How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone Not to Proselytize?

Francis Schaeffer on the Origins of Relativism in the Church

One of My Favorite Songs

An Inspiring Song


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From "Dining on a Dime"

I am trying to pay off my non-mortgage debt (very foolishly incurred, I will readily admit) as quickly as I can, and was perusing a book called Dining on a Dime. Most of it wasn't all that big a deal; you can find much the same advice in other well-known books on that theme, like The Compleat Tightwad Gazette. But this statement really arrested my attention:
We managed to pay off more than $20, 000 in debt over a period of five years on an average income of $22, 000. This book tells you how we got out of debt by saving on our grocery bills.
Wow, I thought, That's impressive. Her measures turned out, in some respects, to be draconian to a point that I would not attempt, for health reasons, to duplicate (in my opinion, much of her advice amounted to "replace protein almost entirely with starch"), but still--that's impressive. Then there was this little anecdote:
I was asked this question by a reader: "Where do I start to get out of debt?" After telling me of her huge credit card debt and how they eat out almost every night, the lady took a deep breath and said, "How do I save on laundry detergent and cleaning supplies?" Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. Even though saving money on cleaning supplies does help and should be done, that usually isn't where the biggest problem with the debt lies. This woman never once thought to ask me how to stop eating out so much. Most people don't want to face the real causes of their debt because their biggest problems are the things they like the most. Going out to eat is one of the top five causes of debt.
All I could say was, "Amen." Going out to eat, or picking up pizza, or convenience foods, is hugely expensive. It wasn't until I really started thinking about it that I began to understand just how much of our monthly income was going to replace planning and cooking and organization with take-out and/or convenience foods.

It's a bundle. And what's worse, most of that stuff is bad for you. Bad enough to blow money on overpriced food, but for it to turn around and tear up your health adds insult to injury.

But changing habits is difficult. For one thing, it requires admitting that you've been doing things wrong for a while. So, we're working on it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Blood, Soil, God, and Country

Pat Buchanan--gotta love the man--wrote the other day:
Now, the change since the 1960s in the character of the nation has been great. The moral and social sappers spawned by that decade have done their work well. But Middle America yet remains a blood-and-soil, family-and-faith, God-and-country kind of nation.

We are not Europe — yet.

Most Americans remain visceral patriots. It’s in the DNA.
And for the most part, outside of the bluest of the blue states, the ones that were half-seriously talking about seceding from "Jesusland" after the 2000 elections, I think he's right. But for how much longer?

Next to no time, I think. We've not managed to pass on the foundational building blocks of our society to the young, and we are importing--largely illegally--huge numbers of people who do not share our language, history, and culture (Now don't go getting huffy on me. I've nothing against legal immigrants. As a matter of fact, I welcome them. I just want them to come here wanting to become Americans, not come here wanting to recreate the country that they've left. I help teach ESL in pursuance of this goal; what do you do?

Yeah. That's what I thought.) The country we will see within just a couple of decades is likely to be dramatically different from the one so many of us middle-aged and older folks grew up in. To my mind, the task now before us is to prepare for that.

Pat goes on to say:
Rooted people love the things of the heart: God, country, family, and faith. The weapons of the mind have been given to us, they believe, to defend the things of the heart.

Knowledge follows love; it does not precede it.

Most Americans have grown to love America long before they read the Constitution, or the Federalist Papers. There are heroes in Arlington who never learned to read. A true nation is an extended family. If fathers or sons do not defend it, it is their conduct that is indefensible.
And again, I think he's right. This really is how it works, in practical terms. But for at least three generations now, acid's been poured on these bonds, and things will not hold together much longer.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From "The Immortal Game"

Whilst waiting on someone a couple of evenings ago, I wandered over to the chess section of one of our branch libraries (Libraries are one of the few things that I don't generally object to being taxed over, not on a local level. And in general, it seems to me that our Tulsa library system is a fine one.) and found The Immortal Game: A History of Chess by David Shenk.

I don't plan on reading this one thoroughly; haven't got time. I'm just going to skim it. But I already found one passage interesting enough to share. From the introduction:
...against all odds, it lasted. Games, as a general rule, do not last. They come and go. In the eighth century, the Irish loved a board game called fidchell. Long before that, in the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians played a backgammonlike race game called senet. The Romans were drawn to duodecim scripta, played with three knucklebone dice and stacks of discs. The Vikings were obsessed with a game called hnefatafl in the tenth century, in which a protagonist King attempted to escape through a ring of enemies to any edge of the board. The ancient Greeks had petteia and kubeia. These and hundreds of other once popular games are all now long gone. They caught the public imagination of their time and place, and then for whatever reason lost steam. Generations died off, taking their habits with them; or conquering cultures imposed new ideas and pastimes; or people just got bored and wanted something new. Many of the games fell into such total oblivion that they couldn't even make a coherent mark in the historical record. Try as they might, determined historians still cannot uncover the basic rules of play for a large graveyard of yesterday's games.

Contrast this with chess, a game that could not be contained by religious edict, nor ocean, nor war, nor language barrier. Not even the merciless accumulation of time, which eventually washes over and dissolves most everything, could so much as tug lightly at chess's ferocious momentum. "It has, for numberless ages," wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1786, "been the amusement of all the civilized nations of Asia, the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. Europe has had it above 1000 years; the Spaniards have spread it over their part of America, and it begins lately to make its appearance in these States."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Christianity and the Social Contract Theory

I did not write this post. It was written a couple of years ago by a young man I know, back when he was about seventeen, I guess. I thought some might find it interesting.--MOTW
Many people have been given the strong impression that the social contract theory was originated by John Locke. If one is lucky, a person may have heard that this theory was introduced by Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan (1651). Yet, on the whole, the routine history class casually mentions that Enlightenment thinkers developed the political system of contract theory and that this idea shaped the way our country (the United States) designed its government. However, the basic idea of the social contract theory was not originated by Enlightenment thinkers, nor even by Hobbes, but by Post-Reformation Christians. Often being placed in a government with a state religion, Catholic and Protestant minorities developed a Biblically and philosophically based system of government that included the social contract theory so that they could be justified in resisting the state if necessary. Though later philosophers (like Hobbes and Locke) added to and secularized these political theories, the fundamental ideas of contractual government were achieved by Christians long before the Enlightenment; notable examples of this include the “Stephanus Brutus,” Johanne Althusius, and Samuel Rutherford.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the term, the social contract theory is the idea that government is an institution created by the people for the people’s own good. Without government, mankind would be in a state of disorder that is not beneficial to its desires of peace, property, and happiness. In order to avoid such a state, people lay down certain rights in order to form a government and appoint officials to enforce those laws. When this happens, a contract is formed. The people swear loyalty to the officials and the officials swear to rule for the people’s good. When the people empower the government to rule over them, they do not give away that power to cause pain for pain’s sake, but only in so far as to accomplish an orderly society that is in their interest. As such, if the government ever became tyrannical and were to abuse its powers, the people would have every right to resist and change that government in order for it to accomplish its purpose. This is the basic idea of the social contract theory.

In 1579, the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, published under the pseudonym of “Stephanus Brutus” on behalf of the French Huguenots, argued that government is founded on two contracts which, if broken, would justify the resistance of the people towards the government. As Ernest Barker described it in Church, State, and Study, the first contract was a covenant between God on the one side and the king and people on the other. In this covenant, the king and people promise to serve God in return for salvation and grace. The maintenance of the covenant depends on the faithfulness of the people and the king. The second contract, which is of more interest, lays down a thought out version of the social contract theory. In this contract, “The people are the stipulator, and the king the promisor. The people … asked whether the king would rule justly and according to the law. He then promised to do so. And the people … replied that they would faithfully obey, as long as his commands were just” (Brutus, History, 931). It is a contract in which the people swear obedience in return for the king’s protection. Since both of these contracts were formed with conditions on the parties involved, the breaking of these conditions, even if it be by the king, breaks the contract. “‘It is, then, not only lawful for Israel to resist a king who overturns the Law and Church of God, but if they do not do so, they are guilty of the same crime and are subject to the same penalty’….” (Brutus, European, 491). This means that if the king rules tyrannically, the whole people (as opposed to a single individual) are obligated restrain or remove him. With these two contracts, “Brutus” laid down the basic framework of the social contract theory.

In Politica methodice Digesta, which obtained its complete form in 1610, a Protestant German jurist named Johanne Althusius presented a political theory with layered contracts that placed the ultimate power of government in the people. William Dunning, when commenting on Althusius in his A History of Political Theories, notes that Althusius starts off with the assertion that mankind is riddled with associations formed by their members for certain means. These associations vary in size, from community organizations, to cities, to the nation-state. In the smaller organizations, individuals themselves agree to certain conditions in order to maintain certain ends. When doing so, these individuals retain their natural right to obtain the desired ends and to withdraw from the organization if it works contrary to the agreement made. This kind of contract then happens again as local organizations make contracts with each other in order to obtain certain ends for their constituents. This process repeats itself until it culminates in the nation-state which is headed by the king. The people as a whole are represented in the ephors, officials beside the king, who pledge their loyalty to the king. He, in turn, promises to rule justly for the ephors’ constituents. Next, as in most contract theories, Althusius argues that, if the king breaks the contract, the ephors and/or the whole people have the right to take back their power and oaths of loyalty. This follows simply from the fact that the contract is nullified if the king breaks its conditions. With his strong analysis of the subject, Althusius presented a fuller version of the social contract theory long before the Enlightenment.

In Lex, Rex (1644), Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish clergyman, argued that, though government is a general command of God, the foundation of government rests on a covenant amongst the people. According to Rutherford, “All civil power is immediately from God in its root; in that… God hath made man a social creature… who inclineth to be governed by man…” (Rutherford, 1). However, besides this and the general commands in the Bible for government, the power of creating specific governments and officials is a power reserved to the people. When the people appoint a king, “They give to the king a politic power for their own safety, and they keep a natural power to themselves which they must conserve, but cannot give away...” (Rutherford, 84). “[Since] … they give it out, conditionate, upon this and that condition, … they may take again to themselves what they gave out upon condition if the condition be violated” (Rutherford, 6). In other words, since the foundation of a government comes from its duty to protect the people, the people have the right and obligation to overthrow a tyrannical government because such a government is doing something which it was never meant to do. Using these and several other arguments, Rutherford added to a Christian understanding of contractual government.

While it is very true that Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau developed a well-thought version of the social contract theory, this idea obviously preceded them. Discovered in a time of need, the social contract theory resulted from an oppressive time in which governments persecuted religious dissidents. As we saw in the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, the Politica methodice Digesta, and from Lex, Rex, the idea that government is created by and for the people is an idea that sprang from a Christian perspective. Through this theory, Christianity has made an important gift to Western politics for centuries past and, most probably, for centuries to come.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Passage from Kirk

No, not Captain Kirk; Russell Kirk. This is from his The Conservative Mind. Point number four will make only limited sense if you haven't read Hobbes:
I think that there are six canons of conservative thought--

(1) Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems. A narrow rationality, what Coleridge called the Understanding, cannot of itself satisfy human needs. "Every Tory is a realist," says Keith Feiling: "He knows that there are great forces in heaven and earth that man's philosophy cannot plumb or fathom." True politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which ought to prevail in a community of souls.

(2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls "Logicalism" in society. This prejudice has been called "the conservatism of enjoyment"--a sense that life is worth living, according to Walter Bagehot "the proper source of an animated Conservatism."

(3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a "classless society." With reason, conservatives often have been called "the party of order." If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.

(4) Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Economic leveling, they maintain, is not economic progress.

(5) Faith in prescription and distrust of "sophisters, calculators, and economists" who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man's anarchic impulse and upon the innovator's lust for power.

(6) Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman's chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.

Various deviations from this body of opinion have occurred, and there are numerous appendages to it; but in general conservatives have adhered to these convictions or sentiments with some consistency, for two centuries.
Those interested may compare Kirk's list with my own summary, and note such points of similarity and dissimilarity as they will, hopefully finding the study of interest.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hitler on Socialism

There are, if you care to look for them, abundant evidences that Adolf Hitler was a socialist and, socialism being a thing of the political Left, it's fair, in my opinion, to point out that Leftists therefore have the honor of having most of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries' genocidal murderers to their credit. Just for giggles, start here, with Hitler himself, quoted, apparently, by John Toland:
We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions
No, I didn't go check the book out from the library to read the quote for myself. Feel free to doubt its veracity if you so choose. For me, I've seen far too many examples of this sort of thing to have any doubt whatsoever that it is representative.

Why write about this? Meh. Annoyance, really. Largely because I get a little tired of Leftists continually painting themselves as innocent of evil, when the reality is that Leftist ideology has been responsible for more war, death, and murder than you can shake a stick at. Will they take responsibility for Mao? No. For Lenin? No. For Stalin? No. Pol Pot? The Khmer Rouge? For Adolf Hitler? No. And yet to argue that these people weren't Leftists, died-in-the-wool Leftists, requires a break from reality of staggering proportions.

And yet they do argue this. Those people aren't real Leftists/Socialists/Communists, you will hear. Real Leftism/Socialism/Communism has never been tried.

So why do Leftists do this? In my opinion, it's because it would require admitting to themselves that their Leftist ideas contain the seed of more hate than just about anything else in the modern world, save, possibly, Islam. And this, they will never do.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Favorite Schaeffer Passage

Because of a conversation that's come up at Oklahoma Lefty, it struck me that this might be a good time to quote one of my favorite passages from Francis Schaeffer's The God Who is There:
One day I was talking to a group of people in the room of a young South African in Cambridge University. Among others, there was present a young Indian who was of Sikh background but a Hindu by religion. He started to speak strongly against Christianity, but did not really understand the problems of his own beliefs. So I said, "Am I not correct in saying that on the basis of your system, cruelty and noncruelty are ultimately equal, that there is no instrinsic difference between them?" He agreed. The people who listened and knew him as a delightful person, an "English gentleman" of the very best kind, looked up in amazement. But the student in whose room we met, who had clearly understood the implications of what the Sikh had admitted, picked up his kettle of boiling water with which he was about to make tea, and stood with it steaming over the Indian's head. The man looked up and asked him what he was doing, and he said with a cold yet gentle finality, "There is no difference between cruelty and noncruelty." Thereupon the Hindu walked out into the night.
Do you understand what happened there? It is often said that all the world's religions are basically the same, and in some senses, this is true, or at least partially true. Pretty much everyone teaches that there are things you shouldn't do and things you should do. But it's not unfair to say that the dissimilarities begin there, which is awfully early in the discussion. The reality is that the religions of the world have radically different presuppositions on which they base their thinking, and have tremendously different answers to such questions as: What is Man? Where did he come from? Does he have a purpose? If so, what is it? Is there such a thing as an objectively identifiable good? Is the material world real or illusory? Etc. Etc. Etc.

The problem people run into--and in my experience, they run into it all the time, they just don't know it, or think about it--is that they want to live in a world reflecting presuppositions that they, or their worldview, actually deny. Atheists are often a terrific example of this, Richard Dawkins being one of the most notorious. He'll say that it's "wrong," morally "wrong" to teach children that there is a God, despite the fact that in an atheistic universe, children and teachers both have no moral status or purpose. They all arrived at their place in existence by sheer accident, without purpose, being, in fact, nothing more than meaningless machines that accomplish, bluntly, nothing more than eating and defecating and talking, all the while holding the same moral status as a rock, a tree, a dodo, a tiger, or any other accidentally-arrived-at eating-and-defecating mechanism. In such a universe, "morality" is nothing more than a survival mechanism.

In my experience, such people have a very plastic morality. When they wish to deny Judeo-Christian mores, they will deny that there is any basis for morality, following much the same line of thought as I have given. One blogger quotes Dawkins as saying, in his River Out of Eden:
...nature is not cruel, only pitiously indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous-indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose...
But when they wish to shape human behavior, they will--somehow!--find a way to label behavior and opinions they don't like as immoral--in Dawkins' case, "immoral" being more or less equivalent to being detrimental to the survival of the species. But to the question of why the species should survive, Dawkins can give no substantive answer. His "morality" ends up being a sort of purposeless utilitarianism.

I pick on atheists because they are such easy targets as to make excellent examples, but the same line of thinking can be found elsewhere. For example, I recall--will recall forever--a video clip I saw several years ago, which was shown to the people in our church as the Southern Baptist Convention was starting a period of outreach to Hindus. The clip showed a Hindu man engaged in various acts of worship, but what stuck out to me was the man's resolute insistence that it was "wrong," "very bad," a "very bad thing" for someone to say that someone else was a "sinner."

"Well," I thought, "Exactly what do you call someone who has done a 'very bad thing'?" The man wanted to live in a universe wherein there was no such thing as a sinner, but couldn't even articulate the thought without contradicting himself at a very basic level. And this sort of thing goes on all the time.

Schaeffer said elsewhere in his works that when it comes to the really big questions, there are really very few possible answers. Those answers are not the same from religion to religion; it is only wishful thinking on some peoples' part that makes it seem so.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

She's Making Sensible Observations Again...

I've mentioned before that sometimes I think that Pat Buchanan and Diana West are the only two asking the sensible questions out there.

Now, when you read this, you might come away thinking, "Hey, ol' Man of the West doesn't support the war in Iraq/Afghanistan/on terror."

Let me explain, briefly, very briefly, my position on these things. I don't believe George Bush lied to get us into war in Iraq. I am pretty sure that he was genuinely convinced that Saddam had WMDs and was prepared to use or distribute them. This was a view widely held at the time, even among Democrats, and as far as I can tell, just about every intelligence service in the world concurred.

We found some WMDs in Iraq. They were mostly old and scattered, but that doesn't mean they were harmless. I don't think they were the weapons Bush was thinking about. We haven't found those and it looks like they might not have existed.

Were we justified in going into Iraq? To the best of my recollection, what I said at the time was, more or less, that I didn't have much of a problem with going into the place and ripping it apart to get the WMDs out of there. After all, Saddam had been uttering threats and hints and various dark mutterings and in my opinion, there was every reason in the world that he might make common cause with Al Qaeda to get some of those WMDs into the United States. I just wanted two things:

1) I wanted the entity whose job it is to declare war (or to refrain from it) to be the entity making the decision. Under our Constitution, Congress has the authority to declare war. It is not supposed to declare "authorizations" or other such weasel-***ed idiocies. It's supposed to delare war. Or not.

Why would I care so much about this? Aside from the constitutionality of it, it's because Congress is most likely to distill the will of the people on the subject. If you can get Congress to declare war, it's a pretty safe bet that the country is behind you and will remain behind you. If you can't--well, you may find that the country's will to wage war wanes. And if that happens, you may find that you're worse off than ever.

2) I had a hard time with the Bushian idea that we would successfully make Iraq into a functioning, Western-style representative government. This is because our own Founding Fathers said fairly explicitly that the style of government they had set up just wouldn't work without a more-or-less Christianized population--and Iraq wasn't, and isn't, even close to being a Christianized population. History strongly indicates that Islam and totalitarianism go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Oh, for a while I had hopes. But they have vanished. I think the best we could ever have hoped for was to have a regime in place that was at least thoroughly hostile to Islamic terrorism. I'm about eighty percent convinced that had we been willing to settle for that at the outset, we would have been out of there a couple of years ago. Had it been me making the decisions, brutal as it sounds, once we had gone in, I would have torn the country up from end to end looking for WMDs, wrecking infrastructure, making the rubble bounce, and then installed a leadership that understood its own survival was contingent on being hostile to Islamic terror.

Maybe that's why I'd never get elected.

I am thoroughly convinced that Islam as a religion breeds totalitarianism and terror. Not that all Muslims are terrorists or even violent. But the reality of Islam is that it really does say, in the Qu'ran and the Hadiths, that it really is supposed to be spread at the point of a sword. Some Muslims try to spiritualize the commands to jihad, to make them out as a spiritual struggle, but one good look at the life of Muhammad is enough to convince me, and apparently a lot of other Muslims, that those commands were never meant to be spiritualized.

How the dickens do you deal with that? Long-term answer: deprive them of money. Islam mostly kept to itself for some hundreds of years. I am convinced that that is because it takes money to wage war, and for some hundreds of years, right up 'til the discovery of oil in the Middle East, Islam had no money, nor any hope of making any.

So, in a very real sense, becoming energy independent is the way to win the war on terror. But it's going to take a while. In the meantime, we've got--in my opinion--to keep Islamic terrorists off-balance, leaderless, and on the run.

So there it is, in a nutshell: my opinion on the war in terror, Iraq in particular. Turns out it was way longer than the material I'm going to quote. But now, when you read Diana West's comments, you'll know where I stand and why I'm quoting them: alliance of Obama-niks and Bush-ites who, together, are laying the groundwork for nation-building in Afghanistan -- nation-building in Iraq having worked out so well (insert acid shot of sarcasm here). Only they are not going to call it "nation-building."

Worse, they are forging ahead without heeding the remedial lesson of Iraq: No matter how many American dollars spent, no matter how many American lives lost, it's not possible to transform an Islamic republic that enshrines Islamic law (Sharia) into an ally against Islamic jihad, even if Islamic jihad is euphemized as "extremism," "man-caused disasters" or "overseas contingency operations." That's because Islamic jihad is ultimately waged to extend Sharia. See the disconnect? Good. That's more than our experts can do, which is why it now looks as if we're going to give this flawed strategy another multi-trillion dollar try in Afghanistan.