Archive for February, 2009

Religulous!

February 24, 2009

I don’t see many recent movies, and I have not seen Bill Maher’s 2008 documentary, Religulous, in which he makes fun of religious people.  But I am aware of the kind of argument he is making.  He made it again briefly at the Academy Awards (which I also usually don’t watch, but I caught about 10 minutes of it this year).

The argument is basically this: religion is bad for the world.  It causes people to do bad things.  Therefore, the world would be better off without it. 

Obviously, Maher comes to this question from an atheistic perspective, or at the very least from an agnostic perspective.  And what is so ironic about that is that he has no basis within his own worldview to level that kind of charge against religious people.  Allow me to explain.

In order to make the kind of moral argument that Maher wants to make, one has to believe that there is a transcendent standard of right and wrong to which one can appeal.  Maher cannot charge religion with being “bad” unless he has a notion in his mind about what is “good” and how this something “bad” deviates from that standard.  But the key question is this: on whose authority has Maher determined that such-and-such scenario is “good” and such-and-such is “bad”?  Why is a world without religion morally superior to one with it?  Maher cannot make this argument without presupposing the very kind of transcendent standard that only a transcendent Lawgiver could establish.  Without God (or, to answer the agnostic’s objection, without some kind of knowledge of who God is and what he expects of us), there is no ground for any kind of moral standard.  Nothing can be truly “good” or “bad” in a world without God.  Everthing just “is.”  When Maher says, “Religion is bad,” what he really means is not, “There is an objective standard of good that religion transgresses,” but rather, “I happen not to like religion and its effects.”  Well, fine.  I happen not to like coffee, but I’m not going to go on a crusade to eliminate it! 

I assume that Maher holds to a Darwinian theory of origins, given that Darwinism is the only live option for atheists as a counter to the Christian story.  And that provokes me to wonder: how do Darwinists account for religion?  It must be part of the evolutionary development of the species.  The fact that it is widespread and persistent among human beings indicates that it must have some kind of value for survival and perpetuation.  If, on Darwinian grounds, evolution has given us religion, how can we turn around and say that religion represents a backwards and regressive movement for humanity?  How can an atheist argue, on the basis of his own worldview, that it matters that a religious person’s belief in God does not correspond to reality?  Correspondence to reality is irrelevant for Darwinism.  What matters is not what is or is not true, but rather what promotes survival.  And religion would not be an ingrained characteristic of humanity, on Darwinian grounds, if it did not somehow contribute to the evolutionary process.  Even if God does not exist, I am not obligated (on Darwinian grounds) to disbelieve in his existence.  It may, in fact, be better for me to believe that he does exist, if belief in God is one more step in the evolutionary process.

Not only does Maher have no transcendent standard to which to appeal to critique religion, he fails to understand that, even on the terms of his own atheistic worldview, religion is still a good thing.  That is utterly religulous!

Advertisements

A Positive Sign

February 22, 2009

I don’t want to be a kind of mindless partisan that I have criticized in others, and in the spirit of fulfilling that goal I want to offer a word of support to President Obama after a recent string of expressions of my disappointment in his first month in office.  I agree wholeheartedly with the President that the federal deficit must be cut.  I am glad to hear him talking about this because I was afraid, after his support for an astronomical spending bill, he had thrown all spending caution to the wind.  At least talking about reducing the deficit is a positive sign that that may not be the case. 

No doubt, many will say that it sounds a bit hollow for a President to argue for cutting a budget deficit right after pushing through the largest spending bill in history.  And, we must not forget how many other Presidents have pledged to the same thing and have failed.  Maybe they are right.  But I say, let’s wait and see.  Bill Clinton balanced the budget.  We probably paid too high a price with the weakening of our military at the time, but at least we have one example of a recent President who actually came through on a major fiscal endeavor. 

I doubt that President Obama will be able to push through his ambitious plans and cut the deficit by half or more at the same time.  I hope the latter prevails over the former.

When Ideology Trumps Reality

February 17, 2009

The major news sources have failed to report on one of the most significant aspects of this Pelosi/Reid/Obama stimulus plan: the undoing of welfare reforms passed in 1996.  During the Clinton administration a Republican Congress passed legislation that gave states incentives to move people off of their welfare rolls and into the workforce.  This represented a reversal of the previous policy, which awarded states federal funds proportionate to the number of people they kept in dependence on government.  The 1996 reforms instead gave states a flat rate for certain welfare programs and allowed them to keep any surplus they might have left over to be used for other programs.

The reforms produced very good results.  Welfare rolls dropped, employment increased, and poverty went on the decline.  This is not just a right-wing interpretation of events.  President Clinton, who signed the bill into law, touted it as one of his major accomplishments.  People on both sides of the aisle could see plainly that the plan had worked.

Now the new stimulus plan that President Obama has signed takes us back to welfare policies similar to the pre-1996 era.  States have an incentive now to keep people poor and dependent on government.  Welfare rolls will likely go up again, putting a burden on taxpayers and leading to an increase in social pathologies like out-of-wedlock births.  A government policy that has produced real results has been killed by a left-wing ideology, and this from a President who was supposed to reduce poverty. 

As I indicated here and here, I was open at first to the possibility that President Obama could govern from the center and work with his political opponents to produce real solutions in Washington.  In less than a month he has already shown that he is not going to be that kind of President.

Learn the Lessons of History

February 16, 2009

One of the reasons I have remained unconvinced of the global warming disaster scenarios is that this latest global warming trend is only one more in a long line of failed doomsday predictions. 

As George Will documents, during the 1970’s the concern among many scientists was that the earth was cooling rapidly and was on the brink of a new ice age.  This claim was not only a false one, it is diametrically opposed to the one we are hearing today. 

So what shall we conclude?  No doubt there are many today who would argue that science has progressed so much that we should believe scientists now, recognizing that their inferior techniques and judgments misled them thirty years ago.  But the problem with that view is that the scientists back in the 1970’s would have said the same thing about those who preceded them, and thirty or forty years from now scientists will say the same about our current scientists.  Failed hypotheses, miscalculations, and changing paradigms define the field of science today.  We are constantly progressing, but as we do so we are constantly rethinking what we thought we knew before.  And the ones who come out looking like fools again and again and again, without exception, are the doomsday prophets.

February 13, 2009

Would you buy a house without reading the contract?  Would you buy a car without reading the financing agreement?  Would you spend any significant amount of money without paying close attention to what exactly you were getting for it?

What if you were going to spend $789 billion?  Would it not be prudent to know exactly what that money was going to be used for?  Apparently not for the House of Representatives.  Speaker Pelosi decided it was more important to pass a bill quickly than it was to read what was in the bill.  No one in Congress had read the 1,000 page stimulus bill before it came up for a vote today.  It would not have been humanly possible to read it in the amount of time since it was released. 

So now not only do we have a travesty of a bill, complete with astronomical spending and a generous dose of earmarks and political payoffs, we have a bill that has been forced to a vote without one representative having been given the opportunity to read it in its entirety.  Is this an ethical and prudent way to run a government?  Does this tactic promote bipartisanship and allow for adequate discussion, debate, and critique?  Is this the kind of transparency that we, the American people, were promised by our government?  Given this kind of behavior, I cannot fathom why Nancy Pelosi has won such great respect from her party that they have made her Speaker of the House.

Rasmussen reports released a report today that said that 44% of voters would have more confidence in entrusting the government to random people from the phone book than they have in the current Congress.  That’s a big number for such a preposterous question.  And to make it worse, 20% of voters are undecided on that question, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Congress.  This Congress has the lowest approval rating in history, and today’s stunt shows that such a rating is well-deserved.

Darwinism as Anti-Theology

February 13, 2009

I realize that I am a day late in putting up this post.  Yesterday was Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, but I was traveling all day, so blogging was not on my mind. 

I am writing to address something that I perceive to be troubling in theology today: a growing adherence, even among otherwise orthodox believers, to the theory of macroevolution.  Those who deny macroevolution are considered out of touch with reality these days (apparently because it is utterly ridiculous to believe that God could have created species separately), and, as always, a number of Christians have been quick to embrace a popular idea in an attempt to synthesize it with the faith and thereby commend the faith to its cultured despisers. 

The problem with this strategy, as I perceive it, is that when you synthesize Darwinism with Christianity you end up with neither.  One of the tenets of Darwinism is that evolution happens by an undirected process.  By definition, Darwinian evolution excludes any notion of design on the part of an intelligent mind.  It excludes God from the outset.  Any attempted synthesis between Darwinism and Christianity on this point empties Darwinism of its defining characteristic: evolution by a process of undirected natural (as opposed to divine) selection.

If we as Christians accept Darwinism in an attempt to save face before the intellectual establishment, we don’t realize how pathetic we look.  We’re trying to ape unbelievers because we perceive their message to be more credible than our own, and yet we do not realize how utterly incompatible the two messages are, leaving us with a kind of Darwinism that is really nothing of sort.

Creating Money Ex Nihilo

February 11, 2009

Perhaps the only good thing about this near trillion dollar stimulus package that has passed both houses of Congress (and will now have to be reconciled between them) is that the Democrats cannot blame George Bush for it.  It is their baby, and when it vomits all over us the American people will remember who was responsible for it.

The most disappointing player in this drama has been the President himself, whose promises of a new era of bipartisanship have come crashing to floor as he has failed to show any substantive leadership in that regard.  Yet another column has made the same observation.  Camille Paglia writes,

Surely common sense would dictate that when Congress is doling out fat dollops of taxpayers’ money, due time should be delegated for sober consideration and debate. The administration’s coercive rush toward instant action, accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements of imminent catastrophe, has put its own credibility on the line.

President Bush’s political opponents were quick to criticize him for failing to control spending.  And so were his political allies!  Bush might have even received more grief from conservatives over his spending policies than he received from anyone else. 

Now the tables have turned.  Already deep in the mire of bailouts and recession, President Obama has pushed for spending at an astronomical level.  Conservatives who criticized Bush for this kind of problem will now criticize Obama.  What will Obama supporters do?

Food for Thought

February 11, 2009

In light of my questions below about the legitimacy or lack thereof of dissolving one’s political ties to a government, I found Lee Irons’s review of Seyoon Kim’s new book entitled Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke  quite helpful. [HT: Justin Taylor].  Here are the links to these brief but informative posts:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Letters of Paul

Part 3: Luke-Acts

Part 4: Implications for Today

Here’s the bottom line: Kim argues against the thesis that has arisen in recent decades that the New Testament writers (particularly Paul and Luke) proclaimed the gospel specifically as an antithesis to the imperial cult.  In other words, if Kim is right, then Paul was much less concerned with political realities than  someone like an N. T. Wright would claim.  I have not done an in depth study on this, but my instinct is that Kim is basically right, although I agree with Irons’s concern about the way Kim draws out implications for today.  This looks like a book well worth reading.

Conservative Economics

February 9, 2009

Here is an excellent portrayal of the difference between a conservative and a liberal approach to economics.  It is a clip of Phil Donahue interviewing Milton Friedman on the subject of capitalism [HT: Justin Taylor].

Here’s the bottom line: conservatives support the free market because they are realists, not idealists.  The free market is not perfect (because people are not perfect, and people drive the free market), but it is the best we can do in this fallen world.  When government gets too heavily involved in the economy in order to check abuses, it only ends up exchanging one set of abuses for another, only now those abuses become larger as power is concentrated into fewer hands.  Liberals love to criticize the greed inherent in capitalism, but they naively suppose that there is some kind of alternative.  Greed is a fact of life.  It is a universal human vice, and no government is going to change that.

The Republic of Texas?

February 9, 2009

After George Bush was elected and then re-elected, a number of people (especially from the Hollywood crowd) said, “I’m moving to Canada.”  After Obama was elected, I did not say that about myself for two reasons: (1) There is no need to move to Canada; under Obama, we will become Canada; (2) If Louisville winters are a bit much for me, just imagine what a winter in Canada would do!

So perhaps the conservative alternative to saying, “I’m moving to Canada” is, “I’m moving to Texas and pushing for secession.”  Several websites are already putting forward the idea (just do a Google search on “Texas secession” to find them). 

I am a native of Texas.  I love the Lone Star State.  I love its history, beauty, culture, and character.  I would have a million times more confidence in the government of Texas to regulate its own affairs than I currently have in the federal government of the United States.  A free Republic of Texas would not be a bad idea, to my mind.  It was a free republic from 1836-1845.  I don’t see why it couldn’t work again.

Of course, regardless of what Texas could be, the political reality right now is that it is part of the United States of America.  And that political reality cannot be taken lightly.  As much as I might disagree with the direction of the federal government right now, it is a government ordained and appointed by God to have a measure of authority over me and over the state of Texas at this time.  The question I have been pondering here lately is this: at what point, if at all, does a people have a right to break all political ties with its existing government?  I’m not saying this because I want Texas to secede.  Even though a free Texas would probably do things better than the federal government does now, that is not sufficient reason to secede.  I don’t think Texas is anywhere close to having justification for that kind of action.  But given the seismic shifts that are happening now in our culture, in politics, in the size of government, in fiscal policy, it is not an unimaginable scenario that one day down the road the people of Texas may have a just grievance that could warrant political separation.  This should not be hard for us to believe.  America itself was born in just that way.  If the American colonies reached that point, how can we know if and when a state like Texas has come to the same point? 

I don’t have the answer.  In fact, I’m not even sure that I want to say that the American colonies were justified in their actions.  Theologians have often divided over this question.  The Lutheran tradition has been more apt to advocate submission to the powers that be as God’s representatives, no matter how unjust they may be.  And, in Scripture, we see that teaching in such passages as Romans 13:1-7.  But even though all governments are ordained by God, does a human government ever reach a point of oppression by which its divine authority to govern is forfeited and the people become justified in withdrawing their allegiance to that government and forming another?  The Reformed tradition has been more apt to argue this point.  As I said, I don’t have the answer.  Both the Republic of Texas and the United States of America were formed by rebelling against an existing government.  And certainly, one has to admire the courage and ideals of those who risked (and often gave) their lives for those causes.  But Scripture is noticeably silent on those kinds of political questions, even though Israel under Roman rule was a similar kind of political situation.  When I read the New Testament, I get the feeling that the biblical authors had little concern for any kind of massive political action or revolution.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should never have that kind of concern; it does, however, mean that Scripture offers little guidance in that area.  I would be interested in hearing some good thoughts on the whole question of the justifiability (or lack thereof) of dissolving one’s ties to a governing authority.   

Texas will not secede, at least not anytime soon.  But I wouldn’t say that it is beyond the realm of possibility somewhere down the road.