Tuesday, September 9, 2014

GOVERNMENT IS GOOD, GOVERNMENT IS GREAT, MAY WE THANK GOVERNMENT FOR OUR FOOD (AND EVERYTHING ELSE, INCLUDING THE AIR WE BREATHE), AMEN

Oh, to be a Swede! Or, better yet, a Dane! Or to live in any Nordic country these days. Why? To live in a Nordic country is to live among the world's happiest people. According to the United Nations' World Happiness Report, 2013, Nordic countries offer their citizens the greatest happiness on earth.

By what criteria does the U.N. measure happiness? In Denmark, parents don't get just a paltry few weeks parental leave when they have a child. They get 52 weeks of parental leave. Not only that, early childhood education is available to each child. It is believed that the earlier children begin formal education, the more well adjusted and successful they will be later in life. Free health care is seen as a right. Apparently, the ability to see our primary physician multiple times during the year is essential for our mental health. Danes see their primary care physician 7 times a year verses 4 times a year for Americans. Gender equality has nearly been achieved. Women are being paid increasingly the same as men. There is almost complete equality of employment among the sexes. Biking isn't just an extreme sport; it is the norm. The ethos of collective responsibility leads to a higher rate of volunteerism.

In terms of human happiness, the U.N. rates the United States as number 17, just below Mexico.

My response is twofold, the first is political, the second, spiritual.

The inescapable conclusion of the U.N. report is that government is the source of human happiness. Parental leave, gender parity, free health care, they are all provided by the government. The unspoken motivation of this report is to create an allegiance to government. Government is to be seen as the key to success in any endeavor. President Obama and Elizabeth Warren didn't originate the "You didn't build that" mentality. That belief is just another European import.

Children in the Danish school system will of course prefer the system they are brought up in. That is human nature. Complain about the state of American education and many Americans will agree with you. Criticize local schools and see how quickly many of those who attended those same schools unfriend you on Facebook. Those who experienced early childhood education claim they are more successful and more sophisticated as a result. Yet early childhood education (educating children as early as two or three) is just another opportunity to mold children to the government's liking and weaken the family unit.

Riding a bike instead of driving certainly has health benefits. If enough people ride their bikes, air pollution would certainly decrease. There is no question that this would affect the happiness of those living in big cities. Yet it should be noted that one major reason people take to their bikes in Europe is the horrendous price of gas Europeans have to pay. In Denmark, the price of gas is now $5.93/gallon, according to CNN. According to Bloomberg, in February of 2013, it was $8.22/gallon. This has been the case long before gas prices went up here in the U.S. The high price of gas in Europe is by design. Government design, that is. European governments fix the price of gas to discourage driving. President Obama has said he would like Americans to pay the same for gas as Europeans do. Yes, we need to combat pollution. But the motivation to convince the U.S. to change its entire way of life to combat it is political. The U.N. wishes Americans to see freedom as a threat to the planets existence. Just recently, a top U.N. official involved with climate issues stated that democracy is a poor system to combat climate change. The most useful government model, according to her, is communism, particularly communism practiced by the Chinese government. She is apparently blind to the fact that China is polluting its air and poisoning its soil on a massive scale, harming,even killing, its own citizens.

Americans certainly love their cars. They prize the freedom of mobility a car gives. Some would claim that the mobility Americans have experienced is a selfish luxury. However, many historians have credited the ability of Americans to move from place to place as a stabilizing force. American mobility reduces the kind of political discontent which leads to instability in other nations. In some third world countries, the happiest time for a young man is to take his girl friend through the city streets on a motor bike. It is often the only pleasure daily life affords. There are lots of cool songs about driving cars and motor cycles. Are there any cool Danish songs about bike riding?

Is visiting your primary care physician seven times a year, as the Danes do, necessarily a good thing? That Americans see theirs' only four times a year, is that a bad thing? Do most healthy people need to see their doctor seven times a year? Perhaps government provided free health care encourages people to see their doctor more than they need to. Before Obamacare, I never had difficulty seeing my physician. I prefer to deal with one doctor. During my father's last illness, his care was directed by a team of doctors who didn't always coordinate their treatment successfully. This was demoralizing for the family. Yet to imply that this is the state of care for all Americans, even those who are healthy and not in the hospital, as the first link above implies, is misleading.

As for volunteerism, in the U.S., it is conservatives who volunteer the most and contribute the most to charity. (Nicholas Kristof, a liberal, wrote an op-ed confirming this in the New York Times. His article is titled "Bleeding Heart Tightwads". It appeared on 12/21/08. You have to register to access the article.)  If the U.S. repatriated its liberal population, which is stingy concerning these matters, would the U.S. look a lot like Denmark? I doubt it. But note how the article implies that those who live in quasi-socialist countries have greater compassion for humanity.

I would be amiss to move on without pointing out that one of the primary reasons Denmark, Sweden, and all the other Nordic and European countries have been able to afford their way of life is the support of the American taxpayer. Americans have paid for Europe's defense so the Europeans didn't have to do it themselves. The U.S., with its strategic interests around the world, can not afford to build the nanny state that exists in European countries. (However, this reality seems to have escaped President Obama's notice.)

There is one last point to consider. The very countries which the U.N. declares to be the happiest on earth have very high suicide rates.   Some attribute this to the lack of sunlight in Nordic countries. Others believe inherited depression is the culprit. Yet the evidence from the U.S., provided in the link above, refutes this. The states which best reflect the conditions which are supposed to have made Nordic people the world's happiest have higher suicide rates than the rest of the states. Hawaii is an example. The Time article identifies the culprit. It is prosperity and happiness itself. (Yet the author seems to favor the very policies which produce such happiness.) The kind of happiness achieved in Nordic countries is conducive to high suicide rates. In a society where government is the guarantor of success and happiness, the human spirit is diminished. Those that struggle have hope, and hope satisfied includes the satisfaction of achievement. Married couples who struggle together share personal bonds that others do not. Shared affliction produces greater intimacy which positively affects personal happiness. Societies where governments remove most of life's obstacles create an environment where there is no hope. Hope is banished when the government is seen to be the source of happiness rather than God. Note that the U.N. assessment had no religious criteria in assessing happiness. Such a society makes life feel meaningless so that many cannot face living.  If striving for wealth doesn't bring happiness, neither does its opposite number, a society that gives you everything.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

BEING A NEWBORN IN PHARAOH'S EGYPT AND TODAY'S AMERICA

I teach a Wednesday morning class at the church I attend. We have been studying Old Testament characters. Sometime back we studied Moses. While reading in Exodus 1 about how Pharaoh commanded that all male Israelites be killed at birth by the midwives, I was struck by an observation concerning those babies saved by the midwives.

The nation of Israel came to dwell in Egypt because of a severe drought. Joseph, a Hebrew, sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, rose to command all of Egypt under Pharaoh. Joseph not only saved Egypt from the drought, but the entire Middle Eastern world as well. He brought the rest of his family down to Egypt to live with him. Fifty years later, Egypt had forgotten what Joseph had done and observed with fear the increase in the Hebrew population. In response, Egypt enslaved the Hebrews, hoping to control their birthrate. Yet the Hebrews continued to reproduce at an incredible rate. Finally, Pharaoh ordered Hebrew midwives to kill all male babies delivered by Hebrew women. Two midwives, Shiphrah and Pua, saved the male children because of their fear of God. When Pharaoh summoned them to explain themselves, they told Pharaoh that Hebrew women delivered babies before they could arrive. The biblical account states that God blessed the midwives for their actions. It was something not explicitly stated in Exodus 1 that caught my attention.

Pharaoh continued to command that all males born to Hebrew women be killed. He ordered that they be cast into the Nile River. Yet nowhere does the biblical account say that those males saved by the Hebrew midwives were killed. Moses' brother Aaron was three years older than Moses (Ex. 7:7). He must have been one of those saved by the Hebrew midwives. Exodus does not record a scene such as the murder of the young males ordered by King Herod in an attempt to kill Jesus Christ. Had Pharaoh ordered those Hebrew male children killed, surely Exodus would have recorded it. It is reasonable to infer from this observation that no such killing of male Hebrew children saved by the midwives occurred.

Making this observation, a further observation comes to mind. The current occupant of the White House, Barack Obama, when he was an Illinois state senator, was the sole senator to vote in support of partial birth abortion. Partial birth abortion occurs when a baby is being delivered out of the womb. Just before the baby is completely removed from the mother, the abortionist runs scissors through the back of the baby's head, killing the child. In this regard, Obama and those who support this procedure have as much regard for human life as did Pharaoh.

Another observation comes to mind. Recently, papers have been published in academic journals advocating what some call after birth abortion. Some advocate that the mother's wish to terminate her pregnancy should be so controlling that even if a baby survives the attempted abortion, the baby's life should still be terminated. Apparently, that line was never crossed in Pharaoh's Egypt, at least when it came to the children saved by the Hebrew midwives. Some would say that after birth abortion would never happen in America. Experience informs us that what appears in academic journals, no matter how extreme, doesn't stay buried in academic journals. Why should we expect those who support partial birth abortion to draw the line at after birth abortion. If the pro abortion element gets its way, the U.S. would be less safe for newborn babies than Pharaoh's Egypt.        

Monday, April 28, 2014

NEW BOOKS WRITTEN BY WESLEY BIBLICAL SEMINARY PROFESSORS

Dr. Gary Cockerill and Dr. Matt Friedeman have recently written books which are now available.

Dr. Cockerill, Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology and Academic Dean at Wesley Biblical Seminary,  has written Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles, published by Thomas Nelson.  In this publication, Dr. Cockerill seeks to give modern readers an understanding of how the faith of contempoary Christians is rooted in the Old Testament. He blogs at From Mangoes to Melchizedek.

Dr. Friedeman has published Swallowed Up In God: The Best of Francis Asbury's Letters and Journals. The title is self explanatory. This is a book for those who might find Asbury's Journals too lengthy to read. It is the author's hope that this book would lead readers to a good biography of Asbury or to the journals themselves. Dr. Friedeman highlights certain quotes from Asbury for the reader to memorize and rearticulate when the opportunity arises. He has also recently written Mark: A Study of Discipleship. Dr. Friedeman is Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at WBS and pastor of Dayspring Community Church in Clinton, MS. His website is In The Fight.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

THE JOHN WESLEY COLLECTION

Asbury Seedbed has announced a new project, The John Wesley Collection. The project will make available works from Wesley and his Methodist co-workers which have been out of print for decades. As Matt O'Reilly points out, the spread of the New Calvinism movement has been fueled by the availability of works written by great Calvinists from the past, works by Edwards, Spurgeon, and Calvin himself. Lets hope this collection will help Wesleyans become better acquainted with their own heritage and bring a Wesleyan perspective to a wider audience.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

BEST OF THE WEB, 2013. PART 5

Salacious Stories Sell, But Martyrdom Hardly Motivates by Michael Brown: This article deserves a post of its own. In 2012, the internet was abuzz with comments about bad calls by replacement referees. In 2013, Christians were more focused on the Duck Dynasty controversy than on advancing God's kingdom around the world. It used to be that the biggest best sellers in Christian bookstores were stories about missionaries. Now, Christian fiction is what flies off the shelves. In this article, Dr. Michael Brown laments that the plight of Christians around the world rarely is mentioned in Christian social media. From Charisma News.

Friday, January 3, 2014

BEST OF THE WEB, 2013. PART 4

Why "Libertarian" Defenses Of The Confederacy And "States' Rights" Are Incoherent by Jonathan Blanks: I am wary of libertarian influence in conservative circles. Talk of the rightness of the Confederate cause by conservatives makes me ill. So I was glad to stumble upon this article on a libertarian website. Blanks makes the case that the cause of the Confederacy, as well as the post-Civil War South, is at odds with the libertarian defense of individual liberty:
"The anti-libertarian results of the Civil War are evident. The federal government centralized a great deal of power in the post-war years and that sort of power is well-understood to be very dangerous to individual liberty. Yet, it is not as if the abuse of individual rights by the states ended at Appomattox. For the century following the end of Reconstruction, the southern states (and, to a lesser extent, some northern states) implemented laws and customs which systematically stripped the rights of blacks. From voting rights to freedom of contract and free association, the southern states oppressed their black citizens. This retarded the post-war southern economies—stultifying a portion of the population relegated to substandard educational accommodations and economic opportunities—despite protestations from some apologists that the market would work it all out eventually. Similarly, the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates and Slate’s Matt Yglesias show that the economics of and rhetoric supporting the antebellum slave system were thriving, despite claims that the ‘peculiar institution’ was dying for reasons wholly separate from the war. Indeed, most libertarians know that the laws and powers of a state can sustain bad economic policy—seemingly in perpetuity. The states’ abuses of their own people, from the Founding to the 1960s, time and time again replayed the folly of giving the states the power to oppress its own citizens. Laws, custom, and ‘good-enough’ economic growth trumped individual rights and opening the markets to all Americans. There was no guarantee that slavery would end on its own without direct intervention. "
On the question of the legality of the Southern secession, Blank's writes:
"But to support the Declaration of Independence is to support secession. Thus, from the outset, it is nearly impossible to defend the American idea—that the people may separate themselves from an oppressive government in order to govern themselves—without accepting secession as a legitimate political action under certain circumstances, at least. This, however, does not necessarily mean that all secession is justified. In the Declaration, Jefferson writes, “Prudence…will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes,” necessarily implying that some separations are indeed imprudent and any such separation should be judged on its individual merits. A predictable and stable adherence to the Rule of Law is the indispensable tenet of any form of just government, and so the dissolution of that government must be preceded by systemic injustice or other reason that appeals to higher or natural law. Without this ordered liberty and deference to individual rights, laws cease to mean anything other than the imposition of will by man upon man."
As I did in this blog post, Blanks demonstrates that the defense of slavery was the underlying motivation for the South. From The Cato Institute's Libertarianism.org website.


God, The Founders, And George Will by Conrad Black: This National Review article points out something about many conservatives which Christians fail to understand. Many conservatives extol the virtues of religion, and Christianity in particular, because they perceive the benefits religion, particularly Christianity, bestows on civil society. Yet these very conservatives don't believe in God at all.

There are conservatives who don't believe in God, and there are conservatives who use African American conservatives for their own purposes. And when African American conservatives are seen to be no longer useful, white conservatives throw them under the bus. This is what Kay Cole James says in an interview with Marvin Olasky. The interview, The Calvary Is Not Coming, appeared in World Magazine. James believes that white conservatives gave up on African Americans after the 2012 election. I'm sure she's right. (Unfortunately, the link I provided does not contain the entire interview; I cannot seem to find another link to the whole interview. The link provided access to the entire interview when I posted this.)

Roy Ingle didn't have an article on my Best of the Web, 2012. Why? Because he didn't post this great satirical post until after the Best of the Web, 2012 was already published. Divine Determinism And Facebook pokes fun at Calvinism. From Roy Ingle's  Arminian Today blog.

Part 5 will feature only one article. This article deserves a post of its own.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

BEST OF THE WEB, 2013. PART 3.

With the exception of issues relating to Calvinism and Arminianism, I am usually at odds theologically with Roger Olson. Nevertheless, he wrote four posts that I felt were outstanding this year.

Discrimination Against Boys In Education (And Elsewhere):  Dr. Olson speaks out against punishing boys for past discrimination against girls and women. Here is a short excerpt:
"...neglecting to address real discrimination against boys will result in harm to society. Boys will drop out of social productivity and participation, something that is already happening among young men in their twenties, develop strong resentments, and become a drag on society’s progress in overall health and well being."

A Theology Of Duck Dynasty(Or What Duck Dynasty Says About American Culture And Christianity: Whether the show's subjects intended it or not, this show reflects a growing trend, even among Christians, to speak of God, yet to avoid mentioning Christ. Olson doubts that Christian entertainment which makes minimal reference to Christ is truly Christian. He specifically refers to Touched by an Angel and Seventh Heaven in this regard:
I don’t remember Jesus ever being mentioned on notable Christian-oriented network television shows such as Touched by an Angel or Seventh Heaven. (Yes, I used to watch these—mainly with my family when we had children at home and also in order to know what they were when people asked me about them!) These and some other programs have been heavy with God-talk and religious values, but light on anything particular. One often got the impression they were trying to draw in as many viewers as possible while at the same time not offending anyone. But I’m not sure it’s real Christianity if it doesn’t offend some people some of the time. And I’m not sure it’s real Christianity if it avoids mentioning Jesus." (For the record, I have not watched these shows, or Duck Dynasty. Even if Olson is wrong about these particular shows, his overall thesis is valid.)

Where The Devil Is Satan (In Contemporary Christianity) ?: Dr. Olson examines why not only theological moderates, but Evangelicals as well, refrain from speaking of Satan as a real personal entity. One of the reasons he lists: Calvinism. 

Is America Becoming A Police State?: How would we know if the answer to the question is yes?

Arrogance vs Confidence In The Truth Of The Gospel by Kevin Watson:  Post modernism has influenced many to think that to claim certainty of knowledge is arrogance. Even those within the Church have felt this influence, being told that to claim absolute truth for the Gospel is arrogant, while uncertainty equals humility. Watson humbly disagrees. From Dr. Watson's Vital Piety blog.