Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How to Save the Country

People always wonder what they can do as “little” people without power to make our country better. The answer: Change the little things first. Most people who are worried about the direction of our country think that all the battles are big ones. But we cannot win any of the big ones if we keep losing the small ones.

Here’s one. We are again faced with the mind-numbing delusion of people everywhere saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Nothing is quite as narcissistic as the policy that because there are non-Christian shoppers, a store may not say “Merry Christmas," and because there are non-Christian employees at a company, its Christmas party may not be called one. Who do 5 percent of the shoppers and employees think they are that they feel empowered to demand that the other 95 percent not celebrate their party with the name that they want, or receive a greeting that is appropriate to the occasion – shopping for CHRISTMAS gifts. After all, gift-giving is a practice deeply rooted in the meaning of Christmas.

“Ah, yes, but we want to be inclusive,” “sensitive” people will say. But, dear Mr. or Mrs. Sensitivity, how is inviting a Jew who does not celebrate Christmas, to the company's Christmas party not inclusive? Isn't inviting that person by definition inclusive? And if it isn't, perhaps to be really inclusive, given that Jews keep kosher, you'll have to refrain from serving shellfish or pork products. And you better not serve coffee or any other caffeinated products because of the Mormons. In fact, to be really inclusive, you better drop the word “holiday” altogether. Jehovah’s Witnesses are forbidden from celebrating holidays. So maybe the sensitivity crowd should just call it a “party.” But even that might not be inclusive enough. What about those who are forbidden to party (certain fundamentalists and Jews who are in mourning)? For their sakes, let's not even call it a party.

I have always believed that unless the majority is engaged in evil, you honor their wishes. If a religious or non-religious minority member can't abide the term “Christmas,” it is entirely their problem, not the majority's. Demanding that the vast majority of one's fellow workers or shoppers deny the holiday they all celebrate just to make a few people more comfortable is morally indefensible. It is also dishonest. What December holiday is it, after all, if not Christmas? The winter solstice? Martin Van Buren's birthday? Constitution Day in Uzbekistan?

Fight back calmly and politely. But fight back. Do not be deterred by being a called a bigot. Wanting a Christmas party or a store clerk to say “Merry Christmas” hardly makes you a bigot. It is the person who wants “Christmas” dropped who is the bigot. Furthermore, few non-Christians actually object. The vast majority of Jews, whether or not they celebrate Hanukah (which is a very American Jewish holiday), at least honor Christmas, as do the vast majority of blacks, whether or not they celebrate Kwanza. After all, most American blacks are Christians, and Kwanza is a holiday invented in the sixties. And ask why “Happy Halloween” is acceptable. That will reveal a big American secret: Conservatives (such as Christians who do not celebrate Halloween) are usually far more tolerant of things they disagree with than their opponents are. Do not be intimidated by anti-Christian animosity that masquerades as “sensitivity” or “inclusiveness.” Merry Christmas friends.

Monday, November 21, 2005

My Thoughts on General Motors

I've been hearing on the news all day that GM is going to close 12 plants and lay off 30 000 workers. I feel for those workers, their families, and their communities. If only their unions hadn't pushed for the kind of health coverage they now get - but I digress. GM has been losing market share every year for a long time now. Why? Because they build cars people don't want. I know that where I live in west Texas it doesn't seem that way since every second person has a Chevy truck. But here's my experience. A month ago my wife (Holly) was rear-ended as she was entering our driveway. While her Nissan Murano SUV was being repaired we rented a fairly new GMC Envoy. At first glance it seemed to be a nice vehicle - until we had to drive it for 2 weeks! When we got the Nissan back after 2 weeks it was such a step up - the Murano is smoother, has a more solid feel, better steering, better handling, more rear leg room, more cargo room, the engine is far more advanced, not to mention the CVT transmission, the interior materials and ergonomics are clearly superior to the GMC, and it gets better gas mileage. And, the Nissan is $6000 cheaper than the GMC. Brand loyalty and emotional appeals to "buy American" cannot overcome the vast differences in quality and function that now exist between American vehicles and their Japanese and German rivals. That's why GM is losing market share. It's still sad, but that's "where the rubber meets the road."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Real War of the Worlds

All week long I’ve been hearing the ruckus in the news about the Iraq war, and faulty intelligence, and torture, and oil, and blah, blah, blah. So I’ve decided to take a big picture approach. With the almost daily bombings in Iraq and Israel, the recent bombings in London, the current riots in France, the suicide attack in Jordan, and our own precarious political climate, it occurs to me that the world's future is being decided at this time. Moments like this are extremely rare in history. There are now three ideologies competing to shape the future of mankind. They are militant Islam, Western European secular socialism, and American Judeo-Christian values.

Though most people ignore the fact, almost all of the world's Muslims believe that all of mankind should be Muslim. This, in and of itself, is not troubling - after all, most Christians would like the whole world to be Christian. What is troubling is that if only 10 percent of these Muslims are prepared to use violence to impose their religion on others, we are talking about 100 million people. This is the reason about one million non-Muslim Sudanese have been killed in the last 15 years. This is the reason for the violence in Nigeria - Christians there are also resisting the violent imposition of Islam. This is the reason for Islamic terror - to weaken those countries that stand in the way of an Islamic takeover.

The second ideology seeking to dominate the world is secular socialism as practiced in Western Europe and supported by leftist elites in our own country. This is the reason for the anti-American demonstrations in Europe. Most of these anti war types could not care less about the wars of the world. They have been silent throughout the mass murder of Sudan's blacks, during the genocide in Rwanda, during China's crushing of Tibet, and during Saddam's wars against Iran, Kuwait and the Kurds. American and European “peace” activists have found those atrocities and wars boring. European socialists and their American supporters are as passionate about secularism as Muslims are about Islam, and they want to dominate the world as much as militant Muslims want to. Their vehicles are the United Nations, the European Union, international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocols, and international institutions such as the International Criminal Court in Brussels.

While Islam and socialism dominate many countries, the third ideology is unique to America. There is no other country that claims to be Judeo-Christian, and defines itself as good. Other countries laud their greatness, not their goodness, and there is a big difference (Nazi Germany was great, but not good). This is why America so often “goes it alone” - with the partial exceptions of Israel and Britain, no other society has the same values as we do. It is thus sad that these values are not secure in America. Many Americans, including almost its entire intellectual class, are as hostile to Judeo-Christian values as the militant Muslims and European socialists are. Almost no one is teaching the next generation of Americans what is unique about American values. American children are mostly educated by people who believe in Europe's values, not ours. The American way of life can only prevail if Americans believe in it. That is why, as important as the military battles against militant Islam are, the most important battle is the ideological one within America – a battle that is far from won. This is why I have so much contempt for politicians of both parties. They are too obtuse to see the big picture because they are too busy yapping at each other’s heels over complete nonsense. Given that only America offers a viable alternative to both militant Islam and secular socialism, if we lose the battle here, humanity has a very dark future. To quote Reagan, “If we fail, we will sentence our children to a thousand years of darkness.”

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Use and Abuse of Scripture

I believe that our familiarity with scripture borders on contempt. How often do we go back to texts we think we know and read and reread? What are we thinking during the scripture readings on a Sunday morning? Have you ever complained that a preacher read too much scripture? Just last week I got a note from a member asking me not to read so much scripture! Then I think of my trips to Zambia. I wish you could see the faces of Christians pleading with us to send Bibles. I wish you could have heard one African brother telling me that the only Bible in their congregation belonged to his father way back in 1937. I wish you could have seen the men frantically writing down every text we read because they had no Bibles to read it for themselves.

I see example everywhere of the abuse of scripture, some obvious, and some subtle. I have heard scripture rapidly quoted with anger and bitterness by people using the Bible as their own personal machine gun to win an argument, and I have debated with an atheist on historical inconsistencies they happened to uncover in the Bible. These examples have one thing in common – these people were quoting scripture without having a relationship with the author of scripture. You must have a loving relationship with God in order to understand His revelation to us!

I have observed two very extreme, very opposite ways of reading scripture, and I believe they are both dangerous:

1. Pattenism:
By this I mean reading scripture for the sole purpose of extracting rules and procedures, and guidelines. This is dangerous because scripture then becomes cold and lifeless. Passages can be ripped from their literary and historical contexts, and we tend to focus on the question, “Does the silence of scripture prohibit or allow something?” – a question that the Bible itself does not answer. Reading the Bible this way can make us intellectually lazy because if the Bible is reduced to a collection of facts to be learned, then you can only know so much, and once you have all the facts and rules down there’s not much left to do but argue with anyone who disagrees.

The other way of misusing scripture is even more dangerous:

2. Subjective Emotionalism:
When I am around students at ACU I often hear the phrase, “God laid it on my heart.” However, what they think God laid on their heart is sometimes heresy. God could not have laid on their heart something nearly as vapid as what comes out of their mouths. One of my theology professors told me that one time a young married couple came to see him, and the wife boldly declared that God had spoken to her – she was to abstain from sex with her husband. The teacher asked the husband, “Has God spoken to you about this?,” and he said, “NOPE!” And the teacher said, “Now this is interesting. Do you know that God has addressed this topic directly in scripture?” (see 1 Corinthians 7:5) A woman was claiming a “revelation” from God that directly contradicted scripture!

This is the danger of treating the Bible as a “living document.” When reading scripture becomes a private, purely emotional, application-only experience you also rip passages out of their contexts, and force those passages to say things they were never intended to say. Looking for “personal meaning” in scripture is like interpreting a piece of modern art at the museum – “whoa, that’s cool – never saw that before.” This way of reading scripture perpetuates the trendy myth that the sole aim of Christianity is to develop a “personal relationship” with Jesus, but when you find an unintended application in scripture you are committing violence against the integrity of the text. For example, I was sitting in on a small group study some time ago, and we were studying one of the prophets – a text where the prophet was condemning Israel, Isaiah I think. And people were saying, “Us Americans need to change. Look at this message from God. God will destroy our nation if we continue to sin and act immoral” – and I felt foolish pointing out that the prophet was speaking to Israel, not the United States. God has no covenant with the United States. The "new Israel" is the church, not America!

Here’s my point. I basically believe that scripture cannot have a meaning that the original author did not intend for the original audience to understand. I know that earns me the label of being a historical-critical reader of scripture. It’s just that I’ve seen so much abuse of scripture I want to be sure I approach scripture with humility and give the text the respect I claim to have for it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I Voted!

Well, my friends, I voted today for the first time ever in my life. Yes, I'm 31, and I have never voted before today! South Africa's first free election was held in 1994 - 2 months after I left, and I only became a U.S. citizen this February. So today I fulfilled my civic responsibility (depite my dualistic Augustinian leanings) and voted. How did I vote on Prop.2? I voted Yes - but I really thought about it first. Yes, I know homosexuality is bad, but ammending the constitution deserves plenty of thought.

And now for some random thoughts:

Why I hate the media reason number 1: All week I've been hearing about "French youths" rioting. You mean little Pierre and Jacques and Marcel and Alphonse are upset over not being admitted to the annual fĂȘte de la pomme, du cidre et du fromage at the Place de la Marie? (translation: cheese eating contest.) No, no, no! These are Muslim youths rioting as part of a long-term strategy of testing French resolve because they believe all of "Christian Europe" ought to be Muslim. The French have been weighed on the scales of history, and they have been found wanting!

And about the obscene profits of "big oil." Just so you know, I worship at the altar of the free-market. I am a Libertarian, a member of the Acton Institute, and friends with members of the Cato Institute and the Federalist Society. HOWEVER, the oil companies do not operate in a free market. They are heavily regulated by congress, fuel is taxed through the roof, and six companies (Conoco-Philips, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, Shell, Total-Fina, and BP) collude with each other in what amounts to a virtual monopoly. Our economy is intertwined with the price of fuel. It costs about $4 to remove a barrel of oil, and it sells for $60. Don't give me supply and demand rationale. The oil market is artificially manipulated. When gas goes from $1.50 to $3 in the space of one year, and profits go up by 75% something ain't right! And don't forget one more thing. God is always on the side of the poor. Read Micah and Amos. Those are some real "family values" my Republican friends.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Liturgical Dancewear" ?

I know that this blog community likes to share examples of the shallowness of modern evangelicalism, so here's one I have to share. This morning I found a new catalogue in my church mailbox - "Spiritual Expressions. Liturgical Dancewear for 2006." Check out www.spiritualexpressions.com for a good laugh.