And I don't see any way immigration controls could be morally wrong. It is possible to reach out to newcomers while at the same time turning away others who would seek to break our laws for personal benefit. Perhaps a little harsh but I think that's the best way to approach a tough moral issue.

Overall a great article by Colson, as almost all of his are. It's good to see him take a tough stance on immigration; I wouldn't have been too surprised to see him take a more welcoming approach toward illegal aliens in the name of Christian love. And while perhaps there are some arguments to support that attitude I think Scripture more strongly supports a good helping of both love and justice (see Rom 13:1-8, 1 Pet 2:13-17). His closing remark is a good bottom line I think.
And in the end, we must, as Christians, treat everyone in our midst with godly compassion.
No arguing with that.

have they no shame?

Not even a horrific natural disaster will deter some racemongers in their quest to find racism anywhere and everywhere. According to the latest installment the word "refugee" is now racist. Umm...okay, whatever. As the link shows the Katrina disaster is far from the first time survivors of a disaster have been described as refugees. It's not a race thing, kids. Move along now, nothing to see here...

Really this isn't all bad though. At least those useless pols are wasting time on nonsense like this rather than spreading their harm where it could have more influence. Better they just annoy us than actually impact our lives.

great use of resources...not

Speaking of being prepared...

How's that for a contingency plan? They were obviously prepared for the worst, eh? It took some real brains and critical thinking to realize those buses would be more useful soaking up water in a parking lot than shuttling people out of harm's way. Yeah, okay, the federal response was weak, the feds were too slow and unprepared, yada yada. Looked in a mirror recently, fools? Or is the log in your own eye so big you couldn't see it even if you tried?

On a related note, Gregg Hanke has posted a short but excellent piece about how the folks in New Orleans failed to act swiftly and smartly enough to prevent much of anything. He points out the fact that the National Guard troops in a state answer to the governor, not President Bush, and that Bush isn't even allowed to send them in without the governor's permission. So, Bush-bashers, please explain to me how whatever fault you see with the Guard response can be blamed on Dubya. I won't hold my breath. Also, New Orleans officials don't seem to grasp the concept of swift action, as in, issuing an emergency order to utilize some buses earlier than two days after the storm hits. Geez...could the preparation have been any worse?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

helping people or rewarding stupidity?

I'm sure it's not time for another rant yet but I need to gripe about something so too bad. About this taxpayer-funded disaster relief thing...what gives? Now all disaster relief isn't bad. To the extent that the military, including the National Guard, and perhaps other security-related federal entities can lend a hand they certainly ought to.* And such efforts ought to take precendence over other plans they might have had. But I hate to hear all this talk about the federal government dumping loads upon loads of money into the Katrina disaster zone to supposedly help the places rebuild. And the whiners who act as if it's the government's responsibility to dash in and fix everything...just shut up already.

For one, it's not the feds' responsibility and they shouldn't be collecting money for such things in the first place. That's best handled on a local level, as I believe the current saga is demonstrating quite effectively. No need to have some overgrown bureaucracy like FEMA tossing out millions for relief that could be handled quickly by better-mobilized crews from charities and the private sector, with perhaps some lower-level government help added in. From what I've heard it's safe to say that the best work being done in New Orleans and other areas hardest hit is being done by local forces and citizens stepping up. Heck, I'm not sure the people there even know if FEMA is trying to help them much less accomplishing anything. And it would be painful to hear how much money they've wasted and are continuing to waste. Forget about firing Brown, just dismantle the whole damn agency or at least move its functions under the DoD.

Moving on to personal responsibility, people must accept the risk of living in certain areas. If one chooses to live in California, one must realize that a mudslide, earthquake, or wildfire is going to destroy one's house every 10-15 years or so. If one lives right smack on the Atlantic Ocean in Florida or the Carolinas, one must expect to be rebuilding after a hurricane every few years. If one builds a house in the plains of tornado country, one should not be surprised to have the landmarks on one's property rearranged every now and then. If you want to live there you'd better learn from history and be prepared for it to repeat itself. And when history does indeed repeat itself, which it has a bad habit of doing, don't come crying to everyone else about how they somehow owe you something because you chose to live in an at-risk area.

Now, if you live in a bowl that sits 12 feet below sea level, with water on three sides, a gulf to welcome hurricanes and floods, a river to carry floodwaters from more than a dozen states to your back door, and a reservoir with enough water to make your life miserable were it ever to break through its barriers, you'd better be prepared for some nasty times under the wrong set of circumstances. I'm not convinced anyone who lived there was dumb enough to think they weren't at risk. After all, numerous articles and warnings on the threat have been published and insurance companies won't even insure some of that property. In light of such overwhelming facts and evidence what excuse is there for residents not being at least somewhat prepared for such a catastrophe?

Let's take a few seconds to consider that last bit. If you go trying to buy flood insurance, and large thieving corporation after large thieving corporation--ones that make money by accepting risk, by the way--refuses to take massive sums of money from you because they claim the associated risk is too high, that should tell you something. Like, maybe you should be at least a tiny bit concerned about flooding. Or, maybe you ought to weigh the risks and benefits before settling there. Perhaps it's just me, but insurance companies refusing to deal with me would be a clincher. When that happens I'm taking the hint.

Okay, so we have a bunch of people living in an imminent disaster area. No biggie, happens all the time. Just look at the areas mentioned above. Now, suddenly the imminent storm comes and brings the worst upon the residents. That sucks and those people deserve the help we as individuals (and especially as Christians, for some of us) can offer, but as taxpayers we should be under no obligation whatsoever to give them part of our taxes. They made choices that put themselves at risk and they're reaping the rewards for it. I don't mean to sound cruel or uncaring here, I'm just laying out the facts. People are responsible for their own decisions and the consequences that result from them. Those of us who had no part in the decision can't be held accountable for any of the results.

Now on to government-funded rebuilding. A major problem with this is that it encourages the same sort of dumb moves that brought on the problem in the first place. We all need to learn from our mistakes and take steps to prevent the consequences from recurring. But why not choose to just keep living life as usual until the next disaster if you won't be held accountable for that decision? You see, if there's too much risk associated with living in some areas, those areas ought not be lived in. If there's too much risk with certain types of buildings or city designs, they ought to be avoided. Let's not "help them get back on their feet" by building another house of cards that's just gonna go the way of the previous one when the next doomsday scenario comes along. And as I said earlier, history repeats itself and as best we can tell will continue to do so. It's good to have sympathy for people who come on hard times but it's not good to encourage them to set themselves up for more hard times. If people insist on repeating the past let's at least let them do so on their own.

Let me conclude by way of personal example. I grew up on land that bordered a river. A few times a year the river would flood, submerging fields on both sides and altering the appearance of the beaches by rearranging trees and rocks and such. So did my family build a house in the field so we could be close to the water? Of course not, we lived up on a hill about, I dunno, 40 feet or so above water level and had to traverse steep hills and sharp rocks whenever we wanted to go swimming. (Okay, it wasn't so horrible, but we didn't have a beach at our back door either.) Now even on the hill there was the slightest risk that some freak once-in-a-millenium flood could cover the entire valley and thus wash our house downriver. Such a thing obviously wasn't expected or even really prepared for, but it was a risk that had to be considered at some point.** So assume it actually happened and we suddenly found ourselves homeless. How could anyone be held responsible for this and thus be forced to pay us to rebuild? (This is assuming nobody had altered the course of the river to cause it or something, but you get the idea.) Should government money be thrown our way? Not in a million years. We chose to live there, we took on the risk, we chose not to buy catastrophic flood insurance, we didn't expect to suffer for it. But we did. That's called life--things happen sometimes that can't be expected or blamed on anyone.*** And when such things do happen it's nice when people pitch in and help but nobody should be forced to. And there certainly shouldn't be some government behemoth tasked with giving the help that ought to come from neighbors across the globe.

*For much more detail on the National Guard's role check this briefing transcript out (via Malkin). It should convince you that the Guard is plenty capable of supporting rescue and law enforcement activities in the region. It also has some interesting info about the NOPD's lack of preparedness and subsequent collapse.

**Although I was too young to remember much detail, once the river actually did flood high enough to cause some concern in my family. As I remember the story it came at least halfway up a short wooded hill that separated our back door from the field below, supposedly coming close to claiming some of our toys near the edge of the woods. I don't have any scarring childhood memories of losing prized possessions in such a way so I'm pretty sure it didn't.

***Note that the Katrina disaster was not only expected in a general sense but warned of days beforehand. Contingency plans should have not only been prepared but actually put in place before chaos took hold. Don't try to force me or anyone else to ante up for something that was clearly preventable to a large degree. The temporarily displaced Bryan Preston has more.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin just posted a related piece on the "feckless FEMA bureaucracy" with plenty of links. Good readin'.

good riddance, sooners

Texas Christian is my favorite team of the week. Over the past couple of years I've gotten very tired of the constant hype Oklahoma has gotten all season every season only to crash and burn in fantastic fashion when it counted. Nobody likes a choker and I especially don't like one that the talking heads swear by and shove down our throats as the next dynasty. So one could imagine my joy upon reading that the seventh-ranked sooners bowed out early this year to the likes of TCU. Yeah, Southern Cal and Texas are still around to soak up air time, but at least Oklahoma should be sidelined for a while. The Trojans have actually walked the walk recently, but they won't be a problem after the Hogs beat them down on their own field later this month. And Texas always chokes around mid to late season, depending on when Oklahoma shows up on the schedule, so no need to fear them sneaking into the championship game.

In other college football news, what's up with the SEC? What once was the undisputed loaded conference in college football seems to have become the doormat of the other BCS conferences (in case you didn't get the memo the Big East shall no longer be regarded as a legitimate BCS conference), or is at least headed that direction. Tennessee, supposedly this year's team to fear, barely slipped by powerhouse UAB this weekend and Auburn got schooled by...Georgia Tech? And the SEC has sucked mightily in bowl games over the last few years and hasn't produced a national champion in some time. This is the conference that used to have Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia as perennial BCS contenders and LSU, Auburn, and even the Hogs in and out of the ranks regularly. Now one sees a ranked SEC team and immediately wonders if they're really that good.

vox day: boldly trampling what others refuse to touch

Just read this from the great Mr. Day. I didn't read the stuff he's responding to but his post alone is good reading. Just in case you don't bother to click over, below are some short bits you can't miss.

Concerning female CEO's:
I particularly enjoyed reading about the way they've successfully balanced their careers and their multiple marriages.
Those multiple marriages prove that there are some very stupid men out there. Who would marry a woman so dedicated to her job that she doesn't have time to care for a family? Then again maybe those guys are just doing some math and figuring that a few years of pain is worth the financial stability that would result from divorcing a multimillionaire. Still a dumb move methinks but I guess they're getting what they're in it for.

And concerning Margaret Thatcher and female leaders in general:
Imagine that, a woman believing men's lies and trading independence for promises of security. The main problem with female leadership isn't that women aren't intelligent or capable, it is that they typically demonstrate a lack of resolve when action is required, apparently in the hope that enough talking will somehow solve things.
Hmmn, an over-reliance on trying to talk things out when more direct means are necessary. Not that I'm an expert here, but that sounds right to me. This brings to mind Fred Reed's take, something to the effect that when given the option women will trade risk, freedom, and excitement for security, comfort, and pleasantness.

ouch...yeah, that hurt

Two words: holy crap. And that's putting it as politely as I can. Just learned of Justice Rehnquist's death over at Fox News. That's huge news, much bigger than the Katrina blame game or the Roberts saga. My first impression is that this one really, really hurts our country. Not only does this open the potential for a Bush compromise with the left--always a scary thought given our president's alarming tendency to sell out at the drop of a few votes--but Rehnquist will be damn hard to replace. Probably impossible to replace.

O'Connor's retirement was the vacating of a moderate (at best) position on the Court. Even if Bush went with a lousy quasi-conservative nominee the court likely wouldn't get any worse, and there was plenty of room for improvement. But Dubya pulled a fast one on us all and found his principles at the right time to spring for a guy who at least has the appearance of a solid limited-government sort of fella. That move could have a decent conservative influence on the high court.

But the filling of Rehnquist's vacancy will certainly push the Court the other way. He was a conservative stalwart for decades who "fashioned decisions over the years that diluted the powers of the federal government while strengthening those of the states." And he was one of the three pillars of hope for the Supreme Court actually following the Constitution every now and then; without him we're left with only Scalia and Thomas. Much worse, getting someone in the mold of Rehnquist confirmed in today's climate would be all but impossible. Roberts' selection came as a surprise, but does anyone out there think Bush will put more political capital on the line and go with a Rehnquist Jr. as his second pick? Anyone? I didn't think so.

Then there's the appointment of the next Chief Justice. Please Lord, let it be Scalia. That would at least keep the head spot in the hands of a real judge. And while perhaps a risky political move it certainly wouldn't be as dangerous as trying to keep the Rehnquist spot in constitutionalist hands.

I still hope Dubya sticks to his guns and puts up Pryor, Brown, or someone along those lines. I'd love to see a proven staunch conservative that could give us more reason to hope sanity might one day be restored in the judicial branch. Not to mention the hand-wringing and demagoguery from the other side would be so much fun to watch. Sure, irritating and probably stressful to the brink of death for me, but fun.

And since I handicapped the last one I'll try it again, even though last time I was well off the mark. This one will be tougher since there's two spots open, making the grand total in play three and thus exposing plenty of wiggle room for Bush to work with. So, here's what will happen. Dubya smells a nice spot for a compromise and bites. But he offers up a worse one than we might have expected. He goes with Kennedy for CJ and chooses that weak conservative we were all afraid of last time, none other than Alberto Gonzales, as his nominee. So the good guys lose on both counts. Bush plays it up as an olive branch to his opponents and a commitment to not shake things up too much. The neocon brethren who have been backing Bush as if he were some sort of demigod scream and cry about how they expected more from him. We conservative naysayers get our chance to once again say, "Told ya so! That damn clown always has a compromise up his sleeve to cripple us with! See, he really is a politician above all! Suckers!!"

Am I confident in my predictions? Not so much. But one thing I would bet the house on, and that is that Bush will absolutely not give us both Thomas/Scalia for a Chief Justice and another Rehnquist for a nominee. The best we can hope for is one of two, and combined with Roberts that would give us two of three. We need better but from Dubya we should be thankful if we get that much.

Let the games begin...

UPDATE: As if to prove this is truly an earth-shaking event, Michelle Malkin even noticed despite her incessant Katrina blogging and has taken a break to say a few words. Welcome back to the world, Michelle. We missed you.

But as is customary she gives a good round-up of other blogger takes. Captain Ed makes a very good point in that a second vacancy puts pressure on the Senate to close the deal on the first one in short order and thus will probably speed up Roberts' hearings. And this would be especially true if the second nominee were seen as more conservative, in which case the Dems would be eager to move Roberts out of the way and spend their time and ammo on the next guy (or gal) in the hot seat. John Hinderaker seems to think Bush is inclined to wait for Roberts' confirmation before revealing the identity of the next nominee. This could have advantages in that the Senate would be pressed to get Roberts through and keep the whole process moving, but I'm not so sure Bush wouldn't want to at least float some other names if not name his pick outright. This would create a distraction if the Roberts hearings get too heated and would also prevent the usual suspects from gearing up for a lashing of whoever the next choice happens to be. They'd be forced to focus on one or the other, or at least be less effective in combating the progress of both, whereas waiting to name the second nominee would allow said activists to focus fully on both Roberts and whoever follows him. Getting two names out there would at least delay some of the scripted reaction to the second one and maybe the hyped-up controversy would lose some steam by the time it received full coverage.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

legalism then and now

Something else that was brought up at the Bible study the other night is begging to be commented upon. One of the remarks during the night was something to the effect of the Pharisees following the law "in the body but not in the heart." This is very true and applies just as much today as then. And it applies not only to following God's basic laws (i.e., the Ten Commandments) but also, I think, in the arena of Christian liberty. So please allow me to discuss a few areas where I think part of the Church body has gotten off track a little, and of course I'll vent a bit in the process.

The issue that always seems to come to my mind the fastest is alcohol consumption. Every Christian I associated with when I was young--or at least those whom I was aware were Christian--treated alcohol as some sort of poison, never to be associated with or even talked about. This struck me as somewhat odd but I had no knowledge of spiritual things then and I was the opposite of a party animal so I basically thought myself to be on their side. Yeah, beer is bad, it causes deaths, it should be avoided, blah blah. But over the years since leaving my small-town Bible Belt home and being saved myself I've come to realize how wrong this view is. Not only did our Lord create wine for His first recorded miracle, but He uses wine in some of His parables. The latter implies that His listeners were quite familiar with it and many were probably involved in the wine industry in some way. As if this weren't enough, Jesus Himself even drank alcohol on at least two occasions--at the Last Supper and from the sponge while on the cross--and maybe others that aren't coming to mind right now. It should be clear that alcohol consumption is not prohibited by Scripture and one could even argue, quite persuasively in my opinion, that drinking is endorsed by the Bible.

So does this mean drunkenness is okay? Of course not. And there's the Christian witness aspect too; it's not a great idea to go out and drink lightly with friends who are getting drunk and thus give them an avenue to justify their own stupid behavior. As with anything, there are limitations. I'm not aware of any of God's gifts that can never cause harm through any use or in any situation. The underlying principle here is that something that is dangerous in large quantities and/or in the wrong circumstances is perfectly okay in moderation and when handled with common wisdom. That's huge and sheds light on numerous other issues of liberty as well.

As another example, let's take gambling. This is perhaps a bit more touchy, as I'm not aware of Scripture ever endorsing gambling of any form while it condemns the practice at least a few times. But the important thing to look at here methinks is why gambling is prohibited. It's a dishonest way of making money without working for it and poor stewardship of the resources God has given us with which to provide for His kingdom.* If God wanted us to have more money He would see that received it; taking what we have and seeking to multiply it without earning it and at another's expense is sinful any way you slice it.

So, is taking a significant chunk of one's savings to the casino, track, or other gambling venue of choice with hopes of making money sinful. I sure think so and I doubt many Christians would disagree with me there. Is throwing $10 into a pool and playing poker with friends for a few hours (or a few minutes, depending on your skill level) a sin? Well, maybe and maybe not. It depends on the heart attitude. If the intent is to gain a few bucks I think that's sinful. If the intent is to have fun and interact with others while dropping some cash, in much the same way as one spends money on a movie or a baseball game, I don't see a problem. It all comes down to the attitude behind the action. Thus it's plenty possible to be God-focused and yet find that some of our actions resemble those of unbelievers. We're not of the world but we are in it.

As a side note, this gambling bit is of special significance given my upcoming vacation. While I don't expect to gain anything at all, I intend to take a small stash of cash, maybe $60 or so, and spend it having fun in casinos. Nothing major that could have disastrous consequences, but small stuff that's enjoyable with friends. And if I win, that's great and I'll count the money with the rest of my income and spend or save it accordingly. If not then no loss; I'm not depending on or expecting any return. Now other than the obvious fact that Vegas has plenty of undesirable elements that will have to be avoided or at least treated with caution, how is this different from, say, blowing money to see a show or eat an expensive dinner in a new place? That's right, it's not. It's coming from spending money, R&R money, "fun money." Again, ye gots to approach it right and not get carried away--we call that moderation.

I'm not ready to rest my case yet so I'll bite off a bit more and throw tobacco into the mix. Is casual, nonaddictive use of tobacco sinful? I don't think so and I know from their lifestyles that Spurgeon, Machen, Tolkien, Lewis, and many other giants of the faith are with me on this one. (As a matter of fact, they support my take on alcohol too.) It can be a great blessing, actually. It's known to help us relax and bring us peace of mind, to mention a couple of things. Now if it gets to the point of being an addiction with serious health and financial consequences that's a problem. That's letting yourself become enslaved to something harmful and thus limiting your own ministry against your will. But that doesn't mean all use of tobacco should be shunned without discretion. It's worth repeating that the sin-holiness divide is dependent upon the focus of the heart, not the external action.

I could keep going on and on. Pretty much every area in life could be covered--finances, language, leisure activities, you name it. And something I really need to discuss but will likely be an entire post or few of its own is my love of supposedly demonic role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. The controversy surrounding such activities is one of my greatest pet peeves. I am always put on edge when I hear of the latest installment, or even an old one that's been long forgotten about by most everyone else, of the evangelical church's continuing war on one of the best and most creative forms of entertainment out there. But it's an issue much nearer and dearer to me that these others I've mentioned so it'll require a discussion of its own.

Speaking of my own history with such matters, I think I'm so turned off by what I view as a fundamentalist attitude of separation from anything that could somehow be construed as worldly because I grew up in such an environment. Not that my family was this way--looking back I'm very thankful they weren't and I was able to grow up around and be comfortable around such "grey area" things--but all the Christians I knew were. This contributed greatly to my passive disdain toward religion in general until I left for college and realized there were other, very different people out there. It wasn't until I got to know Christians at college that I realized they weren't some weird stiff-necked people that abhorred anything that didn't fit their narrow lifestyle. And thus these days I'm sure that sort of attitude is prevalent among unbelievers who are just like I was for the same reasons. Condemnation of sin is always necessary and justified, but we do well for ourselves, the Church, and especially unbelievers to make sure what we're looking at is sin before we label it and crusade against it as such.

*We are part of God's kingdom, therefore we're supposed to provide for ourselves with part of that money. I'm not saying we should do the Buddhist monk thing and give every penny away only to live in poverty and fail to provide for those closest to us. Although one must admit that Jesus' exhortation of the poor widow who gave all two coins of her savings to the church seems to indicate that our personal wants are lower on the list than we might like to think.

Friday, September 02, 2005

my thoughts exactly

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Guess I'd better get some sleep eventually, but plenty more blogging to do along this here Christian theme. And one where I get to play devil's advocate and disagree with the more common I love those...but it will have to wait. More to come!

do we all worship the same god?

Been thinking about last night's Hebrews study and a few things won't get off my mind. Often when that's the case with a Bible study it's because I disagree with something that was said or implied. You know, being the argumentative type that I am...and such holds true here. At one point in the study I thought one of our chosen few was about to claim that Jews and Christians worship the same God. Thankfully said person stopped well short of that or I probably would have come down with a case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. But it got me thinking about one of those things I hear a lot that always irks me. Yet it seems so widely believed and parroted these days.

So why is it that so many people, plenty of Christians included, believe that Christians, Jews, and even Muslims worship the same God? Concerning Islam, it should be obvious that Allah cannot be the same as the God of the Bible since Islam bears little resemblance to Judaism or Christianity aside from what Mohammed borrowed in order to patch together his religion for the purpose of creating political unity. (As you probably know Islam is simply a combination of elements from contemporary religions of Mohammed's time, including Christianity and Judaism. He needed to unite some groups of people against a common enemy, and what better way to do that than create a religion for them all to believe in? And it worked--like him or not that Mohammed wasn't a dumb guy.) Equivocating two gods, and therefore two religions, whose teachings contradict each other shouldn't pass anyone's truth test. So Allah cannot be equal to the Lord of Judaism and Christianity. Easy enough.

That leaves, of course, Judaism and Christianity. This gets a bit trickier, as both have the Old Testament in common and OT believers were even a remnant of the Jewish population. So before the time of Christ all people of Israel paid homage to God, believers out of hope and reverence and unbelievers out of mere external obedience. If they worshipped the same God in those days then believers (Christians) and unbelievers (Jews) must worship the same God today, right?

Wrong. The biggest reason I see that this "same God" thing can't be true is that we as Christians worship a triune God. We worship not only the Father but the Son and Holy Spirit as well, and all as one God. Jews, on the other hand, only worship the father. So, tell me, can a person who does not acknowledge the diety of Christ or even the existence of the Holy Spirit truly worship the same God as a Christian? I think not. To separate the Trinity into three separate, unrelated beings is to destroy the very concept itself and thus it would be heretical to do so. So while both may call their god "Father," the Jew does not recognize him as having any other manifestations* but the Christian sees Him as inseparable from the other two members of the Trinity. So they are not actually worshipping the same "Father." To me this is obvious, something that should jump out at people, something that should settle the matter with no room for dispute.

There is, of course, also Scripture itself to refute the idea. Not as fast and easy for those of us without thorough knowledge of the Bible, but a much more powerful tool. And in the hands of someone with a trusty concordance it becomes much easier to apply to a given dilemma. Jesus Himself is all over this in John chapter 8; there are too many verses that speak to the issue so I won't quote any here. But His statement in John 10:30 is also handy: "I and the Father are one." Well, that pretty much sums it up now doesn't it? Belief in the Father must imply belief in the Son, and vice versa. You can't worship one without worshipping the other. So if someone claims to worship the same Father but doesn't worship Christ, they must be following a different father than the One spoken of by Christ. Different religions, different gods.

Yet these days it seems such a popular thing to say that Christians and Jews do indeed worship the same God. And not just in media and liberal circles--I've heard this a bit from Christians too. Among believers I think it's largely due to dispensationalism's hold in today's Church. You know, the idea that the Jews are still God's chosen people and have their own special plan in God's endgame. I have a few loaded words for this idea, none of which I'll repeat here, but suffice it to say that I disagree. Covenant theology shoots this theory down with ease but that's a whole different (and very long) discussion. But at least the majority, and probably the vast majority, of churchgoers this day and age seem to buy into dispensationalist ways. Or "comic book theology" as one author put it; I've always liked that and it's quite descriptive as well. Thus they would tend to see modern-day Judaism and Christianity linked by much more than just the sharing of the Old Testament.

Another cause of the "same God" bunk getting pushed so often is the idea among many (mostly liberals, of course, and especially mediacrats) that if all religions could just focus on their similarities and stop disagreeing so much with each other the world would be a better place. This is especially prevalent these days with our country's presence in the middle east. To these folks all religions are equal anyway, so why so much strife? But those talking in such terms are unbelievers so here's hoping they aren't having much impact on the real discussion at hand. After all they're just doing what the media loves to do: scream, yell, make a big mess, and accomplish nothing at all. But enough politics...for this post anyway.

So, despite what I think are very clear reasons we aren't all worshipping the same God this idea is floated with irritating regularity. And it never ceases to get on my nerves. One good approach is to question my own beliefs if an idea contrary to mine seems to be getting so much more play in Christian circles. But I think I have the angle on the truth here, especially given the underlying difference in theology discussed above. But, any other ideas, thoughts, rants, etc. are always welcome--however wrong they may be. :)

*I'm pretty sure on this but I admit my knowledge of Judaism may be lacking here. But you get the point.