Sunday, August 06, 2017

Today, I wonder how believers in progress hold on to their "faith"

Several items attract my notice today:

- Today is, in the Christian calendar, the Feast of the Transfiguration, which recalls how Jesus became too bright to look at on the mountain with three of his disciples, when Moses and Elijah appeared with him.  The Feast of the Transfiguration is the day, 72 years ago, which the United States celebrated with a bomb on Hiroshima whose light was too bright to look at, in mockery of Jesus.  To this day, hardly an American "Christian" can be found that considers this mockery  of Jesus improper. 

- James Baldwin published a letter to Angela Davis in the January 7, 1971 issue of the New York Review of books.  Can you read this and believe that the American people have learned anything or made any progress in the past 46 years?

- I agreed a couple of months ago to do a review of a book by the pastor of a house church in Orange County entitled "Untangling Jesus."  I just can't bring myself to review it in detail.  He's right about one thing - the Christians of the United States have abandoned the real Jesus to worship their image of Jesus in conformity with American nationalism.  But he himself is quite explicit in judging the Bible by his own notion of Jesus in the same way, and even invents contradictions in the Bible that are just not there.  He agrees in principle with their syncretism, just not in detail - arguing about whether Christian doctrine should be harmonized with the worship of Molech, or whether we should choose Baal Melkart instead. 

This shiny new doctrine is indistinguishable from the same old apostasy from the Bible preached in Germany for the past 300 years by such as Graf and Wellhausen and their later disciples such as Rudolf Bultmann - the exciting new doctrine of "Higher Criticism."  We know well what that did to  German Christianity, and where that ended up, and how really new it is.

If you don't believe in Jesus, that's fine.  I think you're mistaken, but it's a reasonable position.  But if you claim to believe in Jesus while denying what he said and believed about the Hebrew scriptures - the law and the prophets - why pretend to believe in him?  Why not just say frankly that you are more impressed with your own reasoning and that of scholars of this present world, the world which in its wisdom crucified him, and that Jesus really isn't Lord?  Isn't the whole idea of being a disciple that I think the master is smarter than I am, and that when there is a disagreement between him and me, I  and more likely to be mistaken than he is?  That doesn't mean I shouldn't argue with Jesus, because the real problem may be that I misunderstand him - but, still, to argue sensibly with Jesus, his disciple must think that he knows what  he's talking about.

Isn't that the required minimum in humility?  Does anyone have to be a scholar to figure out that if Jesus is Lord then I ought to find out how I might be mistaken instead of blowing him off with some patronizing flattery or twisting his words to make him agree with me, when we don't agree about something?   

- Of course it has always been the priority of American Christianity not to lose the respect of the world, so if homosexuality becomes respectable to the world and it becomes disreputable to hold to the biblical position that the Christian church has held to for 2000 years, then the required intellectual gymnastics will be performed.  If we see how Virginia Baptists went in the 17th century from forbidding membership to slave owners to enthusiastically supporting the institution, is there anything new about Christians in America being eager to corrupt themselves in order to fit in, and to position themselves to lord it over the rest of the American world?  How has that changed in the past 400 years?

And you still believe in progress?        

Friday, May 05, 2017

A response to Christoids that love guns and hate the poor and weak

I recently got into a conversation with some others, including professing Christians who claim that people have a precious right to guns, but that poor people have no right to health care.

First, I'd like to know where the Bible says we have a God-given right to defend ourselves and our homes.

I think it is definitely permitted us, like divorce, to accommodate the hardness of our hearts. Moreover, it might definitely be called for in various instances, as when Samuel put Agag to death, but that's not a fundamental right that applies in all times and places.

It's also true that authorities don't bear the sword for nothing, but to execute wrath against evildoers, so to the extent that we're authorities in our homes, someone breaking in or assailing us has nothing to complain about if something bad happens to him.

Still, the fundamental creed of those who successfully resist antichrist is that those who live by the sword die by it, and those who lead into captivity will be led into captivity.  From this it is evident that the fundamental creed of the beast and his followers is that our life is preserved by killing others, and that our liberty is assured by enslaving others - a creed applied by our favorite empire to many with fidelity for the past 400 years, starting with black slaves and Indians.

Those who are not firmly convinced of this and fail to repudiate this doctrine of antichrist  have no power to overcome the beast, being in agreement with it - that much is clear from Rev 13:10, especially in context. So a minor problem to consider in being enamored of the gun is that you do run the danger of apostasy that especially in Revelation 13 doesn't look like the sort of danger we should take on lightly.

Look, I assume I'm talking to people here that fear God.

As to whether people are entitled to health care, it's obvious to me that it's like fire protection. We're entitled to such things from civilization; that's what civilization is for.

Also, there is the testimony of natural affection - even baboons and wolves carry their weaker members. Even alligators respond to a threat to any baby alligator with a full on attack, whether to protect their own baby or someone else's. The first mentioned of many marks of apostasy in 2 Timothy 3 is "astorgos" - without natural affection - which is evident in those "Christians" who do not even reach the natural affection found in wolves, baboons, and alligators.

Then, too, we see in Daniel 4 that a king's business is to show mercy to the poor, and so that is evidently included in the ministry entrusted to authorities in Romans 13, for which they deserve to be supported by taxes. I think that this also finds support in Psalm 72, which describes quite nicely what the duties of a ruler are.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Election Thoughts

It's a long time since I've written.  Reviewing my February post on Trump, following the South Carolina primary, I think I made pretty good sense.  Let's see if I can keep it up.

This is indeed the season of whining and excuse-making for the Democrats, who are thus doing all they can to ensure that they lose again in 2018 and 2020, but events helped by Trump's blunders may enable them to avoid the consequences.  After all, Trump's blunders during the campaign nearly enabled the Democrats to escape the well-earned defeat of Hillary Clinton.  If we get out of 2017 without a considerable financial unraveling, I will be amazed.  Is Trump the guy to keep that from happening, if anyone is?  I don't think that's the way to bet.  And if any of a variety of things goes wrong as is likely, who knows what could happen?  Nothing good for Trump or the Republicans when they get caught holding the bag like Herbert Hoover, I'm sure.

Still, I feel like addressing one principal Clintonista whine - the supposed interference in the election by the Russians.  I have several points to make.

1.  If in fact the Russians interfered in the US Elections, they had every right to do so, as the US revolutionary tradition affirms.  A principal grievance against the British stated by the American revolutionaries was "No taxation without representation."  The colonies resented being taxed by a Parliament in which they had no representatives and therefore no say in the taxes and other measures to be imposed upon them.  It's a reasonable principle.   

Taxation is a special case of the general principle that people affected by the enactments of a government ought to be represented in it.  It is on this basis that the right to vote in the US was extended in later years to women and to others. 

It follows that anyone whose life will be profoundly affected by the results of a US election is entitled to try to influence it.  No drone-bombing without representation!  No invasions without representation!  No neo-Nazi coups so as to plant nuclear missiles on our borders without representation!  No plans to provoke a shooting war in Syria that could lead to a nuclear exchange without representation!  It seems obvious that Syrians and other Middle Easterners - and Russians - have a claim to representation in US elections, as the US revolutionaries defined such rights regarding the British Parliament in 1765 and in the decades that followed, because US elections have direct consequences for these parties.

This reminds me of the principle stated by the apostle Peter, "Do not suffer as an overseer of the affairs of others."  If you oversee the affairs of others, they gain the right to interfere in yours.

2.  No one has in fact offered any evidence that the Russians had anything to do with the exposure of the Clinton campaign emails, probably because there isn't any.  They've claimed that there is such evidence - the same credible sources that assured us of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the unprovoked invasion of Iraq.  But they have produced no such evidence at all.  Are we really supposed to be played for suckers again by those same liars?

3.  Trump is not some sort of traitor if he tries to make a deal with the Russians as the price of a working alliance with them.  He may not succeed, of course.  He is quite likely to muff the execution, which is delicate.
But what he or any other US President must do if possible is to pry apart Russia and China, and there is no way to do that while opposing the vital interests of both.  It happens that the vital interests of Russia are of little importance to the US.  It doesn't cost the US anything for Assad to survive in Syria and for the US empire's al-Qa'eda and ISIS proxies to be defeated there - these are unreliable friends and a public relations nightmare that have caused millions of refugees to destabilize Europe. Moreover, they have given Recep Tayyip Erdogan millions of refugees now sitting in Turkey with which to blackmail the Europeans, as he is explicitly doing.  If Trump gives all these troublemakers away, so that millions can safely return home, he just bails out of trouble while pleasing the Russians.  Likewise, the Ukrainian Nazis are no loss to the United States.  Accordingly, for the US to give Russia its gotta-haves costs little in exchange for the hope of fashioning a working alliance, as in fact Nixon did with China in 1972.

It's obvious that Trump has chosen Putin's business buddy Rex Tillerson to be Secretray of State to accomplish this mission.  I don't like their chances, but unlike Clinton and her kind, at least they seem to have the sense to try it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mediation and Judgment

Gayle and I were reading the great advice of Jesus in Matthew 5: "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison."

As we discussed the passage, the procedure in special education cases came forcefully to mind.  When someone asks for a hearing, usually the parent, but sometimes the district, the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) schedules a mediation and a hearing.  Almost always, cases settle before hearing, and usually in mediation.

Before going further with the parable, it's important to note that Jesus is NOT expecting us to agree with our adversaries quickly by ourselves.  Reconciliation is a work of God, so that Eli the priest told his sons - who unwisely blew him off - "If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?" (1 Samuel 2:25).

Thus, agreeing with our adversary along the way is done, in Jesus's mind, through mediation.  What Jesus says here is that you can choose God as your mediator, or you're likely to get God as your judge - and maybe you won't be happy if that happens.

At OAH, mediation is voluntary.  Either party can cancel mediation, and either party can walk out whenever they like.  And if that happens, see you at hearing.

At mediation, which is voluntary, the mediator really has no authority.  He or she is there to help the parties reach a deal.  And with the mediator's help, the parties can come to whatever deal they want.  A good mediator will get to what each party really needs and help to figure out how to give the other party what he needs too.

If you go to hearing, you go before a judge, and the judge runs the hearing.  The judge hears the evidence, and the judge gives a decision.  You don't get a deal; you get an order, and for sure someone will not like it.

This reflects real life.  We can seek peace and pursue it, with the help of God the mediator.  If we don't want that, we will face God the judge.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

"Progressive," "Conservative," "Reactionary," and Trump

The increasingly surreal US political scene has made me think things over.  It's hard even to think sensibly about anything if the language is so corrupted that meaningful words and their definitions are unavailable - a point Orwell made in O'Brien's essay on the purpose and effect of Newspeak.  Grab a copy of "1984" in the library and study it; it will do you good.

"Progressive" is one of those wonderfully flexible Newspeak words - a great thing to be or a horrible thing, depending on who is using it and why, and generally devoid of actual meaning.  So I'll propose a meaning - it's being in favor of progress.

Well, then, I want to know what progress, and in what direction.  I like progress in the gaining of wisdom or skill, or in virtues, but I don't like the progress an egg makes if it sits in the sun in the window for a week.

Today in US politics, progress is motion in the direction we've been going in, is it not?  So before we can figure out whether we want to be progressive, don't we need to determine whether we like the direction we're going in?

Mostly, I don't like the direction we're going in.  In fact, I think we're progressing toward calamity in many ways - social disintegration, the sort of environmental collapse that has wrecked plenty of civilizations before ours, and increasing acceptance of brutality and injustice as Paul in 2 Timothy 3 said to expect especially in "Christian" churches.  We see that now, just as he expected, especially in "Christian" churches; "Christians" are most inclined to approve of torture, violent aggression against others, and the sort of bigotry against Muslims and others that led to the Nazi Judeocide - all arising out of the cowardice engendered by their conformity to the fears that the world teaches, and heartily adopted by them.

I don't like any of this progress, so I'm not a progressive.

Another of these wonderful Newspeak words is "Conservative," used with equal vehemence as insult or high praise - but, again, with no clear meaning.

Here the confusion seems to arise from there being at least a couple of valid ways to be conservative.  Conservative can mean being concerned to conserve good things that we're in danger of losing, being afraid to break good things inadvertently or recklessly.  As the letter to the church in Sardis in the Revelation puts it, "Strengthen the things that remain, that are about to die."  This impulse is seen in the desire to preserve the natural environment, constitutional civil liberties, and such like.

A closely related impulse was described by G. K. Chesterton as not wanting to knock down a wall before you know why someone put it up.  NASA engineers say accurately that change is bad.  Engineers, programmers, and other such people learn how easily we break things, how easily we get unintended consequences - and mostly bad ones.   

Having been a programmer for a long time, I have learned upon my hide to be this kind of conservative.

But the conservative temperament can easily lead to a look-alike corruption - the desire to keep things as they are to our own advantage.  As John Kenneth Galbraith accurately said: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  In 1948, George Kennan stated this reality about the goal of US foreign policy:

"Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."

This kind of conservatism ends up being quite reckless, since clinging to a privileged position founded on injustice requires the steady application of more injustice, and its price is unending fearfulness, the usually low-level but constant dread of the oppressor that if he lifts his boot from the neck of the oppressed his victim will leap up and avenge himself.

That is very obvious in the rage against black people, immigrants, Muslims, and others that we see in lots of white people these days - who are certainly being ripped off, but not by those that they are hating and kicking down on.

For instance, there is an immigration problem, but the problem is not immigrants, who are actually performing such services as keeping Social Security solvent and preventing the demographic collapse happening in such places as Japan.  The problem is that the owners and rulers of this country, operating both through the Republican and Democratic parties, have made legal immigration difficult and illegal immigration easy - for the obvious purpose of ensuring a large pool of vulnerable workers, easily ripped off, who also give leverage to those rulers and owners to rip off white US workers.  The immigrant-hating of these workers is not helping them, just as it never has.  It didn't work in the 1890s for white people being ripped off in the same way through the use of black scabs to break their strikes.  Most of these white folks were played for suckers and enticed to hate those more oppressed than they were; a few, like the United Mineworkers, instead sometimes chose to consider them fellow sufferers and organized them.

Finally, there is the term "Reactionary," hardly ever used except as an insult, because we're all supposed to believe in the myth of progress as steady improvement.  But I think there is a lot of merit to the reactionary position, when you're progressing in the wrong direction, as we surely are.  Should we not want to restore worthwhile things that we have lost?

But I see two problems.

One is that reactionaries are commonly trying to unscramble an egg, but that can hardly ever be done.  Accordingly, you can hardly ever fix problems by returning things to what they were, because what happened really did happen and cannot unhappen.  Thus it was a mistake for the people to demand a king, as Samuel the prophet warned them in 1 Samuel 8, but when things went badly with Saul, there was no going back to when the judges ruled.  The kingdom was here, and a new king was needed - David.

Reactionaries always want to get back to the garden, as expressed in Joni Mitchell's song, Woostock.  Listen carefully; it is the reactionary dream:

The trouble is that there is no getting back to the garden, only to the city of God, even though the city was Cain's invention.

A related problem with the reactionary position is that the reactionary is usually trying to get back to a past that never was.  For instance, there never was a golden age of godliness in the United States for us to get back to.  Read Matthew 5-7 and read any honest account of US history, and you won't find 24 hours in that time where anyone except a few like John Woolman had the slightest interest in what Jesus set forth there. 

Whether Tea Partiers in their funny hats, hippies, or dominionist "Christians," reactionaries pursuing a past that never was are doomed to disappointment.  Truly it is rightly said in Ecclesiastes, "Do not ask why the former days were better than these, because it is not from wisdom that you ask about this."

No, Donald Trump will not, and cannot, Make America Great Again.

So then where are the various presidential candidates, and especially Donald Trump?

I think we have to say that Bernie Sanders is a cautious reactionary.  He would like to take us back to the 1950s, when the average American wage earner could expect a decent life, where there were some decent social protections, and where a 90% top tax rate in Eisenhower's days kept the extremely rich from getting it all - without, let it be said, keeping them from working hard to get it, because that remaining 10% was still a pretty nice pile.  But leaving out the white supremacy and some other things.  A timidly reforming reactionary.  I don't think that's nearly enough, but if you don't like him, let's consider the alternatives.

Hillary Clinton is, of course, the conservative in the race, in the degraded, timid, and grasping way that conservatism can go bad and mostly has.  She guarantees that what we have - total domination by the Goldman Sachs crowd, unending stupid wars, and minor tweaks that ensure no inconvenience to her owners and friends, and no change except through decay - is what we're going to get world without end if she prevails.  But since it is not sustainable, it will not work, if she ever gets in office.  Her record of venality and bad judgment, never learning and never forgetting, ensures calamity in the event of real crisis - and impending crisis is baked into the cake.

The Republican clown car, excluding Trump, promises what we have and more of it, with some vague reactionary dreaming that Clinton does not offer.  Their problem is that what we have has been ruining the lives of their base for decades and is promising to make it even worse and quickly, and the suckers are showing signs that they can't and won't stand it anymore.  Thus the South Carolina primary today polished off Jeb Bush.  Eduardo Rafael Cruz, in a state that's about as good for him as it gets, also got walloped.  It didn't hurt Trump at all that he blurted out the truth about Iraq; a higher percentage of veterans voted for him than other categories of voters.

So what about Trump? 

First, he scoffs at rationality - disturbing common ground with fascist movements of 80 years ago, and earlier similar movements like the Black Hundreds in Czarist Russia.  He presents himself as a romantic reactionary, promising to Make America Great Again.  It's all nonsense.  The problem is that it's no more nonsensical than the shuck and jive of his opponents, especially the utterly robotic Rubio and Clinton.

Trump gushes nonsense - outrageous lies like having witnessed Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey, or hallucinations like the Mexican government being induced to fund a wall for the United States.  He lies far more audaciously than the others - all accomplished liars themselves.

But unlike them, he also blurts out some truth now and then.  In the first Republican debate, he spent a couple of minutes explaining how the US political system and its denizens work - "present company excepted," said he with a smirk to the clown car with him on stage.  He explained why Hillary Clinton found it necessary to attend his wedding in 2005, thereby also accurately telling us what to expect of her if she reaches the presidency.  Yes, she will obey all her other funders as compliantly as she has honored Trump - when having given her money, he crooked his finger, and she came running.  

In South Carolina, he was as clear as any candidate with the possible exception of Sanders about the Iraq War, and what Bush did in that caper.  The debate audience booed him, but the voters backed him and put Jeb Bush out of the race.

At this point, he looks most likely to either win the Republican nomination or be impudently cheated out of it by the party bosses.  That will be ugly if it happens.  And if he faces Clinton, the poster girl for the system that is screwing the average American, I think he is likely either to win or to be obviously defrauded, and that won't be pretty either.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It's not as though the word of God has failed

Ray Stephens here sings a wonderful song that expounds the obvious, just as true now as in 1987:

These disgusting people, and the suckers they deceive, certainly proclaim to the world that the putative disciples of the Wisdom of God are more filled with folly than anyone else - which is not to mymind proclaiming the name of Jesus or his gospel.  But the nice thing is that this foul desert is what we are told to expect.  If it proves the warnings of Jesus and the apostles to be true, it is surely not evidence that we should not believe them.

But in this one thing I resemble Elijah: he was wholly unaware of 7000 faithful people who had not bowed the knee to Baal nor kissed him, and these days so am I.  God willing, in the coming year that may change.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fear vs Cowardice

The rising fear and hatred of Muslims now in progress in the United States has made me think more about this lately.

The Bible certainly expects us to be fearful of many things.  For one thing, we ought to be afraid to do wrong.  But it's also expected that we should be afraid of much else from time to time, and that is not necessarily a problem.

When does it get to be a problem?  Clearly, when it becomes cowardice, which is indulging our fears so far as to do evil. 

I have concluded that, unpleasant as it is, fear is a craving we love to indulge, like gluttony or sexual immorality, and cowardice is indulging and taking pleasure in that fear.  I have to treat it the same way, with mixed results.  I'd give myself a C-, to tell the truth, and I don't know how people handle it who don't know God, although many evidently do.

We all know that advertisers have known forever that sex sells - cars, beer, toothpaste, vacation packages, pretty much anything they want to sell us. But we haven't laid to heart that fear sells just as effectively, and so they use it the same way.

The nice thing about fear is that you can sell ugly politicians with fear, where sex might not work so well.  Fear really works for Donald Trump - fear of Muslims, fear of Mexican rapists, fear of black people - and legitimate fears, too, such as the fear of people's jobs being exported for the convenience of the corporations that own the other Republicans and Hillary Clinton.  But using sex to sell the Trumpster - I'm not a woman, so maybe I'm not fit to judge, but I don't think so.    

I think that most Christians know that letting advertisers stroke our sexual lust is not good for us.  It really is pornography, and it must lead to trouble, besides corrupting our judgment so as to make us buy crap we would otherwise leave alone, just as the advertisers intend.  I wonder why Christians don't realize that indulging fear in the same way is similarly corrupting.  It's actually a lot worse, because sex is a lot more normal and right than fear is.  Perverting sex in this way encourages sexual immorality and disrupts family relationships, but perverting fear in this manner entices us to every sort of cruelty, up to murder, against the innocent.

C. S. Lewis was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong when he had Screwtape write to his young disciple Wormwood that the demons had managed to glamorize every sin but cowardice.  That one, too, they've succeeded at.  Cowardice is successfully  sold as prudence, security, self-defense - even courage to go out and kill people.  It has often been said that US society is obsessed with sex, and the popularity of pornography makes that point.  But, much more, US society is obsessed with fear, and enjoys it in the same way - although like all other lusts of this kind, it's insatiable, and therefore painful without end.  If Christians, especially, don't thoroughly repent of this depravity, it will end very badly - fascism being only one possibility.