Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Question: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Heidelberg Catechism

Monday, November 2, 2009

A White Lie

Everyone knows the phrase; even worse, too many people habitually practice the white lie. Depending upon an individual’s conscience, a white lie may be defined in one of two ways: (1) a “little” lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake, or, ironically, (2) a lie born of moral necessity and ethical compulsion. One often tells the former kind of white lie, seldom the latter.

The former, a white lie as “a ‘little’ lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake,” suffices for what the savage herd means by “white lie.” By that definition, three terms are key: “white,” “rationalized,” and “convenience.” “White” implies relative harmlessness, viz., that in certain circumstances “a ‘little’ lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake” produces less harm than the absolute truth, and so one tells a white lie as “the lesser of two evils,” the other "evil" being truth. For instance, your boss asks, “How are you coming along on that project?”, and you reply, “It’s coming along well,” when the truth is that you have procrastinated, or you have fallen behind schedule, or you haven’t even begun the task and you say to yourself, “I’ll get it done, but to tell my boss the truth would just create more problems so I will tell him/her a ‘white lie’ to avoid further exacerbation of the problem and thus mitigate potentially unpleasant effects of the absolute truth. If I told the truth, that could make things worse, so I will choose ‘the lesser of two evils’ and tell a 'white lie.'” Another example of “a ‘little’ lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake” might occur in a familial setting, when the wife asks the husband about how his job is going, or a parent asks a child how he is doing in that difficult class, and the husband replies thusly, “Everything is fine at work,” when in fact things are going downhill, or the child says, “I’m doing better in the class” when he got a “D” on yesterday’s task. Again, such “white lies” stem from self-interest and pain-avoidance, the lie being less painful than the truth, at least in the mind of the one who tells the white lie.

In such examples, one sees easily the meaning of a white lie “rationalized.” The liar contemplates the potentially adverse effects of a lie versus the truth and then makes a decision to lie because, in his judgment, the lie is less harmful than the truth. Such rationalization of the white lie derives from a compromised ethical construct, an intellectual paradigm of a warped conscience from whence springs errant volitional decisions and actions with moral import. In other words, based upon mere human judgment and without any real moral conviction, compulsion, or justification, the liar superimposes his own deficient value judgment upon a white lie versus the truth and rationalizes that to lie is “better” than to tell the truth. The liar imagines that the white lie harms neither the liar nor the person to whom s/he lies and is in fact a protection of the liar.

By the above examples and exposition, a lie is “white” if it protects a person from the undesirable effects of truth. We reiterate, such a white lie derives merely from a self-centered desire to avoid unpleasantness and inherently rests upon no absolute moral grounds to justify the white lie; the white lie is merely a rationalized self-defense mechanism against painful truth.

We should also note that, the more one tells white lies, the easier they roll off the tongue, and the more habitual they become, increasingly debilitating an already compromised conscience until white lies become an ever darkening hue, ever darkening the heart as well. Not everyone who tells a white lie is a pathological liar, but every pathological liar was first a white liar.

The other kind of white lie derives from moral necessity and ethical compulsion. For example, a family of four has been involved in a terrible automobile accident, the father, mother, and big sister having died in the crash while a six-year-old boy’s life hangs in the balance. He is conscious enough to ask the attending physician, “Where’s my Mommy? Where’s my Daddy? Where’s my sister?”, but in the physician’s judgment, the little boy’s critical condition is so fragile that, to tell him, “Your Mommy, Daddy, and big sister are dead,” might threaten the child to the extent that efforts to save his life might be diminished because of the psycho-somatic trauma of the truth. In such a case, the child’s survival constitutes a higher moral necessity and ethical compulsion to protect his life; moreover, the heroic physician has no egocentric interest in, or self-serving interest from the white lie but rather an altruistic motive for the child’s well-being. Both philosophy and theology defend such a white lie.

In philosophical terms, a philosopher who presupposes absolute morality would defend the noble physician who told a white lie to the suffering child. Soren Kierkegaard would designate that doctor as “a knight of infinite resignation,” viz., the physician found himself dangling upon the horns of a dilemma, caught between two conflicting but unequal moral principles: telling the truth, or telling a lie to protect the child psychologically in hopes of saving his life. When conflicting ethical principles converge upon a thinking individual whose mind is ethically tethered to absolute morality, circumstances demand his will to choose one or the other moral principle above the other. The wise moralist not only sees and feels the dilemma but also discerns and acts upon the correct moral principle, not that he chooses the lesser of two evils, but that he chooses the greater of two goods. Corrie Ten Boon was “a knight of infinite resignation” when she lied to the Gestapo to protect innocent Jews, as was Rahab the Harlot, who indeed lied to the Canaanites when they asked, “Have you seen those two spies?” At that moment, Rahab found herself in a moral dilemma: “Do I tell the truth, or do I protect Joshua and Caleb, good men, from evil men?” Rahab made the right decision, choosing the higher of two moral principles. Indeed, the doctor, Corrie Ten Boon, and Rahab told lies that were truly “white.”

So the next time you are tempted to tell a “white lie,” ask yourself, “Am I telling a ‘white lie rationalized by self-interest for convenience’s sake' merely to avoid the painful consequences of truth, or am I truly caught upon the horns of a moral dilemma? Do I see, not inevitable pain and unpleasantness for me because I tell the truth, but do I see two vivid but conflicting moral principles colliding, and do I have the discernment and wisdom to choose the higher and better moral principle and thus become ‘a knight of infinite resignation.'”

Often we find ourselves telling the first kind of white lie, which is not white at all. May God grant us grace, wisdom, discernment, and courage if we ever have to tell the second kind of white lie.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Entropy Reloaded

Please forgive the new posting. This posting is actually intended as a comment to the posting below (entitled "The Law of Entropy"), but blogger would not allow the entire comment due to length...hence the new posting.

JMB,

Though I find your musings interesting, and want to address them, I think our disagreements are at such a foundational level that I doubt we can have productive discussion (about this) – but we can try. You really need to “take the red pill.”

To start, it’s admirable that you acknowledge that you are “ferociously patriotic”. At least this is on the table and we can acknowledge that you are not dealing from a position of rationality; rather, you have embraced those mythologies which have been ubiquitously foisted upon you your entire life by the principalities and powers that surround you.

You offer no defense of your idea that the modern expression of the United States of America is not a war-mongering, imperialist bully. To the contrary, you offer an ad hominem attack on those who believe otherwise (calling them “leftist nutjobs”, who make “ridiculous claims”).

I, on the other hand could offer myriad examples that would support the idea that it is (i.e., the United States of American is a war-mongering, imperialist bully). Let me just pose a few rhetorical questions.

You have been propagandized to believe that the United States of America is “good” – but how is the legalized mass slaughter of children (through abortion) “good”? How is the prohibitionist “drug-war” which has killed thousands, expended billions of stolen dollars to no appreciable effect, and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people “good”? How was invasion of Vietnam and the carpet bombing of Cambodia “good”? How were the invasions of Grenada, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq “good”? How were the bombings, the shootings, the tortures “good”?

I submit to you that all of these things were not good at all – rather – they were (and are) evil – heinously, hideously, evil.

My belief is that these evils were perpetrated by an evil principality viz. the United States government, which has so propagandized and deceived men and women – that they will gladly kill, maim and torture for this principality, and even reminisce about the killings with swelling patriotic pride. You should mark this down…America is evil, and America is damned. Please don’t believe the propaganda – and please don’t offer the pathetic defense that Gomorrah is not as bad a place as Sodom; just remember that both of them were burned to the ground.

Of course, our disagreement is even more fundamental. You believe that the natural tendency towards chaos must be restrained. Though this idea appears logical on the surface, a dive beneath must yield the question – “who will restrain it?” The near universal answer (and your answer per your second point applying entropy to humanity) which has been offered in the recorded history of ideas has been “government.” Government will restrain this evil chaos.

I hope you see what a sick joke this is. When men and women buy into this idea, they willingly pull the principalities’ propaganda right over their eyes. The truth is, that rather than restrain evil, or chaos – government manufactures it.

Though I am not yet final in my conclusion, my contemplations thus far have led me to the provisional conclusion that men’s willingness to embrace the principalities propaganda (i.e., the necessity of human governments) is directly proportional to the depth of their understanding of the Christian doctrine of “human depravity” or “fallen-ness.”

If you believe in the doctrine of human depravity, then it follows that human governments are merely power alliances of varied collections of depraved humanity. This being the case – democracies (even “republicanized” democracies like the United States of America) ensure a slide towards the worst case scenario. Depraved humans, especially those who have a great interest in having power over their fellows, compete for the votes of the propagandized masses. Those who are the best deceivers win. Then, because their term is limited (unlike the life-long monarch), they exploit their “officialdom” for gain as quickly as possible (before the next “official” comes to power).

Though this is disturbing, for Christians who believe the Holy Scriptures, it should not be surprising. When the ancient Hebrews decided that they needed a scheme of human government like the surrounding nations, Jehovah sent them a word through His prophet.

1 Samuel 8:6-22 “But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them. And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.”

The pragmatics for me become, in light of my beliefs, what do I do? I thank God, that because of where I currently live, I don’t really have to “do” anything about this except refuse to embrace evil, and refuse to call “evil” by the name “good.”

It seems that even this upsets a lot of folks – but then – they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. For me, liberty with a little chaos beats government every time. But then, I believe that Jesus was a wise anarchist…

Yep, where is Hippie Fringe when I need him?

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Sitting, clothed, and in his right mind"

Of all the stories of the NT, that of “the wild man of Gadara” is perhaps the greatest blessing to me. On a personal level, it reminds me where I was, and would be, without the Lord Jesus Christ; on levels metaphorical, ethical, and spiritual, what a portrait the story paints of the helpless, lost sinner dwelling in the cemetery of spiritual death, tormented by Satan, wild with unchained passions and unfettered licentiousness. All men are not as wicked as they could be, but all men without Christ are wicked, all dwelling in the catacombs of depravity, all with their own demonic tormentors, all rattling the broken chains and fetters of fallen conscience and moral unrestraint, and all running, crying, and cutting themselves with unconscious but, nonetheless, inevitably suicidal behavior.

But then came Jesus.

De-boarding the ship, Jesus beheld the Gadarene demoniac, the wild man who ran to Him and worshiped Him. By His omnipotent command, the Lord Jesus Christ tamed a hellish heart, so that the tortured sinner, dwelling in tombs, mutilating himself and destroying his life, a man no other man could bind, was now under the sovereign sway of the Son of God “sitting, clothed, and in his right mind.”

“Sitting” denotes a radical change of posture, from raucous aimlessness to to placid composure, from pandemonium to Peace.

“Clothed” denotes the civilization of the passions, unashamed nakedness supplanted by sanctified conscience manifested by ethical demeanor and decorum.

“In his right mind” infers mental metamorphosis, the intellect and will now being respectively enlightened and liberated unto Truth and Righteousness.

Thanks be to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose power to save is such that even a wild man, bent on destroying himself, now sits at the Master’s feet, “sitting, clothed, and in his right mind.”
“Jesus, what a Friend for sinners! Jesus, Lover of my soul!
Friends may fail me, foes assail me, He, my Savior, makes me whole!”

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Little-Ease

Outside of the Bible, the best depiction of the natural state of man that I have ever read comes from the French existentialist Albert Camus and his brilliant novel called The Fall.


Through the main character of Jean-Baptiste, Camus explores the effect of guilt on man. “The idea that comes most naturally to man, as if from his very nature,” he writes, “is the idea of his own innocence.” The implication being that every man is guilty, while only seeking to continually convey a state of innocence.


For a while, Jean-Baptiste “succeeds” in his life as most other men–being popular, learned, athletic and handsome. Until he fails to save a drowning girl one late night on the Seine, his life is “bursting with vanity” and “satisfied with nothing.“ Camus writes, “a single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.”


After “the fall” on that late night, Jean-Baptiste is overcome by an irrepressible admission of guilt. In failing to do what he knows he should, his awakened conscience is so flooded with guilt that despair overtakes his entire existence.


The admitting of his guilt is an admission into the little-ease.


The little-ease was a unique torture device that was devised in the Middle Ages. In a cell “not high enough to stand up in, nor yet wide enough to lie down in,” explains Camus, “one had to take on an awkward manner and live on the diagonal; sleep was a collapse, and waking a squatting.” As one’s body would stiffen, “the condemned man learned that he was guilty and that innocence consists in stretching joyously.” Therefore, if the little-ease produced any certain effect on its occupant it was an inescapable and unbearable awareness of guilt.


Sadly, Camus’ Jean-Baptiste only confirms the sentence of guilt in the little-ease while offering no way of escape. Men “merely wish to be pitied and encouraged in the course we had chosen,” and any escape from the little-ease is for him only a temporal distraction from an eternal condition. At the end of the novel his character admits, “I haven’t changed my way of life; I continue to love myself and make use of others.” Only now, his motivation and life’s work is to quench the guilt within, to quiet his screaming conscience, to forget (if only momentarily) that he can neither fully rise nor lie without being aware of his trapped and desperate condition.


Imagine, for yourself, life in the little-ease.


Inescapable…

Uncomfortable…

Horrifying…

Dark…

Isolated…

Quiet…

Frightened…

Painful…

Alone…

Hopelessness…

Insanity…


Death.


Have you ever been to the little-ease?


If so, if you’ve ever really felt the crippling, damning effect of the little-ease and then by some strange miracle, some extraordinary occurrence, some unforeseen moment, the door to your little-ease were opened for you and blinding light shown in, and you were delivered, set free and allowed to “stretch joyously”…just imagine that.


Then why, freed soul, to the little-ease would you ever return?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Are Men Growing More Wicked?

Are Men Growing More Wicked?

Yes, men are growing more wicked.

Proof shouts at us from every niche and corner: on the television, the movie screen, the radio, the Internet, at the table next to us in a restaurant, in the newspaper, in politics, economics, from the suburb to the inner city, from the most rural setting to the ivory mansion, evil is rampant, adamant, blatant, decadent, flagrant, violent, insolent, and constant.

After five decades of observing human nature and culture, my observations are existential to my subjective experience, but only a blind and deaf man would argue against objective proof of my assertion that men are growing more wicked.

As my “righteous soul is vexed from day to day,” I think often about moral and cultural deterioration. My latest contemplation of that awful subject derives from a recent conversation with an educational colleague who taught a number of years in a southeastern, metropolitan public school district. Beyond the typical incorrigibility and lethargy of the average student, numbers of her students wore electronic ankle bracelets to supervise their probation. Threats against teachers and social matriculation were the norms. We both reminisced about “the good old days” when public school schools were excellent (of course a handful still are), and the teacher was equally respected with the doctor, lawyer, and preacher. The teacher was always right, a revered authority-figure whose professional station inherently demanded respect from both students and parents. Misbehave, and the prodigal could expect an enforceable penalty; continue to misbehave, and he could expect the board of education applied (with stinging force) to the seat of education.

My! How things have changed! Punish a punk and you'll get fired and sued.

If you’ve followed this blog for any time, you’ve heard my harangue about prolific profanity in public places. Add to that the sexual promiscuity and drug abuse rampant in our culture, and one already has several unassailable proofs of moral and cultural deterioration—disrespect, irreverence, ignorance, laziness, rebellion, materialism, relativism. I know Caligula had his day, and Hitler, and Dillinger, too, but nowadays outlaws, hooligans, hoodlums, and hedonists are the rule, not the exception.

Why?

Pragmatically and historically, the 50's and especially the 60's are the origin of this decline: the advent of rock and roll and, with that, the drug and sex culture; the burgeoning entertainment industry and media controlled by reprobates and profligates; perpetual and large-scale breakage of the Ten Commandments; the intellectual and philosophical deterioration of the average university and the raping of the public mind; celebrity worship in athletics, theater, and music; relative and socialized democracy instead of absolute and socio-economic hierarchy bred from meritocracy, the psychological wasteland of divorce; pornography; sexual license; social and biological Darwinism; laziness; gluttony; Arminianism; mysticism; and, yes, the debilitating effects of multi-culturalism in the name of tolerance and equality: all these factors are symptomatic proofs of men grown more wicked.

It is certainly becoming much more difficult to love a neighbor as oneself. Those who possess moral integrity find themselves increasingly polarized from the broader culture; this is why Christian schools exist, and why so many Christians channel (and largely waste) their energies through politics, trying to “take back America for Christ.” But, of course, a political solution is only a Band-aid. A national catastrophe might spark a degree of moral and cultural reformation, not a molehill like 9/11 but a mountain like WWII, perhaps simultaneous and broad-scaled nuclear or biological detonations in American cities (I think it is almost sure to happen); but every Israelite knows how shallow is the repentance of Pharaoh and Egypt in the midst of plagues.

I am so thankful that I am a citizen of Heaven, that the Church is my Home, that the Bible is my Constitution, that a better Wind blows upon my Homeland than that shifty and violent wind of human culture; I am so thankful for God’s grace in my life, for the forgiveness of my sin through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and for eyes that, though they must at times look with horror and sorrow upon “the things seen,” can also look above and beyond to wonderful and unassailable “things unseen.”

“Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse,” Paul has told us, and also that “in the last days, men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”

May the Sovereign and Merciful God of Heaven help Israel that she may also grow, better and better, “in grace, and in the knowledge of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

By His own decree, and in His own way and time, that Dread Sovereign, Messiah ben David, shall "wash His feet in the blood of the wicked."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lost in Austin

The Fair Tish and I went on our annual Super Secret Road Trip ("SSRT"). This was SSRT #5: Lost in Austin. The SSRT occurs around the first week of July every year, and is basically comprised of me planning a weekend in a city, telling Tish to hop in the car, and then we go. Somewhere along the way, I tell her where we're going, and it's a great deal of fun. This custom began when we were dating, and would go someplace for the day (in other words, we wouldn't spend the night somewhere).

Austin was a blast. We ate some great food, visited the Capitol, canoed, and toured the LBJ Presidential Library. We also stumbled upon a tea party, and hung out with about a thousand of our closest friends. If I could buy stock in the Gadsden Flag, I would go all in. The tea parties, if nothing else, are great stimuli for the flag business. Below I've composed ten observations about Austin. Feel free to contribute your own.

1. I didn't get bitten by a single mosquito, not one---not even while canoeing. I don't know if you can appreciate that phenomenon or not, but I must say I found it simply amazing.

2. Perhaps just as interesting, I surmise the reason I didn't get bitten was because Austin is home to 1.5 million bats that live around the lake near the Capitol Building.

3. Somebody should franchise tattoo parlors. Maybe that's already been done, but if it hasn't some enterprising inkster should take charge. Austin has approximately 700,000 people, all of whom, it seems, have at least three visible tattoos. That's visible tattoos.

4. Austin has a N. Congress, a S. Congress, and a Congress. As Congress is the main road, I believe there should be some sort of sign when you come into town about this. The Capitol Building divides North Congress and Congress. Then past the lake you have South Congress. I suppose this isn't a big deal when driving, but when it's 1:30 on a 110 degree day and you're walking around the Capitol Building on Congress and 15th hankering for a pizza at a certain primo pizza joint you read was on the 1400 block of S. Congress, and you've just noticed that north of the Capitol is N. Congress, well, you get a bit peeved, let's say, when you walk six blocks and realize there's no "S." in front of Congress....

5. While you can't smoke in restaurants in Austin, you can wear a dress that comes less than an inch below your business, if you catch my drift. Speaking of women's dresses, a feminist law professor told me once that a good answer to an essay question should be like a woman's skirt: long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting. Driving down 6th Street on Friday evening on our way back to the hotel I saw a lot of "interesting," but I don't think everything got covered.

6. I am absolutely convinced that big cities breed racism, and that the only people who can't see that are those people who live in big cities. A quick glance around and you see self-segregated groups all over the place: Asian groups, Mexican groups, Black groups, White groups. We were at a pizza place (a substitute pizza place for the aforementioned primo joint) and I went to get a refill of my Cherry Coke (the best drink with pizza, bar none). Behind the counter was a 40ish woman of Italian heritage, and in front of the counter chatting with her was a 60ish woman of Mexican heritage. The older woman was quite upset over something regarding the ubiquitous Jackson coverage. I asked her what she was specifically upset about and she cited the tickets being sold for the funeral at the Staples Center. "Would you ever pay for a funeral?" "No," I said. "I would never charge for one either," she said. Then she paused... "It's the blacks." Maybe I'm just some hayseed hick, but I figured it was just nuts of all races.

7. Is there a requirement that hotel workers don coats that are three sizes too big for them? I notice this on every overnight trip I take now. The guy, or gal, behind the counter, regardless of age or race, has on a coat that just swallows them. I wonder whether that's taught in all of those hotel management courses they have at colleges these days.

8. I'm convinced that every waiter I had there either just moved to Austin to get into the music business, or moved to Austin 10 years ago to get into the music business. (I'm sure in the fall there will be students waiting tables, too.) The Fair Tish pointed out that the reason they probably haven't made it in music is because waiters have to work so many nights and weekends, which is when most gigs would be booked. She suggests that aspiring musicians get day jobs so they can perform at night. I thought that was a brilliant point.

9. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited at the tea party (I abstained). The recitation brought up this thought: If we added Puerto Rico as a state, then would people who pledged allegiance to the 50 star flag not have to pledge allegiance to the 51 star flag, as they would be reneging on their prior promise? What about pledgers from pre-Alaska/Hawaii?

10. There's no place like home.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets

A couple days ago a friend of mine asked me, “What did Jesus mean when he said that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it?”

I gave my initial thoughts, but decided to sit down and study this passage and related passages. The question began to gnaw at me some, and lead me to sit at my kitchen table, with two Bibles (easier to cross reference that way), Calvin, and Matthew Henry for seven hours. It was a great deal of fun. Tish, I think, was a bit worried about me. She had left the house around 5:30 and came home at 10:00 to find that I hadn’t moved. Below are some of my thoughts, and I welcome the comments of others.

1. First, we must define what Jesus meant by “the Law” and “the Prophets.” If you asked a Jew in the first century what he meant by the Law, I imagine the answer would include the moral, dietary, and ceremonial law, encompassing even the Temple economy. By the prophets, a contemporary of Jesus would understand that to mean essentially what we would understand---those men who both commented on the Law and applied it to the people of their particular times, generally threatening judgment for Israel’s transgression thereof.

2. Abolish, of course, means to annul. Fulfill, as used by Jesus, would mean to satisfy.

3. How then, is the Law fulfilled? How is it that I can eat fried catfish if the Law is not abolished? We interpret Scripture with Scripture and find that “fulfillment” of the Law is in part what enables Gentiles to be part of the commonwealth of Israel, as Paul says that the Law put the two at enmity. We see also that Paul describes the Law as a tutor, and further as a guardian or manager of a youth until the fullness of time has come. From this last statement (found at the end of Gal 3 and the beginning of Gal 4) we note that the purpose of the Law changes over time. What then are some examples of the fulfillment of the Law?

4. Dietary: Peter’s vision of scrumptious pork chops comes to mind, as does Paul’s discussion to the Corinthians of meat sacrificed to idols, and Paul’s letter to the Roman church about matters of conscience with regard to certain foods.

5. Circumcision: Circumcision, of course, precedes the Law, but Paul goes to great lengths to describe that circumcision is not necessary to set apart God’s people from the world. Rom. 2:25-29; Gal. 3 (discussion contrasting the child of the bondwoman to the child of promise); Eph. 2.

6. Sacrifices: No better place can one go for a discussion on what Christ’s sacrifice means for the Temple economy than Hebrews 8 and 9. There we read about the impotence of the blood of bulls and goats, and the power of the blood of Christ. No more sacrifices are needed because Christ died once, bearing the sins of many.

So whatever Christ meant by his statement, fulfillment must result in us no longer having to adhere to dietary and ceremonial laws. Theologically, this seems to be because such laws were provided as types and shadows, fulfilled in Christ. Now that Christ has come, there is no need to preoccupy ourselves with shadowy images when we have the resplendent beauty of Christ. This view is bolstered by:

7. Christ’s statement regarding abolish/fulfill is in the Sermon on the Mount, and must be read in context. The laws discussed immediately following this statement include laws about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. Unlike the ceremonial and dietary laws which no longer need to be observed (in fact doing so would be an offense!) the moral laws outlined by Christ are each stricter than the Law of Moses. Now we must not only avoid murder, but unjust anger. Not only is adultery forbidden, but also lust (note the “eye” and “hand” language in that context and chew on it a bit). The divorce laws from Moses is narrowed. (The original law being a divine solution to a human problem---God creating a civil means of dealing with the fallen people who were abandoning their wives.) The same with oaths, etc. Thereby, we may view Christ’s statement regarding “fulfilling” the Law as twofold with regard to moral law: (1) Christ would live a perfect life, and (2) the Law is not only satisfied by Christ but also completed, by more fully describing the spirit of the Law. I would add a third meaning---the first of two eschatological observations----that while Christ fulfilled the Law there is an already/not yet aspect to this fulfillment in that God’s people await a time where they will fully abide by the spirit of the Law in glory.

8. The giving of the Law must be viewed in light of redemptive history. Paul points out that the promise preceded the Law by 430 years. The question, then, is not whether the gospel abolished the Law, but whether the Law annulled the promise. The answer is clearly no; rather, the Law was given, as previously stated, as a tutor or guardian until the fullness of time.

9. Now, historically speaking, the Law has been fulfilled, and adherence to dietary and ceremonial laws is not only misplaced and misguided, but blasphemous as it rejoices in the type over that what was typified. This is partly what Paul has in mind when he says, in the context of his discussion of Abraham being justified by faith, that the Law is thus established. This brings me to my second eschatological observation---the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD in part because sacrifices of goats became an abomination to God, a strange fire offered to the Lord, you might say. (I’m not preterist, by the way.)

10. While dietary and ceremonial laws are types and shadows, the moral law of God displays God’s attributes, characteristics which we as his children should possess. These are eternal, and we should bear fruit to that end, culminating in us eternally keeping God’s law in heaven.

11. The moral law of God, of course, cannot be met by us in this life. Therefore, the first covenant is obsolete. (Heb. 8). While the first covenant is obsolete, the Law is not obsolete, but fulfilled in Christ.

12. Here is pretty much what I got out of the commentaries: the Law was a vessel partly filled or a picture roughly painted, and Christ completed the filling of the vessel and painting of the picture. I like those metaphors.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Self-examination and Holy Communion

But let a man examine himself,
and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

I Corinthians 11:28

I have known a few Pharisees who say, “I cannot take holy communion because I am not worthy.” What ignorance! What arrogance! The worthiness of communion derives not from the communicant, but from the One with Whom we commune; His flesh and blood, not ours, make us worthy of communion with a Holy God and the holy saints. He who abstains from communion denigrates the infinite efficiency and glorious efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, and silently testifies that he clings to abiding sin. Paul allows no exception; he commands self-examination, not that we should abstain from communion, but that we should forthwith “eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” Paul’s exhortation is no feeble suggestion but an apostolic imperative, the negligence of which grieves the Holy Ghost and thus sins against Christ and His church.

Paul’s word for “examine” is dokimezato, a term applied to the examination of precious metals whereby one tries the gold to determine its genuineness. Who is that refiner who sees the dross and then throws away the gold? “Art thou a foolish man?” Heaven asks. “Discard not the gold but kindle the fire and blow the billows by which the fire consumes the dross and purifies the gold.” That fire is holiness, its billows repentance, and the dross, sin.

Anticipating Holy Communion, the obedient saint, like a wise refiner, examines his soul’s gold, scrutinizing his mettle for dross, whether sin against man or God. He who rightly examines himself says, “I shall not pollute the bread with soiled hands, and I shall not stain the cup with wicked lips. Give me bread unleavened, and wine undiluted. By heaven’s graces I shalI examine myself, purging every speck of dross from my repentant soul, and I shall indeed eat of that bread, and drink of that cup, testifying to the glorious death of the Lord, Jesus Christ, until He comes.”

Saint of God, if, at the altar of communion, you remember that God or man hath ought against thee, leave thy sacrifice at the altar and first be reconciled; then offer thyself in communion to God and to His holy church. Negligence of this holy duty wrought havoc at Corinth: weakness, sickness, and even death. Woe to that Pharisee who does not “examine himself and drink of that cup,” and woe to that careless profligate who examines himself yet does not repent of his sin, for neither man is worthy of communion, and both “eat and drink damnation” unto themselves, “not discerning the Lord’s body!”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Death Knell of My Political Career

What I am about to write will guarantee that I will never hold elective office. (That and the fact that such aspirations are mere velleities.)

Have you considered the potential value of a dictatorship? I know, I know, self-government is the cornerstone to our system, and it's a sacred aspect of our government, but let me make a quick pitch.

All governments are dictatorships, one just sometimes has trouble identifying precisely who the dictator is. In Nazi Germany the dictator was Hitler. In the nacent USSR it was Lenin, then Stalin, yet the Russian version of despotism differed. Hitler aspired for over a decade to ascend to ultimate power in Germany, believing that only he could save Germany from its republican government which gave away the store to France and England after WWI. Of course, revanchement and the abolition of all Jews were also important compenants of Hitler's rise to power. (The former being laudable, the latter pure evil.)

Lenin, on the other hand, would have never come to power had he claimed he wanted to be dictator. Instead, what he wanted was a dictatorship of the proletariat, represented by the Communist Party. Regardless of whether the bourgeois class was more numerous or powerful, the Communists technically saw the peasants as being "better" and therefore wanted them to be the dictators of their country, and all countries. (I believe it's debatable whether Stalin, the erstwhile seminarian, actually believed in Communism as much as he believed in power. Lenin, however, appears to me to have been a true believer.)

Lenin and Hitler both viewed the public masses as a group to be mobilized rather than a constituency to represent (I got that from a book I'm reading... a parallel biography of Stalin and Hitler. I can't remember the author's name at the moment, or I'd properly cite to him.)

The US has always been a dictatorship, but the identity of the dictator has changed over time. Originally, the dictator, if you will, consisted of property owners. They were fully vested in the system, and by and large viewed government's role as protecting their property and getting out of their way so they could make money. This dictatorship did many horrible things, most notably own people. However, that dictatorship also liberated those people, fathered the industrial revolution, fulfilled the manifest destiny, and presided over the greatest economic expansion in history.

Now, if you have a face and are 18 years old you can vote. Actually, you don't even have to have a face... At least I think you don't have to have a face, because that's the only explanation I can come up with as to why someone would oppose a voter ID requirement.

So, any person can vote. It doesn't matter whether you have the morals of Larry Flynt, the intellect of Sean Penn, or even whether you speak English. Think about that a minute. We live in a country where the difference between a winner and a loser could be a idiot pornographer who can't speak English. But that's not what I'm upset about.

Right now when the government issues bonds, the fed is printing money to purchase the bonds. That's not just a recipe for inflation, it's inflation flambe. And why are we just printing money? Why, because we need stimulus. This stimulus is in the form of giveaways to various interest groups: geographic, ethnic, and ideological. Need to organize a community and register fake voters? Give ACORN some cash. Need to kill more unborn children? Stimulate Planned Parenthood. Just print the money.

Of course, China won't let us just keep printing money, because when we do we instantly devalue their currency, which is pegged to the dollar, not to mention devalue their biggest asset: U.S. Treasuries.

Obviously, Obama is the man in charge of all this, but he's kowtowing to the real dictators: welfare recipients, unions who've driven their companies into the ground, and various minority communities. Why, the only reason Obama tapped Sonia Soto to be on the Court is because he can't get amnesty through the Congress this year. It's all one big catering job; attempts to placate constintuencies in the era of identity politics.

Well, I'd rather have Dick Cheney as a dictator than La Raza, Planned Parenthood, and ACORN, thank you very much. Frankly, I'd rather have Obama as dictator than that motley crew of interest groups. So there you go, I'm for a dictatorship, at least a different dictatorship than the one we already have.

Lastly, and this is way off topic, if it is so important to ensure the US has large auto companies, then why don't we just start a new one? Wouldn't that be cheaper than bailing out all the crappy companies in Detroit? Sheesh.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nuclear Key Club



I always disdained pep rallies and, much to my satisfaction, a mature intellectual life confirmed and strengthened that distrust of the what Voltaire called "the savage herd," a philosophical analogy to the "broad way" of Jesus Christ. As opposed to being swayed by (and swaying with) the crowd, I much preferred a James Dean slouch under the bleachers to a bleached smile under the spotlight.

Particularly alien and offensive to my psyche, with mutual disdain, was the Key Club, possessing "the key" to what I did not know, perhaps the key to success, the key to society, the key to the future? The key" to what I did not know, but I did know they did not have the key to my Camaro (Yes, "Don't Tread on Me" has ever been my motto).

A few years ago during a wistful laugh over the Presidency of George W. Bush, it dawned upon me: "Key Club with Nuclear Power." Yes, that was it: George Bush is someone I never would have "hung around with," him under the banner "Key Club" and me under the bleachers. I could see him in the high school annual, "Vice-President of the Key Club," just beneath the Key Club president's picture, "Billy Clinton." The only difference I now perceive is not in their grins but in the placement of their hands; no, not on the sacred gavel or the mystic motto, but on the red button.

I then began superimposing this less than far-fetched fantasy upon newscasts, sound bytes, and talking-head interviews (more "talking" than "head" - O'Reilly, Hannity, et.al. former members of the Thespian Society and Debate Team who couldn't make it into the Key Club; I really don't watch them because I much prefer listening to intelligent liberals rather than superficial conservatives) . . . I began transposing that vision of the Key Club upon power-broker politicians: Teddy Kennedy, Tom Daschle, Lindsay Graham, John Cornyn, Christopher Hayes, Rick Santorum, Diane Feinstein, Jesse Jackson, Jr., John Warner: yes, that was it: Nuclear Key Club; high school superficialites destined for the ultimate Key Club: The United States Congress and, heaven help, the Presidency. I wouldn't have hung around with those guys . . .

Now if you think that I am just a whining cynic, emotionally caught in high school inferiority or adult anonymity, just try this once . . . try this the next time you watch a newscast (and want a good laugh) . . . try to imagine this: "What would this nuclear power-broker have been in high school?"

I actually experimented with this theory last night. There they were, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi standing side-by-side . . . consummate wimp and consummate . . . we'll, you figure it out . . .

Key Club gone nuclear . . .

I'm still slouching under the bleachers . . .


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Moral and Ethical Question

I'm in Dallas for the next few days. I'm staying with a person who is my superior, and we have a witness in town. We ate dinner last night, and their conversation was full of rampant wickedness.

What's my responsibility? If I'm at dinner hearing ribald humor, what do I do?

Frankly, it's a perplexing situation for me. I didn't participate, but I didn't denounce either. Well, I did at one point in a passive-agressive way

What am I supposed to do? Am I to just disengage, or am I to actively denounce, or something else?

Monday, April 27, 2009

God Doesn't Need You

The least understood aspect in the redemptive work of God is also the most important.

It is this—the first cause and highest motivation of God’s redemptive work is for His own sake, or more specifically, for the sake of His own holiness. Contrary to the most popular “Christian” mantra of the day—Jesus Loves You and has a wonderful plan for your life, God’s chief concern is not the manifestation of His love towards men; rather, it is His own holiness.

But what is holiness?

“Holiness is self-affirming purity. In virtue of this attribute of his nature, God eternally wills and maintains his own moral excellence. In this definition are contained three elements: first, purity; secondly, purity willing; thirdly, purity willing itself “ (A.H. Strong).

Wholly other is often how holy is described. Dorner writes, “that is holy which, undisturbed from without, is wholly like itself.”

Most often we associate “self-affirming purity” to holiness and less often its equally important counterpart—“maintain(ing) his own moral excellence.” However, scripture makes no such distinction:

“Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, ESV).

From Ezekiel (as well as I Jn 1:5 and elsewhere) we learn that the primary cause of God’s restorative action among men is “for the sake of (His) holy name” and the vindication of his holiness. The secondary effect is man. If He is as He is revealed by His word, then God must be holy. And to be holy is to remain holy--“it is the part of goodness to protect goodness” (Dorner). “God must maintain his holiness, for this is his very Godhead. If he did not maintain it, love would have nothing to give away, or to make others partakers of” (Strong).

While it is ever so popular to sing about holiness during praise and worship, it is equally as uncommon to ever hear about it during teaching. (At this point the smartly attuned reader might grab a towel to wipe the drops of sarcasm in my use of distasteful and inaccurate modern church vernacular). Among the reasons that the holiness of God is confined to the modern praise song genre--where verse twelve was established from verse one and reemphasized in six, seven and eight--is that mindlessness often substitutes for the mysterious in contemporary “Christianity.” And the mysterious is rarely explored or taught and hardly ever preached (sans HB). As such, the mystery of God's holiness just isn’t practical enough for the modern “Christian” mind, so it largely lies unexplained and unexplored.

As I have tried to grasp the significance of this idea--God’s vindicating holiness as the first cause and primary motive in setting His Kingdom aright—admittedly, I’ve struggled to find its practical import. Seemingly, this truth would set man further from God rather than closer. That God, and only God, is fit to satisfy His own wrath and maintain His own holiness must be true. But what does this mean for man? For me? How does the high truth of His holiness affect our daily lives? Are we merely an afterthought to God? And as weeks passed by, I found no good answers.

Then, this past week, it hit me.

As I was reading an essay from a particular Swiss theologian, I encountered an idea that I hadn’t considered in a long time—God doesn’t need you.

God doesn’t need anything.

While we are creatures of need, God is not. Further, I thought that this must be an all-important aspect of His holiness, His wholly othernessGod does not need. One of the key truisms of His being “wholly like itself” is just that--God does not need. Otherwise, every being not “wholly like itself” has need. Thus, they are distinguished as creatures.

This underestimated truth—God doesn’t need you—suddenly made the essence of God's holiness more understandable. The practicality of holiness is that at its highest level, in the essence of the Godhead, it isn’t very practical at all. Practicality always necessitates need. If something is to be practical it must first be needful, right? But God doesn’t need us in order to be God. In other words, God does not need to be practical. If He is so, then He wants to be so, but He does not have to be so. Contrary to popular thought, His high truths do not have to be contextualized to man in order to be any truer or effective or relevant. And he certainly doesn’t need you to establish His holiness, nor does He need you in order to preserve His holiness. Thus, the origin of holiness is not practical concerning men—it needs not men in order to be what it is.

“Neither is (God) worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Paul, Acts 17:25, KJV).

But if you insist on practicality, here it is--one practical implication of God’s holiness is for us to realize and rest in the truth that our God needs nothing.

Nothing from us makes Him any more or less God, any more or less holy, any more or less capable of carrying out His will.

But wait a second...Or does it?

I would submit that most “Christians” live as if God does need them. How else could He accomplish His will without our testimony, our prayer, our sacraments, and our efforts? The theological error that comes from this line of thinking—that God does need man in order to accomplish His will—is abundant and popular.

If you doubt what I am saying, then consider these common lines of thinking born from our false sense of God’s need, or just visit any run-of-the-mill church, look and listen:
God needed to create man because He was lonely;
God needs your decision and your cooperation in order to save you;
God needs some men to accept His invitation because He loves them all;
God needs you to help restore His creation and its culture in order to prepare the way for His second coming;
God needs to establish a physical kingdom on earth;
God needs a priest in order to establish His true church, one who perpetually atones for the sins of His people;
And on, and on.

The principle that holiness is a manifestation of love, or a form of benevolence, leads to the conclusions that happiness is the only good, and the only end; that law is a mere expedient for the securing of happiness; that penalty is simply deterrent or reformatory in its aim; that no atonement needs to be offered to God for human sin; that eternal retribution cannot be vindicated, since there is no hope of reform. This view ignores the testimony of conscience and of Scripture that sin is intrinsically ill-deserving, and must be punished on that account, not because punishment will work good to the universe,--indeed, it could not work good to the universe, unless it were just and right in itself. It ignores the fact that mercy is optional with God, while holiness is invariable; that punishment is many times traced to God’s holiness, but never to God’s love; that God is not simply love but light—moral light—and therefore is “a consuming fire” to all iniquity. Love chastens, but only holiness punishes in judgment” (Strong).

Where holiness is not seen as the preeminent and fundamental principle in all of God’s action, men will generally have an inaccurate and exaggerated view of their own importance and a theology marked by “a summer ocean of kindliness, never agitated by storms” (Dale). They will also misunderstand God’s love. Where “holiness is a manifestation of love” or worse (ie. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life), then God must have need, since He would need everything to work towards “the securing of happiness” as “the only good, and the only end.” Since we know that this does not always happen, it would make God needy if true--if God is incapable of always accomplishing His will, then He is no longer wholly like himself if anything happens against His will. Incidentally, this is why Joel Osteen can never reconcile a 9/11—ie. certain bad things happen against God’s will. When “holiness is a manifestation of love” it must be this way since it is up to man to meet God’s need, to respond to God’s call, and to help secure the “happiness” God so desperately needs people to experience.

Let me introduce the God of modern America. What an impotent, namby-pamby God!

How different is a true understanding of God, where holiness is the preeminent and fundamental principle in all of God's action.

A true understanding of God realizes that He loves us not because His need is to love, but rather, He loves us because His desire is to love. He loves us because He will love us, not because He should love us. His love isn’t bound by need like ours is; His love knows no bounds. Born out of His holiness, the transcendent nature of the love of God (ie. greater than need since God doesn’t need) meets exactly what men need! If “holiness is the track on which the engine of love must run”(Strong), then all other imitations of love—love not born of holiness--are but malfunctioning trains soon to be derailed. Think of how this implicates our loves here on earth; think of how this should implicate our love towards Him--not solely born of need but of desire as it is reciprocated as best we can.

Only God can meet our deepest need because only God has no need Himself. And as we more fully understand that God needs nothing, perhaps we as his children can more fully know the depths of His holiness, His justice, and ultimately, His love.

Perhaps too, we can live with less need ourselves as we are holy as He is holy, shunning our fleshly idols more often, saying with Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” As we become more holy and we need less and less, the fear of the Lord will become grafted into our souls more and more as it was with Solomon and Job. We will come to understand how His wholly otherness makes His love possible and ultimately meaningful.

In light of these truths, we should live then not as if God needed us, but rather we should more fully live because He loves us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Second Amendment Applicable to the States

Some of you will recall that I wrote a piece in this space last year in the wake of the Heller case, where the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to keep and bear arms (as opposed to the right being limited to the need for a militia or the like) and in the process struck down a law passed by Washington D.C. However, as many of you know the Bill of Rights initially worked only to restrict the federal government. For instance, “Congress shall pass no law” really meant the U.S. Congress only. Following the War of Northern Aggression, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were ratified by the States. Jurisprudence interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment (which specifically limits the powers of the several States) gradually incorporated most of the Bill of Rights as being applicable to the States. So Texas can’t establish a religion, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, or engage in cruel and unusual punishment. Only recently have the States been governed by mollycoddling nannies, so the courts have previously not had an opportunity to speak to the issue of whether the Second Amendment is applicable to the States. (ADDENDUM: In doing some additional research, it appears that the 9th Circuit has previously looked at the issue, and in typical nanny-state style deemed the Second Amendment to be a collective right, and not an individual right. The Heller case destroyed that line of thinking.)

Well, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers California, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and Arizona (this is from memory, so I may have missed a state or two) has spoken, and I am surprisingly pleased by its holding.

The case, styled Nordyke, et al. v. King, et al. pits gun show vendors against the County Board of Supervisors for Alameda County. the County passed an ordinance making it illegal to bring onto or to possess a firearm or ammunition on County property. Historically, a gun show was held annually at the public fairgrounds in Alameda, which was effectively made illegal by the statute. The ordinance was passed under the auspices of being responsive to a shooting that took place at the County Fair and various school shootings, such as Columbine. In fact, one member of the Board (King) had been seeking for a way to specifically ban gun shows for some time, and even sent a memorandum to the City Council to figure out how to do it. In refreshing honesty, King had stated she’d “been trying to get rid of gun shows on County property [for] about three years,” but had “gotten the run around from spineless people hiding behind the constitution.”

In 1996, the 9th Circuit held that the Second Amendment protected only a collective right, not an individual right, which precluded an individual from bringing a suit to challenge the constitutionality of a gun law. The 9th Circuit opened its opinion by affirming that Heller abrogated the court’s previous assertion that an individual couldn’t challenge a gun law.

In the 9th Circuit’s discussion of the law it would apply to the Ordinance at issue, the court cited Heller and other sources to state, “The Second Amendment protects a right that predates the Constitution; therefore, the Constitution did not grant it.”

In order to determine whether a right is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment (under a doctrine called Substantive Due Process) courts historically engaged, generally, in the following analysis: whether the right is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty; and whether the would-be right is one without which a fair and enlightened system of justice would be impossible. Obviously, that’s a bit esoteric and philosophical, so it has been replaced by a historical survey of whether the right asserted is part of the “actual systems bearing virtually every characteristic of the common-law system that has been developing contemporaneously in England and this country. Therefore, incorporation turns on whether given this kind of system a particular procedure is fundamental–whether, that is, a procedure is necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.” The 9th Circuit wrote that “this culturally specific inquiry compels us to determine whether the right is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” The court then engaged in a lengthy recitation of the history described in the Heller opinion, copiously tracking the history of gun rights in England and colonial America. Of course, this analysis inevitably leads to the conclusion that the right to keep and bear arms predates the Constitution.

The way in which the 9th Circuit quotes the Heller opinion is a testament to the Anglo tradition of jurists writing opinions rather than merely rendering decisions. The force of Scalia’s writing in Heller has lead the most liberal appellate court writing, “We therefore conclude that the right to keep and bear arms is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” Further, the right “has long been regarded as the true palladium of liberty.” The court concluded that the “crucial role this deeply rooted right has played in our birth and history compels us to recognize that it is indeed fundamental, that it is necessary to the Anglo-American conception of ordered liberty that we have inherited.” The Second Amendment was thus determined to be incorporated by the Fourteenth.

In the end, the Ordinance was held to be reasonable since it only applied to government property. This is probably the right decision. However, the big issue in the case was whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right, which it was held to do.

Equally encouraging was this passage from the concurring opinion, “the right to bear arms is a protection against the possibility that even our own government could degenerate into tyranny, and though this may seem unlikely, this possibility should be guarded against with individual diligence.” Well stated.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Words Mean Things

I normally try not to bore people with shop talk, but I thought I'd share a work story from today.

Today I tried a case where the Plaintiff sued my client for breach of contract. The Plaintiff was a temp company---companies come to this temp service looking for individuals to hire on a short-term basis. My client signed a contract (which was prepared by Plaintiff's attorney) with Plaintiff, agreeing to pay a certain amount per hour for the temp. The contract also contained this provision (I'm just using Plaintiff and Defendant to identify the parties): "If Defendant hires an employee of Plaintiff within 90 days of the employee's last day on assignment, then Defendant will pay Plaintiff a conversion fee, which is calculated by . . . ."

The temp that was assigned to my client worked for about six months, until one day my client was rather late on a bill it owed to the Plaintiff (no dispute about this). Plaintiff called the temp and told him, "walk off the job; these people aren't paying us. Come back to our office and we'll try to find you another assignment." The temp didn't like the idea of being told to walk off the job (though he did it) and really didn't care for the possibility that the Plaintiff wouldn't be able to find him work, so he told the lady working for Plaintiff who called him that he quit.

After he quit he called my client, told her the story, and asked what to do with the office keys he'd been given. Several hours later, my client (the Defendant) called the temp back and asked him if he wanted to simply come work for Defendant. He agreed, and Plaintiff sued.

This case turned on the meaning of the word "employee." What is an employee? Do you interpret the document to capture its spirit and intent---Plaintiff clearly didn't want Defendant to hire the temp---or do you go with the basic and plain meaning of the term employee, regardless of the consequences?

I argued that (1) the contract must be construed against Plaintiff and in favor of Defendant (meaning that presented with two reasonable interpretations of the document the tie goes to the person who didn't write it), and (2) that the temp was no longer an employee of Plaintiff when my client hired him.

That the contract must be construed against the Plaintiff is black-letter law, and was a near given. However, I almost felt Clintonian disputing about the word "employee."

So let me tell you how it went. I have the president of Plaintiff on the stand and we have the following exchange:

Me: "Mr. G, how long have you been in the employee-staffing business?"

G: "18 years"

Me: "During that time have you come to an understanding of the meaning of the word 'employee'?"

G: "Yes."

Me: "What is the definition of the word 'employee'?"

G: "It's someone who has a job."

Me: "Fair enough. If was working for you, and I told you, 'I quit,' would I still be your employee?"

G: "No, but I'm not aware of Joe [the temp] doing that."

Me: "Are you saying you're not certain whether Joe still works for you?"

G: "As far as I'm concerned he hasn't quit."

Me: "Well, when was the last time he received a paycheck?"

G: "May 31, 2007."

Me: "Do you have a lot of employees you haven't paid in two years?"

G: "Well, sometimes there can be a gap between assignments."

Me: "Do you have workers compensation insurance with your company?"

G: "Yes."

Me: "Is Joe listed on your comp policy as an employee?"

G: "No."

And so it went.

I then put Joe on the stand who testified that he did, indeed, quit Plaintiff before being hired by Defendant.

Now everybody agreed that the purpose of the above-quoted contractual provision was to prevent companies from stealing staff from the temp service. But the issue before the Court (at least the way I presented it) was whether Joe was an employee of Plaintiff at the time he was hired by Defendant.

Well, the judge bought what I was selling and held that the contract did not preclude hiring former employees of Plaintiff.

So how much money was involved? The conversion fee was about $5,000. But the attorney fees sued for amounted to $18,000. Zilch on those claims. (I must note that the did owe about $500 on an outstanding invoice which we have to pay, and minimal attorney fees were awarded on that claim, but we had already offered $2,500 to settle which was rejected). The judge was a little annoyed that such a low-value case was taking up his whole day, but I think justice was served.

Morals of the story: it pays to go into any business that exists solely due to depravity (funeral homes, lawyering, doctoring, etc.); and just as we spent hours and hours arguing over what the meaning of "employee" is because the outcome of the argument had pecuniary implications, so too should we be careful to properly interpret Scripture, not by making frivolous arguments about minutiae, but by diligent study of the Eternal Word of God. It's actually kind of convicting that I spent so much time memorizing ridiculous provisions in this contract, and have memorized no Scripture this week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cherishing the Perishing

Since my wife died on February 11, almost every morning I have awakened with a hymn in my heart. I know that is because people are praying for me, and to all of you who read this, I say, "'Thank you' for your prayers. They work."

This morning's hymn was this, penned by the blind hymnist Fannie Crosby in 1869:
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
Although this is not a commentary on contemporary Christian music, modern mega-churches never sing this song because it is too lyrically complicated, and because swaying religious sentiment can be more cheaply attained.

The song triggered my recollection of three principles or maximums set forth by Immanuel Kant in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals:

First Maxim: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Second Maxim: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

Third Maxim: "Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends."

Boiled down to their simplest expression, the maxims assert that mortality mandates morality. We should do good to other human beings because they, all of them, are destined for death. In view of the compulsion and compunction of an inner law of rightness and goodness, and in view of universal mortality, we should never treat others as means to our own selfish ends, but as ends in themselves, "ends" because of their destiny with death; in other words, we should cherish those who will perish.

In Christian terms, this means the Golden Rule applied to all humanity. How difficult it is for us to apply that rule even to those we love the most, and inestimably difficult to apply the rule to those we do not love at all.

Dear Reader, as moral human beings, let us be about not just cherishing the perishing but, as Fannie Crosby reminds us, let us
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The surprisingly systematic televangelist---updated

Does heresy bother you? Do heretical preachers irk you? Are you doubly perturbed by heretics who make a lot of money and who have large television audiences? Do the embers of anger burn within when a heretic becomes the face of American Christianity?

I reckon some people don't care. In fact, I imagine that most Christians assume that "everyone" knows faith healers and prosperity preachers are nuts and don't worry about the deleterious effect they have on people's lives.

I just can't do that; I can't avoid being genuinely angry at prosperity preachers because I've seen firsthand how they prey on the weak, poor, and desperate. I've also seen at least one great man of God drink the snake oil of a particularly evil prosperity preacher.

Currently, I'm reading a book on the Word of Faith Movement, by Hank Hannegraaff, the famed "Bible Answer Man." (I like Hank---he's not a Calvinist, but he does good work, and he seeks a biblical answer to things, which I greatly appreciate; he's amillennial, and he encourages people to read their Bibles.) I've been surprised to learn how worked out and consistent Word of Faith theology is. In the past, I considered all the prosperity preachers to be semi-bible literate fools, who knew just enough Scripture to bilk people out of money. Not so. Prosperity preachers have a worked out theology, one bent on minimizing Christ and overestimating the value and ability of mankind.

Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Rod Parsely, Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee, and the new rising star Todd Bentley (famous for attempting to literally kick the cancer out of people) are the main players in this movement, and they are all branches from the same cultic tree of Kenneth Hagin.

The foundational belief of the Word of Faith Movement is that faith is a force and words are the containers of the force. Each of the above-listed "preachers" peddle this doctrine. The force of faith is a godlike force, by which men can alter reality through their words. For instance, a prosperity preacher might tell his listeners to speak to their checkbooks, or avoid speaking words of fear, etc. They do this, not in order to that their listeners maintain a positive attitude about life, but in order to cause God to do things. Words can force God's hand, positively or negatively, with the right kind of faith. From a positive perspective, Osteen talks about how his wife kept speaking positive words about the house they would live in. From a negative perspective, Joyce Meyer essentially accuses Job of killing his 10 kids due to speaking words of fear.

Perhaps the belief in people's ability to alter reality is derived in part from the teaching that men are gods. Faith teachers love difficult passages of Scripture. In fact, if there's a passage that you have a difficult time understanding, chances are the faith teachers focus a good deal of their time on it. Case in point is Psalm 82, quoted by Jesus in John 10. The psalmist states in Psalm 82 that men are called "gods" (elohim), and Jesus said in response to claims that He committed blasphemy by equating Himself with God that "Is it not written in your Law, I said, 'ye are gods"'" (Hal can explain this better than I, but it appears that "elohim" is used at times to describe the judges and to describe even priests in Exodus. But it's obvious in Psalm 82 that the "gods" lack attributes of deity, since they end up dying.)

The belief that men are gods is bolstered, in their teaching, by the fact we are created in God's image, which to a faith teacher means exact replica inclusive of nature. Essentially, they teach we have the same nature as Christ. They teach that Jesus was a born-again man (born-again in hell), and that Jesus being the "firstborn among many brethren" means that Jesus is the first born-again man, and we are just like him. Copeland goes so far as to claim that just as Christ went down to hell to defeat Satan (see below) so Copeland could have done the same. This idea was, of course, revealed to Copeland through a conversation he had with the Almighty.

Perhaps the most blasphemous idea promulgated by the faith teachers is that Christ is not God. Creflo Dollar has gone to great lengths to inform his listeners that Jesus was just a man, not the God-man. His reasoning? Well, God neither sleeps nor slumbers and Jesus was asleep in the boat. Duh. The effect of faith teaching is to deify man and de-deify Christ.

In a similar vein, faith teachers aver that Jesus didn't merely pay for sin on the cross---atonement did not occur on Calvary. Instead, Jesus had to go to Hell for three days to do battle with Satan. Osteen describes in detail a battle Jesus had with Satan. Copeland states that God essentially tricked Satan because the Devil was holding Christ illegally in Hell. One particularly odd teaching of Osteen was that Jesus refused to let Mary touch Him because He still had His blood on Him, which needed to be poured out on the mercy seat in heaven. The apostle Thomas couldn't be reached for comment on this teaching.

Yes, according to faith teachers atonement took place in Hell. Why? Because the ransom had to be paid to Satan, who owns humanity. (I realize that is inconsistent with literally sprinkling the blood of Jesus on the mercy seat in heaven, but there you go.)

As you know, faith teachers also encourage people to become wealthy, as Jesus was wealthy. They go to great lengths to discredit any notion that Jesus was poor. Hagee says Jesus "wore designer clothes." Others say that because the apostles had to have a treasurer, Jesus was rich. Oh, one more from Hagee---In light of John 1:38-40, Hagee contends that Jesus had a big house because He invited all of His followers to come back to His place (a quick reading shows that Jesus invited exactly two people over).

Faith teachers share a lot of the same tools of the trade; one of my personal favorites is the "point of contact." They often send out a prayer clothe, holy water, or holy oil as a point of contact to their devotees. The recipient is to send in a "seed of faith" and then pray over the point of contact in order to reap a whirlwind of blessing.

Well, I've waxed a bit long. I just wanted to share some of the theology of the Word of Faith Movement. Their books sell for a reason, and no doubt all of us know people who've read them. If you have the time, I encourage you to pick up a copy of "Christianity in Crisis 21st Century," if for no other reason than to use as a reference book for the heretics discussed therein.

UPDATE:

I wanted to take a few minutes and relay my first hand account of the Word of Faith Movement. As you know, I'm in Texas, where the mixture of pollen, pine trees, and bluebonnets somehow mixes together to form internationally-known, wacky preachers. Deep in the piney woods of East Texas the big WOF player for sometime has been R.W. Schambach.

Around seven or eight years ago Schambach was hosting a Miracle Night at his compound one night a month. He had big, flashy billboard advertising it, inviting one and all to come "receive your miracle." Well, one night my roommate (Chris) and I got a wild hair and decided to go check out Miracle Night.

We arrived at the service around 7:00 p.m. In the lobby we were greeted by a couple effete college-aged kids with official-looking nametags and wide smiles. Immediately facing us as we walked in was a table where one could purchase all manner of books, tapes, CDs, and other memorabilia pertaining to Schambach ministries.

As we thumbed through the wares, the man himself entered the lobby from the auditorium. Our ears were ravaged by the thump-thumpety-thump of the bass from the "music" playing in the "sanctuary." Schambach had a presence about himself, moseying in with aplomb and a toothy smile, as much game-show host as preacher.

Chris and I were among the few WASPs in attendance, so we avoided shaking Schambach's hand for fear of being found-out. After he glad-handed people for a few minutes, he went back to the auditorium, and we followed suit. Amidst the realization that we should have brought some aspirin (or adult beverage) to dull our senses to the noise, we grabbed a couple seats in what we called a semi-normal section.

45 minutes later the music was still blaring with no end in sight. 99% of the people had their hands up (hand raising itself doesn't offend me religiously, but it's usually done irreverently), about 75% were dancing in some fashion or another, and about a third must have had "the anointing" because they were speaking in unknown tongues (unknown to them, me, and most assuredly the Lord because they lacked any sort of syntax or structure). This goes on until probably 8:30 or so.

Schambach gets up. He didn't really preach so much as pitch his books and brag on his ministry. All manner of healings, both physically and financially were touted. This lasted approximately 45 minutes.

Then came the announcement: "Are you ready for your miracle?" Cheering; applause; hollering. They were ready. Chris and I were immediately reminded of the movie Fletch Lives where the televangelist ostensibly heals people with the aid of someone telling him who to single out and what the ailment is. Dozens of people went to the front and were proclaimed healed.

From the moment I first heard the music something was just off-kilter with me. What was it? Then, when the healing began it hit me. I leaned over and told Chris, "I can literally feel the presence of evil in here." And I did. It's indescribable, and I lack the intellectual capacity to put it in words, but you could simply feel the presence of evil in that room, and that "feeling" of the presence of evil grew within me even as the feeling of jubilation grew among the listeners of Schambach (who, by the way, told people not to even go back to the doctor because they were healed).

The people were pretty impressed by the physical healing, but they didn't get raucous until Schambach resumed his position at the plexi-glass pulpit and said, "The average American citizen has 16,000 dollars in unsecured credit card debt." Cheering; amens; you-know-that's-rights. "We're gonna burn some debt tonight!!!!" Whooping; clapping; dancing. (I leaned over to Chris and said, "We preach both kinds of gospel here: health and wealth." That's a Blues Brothers allusion, if you didn't catch that.) People loved burning debt; they'd go down to the front with their credit card statements and just burn it. They could "expect a financial miracle," if, that is, they kept the faith.

I should note at this point that when we took our seats at Miracle Night, there were three items in our chairs: a brochure about the ministry; a prayer card; and an offering envelope which made clear that Schambach ministries accepts Mastercard and Visa. Of course, if you're burning all of your debt, why not give a ton of money to Schambach? Especially since he's telling you about the "hundred fold increase" you stand to get if you sow seeds in his ministry.

The demographic of the gathering was depressing: poor, mostly minorities, marked by desperation. And Schambach is there preying on them. Sickening. Once we saw the flames go up on the first few credit card statements, no doubt sending up "strange fire" to the Lord, we left. We'd seen enough. It was pretty late at that point, but we decompressed at a Chili's and called up some friends to hang out with us as we debriefed them on our encounter with Miracle Night.

Perhaps somebody here can make a convincing argument that my attendance there was sinful; I hope it wasn't. It served as an eye-opener for me on the evils of the Word of Faith Movement and the images, sounds, and feelings I was confronted with that evening have stuck with me ever since.

As an aside, may I ask a bleg? (That's a beg in a blog.) Is preterism (in all its forms) mutually exclusive of amillennialism? What do preterists believe about the millennium if so? Anybody have a good book they can recommend making an honest distinction, and elucidation of those views?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Unlawful Government, Crazy Kids, and Cuba

I have been absent from this space for a while (absent in writing, not in reading), but I now make my return in a rather haphazard way. But you're accustomed to my haphazard ways, I'm sure.

I just finished reading John Locke's Second Treatise on Government. Brilliance. Locke is one of those men we're taught to revere as a great thinker, but we're never challenged or encouraged to read his writings. It's been said that history affords all great men one sentence: Lincoln freed the slaves, Washington is the father of our country, and, if I may speculate, Obama is the first black president. In such a vein, Locke may be considered the father of liberal political thought.

I cracked open his treatise ready to disagree with what I understood to be his basic premise: that all men are born free in the state of Nature (as opposed to under the law of a particular government). While Locke is an ardent defender of the basic tenet that men are equal and free, he does so on a subtle, more palatable basis: that no man has the freedom or right to exert unprovoked force on another. It is from this negative right, really, that the positive rights of life, liberty, and property flow. I wish he would have expounded on that difference a bit more---explaining that one is a corollary to the other. Oh well.

Some of Locke's most poignant observations pertain to the origin of governments. How did it come into being that men have governments? Very simply, Locke postulates that originally men would have looked to their fathers to settle disputes---some paternal chief of sorts who was regarded and revered in the local community or family group. This power would only be exerted when a dispute arose, and was more judicial than legislative in nature.

As communities grew more complex, people got together and would appoint leaders who could legislate and act in a manner to preserve the property and liberty of the polity. This is really the only end of government according to Locke---preservation of life and property. The government, then, does by consent of the governed that which each of the governed had the right to do in nature---preserve and protect life and property. Government has no right to do anything else, according to Locke.

The basic reasoning of Locke makes perfect sense: a group of people got together to form a government; what rights could that group convey to that governing body? No more rights than what the people themselves had in nature. To exert force beyond what the people themselves had right to do is to engage in unlawful governance, and the people then have a right to organize a new government because the leader they had appointed had thereby lost his position of authority by exceeding his rights.

Interestingly, Locke thought it improbable that elected legislators would take property from the people when they were only elected for a term. Just goes to show you that brilliance doesn't mean prescience.

Care for some talk about crazy kids? Really, this is more a story about crazy parents. Three weeks ago in Sunday School (middle school boys) we were discussing the fall of man and its effects on all people. I won't go into the lesson, but suffice it to say that it was orthodox. The common objection of fairness arose---a child arguing that everyone has an equal shot at getting in to heaven. (All people seem to think that the world started when they were born, and that it's essentially static. It boggles the mind of the young to think there was a day when not every soul had access to a Bible, or that even now not every soul has access to the Bible.) Anyway, I brought up the American Indian, posing the question to my students that if everybody has an equal chance of getting in, what do you do with a people group who had never heard of Jesus, or even Jehovah, until 1492. (The issue being whether everyone truly has an equal chance.) One child cocked his head back and said he knew the answer: the Indians had a copy of the Ten Commandments, you see. After I let him explain what he had just uttered, I gently told him that he was wrong.

Well, yesterday I was presented with an Internet article about how the Ten Commandments were chiseled on a wall in a cave in New Mexico, circa 1000 b.c. Barry Fell, I think, was the name of the author of the article. The article also contained an allusion to some Welsh missionary to the Indians who said that he could easily understand their language because it was essentially Hebrew. This all sounds Mormonistic to me, though I'm sure the child in my class is no Mormon and neither is his family. Perhaps it's some kooky Dispensational dogma, whereby the Indians are the progeny of the "lost tribe of Israel." Anyway, I don't imagine I'll bring this up again with this poor kid. It's not my place to tell him that his mom is nuts.

Cuba: A great man of God at my church is a missionary to Cuba. He has a church that he works with down there. Due to the governmental constraints of Cuba, and the potential for a crackdown on my friend and the church he works with, I can't say much about him. I must convey to you, however, that the Lord's work is being done in this forgotten land 90 miles off our coast.

One interesting story about Cuba: my friend works with a particular pastor in Cuba. This pastor, prior to meeting my friend, had attended seminary in Cuba and was typical Baptist Arminian (but I'm sure with a Latin flare!). One day he happened upon a book by Spurgeon, old and tattered, translated into Spanish. A few days prior he'd had a dream in which God told him he had an errant view of grace. He did not learn in the dream what the proper view of grace was, but then came upon this Spurgeon book. The Lord opened the pastor's eyes to the truths of free grace, through a dream and a book! I love that: Spurgeon's writings used by God in Cuba. My friend now teaches a class down there when he goes---essentially it's a makeshift seminary, imparting the doctrines of grace in the land of Castro. I just can't get over that Spurgeon book. Amazing.

Well, I've prattled on enough. Kudos to anyone who made it through my ramblings.