Monday, November 20, 2006

Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord

Up until this point, the Apostle’s Creed has focused on the first person of the Trinity, God the Father. Now, it begins to address belief in God the Son. This portion of the Creed can be divided into two sections: the first provides several names or titles for Christ; the latter portion focuses on a summary of his life and work.

The Creed focuses on four specific names or titles for the second person of the trinity:

Jesus
Christ
His only Son
Our Lord

Each of these names emphasizes some specific aspect of His life or work, and all of them should be a regular part of the vocabulary, especially in prayer, of believers. Christians nowadays tend to use these names indiscriminately, based largely on personal preference, but the New Testament writers did not do so. They used these names intentionally, speaking of Him using nomenclature that was relevant to whatever it was about Him that they were discussing at the time.

Thus, for example, there are many Christians who speak of Him almost exclusively as “Jesus,” with no title appended (i.e., Jesus Christ, Lord Jesus, etc.). I have heard some Christians even speak as though there is something especially spiritual in doing so, though there is no biblical basis for that idea. Interestingly, while the Gospels frequently refer to Him in this way, the rest of the New Testament rarely does. The name “Jesus” by itself in the Bible always looks back to something that Jesus said or did during his earthly ministry.

I might also add that many Christians have misconstrued Jesus’ promise to answer prayers made in Jesus’ name. This is not a promise to answer prayers when those magic words are spoken: it is a promise to answer prayers consistent with the character and will of Him.

The term “Christ” speaks of His saving work. He was the promised Messiah who died and rose again in order to save his people from their sins. As there is much about this in the part of the Creed devoted to describing Christ’s life and work, I will leave further discussion to that time.

The phrase “God’s only Son” focuses on relationships within the Trinity. God the Son is not inferior to the Father, but has submitted to the Father in order to accomplish the Godhead’s eternal purposes. The terms Father and Son reveal the eternal and perfect familial love within the Godhead. That love has only been broken once in all eternity: when the Father punished the Son upon the cross because of the sins for which He died. Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The incredible prophetic passage in Isaiah 53 says that “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” It is a remarkable thought that the eternal fellowship between God the Father and God the Son was broken at Calvary as Christ died for our sins.

“Our Lord” refers to the enthronement of Christ, who is the ruler over all Creation. One day, He will be acknowledged by all as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

It may be that those who speak of Him primarily as “Jesus” have focused on His humanity or his closeness to the exclusion of His other attributes, while those who talk only of “the Lord” may have lost sight of His closeness or His saving work. Of course, these are only words, and they may not say anything about the thoughts of one’s heart, but it is certainly worth taking a look inward to see if we are thinking of the Lord Jesus Christ in a way consistent with all of His majesty and glory.

Learning to think and speak His names and titles in this way is a difficult habit to start, and in the beginning it may seem stifling. However, in learning to do so there is great devotional value, as intentional thinking can help to produce intentional worship that focuses more clearly and dearly upon the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Change the Names to Protect the Innocent

A while back, I googled my own name. Because my first name is not a particularly common one in the United States, I was actually surprised at the number of notable people, real and fictional, who share my first and last name. I learned the following people have (or had) the same first and last name that I do:
  • The director of the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission in Chicago who was responsible for the conversion of a baseball player named Billy Sunday, who became the Billy Graham of his day.
  • The character portrayed by Richard Pryor in the movie Stir Crazy.
  • An on air personality who works for Voice of America.
And then there is one more. I am glad that I knew a little bit about it from Google, as it prepared me somewhat for a visit I received last night.

A person who has the same first and last name as I do is a former Catholic priest who has been accused of molesting young boys in Indiana between 1979 and 1984. 11 lawsuits have been filed against him to date.

Last night, around 6:30 p.m., my phone rang. After asking for me, the caller identified himself as a reporter for the Indianapolis Star. He wanted to ask me some questions. I was confused at first as to why he would want to talk to me, but I remembered my Google finding about the same time that he realized that this was going much too easily and that I might be the wrong guy. He apologized for bothering me, and explained that no one was sure where the child molester lived, but that it was commonly believed that he lived somewhere in Nashville. Because he has never been convicted of a crime, he doesn't have to register as a sex offender.

Oh, great. I had previously had some fear about name association when I read about him in another state. Here in the same city as me? I groaned.

The reporter then had a request. He now explained that he was at the entrance of the apartment complex I had just moved into. He had driven all of the way from Indianapolis based on finding my newly listed address and phone number. Would I mind if he just came by to look at me to confirm I am not the perpetrator?

I figured my choices were to meet him or to have someone waiting outside my door to see me, so I said I would do so. I told him that I would be standing outside the apartment when he drove up. He asked what I looked like. I'm in my 40's, have brown hair....

He interrupted, telling me if I had hair I wasn't the guy he was looking for.

The reporter and I talked briefly. He looked close to my age -- a little younger perhaps-- and he actually seemed like a nice guy, though he was obviously disappointed. He was going to be headed back to Indianapolis, but he had one more request:

Would I let him see my driver's license? He needed to make sure I wasn't someone that was sent out to cover for the real one.

I shook my head in disbelief and pulled out my wallet. He looked at my license, half chuckled, and, realizing that his whole day had been a wasted effort, said, "Well, there you have it."

In some ways, the incident was amusing at first, but the more I think about it, the more I am frightened by the whole thing. I was still in high school when that man began abusing boys as a priest, so clearly there is no way that a rational person could confuse me with him. But what about an irrational one? Could the association of name and place impact my professional life if people I am working with from a distance hear a story and draw a wrong conclusion? Will someone else find my address the same way that the reporter did and assume that I am the perpetrator? Is it possible that I will open my door some morning and see a shotgun pointed at my face? Will they take time to look? If I protest, will they believe me?

I don't blame the reporter for raising these concerns. He's doing his job. I suspect that in preparing his series of stories that he has heard heart wrenching stories of the aftermath of abuse. But, this has scared me. It has scared me a lot.

Monday, July 03, 2006

"Maker of Heaven and Earth"

When reading this portion of the Creed, one immediately thinks of the first verse in the Bible, which declares, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The remainder of chapter one and the first half of chapter two proceed to discuss God's creative acts.

Much discussion of God as Creator nowadays revolves around debates about the age of the earth, whether the concepts of divine creation and Darwinian evolution can be reconciled, and the relationship between science and religion. I have opinions on those issues, about which both many Christians and many scientists sometimes are guilty of making statements that go beyond their areas of expertise, but for this discussion I want to focus on a couple of different questions -- one that should be thought about before discussions of science begin, and the other a consideration of the implications of divine creation.

There are some Christians who both believe that Scripture is divine revelation from God and accurate in all that it teaches who also believe that the Bible is not inconsistent with Darwinian evolution. Again, I am not going to debate that point today. What I will say is that, regardless of the relationship between faith and current scientific viewpoints, philosophical naturalism is not consistent with Christian belief. Naturalism, simply put, is the belief that nature is all there is. Thus, there is no God and no soul. There is only nature.

Of course, nature is the subject matter of science. Nature is what scientists study. However, some scientists are guilty of folding the philosophical definition of naturalism into the meaning of the scientific method and, by extension, the definition of science itself. That confluence should not be allowed to stand without debate. It is one thing to say that nature is what scientists study. It is something quite different to say that what scientists study is all there is. That supposition is both unproven and unprovable empirically, as it outside the realm of what scientists study.

Just as some Christians may be guilty of arrogance in making statements about scientific matters about which they have no knowledge, some scientists may be guilty of an intellectual and philosophical arrogance that claims that nothing is beyond their realm. As to whether God, either by a sudden act of creation or by a guiding hand on what we would otherwise regard as natural processes, created all that there is, the scientist really has no ultimate answers. That is not to say that there are no answers; they just cannot be found conclusively by means of the scientific method.

Christians have faith that God created all that exists, and we find ample evidence in the order, complexity, and beauty of the universe in support of that faith. The question of creation, however, is not merely an intellectual one. Along with the notion that God created comes the thought that God created for a purpose, and that ultimately what God knows about both our lives and his purposes creates accountability for us, as well as the realization that the One who made us best understands how we should live. That accountability and submission to God's wisdom and purposes, which are ultimately sources of joy for those who accept them, are also the ultimate reasons for much -- some would say all -- unbelief. The first sins in the garden were committed in response to a claim that Adam and Eve could be like God, and ever since humanity has desired to have things our own way.

God, as our Creator, has the ultimate say about what our lives should be. To live in the light of his purposes brings freedom and joy. Resisting Him is both temporally and eternally destructive.

This is the latest in my series of posts on the Apostle's Creed. For my previous post, which includes links to all of the others, see here.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

God the Father Almighty

Parents frequently teach their children a prayer that begins, "God is great. God is good."

Those words are simple enough for children, but they are also profound. They capture two important aspects of the character of God. He is great -- that is, he is almighty, omniscient, and omnipresent. He is also good -- great in mercy and kindness, a Father and friend to those who are His.

Healthy Christianity maintains thoughts of God's greatness and goodness in a careful balance. Unfortunately, that balance is frequently not maintained, and that lack of balance has at times seriously harmed those who grew up under it. If God is seen as great, but not good, he may be seen as harsh, distant, irrelevant, and an object of unhealthy fear (I say unhealthy, because there is a healthy kind of fear of God).

If God is seen as good, but not great, He is seen as a sort of kindly old man -- good hearted, but not terribly helpful or relevant to life.

Fortunately, the true God is both great and good. God is described in the Bible as a Father, a Friend, and as one who knows how to give good gifts to His children. He is merciful and full of grace. Believers can call upon Him with familial love and approach Him boldly because of what Christ has done in our behalf.

He is also the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

Isaiah Chapter 40, which is addressed to hurting people who have fallen under God's judgment, is one of the most eloquent in all of the Bible describing God's goodness and greatness. Following is a quick laundry list of what we learn about God in this chapter. Read it for yourself, and you may find great joy in meditating on these thoughts about God:
  • He speaks through Isaiah words of comfort and tenderness to a people who have gone through a period of judgment because of sin (vv. 1, 2).
  • His glory will be revealed to all mankind (v. 5).
  • His Word stands forever (v. 8).
  • His presence is a reason to proclaim good tidings (v. 9)
  • He is the Sovereign Lord who comes with power (v. 10)
  • He gathers his flock in His arms and carries them close to His heart (v. 11)
  • He has measured the waters and the Heavens with His hand (v. 12).
  • His mind is beyond our understanding or counsel (vv. 13, 14).
  • Nations are like a drop in the bucket and islands are like fine dust compared to Him (vv. 15-17).
  • He is beyond comparison and cannot be worshipped by means of any physical image (v. 18-20).
  • His throne is the earth and people are as small as grasshoppers next to Him (v. 22-24).
  • He has no equal and has created all things. He is Holy (v. 25-26).
  • He is the everlasting God who never gets tired (vv. 28).
  • He gives strength to weary and weak people (v. 29).
  • To those who hope in Him, He gives renewed strength to soar on wings of eagles, run and not grow weary, and walk and not be faint.

Those who do not know such a God should fear one of such power. Those who know Him should find comfort and confidence in God's goodness and greatness.

This is the fourth in my series of posts on the Apostle's Creed. The others can be found here, here, and here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Higher View of Jesus

He calls it a rant and invites readers to ignore it, but the Evangelical Outpost pens a post that would benefit every believer.

The flimsy disagreements of several commenters at that site perhaps reveal the sad state of American evangelicalism.

I Admit It: I Am the AntiChrist

For all of those strange people concerned about this date being 6/6/06, I can alleviate your concerns. I am guilty. I am the anti-Christ. Here's the proof: if you are trying to find me in a company phone directory, and enter into the phone keypad the first three letters of the name "Monroe," you will have entered 6-6-6.

This could hurt my status as a religion blogger.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What about the Emergent Church

Bill Hobbs has an interesting post in which he provides a lengthy excerpt from an article on the "emergent church movement." Although I have been aware of that movement for some time, I have not delved deeply into it due to my sense of ambivalence about it. The excerpt that Mr. Hobbs provides emphasizes both the positives and negatives that contribute to my indifference regarding the significance or value of this movement.

Positively, the movement is being described as one that is Christocentric, focused on worship, and that is seeking to energetically involve disciples in service to their communities. These emphases correct deficiencies that have tended to characterize both the "traditional" churches of the mid and late 20th century and the "contemporary" churches that have tried to supplant them. Such churches have all too frequently turned out to be self-centered in worship and other emphases and overly programmatic in their orientations.

On the other hand, the movement is described as "fueled by postmodern philosophical perspectives," engaged in narrative theology and indifferent to doctrine, and "more at home with blogs than books."

Given postmodernism's indifference regarding truth, it will be interesting to see how attempts to join it with Christian belief play out. Early returns are not encouraging, as all too frequently those who claim to be informing their faith are instead inundating it with those philosophical suppositions. Indifference to doctrine has been a problem, not a characteristic, of modern evangelical Christianity. Indifference to doctrine does not mean that there are no doctrines, and narrative theology is always refracted through the doctrinal lenses of the reader. Everyone believes in doctrines -- Christian or otherwise. The question is not whether we have doctrines, but it is whether we are aware of them and thoughtful about them.

Finally, the reliance of the emergent church on new media is not necessarily a positive. One of the strengths of the movement has been its rediscovery of early Christian forms. Every major movement of the church in American history has suffered from its parochialism and lack of connectedness to Christian traditions. Forsaking deeper reading than what is provided through blogs risks the development of the emergent church becoming atrophied by that narrowness.

In which case, the emergent church will not be a movement: it will be just a fad.

I Believe (Part II)

The Apostle's Creed begins, ""I believe in God, the Father Almighty,the Creator of heaven and earth,and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...." In this post, I want to focus on the word "believe." Faith is a very important concept for Christians (the most frequent name for Christians in the Bible is "believers"), but it is a very misunderstood one.

In the original language of the New Testament, the words "believe" and "faith" come from the same root word, with "believe" being the verb form of the root and "faith" the noun form. I once heard a preacher on television make much ado about the fact that he was going to do more than just "believe" something: he was going to "faith it." However, there was really no point to that kind of statement, since biblically belief and faith are the same thing. As I am sure this gentleman had not studied Greek, perhaps he should be forgiven this little display of ignorance.

Perhaps.

The word "faith" is also used frequently in popular culture -- sometimes with religious overtones -- in ways that differ markedly from the biblical conception of faith. Probably the most common popular use of the word makes faith to mean something along the lines of positive thinking or stubborn optimism. While those may be good things, they are not Christian faith. In addition, they have less foundation than biblical faith. I am reminded of a Celine Dion song from a few years ago: "Don't give up on your faith. Love comes to those who believe it." That sounds wonderful. Where does that confidence come from. With her voice rising in a joy not justified by the hollow words, she concludes, "That's the way it is."

That was good for Walter Cronkite talking about what had already made news, but its not much of a foundation for faith. Fortunately, Christian faith rests on much more.

When defining faith, the most common verse that Christians turn to is Hebrews 11:1 -- "Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." That passage goes on to describe Old Testament figures who manifested faith. For example, Noah built an ark based on God's command even though he had never seen anything that warranted such an effort. Abram left his home and set out for a new country he had never seen, because ultimately he looked for a land "whose builder and founder is God."

With those introductory thoughts in mind, here are a few statements concerning the nature of Christian faith:
  • Faith is not merely intellectual assent. In that sense, the modern way of using the word "believe" is not always helpful. Faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will. It is not merely a matter of deciding that certain things are true, but it is about trusting in those things for our eternal salvation.
  • Faith is both a human responsibility (Acts 16:31) and a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).
  • Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive concepts. Christian belief is not based on philosophical rationalism, as Christians ultimately rest their faith in God's self-revelation found generally in creation and conscience and specifically in the words of the Bible and in the living Word, Jesus Christ. However, reason and revelation are not in opposition. Christian belief is both internally coherent and externally consistent. Talk about faith as though it is a leap into darkness involves theological constructs that are not consistent with Christianity.
  • Faith in the Bible always has an object: faith in God, God's promises, Christ, the finished work of Christ, and so forth. Thus, faith is not merely positive thinking. It involves trust in who God is or what he does and provides.
  • Because faith always has God or His work as its object, faith is not found by looking inward, but by looking up. To have faith is not to find a great internal resource -- it is to find that we have a great God in whom we can confidently rest.
  • The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith alone. As such, the Christian message to outsiders is not to reform their lives: it is to be reconciled to God by repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ.
  • While salvation is by faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone. When I was younger and didn't know better, I used to say that human works have nothing to do with salvation. It is true that we are in no way justified by our deeds; however, saving faith inevitably produces a changed heart and life (see Ephesians 2:10).
  • Faith is not merely the response that initiates a person into the family of God; it characterizes the life of the believer throughout.

As this has become a long post, I think I should stop. I have benefited from writing it, and I hope someone gains something from reading it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"I Believe"

The Apostle's Creed begins with the words, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty,the Creator of heaven and earth,and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...." These opening phrases contain much that will take us several posts to work through. Today, I will begin with just the first two of those words: "I believe."

How much can you say about that? Well, it turns out a great deal.

First, it may seem curious that the Creed begins with the statement of an individual ("I"), even though it is most often recited by a group in a church. Yet, this is entirely appropriate. Christianity is both personal and communal, and the Bible describes the Spirit of God specially inhabiting both the individual believer and the gathered church. Thus, while faith should be expressed corporately, it also should be declared by persons who are trusting in and adhering to that faith individually. This is poignantly occurring when church members join together in expressing the individual faith that binds them to God and also joins them to one another.

Second, it has been said that much of what it means to be a Christian is understood in pronouns: God is not just "the Lord;" He is "My Lord." Christ is not merely "the Savior;" He is "My Savior." Of course, this is not intended to be self-centered, as though I am saying that God belongs to me. It is rather the opposite: I belong to God, and in belonging to Him I can find the greatest joys of life. Christian belief includes propositional truths, but it is not merely a set of propositions. These truths tell us of Christ, to whom we have entrusted our life and souls, and with whom we shall enjoy eternal fellowship.

Finally, many people misunderstand the notion of Christianity (or religion generally) being a personal matter. Christianity is personal, but not in the sense of it being private -- which it must never be. For a person who believes, Christianity has implications for every aspect of life. However, Christianity is personal in the sense of being individual. My faith in Christ is not a matter of birth, family affiliation, or of the willing of another. Rather, faith is a gift of God to an individual.

Which brings us to the second word: "believe." That one will have to wait for the next post. And, I promise I will not take the entire Creed one word at a time.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Upcoming: a Series of Posts on the Apostle's Creed

I am going to begin a series of posts on the Apostle's Creed. The words of the creed are as follows:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into Hades.
The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy *catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Amen.


The Apostle's Creed was not actually written by the Apostles. Composed in the second century A.D., it is so named because it is an apt summary of the basic teachings of the Apostles. In fact, for nearly two millenia, the Apostle's Creed has provided a basic definition of what it means to be orthodox. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant Christians disagree over a great deal, but historically they all would agree with the basic statements formulated in this creed.

Those readers who know me as a Baptist might be surprised that I am choosing to expound on the creed. Both conservative and liberal Baptist leaders commonly tell their flocks that Baptists are not a creedal people. Those who do so simply do not know Baptist history. Though Baptist confessionalism has been on the decline for the last two centuries, Baptists historically have made use of creedal confessions of faith and have taught their children using catechisms. Indeed, the loss of their usage has resulted in the growing ignorance of basic Christian teaching that is all too frequent in Baptist churches today. It is an indictment on Baptist churches that all too frequently their teens, having grown up in church, leave it without any real understanding of what it is they are leaving behind.

Baptists, like all other Protestants, do not regard this or any other creed as being authoritative. However, creeds may be instructive tools regarding the teaching of Scripture. Although many people in Baptist pews who don't know their history would likely revolt, their churches would actually benefit if their ministers would use the creed as a part of worship.

The statements in the Apostle's Creed are deceptively simple. Their exposition could fill volumes. I will deal with them in a dozen or so posts -- I hope in a manner that will be both theologically instructive and devotional for anyone that comes across them.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bible in Public Schools

The Tennessean has an article today discussing the fact that the Bible is taught in a few history or literature courses in public high schools in Tennessee. Although the usually reliable first amendment scholar Charles Haynes says that the practice is inappropriate, there really should be nothing controversial about teaching the Bible in such a manner. Whatever one's views of the Christian religion, the Bible is a text that has had tremendous influence over western civilization and western culture, and a basic understanding of it is a legitimate public school enterprise for that reason.

That being said, I doubt that very many public school teachers are qualified to teach such a course, which would require both an understanding of ancient middle eastern culture and the ability to read the Bible from a historical/literary approach -- an approach that is also used, by the way, by the best of evangelical theologians and pastors (that is, not very many). However, the teacher who is referenced in the article, Mike Brown, appears to be handling the course appropriately and competently.

Mr. Haynes counters that some Christians may be offended to learn that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible. As a Christian, as long as the text is treated with an appropriate academic demeanor, I say, "Who cares?" There are multiple interpretations of most, if not all, aspects of history and of literary texts. If we are to have that level of sensitivity, then we will have to eliminate all course work. The study of the Bible is an academic subject, and not just a devotional one.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Show Me the Money

I have been involved in a lot of funerals over the years, but have never seen this in an obituary:

"Expressions of sympathy may take the form of contributions to the family."

Out of respect for the deceased, I won't link to the obituary or provide the name or city.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us

I had not intended to write about the current controversy over The Da Vinci Code because I am not interested in it. A decade ago, when I was in a position of church leadership, I would have read the book and possibly planned to see the movie for the purpose of preparing myself to answer the questions that would be raised by church members and others in the community. Those days are well in the past, with the result that I can limit my reading to those things that interest me. Having heard about the broad themes and the pseudo-history that is central to the work of fiction, I decided long ago that I wasn't interested. I am also not interested in participating in the predictable and counterproductive calls by numerous evangelicals to boycott this "dangerous" movie. Such calls are counterproductive both because they provide the movie with free publicity and because they make it appear as though Christians are afraid of the debate. All of that being said, I changed my mind about ignoring the matter after reading an article regarding the book's popularity that I thought made an important point regarding the current state of the church.

As far as the controversy itself, my own views as to the Church's proper response is largely similar to that expressed by Kat Coble (and those she links to favorably) here.

In an article that appeared in Sunday's The Tennessean (it was a syndicated article not written locally, and I regret that I can't locate a link), it was argued that Christians are largely responsible for the book and movie's popularity. In short, the author contended that the Church's failure to teach American Christians about church history has created a vacuum into which The Da Vinci Code's historical background has entered. The supposed history behind the novel is so discredited that it seems almost silly when serious historians and theologians bother to dispute it. However, most of those who grew up around churches learned virtually nothing about church history, with the result that the book seems mysterious and interesting.

It has been said that American Christians sometimes act as though the Bible fell out of heaven last week. To put it a different way, many American Christians have been exposed to such limited information as to seemingly suggest that the period of the Apostles ended just before we were born and was immediately followed by the current era. Of course, Protestants don't regard history and tradition as authoritative; however, they should regard it as instructive. The failure of Christians to understand their heritage separates them from Christendom's glories and leaves them vulnerable to repeating its mistakes.

As is shown by the public's hunger for a novel featuring an alternative church history, it should not be said that there is no interest in the Church's story. In fact, I used to find that classes featuring discussions of where various denominations came from and sermon illustrations recounting high or low moments and teachings from ages past generated considerable interest. Religious history, like all other history, is not about names and dates, but about people and ideas. People and ideas are interesting if their stories are well told.

Christian leaders in the United States over the last two centuries have not cared enough about that. It is part of the reason that American Christianity can be characterized as 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. When spiritually hungry people, many of them former or current church members, take interest in the false history presented in The Da Vinci Code, they give evidence that this failure has a cost.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Church Is Full of Sinners -- and I'm Glad

The writer at The Evangelical Outpost reflects on deficiencies in his attitude toward churches:

Why am I so dumb that I expect the church to be something its not? Why can’t I recognize that the trouble with the church is that it accepts sinners like me? If they excluded the people who could ruin it church might be a better place. But it would also be empty.

Read the rest of the post here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Beyond Caricature

Nearly two decades ago, I joked, that given trends in Christian worship, that sometime soon a church might regard Rod Stewart, with a slight alteration, as a source of church music:

Tonight's the Night;
Gonna Be all right.
Because I love you [Lord]
Ain't nobody gonna stop us now.


In light of that, perhaps I was not completely surprised at Tom Ascol's post about a Lutheran Church that took up Beatles' songs for a weekend worship service. Don't get me wrong: I like the Beatles, and Rev. Ascol seems to, as well. But not for worship.

But perhaps they still are more popular than Jesus....

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Free Speech and Free Offers of the Gospel

Numerous bloggers are commenting on a decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that a school had the right to require s student to cover up a tee shirt with an anti-homosexual message printed on it. The shirt had the words "Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned" on the front and "Homosexuality is Shameful" on the back. After the school required the student to put another shirt on over it, the student sued the school.

Because the 9th Circuit is so frequently overturned, and overturned unanimously, the enduring validity of its decisions is always an open question. However, a number of political conservatives have commented negatively on the decision as a free speech issue. The Volokh Conspiracy calls the decision "deeply unsound." Mark Rose calls it "typical liberal elitism and intolerance." Taking a different direction, Ann Althouse questioned an analogy in the dissent and asked commenters to opine as to whether the school's response resulted from the shirt's disruptiveness or whether the school was attempting to support its official viewpoint.

Because I am no longer doing legal or political issues at this site, I want to open a discussion in a little bit different direction. From the standpoint of Christian ethics and practice, why would a student do such a thing? What was he trying to accomplish? Was he trying to prove his supposed courage by calling out those people? If not that, then what?

For the sake of argument, let's stipulate that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Of course, the Bible teaches that numerous other things are also sins -- things that we do, fail to do, think, fail to care about, and so forth. While the Bible teaches that such sins have rather disturbing implications regarding our standing before God, it does not require us to deny civil rights or human compassion to sinners. If it did so, all of us would be in a great deal of trouble. Homosexuality is not a sin with which this author struggles, but there are many others -- pride, greed, lust, and on and on, I am sorry to say -- with which I do. No one, to my knowledge, is insisting that I should be treated rudely based on the fact that I am a self-acknowledged sinner.

Sinners are the sort of people that the Christian message is made for. The most notable spokesman for the early Christian message, the Apostle Paul, even referred to himself as the "chief of sinners," perhaps recalling his own pre-conversion complicity in a Christian's persecutorial murder. This is not to say that Christians should not call sin by that name; but it does mean that people should not be treated obnoxiously. They need the Gospel.

Messages of condemnation unaccompanied by offers of hope and forgiveness found in the gospel do not reflect the message of Christ.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Years Restored

I was reading the Old Testament book of Joel earlier this week. It has a remarkable message.

Much of the book concerns the judgment of God. The people had sinned, and as a result God had sent an extended plague of locusts, destroying their land to an extent that they had never seen.

And, then God made a promise. Not only would judgment cease and mercy return, but He would also "restore the years that the locusts had eaten."

All of us who have wasted years and underachieved or paid a price for personal failures, whether we regard those wastes and failures as divine judgment or merely the residuals of bad decision making, can find hope in that thought. Whatever potential or hope seems to have been lost, there is hope in a gracious God who can restore wasted years.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Gone for Good this Time

Blogging is a hobby. Sure, I would love to write for a living, but I don't. So it is a hobby. I golf. I read books that no one else would ever read. I used to occasionally write book reviews for a newspaper where I lived. I write a blog.

The problem is that my golf, while poor, and my reading habits, while dull to some, don't pose a threat to my livelihood. It appears that blogging now does.

I am not as widely read as Bill Hobbs, though I have thought that I would like to be. I am also probably not as argumentative as Bill, though I don't shy away from controversy. Now that paid media in Nashville have shown a willingness to take down voices that they disagree with, or that they find uncongenial, I am going to have to pay attention. I have an employer who could be pressured. I have a family and bills.

So, here goes: I won't ever put anything publicly in writing on the internet or elsewhere again unless it is a part of a job for which I get paid. It's just not worth the risk.

Overly dramatic? Perhaps. But no more over the top than paid media intentionally going after a person's job. Someone will likely point out that my blog is not that big, but I don't want to assuage my fears by assuring myself I will always be insignificant. I have too much ambition for that.

Oh, and the next time someone over at the Scene decides to write on a right winger threatening free speech, they should take a careful look in the mirror. Fascism can be found on both ends of the political spectrum.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Romney's Health Care Plan

For a careful and favorable look at the health care reforms adopted in Massachussetts, see the Heritage Foundation's Edmund Haislmaier here.

If these reforms appear to be effective, Governor Mitt Romney may be on the inside track to being elected President in '08.

Blogs and Congress

The Washington newspaper The Hill has an interesting article on the ever growing relationship between Congress and bloggers here.

Some Democratic leaders see bloggers doing for their party what talk radio did for the Republicans in the 1980's. However, the radicalism of the left wing blogs may push the Democratic Party out of the mainstream. At the Daily Kos, a recent poll gave House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a 19% approval rating, while Howard Dean -- who is arguably edging the party closer to a political cliff -- garners an 84% approval rating.

An entity that overwhelmingly sees Ms. Pelosi as too conservative may not be the best one to set the tone of the party for the next round of elections.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

As April 15 Approaches....

Americans spend more money on tax code compliance costs, according to Robert Samuelson, than they do on electricity. While that fact would seem to be a compelling argument for reforming and simplifying the tax system, Mr. Samuelson says that it is unlikely to happen due to political constraints.

Whereas current federal income tax rates range from 10 to 35 percent, Mr. Samuelson points out that by eliminating deductions those rates could be reduced to 4 to 17 percent and be revenue neutral. However, wrangling over individual winners and losers would cripple the debate over eliminating deductions in the current tax code. Besides, maintaining high tax rates enables politicians to claim they are doing something for taxpayers by adding deductions that benefit them.

It also complicates tax compliance even further.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Future of Blogging and Other Media

Mary Katharine Hamm posts a press release announcing that Salem Communications is purchasing TownHall.com. Ms. Hamm comments that the opportunities for synergy in this relationship are significant:

Salem and Townhall put together can serve conservatives in a traditional talk radio format and online, seamlessly leading radio listeners from listening to the radio to acting on the web, from hearing the news to blogging, podcasting, and influencing the news of the nation.

That is a combination that bears watching. It may be a model that is pursued in multiple markets. Though Ms. Hamm contemplates it as a conservative entity, the ideas here could also work in a format offering multiple ideological perspectives, as well.

President(?) Romney on Health Coverage

Mitt Romney, the Republican Massachussetts governor who appears to be gearing up for a run at the Presidency in 2008, discusses his new mandated health care program in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Romney's program involves:

1. More ready access to benefits for those eligible for Medicaid;
2. Subsidized health insurance for those who are ineligible for Medicaid but not able to afford coverage;
3. Health insurance reform reducing mandated benefits in order to enable insurers to offer less expensive coverages; and
4. A requirement that all people acquire health insurance (similar to requirements that all drivers purchase auto insurance).

Joe Paduda is correct that the program does not contain cost containment mechanisms, though it should be added that mandatory coverage reduces anti-selection and will help spread the cost of insurance coverage. As such, the Massachussetts program offers an interesting experiment that bears watching across the rest of the nation.

Beautiful Minds

Katherine Coble took umbrage at a humorous post by Mark Rose that displayed pictures of a number of Republican women who looked classy and/or attractive alongside photos of Democratic women who are either not at all alluring or who were caught in unattractive poses. While acknowledging that Mr. Rose's post was intended to be funny, Ms. Coble complained that attitudes that focus on the appearance rather than the substance of public figures who happen to be female contributed to driving her out of active involvement in politics at a time when she was young and idealistic.

Though I am not offended by Mr. Rose's joke, I think that Ms. Coble makes an important point. One might also note that the failure to take women seriously as public figures and thinkers is not limited to Republican males.

Thus, when Katherine Harris was trying to work through the Florida election mess in 2000, she was forced to endure, not only from comics, but also from newscasters and politicians, unkind remarks regarding her make-up and appearance. Back in the days of the Clinton scandals, Democrats made demeaning remarks about the appearance of Linda Tripp, even while Republicans were making unkind jokes about Monica Lewinsky. Euphemisms can sometimes hide hypocrisy: Democrats have sometimes expressed a wish that Michigan's Canadian born governor, Jennifer Granholm, could run for President, saying that she is "telegenic." They mean that she is good looking. Actually, when you start noticing, the bi-partisan tendency to focus on the appearance of female public figures is epidemic.

And, by the way, some women make efforts to cash in on their good looks for short term advancement. The success of such tactics is typically short term, and it makes worse the problem being discussed.

Please don't misunderstand. The blogger at The Monroe Doctrine is more than capable of noticing an attractive woman -- and, on a personal level, finds the combination of attractiveness and intelligence to be enticing. However, none of that matters in the public arena. This blogger works as the only male in an office with 7 women. They all expect to be treated as the professionals that they are. Women in public life should expect no less.

Looking for More from TeamGOP

On Sunday, several Republican bloggers, including Rob Huddleston, Nathan Moore, and myself, criticized the TeamGOP blog for deleting the comments of Donna Locke of Tennesseans for Immigration Control and Reform from its blog. That criticism was picked up by Michael Silence and VolunteerVoters. While I have deleted comments that were profane or spam, I believe that it is inappropriate to stifle debate by deleting the comments of reasonable and informed commenters. Indeed, I give wide latitude to those who wish to comment on this site (I would like to see more, though I tell others that once I have spoken there is really nothing left to say. I'm kidding.)

TeamGOP has subsequently re-posted Ms. Locke's comments without any explanation or apology. While I applaud TeamGOP for responding to public criticism, it would be better if they would publicly apologize and explain their policy on excluding comments on a go forward basis.

A Word for the Horizontally Challenged

A study of 104 adults (a rather small sample: the researcher must have had a good press agent) showed that only 15% of those who are defined by the government as obese believe that they are described by that term.

The Associated Press report explains the reason for the disconnect: the government has defined obesity down to a level that doesn't make sense to most people. A 5'10 male who weighs 210 pounds is considered obese under the federal standards.

Please note that this does not apply to someone who lifts weights or otherwise has built a lot of muscle.

Most people would consider men of that size to be overweight; some of the less kind would even call them "fat." But obese?

When the government began using body mass indices as measures for identifying those with weight problems, they chose an emotionally charged word (obese) to describe those they thought were large enough to have potential health problems. They perhaps thought that use of that term would drive people to take action. The problem is that linguistic gamesmanship can only go so far. The pejorative word "obese" is simply not appropriate for people of that size.

Those studies also allege that a man of that height weighing 185 pounds or more is overweight. That is simply not a reasonable standard. The blogger at The Monroe Doctrine dieted and got his weight down to 174 a few years ago, and his wife, who does NOT find overweight men attractive, told him he looked (this is a quote) "horrible." He quickly gained weight up to the 185 level. Unfortunately, he has since moved well beyond it -- a problem that is currently being addressed.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Krumm for State Senate

West Point graduate, military officer, and constuction company project manager Bob Krumm announced today that he is running for the Tennessee state senate. While The Monroe Doctrine does not endorse candidates for office, we gladly point out that Mr. Krumm is a man of solid political principles and unquestioned integrity. He would make a fine state senator.

Follow the Money...

... and the relationships. Tom Delay said that his resignation had nothing to do with the Abramoff investigation or with the guilty plea of his former associate, Tony Rudy. Matthew Continetti's careful research suggests that the truth may be otherwise. Read it here.

Campaign Finance Reform and Incumbency

Janice Bowling, a Republican who ran for a seat in Congress against Lincoln Davis in 2004, wrote on op-ed for The Tennessean disagreeing with the commonly held notion that campaign finance reform benefits incumbents.

Ms. Bowling begins the column by referencing a campaign finance reform case from Vermont that she says will be heard "later this month." The case was actually heard in the middle of March, but we don't know if the error is Ms. Bowling's, or if it is that of a newspaper that sat on her column until it was partly outdated.

Nonetheless, Ms. Bowling's opposition to campaign finance reform rests primarily upon her own experience. In her campaign, she was outspent by Mr. Davis, she says, by a factor of 4 to 1. In that light, finance reform that would create an equal playing field would be preferable, she contends. However, what Ms. Bowling ignores is the possibility that her inability to raise money in part reflected a lack of support for her campaign. People who don't believe that a candidate has a credible chance of winning are unlikely to support the campaign financially. The right of Mr. Davis's supporters to express their preference for his candidacy should also not be ignored. Ms. Bowling is entitled to denigrate their support as representing government of, by, and for money, but many of those supporters simply thought they were participating in the democratic process.

In spite of what Ms. Bowling says, even had she raised an equal amount of money as Mr. Davis, it may not have helped. She is right to criticize gerrymandered districts. Given districts drawn to favor incumbents, and given the advantages of incumbency in running for election, challengers usually need to be able to outspend their opponents to have a chance at victory.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Christian Teaching and Immigration

The other day I linked favorably to a post by Rev. Tom Ascol discussing his views on immigration in light of the experiences in his church in south Florida. The blogger at VolunteerVoters testily responded that he was "tired of people counseling 'Christian' compassion," and suggested the pastor should baptize an illegal immigrant and then take him to the border and "wish him luck."

Since Rev. Ascol is a Calvinist, I doubt that he uses the word "luck" very frequently, but many bloggers won't let details get in the way of a good line. Neither will many mind that such advice flies in the face of biblical commandments regarding Christian compassion:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? [James 2:15-16 (ESV)].

The normally more thoughtful Bill Hobbs responds favorably to the VolunteerVoters post, praising a reference to opposing turning the nation into a "flophouse" (which I took to be flippant nonsense: most immigrants are here to work, not rely on charity), while accusing Rev. Ascol and me of favoring short term, rather than long term, compassion. For Mr. Hobbs, long term compassion means making "them stay in Mexico where they can reform their own country to improve it for today and for future generations yet unborn." As to the present situation, Mr. Hobbs is ignoring that presently at least 12 million of those cats have already been let out of the bag. Nor is it clear how forcing a whole population to remain in a place where they see no opportunity constitutes compassion. No one is arguing that there is an obligation to allow in everyone who wants to come, but Mr. Hobbs suggestion is so sweeping as to be irrelevant. Perhaps our ancestors should have stayed in Europe? Perhaps we should be forced to return?

The Bible is not vague on the issue of the treatment of foreigners. In particular, many passages in the Old Testament (see, for two or many possible examples, Exodus 22:21, 22 and Zechariah 7:10) put specific human faces on commands for human acts of mercy. Such mercy was to be shown with particular regard to four groups: the poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners. The command in the Exodus passage to treat foreigners kindly is rooted in the Jewish people's own experience as foreigners in Egypt.

For Christians, the way that biblical passages should be applied to matters of public policy is not always clear cut; however, this particular debate seems to be one in which Christians, on principle, cannot simply line up with what seems by some to be regarded as the conservative position.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Realism on Immigration

If a government were creating its immigration laws in a vacuum, it would put in place laws that would allow for levels of immigration consistent with the needs of the country. It would provide for an administrative system that would be sufficient to manage its immigration program. It would create structures that would appropriately secure the nation's borders and that would require that anyone entering the country do so appropriately or face deportation.

Many people discussing the current immigration debate seem to argue as though laws are being passed in a vacuum. They are not.

America's immigration system, both in terms of processing those entering the country legally and in terms of keeping out those entering illegally, has been a mess for decades. The result is a national illegal immigration population that is somewhere in the neighborhood of twice the population of Tennessee. Those on the left who talk as though that can be ignored and that it is somehow not relevant that U.S. laws are openly flaunted are wrong. On the other hand, those who would respond to the decidedly non-vacuum situation we find ourselves in with tough talk and incarcerations are not talking in realistic terms, and may end up doing great damage.

The United States needs secure borders, and along with them a reasonable immigration policy. Along with it, the United States needs to arrive at a solution to the presence of large numbers of illegals who are in such a state partly as a result of an immigration labyrinth that bears no resemblance to a system.

Those who think we can roll in buses and send them all away are living in a world that does not exist.

Confident Party Leaders Don't Censor Debate

The author of The Monroe Doctrine is a conservative Republican who has taken strong positions in favor of policies that would expand immigration into the United States. As such, we have expressed strong disagreement with those who have taken hardline stances on the immigration issue.

Having said that, we also believe that one of the purposes of blogging is to facilitate debate and discussion between responsible voices who express informed positions on issues. While Donna Locke is someone whose views on immigration are diametrically opposed to our own, we acknowledge that she is a responsible voice whose views merit a hearing and response. When the TeamGOP blog censors Ms. Locke's comments, they show themselves unworthy of a Republican Party and a conservative movement that is willing to take on challengers and prevail on the issues.

Then again, that blog said last week that they don't care about issues. Oh, well.

See also Rob Huddleston and Nathan Moore.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Gospel of Judas: No News Here

I have ignored the flurry of attention given to the National Geographic's release of the supposed lost Gospel of Judas, because anyone who has studied such things knows that there is really nothing new here, and certainly there is nothing that poses any kind of challenge to traditional Christianity. Evidently, there are many who have never studied such things, given the amount of attention the matter has received.

For a quick overview by someone who has studied such things, see Mark Daniels here.

Since all ideological movements, whether religious, political, or philosophical, spin off heretical associated movements, it comes as no surprise that such happened with early Christianity. The later New Testament books -- written in the late first century -- began warning against incipient forms of Gnosticism, a heretical movement that denied the humanity of Jesus and that was radically disdainful of the physical world generally. That incipient form grew into fuller blossom in the second century, and was rejected by those churches that followed the teaching of the Apostles. It should be noted that gnostic philosophy has stubbornly shown up in various forms of disparate Christian groups, some more orthodox than others, throughout history. I once created a stir in a breakfast meeting by impolitely telling the pastor of a large church that his theology bore more resemblance to Gnosticism than to Christianity.

As Hugh Hewitt notes, this discovery "makes for good television specials," but there really is not any new ground broken.

Update: Donald Sensing has more here.

Flu Carriers on Airline Carriers

Joe Paduda links to an article suggesting that business travelers are a key factor in the spread of the flu virus. He then asks whether business travelers who return home with the flu should be considered to have suffered an occupational illness compensable under workers' compensation.

Such a scenario is not compensable under the laws of most, if not all, states, and one suspects that Mr. Paduda is just trying to yank some chains. That being said, those insurance executives who just had coronaries after reading this probably did suffer a compensable injury -- though the compensability of heart attacks is a controversial issue in workers' compensation.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Baptist Pastor on Legal and Illegal Immigration

Tom Ascol is a reformed Southern Baptist pastor in south Florida who has grappled with issues surrounding flawed American immigration policies and illegal immigration, as they relate to the lives of real people in his community and congregation. The blog he wrote today merits reading by anyone with a concern or an opinion on the issue. Here's just a small snippet of what he wrote:

What do you say to a young man who has come to Christ through the church's outreach and wants to be baptized and join but whose visa has expired? He wants to become legal but every avenue he has pursued has resulted in a dead end. Talk of various types of amnesty has kept him hopeful, but he is here illegally.

What about the devoted Christian family that were working through what they were told was a legal channel to pursue permanent residency only to discover that they were scammed and are now left with no passport, visa, or any other form of legal identification. When we contacted legal authorities we were simply told that they were "small fish" and that, though it is unlikely, there is a slight possibility that in 10 years or so their case might come to light and receive some attention.

Bi-Partisan Hypocrisy

The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to put caps on contributions to "527 committees." These are political organizations, such as MoveOn.org and the group that ran the "Swift Boat" ads in 2004, whose contributions were unlimited due to a loophole in the McCain/Feingold campaign reform legislation. These unlimited contributions have disproportionately favored Democrats, due to large donations from billionaire George Soros and other wealthy Democratic supporters.

Political hypocrisy is sufficiently common that it should never be shocking. Even so, both Democrats, who mostly tried to kill the bill, and Republicans, who essentially passed it, showed surprising levels of it.

Thus, California Democratic Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, accused Republicans of "trying to muzzle the voices of American people who speak through 527s." Maryland Democrat and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer complained that Republicans were trying to "gag their opponents." Both of these representatives had supported McCain/Feingold. Proponents of McCain/Feingold previously ridiculed the idea that regulating political contributions amounted to regulation of political speech, but the use of terms such as "gag" and "muzzle" indicates that they have conveniently changed their minds. Will they now call for the repeal of McCain/Feingold and other laws regulating political speech?

Meanwhile, Republicans who rightly objected that McCain/Feingold regulated political speech now are supporting contribution limits on such speech via 527 groups. New York Republican Thomas Reynolds cynically managed to say that anyone that supported McCain/Feingold and opposed this bill was "a hypocrite." Perhaps, but hypocrisy seemed to be in wider supply than Rep. Reynolds imagined.

House Majority Leader John Boehner disconcertingly said that this legislation demonstrates that "the Republican Party is the party of reform." If only that were so. Alas, an act of political hypocrisy demonstrates a party of business as usual.

Nashville Newspaper Editorializes on Bryson Candidacy

In an editorial this morning, The Tennessean uses the following words to describe Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jim Bryson: intelligent, articulate, attractive to conservative voters, and involved and knowledgeable on TennCare.

This praise comes from a liberal editorial page that acknowledges that it has disagreed with Senator Bryson on some individual issues, such as putting a cap on how fast government spending can grow. Senator Bryson has proposed that government spending should not grow faster than the incomes of the people in the state.

The editorial concludes that Senator Bryson brings to the race for governor a "credibility and level of seriousness that will give voters a real choice." They are right. Democratic party leaders in the state are trying to whisper to the media that the governor has too much money and that Senator Bryson can't win. But those same leaders, immediately after his announcement that he was entering the race, launched a scurrilous and desperate sounding attack on the Senator's character. That would seem to indicate that they are more worried than they let on.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lott to Taxpayers: Go to Hades

Mark Tapscott reports that Mississippi Senator Trent Lott sneaked into an appropriations bill that was supposed to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan a pet $700 million project to tear up a railroad line and build a highway in Mississippi. Asked about critics of these kinds of pork barrel projects, Lott stated:

I'm getting [expletive deleted] tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble ever since Katrina.

One can favor legitimate assistance to the hurricane ravaged areas and oppose under the table spending projects such as this one. Senator Lott is set to run for Majority Leader when Bill Frist leaves the Senate in January. Those Senators who believe that election to the Senate is a foraging expedition for taxpayer money will support Senator Lott. Those who believe in principles of limited government will not.

Hat Tip: Ed Morrissey

Get It Together, or Else

I only recently discovered Scrappleface, a creative, conservative blogging satirist who now causes me to laugh out loud on a daily basis. Here is one item in today's post:

Senator John Kerry today called on President Bush to set a May 15 deadline for Iraqis to form a working government, or face an immediate pullout of U.S. troops. Age-old tensions and divisions among opposing political parties has made it impossible for the new Iraqi government to accomplish anything useful. The White House welcomed the Kerry plan, and offered a counter-proposal calling for U.S. lawmakers to form a working Congress by April 15, or face an immediate pullout of taxpayer dollars.

He is worth reading daily.

Love Not Lost

Glenn Reynolds aptly explains why many conservatives outside the Beltway aren't lamenting the downfall of Tom Delay. I think he is right on all counts.

Whenever I spend time around people who are absorbed with who the personalities are and how the games are played, I am reminded that I care far more about political principles than about the inner workings of the process. The gamesmanship is a necessary evil.

Feigned Ethics

I am removing a post that previously appeared in this spot, that provided thoughts on a bill that I believed was sponsored by Senator Bryson. I had performed my research using Lexis, a normally reliable legal research tool that identifies Bryson as the sponsor, but have since confirmed that Senator Ketron was actually the sponsor of SB 1776, as is indicated on the state legislature's website.

I apologize for the error.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Contrast in Priorities

On the same day that state Senator Jim Bryson announced that he was running for governor in order to help restore ethics in state government, The Tennessean reports that the current governor has failed to meet a statutory deadline for appointing two members to the state's ethics commission. The stated reasons for this failure to comply with the law create more questions than they answer. The governor has had to ask the attorney general to opine as to whether potential nominees have prohibitive conflicts of interests, but Representative Donna Rowland is right to question why the governor "can’t find someone without a conflict in a state with 6 million people.” Furthermore, The Tennessean reports that the governor only requested the AG opinion the day before the deadline, a fact which would cause one to ask why ethics has not been higher on the governor's priority list.

The Timing of Delay

Matthew Continetti of The Weekly Standard has penned a brief, but excellent article on the timing of Tom Delay's resignation. Regarding arguments that Mr. Delay's resignation had nothing to do with the Jack Abramoff investigation, Mr. Continetti writes:

This, even though his decision comes about 72 hours after his former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges in connection with the Abramoff probe. This, even though DeLay personally made his debut in the numerous court filings re: Abramoff as "Representative #2" in the criminal information filed as part of Rudy's plea deal. This, even though his former press secretary, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty to related charges last November. This, even though his former chief of staff, Ed Buckham, is also under close scrutiny in the Department of Justice's public corruption investigation. And this, even though DeLay's last "resignation," when he told Republicans he would not seek to reclaim his majority leader post, came swiftly on the heels of Abramoff's January plea.

This morning, Rush Limbaugh was entertaining his audience with assurances that the resignation had nothing to do with renegade district attorney Ronnie Earle's charges in Austin, Texas. True enough, but Mr. Earle's charges were nothing more than a political prosecution and aren't going anywhere. The real action is in Washington with the Abramoff investigation.

A large percentage of Republicans are not lamenting the loss of Mr. Delay (see, for example, Blake Wylieand Bob Krumm). Mr. Delay has unfortunately become emblematic of the type of Republican who had betrayed party principles of limited government in favor of the perks of power.

No More Delay

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay announced this morning that he would resign his seat in Congress and would not seek re-election. While those two issues are being compressed into one in most of the reporting, they are really separate.

Mr. Delay could have decided not to run for re-election, but retained his seat until the end of this term. Indeed, that would have been the more normal course to take.

One can only suspect that Mr. Delay is guessing -- or knows -- that the investigation related to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff will keep getting closer to him, and that as a result he is resigning both for the good of himself and the Republican Party. A former aid to Mr. Delay, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to corruption charges late last week.

Protecting Messy Democracy

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides for "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Similarly, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee guarantees the right of Tennesseans "to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances, or other proper purposes, by address or remonstrance."

Those freedoms would have been endangered under little noticed legislation that would have permitted the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor to jointly order the state highway patrol to "take necessary measures upon all streets, roadways, intersections and sidewalks within or adjacent to the Capitol Hill complex" to clear out protesters.

This unconstitutional legislation came under public scrutiny after it was discussed by Steve Gill on his radio program and was written about by bloggers such as Blake Wylie, who is quoted in The Tennessean's story on the outcry this morning. The Senate, which had previously passed the measure, has recalled it from the House in order to attempt to amend it to make it more acceptable by limiting it to demonstrations impeding traffic.

Senator Mark Norris, according to The Tennessean, defended the bill, saying that he did not think the measure would be abused. While I generally find myself in agreement with Senator Norris, in this instance I do not. It would seem to be the point of having "a government of laws and not of men" that we not entrust that kind of power to government officials.

Peaceful demonstrations can be annoying, and I was one of those who argued that the recent wheel chair demonstration hurt the cause of those who organized it. That being said, the rights to free speech and to petition government are precious ones that cannot be discarded simply because they are inconvenient.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Inundated with Eroticism

A Hollywood director has found a new sort of excuse that can be used when a bad film is made and no one bothers to pay cinematic prices to see it: blame Christians and America's "puritanical" culture.

"Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States," says Paul Verhoeven, who has evidently never surfed the internet. He adds, "We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends."

On that last point, I would certainly beg to differ. Actually, Christians believe that sex is a gift of God.

Mr. Verhoeven's tirade follows the opening weekend failure of Sharon Stone's "Basic Instinct 2." While I have not seen the movie -- and don't plan to -- the critics, many of whom bear no resemblance to Puritans, are giving it an almost universal thumbs down. Mr. Verhoeven blames Christian morality, but, in fact, it is more likely true that people who might have 20 years ago gone to a bad movie just to see naked people now get all of the nudity they could ever wish for via cheaper and readily available sources. You can't sell Basic Instinct to a 21st century American for the same reason you can't sell a bottled water to a fish.

Ed Morrissey has further thoughts on Mr. Verhoeven's ideas.

Hard Line on Immigration both Bad Policy and Bad Politics

In my own postings on the immigration debate (see here, here, and here), I have advocated comprehensive immigration reform measures that would both address security concerns and streamline the process for bringing legal immigrants into the country. I have based that position on economic and pragmatic arguments about what is best for the United States, given current demographic trends that reveal the need for an influx of workers.

John Norris Brown also makes a strong argument that Republican hardliners on this issue may do permanent damage to the party's electoral position. Republicans risk driving away the Hispanic vote now in the same way they lost the black vote in the 1950's and '60's. That would be an enormous mistake.

Senator Jim Bryson Running for Governor

Senator Jim Bryson of Franklin is expected to announce tomorrow afternoon that he will run for the Republican nomination for Governor of Tennessee. In anticipation of that announcement, I have been asked by Bill Hobbs to participate in a blog supporting his candidacy. I have enthusiastically agreed to do so.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Book Review: "A Beautiful Mind"

Anyone wanting to read this book in search of anecdotes from the movie will be disappointed. John Nash was a socially challenged genius, a mathematician from West Virginia who went to Princeton, a paranoid schizophrenic, and a Nobel Prize winner. The book and the movie share those broad story lines. However, none of the details in the story match up.

Ms. Naser manages to write a biography that creates sympathy for a man who in many ways is not terribly likeable. Even before the evident onset of Professor Nash's disease, he was socially difficult, childish, and arrogant, while also being brilliant. His romantic encounters and fathering of children were self-centered and harmful to others. Even so, one cannot help but feel sad for the sense of loss that Profeessor Nash felt over the years and the opportunities wasted. Anyone who has either lost years to illness or bad decisions, or who has known someone who has done so, can feel the ache of that sense of loss.

The sections on Professor Nash's mathematical accomplishments are necessary to indicate the level of his brilliance in his field, but will be largely incomprehensible for those who have not engaged in the field. Even so, this is a book that can be enjoyed by the general reader.

The Blogosphere and Jill Carroll

The predictable news that kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll's favorable statements about her captors, made just prior to her release, were coerced and not reflective of her actual views has created substantial lamentations all across the blogosphere. A number of right wing bloggers had reacted quickly after her statements were published, accusing Ms. Carroll of all sorts of crimes against America. On the other hand, some bloggers on the left managed to explain that expressed concerns about her mental state were abhorrent, and that indeed her captors were kind and her homeland repugnant. All of this has turned out to be not only wrong, but unspeakably cruel to a woman who has endured the unimaginable.

In light of these happenings, Jim Geraghty has opined, "Rip the MSM all you want, but I read this stuff and I begin to appreciate editors." Rick Moran questions, "Are we nothing more than a pack of digital yellow journalists writing pixelated scab sheets vying to see who we can lay low next?"

Well, some among us are.

All of this serves as a reminder that the blogosphere, like Churchill said of democracy, is a terrible form of information sharing. It has many advantages over other methods, and is arguably better than any of the alternatives, but it has many weaknesses as well.

A decade ago, I read two books around the same time. One was Intellectuals, historian Paul Johnson's saucy summary of the lives of several public intellectuals who aspired for leadership, in spite of the personal limitations outlined by Mr. Johnson that might be thought of as disqualifying. The underlying message: intellectual leaders do not necessarily offer any better judgment on public policy matters than anyone else. The second was The Defense of Elitism, the late journalist William A. Henry's lament on the glorification of the mediocre by both the American left and right. I profited from reading these two books at the same time, as in combination they aptly revealed the limitations of the classes of both the elitists and the rabble.

Every communication revolution since Gutenberg as expanded knowledge and influence beyond a given intelligentsia, with both positive and negative consequences. When Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, he took the Bible out of the hands of elitist priests who misused it, and put it into the hands of sometimes ignorant people who misused it in different ways. Similarly, the blogosphere has given voice to many good writers and people with expertise and analytical skills, opening up information channels outside those of a mainstream news culture that had become increasingly smug and decreasingly competent. However, it has also opened avenues of communication for intemperate people who's skills and judgment are largely figments of their own imaginations. Where will we find a Simon Cowell in the blogosphere, someone who can tell the tone deaf that they really have no business doing this?

Of course, there is not one, but we can only hope that this will all work itself out in the wash. The public at large will eventually learn that much public criticism comes from yapping, self-important dogs, while that which is worth reading rises from writers that really have something to say. All of this will be a mess for a while, and some of the background static will always be with us, but ultimately the responsible voices, we can hope, will be heard above the noise.

Hat Tip: Allahpundit

Global Warming or Hot Rhetoric?

George Will has an excellent column in today's Washington Post regarding the group think journalism warning everyone to be "very worried" regarding global warming. The author of The Monroe Doctrine has never been quick to take sides on global warming -- there are both arguments that seem to express reasonable causes for concern, and there are clear examples of alarmist over readings of the scientific evidence. This author is also old enough to remember warnings in science magazines in the 1970's warning about a looming ice age, warnings that were buttressed by the three cold winters in 1977-'79. Mr. Will writes:

While worrying about Montana's receding glaciers, Schweitzer, who is 50, should also worry about the fact that when he was 20 he was told to be worried, very worried, about global cooling. Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation." Science Digest (February 1973) reported that "the world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age." The Christian Science Monitor ("Warning: Earth's Climate is Changing Faster Than Even Experts Expect," Aug. 27, 1974) reported that glaciers "have begun to advance," "growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter" and "the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool." Newsweek agreed ("The Cooling World," April 28, 1975) that meteorologists "are almost unanimous" that catastrophic famines might result from the global cooling that the New York Times (Sept. 14, 1975) said "may mark the return to another ice age." The Times (May 21, 1975) also said "a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable" now that it is "well established" that the Northern Hemisphere's climate "has been getting cooler since about 1950."

There are many areas of both the physical and the social sciences that defy analysis due to the overwhelming numbers of variables involved. Given that models cannot be created that provide for all of these variables, the models inevitably reflect the biases of their creators, meaning that the results are frequently more or less, consciously or unconsciously, pre-ordained. Even worse, frequently studies that don't produce the expected results will be discarded as flawed. All of this means that there is little conception or consensus as to whether current warming is due to geological and cosmological factors, or due to human ones. For that matter, some argue that apparent global warming really is a matter of more sophisticated devices for measurement, placed more frequently in urban "hot spots."

In terms of politics, American politicians lack the foresight to act on Social Security, about which it is certain there will be a crisis within 30 years. Why should it be expected that they will act on global warming, about which there may or may not be a crisis more than a century from now?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

God Not Manipulable

Last week Reuters reported on a study of 1,800 patients that showed that prayer by outsiders had no impact on patient outcomes.

Scrappleface had his own unique take on the study:

A team of scientists today ended a 10-year study on the so-called “power of prayer” by concluding that God cannot be manipulated by humans, not even by scientists with a $2.4 million research grant.

The scientists also noted that their work was “sabotaged by religious zealots” secretly praying for study subjects who were supposed to receive no prayer.


That sounds correct to me.

Hat Tip: World Mag Blog

Another Guilty Plea in Abramoff Case

Tony Rudy, who once worked as an aide for former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in conjunction with the investigation of corrupt Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Washington Post reports. Prosecutors will seek a sentence of 24 to 30 months in prison and $100,000 in restitution. The charging documents claim that Mr. Rudy "routinely performed official acts" for Mr. Abramoff based on the value of gifts received.

Rep. Delay is referenced in the charging documents, but is not accused of any crime. Ohio Congressman Robert Ney is also referenced in the materials.

In related and discouraging news, political reform measures in the House of Representatives are stalling due to opposition from Republicans such as Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis to provisions that would require disclosures related to earmarks.

She Is Coming Home; Be Glad

Evidently, some people have been criticizing, or at least questioning, statements made by U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, who around the time of her release by Iraqi captors made statements saying that she had been treated well and opposing American war policy. Today, the Christian Science Monitor explains that her remarks were the coerced price for her freedom. From the CSM:

Ms. Carroll had been their captive for three months and even the smallest details of her life - what she ate and when, what she wore, when she could speak - were at her captors' whim. They had murdered her friend and colleague Allan Enwiya, "she had been taught to fear them," [her father] says. And before making one last video the day before her release, she was told that they had already killed another American hostage....In fact, Carroll did what many hostage experts and past captives would have urged her to do: Give the men who held the power of life and death over her what they wanted.

Several years ago I heard a speech given by a Vietnam veteran who had spent some years in the Hanoi Hilton. He made mention of the interrogation sessions, and said that he always returned disappointed that he had not held up better under the pressure. I have also read Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, in which he expresses much the same sentiment.

Sure, there have been people throughout history who have displayed super-human courage in the face of death -- the Afghan Christian who refused to renounce his faith is a recent example. However, it is a mistake to criticize those who have not had that strength. Given the same set of circumstances, who are any of us to say that we would have done any better than Ms. Carroll.

Ed Morrissey agrees:

Not long ago, the US acknowledged that even its POWs had to make these kinds of bargains with captors to avoid torture and murder. Many brave men died at the hands of the North Vietnamese trying valiantly to remain defiant through years of captivity because of the prevailing orders at the time that forbade American servicemen from acting in their own defense, losses that inspire us to acts of courage but also in the end did nothing to prevent the enemy from using POWs as propaganda tools. By the time of the Gulf War, the American public had developed the sophistication to understand that programmatic answers videotaped by agents of tyranny meant nothing.

I wonder why we forgot it in this instance. Jill Carroll will have plenty of time to tell us her story, but I think we would all benefit by taking a deep breath and holding our fire until she's safely home and in a clearer mental state.


So does Ann Althouse: "We can't ask for more. We can imagine a bolder hero who would do more. But we should speak no ill of the person who does less."

Friday, March 31, 2006

Chasing Ambulances; Chasing Skirts

Some things are impossible to caricature.

A California attorney, John Claassen, is suing eHarmony, the online dating service, for refusing to match him up with a date. Mr. Claassen is married, and eHarmony's policies prohibit married persons from becoming members of their site. Mr. Claasen is seeking $12,000 in civil fines.

Mr. Claasen explained, "If I had my druthers, I'd be divorced by now. I'm emotionally in a different state than I am legally." He added, "I just think I've got the right as an individual trying to recover from something that wasn't the high point in my life. If that includes dating now, why can't I?"

Now, that's a sense of entitlement.

Another Example of Why You Shouldn't Want Distant Bureaucrats Making Policy on Minutia

The European Union is banning the building of pipe organs. Read about it here.

Hat Tip: Jay Nordlinger

You May Be Right; I May Be Crazy

The Main Street Journal has a post this morning providing some interesting analysis of the Mary Winkler case. Ms. Winkler is the minister's wife in Selmer, Tennessee who allegedly fired a gunshot into the back of the parson's head recently.

While no one yet knows anything about the motive, the MSJ suggests that her lawyers may be laying the groundwork, at least in the public eye, for an insanity defense. While not much is known about Ms. Winkler's state of mind, overall, insanity defenses have not fared particularly well since John Hinckley used it successfully after shooting President Reagan a quarter of a century ago. Overall, its more restricted acceptance is a good thing.

The foundational rationale of an insanity defense is that the mental state of the defendant is such that he or she no longer understands the difference between right and wrong. Not knowing that difference warrants the judgment that the perpetrator did not knowingly commit a criminal act. However, any time a person seeks to keep secret their actions, by doing so they demonstrate an awareness that what they are doing is wrong. As such, it can be argued that anyone who makes an effort to conceal their actions is not legally insane. Thus, if Ms. Winkler intentionally killed her husband in the bedroom with the gun at a time when she was certain no one would be around, that fact alone would indicate that she was not legally insane.

Criminal defense lawyers don't like such a narrow definition, and by writing this I have probably just guaranteed that I will never be permitted to be on a jury if the attorney in the case wishes to present such a defense.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Corporate Cowardice

Tim Blair points out that some hardy opponents of book banning quickly fall into line when the banners threaten to kill people.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

State Supreme Court Corrects Error on Term Limits

On November 24, 2005, immediately following the state appellate court's decision in the case, I wrote the following regarding Bailey v. Shelby County.

In 1994, over 80% of the voters of Shelby County -- this would be called a landslide -- voted in favor of a 2 term limit for county commissioners and the county mayor. This year, 3 county commissioners soon to be ineligible under that provision showed their voters the ultimate disrespect: they sued them. In response, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Jackson this week, in the case of Bailey v. Shelby County, in a 2-1 decision has denied the voters their right under the Tennessee Constitution to establish their form of county government.

Article 7, section 1, of the Tennessee Constitution calls for the elections of specified officers for a county government and states that the General Assembly shall establish the qualifications of those officers. That section also permits the General Assembly to allow for alternate forms of county government, if such an alternate form is approved by the voters of that county in a referendum. In response to that, the General Assembly passed a law requiring voters establishing alternate charters to provide for, among other things, the "qualification for holding office."

The court ruled that the people don't have the right to establish those qualifications, and that the General Assembly violated the Constitution by delegating it to them. To the court, it seems, "alternate" means mostly like and dependent on the original.

In his dissent, Judge Frank Crawford argues, "It is somewhat ludicrous to say that the County can have a new form of government, but it is controlled by the old form of government that the new form replaces."

Ludicrous, indeed. Hopefully, the state Supreme Court will hear this case.


I am happy to say that the Supreme Court heard the case and got it right, though it seems to have thrown Knox County for a loop.

An Aphorism for Bloggers

"Never argue with a fool. Someone watching may not be able to tell the difference."

~Author Unknown

Baseball's White Wash

Major League Baseball announced that it will launch an investigation into the use of steroids in the sport. Because MLB did not ban the use of steroids until 2002, the sport is rationalizing that the investigation will only reach back to that point. However, that only means that the investigation will focus on a period of time virtually no one is concerned about. Furthermore, this seems designed to permit baseball to claim to be doing something, when in fact it is only diverting attention from the real scandal.

While it is true that players who abused these drugs prior to 2002 could probably not be punished, that argument misses the point. The real focus of baseball's inquiry should be on its executives: what did they know and when did they know it. Almost everyone believes that MLB owners and leaders knew what was going on and chose to ignore it because larger men hitting longer home runs put more butts in seats. Whether they were aware of the long term physical consequences (someone google the name Lyle Alzado) of steroid abuse is an open question.

Just as Watergate was not merely the story of a few burglars, the MLB steroids scandal is not merely about which players cheated. The real questions relate to who knew about it, and what were they willing to do to keep it out of public view.