An opinionated look at current events, culture and faith, since 2005 telling you what to think and why to think it about everything that really matters.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Poll Roundup: Ds Slipping
If yesterday's boys v. girl Democrat debate is any indication, the overall weakness of the Democratic field may be starting to show.
So we may see "Grand" coming back to "GOP."
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Our Man Again Overtakes That Woman
Here's a comforting line:
But, the current results suggest a return to the longer trend-line established for this race.
Monday, October 29, 2007
A British Take on Moore's Take on British Health
Marin details the various failures of the NHS, most of them failures that are worsening with time, which go unmentioned in Moore's latest film. Then she ends with this:
By ignoring these problems, and similar ones in France’s even more generous and expensive health service, Moore is lying about the answer to that question. I wonder whether the grotesquely fat film-maker is aware of the delicious irony that in our state-run system, the government and the NHS have been having serious public discussion about the necessity of refusing to treat people who are extremely obese.
One can only wonder why Sicko is so dishonestly biased. It must be partly down to Moore’s personal vainglory; he has cast himself as a high priest of righteous indignation, the people’s prophet, and he has an almost religious following. He’s a sort of docu-evangelist, dressed like a parody of the American man of the people, with jutting jaw, infantile questions and aggressively aligned baseball cap.
However, behind the pleasures of righteous indignation for him and his audience, there is something more sinister. There’s money in indignation, big money. It is just one of the many extreme sensations that are lucrative for journalists to whip up, along with prurience, disgust and envy. Michael Moore is not Mr Valiant-for-truth. He is Mr Worldly-wiseman, laughing behind his hand at all the gawping suckers in Vanity Fair. Don’t go to his show.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
SWNIDish Reflections: Evangelical Gloom
And we have been wondering lately why our peers' minds seem strangely different from our own.
Some anecdotes that illustrate:
- In a roundtable meeting of senior leader-types of such institutions, all acknowledge enthusiastically that in the last 20 years, regional accrediting associations have become increasingly open to Bible colleges. They acknowledge further that the regionals have done little or nothing to interfere with the beliefs or missions of their institutions. But then the conversation turns dark as one says that an "expert" tells him to expect the regionals to require his institution to hire practicing homosexuals within five years.
- In a discussion of what makes a Bible college distinct from other institutions of higher education, including Christian colleges teaching a traditional arts and sciences curriculum (what is historically labeled "liberal arts," not a term that one can utter these days without causing someone heartburn), a similar group discusses the term "missional." They show great enthusiasm for the term until one offers the bleak remark that the word has been co-opted by the "emergent church movement" to mean something "very different from what we mean," thereby destroying the commitment to the gospel of many formerly faithful churches as they promote the "social gospel." Thereafter, no one save our SWNIDish self wants to speak for the term as an apt descriptor of their institutions.
- In a meeting discussing the US Department of Education's plans for accreditation, a senior figure of the Bible college movement declares that he sees the plans of (Republican) Education Secretary Spellings as part of the inevitable progress toward one world government.
Why does SWNID (and, we believe, at least many of our Campbellite colleagues, none of whom made any of the remarks above) feel so alienated by these episodes? We expect that the answer is obvious: these comments reflect an extreme pessimism that ignores the past and the present in favor of grim prognostication. For Christians engaged in the cause of the gospel, there is nothing too good, it seems, that it can't go bad in an instant.
It's no coincidence, of course, that in these conversations, SWNID belongs to a minority of conversationalists who reject the tenets of dispensationalism, i.e. that the present "church age" is on the verge of yielding to a "tribulation" of untold awfulness for those who are, dare we say, "left behind" after the "rapture." There can be no question whatsoever that our colleagues are deeply rooted in the pessimism about the future that such a view necessarily engenders.
Of course, there's more than just dispensationalism at work in these judgments. There's also the legacy of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. In that century-old event, the shockwaves of which linger to the present, Christians who held to historic beliefs found themselves besieged by "modernists" who sought to take over institutions with dogmas shaped more by the contemporary insights of the nascent social and historical "sciences" (always more important than the natural sciences in these battles, we believe) than by Holy Writ. For many in institutions forged in those battles, the battle itself becomes the paradigm of all history: new movements are by definition suspect and are readily labeled with terms that properly refer to elements of those past battles. So, for example, "social gospel" is unchallenged as a term for those who say that the church must do well at doing good in order to win a hearing for the evangel.
SWNID, on the other hand, is ready to think other thoughts. We aren't dispensational. Neither, of course are we postmillennial, as JB in CA playfully accused us recently, thinking that things are inexorably marching toward a better future. We are amillennial. So we think that the world has been a pretty awful place for a long time and will remain so until the return of Jesus, the time of which we faithfully refuse to prognosticate. But we also think, with all the strength that our fallen but redeemed spirit can muster, that God's victory is powerfully at work in the world and that we, unworthy as we are, are blessed to participate in it.
We also tend to think that the fundamentalist-modernist controversy is not the model of all church history, any more than the present conflict between the broad tents of "conservatives" (fiscal, military, social and libertarian) and "liberals" (including socialists, populists, pacifists, and organized labor) defines every era of politics. We don't think that every new movement that "emerges" should be denounced until further notice, not least because the present shows that even the fundamentalist-modernist controversy yielded an overall victory for the orthodox side. So we are unlikely to think that someone who recommends a revision of present practices isn't by definition a wolf in sheep's clothing. We believe that when such folk speak, we have a responsibility to listen, think, and act on the best judgment that we can, informed by everything available to us but free of the suspicion that assumes monsters under the bed because you can never be too careful.
Call that outcome Christian critical, realistic, historically orthodox optimism. We think that too many Christians operate from a standpoint of fear. We keep trying to fear not.
These days, we think that this matter is what separates us from many of our non-Campbellite Bible college colleagues more than the classically definitive questions of getting in and staying in, i.e. predestination, baptism and security.
So we remain committed not to pander to or provoke the fears of our brothers and sisters. Instead, let's try to do stuff in the name of Jesus, figuring that he wins because he won already.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Krauthammer to Conservatives: Stop Whining About Candidates
In 2007 we have, by any reasonable historical standard, a fine Republican field: One of the great big-city mayors of the past century; a former governor of extraordinary executive talent; a war hero, highly principled and deeply schooled in national security; and a former senator with impeccable conservative credentials.
So why all the angst?
Indeed! We continue to prefer Our Man Rudy but enthusiastically affirm that we will vote enthusiastically for Romney, McCain or even the sphinx-like Thompson.
Take heart, friends! We have good frontrunners, and Pat Robertson isn't running at all.
24 Day 7 Trailer: Apologies, Torture and More Resurrection
We observe that Kiefer begins out of character with a statement of thanks to viewers that is essentially an apology for a weak Day 6 and a promise that Day 7 will be the Greatest Day Ever (biblical allusions are assumed to be unintentional here). But as Jack, addressing the recurrent 24 theme of torture he immediately refuses to apologize: "Don't expect me to regret the decisions that I have made, because, sir, the truth is, I don't."
No wonder our Seldom-Wrong pulse quickens whenever we watch 24.
We also observe that Jack is not the only character who can rise from the dead. Tony Almeda, favorite of females in the SWNID household, returns.
Rowling "Christian," Dumbledore "Gay": SWNID Catches Up
That sounds about right. Rowling wasn't writing Christian allegory, which was obvious. And she probably couldn't if she tried, which is fine. And she's on a pilgrimage, which is at worst honest and at best an honestly more accurate self-assessment for anyone than the kind that claims to have it all together.
So the books are what they have always appeared to be: an imaginary tour de force that explores the longings of humanity for justice, redemption and love and incorporates elements drawn from That Which Answers those longings, however imperfectly the author grasps those answers (for further reflection on this issue, we recommend reading, in addition to Greene, books at left by Dostoyevski, Endo, Updike, and O'Connor).
SWNID, who believes that evocation and provocation are often more powerful than indoctrination, is happy with this outcome.
Meanwhile, others are enraged that Rowling reveals that Dumbledore was gay. His relationship with Grindelwald, it seems, involved a powerful attachment of the future headmaster with the powerful, charismatic wizard. For whatever reason, the relationship was unconsummated.
Some Christians are incensed. We're not.*
Here's the deal, brothers and sisters. Every character in Potter's world is flawed. And as the background story develops in Deathly Hallows, we realize Dumbledore's youthful attachment to Grindlewald, whatever its nature, is his undoing.
Further, per Rowling, Dumbledore never acts sexually on his attraction and, per our own observation, in the story world never makes another such attachment. In other words, he experiences same-sex attraction but doesn't act on the urge.
That's the point, and to make the point, we'll oversimplify. In itself experiencing same-sex attraction is not sin, any more than in itself experiencing the urge to have sex with a member of the opposite sex to whom one is not married is sin, or experiencing a desire to slap someone's face is a sin. It's a temptation. The sin is in what one does with the urge.
Part of the fascinating power of Rowling's books is the Dickensian richness of her palette of characterization, which is to say that every character is a full-bodied, unique, believable person. Dumbledore is but one of many, and his experience is but one of many that evokes the fallenness of all.
The hysterical Potter critic linked above worries about Christians exposing their children to a gay character. She needs to realize that her children are in contact with real "gay" characters all the time. But let's be precise and stop saying "gay." Many people experience same-sex attraction, some more commonly and more powerfully than others. Some act on it, and some don't. As a Christian, I want to support those who don't, just as I myself need support to resist the urges that lead me to sin when I give in to them. As a parent and educator, I want people to understand that there's a big difference between affirming the presence and worth of people who experience same-sex attraction and treating homosexual acts as the moral equivalent of sex in permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
Dumbledore's experience is so much in the background of the Potter narrative that Christians hardly need to worry that their children will be corrupted by reading the books, any more than they should worry that the theme from Mr. Ed if played backwards sounds like "someone sang this song for Satan."
In fact, let's say the obvious: parents who think that this element of the narrative will corrupt young readers reveal thereby that they don't trust their children over time to develop critical thinking skills and don't trust the power of the gospel to overcome evil. For them, the message of God is so weak that it doesn't work in people's lives even if they hear it every day, and the message of Satan is so strong that it will overwhelm even when it is buried deep behind a fantasy narrative, so deep that the author has to tell us what was in her mind as she wrote.
Or to be blunt: Jesus wins; Satan loses. We are not called to retreat to a fortress. We are called to charge into enemy territory. It's God's world and he's taking it back. As in, "Take heart, for I have overcome the world."
*Those ready to accuse SWNID of being a relativist on homosexuality ought to read these posts as a reminder.
Another Reality Check: Fund on Huckabee
WSJ's John Fund makes us think carefully about this today, noting that Huckabee is not necessarily well respected by the southern conservatives who know him best.
We grant several qualifications as we read this article. One is that anyone whom the perpetually angry Phyllis Schafly finds objectionable has our prima facie endorsement, and the Anti-Hillary characterizes Huckabee as a Judas to conservatives. Another is that in certain circles in the South (e.g. the Southern Baptist Convention) the term "conservative" has become at once so extreme and so indiscriminate in its application as it make it impossible to know what members of such circles mean when they say Huckabee is no conservative.
However, Fund tempers our enthusiasm for the socially, geographically and temperamentally balanced elegance of a Giuliani-Huckabee ticket with the reality that Huckabee enthusiastically supports economic policies that would make people poorer than they are at present and the likelihood that Huckabee's positions are rooted in things other than the politically conservative intellectual tradition of Smith, Burke, Hayek, Kirk, Buckley, and Friedman.
Huckabee might not really balance Rudy's ticket, in other words. He might differently unbalance it.
Swing State FL Provides Republic with Reality Check
There's little wonder there. The electorate trails the news cycle by about 6 months. Recent events affirm that (a) the military is taking care of business in Iraq; (b) the Ds have no ability to govern. But voters will register this in their preferences sometime around Easter.
Nevertheless, there are leading indicators: Quinnipiac now shows Rudy leading Hillary Rodham Puffenstuff 46-43 in Florida.
Interestingly, a margin of these Rudy supporters cite disaffection from the party of Jefferson, Jackson and FDR because of its strong-arm tactics to settle when the state's presidential primary ought to be held. We assume that they realize that a party that can't govern itself won't do well with bigger responsibilities, as Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi demonstrate often.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
How Stupid Are Voters Who Go to Church?
Giuliani's opponents tend to blame his otherwise inexplicable support from churchgoers on the veils of ignorance that in time, they say, will be lifted from the eyes of voters. That implies voters are just too stupid to know the truth about him.
So whether you agree or disagree that Social Conservatives for Giuliani (honorary chair: SWNID) should be called "Stupid Is as Stupid Does," you'll want to read Novak's take on the matter.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Buchanan Raises Alarm, SWNID Quiets Irrational Fears
Buchanan outlines his objections to Bushism in four points:
- It is about big government instead of small-government, giving us No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D.
- It is Wilsonian interventionism instead of isolationism, giving us the Iraq War.
- It is in favor of more open immigration, giving us, well, more immigrants.
- It is pro-free-trade, giving us lots of imports from countries that don't buy our stuff.
And the results of this, per Buchanan, are big federal deficits, the worst strategic blunder in history, a backlash against the Republican party because Americans don't want more immigrants, and a massive trade deficit, giving dollars to the Chinese to invest in American businesses.
JB ask us, why should we not be concerned?
Well, to be frank, SWNID isn't concerned.
First, on big versus small government. These are relative terms. Part of the Bush calculation is to offer a relatively smaller federal program where the body politic for a big federal program and the Ds are ready to deliver all that and more. Bush's approach to the federalization of primary and secondary education and prescription drug coverage for seniors may not have been doctrinaire conservatism, but they at least kept the reins on what could otherwise have been much worse. NCLB is largely about demanding results for money spent, and Medicare D is still largely driven by the market. Still, we'll concede a bit of unease on some parts of this.
But on the rest, we're really comfortable.
Buchanan complains that Bush's big-government binge has frittered away the federal surplus and yielded big deficits. First, let's remember that in war, countries run deficits. But then, let's get real about the deficit. It's a record only in unadjusted dollars. As a percentage of the GDP, it's currently below the average for the last 50 years.
Further, let's be honest, as Greenspan was in his recent book. In the long term, federal surpluses are worse than deficits. With surpluses, once the federal debt is paid down (and it doesn't take a lot of years of surpluses to do that, despite the size of the debt), there's nothing to do with a surplus except to spend it (making bigger government), give it back (lowering taxes, a good thing, but will anyone do it?) or invest it. That last one is what the Democrat deficit hawks want to do: let Uncle Sam decide where America's money needs to be invested. We find that unsettling. Central economic planning has a miserable record to date.
However, the notion that the best budget is a balanced federal budget ignores other economic realities. Like Adam Smith, let's use a household as an example. Who are the wiser managers of household money: the father and mother who refuse ever to borrow a penny and so live with their children in a rented apartment until they can scrape together enough to buy a house at the end of their lives, or the father and mother who buy a house with a mortgage, raise their family in it, and pay it off near the end of their lives? The answer has to do with the fact that judicious borrowing for capital expenditures is wise because the value of the capital will be realized over the time that the loan is paid off.
So it is with federal deficits. Much governmental expenditure is capital: buildings, roads, tanks, ships, planes. Borrowing for such things is wise, and that means deficit spending. So treating a surplus budget like the best kind of budget is like treating a home mortgage like an unwise thing.
On Bush's muscular Wilsonianism, we continue to applaud the notion that American power can be used to bring freedom and democracy to other parts of the world. Iraq demonstrates that this requires wisdom and patience, that it will never go perfectly and so action must be judicious and sparing. But it doesn't disprove the value of the ideal. The idea that we could effectively advance democracy with diplomacy apart from the threat of force simply misjudges the nature of the undemocratic folk who lead the countries who need democracy. Buchanan would think that using diplomacy to advance democracy is even more ridiculous, and rightly so. But Buchanan just wants the rest of the world to ... well ... you know.
On open immigration, we insist that those nations in the present world and in history that have been most prosperous also have been most open to accepting and assimilating immigrants. Why, for example, are so many Poles living and working in Ireland right now? We think it's great to be in a country where everyone else wants to live and work, and we welcome everyone who wants to contribute to the welfare of others who live here.
On free trade, Buchanan doesn't realize the economic dogma that trade deficits are self-correcting. The weak dollar resulting from our trade deficit is a good thing, part of the cycle of correction, and will stimulate American manufacturing growth and exports. Likewise, who is worried that the Chinese are buying interests in US businesses? Their money will buy capital improvements that will increase productivity and create jobs and wealth for Americans. Their investments, their hiring of employees and their business activities will be regulated by American law. The more invested the Chinese are here, and the more we are invested there, the less likely we are to go to war with them.
SWNID is about to make an unfair judgment, which is what SWNID does best. Pat Buchanan is insecure and consequently xenophobic. He thinks that the good that we have in this country is fragile, that it must be protected or it will collapse. We think that there are people who, given the opportunity, would take stuff from us, including our lives. But America won't collapse because we buy grapes from Chile or TVs from China or because they guy who puts siding on our house came from Mexico or Ukraine. Neither will it collapse because some of our businesses are owned by folks who look different from us (BTW, the UK remains the biggest foreign investor in the US, but Buchanan doesn't use them as an example, does he?).
We do remain concerned that the electorate is unaware of these realities. But we aren't in favor of pandering to their fears. Rather, let's just keep telling the truth.
Guthrie Right, Campolo Deaf but Not Mute
Guthrie is essentially accusing Campolo of posturing with his recent "Red Letter Christians" tag, asserting that concern for justice means being on the left but then acting as if the whole thing is nonpartisan.
Campolo replays his usual rhetoric that ignores the obvious point Guthrie makes.
Furthermore, Campolo shows himself a poor theologian to boot. Note how he sets up Jesus as the adversary of Moses. This is simply a poor reading of the Hebrew Bible, not to mention a poor reading of the New Testament. We'd say more, but we talk about this so much in class that we expect many readers of this blog, being current and former students, can fill in the blanks.
Here's Guthrie's most excellent closing observation:
How we vote as Christians may differ, and that's okay. But let's not insist that we are somehow above the political fray. That is just the kind of sophistry the Lord warned against.
We most heartily agree.
Please, Dr. Campolo, Jim Wallis and all who act as if Christianity and pacifistic socialism are identical: quit claiming to love Jesus more than Christians who support free markets, small government and just war. It's just possible that socialism impoverishes and pacifism kills.
Gore Lies, Wins the Nobel Prize
On Wednesday a British judge ruled that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth could be shown in Britain's secondary schools only if students were first warned that the film contained "serious scientific inaccuracies, political propaganda and sentimental mush."
Today the Nobel Prize Committee announced that Gore would share the Nobel Peace Prize with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Nobel Peace Prize is now officially the equivalent of a championship awarded by World Wrestling Entertainment. And the British High Court is officially the last bastion of common sense in Europe, save maybe the brain of Nicholas Sarkozy.
We would make comparison to the charge that Dubya lied about WMD, but it's simply too obvious to bother.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Limbaugh: Dems Will Deep-Six Iraq Issue
Say what you will about Rush (and we'll say his radio show is a shadow of its former self, rather like Garrison Keillor's, who will really appreciate our mentioning him in the same sentence as Limbaugh), he's got impressive political instincts. That's why his observation is so provocative that the Dems have already decided to "move on" from Iraq as an election issue. With everyone but Bill Richardson, who has as much chance of the nomination as SWNID has of the Nobel Prize for literature, admitting that troops will remain in Iraq for at least another five years (only a tenth of our tenure in Korea, of course), it appears that Dems will only bring up Iraq long enough to feed the expectations of their hard left base.
What this may well mean is that the 2008 election will be fought on terms closer to 2000 than 2004, namely the difference between center-left economic interventionism and center-right economic libertarianism, with a side-dish of red meat about social issues for the party faithful. The difference, however, will be that in 2000 voters were tired of the Ds, while in 2008 they're tired of the Rs.
In that respect, the upcoming election may most closely resemble 1992. Which is why Rs need a candidate who will shake up the party's status quo. Which is why we support [fill in rest of paragraph from memory].
Bronson Covers CCU's "Beyond the Call" Chapel
By the way, we affirm Bronson's affirmation of the jail tax, subject of a referendum in Hamilton County on election day, November 6.
Amazingly, six past presidents of the Cincinnati NAACP recently broke with the current leadership by endorsing the tax. That makes this referendum the most divisive issue in local politics in recent memory, splitting both the NAACP and the two Republicans on the Hamilton County Commission (boo to Pat DeWine for being an opportunistic knucklehead on this issue).
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Why Rudy Loses, Why Rudy Wins
William Kristol does so on the assumption that OMR is the candidate most likely to prompt a third-party antiabortion candidate to run, whose small popular-vote margin would erode OMR's otherwise very narrow advantage over That Woman Hillary.
Maggie Gallagher (thanks to JB in CA for the link) does the same, arguing further that OMR probably would renege on his pledge to appoint strict constructionist judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Fair enough, say we. Both of these outcomes are possible. We would like to make three points in rejoinder, the last of which matters most.
- It's nowhere apparent that any of the other Republicans would fare any better than Bob Dole in 1996. We're not for electing another Clinton because we can't find someone who can beat a Clinton.
- Gallagher points out that it was hard for Reagan to appoint pro-life justices. Agreed. So she says it will be harder still for OMR. Perhaps. But that's the deal with the abortion issue and the president: there's just not much the president can do about it, period, including any other Republican besides OMR, assuming such a person can be elected. So much as we care about the abortion issue, it's not at the top of our list for presidential candidates.
- Rudy's real strength--really the political necessity of his candidacy for the GOP--is in the Electoral College, where the next POTUS will be chosen. To wit: OMR credibly threatens to carry New York, possibly also neighboring states like New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and perhaps also California. He forces the TWH to spend money defending states that the Ds have taken for granted since 1996. He upsets the delicate balance of the Electoral College, where for two elections a single "battleground" state (Florida and Ohio, respectively) has decided the election.
If Rudy can carry all the red states plus NY, there's nary a way that Hillary can get a majority of electoral votes. No other candidate has the potential to do that, and it's doubtful that any other candidate could merely hold the red states.
We therefore declare the received dogma to be dogma still. We aver, however, that the reason we have elections is the same reason we have ballgames: to see who will actually win. It's a long time until November 4, 2008--391 days to be exact.
Our Day in the Museum: Part Three
Today we begin to note various statements made in museum displays that reflect theological judgments that go well beyond the clear statements of the Bible and which are not necessarily widely held by Christians who take the Bible as their sole or primary authority for theology.
One is the explanation of God's slaying of an animal to provide covering for Adam and Eve's nakedness (Genesis 3:21). The display says (emphasis inserted):
God killed animals to provide skins to cover Adam and Eve. This was the first sacrifice to cover their sin. For centuries, animals would continue to be sacrificed for sin. But because humans are not related to animals, animal sacrifices cannot take away sin. They can only cover it temporarily.
Viewing this episode as a sacrifice is, of course, more than the text actually says. But we don't object to that assertion: it is one commonly made by interpreters and is not without justification.
However, as far as we know, there's nothing explicit in the Bible about animal sacrifice being inadequate to atone for human sin specifically because animals are "not related" to humans, though we invite gentle readers to offer textual support for this notion if they can find it. Yes, Hebrews asserts the inadequacy of animal sacrifice for atonement, but not on this basis as such.
So why this assertion? We think the answer is simple. Ham is seeking a theological means of excluding the possibility of macro-evolution. If animals cannot atone for human sin, but if a creature "related" to humans can atone for human sin, then animals cannot be related to humans.
Of course, there is a logical error here, even granting the premise about relatedness. Could a "related" creature still be inadequate for substitutionary atonement for another reason? That seems possible enough: because the creature is of lesser value than the one for whom it is given as a substitute is one obvious possibility.
But what if it isn't just relatedness that matters? What if it's identity: actually being the very same kind of creature? Then even a related animal is inadequate: we need one of the same kind, not just a related kind. Hmm.
Further, Ham is happy to assert a similarity between humans and other animals in other parts of his exposition. It is important to him that humans and animals are nephesh (a subject for another posting), but plants are not. Clearly he sees similarities and differences between humans and other animate creatures, as just about everyone does who has ever contemplated the matter.
Ham's assertion is, in our theological opinion, unwarranted. Hebrews, obviously unconcerned as the book is about Darwinian macro-evolution, says less about the atonement problem than Ham does, and Anselm is a better guide to the logic of atonement than Ham. The degree to which humans are "related" to animals can't be settled a priori on Ham's theological ground. If all animals are descended from a common ancestor (and we don't know whether they are or not), the doctrine of the atonement is unaffected.
Again, our primary objection to all this is not that such conjectures are bad in themselves. It is the absolutist rhetoric of the presentation. The museum asserts that this view and this view alone constitutes the only valid interpretation of the biblical doctrine of creation. One must have all of it or none of it. But those who note what is included in this all-or-nothing choice need to know how much is Bible and how much is problematic conjecture.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Brooks on the Odyssey
David Brooks, restored to free access after being the only Times columnist who would have been worth paying for, today offers a timely column reviewing recent research on that most curious social phenomenon: the social drifting that has become characteristic of America's twenty-somethings.
For those who don't register what Brooks is talking about, think of Friends or, worse, Knocked Up. Young adults in 2007 tend to be underconnected professionally and relationally. Whereas we oldsters of the baby boom, despite our reputation for Woodstock and such, tended to start real careers, get married and have kids, our kids are going back and forth from school to job, living at home and then getting their own places and then moving back home, and drifting through casual relationships.
That's not news. What Brooks offers, however, is that the behavior may be a rational response to the way that our world exists at present, with a changing postindustrial economy based on constantly morphing technology.
We add that the strong economy doesn't hurt at all. The fact that a 25-year-old with no particular skill set can get a job (e.g. Starbucks barista or Verizon sales associate) more or less instantly that pays enough for a shared apartment and a lease on a Chevy Cobalt and keep it for as long or short as she or he wants surely plays a role in this.
At any rate, those of us who want to understand the world of the odyssey, the years between adolescence and adulthood, will get a clue from Brooks.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Our Day in the Museum: Part Two
This is nowhere better illustrated than on a couple of displays in the first third of the museum. One reads as follows:
The church believed God's Word.
Based on the Bible, Ussher calculated creation at 4004 B.C.
The church questioned it.
"Is 6,000 years enough time?"
Humanity abandoned it.
"Millions of years ago . . ."
A few steps later, one sees a more detailed chronology of the previously described questioning and abandonment. The display contrasts Luther's assertion of biblical authority with the views of various figures who suggested that "day" in Genesis 1 might refer to something other than 24 hours as measured by timepieces set to the current rotation of the earth.
Now, one might easily expect that all such folk rightly belong to that category so easily labeled "liberal" by those whose theological categories were first shaped to describe the fundamentalist-modernist controversy and then applied to every theological dispute past or present. And indeed, some named on the AIG display could be so described within the very broad parameters with which the "L" word is commonly applied by contemporary evangelical laypeople.
But some are, well, not so easily labeled. Among those cited on the display as inciting the questions that led to abandonment (and we quote from the displays):
B. B. Warfield (1851-1921)
leading defender of the Bible's inerrancy at Princeton Theological Seminary, accepted the possibility that God directed the evolution of life (theistic evolution) (On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race, 1885)
Charles Hodge (1797-1878)
leading defender of the Bible's inerrancy at Princeton Theological Seminary, argued that "day" can mean millions of years in Genesis 1 (Systematic Theology, 1873)
The display goes on to mention that the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible endorse the so-called "gap theory" that postulates millions or billions of years between the "beginning" and God's creating the [present] earth in Genesis 1:1.
We find this aspect of the Creation Museum enormously revealing. It is the frankest acknowledgement in the museum that Christians with as much commitment to the authority of the Bible as Ken Ham and his associates disagree that the Bible must be understood to assert that the earth is young. To put it differently, there is no one in the history of Christianity whose advocacy of the authority, infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible was more clear and thorough than Hodge, Warfield and Scofield. Yet even these would take issue with the assertion of AIG that creation took exactly 144 hours and that Ussher was correct that the biblical genealogies were sufficiently complete to allow for a calculation of the age of the earth.*
As readers of this blog no doubt realize, the reasons for rejecting Ussher are many and varied, and well documented in all kinds of places. We simply point out here that Ham and his associates have staked out a position that essentially says, Even among those who believe the Bible, only those agreeing with us on this disputed point of interpretation are really faithful to the Bible.
Sorry, Mr. Ham. We are too committed to liberty in nonessentials/opinions of biblical interpretation, let alone too familiar with the problems of your line of interpretation, to let such a claim go unaddressed. Your weak case is not made stronger by the not-so-subtle disparagement of Christians who take a different view (in the museum, the real disparagement is in a video depicting some teens acting up during a smart-alec sermon that affirms biblical creation but denies six 24-hour days and the Ussher chronology). If anything, you appear to be defensive and divisive, not exactly characteristics that commend you as a paragon of the orderly, merciful, godly life that you want to issue from a proper grasp of creation's origins with the orderly, merciful God.
*All that makes AIG what it is can be hung on those two hooks: "day" in Genesis 1 must mean 24 hours and Ussher's approach to the genealogies is correct. All else that is distinctive about their assertions is derived from these points. Nothing else divides them from any other Christian approach to the science of origins.
WHHS Homecoming: Great Fun, But the Quest Continues
No, the football team did not end its quest for a W. But the pregame carnival (organized by carnival experts, namely, parents from Fairview German Language School) was a huge success, the stands were packed, the Marching Blue and Gold executed their show with impressive precision, and a fun time was had by all, including Little Miami's delightfully spirited visitors' section.
And SWNID managed to enjoy the football game while listening to the MLB Division Series on a headset radio.
Principal Jeff Brockamp deserves accolades for his efforts to turn transform WHHS's Friday night atmosphere from funereal to festive. We commend his efforts to bring transformation to pockets of indifference at the celebrated high school.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Enquirer Nicely Covers WHHS Football Quagmire
Today's Enquirer covers the situation with a degree of thoroughness, fairness and sympathy seldom seen in journalism these days. We commend the writer, Tom Groschen, for the superb coverage.
We also commend the new WHHS principal, Jeff Brokamp, for the steps he has taken to raise the profile of the football program, in hopes of attracting more athletes to the team, thereby creating a measure of success that will encourage still more participation and allow everyone to have a better experience.
We expect to attend the WHHS homecoming game tonight. Care to join us?
Sunny Optimism for a Friday, But Will Anyone Listen?
Like reducing the global rate of poverty by 50% between 2000 and 2015. How nice is that?
Moore attributes the improvement in human health, prosperity and freedom to the spread of capitalism. We agree.
As a Christian, we don't think that being materially prosperous is the most important thing. But we also don't think there's any reason to make people suffer, either. So we think this is a good thing.
Meanwhile, it seems that a majority of the party of Reagan doesn't share our sunny view of these pleasant developments. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans recently polled said that they think that free trade pacts are a bad thing for the United States. We guess that a decade of free trade agreements with historically minute rates of unemployment just aren't acceptable!
Our Day in the Museum: Part One
Knowing that gentle readers want to hear our views on the museum after our having visited it--some for the opportunity to take issue with us, we will strive to oblige.
First, we mention that above all we were glad to see two good friends who are valued museum employees, and we know others who work there as well whom we did not see. We have utter respect for the Christian faith, ethics, and professionalism of all these people. We also enjoyed meeting a senior executive of the organization with whom we had previously shared some correspondence, and we look forward to a pleasant and productive relationship with him in the future. If we knew other employees, we probably would feel the same way about them too. If we have a criticism of the message conveyed by the museum or other AIG acts of communication, it in no way reflects on our sense of Christian siblinghood with any of these folk.
Second, we stress the degree to which we agree with the message of AIG. We agree that atheistic Darwinism is epistemologically unwarranted and socially deleterious (translation for that gentle reader who sometimes complains about the diction of this blog: there's no good reason to believe that everything exists without a creator, and believing in no creator makes it hard to have a good life). We believe that the biblical view of a God who creates all that exists for the purpose of human habitation on earth is the most coherent explanation of all of human knowledge and experience. We believe that this message needs to be spoken to our culture in a way that is clear, forthright and appealing.
Third, and not unexpectedly, we register the judgment that the Creation Museum, like everything that we've seen of AIG, is thoroughly the expression of the views and vision of the organization's founder, Ken Ham. We first heard Ham in the early 90s, when he first came to Cincinnati. The museum is the three-dimensional, multimedia realization of the same message that he delivered on the CCU campus on that occasion. The museum would not exist in the form it does if he had not singlemindedly pursued the precise point of view that he was articulating when he first came to the United States.
All that having been said, our day in the museum confirmed what has been our objection to Ham's message since we first heard it: it unfairly and inaccurately mischaracterizes the issue as a choice between atheistic Darwinism and young-earth creationism. In so doing, Ham does more than commit a logical error. His rhetoric and argumentation that follow as a consequence of this false choice have various effects, none of which are in our SWNIDish opinion good effects:
- By presenting only two points of view and excluding all others, notably the variety of approaches that can broadly be labeled "old-earth creationism," Ham at best marginalizes and at worst vilifies people whose commitment to the Christian Scriptures is no less than his, and whose understanding of those same Scriptures arguably exceeds his.
- By presenting only two points of view and excluding all others, Ham pushes people who are sincerely convinced that converging lines of evidence argue for an old earth and an old universe to conclude that they can never believe the Christian message.
- To support his conclusions, Ham and his associates assert various conjectures as characteristic of a biblical view even though at best they have nothing to do with what the Bible says. Rhetorically they tend to identify these conjectures as what the Bible actually says. Some of these conjectures create additional problems in biblical interpretation, which in turn Ham must address with additional conjectures. And so Ham constructs a house of cards no less difficult to sustain than the very view he opposes, and having little to do with what the Bible actually says to boot.
Those three effects of the AIG/Creation Museum message are of deep concern to our SWNIDish self. We care deeply about Christian unity, about evangelism, and about respecting the authority of the Bible by speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent. If that makes us a Campbellite, then we are proud (modestly, of course) to be labeled such. We hope it makes us just a Christian, which is what a Campbellite is supposed to say in such circumstances. If Christians who don't think of themselves as Campbellites agree that these are important commitments, then we are again pleased, declaring such folk crypto-Campbellites if they aren't offended by such.
But in any case, these are not matters that we can take lightly.
We took substantial electronic notes during our brief visit to the Creation Museum. We confess that we don't have the time and energy to assemble a thorough critique of what we saw, let alone to examine the printed and video material that AIG produces to articulate the details of Ken Ham's position (and of those who have found common cause with him). We do, however, think it lies within our means to serve up some specific observations about specific details from time to time. To make the experience manageable both to write and to read, we'll do it occasionally, as our whim warrants and our time allows.
Today, we offer this observation, somewhat off topic: to our eye the museum was full of visitors, but one of our friends who works at the museum described the attendance as relatively low compared to most recent days. This bodes well for the museum's financial solvency, something about which we expressed skepticism in the past.
We note, however, that the Thursday crowd was composed largely of elderly white folk who looked very ... well ... churchy (and there's nothing wrong with that, most particularly as SWNID aspires to be an elderly white folk someday and will likely be judged churchy by many). There were some families present, and these looked like ... well ... Christian home schoolers (and there's nothing wrong with that either, as anyone would be glad to have children as evidently bright, orderly and well groomed as these were).
This was a weekday, and folks with honest jobs or corporate (government or private) school schedules aren't going to be at the Creation Museum on a weekday. But we wonder nevertheless whether the Creation Museum will convey its message, which is overtly evangelistic, to people who haven't been evangelized already. SWNID has much experience with Christians organizing large, appealing events or experiences to offer to the public as a means of communicating some aspect of the Christian message, or even simply as a means of providing a nonthreatening point of contact between the church and the unchurched. We've seen often how such efforts soon reach only people who are already convinced of the truth of the message and striving to live by it. To put it more simply, Christians often put a lot of effort into an outreach event and end up preaching to the choir.
Is that the effect of the Creation Museum?
If so, it's our hope that Christians will process the message so as not to exclude what the museum does exclude: that there are biblically faithful, intellectually coherent points of view besides young earth creationism, and people who hold those views aren't The Enemy. But they'll have to do that on their own. The museum wasn't designed to help them think that thought.
It's also our hope that other Christians can get an alternative word to those who have heard of the museum, taken its binary choice as valid and decided thereby that they must dismiss Christian claims. It seems to us that the best means of getting that alternative word to the public is not to build another museum. It's probably not to spend our efforts criticizing AIG, either. But it does matter that Christians engage the world of science (and philosophy of science) in a way that makes clear that the Christian view of God is coherent with what we know from science, even more so than other worldviews/metanarratives/religions/philosophies.
And so we commend those so engaged.
Kaplan: Warriors Want and Deserve Respect
That's why his opinion piece in yesterday's WSJ is so important. In essence, he points out that the American elites, including the MSM, are intent on portraying Americas warriors as hapless victims of a misguided military policy. They don't see it that way, of course. Like all soldiers, they are happy to point out every bad decision made by their commanders. But as volunteers, they don't want pity for the choices they have made. They want respect as professionals who know how to do their jobs better than any group of military professionals at any point in history.
Kaplan essentially asks everyone to process the message this way: (a) do you know abut the abuses at Abu Ghraib? (Answer: Of course!); (b) Do you know about American military personnel awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the War on Terror? (Answer: How can I if no one tells me?). The fact that the answers are so predictable tells us volumes about what matters to those who deign it their profession to tell the important stories to the rest of us.
Knowing that some who wear the uniform occasionally read this blog, we will say again: soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, you have our utmost respect and thanks. You have taken on an enormous burden that few choose but from which all benefit. In your commitment to your work and your comrades, your focus on the principles that direct your difficult work, and the modesty and grace with which you accept the dangers, the difficulties, the praise and the blame that come your way, you inspire and challenge us.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
SWNID to Evangelicals: Stop It with the Israel Stuff
The coverage focuses predictably on one aspect of the story: that Israelis are conflicted about their political and economic dependence on people whom they view as theologically goofy and possibly threatening, specifically because these evangelicals look forward to the massive conversion of Jews during the Great Tribulation, which most Jews understand would mean that there would be no more Jews.
We will lay aside our concern about the persistent definition of Judaism as anything but belief in Jesus as the Jewish messiah. Instead we will focus on our concern about the very unbiblical things that people believe when they believe dispensationalism. But we will keep it short.
Dispensationalists believe that the modern state of Israel represents the fulfillment of biblical prophecy that Israel will return to the land after the exile. That's why these Evangelical pilgrims/celebrants insist that their support for Israel is unqualified, that Israel must not give up a square foot of land to the Palestinians, and that bad stuff happens to Americans whenever Israel makes a move to give up land. It's God's will that Israel take and hold its historic territory right now.
Unfortunately for dispensationalism, the New Testament identifies the coming of Jesus and its saving aftermath as the fulfillment of the promises of postexilic return. The problem with dispensationalism is that it actually marginalizes the significance of Jesus.
Nevertheless, we are not as concerned as some are about dispensationalists' blind political support for Israel. Seven thousand Americans in Jerusalem sounds like a lot until one realizes that just about every medium-sized city in America has an evangelical church that has more people than that on a Sunday morning.
This event in Jerusalem is a meeting of fringe folks who have only the most marginal influence on policy. The American government has supported Israel for sixty years largely because it is a reliable ally in a part of the world where we really need a reliable ally, not because some people who have memorized the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible have undue influence at the State Department.
More on Winning Iraq and Winning in '08
We urge the reading of the entire piece but can't resist this delicious pull quote (emphasis inserted):
So--with the Sunni insurgency defeated, the Shiite nationalists inside the government, breakup and true civil war avoided, Iran a pest at worst, regional sectarian disruption a fantasy and a White House that will not be forced into declarations of defeat by three IEDs a day--the main questions of Iraqi politics have been resolved. Despite the huge prices paid for these victories, the resolutions have mostly been for the best.
Patience has been the only weapon missing in America's arsenal. But maybe, just maybe, we can eke out enough of it to see this through to a reasonably happy ending.
Meanwhile, Democrats, undeterred by the war's success, continue to plot to end it. The latest is a ploy to authorize funding only through February, at which point they hope for enough bad news to be able to do what Frank Church did to Vietnam, guarantee its fall by cutting off funding. But these days it appears possible that by February funding might be reduced because things are going so very well.
So here's an interesting political dilemma for Democrats, and a potentially intractable problem for Republicans. Do Democrats remain in defeat mode to satisfy their Angry Left pacifist base through the primaries? If so, what do they do if victory is looking like a foregone conclusion by spring? Can they count on the electorate being ready to move on from a Republican-led military victory to a Democratic administration? It took a couple of years for voters to decide to punish G. H. W. Bush for winning in the Middle East. Could it take only a few months now?
And if voters decide they are just tired of Republicans whether they win in Iraq or not, is there anything Republicans can do to prevent their electoral defeat?
Americans might just manage the requisite patience for a preliminary victory. But will they manage to have long enough memories to sustain a victory?
Strickland Exposes SCHIP Hypocrisy, Unintentionally
For the last two days, Cincinnati's esteemed NPR news affiliate has been covering Strickland's reaction to Bush's vetoing of SCHIP funding. The station has reported his dramatic statement in two distinct parts (and we'd love to supply a link to this coverage, but we can't find one):
- Strickland says that this veto means that millions of children, thousands of them in Ohio, will not get the health care that they need.
- Strickland says that the veto will not require a change in Ohio's budget for SCHIP.
Yes, this veto is terrible, awful. Kids will die in the streets. No, this veto doesn't mean a thing for Ohio's SCHIP program. We can fund our budget perfectly well at current levels without this bill passing. Wow!
We couldn't ask for a more obvious admission that for the Democrats the entire SCHIP affair has been a matter of trying either to expand SCHIP to become a middle-class entitlement or to stick the Rs with bogus blame for letting sick children die.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Lawsuit Asserts Nepotistic Corruption at Oral Roberts U
This the first chapter in what will probably be a long story. But that doesn't stop us from offering our SWNIDish observations:
- ORU is not the only Christian organization to practice nepotism. In fact, it's tough to find a Christian organization that hasn't done some dynastic hiring.
- Nepotism is not always bad. SWNID highly esteems his professorial colleagues who are the seed of his own esteemed professors. The case has been made that there is an inherent wisdom in hiring from the family.
- Too many Christian organizations are so closely identified with a single individual that they invite corruption. We have a friend, whom we won't name, who once attended a college, which we won't name, and later returned there as a faculty member. He later told us that within six months of his hiring, he recognized that the organization had become so much a cult to protect and enhance the public image of the personality who founded and ran the college, he would either have to leave, become utterly cynical, or "drink the Kool-Aid." He left and is very happy teaching elsewhere. He is not alone.
- The credibility of the claims of the plaintiffs is presently for SWNID enhanced by the facts that (a) they seek very limited cash damages; (b) their accounts sound sufficiently detailed and coherent to suggest that they are based on fair recollection of facts. Still, we defer to the legal process to sort all this out.
So at this point, here's our word of caution. Let's all knock off the identification of certain individuals as especially gifted--or worse, "anointed" (only one "Anointed One" is really needed, yes?)--to be the near dictatorial heads of Christian organization. SWNID, being a little executive, understands the importance of executive leadership. But SWNID, being a Christian, understands the weaknesses of sinful human beings.
ORU was founded around the personality of one Oral Roberts (side note: never name anything after a person who is still alive, lest that person permanently embarrass you, cf. "Pete Rose Way"). Said personality was, to say the least, a problematic public figure. Somehow, influence at ORU passed from the Reverend Mr. Roberts to his offspring. They now seem to play the role of Eli's sons.
When organizations with the personality cults nepotize their second generation, they create the potential for all something really awful.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
C. F. D. Moule, 1908-2007
Those who do NT academically don't need to be told who Moule is. Those who don't should read the Independent's obituary to get a sense of the world in which so much influential scholarship on the Bible has been recently done. One can also learn that devotion to God, learning and good sense can somehow reside in the same person.
Epic Small-Screen Synergy
Something New for Waxman to Investigate
How big a drop, you ask? How about 50%?
Obviously something is wrong here. Since it is well known that the surge isn't working, that a massive civil war is going on relentlessly, and that all hope in Iraq is lost for the next century, the drop in deaths demands explanation. Are casualties dropping because everyone is already dead? Because every available bullet and explosive has been used already? Because the Evil Bush Administration has enlisted Halliburton secretly to take over the Associated Press?
We call for a Congressional Investigation, led by the intrepid Henry Waxman (D-Unctuousness), whose major qualification for leading such an investigation is ... well ... that he's led a lot of investigations.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Dobson Flirts with Ultimate Political Disaster
James Dobson is a great remedy for bad parenting. We SWNIDishly affirm the core insights of Dare to Discipline and his other books on the subject: that children of all ages crave order and parents should provide it, for the good of all.
James Dobson is not, however, even a marginal remedy for bad culture or bad politics. He's proved that far too many times.
So now it's no surprise when the Gray Lady reports that Dobson and friends are openly flirting with a third-party candidate* should Our Man Rudy get the GOP nomination.
Nothing ever demonstrates the political irrelevancy of an individual or group as much as their backing a third-party candidate. Such movements never elect said candidates, never affect the outcome of the general election in a way that favors the agenda of the group, seldom restore a mainline party's platform to the group's agenda, and often permanently consign all associated with the third-party effort to the political wilderness.
The only positive effect of third-party candidacies is that they help elect the candidate most unlike the third-party candidate. And in 2008, that would be That Woman.
The Times handles all this with their usual silliness. Referring to Dobson's Council for National Policy as "secretive," the article somehow manages to report on what the secretive group is deliberating. However, give them kudos for noting that lots of religious conservatives want nothing to do with third parties.
Like this one.
Rudy has said he'll appoint justices in the mold of Roberts and Alito. We all know that That Woman will appoint Ruth Bader Ginsberg's Evil Twin and Evil Triplet. Since appointing justices is about all a POTUS gets to do with abortion, our pro-life heart is strangely warmed by Our Man.
Enough, Dr. Dobson. Give us an updated edition of Dare to Discipline and then retire to a nice home somewhere in the mountains or the desert. Stop with the movie reviews and the political endorsements, for goodness' sake (and we mean that last phrase literally).
*In passing, we wonder who Dobson could get to run. No one with political ambitions for anything beyond state legislature would see a third-party candidacy with Dobson as anything other than political suicide. Part of the comic nature of third-party candidates is that none has been remotely fit to govern since TR's Bull Moose debacle in 1912.
SWNID Recommends Sleep Aid
- As a sleep aid, this product is definitely not habit forming. Most patients find it difficult to use more than once.
- Warning: may cause nausea.
- Do not use this product with ketchup.
Myanmar: Very, Very Bad
China has the greatest influence on the Burmese junta. It's time that the Chinese government proved that it's serious about global citizenship and used that influence to put an end to these atrocities.
News reports say nothing about the effect of all this on the growing number of Christians in Myanmar, and since the government has shut down the Internet, folks with contacts in Myanmar aren't getting email from those contacts.
The advantage of Great Britain's post-colonial position is that its news agencies maintain good coverage of parts of the world that Americans think of as irrelevant. Look to the UK MSM for any significant coverage of the situation.