Why We’re Losing Liberty

This is an excellent five minute civics lesson by constitutional law professor Robert P. George. Most citizens don’t know this basic information about our system of government. This is well worth the time to listen.

‘Freedom can be taken away, but it can also be given away — out of sheer ignorance.’ ~ Robert P. George


Symbolism in politics

Dr Leithart reflects on ‘the political potency of symbolism‘ in an article titled ‘Who Wears the Crown‘ at the SBC web site Canon & Culture.

In a nutshell, Dr Leithart argues that while American Christianity tends to dismiss symbolism as the opposite of substance, this is out of touch with historical reality. Leithart argues that the cultural and political Left clearly grasps the importance of symbolism and uses it to outflank and overpower Christian advocates of cultural and moral sanity.

Christians today are often political Erasmians, and our oblivion leaves us politically vulnerable. We get out-flanked by opponents who know how to paint pictures and tell stories. Gay sex and gay marriage have been mainstreamed by activists who have slowly, deliberately created icons of gay normality. Obama laid out his version of American history in his second inaugural address with three symbolic movements of liberation—Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall.

Arguments won’t turn the tide. We need to fight symbols with symbols, stories with better stories, encouraged by the recollection that injustices and tyrannies have been toppled more often by symbols than by swords or bombs.

Dr Leithart is certainly correct that the Left has a mastery of the use of symbolism in their cause—indeed, symbolism that, while effective, also seems contrived and manipulative. But I think Dr Leithart is mistaken when he claims that better symbols will be more effective than better arguments for ‘our side’.

Symbolism is effective in animating a principle already present in a thought process. In the case of the ‘icons of gay normality’ the presence of that principle required the slow and deliberate undermining of competing views of morality. The ‘icons of gay normality’ are effective precisely because they nurture the view of sexual autonomy our society embraced many decades ago, a view that openly despises sexual chastity and actively embraces infidelity. The meaning of ‘love & marriage’ in our society today is no longer recognisable as the ‘one flesh’ bond God ordained.

Symbols need underlying propositions to give them meaning. On their own, symbols don’t mean anything. Symbols are only powerful when they are analogies or illustrations of things we are already inclined to believe. Indeed, symbols are most powerful when they help us to move subtle assumptions from the realm of tacit persuasion to full conviction.

The ‘icons of gay normality’ work because they are situated within a network of beliefs about sexuality that has nothing to do with God’s design and everything to do with sexual autonomy and sexual self gratification. These ‘icons’ are not self interpreting. Their meaning and effectiveness has everything to do with how they illustrate the application of already held beliefs to a wider situation.

And of course, that’s the problem with Dr Leithart’s suggestion that we ought to ‘fight symbols with symbols’. We no longer share with our opponents any of the propositional beliefs that would make our ‘symbols’ intelligible to them. Our ‘icons’ of fidelity and chastity have a very different meaning to them. Any such tokens represent to them the shackles of repulsive oppression and displays of repressive dishonesty.

I’m not denying the power of symbols and symbolic actions. I’m denying that they have an independent power to communicate meaning and to persuade. The ‘icons of gay normality’ are effective today because of decades of work that has preceded those icons, work of cultural transformation that has established a new norm for sexuality, a norm which makes sense of those icons and which those icons can now illustrate.

What, then, must we do? Well, let us start by examining ourselves to see if we have tacitly adopted ways of thinking, speaking, and acting that comport more with the oppositional viewpoint of sexuality than with what we claim to believe. Here’s where we still have some common beliefs with our opponents: we both have a fairly close notion of what constitutes high-handed hypocrisy. Let us stop living glibly in opposition to the very things we claim to believe! This isn’t a demand that we be morally perfect: imperfection is not the same thing as hypocrisy. Rather, I’m insisting that we must hold ourselves to the standard we profess and judge ourselves accordingly, bringing the grace of the Gospel to recover us from our sins and failings. This will involve us in some significant acts of sacrificial love, humble leadership, and bold testimony that may even rise to the level of ‘iconic’ symbolism Dr Leithart so admires.


North’s Brief Analysis of 2016: Obama’s America

Obama2016I dislike Gary North’s writing style immensely and as a prognosticator North has done much to destroy his own credibility. However, in his brief analysis of Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary film 2016: Obama’s America,1 North presents a straightforward critique directly related to his field of expertise (economics), and I found this article to be a worthwhile read.

In his article entitled If Only D’Souza Were Right, North incisively takes issue with the primary thesis of D’Souza’s documentary, that our national economic woes are primarily due to the policies of the Obama administration. On the contrary, North argues, the Obama administration is the ‘operational successor of the Bush administration.’ I’m sure that must sound preposterous to Democrats and Republicans alike, but on the matters in view, especially the economic matters, North backs up his apparent overstatement.

North focuses our attention upon what he deems to be the best part of the documentary, an interview with David Walker, the former comptroller general of the United States under the last Bush administration. North makes three important observations here.

  1. ‘The deficit is vastly worse than the movie portrays.’ Specifically, the documentary focuses attention upon the ‘on-budget debt of $15 trillion’ while the far more economically relevant figure is the ‘$222 trillion present value of the unfunded liabilities of the off-budget deficit’.

North cites a Bloomberg article, and here’s the relevant part. ‘The U.S. fiscal gap, calculated (by us) using the Congressional Budget Office’s realistic long-term budget forecast — the Alternative Fiscal Scenario — is now $222 trillion. Last year, it was $211 trillion. The $11 trillion difference — this year’s true federal deficit — is 10 times larger than the official deficit and roughly as large as the entire stock of official debt in public hands.’

Seriously, stop a moment and take that in. It’s an unimaginable mountain of debt obligation, and far more important to recognise than the much smaller (though equally unimaginable) figure typically bandied about.

  1. ‘[Walker] blamed George W. Bush as much as he blamed Obama. He says on camera that the turning point on the deficit began with Bush’s presidency. He showed that we are headed for a fiscal disaster, and it may overtake us during the presidency of whoever is elected in 2016.’

North agrees, and emphasises that in relation to our economic situation we are ‘dealing with a single political administration, which began in January 2001.’ That is, both administrations have pulled in the same direction in relation to the most critical political and economic policies.

  1. ‘[N]either Walker nor D’Souza mentions on-screen what should be the obvious constitutional fact — namely, that it is the Congress that legally initiates all spending bills, and it is the House of Representatives that holds the hammer constitutionally.’

As North points out,

We are living in a bipartisan, congressionally mandated, slow-motion train wreck. The Congress of the United States could stop Obama today as easily as it could have stopped Bush. Congress is not interested in stopping the deficit; it is interested in avoiding all responsibility for the annual $1.2 trillion on-budget disaster that is the federal budgetary process.

Finally, North points out that the documentary leaves unaddressed the other big player in the economy, the Federal Reserve System. This agency operates largely as a private banking conglomerate with some Federal governing oversight and involvement at the highest levels. It’s structure is designed to allow it to act independently in relation to its most critical powers over the U.S. economy.

North concludes, D’Souza keeps the ‘Federal Reserve in the background in the thinking of the viewers, when the Federal Reserve ought to be in the foreground, with the presidency in the background. This is basic economics. D’Souza does not know what he is talking about with respect to economics.’

  1. Dinesh D’Souza‘s documentary film 2016: Obama’s America is based on D’Souza’s book Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream. Wikipedia describes D’Souza as ‘an Indian American conservative political commentator, public intellectual and author who is currently the President of The King’s College in New York City.’ 

The Church is not a Political Action Committee

Dr. D.G. Hart has posted a good article interacting with critics of two kingdom theology. While I disagree with Dr. Hart on the the extent to which the Scriptures speak to matters of civil ethics, nevertheless I agree with him entirely on the principle of the Spirituality of the Church.

The Scriptures teach that the magistrate is required to uphold the whole of the Moral Law as it applies to the civil sphere, and the church must proclaim this truth as it is found in Scripture. But the church is not a political action committee! It would be a shame to the name of Christ and an overthrow of jurisdiction for His Church to behave as though she were a political entity.

It is a common error amongst erstwhile Reformed evangelicals to think that the Church has a duty to do whatever any individual Christian may do. Christians as citizens in the civil sphere ought to be involved in politics to whatever extent they are able, and to shape their politics in keeping with the Scriptural standard of civil ethics. But it would be an abuse of the authority Christ has left in His church for her officers to convene Synods and Councils as though she were a political party calling a convention.


Atheist morality

Atheists and agnostics frequently assert that ethics and morality are not dependent upon a belief in God. Rather, they urge that ethics and morality can be understood in sociological terms as a set of conventions that provides evolutionary advantage for groups of humans. But the true weight of such an assertion is rarely grasped by those who make it. This is not an alternative morality, but really no morality at all.

This is pointed out with wit by Dr. William Lane Craig.

The point is that a meaningful morality, a genuine belief in “right and wrong,” requires a faith commitment to something beyond the “here and now,” that is, it requires something “metaphysical.” And of course, the only consistent morality, one that can bear the weight of its own assertions, is the morality revealed in the Christian Scriptures by the one true God.


Explaining Muslim violence

Over at the Johannes Weslianus blog, Pastor Wes White shares some fruitful thoughts in relation to the recent publicity stunt of a burning of the Qur’an and the violence that ensued.

John Piper has claimed that he can help us understand Islam by comparing the Qur’an to Jesus. According to Piper, the Qur’an holds a similar place in the Islamic faith that Christ holds in the Christian faith. Consequently, to burn the Qur’an is for the Muslims what crucifying Jesus is to the Christians. Apparently, this should help us understand why Muslims react so violently to the burning of the Qur’an.

In addition to the counter-intuitive nature of the analogy and the fact that the Christians did not go on a murderous rampage after Jesus was crucified, there is a good reason to reject the analogy. The violence is not a result simply of Qur’an burning. For many Muslims, violence is the proper response to any attack on the Muslim faith.

Pastor White points out that the Qur’an urges Islamists both jointly and severally to enact violence against unbelievers.

John Piper is looking for an explanation of the violence in Afghanistan and wants us to think it’s because the Qur’an burning was like the crucifixion to these Muslims. ViolenceA much simpler explanation is that this violence flows out of the Islamic view that they should dominate the world but not be dominated and that they can even use violence to insure that this domination takes place.

The fact is that the reason why these violent acts occur is because of the general violent outlook of the Qur’an toward those who are not Muslims:

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the people of the Book, until they pay the jizya [poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Qur’an 9:29)

Qur’an 9:5 tells Muslims, “fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them . . .”

Attempting to understand the actions of Muslims by comparing the burning of the Qur’an to the crucifixion of Jesus is barking up the wrong tree. The root of this violence is the Islamic doctrine of jihad. This is the key to understanding the events that we see around us. Islam is a faith that believes in the political subjugation of all nations to its doctrine and is willing to use physical force to accomplish that end.

Indeed, that is the key. Biblical Christianity, in contrast, is diametrically opposed to both of these tenets. Biblical Christianity, the true religion, does not teach the pursuit of political conquest against unbelievers, and rejects any attempt to spread the Gospel through physical coercion.