Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Do You Know God's Address?


When you send a letter, you need to know the address. Likewise, when you pray, you need to know the address to which you are sending the prayer. God has several addresses; and I have listed several that I use while praying. I’m sure you can think of many other addresses. Addressing God properly will load your prayers with thoughts that will lead to effective praying.

v Great creator/sustainer
v God of the cloud and fire
v Healer of the blind and paralyzed
v God, from whom grace cataracts down from heaven and flows forever
v God of hope
v Unchanging God
v Father of true peace
v We praise you, Ancient of Days
v God of comfort
v Thou righteous and holy sovereign
v O God, of unsearchable greatness
v O God, whose will conquers all
v O Lord God, who inhabits eternity
v Living and ever-present God
v Proclaimer of mercy, love, and justice
v Jesus, our Savior, our teacher, our friend
v Savior of the burdened, heavy-laden from the fall
v Watching and caring God
v Eternal God, our answer

Friday, December 29, 2017

Freedom of the Will?

Christians often debate among themselves questions about God’s sovereignty vs. the freedom of human will. This argument was best enjoined in the 16th Century by two of the most influential theologians to ever live. Martin Luther was a German professor of theology, composer, priest and monk, whose criticism of the established Catholic Church sparked the beginning of the Protestant reformation. The other discussant was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian, Desiderius Erasmus.

Both of these influential theologians saw problems within the established Roman Catholic Church. Luther is best known because he posted 95 theses, i.e., arguments against the errors in Catholic doctrine and belief at the time, on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. His action in doing that is credited with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. He was mostly concerned with the practice of selling indulgences for forgiveness of the sins for people who had died. Another argument that raged between these two churchmen was an argument about the freedom of human will considering the statements in the Bible. Luther proclaimed that the Bible was true and authoritative; its precepts must be observed as written, all the time. Erasmus, on the other hand argued for a much looser interpretation of Scriptural dogma; he saw much more freedom of human will than did Luther.

In discussing the freedom to participate in morally and spiritually questionable human activities, Luther essentially said that “If something is not specifically permitted by Scripture, then, we humans have no right to participate in or sanction that practice.” (This is my own paraphrase of Luther’s belief.)

Luther called down fire from heaven, infusing his rhetoric with God’s all-powerful truth. This roiled human affairs and undermined concord not just in the church but in society as well. He pointed out that divine truths are not remote and inaccessible. They are revealed in Scripture with a directness and clarity that is clouded only by our bondage to sin. Luther conceded that a great deal of the Christian life requires discernment; and not everything can be covered by assertions of biblical truth claims.

 On the other hand, Erasmus would have said, “If something is not specifically prohibited in Scripture, then, we humans can do it.” (Again, my own paraphrase.) It is not hard to see that the view of Erasmus is much more liberal than that of Luther.

Erasmus recognized the need to be ruled by truth. He affirmed the “inviolable authority of the Holy Scriptures” and “the decrees of the Church.” But he added that our efforts to navigate in accord with the light of Christ involve uncertainty and ambiguity. This means we need to accord others room and scope for their own journeys. In many instances, perhaps most, what it means to serve God faithfully remains and open question. Erasmus emphasized free will in the Christian life to promote tolerance and a spirit of concord. He pointed out that we must be modest in our dogmatic statements—this will allow us to be less judgmental of the opinions of others. We must respect the free choices of others. But…this freedom is not limitless. There are some authoritative truths that properly command us. However, these absolutes of the Bible are not many, and we can make up our own minds about most things.  

R.R. Reno has brought up these precepts in his essay in First Things about this argument between Luther and Erasmus. You may read this interesting article by going to the following link:  https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/01/bondage-and-freedom

Mr. Reno has concluded his writing with the admonition that Christians and society, in general, has emphasized the ideas of Erasmus too much lately. We have not clung strongly enough to the teachings of Luther about inviolable truth claims.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Have you heard anyone bad-mouthing President Trump lately?

mmm


6 October 2017
President Trump has soaked up more criticism lately from the media and many citizens than any president I can remember. I do not appreciate his brash, unkind, harsh, and sometimes vulgar ways; I do not like his policy of firing any and everyone who does not agree exactly with him. However, I think it is prudent to look at some of the things he has accomplished, all of which strongly reflect his policy of “America First:”
  1. Despite his friendly rhetoric toward Russia and Putin, Trump’s presidency has been marked by increased bombing of Russia-backed Syria and bombing of Russia-aligned Taliban in Afghanistan.
  2. Stricter enforcement of economic sanctions against Iran.
  3. Expansion of NATO.
  4. Liquid natural gas exports to Europe, that undercut the Russian economy.
  5. Sold U.S. missile defense to Poland and Romania.
  6. Opposition to the Russian-negotiated Iran nuclear deal.
  7. Rewritten administrative rules for businesses, resulting in soaring stock market values.
  8. Appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which has maintained the balance of power between liberals and conservatives that was previously tilted toward the left.
  9. Trump has been filling lower courts with a multitude of young conservative judges, who have lifetime tenure.
  10. Secretary Jeff Sessions has strengthened the government’s power of civil asset forfeiture, allowing the government to seize cash and goods from people suspected of crimes.
  11. Justice Department has quit its previous opposition to a Texas voter ID law.
  12. Justice Department has also encouraged prosecutors to seek the harshest sentences for low-level drug offences.
  13. Trump’s statements of opposition to illegal immigration has caused a marked drop in illegal border crossings on the southern border. Customs and Immigration officers report the number of unauthorized people crossing the border has decreased 20% compared to the same time period in 2016. Contracts are out now for builders of the border wall.
  14. Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, believing it to be contrary to United States best interests, as well as ineffective in modifying world climate.
  15. The Trump administration is working to dismantle the Obama “Clean Power Plan” and the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule, which would have regulated every small body of water in the nation by designating all of them to regulation by the EPA.
  16. Scott Pruitt’s EPA has moved to undo, delay, or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules in order to advance apparently harmless business enterprises.
  17. The State Department has reversed the Obama Administration block on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
  18. The Interior Department is considering reversing a rule on fracking on public lands, and it has already reversed a ban on coal mining on public lands.
  19.  Administration has made a wide range of changes on homosexual issues. This has included his stated opposition to transgendered people serving in the armed forces. Trump administration has rejected Obama-era protections for transgender students.
  20. The Trump Administration has attempted to peel back parts of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law and undermine function of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which has been deemed unfair to citizens.
  21. Trump’s travel bans from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen went into effect on 29 June 2017, and lasted for 90 days. That travel ban is still being litigated. The administration is proposing an even more strict limitation of immigration from Muslim-dominant countries in order to prevent terrorists from entering the United States.
  22. President Trump has personally visited zones of widespread disaster in order to encourage citizens that the United States stands ready and able to help them.
Regardless of how one might view some of these actions of the Trump Administration, one cannot say that this administration has not accomplished anything significant during its 6 month tenure.  
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Utopia Won't Work!


23 August 2017

The basic tenet of the Progressive Left in America and elsewhere is that people need trained experts to run their government and tell the people what is best for them. This political philosophy has been active and well in America ever since the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Today’s Progressives on the left include Lyndon Johnson, Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—they, among many others know how to be good people planners (or…so they think).

There have been other Progressives in recent history—all of whom knew what would be best for the people, e.g., Adolf Hitler, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Idi Amin, and most notably Maximilien Robespierre (leading architect of the French Revolution). They all claimed special inspiration to plan and run their respective nations. Those secular Progressives have wreaked havoc on their people. In the 20th Century, alone, Communism has taken 100 million lives; the Nazis killed 20 million more. The administration of Chairman Mao killed untold millions in China; and other left-wing utopian progressives have killed even more. 

These progressive systems have run counter to classic philosophers, especially Aristotle, who taught that man is by nature political, that is, naturally social, reasonable, morally aware, and that all human beings are equal to others in potential development. He taught that no human being is any less human than any other. This is consistent with the biblical teaching that all of mankind is created in the image of God.

The classical and biblical human rights listed above, comprised the belief structure that described the beliefs of the neoconservative movement, which were manifested in the early years after the Second World War. Later, in the 60’s and 70’s, the term “neoconservative” took on a more interventionist connotation, in that its imperatives advocated a much more interventionist quality—these interventionist tendencies were incorporated into the foreign policies of the administrations of George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush president., The “neo-cons,” as they were called pushed for nation changing activities abroad dedicated to enlightening the foreign peoples so that all peoples over the globe might enjoy the freedoms and liberties of present-day Americans. These policies have spectacularly failed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Interventionist policies began to fade in the administration of Barak Obama; and now, I do not believe many Americans think that it is possible or practical to try to modify the polities of foreign nations.

The American founders set forth a system of government characterized by the statement in the Declaration of Independence that all men, everywhere are standing in “…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them….” This document does not suggest that these progressive ideas of utopia on earth should hold sway over free men.

William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008 He was a widely popular conservative TV host and author.) recognized the futility of progressive ideas of utopian aims; he popularized the phrase: “Don’t let them immanentize the eschaton.”

This impossibly awkward statement became so popular that people actually painted it on their T-shirts and campaign buttons. In translation, the phrase means,” Don’t fall for utopian political schemes, because they can’t work.”

In closing, remember George Orwell’s famous aphorism: “There are some ideas so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them.”

(You might notice that I am still reading a good book, i.e., “American Greatness, by Buskirk and Leibsohn.” None of the above ideas are mine; they come from Chapter 7 of this book.)

Friday, August 18, 2017

American Greatness



There is a lot of discussion in the American culture these days asking the question, “Why did Donald Trump win election to the White House?” Many answers have been presented, but the one that appeals to me the most is one described in a new book by the same name as this blog post, by Buskirk and Leibsohn. This book is not just about the 2016 election—it is about the tenor of thinking of the American people.

It seems obvious that the liberal press, editorialists, and pollsters have completely missed the ideas of the American electorate; and, thus, they missed the significance of the DJT election. I believe we all need to understand the outcome of this election in order to understand our country and think together about our values and exactly where we want to go.

In the first place, Americans need to know that the print and TV media are not on the same page as the ordinary American voter—neither are the pollsters who try to tell us what we are really thinking. Those speakers were dead wrong with their predictions about the 2016 election; and I think they are likely wrong about a lot of other things.

The main person who understood the American mind in that election seemed to be DJT! He realized that Americans were sick and tired of hearing how they should be thinking in the way of “politically correct” speech and expression. He realized that the ordinary American was concerned in large part with the safety of our nation and the fact that his household buying power is being eroded by forces out of his control. Issues of immigration and the sending of American production overseas were on the minds of the people in 2016—they still are.

The highbrow political philosophy of the “people who should be in the know” in academia, the courts, and the universities was not applicable to the concerns of ordinary Americans. What concerned the people in 2016 was the problem of protecting the natural rights of the citizens and securing their persons and property. National security was, and is, still a real concern. Americans do not like the ideas of open borders, trade giveaways, and nation building abroad.

Listening to DJT talk, Americans heard a man who talked off the cuff to them, much as they might hear at their own breakfast tables—rough, unscripted, brash, and spontaneous. They were not so much interested in his actual words and their thoughtlessness and logical conclusions. He seemed like he was one of them.

I believe that ordinary Americans are also concerned with the immorality and vulgarity of Donald Trump. However…they saw the moral depravity on the other side of the aisle as equally obnoxious. So…they could not distinguish between the two parties on moral bases. On balance, they voted for DJT because they saw him closer to their values and needs than they did to Hillary Clinton. (Bill Clinton once said, “My morals match the morals of the American people.” I am afraid he was right. But…I, so very much, wish we could someday find a President with good morals, tact, and manners and who could, at the same time, connect with everyday Americans the way DJT does.)
mmm

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bring Our Frankenstein Welfare State to Heel!


Bring Our Frankenstein Welfare State to Heel!

Entitlements Must Be Controlled!

10 August 2017

 

The United States entitlement system has four major defects:

 

First, benefits flow to people who really should be able to take care of themselves. This was a key complaint about the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid, whose initial purpose was to supply a financial backstop for the indigent and their dependents. Similarly, Medicare and Social Security were created when seniors were the most impoverished age cohort; now the oldest Americans are also the wealthiest, yet their benefit levels have increased over the years. Social Security is not a welfare entitlement program. Social Security distributions were created by Americans over their working years for their own retirement. That money should legally belong to them and be used for themselves.

 

Second, providing benefits to the wealthy or able-bodied discourages good habits like thrift and hard work. For instance, many voters are under the mistaken impression that their contributions to Medicare and Social Security cover the full scope of benefits they eventually receive, which discourages saving for retirement and puts more pressure on the state.

 

Third, many entitlement programs were designed to handle problems that have since changed or even disappeared. The management of some entitlements was done for political, rather than to deal with social problems in a more rational way. The most extreme example of this is the Food Stamp Program, which was assigned for management purposes in the Department of Agriculture. In the DOA, food stamp distribution was linked to farm subsidies. Whenever farm subsidies remained unchanged or increased, distribution of food stamps, likewise remained stable or increased—a most irrational arrangement. (Farm subsidies are an entitlement program, themselves—distributed to wealthy farmers and farm co-ops. I cannot see a good reason to continue them, at all. During the last 20 years, farm programs have cost America’s non-farm households a total of $1.7 trillion.) Medicare was a program of runaway spending from its earliest days because the original law created and open-ended commitment that massively inflated costs.

 

Fourth, our entitlements invest undue political power in mediating interest groups. The government does not provide benefits directly, and so employs private parties which acquire power to influence the government. For instance, the doctors’ lobby, which initially opposed Medicare back in 1965, is so ingrained in the system that it now writes about 90% of the reimbursement rates for Part B. This is a huge conflict of interest.

 

Entitlement reform is desperately needed, but the general population does not understand the system. Both political parties should be involved in reforming this dysfunctional system. The problem is that conservatives and progressives do not agree on where the needs lie. The progressive technocratic know-it-alls at the top of the government architecture are intent on promoting dependence on the government and by extension on themselves. They do not see the inefficiencies of the system. Conservatives want to see control transferred to the states and local municipalities and…back to the private sector. They want to decrease excessive public funding of all these programs.

 

The Republican Party has been very ineffective in modifying entitlement programs; and the Democrats only want to expand the problems. Common sense at the top of our polity is necessary. Responsible and skillful leadership would be a good idea, too.

 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Who’s Going to Work?

America is in a peculiar situation: Many able-bodied working age men 25-54 years old are not working. About 7 million men of working age are in this group.  The percentage of non-working men of the age group 25-54 is higher now that it was at the end of the Great Depression in the 1930’s! Is this because of an economic decline in gross domestic product (GDP); or is it because they are significantly disabled and unable to work; or because they do not have any family responsibilities that need monetary income? The answers to all these options is NO. These men are not working because of other reasons. What are the reasons?

This trend of work place drop-out has been evident since the mid 1960’s. This trend of voluntary unemployment has followed a persistently upward trend line not correlated with economic booms and recessions, indicating that weak market demand is not driving this tendency. Again, what is causing this exodus from the American work force?

This phenomenon in our culture may fairly be called a “flight from work.” This situation of working-age men not working is not because jobs are not available. As a matter of fact, manufacturers are finding it difficult to fill job vacancies because qualified men do not apply for the jobs.

No, I think we must look elsewhere for the cause of this “flight from work.” In years gone by, working men were called “tradesmen,” men who might rightly identify themselves as carpenters, plumbers, stone masons, brick layers, cement and asphalt workers, etc. They had jobs that required the application of hands and muscles. Those jobs gave these men their identities, they had real concrete work to do. Those men could look at a house and say, “I built that.” They could take satisfaction in a job they had done well.   

Now, however, many of those jobs have been taken over by machines or other kinds of technologies. The jobs that are left are on assembly lines tightening a thousand bolts every day on automobile chasses as they pass by the worker on a conveyer belt. That kind of work is humiliating and demoralizing; few workers can tolerate it for long. The drop-out rate from that kind of work is significant; and the drop-outs retreat to the couch or the soup kitchen.

In 1913 when Henry Ford launched his first fully automatic production line, he encountered something he had not expected. Every time the company wanted to add 100 men to their factory personnel, it was necessary to hire 963 men! The drop-out rate was huge.

The only part of this cohort of non-employed working-age men who largely hold jobs are married men living with their families and recent immigrants. The rest are lounging on the couch watching TV, binging on alcohol, sugar, pornography, and pain killers. Three out of five of these men are receiving at least one disability benefit from the government. It is conceded by thoughtful observers that this government financial benefit may not be the cause of all this unemployment, but it is certainly financing it!

Even though there may be reasons for the “flight from work,” one may still suspect that government handouts might be part of the cause for the phenomenon. A look at the numbers on government subsidy is enlightening. At this time, approximately 275 million people are receiving government financial support. Some people receive more than one kind of subsidy. Let’s look at the figures taken from the U.S. census for 2013. When looking at the figures below, bear in mind that we are considering a total population in the United States of 307 million: (numbers in the table are given in millions)

Food stamps
50
Medicaid
46
Women, infants, & children (WIC)
23
SSI (disability payments)
20
Subsidized housing
13
Unemployment
5
Veterans’ benefits
3
Medicare
61
Social Security
54

One category that is rapidly growing is the category of Medicaid. In 1990 9% of the population was on Medicaid. By 2015, 19% of our population was on Medicaid. The people on Social Security and Medicare are mostly retired persons who have paid into those programs out of their working income from earlier years; I do not consider them to be recipients of welfare spending.

These figures are alarming; and it can be seen that our nation is fast becoming an entitlement organization. When one learns that Congressional Democrats are pushing for more Medicaid spending, one might wonder where all the money is coming from.

Think about it!