Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rand and Paul

By request of our gentle readers, we briefly opine on the influence of the creepy Ayn Rand on GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan. For those expecting us to provide links for further background, a common practice of ours, we offer our apologies. We think that this topic deserves the attention requested but not so much as to embroil us in research that others can carry out for themselves.

For those hiding from awful literature, we provide the reminder that Ayn Rand was the celebrated author of such unreadable propagandistic novels as Atlas Shrugged. Purveyor of something called "objectivism," which she styled a philosophy, Rand excited many in the past and continues to excite many in the present with the idea that the pursuit of profit is for the public good, that the heroes of modern life are its successful, selfish entrepreneurs.

Paul Ryan, it is widely reported, got turned on to free-market economics by reading Rand as an adolescent. Through Rand, Ryan got the notion that the world might be a better, not worse, place for the pursuit of profit, something that the young and idealistic sometimes have to be forced to consider, it seems.

Of course, Rand's "philosophy" goes well beyond the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith and other observers of economics. It is allegedly scornful of religion, altruism, and weakness, arguably a severe variety of social Darwinism. Naturally, people who hear that a leading pol was ever a fan of Rand will wonder how far that fanaticism extends.

Is Paul Ryan a secret disciple of Rand, sending endless votes to the Modern Library to get Rand's books rated as highly as the esteemed L. Ron Hubbard, that other entrepreneurial demagogue of nonliterary dreck? Does his budget agenda hide a more sinister agenda to revolutionize our Republic according to Rand's dystopic vision?

Well, no.

Ryan has been widely heard explaining his youthful enthusiasm for Rand as just that: youthful enthusiasm. After a short while, he had read and thought widely enough to see the weaknesses in Rand's so-called objectivism, rejecting what didn't make sense.

But Rand opened his eyes to something he hadn't considered. So he regards the discovery as monumental in his experience, still holding some affection for the author who had such a profound, if now sharply limited, influence on him.

More obviously, Paul Ryan is a devout, thoughtful, well informed Roman Catholic. His positions as a Catholic may be controversial with some Catholics, including many bishops, who prefer, as Ryan has put it, to see the preferential option for the poor as a preferential option for big government. Be that as it may--a very important intra-Catholic debate over the last couple of generations--Ryan has demonstrated clearly enough that his Catholic faith trumps his youthful devotion to Rand.

And so a SWNIDish parallel. We discovered the wonders of jazz in the 1970s, initially in large part through the recordings of Chick Corea and his various sidemen who wrote, recorded and performed as Return to Forever. Theirs was a fusion of jazz with rock. In retrospect, we still have affection for that music, though realizing now that only some of the band's recordings were really worthy of our attention. Moreover, we now greatly prefer to listen to American improvised music performed on more traditional instruments and drawing more directly from the grammar of jazz established over the genre's history.

Now, back in the day and even until now, every recording by Chick Corea and his sidemen includes a dedication to L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, the eminent composer and keyboardist is a Scientologist who prefers to play with others of the same persuasion.

We are not and have never been a Scientologist. We've never been interested in any aspect of Scientology or its founder. We denounce and repudiate Scientology and all its allies. We flatulate in its general direction. But we still remember Return to Forever fondly.

Paul Ryan could say roughly the same about objectivism, except that he was for a time directly interested.

Nothing to see here people. Just keep moving to November 6. Thank you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Generational Contrasts

Helen Gurley Brown, whose acute public-mindedness led her to become the authoress of Sex and the Single Girl and the editor who turned Cosmopolitan from a sophisticated general-interest magazine to a sex-obsessed supermarket checkout fixture, has died.

At the age of 90.

Her death is sad as all deaths are sad. For SWNID her age is arresting.

That's one year younger than SWNID's mother. Ms. Brown and our beloved mother are very much members of the same generation.

Ms. Brown gave American women permission to be successful and slutty at the same time.

SWNID's mother was married to the same man for 70.5 years. She has discovered that her purpose in aged widowhood is to counsel the nursing staff who cares for her to eschew sexual promiscuity and find God through Jesus Christ. More than one has responded by giving up her baby-daddy and getting herself and her kids to church. Really.

These two women, born about a year apart just as the 20s began to roar, each remarkable in her own way, responded very differently to the opportunities and pressures of modernity.

We prefer the legacy left by one of them.

Let this be a warning to all those who pronounce about what this or that generation is going to do. Choices are made and lives are lived by individuals. Choose well, and live well, gentle readers.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage and the Biblical Christian

We've seen more than enough of the same-sex marriage discussion to last us an eternal lifetime. But some voices are persistent enough, raising sufficient questions for the faithful and curious, that we are compelled, from our lofty position as an Authentic Biblical Scholar (PhD and all that) to offer some response.

Those persistent voices are succinctly represented  in a snarky, condescending (rather like this blog) Facebook-posted flow chart found (by those with Facebook accounts) here. The notions therein contained are for some persuasive enough to prompt questions of trusted experts like SWNID. We figure it'll be more helpful for others and easier for us if we provide a succinct, pointed response and enshrine it here for posterity's future reference.

So, point by point:

  • "Jesus never uttered a word about same-sex relationships." This is false. The word is porneia, used by Jesus in Matthew 5:32; 15:19 (parallel at Mark 7:21); 19:9. In conventional usage of Hellenistic Greek among Jews of Jesus' day, porneia referred to all sexual activity outside of marriage, and marriage was between members of the opposite sex, of course. If Jesus meant to exclude same-sex relationships from his condemnation of porneia, he did not say as much.
  • "The OT also says that it's sinful to eat shellfish, to wear clothing woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork." True but hardly relevant. The Mosaic books imply a difference between those things that have always been unlawful for all people and those things that become unlawful for Israel when Israel receives the Mosaic law at Sinai. Later Jewish scholars distinguished these as the Noachic commands (those given to all humanity) and the Mosaic commands (those given to all Israel). The notion of sexual sin is based on the creation of man and woman in Eden. It is therefore fundamentally different from the various symbols of separation (diet, clothing, calendar) that constitute what was distinctive to Israel. This notion is part of the Christian interpretation of the Mosaic law as well, as enshrined in Jesus' teaching and the New Testament letters. In the New Testament, the Mosaic law's distinctives for Israel do not bind the follower of Christ, especially the Gentile follower of Christ. But those laws that express what has always been right and wrong do very much apply. So Jesus can at once make a statement understood later by his followers to pronounce all foods clean (Mark 7:18-19) and follow it immediately with a statement affirming that sexual immorality, which for Jesus included same-sex relations, is evil (Mark 7:21).
  • "The original language of the NT actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, not committed same-sex relationships." Questionable and ultimately irrelevant. Many instances of same-sex relations in the Graeco-Roman world were acts of prostitution or pederasty (an older, more powerful male taking sexual advantage of a younger, less powerful male). And doubtless promiscuity was present as well. So to say that the language of the NT refers to such is simply to say that such acts were common and so were what the language of the NT would commonly refer to. However, here we must proceed thoughtfully. First, were there no "committed same-sex relationships" in the Graeco-Roman world? Would Paul and others not have known of men who lived together for many years and were sexually active together? In the cosmopolitan world of the first-century Mediterranean, we doubt as much. Second, there is a significant difference between the referent of a word and its sense. The "sense" is the meaning of the word, its definition, as it were. The "referent" is the thing in the world to which it refers. So "table" has a sense: piece of furniture with legs and a flat surface on top, on which objects can be placed, but in any usage "table" will refer to a particular table. Now, it is true that most tables one sees in the United States presently are either wooden or made to look like they are wooden. Would it be fair, therefore, to say that in our time someone who speaks of a table thereby refers to something that at least appears wooden? Obviously not. So if someone wanted to communicate, "Tables are evil because of their woodenness," that person would have to say more than "Tables are evil." So it is with the language of same-sex relations in Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. These statements in their historical context would refer mostly to exploitative or promiscuous acts. But it is not the exploitation or promiscuity which is the focus of the terms used. Rather, it is the acts themselves. And those statements are made without qualification to make the reader understand that exploitation or such is the real problem. In sum, the nontraditional reading quoted at the head of this point is a case of special pleading that confuses the referent and sense of words.
  • "Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man." True and irrelevant. The point here is to suggest that no one really follows what the Bible says anyway, especially Paul's bits, so why do so in this instance? One can make a strong case that Paul's teaching about women in context is not nearly as severe as this out-of-context citation makes it seem to be, and that thoughtful Christians have at least sometimes followed and applied Paul's teaching with variations for culture without either oppressing women or obliterating genuine differences between the sexes. Such is not so easily done with texts like Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, where Paul's language assumes the prior understanding that same-sex activity is wrong.
  • "[The creation of man and woman in the garden with the command to multiply] was when the earth wasn't populated. There are now 6.79 billion people. Breeding clearly isn't an issue anymore." The implication is that the command to heterosexual marriage is solely for procreation. But Jesus sees more than that. Jesus cited Genesis 2:24 to express the idea that divorce is not a fulfillment of God's will. Given the very real truth that divorced and remarried people generally remain as fertile after remarriage as they were before divorce, Jesus' implication would be irrelevant were heterosexual marriage just for filling up the earth.
  • "The Bible also defines marriage as one-man-many-women, one-man-many-wives-and-many-concubines, a rapist and his victim, and conquering soldier and prisoner of war." False, at least if by "define" we mean "approve." Does the Bible portray all these things? Yes. Does the Mosaic law regulate these things? Yes. Does that imply that the Bible approves of them? No, of course not. All polygamy in the Bible falls after the foundational narrative of Eden with its statement about monogamy in Genesis 2:24. Every story of polygamy shows the bad end to which such arrangements come. The Mosaic law deals with polygamy as it does with other deeply embedded elements of Ancient Near Eastern culture that run counter to morality based on creation: by regulating the practice so as to ameliorate its worst effects and discourage its practice. So Moses tells the polygamist that he must treat each wife exactly the same, while telling stories of the bad ends of polygamy. What does the thoughtful reader do? Take only one wife. Those who don't repeat the stories with bad ends. By the way, Israel's soldiers were specifically forbidden to take spoils during the conquest, including foreign brides taken as spoils.
If you've made it this far or just skipped this far, the problem with all such discussions as these is the failure to consider or acknowledge that there is a consistent, biblical notion of sexual morality, tied to creation. That man and women are both different and correspond is celebrated by the Bible as the expression of God's purpose and the foundation of human society. Reading the Bible to this outcome is not a tendentious misreading: it is the consensus of Jewish and Christian interpreters throughout the Bible's history.

It is the pervasive assumption that heterosexual monogamy is God's creation design that underlies biblical teaching about sex and marriage. This assumption is what makes it possible for the NT writers simply to make brief statements of condemnation without explanation. They address people who quite simply have come to assume that creation of two different, corresponding sexes means something about the act of sex.

Advocates of same-sex marriage would be more honest if they simply admitted that they have chosen to reject what the Bible teaches. The approach we've noted, while doubtless sincerely believed by some, constitutes ad hoc special pleading that ultimately works by confusing the less-informed faithful about the real boundaries of their faith system.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

What Government Investment Gets You

The Washington Examiner reports the shocking but unsurprising news that Amtrak, our Republic's "investment" in "green transportation" in the form of 19th-century rail technology, has lost $833 million over the last decade in the sale of food on its trains.

For perspective, note from the brief article that:

  • the cost of a cheeseburger and Pepsi for a passenger is about $11.50
  • the cost of the same to the taxpayer is nearly $20
  • [the cost of the same at Five Guys* is about $8, and it's Coke instead of Pepsi, not to mention a fantastic cheeseburger, for a better overall experience]
  • the loss in Amtrak food services per Amtrak food service employee is just shy of $70k per employee for last year alone
  • last year's losses were less than previous years
  • the food service is bound by law not to lose money
Remember this when you're asked this fall to vote for the President who will "invest in our country's future" and not for the fellow who spent most of his adult life making profitable investments and turning around insolvent operations.

We won't even mention "high speed rail" and all that.

*The president of Five Guys refuses to articulate his position on the polyandrous same-sex marriages that the company's name seems to support.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On Liberty, Commerce, Faith, and Power

We SWNIDishly collate three recent news stories.

Largely unnoticed on this side of the Atlantic was the decision of a German court to outlaw the practice of circumcision in Germany. If Gentle Readers conclude that such a decision appears remarkably insensitive to the lessons of German history, they should consider themselves conventionally thoughtful. It is expected that the German parliament will pass a law reversing this decision. Apart from such action by the Bundestag, German Jews and Muslims must either emigrate, leave the country temporarily to circumcise their children, or secretly violate the court's ruling.

Massively noticed on this side of the Atlantic has been the kerfuffle over remarks from Dan Cathy, prez of Chick-fil-A, about marriage. Apart from the rather noxious public response to Mr. Cathy's unsurprising remarks (we should think that a restaurant that closes on Sundays on principle would affirm nontraditional family arrangements?), some mayors and aldermen have notably stated that their municipalities are now officially off limits to the world's best chicken sandwich.

Less noticed, however, has been the very definite rejoinder from most quarters that our Republic's Bill of Rights, specifically the cherished First Amendment to the Constitution, forbids any government in our Republic from restricting commercial activity because of a speech act. Even (get ready) the ACLU has weighed in for the rights of Chick-fil-A.

Meanwhile, as our body politic alternately fumes and dithers about the implications of the Affordable Care Act for the upcoming election, more legal action is quietly pushing things along. In Colorado, a private business owned by Roman Catholics sued to prevent the ACA from forcing them to provide free contraception to their employees, something that would violate the religious faith of the business's owners. They won, and they are expected to prevail on appeal.

All of which is to say that:

  • in matters of religious liberty, it is better to be American than German. The Bill of Rights is a more potent guarantor of human rights than the unfettered welfare state.
  • in matters of controversy, the American commitment to free speech and free practice of religion remains robust even if it will always and inevitably be under assault.
  • as people fret and even suffer under the social pressure to conform to prevailing opinions (one Chick-fil-A executive has tragically died of a heart attack since the controversy erupted, and we know employees who express personal stress and dismay over the scorn directed to them personally), they need to take the long view. More often than not in the history of Our Republic, attempts to force ideological conformity have failed.
So we urge those who, like us, hope to see religious liberty preserved to take the long view, to exercise patient endurance, offering sensible, thoughtful responses to queries about their beliefs, rather in the style enjoined by the first of the Petrine epistles.

And to that end, we offer a true story.

We work for a Christian institution of higher education that as recently as a decade ago was seeking for the first time to gain authority from our state government to grant licensure to public school teachers. We found the state bureaucracy unresponsive to our petitions and queries. After months, the state's response to our case was taken over by a new officer. He asked to meet with us. In frank and cordial conversation he indicated that he believed that our institution was the object of prejudice on the part of state officials. He said, "I've been the object of prejudice, and I don't like it. I don't think that others should be the object of prejudice either." To explain the personal aspect of his utterance, I mention that the gentleman is openly homosexual.

Anyway, with his wise maneuvering of the wheels of government, our institution received the state's approval.  After the approval was granted, another state official spoke candidly and apologetically to one of our faculty members. She confessed that when our petition was initially held up, one member of the state's apparatus said that the program couldn't be authorized because graduates of the program serving as teachers would try to "lay hands" on and heal students who had accidents on the playground.

You can't make this stuff up.

In the years since (about seven, we recall), the program has won two prestigious statewide awards and a graduate has been named Ohio Student Educator of the Year. The program is not just accepted; it is respected and lauded.

Patience, persistence, fortitude, confidence.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Yahoo! News Scooped by SWNID

Awhile back we caught a bit of wind in our blogging sail when our opposition to his organization's divisive presentation of non-biblical theology gained the attention of Mr. Ken Ham. As we've noted, Mr. Ham quietly ignored our repeated objections to his insistence on young-earth creationism as the standard of Christian, biblical orthodoxy, but he could not ignore our implication that his organization might have exhausted financial supporters' interest.

Well, Yahoo! News blogger Liz Goodwin recently posted a similar observation. Noting what we did, that AIG has delayed groundbreaking on Ark Encounter because of lousy fundraising results, Goodwin offers this additional fact, surely disturbing to all linked to AIG:

To add to the bad news, the Creation Museum is having its lowest attendance year yet. Last fiscal year, 280,000 people visited, compared to 404,000 the first year it opened in 2007. [Ark Encounter Vice President Michael] Zovath thinks that potential visitors have been less willing to travel to the museum because of the poor economy.

We've made the observation before (in person, not on this blog) that the issue the Creation Museum faces is not getting people to come once but getting them to come twice. That's true of most museums, which typically schedule special exhibits and events to induce patrons to return. After all, unless a museum houses a particularly impressive collection of artifacts and displays, why would people travel and pay for a rerun?

We therefore suggest gently that Mr. Ham's enterprise is in the inevitable decline faced by enterprises like his. There is a reason why the circus travels from city to city, and promotes new and better acts when it returns to town the following year.

Not that we expect the museum to close next week. We expect that AIG has banked a lot of boodle, that Ham has a number of donors who will offer rescue funds when they're needed.

But we do expect a long, slow, noticeable decline in influence. Ham has already been disinvited to a major homeschooling convention for his bitterly divisive rhetoric. We expect that in the future, he will not be excluded so much as ignored.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

From Today's Email

Dear Mr. and Mrs. President: bride/bridegroom imagery has been appropriated by an office more significant than the Presidency. And we can look out for ourselves, thank you very much. Sincerely, SWNID


For the first 10 years of our marriage, Barack and I lived in an apartment in my hometown of Chicago.

The winters there can be pretty harsh, but no matter how snowy or icy it got, Barack would head out into the cold -- shovel in hand -- to dig my car out before I went to work.

In all our years of marriage, he's always looked out for me. Now, I see that same commitment every day to you and to this country.

The only way we'll win this election is if we can rely on one another like that, all the way to November 6th. Barack is working hard, but he can't do this alone -- he needs your help.

Make a donation today to build this campaign -- when you do, you'll be automatically entered to join Barack and me for a casual dinner:

Your flight, your meal, your accommodations -- that's all taken care of. Just bring yourself and a guest, and get ready to enjoy a good meal together.



So this is what is meany by those who talk about "winning life's lottery," right?

The Privilege of Being Contemptible

The fast-rising fury about Fast and Furious, executive privilege and contempt of Congress is nothing new, dear readers. Presidents since JFK have claimed privilege in regard to releasing various records of their administrations to Congress. Each time, someone on the opposite side of the aisle claims that this claim is unprecedented and illegal. Every one of them gets negotiated out behind the scenes, because neither side can manage the final arbitration, which in our constitutional system happens at the ballot box.

So don't get exercised about Eric Holder as Worst AG Ever. If you do, your political amnesia will be showing, not that you'll remember that.

But we nevertheless deign a particular remark to be the silliest ever in such a debate (this from the Daily Caller):

“I could have arrested Karl Rove on any given day,” Pelosi said on Wednesday, The Huffington Post reports. “I’m not kidding. There’s a prison here in the Capitol. If we had spotted him in the Capitol, we could have arrested him.” 
“Oh, any number” of charges could have been brought against Rove, Pelosi said. “But there were some specific ones for his being in contempt of Congress.”

The results of the upcoming election are in doubt, but be grateful that there's only the remotest of chances that this unhinged person will return to the Speaker's chair.

Why Immigration Reform Will Happen

An acquaintance of SWNID's broke a personal rule a couple of days ago and posted something political on a major social-media site. The experience confirmed for him what prompted his rule: social media is a miserable place for political discussion.

Blogs are for politics.

In keeping with that humane truth, here we recommend a little piece by Mark Salter, once John McCain's chief of staff, who speaks political truth to powerful dumbness in asserting that because all politics is about self-interest, there will be immigration reform pretty soon, so get used to it.

Note well, gentle readers, Salter's point about the miserable coalition that prevents this from happening now: the combination of labor unions and conservatives who believe that xenophobia is a family value. The former are confused on economics; the latter, on morality.

And so we make a point: illegal immigration is illegal simply because we made it so, and in a democratic republic, we can unmake it so if we so choose. SWNID is personally tired about the constant carping about immigrants who want to work hard and make a better life for their families being lawbreakers because they didn't yield to laws that they didn't understand, with which they had little means of complying, and that, most importantly, stand in defiance of the economic law that where there is a demand (in this case, for labor), a supply will appear.

If you eat in America, you are part of an economy that depends on migrant labor that isn't served by immigration laws that are on the threshold of their silver anniversary. Similar things can be said about living or working in buildings.

For confirmation, note well that since the financial crisis of 2008, net immigration of all kinds from Mexico has fallen essentially to zero, making Asians of various nationalities the largest number of immigrants to our Republic, both legal and "illegal" (as in overstaying student visas and such).

The history of humanity is a history of migration. We can handle it thoughtfully or with fear and loathing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Apathy About Ark Apathy

For those who care, whose numbers are fewer than those who care would like.

Awhile back we received a rejoinder from none other than Ken Ham himself concerning our ongoing snarky criticism of Answers in Genesis and its various attempts to commercialize the notion that a young earth is the key to all things biblical and theological. Mr. Ham mentioned us in his blog as an instance of the backbiting that hinders his group from realizing its full evangelistic potential.

Overall the post that Mr. Ham linked has received 275 page views, a not inconsiderable number.

Nevertheless, that number is smaller by about 30% than the number of page views for selected posts that have been SWNIDishly linked on social media. And it's about 11% of the number of page views for a post commenting on the notion that sexual congress is a human right, linked who knows where.

This little kerfuffle started because of the SWNIDish question whether AIG has had its fifteen minutes of fame, as demonstrated by stalled fundraising for the Ark Encounter project. We continue to raise the question, noting that a link on the web site of the multimillion-dollar organization creates less traffic than common social media.

What Makes Disagreement Disagreeable

There's a short list of folks with whom SWNID is compelled not simply to disagree but to disagree with relish.

John Piper is one.

As the pope of the Neo-Puritan Church, Piper espouses a particularly rigid and radical form of Reformed theology, one in which the sovereignty of God is so extremely interpreted that human freedom is constrained to the point that, as Piper himself admits, a person will go mad contemplating the results.

That's something to disagree with, as the majority of the church has historically.

What adds the necessity of relish is Piper's insistence that anyone who disagrees is a sinner. We refer to a helpful little piece by George W. Sarris at the Christian Post for reportage and rebuttal. When Piper asserts that those who don't hold his particular view of election are sinners for not doing so, he draws lines that rightly make the community of faith bristle.

One wonders whether Piper is willing to take the next steps in his public discourse: to affirm that such belief, like the position of the dust motes in a sunbeam, is the consequence of God's sovereign predestination, that God is therefore the cause of the sin, and that God is therefore the author of evil, but so what?

The wisdom of the Campbellite silence on matters of biblical silence is significant on all such matters. The Bible doesn't teach overtly sovereignty as Piper affirms it: that much is demonstrable. At the least, the community of faith ought to have liberty to disagree with Piper without his bringing judgment on their disagreement. Better still for Piper to say, This is how I see it, but many differ because Scripture isn't as clear on this point as some want it to be.

But we don't hold our breath. Per Piper, both his continued dogmatism and our continued respiration were foreordained.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Robert Sirico Replaces SWNID

"And when the radical priest come to get us released, we were all on the cover of Newsweek."--Paul Simon, "Me and Julio"

What's the third-millennium version of the radical priest? We offer Robert Sirico, former leftist, who holds forth with magnificently simple elegance in this interview: Guys like Sirico make SWNID's blogging essentially unnecessary, except to direct people to guys like Sirico. This is a longish video with little to look at except for Sirico, who no doubt would say that he's nothing to look at. So we recommend enjoying the audio while doing light housework or something.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Two Percent?

If the 1% is economically privileged and the 99% economically aggrieved, does the 99% have the right to demand more of the 1%? After all, we're just putting a burden on 1%

If the 98% is comfortable with traditional social arrangements and the 2% is put out by the same, should the 98% accede to the 2%? After all, there are so few of them, what difference will it make to everyone else?

The latter question has to do with same-sex marriage. The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta points out that our best estimate is that LBGT (bonus points for scrambling those letters and being understood: note that BLTG sounds like a sandwich with an additional ingredient) folk comprise about 2% of citizens of Our Republic.

GF-R's conclusion is that such tiny populations can't make the difference to the overall sociology that people assume when they contemplate same-sex marriage with an overestimate of the number of people who would be seeking such. Fair enough, we say, though we doubt that this correlates as GF-R thinks it does. Rather, we suspect that citizens, asked how many gay marriages they would expect to see where such legalized in their state, would respond with small numbers; then, asked to re-estimate the number of gay folk in their community, they'd re-estimate lower.

Regardless, note that in both cases of political reasoning--the 1% of economic privilege and GF-R's 2% of LBGTs, there remains a notion that the number is so small that the consequences are inconsequential. Just take 10% more of the massive wealth of the 1%, and all will be better off. Just give 2% what has historically not been theirs, redefining what societies universally have recognized, and great good will be done for them with no harm to society.

Here's where that nasty issue of principle comes into play. What if there's something in play besides what does good for an aggrieved majority or an restricted minority? What if, say, the rights of people to keep what is legally theirs is fundamental to a free society? What if the permanent, exclusive relationship of a man to a woman is fundamental to a functioning society?

We think that there's much to consider in the observation that there are fewer LBGT citizens than most imagine, and that not many of them really seek to be wed to same-sex partners, just as there's much to consider in observations about the so-called 1%--that theirs is not a static population, that growing gaps between their wealth and the wealth of the 99% actually correlate better with economic improvement for the 99% than the other way around, that taxing them at 100% would not address Our Republic's fiscal crisis.

But we can't simply dismiss a significant social issue because it affects so few directly.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Confessionalism in Higher Education

SWNID works in the "church-related" end of American higher education. Our institution is "confessional"; that is, one must adhere to a specific confession of religious faith to teach at our joint. If one departs from that confession, in the judgment of faculty colleagues and the trustees, then one no longer teaches there.

Many in the rest of American higher education sneer that confessionalism has no place in higher education, which is all about free inquiry and other highmindedness. Real higher education takes place in institutions that would never and could never exclude someone from the university community because of aberrant beliefs.

Enter Naomi Schaeffer Riley, WSJ columnist and part-time, paid (how does one get paid for doing this?) blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Our Republic's premier publication for news and opinion about higher education. Or at least she was a blogger for the Chronicle. Until yesterday.

Ms. Riley recently posted brief remarks questioning the academic significance of certain dissertation titles featured in a Chronicle article. Per her description of the aftermath, she immediately and overwhelmingly was savaged by commenters, and the Chronicle's editors finally handed her over to the pitchfork-and-torch-wielding mob, ending her occasional employment.

Had Riley questioned whether theological dissertations were worthy of academic attention, her post would have yielded gentle protests from the small band of academic theologians who monitor such remarks. But mostly she would have gained approval. But instead, she questioned the legitimacy of certain dissertations from departments of Black Studies. So, you know, she's a racist.

There are many points that could be made about this affair, but we'll make the one that hits the SWNIDish self most directly. It's high time that the American academic community owned up honestly to its unwritten creeds and quit posturing about academic freedom. Those of us who write our creeds down deserve some credit for a margin of honestly that the rest of academe could learn from.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Point Made, We Suppose

Our little blog has now passed into a new realm of significance. Once we got a link at Slate. Here and there we've been linked at other big-time sites for silly reasons. For awhile a picture that we had reposted of a certain gigantic, outdoor sculpture in our area climbed to the top of the "Google Images" listing for a certain set of key words.

But now Ken Ham has taken us to task on his celebrated blog. After years of openly criticizing Answers in Genesis when it suited the SWNIDish purpose, we have been "refuted" (the term of a staffer at AIG) by Mr. Ham. He left a comment here and then developed it at his own blog, which as far as we can tell doesn't receive comments.

What to say about all this? Well, we make it a point not to respond point by point, and it's especially apt not to do so when Mr. Ham is as demonstrably stubborn in his views, persistent in his tendentious interpretations of what he reads, unable to engage in thoughtful discussion of issues, and unaware of the way that he functions socially. That is to say: (a) we know that we won't persuade him: (b) he misunderstands us about as much as he misunderstands the Bible, though with less consequence for the former than for the latter; (c) in responding as he has, he confirms for those not already persuaded by him that he is aggressive in his own criticism of others but unable to accept any criticism of himself; (d) he is somehow persistently unaware that he cannot say that people are unfaithful to God's word because they disagree with his views and at the same time say that he isn't making his views a test of faith.

But there is one point to be made, we suppose. Ham and those who follow him style Christian criticism of their organization as placing "stumbling blocks" before what would otherwise be a more effective evangelistic ministry. We're on record as disagreeing with that, most vociferously. By feeding the media machine a steady diet of press releases and events presenting an extremely young earth as indisputable biblical truth, Ham himself sets a stumbling block for anyone with the scientific savvy to understand just how unlikely such a thing is. There's no way to count such things, of course, but one doesn't have to go far to see Christianity ridiculed for believing what interpreters of the Bible as early as Augustine understood that the Bible does not say.

We think that Ham is so convinced that his approach to creation issues is so consistent, so logically watertight, that he need never give a thought to the merits of others' positions except to "refute" them. He seems frustrated by the fact that other people who claim to believe the Bible disagree with him, we suspect because he cannot fathom that others are not as persuaded by his views as he is.

Very well. We mock ourselves with the title of our blog and the pompous persona with which we write. Others may act on whatever measure of self-awareness they possess on such matters.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Using Student Loans to Study Economics

If you listen to politicians these days, you'd think that the greatest danger to Our Republic is the way that the other party wants to pay for an ongoing reduction in interest on Stafford Loans, the student loans presently offered by the federal government to college students. Without action from Congress, loans made after 1 July 2012 will be charged interest of 6% and change, as compared to the present rate of 3% and changed, discounted awhile back allegedly to protect the nation's students from too much student debt.

Meanwhile, a few politicians are talking about forgiving student debt, in whole or in part. That stands in pretty stark contrast to present policy, by which no one can escape paying a student loan, even through the most severe forms of bankruptcy.

All of this, of course, is exactly counterproductive to the goal of restraining the growth of student debt. Why don't they teach economics in these colleges?

How is that the case, SWNID? Isn't it better for students if they're charged less interest? And doesn't the bankruptcy provision protect lenders from students who would otherwise take out loans that they can never pay back?

The answers, of course, are no and no.

First to the interest. Let's pose the question this way: will people buy more of something if it's cheaper or more expensive. We won't bother to answer, but we'll note for those who need to hear it that the cost of a loan is its interest. Discount the interest, and you'll make more loans.

So why are students borrowing so much? Not just because college costs a ton. Some colleges are cheaper than those that many students attend. They borrow because borrowing is cheap.

Second, to the no-bankruptcy thing. Why do lenders lend so much to students, regardless of their likely ability to pay the money back? Why can someone borrow $200k to earn a degree in gender studies from a second-tier private college, knowing that the graduate will be in the same pool of educated but unskilled workers seeking to be hired in entry-level cubicles in an economy in its third year of doldrums? The answer is that the lender pretty much owns the borrower in this transaction. It doesn't matter how much or how little the borrower owes, for All Your Salaries Is Belong to Us.

Let's imagine a different world. Let's say that interest rates on student loans floated with the market for unsecured loans. That would put the interest at the level of a favorable credit card rate, maybe around gthree to four times the three-ish percent presently being charged. Would the number of students borrowing be reduced? Well, yes, of course.

Would fewer go to college? Perhaps. But some would seek more affordable options. Colleges, in turn, would have to respond by finding ways (and for most, there are ways) to reduce their costs and so charge less.

Back to the present: we act like student debt is high because college is too expensive. Maybe college is expensive and debts are high because we've underpriced student loans--by Congressional mandate.

To the bankruptcy aspect. Imagine a world in which one could escape student loan payback with bankruptcy. Would lenders, including Uncle Sugar, then lend money to students who are bad risks? Of course not. One would have to show more than an acceptance letter to qualify for a loan. Banks (and let's assume that they're making the loans in our scenario, as the government lets politics interfere with commercial transactions when it does the transactions itself) would lend on the basis of students' credit worthiness, including their grades, employment options, even their demonstration of financial planning while going to college. Is there any of that stuff that ought to be discouraged in the present environment.

SWNID doesn't think that free markets are magic. But we do think that politics, when injected into the market, tends to distort the market's ability to set realistic costs and assess real risks. In higher education as in housing, we're seeing how that can seriously foul up people's lives.

So it's time to end the charade and make student loans just like other loans: costing what they cost but not indenturing the student to the lender until death. That gives the proper caution to all sides, eliminating the awful moral hazards of the present situation, and perhaps could restore some sanity to the cost of higher education.

But at least one could say that the institutions that study and teach economics aren't run on a financial scheme that defies economics.

Postscript: We expect a few readers (those who remain devoted to this blog despite the dearth of content recently) to inquire as to how such a scheme would affect the institution to which SWNID is attached, a modestly priced but still pricey faith-based institution of higher education. We respond that our place would inevitably have to find a way to drive prices down, noting as we do that the decline in the percentage of our institution's costs borne by donors as paralleled the rising percentage assumed by government grants and loans. When Uncle Sugar pays and loans to poor students, why should I give to help  poor students? When I've got to pay Uncle Sugar what I owed him for my degree, why should I give to my alma mater?

Note well that if we thought our suggestion might be listened to by politicians (we have personally explained the economics to at least one Congressman in person, with the classic response that says "not interested in political suicide"), we would recommend its being phased in over five to ten years, allowing institutions time to adjust to the new normal.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ark Encounters Apathy

For a second time in history, Noah's ark is not making a big public impression.

Object of SWNIDish scorn Answers in Genesis is notoriously engaged in a family theme park built around a replica of Noah's ark. The project needs about $25 million in donations to get going. Groundbreaking was slated for spring 2011, then spring 2012.

It is now mid-spring 2012, and per the Ark Encounter web site, a little more than $5 million has been raised. "That ain't hay," as the SWNIDish sire used to say, but it's roughly a fifth of the goal, a year after the initial deadline.

We expect that various explanations will address this puzzling condition: (a) the economy is bad; (b) investors are afraid to take a chance; (c) the media has savaged the project. We allow all of those, noting only that media savaging could be a positive for some endeavors, given the public's disdain for media opinions, that is, at least the part of the public that digs AIG.

But we wonder whether the hot air is starting to leak out of the Ken Ham's militant-young-earth balloon. Ham's hostility could be making him enemies as fast as it used to make him friends.

Or maybe we're just jealous. Ham has raised mass bootle for AIG in the past, both more and faster than has any organization with which SWNID has been personally associated. But we will assert nevertheless that when fundraising is based on a personality, the money can disappear as quickly as it once appeared.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The False Comfort of a Morally Simplified Universe

For some, Alger Hiss will always be innocent and Chuck Colson will always be guilty.

We suspect that many who read this have never before heard of Alger Hiss. Hiss was a State Department Official of the 1940s accused of spying for the Soviet communists and eventually convicted of perjury. Hiss was patrician, erudite, and associated with causes and institutions celebrated by the political left. His accuser was Whitaker Chambers, a former communist turned political and religious conservative, who admitted his own perjury while accusing Hiss and who spent the next decade writing anticommunist, pro-Christian essays. But the most famous of Hiss's opponents was a young Congressman named Richard Nixon, who built his early political career around the Hiss investigation and hearings.

Though his conviction was reinforced by evidence that continued to emerge from US Government files and from KGB files released after the fall of the Soviet Union, Hiss insisted on his innocence until his death. He was for a generation a cause cèlébre of the intellectual left in the United States, who portrayed him as the archetypical victim of anticommunist witch hunts.

Colson, of course, was President Nixon's special counsel, responsible for many of the illegalities of Nixon's presidency. Like Chambers, he experienced a dramatic religious conversion that altered the course of his public life. Unlike Hiss or even Chambers, Colson's accomplishments following his public disgrace were prodigious. Prison Fellowship, Colson's organization, has inarguably been the most potent force for the welfare of the incarcerated in the history of Our Republic.

With Colson's passing, the mainstream media has updated its prewritten obituaries for timely publication. Most that have met the SWNIDish eye have respectfully balanced both sides of Colson's life, with due credit for his post-conversion accomplishments, even with admiration for the tangible demonstration of his redemption that they provide.

But the internet being what it is, some of the citizens who comment on such obits are less than respectful. For them, Colson can never be forgiven for his illegal activities in association with the great bogeyman of the twentieth century, Richard Nixon. His conversion was a public relations gimmick, which if real--if any Christian conversion can be "real"--would surely have cured him of his political conservatism and driven him to a lifetime of denouncing his former self, his former boss, his former ideology, and all those tainted by association or support of any of the above. There is no statute of limitations and no clemency for assistant bogeymen.

These who vilify Chuck Colson, we suspect but cannot prove, would in the next breath celebrate Alger Hiss, were Hiss's name to be uttered in the same context. Hiss did no wrong. Colson did no right.

One could go on about the hypocrisy of such ranters, as we apparently already have. One could decry the slovenly, un-self-critical thinking that so easily moves from credulity to vindictiveness and back again.

But we will instead observe something different, something that applies to many, regardless of religious or political affiliation.

We observe how comforting it is to construct a world in which certain people are the repositories of evil perpetually. In such a world, one can be deeply annoyed by evil but personally untouched by it. Yes, I may have my faults, but those people are the real problem. Look how awful they are! They are ruining our world! Ruining it! And all while it's just so obvious where the truth and goodness are.

One can double down on that comfort if it also excludes the possibility of conversion and change. Bad people remain bad, even if they try to do something good after they admit that they're bad. They can never apologize enough. They can never denounce what they've done enough. They can never exhibit sufficient shame to assuage my resentment about their ruining my world. They are always available for my quarantining of evil to their wretched souls.

As for me, I don't need repentance or conversion. I'm fine. I know what's true and what's right. Don't tell me about redemption. The right people don't need it, and the wrong people can't get it.

The human psyche tries to calm its fears by constructing a simple, predictible world in which bad things only happen to bad people, in which good people are safe from tragedy or guilt. When the bad people show signs of profound change, the simple world isn't simple any more. Repentant bad people threaten good people's goodness, when their badness is supposed to support good people's goodness. So repentance must be phony or inadequate.

When one gives up the effort to construct the world for such psychic safety, a couple of realities emerge. One is that good people and bad people both tend to indict the self. I'm not as good as some, and I've got plenty in common with people who are obviously and enormously bad. The other, flowing from the first, is that redemption had better be available, or we're all doomed.

We think that Chuck Colson demonstrates all of this. And as to the latter part about redemption, Colson would tell his obituary writers that his life after Watergate was not his redemption but the result of it. He didn't do good to overbalance his evil. He did good in grateful response to being freely forgiven.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

SMH for BHO. Or, Is Social Darwinism Worse than Socialism?

Republicans have made our political discourse toxic.

How? By proposing policies that Democrats oppose.

Today, the Leader of the Free World said that the budget proposal from the Republican chair of the House Budget Committee amounts to "social Darwinism."

That for offering that a tax increase on "millionaires" that would add only about a billion dollars of federal revenue--with static budget scoring--is not worth the hit to economic growth that it likely would entail. That for offering that a Medicare program that is set to run out of money before SWNID retires ought not to be perpetuated in its present state, "as we know it," but redesigned with greater support for needier retirees and with more choice and competition to hold down the growth of medical costs. That for suggesting that since people live longer and stay healthier, they ought to retire a few months later.

Really. He said this.

We recall the charge of social Darwinism against Baroness Thatcher back in the day. Really, it didn't work. A plurality of British subjects realized that a little less of the welfare state led to better public welfare. In the end, the Thatcherite Tory majority was only overturned when the opposition party became a parallel version of the Conservatives, saying that they could do conservatism better.

In the meantime, Mr. Obama's budget got exactly as many votes from Democrats in the House as did Mr. Ryan's, which is to say none. At least Republicans voted for the Ryan budget. So far in the Obama administration, even when both houses were under his party's control, and with the Senate for a time, even enjoying a fillibuster-proof Democratic majority, the Federal Government has had not one budget. Not one. So much for Presidential leadership.

Republicans are fond of accusing Democrats of socialism. Really, of course, it's a matter of degree. But at this stage, Democrats led by their President are committed to spending 25% of GDP on Federal Government entitlements and expenditures while raising the percentage of GDP collected as Federal taxes maybe to 18%. Forgive our SWNIDish self if we find that problematic. So much for Presidential leadership.

Of course it's fiscally problematic. But it's also politically problematic. Democrats presently assume that Americans are fools, mathematical imbeciles, who are pliant objects of demagoguery. So much for Presidential leadership.

That's why we're voting for the rich Mormon in November. He's a flip-flopping goof, but at least he can add.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Anyone?

OK, maybe we'll offer this.

Today's WSJ offers two articles, taking opposite sides on the question, "Has the sexual revolution been good for women?" Hoover Institution think-tanker Mary Eberstadt says no: women are demonstrably less happy than in the past. Novelist (!) Ann Patchett says yes: women now enjoy control over reproduction.

SWNID will reframe the question and provide a clearer answer.

To the question, it is: Has the sexual revolution been good for anyone?

Note well that this is not merely the question of contraception, which is Ms. Patchett's only real consideration. It is the question of sexual mores. Specifically it is the question whether people in general are better off if society endorses sexual congress outside of permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Neither author is willing, for whatever reason, to name the issue so specifically.

The SWNIDish answer to the question is no. Of course.

How can we argue this apart from an appeal to divine authority? We argue thus.

When women are sexually available to men apart from marriage, men lose a significant motivation to become the socially and economically responsible individuals who can become successful marriage partners. Arguably men are by nature slackers, but their testosterone can be leveraged for model citizenship if model citizenship is the best means of their finding a consistent sexual partner.

The so-called sexual revolution did not simply disconnect sexual intercourse from procreation. It also argued that avoiding unwanted pregnancy was the primary or sole reason for avoiding sexual intercourse. Hence, with the prospect of unwanted pregnancy removed, little or no reason remained for chastity.

Arguably women are by nature at least ambivalently chaste, but with society's disapproval of promiscuity largely lifted, they become subject to pressures and incentives, only partly carnal, to have sex outside of marriage.

Succumbing to such pressures has various social effects, all of which we now witness. Men in the West economically have become downwardly mobile relative to women. Children are increasingly born to women without men's support, marital or otherwise. The spiral of social decline steepens and tightens.

Charles Murray has most recently and cogently described this grim matter. Cultural elites have either ignored his observations or interpreted them like functional addicts: some of us can handle this better than others, managing to stay afloat in prosperity and relative mental health without Judeo-Christian sexual taboos, so mind your own business, prudes.

But this isn't about what some can manage better than others. It's about what makes for a healthy society for all.

Imagine a world in which contraception exists but society makes the commitment to support chastity and monogamy. Women and children are thereby protected while women are still empowered in choosing when to bear children. Men are thereby incentivized to get off the sofa, put away the gaming console, and leave the beer in the fridge. The world looks different. It looks . . . responsible and caring, like a neighborhood that's good for raising children. Which is more or less the point.

Christians nostalgic for the Golden Age before 1960 should remember well what The Pill's introduction revealed: that the commitment to chastity in the West really was based on the fear of unwanted pregnancy alone. We don't know whether there's ever been a time when lots of people were chaste for reasons beyond that one. So now we're in a new phase of human experience, social terra incognita.

What will change the miserable legacy of the sexual revolution will, we think, be one of three things: the complete unraveling of society and its subsequently slow and agonizing recovery, the self-interested realization that people are better off in a chaste society, or religious conversion. The realistic fear of the first can motivate either the second or the third.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Like a Moth to the Flame: Recontroversializing Lent for 2012

By far last year's most controversial SWNIDish topic was our critique of the Lenten fast.

To acknowledge Fat Tuesday, we foolishly deign to reiterate. We are prompted to do so by that highly visible ascetic, Shane Claiborne, who writes for the chronically esteemed Jim Wallis's modestly named "God's Politics" blog.* With that combination of bait, we had to bite fast and hard: hook, line and sinker.

Here, then, are some of Claiborne's ill-conceived commonplaces about the Lenten fast, the gravity of which suggests that they were composed when his blood sugar was already dangerously low from having given up eating anything that casts a shadow, followed by SWNIDish rejoinders:

All the major world religions have an element of self-denial at their core. Jews have Yom Kippur. Muslims have Ramadan. Christians have Lent.

Fine and good, but let's talk about the Christian religion. Did Jesus die on the cross to attain higher spiritual awareness for himself? Oh, he died for the sake of others. Since "deny himself" is followed by "take up his cross and follow me," in Jesus' invitation to be like him in his death, is the end of Christianity's self-denial the attainment of something for oneself or the giving of oneself for others?

In a world filled with clutter, noise, and hustle, Lent is a good excuse to step back and rethink how we think and live. In a world of instant gratification, it’s a chance to practice delayed gratification – to fast -- so that we can truly appreciate the blessings we have. In a world where virtual friends are replacing real ones, it is an invitation to turn off TV and computer screens so we can spend time with real people again. 

Did Jesus die so that I can slow down and appreciate a simple life? Let's concede that finding rest in Jesus is important to the experience of discipleship. Is the pinnacle of our observance of the heuristic church calendar a modestly contemplative retooling of our daily schedules or patterns of incidental consumption? Or is that at the optimistic most a modest baby-step toward something that reflects the true gospel?

It’s an opportunity to give up something that is sucking the life out of us so that we can be filled with God, with life, with love again.

Wow! If the thing is doing that, shouldn't I give it up entirely? And do things like foods or entertainments really suck the life out of me? What is life anyway? Jesus says that if you lose your life--again with the aim of serving--you find it. Seems like we might be removing the dominical sayings from their theological contexts, making ourselves into forty-days-a-year neo-Platonists, doesn't it?

[In Lent] there is an invitation  -- an excuse – to try something new. Some folks may choose to not only give up something, but to take on something new – to exercise, read, learn a new craft, or pray. So whether it is giving up an old bad habit or taking on a new holy habit… May we each use this Lenten season as an excuse to do something that empties us of ourselves so that our lives make better music.

There we have it. The aim of Lent is self-improvement. Get your holy on, which is all about you. Nothing about what to do with the money or time you save.

We say it again. The Christian faith is about the good news of the cross. Jesus gave himself for the sake of others, to bless those who don't deserve it. His followers, when they follow him, do the same. If a Lenten fast or any other attempt to practice Christianity doesn't deliberately aim at that, it surely misses the bull's eye, if not the entire target.

Or to borrow a phrase from last year, in the end our inherited proxies for genuine discipleship may be no better than pious distractions from the real thing.

*Yes, we know there's nothing modest about our blog's name, either. But there's much more sarcasm about it on this modest site.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Obama Believes, Obama Cares: Obama Doesn't Understand, Obama Owes

What's to be said in the big picture about BHO's utterly inept mandate that every employer who provides health insurance must provide 100% coverage of prescription contraceptives?

One, that BHO is a sincere Christian believer who doesn't really understand other people's faith perspectives. He is, in effect, a progressive Christian fundamentalist. There is no religious truth worth thinking about other than his. People who disagree need to accept what he has to say and understand that they have no choice.

Two, that BHO doesn't understand insurance or economics. That was well demonstrated by Cato's John Cochrane, who offered in WSJ about the best refutation of the left's reasoning on mandated free contraceptives, while at the same time offering a refresher on why the whole approach to health insurance in ObamaCare is so utterly, utterly bereft of economic common sense.

For more of the same, witness this week's Friday night White House news-dump: that BHO offers as a compromise that insurance companies must not "explicitly charge" Catholic organizations for the provision of contraceptives. The lunch is free, but the beer costs ten bucks. Wow. Would someone on the President's staff introduce him to the definition of the term "fungible"?

Three, the President, really, really cares about women's health. In exactly the way that the left-wing base of the Democratic Party prescribes that all Democrats care: the provision of contraception and abortion. Apparently for the political left all women do is have babies.

Of all the lame moves that this President has made--and not every move he's made has been lame--which ones were not the consequence of placating the left wing of his party? Clearly, Obama understands that he owes his success to the support of and its ilk, so that whatever he does, he dare not offend them. Foreign policy has been a qualified exception, but we are hard pressed to identify others.

And we are sad to note that Obama's political strategy may well win him a second term. No GOP candidate stands much of a chance against him presently, we believe. Is it really too late to prevail upon Mitch Daniels?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Enough with the Anti-Tebow Prooftexting

SWNID hates biblical prooftexting. As if such needed to be said.

Lately, much of the prooftexting we encounter comes from those critical of conservative, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians.

And one of the latest objects of such prooftexting is St. Tim Tebow. His sin is Tebowing: kneeling in prayer on CBS and Fox.

As an egregious case in point, we quote from a recent letter to the editor in WSJ:
The problem for many, especially those having more deep understanding of Scripture, is that they see the public display of religious beliefs as both anti-Biblical and anti-Christian . . . Jesus was clear in his condemnation of public religiosity. For example, in Matthew 6:5, Jesus says (King James Version), "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." Does that not make clear the master's view of the public display of religiosity?

Um, actually sir, whom we will not name as you are a private citizen, though your name and city will be viewed by far more who haven't read this blog than by those who have, this verse does not make the master's view as clear as that.

For in the same discourse the master says,
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).

So does Christ demand public or private religiosity? The paradoxical clash of these texts has been cited by no less than Sinclair Lewis in his celebrated anti-revivalist potboiler Elmer Gantry as an example of the Bible's self-contradiction. But it better demonstrates how approaching the Bible with an agenda different from the Bible's is a sure way to misunderstand it.

That is, our distinction between public and private as an issue of religiosity has more to do with Enlightenment views on the limits of religious truth claims than as part of Jesus' teaching. Was Jesus trying to keep people from offending others' religious sensibilities by confining devotional activity to the private sphere? Nothing suggests that such a question was close to his agenda, least of all the contents of the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety.

So what was up? Approximately summarized, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount insists that the righteousness of God's kingdom as he was inaugurating it was at once humble, sincere, mission focused, and offensive.

For the first two characteristics: righteousness is humble because it is based in one's own receipt of God's grace. Those who are blessed in God's kingdom are weak and lowly. So there's no point in trying to look better than others.

Likewise, the kingdom is God's kingdom, formed by his action and having him as sovereign. He sees what others don't. So there's no point in trying to look better than others in front of others. That's the natural outcome of acknowledging that God is king and I'm a weakling who needs mercy from God, so why would I care about looking better than other sinners?

So no acting like the righteousness-for-social-status folk. Real righteousness exceeds theirs. The hackneyed statement is that God is the only audience, though it wasn't hackneyed when Kierkegaard said it.

Yet Jesus says that righteousness is still mission-focused and so outward-looking. God is taking back his world, and the subjects of his kingdom are his means of doing that. They are salt. They are light. They will look different in public than other folk. Together they constitute a shining city on a hill, beckoning those around to join them. When their light shines, God gets glorified.

Which isn't automatic. They get persecuted, for the sake of the very righteousness that the Sermon refocuses, which is to say for Jesus' sake. There's no taking the offense out of the gospel, and it's no use to try to aim the offense to hit only the people we don't like, like rich folks or religious folks or secular-humanistic folks or "tolerant" folks.

And in all that, righteousness doesn't judge. It looks first to self, where the log in the eye must be self-removed by God's grace. But then righteousness helps remove the speck in the sibling's eye. It's about taking the world back, one eye at a time.

What does Jesus' Sermon say about St. Tim? Well, he could be shining a salty light, kneeling in humility, or he could be seeking the praise of men. Or both: people now and then admit to mixed motives. Some cry, "Lord, Lord," but don't do what the Lord says. The Lord, Tebow's judge, knows. 

But Tebow didn't ipso facto break a dominical rule by taking a knee. Jesus didn't come simply to establish the definitive boundaries of religious observance. Like doing that would require a cross.

Note to all who want to discuss the Bible in public: don't start your discourse by claiming to have a "more deep" [sic] understanding of Scripture." But if you do, ask for mercy. Logs and specks: we've all got 'em.

Maybe the Only Post Needed for 2012

The first Obama 2012 campaign ad has premiered. And if it's a harbinger of the rest of his campaign, we're in for a miserably long year.

What's wrong with this bad boy?

Ignoring the classically demagogic reference to "secretive oil billionaires," we let Investor's Business Daily tell the tale.

To wit:

  • The figure cited for "clean-energy jobs" is the number of existing jobs that can be so classified.
  • The number of such jobs has not been growing at the same rate as other jobs.
  • The number of such jobs has declined more rapidly than others in the recession.
  • Meanwhile, declines in energy imports relate to the drop in demand caused by the recession.
To which we merely add that oil imports are also declining as a percentage of oil usage because of growth in domestic production that has happened in spite of administration policies.

Then there's the claim about ethics. The lefty fact-checker cited has noted that the characterization of BHO's administration as highly ethical was withdrawn when BHO started issuing wholesale numbers waivers to ethics requirements.

Still, let's set aside the questionable assertions. These are, we must assume, the best that the Obamanoids have for 2012. Is a majority of the Electoral College prepared to cast votes in favor of clean energy and meticulous ethics, against considerations of jobs and fiscal sanity?

Most disturbing to any of the 80% of Democrats prepared to cast votes for Obama in November should be the utter congruence of the Case for Obama's 2012 Reelection with the Case for Carter's 1980 Reelection: "I'm Clean, I'm Green, and By Golly, People Like Me."