Friday, March 25, 2016

Scientific Consensus Has Often Been Wrong

Those of us in the majority of Americans who are not "scientists" are repeatedly told that we must defer to those who are self-described as "scientists" on any question that is related to "science". Any questioning of their pronouncements is treated as a heretical attitude and the backlash makes the medieval Roman Catholic Church look like Mennonites in comparison. We are told that when the scientific community is at a consensus, defined as a majority of scientists agreeing to a particular premise on an issue, that issue is settled and no questions may be asked. I say that is bunk, that even though I am not a scientist in any sense of the word, I am hopefully observant enough to distinguish between actual science and science done with an agenda. Those who push "settled science" like global warming climate change and evolution and a universe that apparently sprang into being at the "Big Bang" but we aren't really sure where the stuff that banged came from often have a different motivation than expanding human knowledge and understanding. They are not terribly good at hiding their ulterior motivations if you take the time to look.

The reason I bring this up, a topic I have written about often in the past, is a book I am reading by Adam Cohen, Im*be*ciles. Today many people use imbecile or idiot or moron as a slur mostly against people who are not really any of those things but around a century ago those terms had specific "scientific" meaning and were used as labels for people who were deemed mentally deficient or just a simply undesirable sort of person. Here is one quote from the book I found fascinating, not just for what it had to say in the early 20th century but also for what it tells us today:
"The medical establishment not only spoke out in favor of eugenic sterilization but did so with near unanimity. No prominent medical professors or surgeons publicly opposed the sterilization movement-or if they did, they were not being heard. One survey found that every article on the subject of eugenic sterilization published in a medical journal between 1899 and 1912 endorsed the practice." (Imbeciles, p. 66)
So in the early 20th century the consensus of the medical profession was that those who are labelled mentally deficient in one way or another ought to be forcibly sterilized. The academic community was also largely unanimous on some variant of what we would call eugenics. You could just about replace the references about eugenics to references about climate change and you would be describing the current state of scientific discourse. Another deeply ironic thing we learn, although one I am not at all surprised by, is that many of the most vocal advocates of forced sterilization were also the most "progressive" or liberal members of society. Cohen points out that the strongest objection to this practice came from Roman Catholics. This shouldn't surprise anyone. Progressive icon and personal heroine to Mrs. William Jefferson Cliinton, Margaret Sanger the founder of Planned Parenthood, was as vile a racist and eugenicist as you will ever find. That fact is conveniently ignored by those on the left who hold her and the bloodthirsty cult she founded as heroes of American history.

But! But! BUT! We are far more enlightened and civilized today compared to a century ago! Yeah, sure. Want to bet that the same academic and scientific communities calling for forced sterilization in the early 20th century probably bragged about how much more advanced they were than their predecessors?

My broader point is two-fold. First , the notion of "scientific consensus" is not a new one and I would suggest that history has shown in retrospect that that consensus was wrong far more than it was right. As such, simply pointing to "scientific consensus" on an argument doesn't make something true anymore so than scientific consensus one hundred years ago makes eugenics valid. The second is a caution to those who would look to the government to protect us and represent our values. The same government that is in place today was the government than interned Japanese-Americans, that made legal the forced sterilizations of thousands of citizens, that provided a legal framework to own slaves.

One of the most important traits of a healthy society is a citizenry that knows to and actually does ask difficult questions. In our increasingly ignorant and politically correct society fewer and fewer people are willing to engage in critical thinking and most of our fellow citizens are historically illiterate. Books like this are incredibly useful to the formation of a healthy, skeptical and critical mindset that is often missing in America. A full length review will follow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Constitution Is Not A Mere List Of General Principles

I was in the car at 11 A.M. today and listened to the first part of President Obama's futile nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia. It is a futile and empty gesture because the Senate has declared that they will not hold hearings until a new President is elected, sworn in and makes their own selection. The type of nominee to be selected to replace a towering legal intellect like Antonin Scalia will rightly be a major focus of the upcoming election. Of course President Obama nominated someone anyway. What was troubling about his statement occurred early in his speech at around the 00:41 mark. When I heard this in the car I caught this right away. I am sure others caught it as well but it really rang a warning bell for me. Here is the part that is at issue.
"The men and women who sit on the Supreme Court are the final arbiters of American law. They safeguard our rights. They ensure that our system is one of laws and not men. They're are charged with the essential task of applying principles put to paper more than two centuries ago to some of the most challenging questions of our times"
So what is wrong with that? At a glance it is just some political speech mumbo-jumbo, meaningless prattle especially from a man who has decreed that because he has a pen and a phone, he is within his imaginary Constitutional rights to make laws apart from Congress. What struck me though was the deeper meaning behind the carefully selected words in his announcement. This was no off-the-cuff speech.

There are two problems. First, President Obama said: " They (the justices of the Supreme Court) safeguard our rights".  Incorrect. The Supreme Court does not safeguard our rights. The Constitution safeguards our rights. The rights enshrined in the Constitution lay out rights, responsibilities and restrictions, the rights of the people and by proxy the states; the responsibilities of the three branches of the Federal government; and the myriad restrictions placed on that Federal e government. There are a lot more restrictions placed on the Federal government than there are areas of authority by the way. The Constitution is a document that places the people above the state and that has a bias toward the individual states over  the Federal government. I do not trust the Supreme Court, no matter who nominates the nine Justices, to safeguard my rights and our rights as a people. This is not without reason. Time and time again the Justcies have circumvented the very Constitution that they are sworn to uphold to either take away rights guaranteed by the Constitution or to create from their own imaginations new "rights" that have no mention or implication in the same Constitution (ex. the "right" to an abortion, the "right" of homosexuals to marry, etc.). The whimsy and prejudices of man are precisely why we have a very specific and limited Constitution, leaving little up to chance, at least when properly applied. So right away President Obama is showing either a naïveté about the nature of man or he is shrewdly exhibiting his own bias toward a super-Constitution activist Supreme Court that overrules the unwashed masses when they are not sufficienly enlightened.

The other problem is similar. President Obama said: "They're are charged with the essential task of applying principles put to paper more than two centuries ago ". This is also incorrect. The Constitution of the United States is not and never intended as a series of general and malleable principles that we apply selectively as we see fit based on the current whims of popular culture or the vagaries of the masses. Being a good neighbor is a principle. Always being honest is a principle. Principles have to do with beliefs and moral assumptions. The various articles and amendments that make up the Constitution are rather the governing laws of these United States, the highest law of the land. The President clearly sees the Supreme Court as a sort of super legislative branch, nine  unelected and essentially unimpeachable men and women who feel free and even encouraged to make law from the bench to override the laws made by the people and the states. When the Constitution is relegated to a mere set of guiding principles, it loses it's most powerful safeguards against encroaching tyranny, a very real threat when the Constitution was written and I would argue a very real threat today. President Obama has, I believe, a very different and a very dangerous notion of what the Constitution is and what it was intended to do compared to the men who actually wrote the document.

This sort of subtle deception by the President is precisely why I agree that the next President should be the one to appoint the next Supreme Court justice. If the people choose the next President foolishly, then we will have to live with that decision which quite possible could be the next and perhaps decisive step toward an end to the dream that is America and our Republic. If they choose wisely then we ought to see a principled nominee who will apply the Constitution under the restrictions placed on the Court and the entire Federal government by that same document. For once in my lifetime, let the people have a voice in how the Supreme Court will be constituted for the next several decades to come.

A quick note about the entire charade and the faux outrage by the Democrats. The authority to nominate a Supreme Court Justice does indeed reside in the office of the President. Please note that word: nominate. Under what conditions does a nominee become an appointee? The language of Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution is quite clear: "...and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint...Judges of the supreme Court..." (Emphasis mine) That is pretty clear. A nominee only becomes an appointee with both the advice and the consent of the Senate. No consent means no appointment and the nomination is null and void. I am sure that President Obama is aware of this but in the kabuki theater that is our government he still needs to play his part in this farce. I always point back to the hatchet job done to besmirch the character of one of the most qualified men to ever be nominated to the Supreme Court, Judge Robert Bork. With that atrocity perpetuated on a legal giant without peer in our generation the nominating process became completely politicized. To the Democrats I say: You made your bed, now you get to lie in it.

I will be writing my Senators to encourage them to deny a hearing and vote to Judge Merrick Garland. He seems like a decent man who has the unfortunate distinction of being a sacrificial lamb sent forth by the President. However he should not be the next Justice of the Supreme Court unless he is nominated in 2017 by our new President.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Two Chapters That Go Hand In Hand

Eric Carpenter penned a brief post on a topic I have been harping on for years, A Pilgrim's Progress: The Danger of Separating Romans 13 from Romans 12. The church speaking generally tends to view the end of Romans 12 and the beginning of Romans 13 as completely separate thoughts even though when read together it is clearly a single argument Paul is making. If you read Romans 13 by itself you can sort of make a case for "just war" and the participation of Christians in the violence of the state but that completely falls apart when you read the end of 12 in the same sitting. Check it out and remember that the chapter and verse divisions we take for granted were added well after the actual writing of the books of the Bible.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

This Should Go Without Saying...

....but Christians really shouldn't turn to the Huffington Post to inform their faith. Exhibit A is a post yesterday from a Christopher Cocca with the provocative and yet inexplicable title "Bernie Sanders Is the Most Christian Candidate in History". Apparently Mr. Cocca is a fan of Bernie and has dubbed him the most Christian candidate, not in this election year mind you but for all time. That is a pretty bold pronouncement but as you might expect I have a couple of issues with his assertion.

There are two problems here, one that is huge and the other that is pretty significant.

The first problem of course is that one cannot be "the most Christian cadidate EVER!" if one is not a Christian. That seems pretty self-evident but apparently in this day and age even the most obvious and common sense notions need to be reinterpreted on a daily basis. Senator Sanders is, as I understand, a Jew and not only Jewish but a non-practicing, secular Jew who is Jewish by ethnicity, not faith. As such he seems pretty vague on the notion of God in general and to the best of my knowledge has never proclaimed Jesus as Lord. The Bible is clear on this, if you don't declare Jesus you deny Him and anyone who denies Him has no part in eternal life. Jesus said:
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)
That is a pretty unnuanced statement but that is kinda how Jesus rolled. If you do not say Jesus is Lord, if you have not been born again, you are not and cannot be a Christian and if someone is not a Christian in any sense of the word, it follows that one cannot be "the most Christian candidate EVER!" if one is not a Christian. One person on social media commented that Bernie is the "nicest" candidate in the race and that makes him Christian, which is totally ridiculous theologically and to be blunt whenever I see Bernie he seems mostly angry, wagging his finger at those who have a nickle more than the next guy, engaging is class warfare and racial pandering (White people don't know what it means to be poor!). 

The second problem is the definition Mr. Cocca has for what makes one Christian and what Christianity teaches. Let's look at some of his statements....
Yes, I do believe that health care is a human right. Yes, I do believe that gainful education is a basic human right. We are not granted these rights from "The Market," or from our navigation of it. These are birthrights.
OK. Why exactly now, in 2016, are these "basic human rights"? Who declared them as such? More importantly what does the Bible have to say on these issues? The answer to that question is "nothing at all". Zero. Zilch. Now a progressive might retort "Oh yeah, well the Bible doesn't say anything about abortion or gay marriage!" That is technically true but the Bible also doesn't talk about shooting someone with a gun but that doesn't make it less sinful. The Bible does speak at length about willfully murdering another human being, which is what abortion is at its most basic definition. Also with "gay marriage", while the Bible doesn't say anything about "gay marriage" by name, it does define marriage as being between a man and woman for life and it also declares unequivocally that homosexual behavior is a grievous sin. Regardless, what Mr. Cocca is apparently talking about is not merely health care and education but those being provided by the government and paid for by coercion.

He then launches into a rambling and incoherent tirade about why Matthew 6:26-34 is an economic treatise which is anti-capitalism and free markets. Read it for yourself, it is equal parts progressive bogeyman pseudo-economic mumbo jumbo and leftist religious talk dressed up as Christianity. What follows that is the most off the wall "interpretation" of the Genesis account you will ever read. It is pretty clear that Mr. Cocca is skeptical about the Genesis account but apparently the Garden was a socialist paradise until Adam and Eve turned to capitalism and ate the fruit, eating more than "Enough". As an aside it is pretty funny that Mr. Cocca randomly capitalizes words like "Enough" and "Secondary Marketplace". After this rambling trip through the fever swamps of progressive economic theology. Mr. Cocca ends with this:
In this election, don't be so surprised that the person most in keeping with the prophetic vision of Jesus is a so-called secular Jew. Bernie Sanders is standing with the ancient Hebrew prophets and in the tradition of our Lord, Jesus the marginalized Jew, but, unlike some other populist candidates, he's not running a campaign of identity politics. As a Christian, I cannot judge the hearts of others claiming to also follow Christ, but am also taught that the faithful will be known by their fruits. Bernie Sanders may be a secular Jew by the standards of the media or by other modern indentifiers, but he may just also be the most Christian person running for president, maybe ever.
Notice that Mr. Cocca identifies Jesus not as God but as "the marginalized Jew". Is that the primary definition of Jesus or even in the top ten? Also note that while he claims to not be able to judge the hearts of other candidates, candidates who openly profess their faith in Christ, he does seem able to judge the heart of a cultural unbelieving Jew. If that seems a little inconsistent to you, don't adjust your TV because it is.

Blogs like this are the result of unmooring Christianity as a faith community from rigorous and robust exegesis of the primary means God has communicated with His people, namely through His written Word. It is a sign of how Biblically illiterate we are as a people that articles like this get serious consideration. Bottom line, socialism is not a Christian economic system. Neither is capitalism or Marxism or Libertarianism. These are all secular attempts by society to form an economic system that provides structure to human interaction. Trying to fuse Christianity and socialism is bound to fail because the Bible simply doesn't call on Christians to use the coercive power of the state to take from some who have earned money to give to others who have not. Bernie Sanders is not the most Christian candidate ever. He is not even a Christian. Likewise his economic policies are not Christian and they are incredibly dangerous and naive.

In this election let's try to avoid compounding the circus we already have with bad theology and for Pete's sake stay away from  the Huffington Post.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Unions And Evangelicals

I try to stay away from politics but this election season just keeps sucking me in. For someone who comes from a politically savvy family and also majored in political science in college this has been an unprecedented and fascinating couple of months. The only thing I can see that comes close is the Ross Perot experiment that handed Bill Clinton the White House. Not many people remember old Ross or that at one point it seemed like he might actually win.

Anyway, listening to NPR today and heard a bit of a piece about union rank and file members bucking the union leadership and supporting Donald Trump. At the same time there is another story about Max Lucado who is befuddled by support from evangelicals who support Trump. As I pondered this I saw a similarity between two normally disparate groups.

On the surface there seems to be very little linking these two groups. Evangelicals are typically consistent and reliable voters for Republicans, the party that is far less union friendly. Growing up in a union town, Toledo, Ohio, it has always seemed to me that the epitome of the union family is an ethnic Catholic family, usually white, that votes Democrat no matter what. In Toledo you could run a parakeet as a Democrat and it would win. Where I see the linkage is in the disconnect between leadership and the regular folks who make up the bulk of each population.

In both cases the leadership, the movers and shakers on the stage, pretty reliably tell the masses the same thing over and over. Evangelical leaders talk about abortion and gay marriage and why you have to vote Republican if you care about these issues. Union leaders talk about Democrats as the champion of the little guy, watching out for workers and defending them from the evil corporations. I don't really know any national or even regional evangelical leaders personally but I used to work for a bank and many of my customers were unions so I spent a lot of time with the local and regional leadership.and they mostly seemed interested in how many expensive lunches and tickets to sporting events they could finagle out of the bank. A lot of ministries seem mostly interested in keeping the lights on and the staff paid, spending the funds they raised to turn right around and raise more funds, making it seem like the primary purpose of the organization is fund raising. The union bosses keep their cushy jobs funded by the wages of hard working union laborers and the big name evangelicals keep endorsing each other's never-ending books which sell like hotcakes.

Why then this sudden revolt by the rank and file of evangelicals and unions workers alike? What seems to be happening is part of the broader shift in our country, a shift that sees an unraveling of the former social contract where the vast majority of Americans formerly placed their trust in revered institutions: the government, unions, religious denominations, the education establishment, the police, the military. Bit by bit the foundation that compact was eroded until it suddenly is collapsing. People no longer trust someone because they are a member of the clergy, the Roman Catholic abuse cover-up helped shatter that illusion. The advent of smart phones, dash cams and body cams has revealed that all too often police shoot people inexplicably. The teacher's unions seem mostly interested in keeping as many people employed in "education" as possible, even when a teacher is incompetent, not to mention the regular reports of teachers having sex with their students. Titles, authority, tradition, all have lost what used to be their power over the little people, power granted because of trust. Trust that was betrayed and has been revoked.

It will be interesting to see what the endgame is. If it is indeed Trump versus Hillary, the reality show con-man versus one of the most corrupt, patronizing politicians to ever sell themselves, what will the masses do? Will they listen to their leaders one more time or is that time at an end for good. If it is over, what will replace it? It is going to be an ugly and fascinating and revolting all at once. Buckle up!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Donald Derangement Syndrome

Back in the Bush administration there were people afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome, a pathological, blind hatred for Bush and anything he did. This pathology bled into the Obama administration where every ill, no matter how recent it was or whether or not it had a reasonable link to Bush, was attributed to Bush. If you played a drinking game where every time President Obama whined about what a mess he inherited (a mess he claimed to be the solution to. "The oceans will stop rising!"), you would be stone drunk in no time. Many on the left are still afflicted with this disease.

With the Obama administration we saw the rise of Obama Derangement Syndrome. The two big symptoms indicating that someone had this disease were a) the insistence that Obama is a Muslim and b) that he was really born somewhere other than the U.S.. On the first, while it is abundantly clear that President Obama is not a Christian under any orthodox definition of the term, he is also not a Muslim. He seems to harbor a certain affection toward Islam but that is not a disqualifier for the presidency. Fortunately President Obama's administration is limping to the finish line and will soon be little more than a historical footnote.

In this primary season leading up to the 2016 general election, no one could have anticipated that virtually the entire focus up to now has been on one unlikely candidate, Donald J. Trump. He has sucked all of the air out of the room so that even the criminal investigation of Dem front-runner Mrs. William Clinton has gotten no attention (which is compounded by the media being sold out on her candidacy). It is like the Dems are not even having a primary, all of the focus and enthusiasm (negative and positive) has been aimed at Trump.

The whole Trump thing is a train-wreck but it is one that we the people have created. If we had not as a nation rapidly been granting more and more fiat power to the executive branch and transferring law making power from the legislative branch to judicial branch, then having a megalomaniac like the current occupant of the White House and people like Donald Trump who want to replace him wouldn't be so dangerous. As it is the executive branch personified by the President and the vast regulatory bureaucracy has become far more powerful than was intended at the expense of the legislative branch. This makes a whack job more dangerous than they should be. When you add the general and legitimate anger people have at the government and ruling class with a heaping helping of the reality show celebrity culture and it was kind of impossible to not have a candidate like Trump come along.

The response of the church to Trump has been interesting. In some parts Trump is seen as a necessary evil, sort of like political chemotherapy that we need to purge the cancer of an out of control government. He may be a dirty SOB but he is our dirty SOB. Others have taken the Trump candidacy and his somewhat unexpected support by many people who claim to be "evangelical", a term which is pretty much useless today, as a cause du jour to rail against on social media complete with the Hitler references. I understand the concern about Trump but I kind of wonder where they have been hiding all this time and why Trump is the issue where we let our outrage show.

It would be nice if certain segments of the church were as outraged by widespread  biblical illiteracy in the church, the turning of a blind eye or even a warm welcome to sin and acceptance of casual heresy in much of the church as they are about Donald Trump. Romans 13 is pretty clear, God knows what He is doing when it comes to leaders, even if that also means that the church should be a prophetic counter-voice when necessary. What we should be concentrating on is the danger of false teachers within the church. Nobody with a modicum of Biblical discernment thinks Trump is a Christian but there are lots of people that are widely accepted as Christian who promote and profit by teaching error as truth to the church. One false teacher with a best selling book that teaches falsehood to a largely Christian audience is far more dangerous to the church than a Trump or Clinton Presidency.

Trump is a clown, a carnival barker with a private jet. We know who and what he is. As long as we do, Trump is no threat to the church. People who talk the religious talk while pushing heresy on the church, infiltrating and weakening the church are a much greater and a very real and present threat to the church. Whether Trump will "save the country" or "destroy the country" is really not the overriding concern of the church. The ravenous wolves who wound and devour the sheep? That is the proper target for our discernment and our prophetic voice.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Mama Always Said Greed Is As Greed Does

I turned on the radio in my van to NPR early yesterday morning, shortly before 6 AM, and was dropped into the middle of Leonardo DiCaprio's acceptance speech from the Academy Awards for Best Actor for his role in The Revenant. Of course being a Hollywood type in what has already been a painfully politically correct Oscar season, he couldn't help making his speech largely a clumsy political diatribe. The second half is where he goes off the rails.
And lastly, I just want to say this: Making The Revenant was about man's relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much.
The politics of greed?

Mr. Dicaprio made some $20,000,000 for pretending to be a frontiersman. Before that he was paid around $25,000,000 for The Wolf of Wall Street and another $20,000,000 for the Great Gatsby before that. By my math that means he made $65,000,000 over the last 3 years and he not surprisingly lives in a house that he paid more than $6,000,000 for. I am certain that he really is in touch with the plight of American Indians and the other oppressed people of the world. Often it seems as if actors think that pretending to be something for a couple of hours is the same thing as understanding the reality of life for real people around the world who don't walk off the set to a pampered existence that would make many kings and emperors of history jealous.

Why did Dicaprio demand so much money for making those movies? Why didn't he do them for one million or even one hundred thousand dollars. He still would be quite wealthy, he would still be in the 1% rather than 1% of the 1% of the 1%. Perhaps he is also driven by greed? Or perhaps he simply is talented enough to demand that sort of pay and believes that he should be paid as much as he can negotiate. Why isn't that greed but a corporate executive making a few million a year is? What we declare greed is pretty malleable depending on where we stand and how we relate to others. An executive that runs a multinational company with tens of thousands of employees and billions in revenue probably thinks that they are worth a huge salary just as Leonardo Dicaprio apparently feels no qualms at demanding tens of millions of dollars to dress up in furs and act like a guy that he really can't begin to understand to entertain people in dark theaters seeking for a few hours to escape from the real world.

The reality behind the Oscars and the risible "diversity" quota controversy and the self-congratulatory narcissism on display is that the people who pay to see the movies that enrich these people are seen as peasants. Famous actors should have armed bodyguards but the working slobs can't be trusted with guns. Movie stars should be paid insane amounts of money to pretend to be someone else but people in the private sector real world are greedy if they make a nickel more than someone else. The little people have to sacrifice to fight "climate change" but stars can get around the world on private jets, live in massive homes that eat up enormous amounts of energy and sink billions into making movies so stars can lives like kings, the vast majority of which are unwatchable, rather than directing those billions to helping the poor that they claim to be concerned about. On and on, the hypocrisy is nauseating.

Mr. Dicaprio is a good actor and is better than all but a tiny fraction of people who aspire to acting as a career. Because of that he demands a huge amount of money to pretend to be someone else on camera. I am fine with that. He ought to get paid whatever he can demand in the marketplace, just like anyone else. I likewise don't think that I am owed some of his money. I didn't earn it and therefore I have no claim to it. All I ask is that he not rant about greed when he seems to be pretty greedy himself. Leonardo might be a good actor but even he isn't good enough to pretend to be above greed when making millions of dollars for a single film.