Sunday, March 29, 2009

Francis Schaeffer And C.S. Lewis: A Comparison Of Legacies

I have always been at a loss as to why C.S. Lewis achieved such hero status as to be considered the most important and influential Christian of the 20th Century. Before you read any further, be assured that this is not a hit piece aimed at Lewis. I enjoy what I have read of his writings; I have given his books as Christmas presents. Yet I have never understood the enormity of devotion to his work or his person. I do realize that there have been those who turned to Christ through his works, such as Charles Colson. Yet has his impact for the Gospel been as great as it has been advertised?

Francis Schaeffer's legacy I can appreciate. First, his influence through books and speeches caused many a seminarian to abandon humanistic theories and return to a Biblical world view. Second, he almost alone jump started the Protestant pro-life movement in the U.S., resulting in the saving of millions of unborn children and rescuing the Protestant Church from a dangerous, sinful apathy. Third, his influence laid the groundwork for the involvement of Evangelicals in the political process. He convinced many a Christian that hiding their heads in the sand was not a viable option. His books such as "How Should We Then Live?" and "A Christian Manifesto" not only demonstrated how our freedoms were the product of a Christian base but that forces were at work eroding that base and there was a need for Christians to withstand these forces in the public arena. The various areas of life thus impacted are beyond measure. The pro-life movement and the fight against euthanasia would not have had the impact they have had without him. Reagan would not have been elected without the support of the Moral Majority, whose founder, Jerry Falwell, had been influenced by Schaeffer. The world would have been much different without a Reagan as President. Various ministries such as Colson's Prison Fellowship came into being through Schaeffer's personal influence on leaders such as Colson. The Christian struggle against international sex trafficking and initiatives to fight the spread of Aids in Africa evolved from Schaeffer's articulation of his well thought out world view. Fourthly, he laid the groundwork for Colson and others to teach the Church how to engage the world with a Christian world view. Can Lewis's impact on the Church match Schaeffer's?

On the back cover of past editions of Lewis's works there appeared the claim that went something like this: Lewis makes becoming a Christian acceptable to those whose intellects would otherwise prevent them from doing so. This creates a problem, but I am not sure this problem originates with Lewis himself or with his followers. Having grown up in a University town and having more than twenty years contact with Campus Ministries engaged in Apologetics-Style evangelism, I have seen the effect of such evangelism on many who have joined the Church. People have accepted Christ in their heads without personal repentance. No, I am not arguing against Apologetics. I recognize that it has a place in evangelism and in training disciples. As stated earlier, I don't know where the problem originates, with Lewis or those who claim to be influenced by him. Yet I believe the problem to be of such magnitude that much personal evangelism has been a wasted effort because of the apologetics that I have seen practiced since the mid-eighties.

Anyway, I have expressed my puzzlement over the adulation Lewis receives, which is something I have rarely done. If you disagree with me, or if Lewis has had a positive impact on your Christian walk, let me know.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "How Should We Then Live?" by Francis Schaeffer. Part III

Toward the end of "How Should We Then Live?" Francis Schaffer tried to predict where the most serious threats to Human political freedom in a secular age would come from. He did not claim to be a prophet and he was limited by the conditions of his time to be perfectly accurate.

Schaffer died while the Cold War was still being waged; the Berlin Wall came down almost a decade after his death. When he wrote "How Should We Then Live?", it seemed that Communism would be the government of choice in the Third World and that Europe would eventually be dominated by the Soviet Union. At that time, especially with Jimmy Carter in the White House, it appeared that the United States was spiraling into permanent economic decline and was unable and unwilling to defend itself. Western Europe was thought to be further down the spiral than the U.S. Even if Schaeffer could anticipate Reagan's policy of not only asserting Western resolve toward the Soviets but working to overthrow the Communist regime through peaceful means, I do not think Schaffer would have expected public support for such an undertaking. Conservatives have a tendency toward pessimism, and some of this rubbed off on Schaeffer. Pessimists have little faith in the general population to withstand challenges if their peace and security are threatened. It appears that Schaeffer not only underestimated Americans, but Western Europeans as well. Sometimes Conservatives underestimate ourselves and overestimate the strength of the enemy and the stability of the enemy's society. Schaeffer did not live to see Central and South America throw off the chains of Leftist and Right wing dictatorships and institute democracies. He would have been happily surprised at the sight of Iraqis dodging bullets and bombs on their way to vote. I am not one who minimizes the current terrorist threat, but I don't want to make the same mistake of viewing al queda is an invincible foe, or Islam as the unstoppable wave of the future. Al queda has been crippled and Muslin terrorists are not the savviest operators in the world. In fact, they seem to be their own worst enemy. Their own brutality loses potential allies, as it happened in Iraq. No people has ever voluntarily wanted to adopt Islam, Islam has only spread by force. Christianity is gaining much ground in the Third World and true Christianity is more than a match for a legalistic rival. We must not allow pessimism to get the better of us, as it sometimes did with Schaffer.

Schaffer lived during a time when the prevailing wisdom was that Government was the source of all economic decision making. Many people have forgotten just how bad the economy was in the 1970's. (We may get an unwelcome reminder of that before Obama is through.) Schaffer predicted that if Western Democracies could not find a way to tame inflation without producing a recession, the West would abandon democracy for some other form of government that promised to provide for all its needs. Schaffer did not live to see the West solve this problem under the leadership of Reagan. Under Carter, inflation and unemployment was in the double digits. Reagan's policies brought inflation under control and the recessions we have had since then have been mild. Even the current recession has not seen a return to high inflation. It is interesting to me that Schaffer's economic analysis seems to ignore the pernicious effects of the welfare state and what it has done to families. If Schaffer were living in the age of Obama, he would be rightly alarmed at where his policies may lead us. But partly because of Schaffer, there is now a viable opposition that can challenge Obama and mold public opinion. (This is one reason some within the Evangelical fold attack Schaffer's legacy. More about that in a future article.)

In challenging governments and institutions with the claims of the Gospel, where is the next big fight for the Church? Schaffer believed that the next big fight for the Church would be against the increasing power of unelected elites in the government, media and the scientific world to control the lives of its citizens. As these elites seek power to determine not only the birth rate but who may even be born and when they will die, Schaffer seems to be right on target. But there is one aspect of this challenge that Schaffer ignored. Before the advent of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, private charities and churches plus local governments were primarily responsible for the care of the down trodden. These agencies were more than adequate to feed, house and clothe the poor. Not only that, they were able to distinguish between the truly needy and those who were merely trying to sponge off of others. The truly needy were not only encouraged to find work, but they were taught productive habits. (The history behind these statements may be found in Marvin Olasky's "The Tragedy Of American Compassion.") When the Church allowed the government to take over this responsibility, the Church lost much of its prophetic voice. To regain this responsibility is the other big challenge facing the Church. The Church may not have been ready for 9-11, but was ready to meet the needs of those whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Even the press could not help notice and report on the successful efforts of Church groups as opposed to the bungling of state and Federal governments.

This concludes my review of "How Should We Then Live?" Tomorrow or the next day I will post an article comparing the legacies of Schaffer and C.S. Lewis.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "How Should We Then Live?" by Francis Schaeffer. Part II

As stated in Part I, In "How Should We Then Live?" Francis Schaeffer was chillingly accurate in his predictions concerning the future of human freedom. The true basis of freedom, Schaffer points out, is Man's unique standing in the Universe as being made in the image of God, being the pinnacle of His creation. Being made in the image of God means that Man is not just another animal. Man has a dignity that must not be taken away from Him. This view of Man, which received new emphasis from the Reformation, led to the development of societies that gave men and women autonomy to determine the course of their own private lives and allowed for what Lincoln called "Government by the People for the People." Schaffer saw that as societies reject Man's unique status, Man would be treated as nothing more than a machine that could be programmed, or an animal whose freedom and numbers must be severely restricted. Governments would adopt authoritarian methods of control to manipulate the thought and lifestyle choices of the masses. Human population control would be a prime concern of these governments. Allied with them would be the elites from the media and the scientific establishment. The population as a whole has had a hand in bringing about this situation. As more people reject absolute standards of right and wrong, they become more accustomed to elites managing more and more of their private life style choices supposedly for the public good. Schaffer formulates this situation this way: "If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society is absolute." (Schaffer, p.224) Here is a larger quote from "How Should We Then Live?" concerning this:

"...John Kenneth Galbraith...offered his own form of the elite...this economist has said that we live in a poor culture. Galbraith suggested an elite composed of intellectuals (especially the academic and scientific world) plus the government. In June 1975, 2,000 'futurists' met for the Second General Assembly of the World Future society in Washington, D.C. Socioeconomist Robert Theobald...endorsed the concept of sapientary authority,' a social structure in which wise men selected by merit would be deeply involved in the governmental decision making process. 'It's naive,' declared Theobald, 'to deny the necessity for some kind of competent elite.'

"Daniel Bell..., professor of sociology at Harvard University, sees an elite composed of select intellectuals. He writes in 'The Coming of Post-Industrial Society' (1973), in the chapter entitled 'Who Will Rule,' that 'the university--or some other knowledge institute--will become the central institution of the next hundred years because of its role as the new source of innovation and knowledge.' He says that crucial decisions will come from government, but more and more of the decisions of both business and government will be predicated on government sponsored research, and 'because of the intricately linked nature of their consequences, [the decisions] will have an increasingly technical character.' Society thus turns into a technocracy where 'the determining influence belongs to technicians of the administration and of the economy.' Bell sees that in the final analysis the whole state--its business,its education, its government,even the daily pattern of the ordinary man's life--becomes a matter of control by the technocratic elite. They are the only ones who know how to run the complicated machinery of society and they will then, in collusion with the government elite, have all the power necessary to manage it. (Schaffer would not be surprised at the rationale for appointing a tax cheat to be Secretary of Treasury: It was claimed that he was the only one in the country who understood how the machinery to bail out failed banks worked.)

"Bell's most astute warning concerns the ethical implications of this situation: 'A post-industrial society cannot provide a transcendent ethic....The lack of a rooted moral belief system is the cultural contradiction of a society, the deepest challenge to its survival.' He adds that in the future, men can be remade, their behavior conditioned, or their consciousness altered. The constraints of the past vanish. To the extent that Bell's picture of this future is fulfilled, Galbraith's form of the elite will be the actuality." (Schaffer, p. 224-225)

Written over thirty years ago, Schaffer's predictions of the future hit the nail on the head. Much research goes on today by scientists seeking ways to manipulate human behavior to achieve what are considered to be desirable ends. For a article that recently appeared on this blog chronicling such research, see here. Wesley J. Smith's blog Second Hand Smoke features articles that confirm Schaffer's vision on a daily basis. Here are some links to some recent blogposts that Smith has published: Even those who are conscious while suffering disabilities should be dehydrated or given lethal injections ; the funding of embryonic research should lead to cloning; those who have objections to certain procedures should get out of medicine; the planet's ills are caused by human prosperity ; and this story from "Second Hand Smoke's" 3/24/09 archive entitled "Deep Ecology Misanthropy Moving Into Mainstream Environmentalism." This article confirms the mindset that Schaeffer warned against when we refuse to acknowledge Man's special place in God's creation. Man is seen as an animal whose population must be reduced to save the planet and guarantee the "rights" of the rest of nature. (I could not locate a separate link to this article.)

In "How Should We Then Live?", Schaeffer makes a crucial point. When such dire predictions of the future are made, some will object, confidently asserting that groups dedicated to defending Civil Rights would fight these trends tooth and nail. But Schaeffer points out that many of these groups are committed to government regulation of the private sector. These groups will side with the government against the rights of its citizens more often than not. See this story for a current example.

Part III will explore areas where Schaeffer missed the mark in his exploration of our future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "How Should We Then Live" by Francis Schaeffer. Part I

Since Christmas I have been reading "How Should We Then Live" by Francis Schaeffer when I could fit it into my Friday evening reading. (The rest of the title is "The Rise And Decline Of Western Thought And Culture", but I could not get the full title to fit in the title section above.) It has been over twenty years since I last read it. It is dated in some respects, which I will discuss in Part III. Yet it is especially pertinent for today in that he rightly proclaims that as the special place for Man, created in the image of God and the pinnacle of His creation, is rejected, the rights of man will be increasingly violated by authoritarian government structures in collusion with an allied scientific establishment. As for a short account of the sweep of history since the time of the ancient Greeks, there is no better guide. Schaeffer meant this book and the film series based on it to be a response to the humanistic PBS series "Civilization" and tried to get the film series based on the book aired on television, but PBS and other networks refused to show it. That should be no surprise. Still, it is too bad. If one would want to stimulate discussion between Christians and secularists by an examination of Western Culture, this is still the perfect vehicle. I can make this statement based on experience. If one were to introduce Christians to a Christian view of History, the Arts and Sciences, despite some inaccuracies, then this is the book. If one were to ask me for one book that explains how the West has evolved to what it is today or if a Christian needed a resource to explain how the Humanism of the Renaissance, which sought to exalt Man, ended up in reducing his status to either a machine or just an animal, this is the book. The Reformation on the other hand, returned to a view of Man that emphasized its creation in God's image, conferring on Man a dignity that enabled the development of democratic forms of government that allowed Man to govern himself. This is ably demonstrated by Schaeffer. With the exception of the Bible itself, this blog has quoted "How Should We Then Live?" more than any other book. For extensive quotation from this book on how modern science grew from a Christian base, see the links on the right side of this blog for "Exposing ExpelledExposed" and read the first article that appears.

Schaffer has come under increasing attack in recent years by those who wish to remake Evangelicalism to their liking or by those who would wish to bury it altogether. Among these critics are those committed to a Post Modern philosophy and those who would like to cut the ties between the Church in America and Conservative politics. I am not going to deal directly with these issues now. I have been planning to embark on a series of articles tentatively entitled "Evangelicalism And Its Enemies" for nearly a year. The all out attack on Schaeffer will be dealt with in that series.

In Part II, Schaeffer's predictions of an increasingly authoritarian government will be shown to be chillingly accurate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Change In Plans.

I had planned to write a fourth post on Miroslav Volf's "The End Of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World." I wanted to examine some questions that arose during my reading. However, I seem to be experiencing writer's block on this one, so I will move on to other subjects.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The End Of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World" by Miroslav Volf. Part III

It has been a challenge of late being able to read on Friday evenings. Yet I have finally finished Miroslav Volf's "The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World."

The title of Part III is entitled "How Long Should We Remember?" The question refers to wrongs done to us. Volf's answer to this question: We will not remember in the world to come. In that world we will be so enraptured by our love of God and of each other in God that memories of past wrongs will simply be swallowed up in that love. According to Volf, this belief does not originate with himself; this belief has been part of the Christian tradition for most of the Church age. He cites Christians from the past to make his point: Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine (who said of the world to come that we will be "free from all evil and filled with all good, enjoying unfailingly the delight of eternal joys, forgetting all offenses, forgetting all punishments"), Calvin, Karl Rahner and Karl Barth. The roots for this view on remembrance go all the way back to The Old Testament. Volf quotes both Jer. 31:34 (...I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more") and Ps. 51:9 ("Blot out my iniquities).

Volf also makes use of Dante's "Divine Comedy" to make his case. Before one enters Paradise, according to this work, one has to drink from two rivers. The waters of the first river cause us to see ourselves as God sees us so we can truly judge ourselves and repent fully. Partaking of the waters of the second river causes us to forget past wrongs done to us. Once cleansed of sin and memories of evil done to us, only then can we enter Paradise. The only memories we have of earth will then be only the good that we experienced.

Instead of forgetting, Volf prefers to use the term "non-remembrance." But non-rememberence is not something we do in our own strength; it is a gift from God. And we extend this gift to those who have wronged us. This gift from God has four characteristics:

1. Wrong doers do not deserve this gift.
2. We don't extend this gift to wrong doers because we must; we do so in imitation of God whom we love and who loves wrong doers unconditionally. To extend this gift to those who have wronged us echos God's forgiveness of us.
3. The extension of this gift presupposes repentance on the part of wrong doers has taken place.
4. This gift is given on earth only provisionally.

If memory is such a key aspect of our identity, if we forget past wrongs done to us, will not our own identities be devalued? No, says Volf. Our identity stems from God living in us whom He has forgiven. And what about how we relate to Christ in the world to come? Will we always relate to Him as the crucified one, the One who died for our sins? Again, Volf says no. We relate to Christ as the crucified one as long as we are being redeemed. Once we have been redeemed, His death and our sin are swallowed up, no longer remembered. Only then can we love God for who He is, not just for what He has done for us.

In a day or two, I will post some questions that arise from my reading of "The End Of Memory."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bush's Legacy

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This is this blog's 200th Post.

I had wanted to publish this the day after Bush's departure from the White House. The text was written in time, but circumstances prevented me from typing it. Yes, I know that Bush is old news now, but I wanted to get my two cents in regarding his overall performance as President. These first attempts at audio blogging are a bit embarrassing since I sometimes stumble over my own written words and you can hear the pages turning. Over time I am sure to improve.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Two New Posts In One: "Hear! Hear!" and "The World Will Love Us Again"

Hear! Hear!

Hear is a link to an analysis of what ails our economy from a view point very few have considered. The author states that the real source of our current economic problems are rooted in America's low birth rate. Single parent families, which are not characterized by saving, are replacing two-parent households. Also, people are waiting longer to marry and are having fewer kids. Along with this trend comes a preference for urban living. These trends are not yet reversible in the U.S., but they are significant enough to prevent a Housing recovery in certain areas of the country. The author states that it is not enough just to criticize the President's economic policies. The country must be told "You are poorer because you failed to bring up enough children. The decline of the traditional family is undermining the traditional economy." The Government must promote policies that serve traditional families and promote their formation and maintenance. The public must be warned of the consequences of burdening an ever shrinking working-age population with the support of a more numerous older population.

Many Christians have been sold on having big families and abstaining from birth control. Just now I have come across a Newsweek article on the subject. (The link that caught my eye said "Christian's Militant Fecundity.") While the tone of the article is not necessarily supportive, it is good that evidence exists that many Evangelicals are resisting the temptation to practice birth control.

It is not just Evangelical Christians who oppose birth control. Many in the secular world do too. In a Political Science class I took at West Virginia University, an anti- Christian professor cited evidence of the harmful effect birth control can have on a society. A friend of mine took a class called "Population Geography " at West Virginia University which presented evidence of the fatal effects of population control all over the world. In fact, many of the countries in Africa that have experienced famine have not been those with the greatest populations, but those with the lowest population densities.

The author of the article on the economy also made another important point Conservatives should heed. "The Republican Party has been reluctant to take on moral issues that separate conservative libertarians and religious conservatives." Many religious Conservatives are being drawn to the Libertarian message without understanding that a major tenet of Libertarian thought has been atheism. Libertarianism demands that all economic activity be completely unshackled from government intervention. Many Libertarians have such a high view of man that they reject the Biblical doctrine of original sin; they believe his capacities are unlimited. The most prominent example is Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged." Many view this book as prophetic in light of our current economic crises and the Government's response. Yet her view of capitalism and man was formed from her atheistic world view. (She once told William F. Buckley that he was too smart to believe in God.) In fact, one of her disciples was Allan Greenspan, who helped bring about the current crises. While there are exceptions, such as Ron Paul, Libertarians have generally advocated not only that man's economic activity be unrestricted, but man's personal behavior should be free from government interference. Hence, many Libertarians oppose restrictions on abortion and drug use, genuine Conservatives do not. Genuine Conservatives believe that Government does play a role in the economy, but that its role is severely restricted by Constitutional guidelines.

The World Will Love Us Again

President Obama promised that he would pursue policies that would regain the respect the U.S. lost under George Bush. Many people across the globe celebrated his victory along with his supporters in this country. The irony is that the policies Obama is now pursuing may prove disastrous to many in the developing world who welcomed his election. The President's policies insure that the U.S. will have to borrow heavily from global capital markets. This will prevent money from going to poorer nations, causing them to experience dire economic consequences. President Clinton devalued the Mexican Peso, plunging Mexico into economic chaos and generating heightened anti-American sentiment. The policies of the current President who promised that the world will love us again may lead to world-wide anti-Americanism.

More irony to follow. China is warning us not to do damage to the developing world. Chinese leaders claim that they will champion the cause of poor nations against American policies that hurt them economically. That's all we need. China becoming a rival with us for the good will of the world. This could have huge strategic consequences if key third world nations align with China against America. Our interests could be hampered all over the world as nations refuse to cooperate with us on military campaigns, diplomatic initiatives and economic projects. China has been sending their companies over to countries in Africa for construction projects. U.S. companies could be frozen out in the bidding process to work in developing countries. It is also ironic that Communist China has to lecture Capitalist America not to spend too much. It seems that American overspending would devalue China's investment in the U.S. since it is the biggest holder of our national debt.

And on another economic note: President Obama's new budget will raise the number of Americans not paying taxes from 38% to 50%. At first glance, this sounds great. No one likes to pay taxes. But what are the consequences? A majority of the American people will have no personal stake in the amount the Federal Government spends. Obama and future Presidents could then raise taxes on a specified minority (the rich) which would appear to have no effect on the rest of us. He could tax and spent without limit without political accountability. If the rich are thus taxed, the rest of the public might not care. The problem? The rich are the producers of wealth in this country and if they are thus penalized, the U.S. would be reduced to a socialistic state along the lines of European countries. The rich are the main source of employment and if they are thus taxed, they will hire fewer and fewer workers. Workers who would utilize their creativity to improve life and productivity would refuse to do work that would raise their income level, fearing they would thus make more money and be subject to taxation.In such a state, we would be even less able to help the developing world rise out of its poverty.

Yes, President Obama promised to regain the world's respect. But if he turns the U.S. into a third rate economic power unable to defend its interests abroad, then who in the rest of the world will respect America. Perhaps a few European intellectuals.

Monday, March 16, 2009

God On The Brain

When I was a new Christian there began appearing a plethora of books on the value of prayer in the process of physical and emotional healing. In my naivete, I thought "Wow, the secular world is beginning to acknowledge the truth of the Gospel!" Actually, what the secular world was acknowledging was not the Gospel, but a kind of spirituality that embraced all religions. In other words, the medical field and the world of science was beginning to revise their complete hostility to religious experience. This revision was not an affirmation of the Christian revelation as contained in the Scriptures and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This new spirituality embraced all religions as equally true and derived from the same sources. All ethical systems deriving from these religions are treated as basically alike. Some Christians treat this phenomenon as a good thing. According to them, it is much easier to introduce Jesus to people in such a climate than before, when the most prominent intellectual opposition to the Gospel was atheism, which mistrusted all religious experiences. While I cannot argue against this contention, it should be kept in mind that the enemy of our souls can manipulate any positive trend for his own purposes. If he cannot defeat the Church through atheism alone, why not defeat it through a spirituality the world can adopt but which does not require repentance and salvation to practice. Such a spirituality undermines the unique truth claims of God's Word regarding Creation and the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to God. While such spirituality encourages people to be kind to one another, it rejects as the source of power to live rightly the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity residing in us. All Orthodox doctrines of Christianity are viewed with suspicion as shackles preventing self fulfillment. All personal lifestyle choices are considered equally valid. Modern Science, rejecting the Christian base which gave it birth, has become an ally of such a spirituality, undermining not only belief in the truth claims of the Gospel, but the existence of the personal God who created man and the Universe.

Here are some links to illustrate how modern science without a Christian base is attempting to shape peoples religious views:

Last May David Brooks published an article on how neuroscience, the study of the brain, is being used to claim that all religious experiences have their origins in chemical processes within the brain. "The Cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God," Brooks contends. "...its going to end up challenging faith in the Bible." In other words, people will not disbelieve in the existence of a god, but they will not accept the God revealed through the Old and New Testaments who can only be approached through Christ. Brooks goes on to say, "Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They are going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior today." Brooks does not say this, but one of those theologies we will have to defend is holiness of heart and life. Its not enough to ask whether the Church is ready to combat this trend intellectually. We must ask ourselves as individuals whether our private lives affirm the truth of those "specific theologies that are guides for behavior today."

This link refers to an article in a leading science publication maintaining that modern scientific discoveries in the field of neuroscience prove the non-existence of the soul and the supernatural. This article's author attacks all those who disagree as ignorant. A response to this article is contained in this link.

Some scientists are sure of the origin of the human ability to distinguish right from wrong. Human test subjects were shown pictures of bad food or sites in unsanitary conditions. Their facial features were similar when they suffered intentional mistreatment during the research. The only conclusion: our ability to distinguish between right and wrong originates in our behavior as infants in choosing which food we like and which food we will not eat. "Surprisingly, our sophisticated moral sense of what is right and wrong may develop from a newborns innate preference for what tastes good and bad, what is potentially nutritious verses poisonous." This according to one of the researchers.

Here is an article from the BBC on researchers who maintain that love is nothing more than the result of chemical activity. Also, according to these researchers, the experience of love in human beings is no different than the experience of love in animals. "I don't think the way a mother loves her baby is that different to a mother's love in a chimpanzee or a rhesus monkey or even a rat" one of these scientists states. Some scientists hope to utilize the results of these studies to produce drugs to alter human behavior in interpersonal relationships. They also hope this research leads to the manufacture of drugs for other purposes: "Used wisely, such pharmacology could enhance human experience and mitigate human suffering." Can any one say "Brave New World"?

Where did this type of thinking originate, equating all religious experience with chemical processes? Perhaps the best answer would be when Darwin's theory of Evolution challenged the Biblical doctrine of the creation of Man in the image of God; that man was nothing more than the highest form of evolved animals. Here is a quote from Darwin attempting to explain the religious nature of man: "No being could experience so complex an emotion until advanced in his intellectual and moral faculties to at least a moderately high level. Nevertheless, we see some distinct approach to this state of mind in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with complete submission, some fear,, and perhaps other feelings...Professor Braubach goes so far to maintain that a dog looks on his master as a god." (Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man.)

You may say "You have got to be kidding. No one will fall for this." Well, I hope you are right. But in a pluralistic society, where the social pressure to equate all religious beliefs as equally true, I am afraid that many a Christian will abandon their faith and adopt this line of reasoning. Their motivations will be two-fold: to avoid social pressure and to excuse their own sin. We must be able not only to combat this intellectually. Our lives must be the best argument against it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part VI, Conclusion. "Wouldn't It Have Been A Catastrophe...?"

On February 12, 1809, two men were born whose lives forever changed this world, one for the good, one for the worse. Abraham Lincoln's preservation of the Union and abolition of slavery guaranteed that the truths contained in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would remain the rationale for this country's existence. In his time Democracy was not the standard by which people were governed. If the Union had been dissolved, Democracy would probably still be on the defensive as a viable form of government. (For a fuller discussion of these issues, see Part V of this series.) If the Union had been dissolved, the world would have been under the control of one or a few world powers. Germany, possibly in its Nazi incarnation, would certainly have ruled much of this hemisphere. Without the United States becoming a world power, much of the world would be under the domination of distant empires. (For a discussion of this last point, see here and especially here for information on German designs on U.S. territory as late as the 20th century. The second link does not work. The article it was supposed to refer you to was published on 09/17/07 and can be located in the archives section of this blog. It does provide historical background to what I wrote above.)

Also born on this day, Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution has to this day challenged the Biblical doctrines of both creation and the special creation of man in the image of God. While the 20th century might still have been the most violent century in man's history, Darwinism played a major part in how many of the 20th century's worst totalitarian regimes treated mankind. No, Darwin was not a Nazi and he would probably have been horrified by the atrocities committed by the Nazi's and Communists. Yet by denying man's place as the pinnacle of God's creation, he made it possible for tyrants and their scientific supporters to declare that man was just an animal. This led to the specific treatment of the Jews that culminated in the Holocaust. For a full discussion of Darwin's impact on history, see here and here.

So we have in one day the birth of one man whose life affirmed the whole human race's dignity as being created in the image of God with inalienable rights, and the birth of another whose life's work denied that special creation and which caused man to be seen as an animal, and to be treated as such.

Wouldn't it have been a catastrophe if Darwin had been born fifty years earlier, publishing "On The Origin Of Species" in 1809, instead of 1859. Had this happened, evolutionary theories would have already been entrenched in the scientific world, and would have been seen as a further bulwark in the defense of slavery. Slaves, such as Frederick Douglass, would have been seen as those who were lower on the evolutionary scale. The defenders of slavery would have contended that slaves were therefore not fully human and incapable of governing themselves as the fully evolved white race, therefore slaves had no rights as they were a lower form of animal. Evolution would have been used to defend the "permanent necessity" of slavery. It would also have been a catastrophe had Lincoln not transformed the war into a fight to end slavery. If slavery remained in existence after his Presidency, then as Evolution became more accepted, it would have been used as a justification to the continue the institution of slavery. That would have guaranteed that not only slaves in America would remain in bondage after 1865, it would have guaranteed that many overseas would remain in chains as well.

(The belief that all men were created equal was was rejected by the spokesmen for the Old South. See Part V of this series.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part V. A Defense Against His Critics

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As this year marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, I would have liked to have memorialized the occasion with lofty prose. Yet others are better equipped for such a purpose. Instead, I thought I would illustrate Lincoln's greatness through the testimony of ex-slaves as to the evil of slavery, which Lincoln and the North overthrew. Having done that, I would like to address why some fellow conservatives and fellow Christian conservatives view Lincoln negatively, and then challenge these views by citing the historical record.

One reason for negative views of Lincoln among conservatives concerns the present-day designation of the South as the Bible belt. This has led some conservatives to view the Old South as this nation's bastion of true Christianity fighting to protect its heritage against the "Godless" North, which was seeking to overthrow Southern Christianity. This issue has been dealt with at length in the first four articles in this series.

Other criticisms of Lincoln concern the rise of an ever-expanding Federal government. These Conservatives blame the Northern victory for this current unwelcome development. For the most part, this linkage is a wrong view of history. The victory of the North may have played a part in the chain of events that led to today's expansive government, but it is not the primary reason. The roots of big government lie in the unprecedented immigration to America that took place after the Civil War. These immigrants congregated in big cities such as Chicago and New York City. The country was not prepared for so many coming to its shores. Taking advantage of the situation, political machines came into being to organize the new arrivals into powerful voting blocks. Politicians promised services for political loyalty. It was mainly the Democrat Party that practiced this kind of politics which resulted in the rise of powerful big city political bosses that ruled their cities and delivered votes to the candidate that promised rewards for them and their cities. The immigrants came from lands that discouraged individual effort and encouraged relying on the state for assistance.

Added to this influence is the rise of progressiveism, a radical, socialistic political movement that demanded the government side with the poor against the rich. This movement was especially strong in the West among farmers. The chaos we see in California politics today stems from the progressive state constitution enacted one hundred years ago. One of our most economically progressive Presidents, Woodrow Wilson, who created the Federal Reserve Board and helped enact the nation's first income tax in 1913, was Southern by birth, a Virginian.

Preference for expansive government received further aid from philosophical trends in Europe which found adherents in American Universities. The movement to co-opt charitable activities in the U.S. is chronicled most ably in conservative Marvin Olasky's "The Tragedy of American Compassion." In this book, Olasky documents the capacity for private charities and individuals to deal with society's down and out. The takeover of this function by the government was a subtle process. The forces that brought this about WERE PRESENT BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR BEGAN AND OPERATED INDEPENDENTLY OF WHOEVER PREVAILED IN THAT CONFLICT.

In most Civil Wars, the losing general is either shot, hanged, burned, beheaded, or maybe even eaten. The Confederate Commander expected to at least be imprisoned. Instead, he became the President of what is now Washington and Lee. The Confederate President spent two years in prison, was released, and held several jobs, including selling insurance. He was even able to publish a multi-volume memoir justifying both his actions and those of the South. Many Southern generals and politicians were elected to Congress one year after the war, including the Confederate Vice-President. After a twelve year military occupation by the North, the South was allowed to govern itself as it pleased. Some conservatives believe the slaves were better off under slavery. They certainly suffered inequality in various forms for over the next century, after the North withdrew. Yet at the same time, no black man ever had to fear again that his master would sell his wife or children.  Nor did they have to stand idly by while their masters violated their wives and daughters. They also had the freedom to move where they pleased. Before the advent of big government, black families stayed intact and advanced economically every generation. This is documented in "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Conservative African American Scholar Thomas Sowell. There is a hundred year gap between the end of slavery and the effects of the welfare state on the black family. You cannot blame these effects on Lincoln or the Northern victory.

I subscribe to The Patriot Post: The Journal of Conservative Record. While I generally agree with the editorial viewpoint, I was disappointed that it ran an editorial debunking Lincoln (2/13/09). Like many who do so, the editor cited no independent historical sources when making his case.

One of the arguments the editor made is that Lincoln's Constitutional arguments are the root of the liberal Constitutional doctrine, "The Living Constitution." The doctrine of the "Living Constitution" states that the meaning of the Constitution changes over time as circumstances change. Lincoln stated that the Union was perpetual and was understood to be such at the country's founding. Lincoln stated that this principal was eternal, not a doctrine that was changeable with the changing of historical circumstances. In fact, Lincoln made his Constitutional case as to the perpetual nature of the Union in his First Inaugural Address, which should be on the list of American historical documents contained on the Patriot Post's website. Lincoln stated his case as follows:

"I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination...

"Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of a contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peacefully unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it--break it, so to speak--but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these principles, we find the proposition that in the legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen states expressingly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was 'to form a more perfect Union.' "

No. One cannot find the roots for the "Living Constitution" in Lincoln's argument, even if he used the word "implied." Even the doctrine of Judicial Review ( in which the Supreme Court is empowered to rule on the Constitutionality of the acts of the Legislative and Executive Branches) is implied, not expressly stated, in the Constitution. Surely that doctrine cannot be the root of current Liberal Judicial theory, even though it is implied and not stated.

The South had no rational reason to fear a Lincoln Presidency. The previous three Presidents, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, though Northerners, favored the South. Their cabinets were made up primarily of Southerners. Congress was dominated by Southern politicians. Ditto the Supreme Court. In 1850, the South forced the North to accept the Fugitive Slave Act, which subjected Northerners who gave aid to escaped slaves to fines and imprisonment. Lincoln was elected with less than 50% of the vote. While a resident of Illinois, Lincoln was by birth a Southerner and his wife's family was Southern. He made it clear he wished to be generous in dealing with the South. "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." (Lincoln's First Inaugural Address) But he was adamant that he would not allow slavery to spread to the western territories. It was the South that commenced hostilities by seizing Fort Sumter. If the North did not contest the seizure of forts by the South, European powers, still possessing designs on American territory and hoping to end America's experiment in Democracy, would have exploited the situation and seized territory the U.S. needed to possess to defend the territorial integrity of the North American Continent.

Some conservatives believe that the war was not fought over slavery at all. They believe that the only motivation of the Confederacy was to defend States Rights. Yes, Southern secession documents mention States Rights, but only in the context of upholding the institution of slavery. In speaking of the matter of fugitive slaves, the South Carolina Declaration of Secession complained that the North was not enforcing laws mandating their return. This was stated as the justification for South Carolina's secession:

"We affirm that these ends which this government was instituted have been defeated and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. These states have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in the fifteen states and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them societies whose avowed object is to disturb the peace...the property of citizens of the other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."

Other declarations of succession, such as from Texas and Georgia, which are in the Patriot Post's list of historic documents (which exclude both of Lincoln's inaugural addresses!) make similar declarations. It sure sounds to me that the South was motivated by preserving States Rights only in the context of preserving slavery. Alexander Stevens, the Confederate Vice-President, describes the basis of the Confederate Government as follows "Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races...Its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not the equal to the white man. This government is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical and moral truth." (The Civil War: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey Ward, Ric Burns, Ken Burns, P. 30) The Patriot Post states that some historians claim that the South would have ended slavery and rejoined the Union if allowed to leave the Union. Who are these historians? In fact, many in the South wanted to extend their borders into Mexico and Central America for the purpose of forming a vast empire based on slavery. Article 4, section 3 (3), of the Confederate Constitution had this provision concerning newly acquired territory: "In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government."

It is true that Lincoln shared some of the prejudices his fellow citizens felt toward blacks. The Patriot Post cites his comments from the Lincoln/Douglass debates stating that he did not seek political equality for the black race, that he opposed intermarriage and that the white race should maintain its "superiority." He made this statement because his opponent in a race for the Senate, Stephan Douglass, charged Lincoln with holding views of black equality. The Illinois electorate, as racist as any Southern state, would have forever rejected Lincoln politically if Lincoln allowed Douglass's to define him. But it is also true that Lincoln said this in his debates with Douglass:

"All the powers of earth rapidly are combining against [the slave.] Mammon is after him, ambition follows, philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house; they have searched his person, and left no prying instrument with him. One after another they have closed the heavy door upon him; and now they have him...bolted in with a lock of a hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the concurrence of every key, the keys in the hands of a hundred different men, and they scattered to a hundred different places." (Ward, p.24)

Lincoln publicly condemned slavery on the following dates: 3/3/1837, 10/4/1854, 10/16/1854, 3/1/1859, 9/17/1859, 9/11/1858, 7/10/1858, 12/1857, 8/27/1856, 10/15/1858, 5/18/1858, 10/16/1854, 3/5/1860, 3/6/1860. One of Lincolns greatest statements on slavery: if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. (Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography by William Lee Miller, p. 285)

In going to war, Lincoln's stated war aim was to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. It was two years into the war that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Patriot Post claims Lincoln issued the Proclamation to prevent the migration of blacks northward to compete for jobs with whites. Again, it cites no historical evidence of this extraordinary claim. And it never will. Because the Proclamation freed only those slaves in states in rebellion against the Union, it is claimed that Lincoln failed to free a single slave. Again, the logic of Lincoln's critics does not line up with the facts. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the war aims of the North, thereby altering the basis of the North's actions from preserving the Union to freeing the slaves. This placed the Union on the moral high ground in world opinion, preventing hostile powers from intervening on the behalf of the South. Everywhere the North captured Southern territory, slaves obtained their freedom, never to be enslaved again. Lincoln and his allies knew that if the South had its slaves freed, the border states, such as Tennessee and Maryland, would not be able to maintain slavery within its borders. The Patriot Post quotes Lincoln's famous reply to abolitionists who wanted slaves freed immediately:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that..."

The problem with citing this quote to prove that Lincoln did not care about slavery and therefore the war did not concern itself with it, is the context in which he said it. When Lincoln made this statement, the Emancipation proclamation was already drafted. (Lincoln, by David Donald, p 368, 417-418)) Lincoln had wanted to make it public sooner, but William Seward, his Secretary of State, convinced him to wait until the North had won a major victory on the battlefield. Seward convinced Lincoln that to issue the Proclamation earlier would appear to be a desperate attempt by the North to forestall European intervention.

It is true that Frederick Douglass was impatient with Lincoln and the North on the issue of Emancipation, and he made statements critical of Lincoln which are in the public record. But time caused him to view Lincoln's actions in a more positive light, as well as a consideration the pressures Lincoln operated under as well as a comparison between him and the rest of the whites of the North. He came to say that once blacks considered Lincoln to be tardy, cold, indifferent toward freeing the slaves. Later they had to admit that he was swift, zealous, radical and determined in their cause. (Douglass and Lincoln: How A Revolutionary Black Leader And A Reluctant Liberator Struggled To end Slavery And Save The Union by Paul Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick, p. 245)

Lincoln's Proclamation was not popular with many Northerners. There was political pressure on Lincoln to either rescind it or to declare that slaves would be returned to their masters after the war. The controversy caused many in the South to be certain they would win the war in the end. (For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought In The Civil War by James McPherson, p. 63-76) But Lincoln would not go back on his word, even if his reelection was imperiled. "How could anybody propose to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee to their masters to conciliate the South? I should be damned in time and eternity for so doing,...The world shall know that I keep my faith to friends and enemies, come what will." (Douglass and Lincoln, p. 527)

As for the reasons why the North fought, I refer the reader to "For Cause and Comrade: Why Men Fought In The Civil War" by James McPherson, p. 117-130. That a great number of Northerners fought out of Christian conviction is demonstrated by this book. True, many Northern soldiers fought only to preserve the Union without any reference in their mind to slavery. Yet even among these, as McPherson demonstrates, many came to see that the conflict between the two sections would never be resolved without settling the question of slavery. Even though many in the North were as prejudiced against blacks as Southerners, many of these were motivated by a desire to end slavery. Like Lincoln, they realized that the U.S. could not remain half slave and half free. These Northerners witnessed the South limit press freedoms to stifle criticism of slavery. Many Northerners feared that they would have their own rights of free speech infringed upon to placate the South. Note the earlier quote from the South Carolina Declaration of Succession, how it complained that anti-slavery groups were allowed to exist in the North. The South sought to have editors of anti-slavery publications arrested and brought trial in the South. Many Northerners objected to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 subjecting Northerners to imprisonment for aiding escaped slaves. Yes, there were other issues between North and South, but it was the issue of slavery that prevented any settlement between them and what what motivated Southerners to seceed, as their secession declarations, available on the Patriot post website, demonstrate.

Just in passing, it is interesting to note that while Lincoln's critics condemn him for suspending the right of habeas corpus, the Confederate Constitution, available on the Patriot Post's website, contains this clause: "The priviledge of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." (Article 2, Section 9, clause 3.) Apparently it was wrong for Lincoln to to suspend habeas corpus, but if the South thought it necessary if a state rebeled, it would be fine. By the way, states in the Confederacy had no right to secceed.

All conservatives highly value the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that all powers not exclusively granted to the Federal Government are reserved to the States. Yet this amendment must be seen not as the most valuable of our principles, but as a means to an end to defend what is our greatest principle, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that all men were created equal and endowed by our Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In fact, the denial of this highest of principles was a cornerstone in the thought of the Old South. This denial was a justification for slavery and seccession. Even the historical documents available on the Patriot Post's website make this clear. Read how Jefferson Davis interpreted these rights in his farewell to Congress:

"It has been a conviction of pressing necessity--it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us--which has brought Mississippi to her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men were created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social instritutions (in other words, slavery);and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races. The Declaration is to be construed by the circumstances and purposes for which it is made. The communities were declaring their independence, the people of those communities were asserting that no man was born --to use the language of Mr. Jefferson--booted and spurred, to ride over the rest of mankind; that men were created equal meaning of the men of the political community; that there was no divine right to rule; that stations were equally in the grasp of each member of the body politic...They had no reference to the slave."

Again, it sounds to me that the preservation of the institution of slavery was the major factor in causing the South to seceed. And also the South rejected the belief that all men were created equal, that these rights did not apply to the slave.

It was this arguement that drove Lincoln to reenter politics in the 1850s. Here are some of his comments on the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence:

"...what I do say is that no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other's consent. I say this is the leading principle--the sheet anchor of American republicanism." From the Lincoln/Douglass debates. (Miller, p.243)

"Nearly eighty years ago...we began by declaring that all men were created equal, but now,...we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave others is a 'sacred right of self government.' These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and Mammon, and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other." (Miller, p.247)

The next two quotes are from the Lincoln/Douglass debates:

"But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that "all men were created equal"; and that there can be no moral right in one man's making a slave of another." (Miller, p. 261-262)

"I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that according to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of masters and slaves is, pro tanto [just so far], a violation of this principle. The master not only governs the slave without his consent; but he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those which he prescribes for himself. Allow ALL the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only is self government." (Miller, p. 262)

The issue as to whether or not the United States would allow all men of all races to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was the real issue of the Civil War. The South stated unequivocally that these rights were not available to their slaves, and that this principle was the cornerstone of their political thought and of the Confederacy. The victory of the North over the South guarenteed that all men and women, not without struggle, would be able to live their lives as they saw fit. It was Lincoln who we have to thank for framing the issue in this matter and preserving these rights for all of us. It is a pity that because the President Obama is attempting to co-opt Lincoln's legacy for his own purposes should cause conservatives, Christian and secular, from embracing Lincoln's true legacy. Without Lincoln's legacy, we would not even be able to understand that the principles in the Declaration of Independence extended not only to those already born, but to the unborn as well.

There will be one more article in this series.