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Saturday, May 18, 2002

The Economics of Birthrates-Anne Wilson's getting a bit testy this morning.
More native British babies, please: Yes, giving tax breaks to parents and outlawing abortion would help, but the fundamental reason for the birth dearth among those with any intelligence is socialism. This is true for the US as well.
Not so fast, ma'am. One of the reasons that the developed world has a lower birth rate is that we are developed. There are a number of factors that lead the developed world to have lower birth rates, and socialism, broadly defined, is but one of them. I'm not quite sure it's the fundamental reason, and my IQ is significantly different that zero, last time I checked. (1) A higher level of education for both males and females keeps people out of breeding mode for longer periods. "Socialist" subsidies of college education could add to this trend, as easier access to education will add to the people in school, but the trend would exist even if the full cost of schooling was paid by the student and/or their parents. (2) The change in paradigm of children being a "production good" to being a "consumer good". In an agrarian culture, you need kids to look after you when you grow old and can help add to the productivity of the farm until then. Post-agrarian economies provide less opportunities for children to help out in the family business, thus making them more expensive to have. Also, such post-agrarian economies provide for financial arrangements where people can save for retirement. Some of that is in the form of Social Security type programs which would fall under Ms. Wilson's socialist banner, but not all. (3a) A lessened emphasis on moral values has weakened the desire to get married and start families. Sex and marriage have been decoupled to a greater degree than in more traditional times, as have sex and procreation. Socialism may have helped in this endeavor to the extent that it undermined moral values, but only to a modest degree. (3b) Access to pharmaceutical contraceptives and abortions have reduced the number of births. These non-abstinence based birth-reduction tools reduce the cost of sex, especially extramarital sex, allowing women to be sexually active and maintain careers. (4) Feminism has added to that decline. The denigration of motherhood and emphasis of female independence has led to a reduction of marriages and of births. Even if modern women are chaste before marriage, they will marry later, as they get more education and pursue careers with more vigor than their mothers did. (5) One area where socialist tendencies have clearly helped lower birth rates is the reduced take-home pay of families due to higher taxes. That means lower disposable income and less money to spend on children, since they are a "consumer good" in the post-agrarian economy. Socialism, if it is defined in purely economic terms, is the driving factor in point 5 and contributes in part on points 1 and 2. If socialism is expanded to cover the contempt for traditional religious values that typically accompanies Marxist thought, then it will be a part of all five points. Thus, if you factor in both the economic and secular biases of modern socialism (American-style liberalism too), it can explain the lion's share of the birth dearth, but it's not quite the no-brainer she makes it out to be.

Showing the SOB the Door-The returns are coming in slowly in Ireland, but it looks good for Fianna Fáil and very bad for Fine Gael. It was bad enough that James Haney's favorite politician , FG leader Michael Noonan, has resigned. Have a cold beverage of choice and smile, James.

Midday Musings- Just got back from the first of Eileen's two bridal showers (the other's in three weeks when I'll already be in Florida), showing up towards the end to play both trophy and beast-of-burden. I got to meet quite a few transplanted Houstonians who are living in Midland. She got some nice decor stuff. She got some practical stuff like a Foreman Grill (unrelated note-George lives in the same Houston suburb my future in-laws do), clock, blender, bedding, a tool kit and two toasters (so much for the registry idea). But the item that stole the show was one that my future mother and sister in law sent. It was a talking bride teddy bear, officially named Eileen Bearon (everybody say "Foooo") which, when you squeeze her paw, goes "I love Mark and I'm going to marry him" (everybody say "Awwwww"). Dad got an interesting T-shirt from a Rush-sponsored fund raiser. Inspired by the "Fighting Whities" intramural team, they have "Fighting Righties" T-shirts. Enlightenment dawns! I stumbled uncontrollably into a new name for the "secular" conservative section of my link list.

The Big Cheese
Act II-Home on the Grange
Mary Lou put down her nail file and looked up as I came through. “Swedish press attaché debriefing her husband?” “Nope, she wants to get to the bottom of the GOP switcheroo on the farm bill.” “President didn’t miss winning Iowa by much last time. A few more happy farmers wouldn’t hurt.” Mary Lou proceeded to give me the skinny on farm economics. There are times where having a transplanted milkmaid as a secretary isn’t the best for this line of work, but it paid off in spades here. “Without price supports and loan guarantees, a lot of farmers, including Uncle Billy and Grandpa, would have gone under years ago.” Turns out that farmers are small businessmen who like to pay taxes about as much as I do, so they tend to lean conservative. However, I know all too well that every man has his price. Give them a nice check from Uncle Sam and they’ll vote for anyone who’s writing them the check. I looked up my old friend Sam, an old-school reporter from one of the Kansas papers. I don’t work the Hill much except if somebody wants to pay me to see if some lady lobbyist is having her ways and means with a client’s husband. Sam’s good for all the little dirt you don’t see in Roll Call or the Post. Buy Sam a couple rounds and he really opens up. “Check the Senate. The small states get two senators just like the big states, so it’s a lot cheaper to get at them than the big state guys. The small farm states in flyover country tend to lean Republican, but Democrats can buy the farmers with good farm subsidies.” “Yeah, but why would the GOP start becoming big government fans? Isn’t that more than a bit hypocritical?” “You of all people going goo-goo on me? You’ve been in town long enough to know that you call people who don’t make deals either freshman or ex-congressman. If the GOP doesn’t play ball with the farmers, the Democrats will. A few cheap attack ads on why the GOP loves the big agrabusinessman but doesn’t give a crap about the family farmer and you start seeing Democratic senators and congressmen.” Sometimes my idealism shows, but life then kicks it in the short-and-curlies and it goes away. “Is there more to it than just cheap politics? If it were, then my client’s buddies would be roasting Dubya slowly over a mesquite flame.” “Yep. Call up Mike over at the World Info Center. He’s got the big picture stuff down.” Sam usually doesn’t run with that kind of multinational crowd, but he explained that Mike’s his niece’s husband. “Yeah, Susie went to K-State and fell for a Ag Econ wonk who went straight from K-State to K Street.” On to Part III

The Big Cheese, Part I-Eve Tushnet’s called for a Farm Bill post in the style of a “major literary character.” I’ve got a series in mind based on the standard film-noir private dick. If you have to give the gumshoe in The Big Cheese a name, you could go with Philip Marlow, but it could be Mike Hammer or Dixon Hill, as I’m doing a mock of the standard noir-PI, not Marlow in particular.
The Big Cheese
Act I- Playing Patty-Cake
One of those Republican dames with gams that don’t stop and looks as sharp as their brains comes into my office. She didn’t look to be the type to take the hard money contributions I had in mind, so we got down to a less interesting business proposal. “Let me guess; you’ve got man trouble.” She carelessly pushed back those long blonde locks, leaned back in her chair and said “Not the kind you’re used to dealing with. I’m talking ideological fidelity, not marital fidelity. The Farm Bill is the last straw.” “So this isn’t the first time he’s been playing patty-cake with the Democrats?” “No.” She grabbed a Kleenex off the desk and wiped away some tears from her baby blues. “It’s been building for the last year. Working with Kennedy on education wasn’t helpful, nor was that steel tariff. You can only go so long rationalizing, being the Queen of Denial, saying that he’s making strategic calcuations…” “And you think he’s going liberal on you?” She blew her prim little nose and sighed. “I don’t know, sir. One moment, he’s standing tall, being the guy we sent to the White House, giving us pride in what we can do as a country. The next minute, he looks just like Clinton.” “I don’t think it’s that bad, ma’am. People don’t usually evolve that fast around here.” I bit my tongue, thinking that Ariana Huffington went left faster than a Porsche going downhill. “There’s probably something happening behind the scenes.” “Could you get to the bottom of this?” she cooed. She looked like an easy make who wouldn’t have to worry too much about footing this bill, so I decided to take the case. “This may take some time and some money,” I told her. Little did I know what I was getting into. On to part II

Uli Watch- I had someone Googling for info on Eileen's brother-in-law Uli Heitz when I posted on him three weeks ago, so I'll post this as a public service for his Zambian fan club. He was five shots off the cut three weeks ago, had to withdraw with a bad cold two weeks ago, and after the Hooters Tour had a week off, he's struggling after the first round, eight shots off the cut at +7. Yesterday's second round's been delayed, so he'll have to get his miracle round ready for today.

Now That's Clutch!-Down three, bottom of 14th, bases juiced, walk-off-grand-slam. That Giambi shot of last night (correction-with a 5:45 playing time, the wee hours of this morning) sounds like a bad Hollywood script, except that Hollywood would have it with the pennant on the line. Babe Ruth was the last Yankee to have a three-down walk-off grand-slam. You can't write it much bolder.

Woodward Delivers a Smokeless Gun-This Woodward-Eggen WaPo piece on what the Bush administration knew prior to 9/11 backs up the Dubya party line that they knew Osama's boys were up to something but didn't have any specific time and place to act upon. Woodward usually gets close to the historical truth once he gets going; if this is his take, than the Democrats are shooting blanks and will have to get something else to snipe at the president with.

Good Week for Election Geeks- We had the elections in Holland Wednesday , a bunch of by-elections in Canada Monday and the Irish went to the polls yesterday. Irish results are spotty, as paper ballots predominate and the prefference-voting system takes time to drop trailing candidates and distribute votes to secondary choices. However, the early returns show that the ruling conservative Fianna Fáil is doing well and the outstanding question is whether they will manage to pull a outright majority of the seats. The main center-left opposition Fine Gael seems to have lost market share, as has FF's coalition partner, the libertarian-leaning Progrgressive Democrats. [update 9:30AM Not so fast, the PD look like they're holding their own with a bigger set of returns, but FG are truely taking it in the teeth] Check out James Haney's site for good takes from the Blogosphere's resident Irish politics wonk, whose writing helped me figure out what the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael was. Before getting blogging and having Haney as an early blogging buddy, I had gotten lost in the Gaelic morass; Ireland was one country whose politics sailed over my head.

Edifier du jour-Colossians 2:20-23-
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
The common quip on the Christian's earthly existance is "in the world, but not of the world." The proto-Gnostics that Paul was doing battle with carried that thought to an unhealthy and heretical extreme, looking at everything physical as bad and everything metaphysicial as better. That hatred of the physical led them to think Jesus only looked human, since a perfect God couldn't possibly be in such a grungy form. God created the world with joys aplenty. Jesus said in John 10:10 "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." This verse can be overused by the name-it-and-claim-it folks to overephasize physical blessings, but we can rightly take pleasures on what joy we do find from good food, fun games and other physical joys. I've misplaced my copy of The Screwtape Letters, so I'll have to cite from memory, but Lewis had Screwtape commenting that all joys were invented by God and that the demons could only twist them. Somewhere between the gnostic hatred of the physical and the Prosparity Gospel's love of the physical is a healthy apprecation of God's creation. We should have a even greater appreciation of God and the better world to come, but that doesn't mean we can't smell the roses while we're here. [Update 8:30pm -Jeffery Collins came up with a comparable Screwtape quote, but not the one I was looking for. I dug out my copy which has been AWOL since coming back from Florida last month-it had found its way behind my dresser when I unpacked. However, I also remember that I had cited the passage in question last month.
He's a hedonist at heart. All those fast and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like the foam on a sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure and more pleasure. He makes on secret; at His right hand are "pleasures for evermore."... He's vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least-sleeping, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.
I'll brace myself for Collins' take on modern prophecy, but we seem to be on a good wave-length.]

Friday, May 17, 2002

Incoming Cannonballs on the Canon-A number of good points from various sources (Mark Butterworth, Spudlets' Marc Velazquez (remember Spuddy, the doctorate's in finance, not theology) and Joyful Christian’s Jeffrey Collins on whether Revelation 22:18-19 applies to the whole Bible or just the book of Revelation, as I implied earlier today. Mr. Butterworth has a thought that Revelation has already been corrupted. That I'd like to hear more about. If it is simply by translating it into English, OK, but if there are things left out of the original entirely, that a different and interesting matter. Mr. Velazquez points out the problem of citing Scripture to prove infallibility (a bit of a circular argument) when there are a truckload of prophecies that the Bible has called that better make the point-"Nostradamus has nothing on Isaiah!" Amen, Señor Spud. Mr. Collins rightly questions whether John knew that Revelation would be parked at the end of the Bible, thus implying that 22:18-19 would cover the whole Bible. He's onboard with the validity of the canon, but thinks that I "oversold the passage." Guilty as charged, sir. I have that same thought myself. I was trying to point out where I agreed with Mr. Heddle and neglected to add that nuance.

Discount Rate Changes-The current Federal Reserve policy was to set the discount rate (the rate the Fed lends to banks in trouble) a half-percent under the Federal Funds rate (the rate banks lend overnight to each other). It looks like that will be changed to be a percent above the Fed Funds rate. This seems to make sence, as the old rules encouraged banks to take more risks, since the Fed would help them out at below-market rates if the needed liquidity. This will make banks think twice about overextending themselves. This might also have the effect of making the lending markets a little bit tighter, thus raising interest rates without having to actually raise them via open market actions. The Fed would be inclined to raise the Fed Funds rate given the recent spate of inflation, and this move might just allow them to skip a rate increase for the moment.

The Check Out Lane- Orrin Judd has a good piece on tough pitchers and tough pitches. Good read for anyone who follows baseball. Marc Steyn has a funny piece on Canadian invisibility and geopolitical impotence. Like the porta-potty people, they're #1 in #2. Jay Nordinger gives the Man from Plains a full Fisking over his comments in Cuba. Fisk (fisk) vi. [[inspired by savage critiques of leftist reporter Robert Fisk]] -to systematically critique an erronous statement. Do I have the definition right? [update 1:30PM- If Orrin had gone after Steve Carlton's slider any harsher, would that have been a Carlton Fisk?]

Prophecy and Biblical Sufficiency-As part of a good post on the essentials of Christianity, David Heddle points to both the Bible as being inerrant and sufficient, pointing out two key scriptures-
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Rev 22:18-19, NASB) And Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 1:3, NASB) To me (but not to everyone) these verses say: revelation ended with the apostolic age; the Word is both necessary and sufficient. This is a contentious issue. It can be very divisive between Christians who are Charismatic and those who are not. I don’t know how to deal with this division; it is very painful because it is among believers who have so much in common. I didn’t want to go there, especially with new believers -- so I italicized "and sufficient" as a way to signal my non-charismatic position. Sufficient in no way implies we don’t need the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, without His help the words would be foolishness to our ears. And it does not mean that you can squirrel yourself away in some corner with the Bible with no need of anything else. You will need instruction from godly teachers and regular fellowship with a body of believers. It means (in my mind) that no additional revelation or true prophet will be forthcoming until Christ returns.
I don’t know of too many Charismatic/Pentecostal bloggers on the loose (Spudlets, written by an Assemblies of God guy, is the only other that comes to mind), so as a proud Bapticostal, I will pick up the banner for the charismatic side. My working definition of how charismatics (for this post, consider Pentecostals a subset of charismatics) differ from other evangelicals would be as follows
(1) The Holy Spirit’s more than just a bit player in the Trinity and we need to pay more attention to Him. He’s there to instruct our thoughts and actions 24-7. The closer we draw to Him, the better off we are (2) God’s not out of the miracle business. The gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Acts and in I Corinthians are still active today.
Let’s start by making clear that the Bible is a finished product; that fact everyone can agree upon. Our Catholic and Anglican friends will put in a plug for an larger Old Testament, but everybody’s on board that the text of the Bible was done as of the first century AD. Anyone who tries to add extra books to the Bible written after Revelation or place an extra set of writings as equal to the Bible is in serious doo-doo as per John’s warning in Revelation 22. [update 11PM-Joyful Christian makes a good point as to whether John knew his line would be at the end of the Bible and thus would be read as such. I accept his critique of "overselling the passage," as I have that thought myself] In that sense the Bible is sufficient as the written Word of God. It is to be the guide by which believers live. A believer’s actions should conform to the Bible just as laws are supposed to conform to the Constitution; however, there aren’t any Biblical amendments. The believer will interpret the Word with the aid of the Holy Spirit and fellow believers, but they aren’t free to ignore something in the Bible just because it’s inconvenient or politically incorrect. As best I understand, Catholic, Reformed and Charismatic theology are all on the same page in that respect. Drawing closer to the Holy Spirit doesn’t bother Reformed followers. It’s that second differential I listed above that make Reformed people nervous. Most of the prophecy I have encountered in charismatic circles was of a personal rather than universal nature, used to guide decisions on a more mundane basis or to give confirmation to the believer that God is looking after them. That kind of prophecy is not designed to add to the Bible but to be an outlet of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. I don't think the injunction given in Revelation 22 is meant to say that God is shutting up entirely and leaving us with the Bible to figure things out for ourselves. Prophecy that comments upon Biblical truths rather than adding to them or annulling part of them seems to be Biblically appropriate. If someone says “God told me X,” the natural reaction for most people is to be very skeptical and to question the sanity of the person. However, just because many fruitcakes say that God speaks to them doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak to people at all. First, we need to check whether what God is supposed to be saying meshes with scripture. If someone says that God told them to leave their wife and have an affair with their secretary, one can be fairly certain that the message wasn’t from God given what scripture says about marriage. However, if the message is plausibly true, then continued discernment needs to be applied. 1 John 4:1-3 comes to mind-
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
If the word spoken is true, it will resonate with other believers as being true and speaking in a tone consistent with God. We need to think things through, judging them based on what we know of scripture and what we know of the worldly situation and judge whether the speaker is hearing from God or whether he's a few fries short of a Happy Meal. To blindly say “God doesn’t speak directly to people anymore” is putting God in a box He doesn’t belong in. He may not directly speak to you or me, but that doesn’t mean He can’t be speaking directly to others. He may be doing it less than in the times of Acts and Corinthians, but to say that he can't do so anymore is heretical and to say that he doesn't do so anymore is extremely cocky, given the millions of believers out there. You will be declaring quite a few people in charismatic circles to be crazy or liars if you do, so tread very carefully if you are about to say that God's not talking to them. Also, we shouldn’t feel like second-class citizens if we don’t have all the flashy gifts of the Spirit. My dad was given very sharp spiritual antennae, being given words of knowledge and manifesting other gifts of the Spirit on a regular basis. It took me over a decade to be comfortable in charismatic settings, since my more mundane experience made me feel like a slacker compared to what my dad was experiencing. The gifts of the Spirit are gifts, not requirements; not everyone gets them. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 12 that each part of the Body of Christ is important even if they aren't flashy. True, an overreliance on personal insight and manifestations can lead to heresy in a hurry. That's why I appreciate the Baptist (and other evangelicals) tradition of serious Bible study as a counterweight to keep one grounded in the Word. Being a good student of the Bible allows you to better test the spirits, keeping you from going off on any number of heretical tangents. However, to say that such manifestations of the Holy Spirit don't happen at all anymore seems to be heretical as well.

Much Ado About Not Much-Yesterday's headlines about the Bush Administration knowing about 9/11 seems to be more than a bit overblown, for the FBI and CIA have vague knowledge about possible attacks all the time, and only a handful of them ever come to pass. Byran Preston and Rand Simberg break it down better than I.

Don't Pencil Granholm in Yet- A Detroit Free Press poll has Jennifer Granholm and Jim Blanchard in a 36-36 dead heat, with David Bonior bringing up the rear at 10%. It's a small poll with a 7% margin of error, but a brisk reminder to all those national pundits who want to make Granholm the Next Big Thing that she does have to win the primary first.

Edifier du jour-Colossians 1:13-14-
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Just a reminder that we may be still in this world, but we've got a new citizenship.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

The Checkout Lane Kevin James has a good post breaking down the Dutch elections much better than I did. Ted Esler has a solid take on evangelism bouncing off of Martin Roth's PNG post. I'm fairly new to his site, but he seems to be running a very mission-oriented blog with a to-pray-for people group populating the right column. William Sulik goes a step further than I as he breaks down the issue of marital relations on his 21st anniversary. Another good Christian newbie, David Heddle's He Lives has an interesting post of biblical inerrancy and sufficiency. He's stating that charismatics don't think the Bible's sufficient. I'll have to think about that one and get back to y'all.

Walking the WalkMartin Roth points out that Papau New Guinea is among the most Christian nations in the world (97.3% per Operation World) yet is facing an AIDS epidemic. After mentioning the large evangelism effort Australians have made in PNG, Martin wonders
What on earth are church leaders teaching their 97.3% flock (or is the problem all the fault of the other 2.7%)? What messages are the missionaries bringing? Should I be directing my tithes elsewhere? Or should I just sit back content in the knowledge that so many are going to heaven?
Let's not forget that they are counting in that 97.3% figure a lot of nominal Christians, people who have some attachment to a church but may rarely darken the door of a church. My 1993 edition of Operation World has PNG as 96.8% Christian and 22.3% of the population being evangelical. That compare that to 86.5% and 30.3% in the US and 70.6% and 12.6% in Australia. This isn't to say that evangelical churches are AIDS-free zones, but there are a lot of people who will put "Christian" down as their religion without having a real knowledge of God or Jesus. In addition, a lot of more liberal churchs will wink at sexual immorality, thus not giving a clear moral vision that might of kept some young people out of trouble. Martin's missionaries might have been on the ball, but others might not have been. Question-if PNG is more evangelized than Australia as the data suggests, why not sent missionaries to Sydney rather than Port Moresby? Yes, sending people to the Dark Jungle to civilize the natives is sexier than witnessing in your own backyard, but one should send people where they are needed. The believers were commissioned in Acts 1:8 to be "my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." He was working from in town, to the nearby areas and then further afield. We need to send people where there are needed rather than where the stereotype says they are needed.

Purgatories-Thumbing through one of my soon-to-be-regional papers, I read this piece on corruption in college footballin the Orlando Sentinel. blockquote>Tennessee, 1998: Come to find out that Tee Martin, the quarterback of that UT team, likely was getting booster money funneled to him by a sports writer. This is not only grounds for UT vacating the national championship, the sports writer should be sentenced to three years of covering the Devil Rays.Sir, there are protections against cruel and unusual punishment, for covering the D-Rays would be a sentence to baseball purgatory. Five years ago, it would be a fairly straight-forward fact that the Nets and the Kings were the NBA's purgatory, where careers go to die, with the Clippers being the undisputed Basketball Hell. Well, we've got a good shot of Purg East playing Purg West for the title this year. The Clippers are on the way back, but they have come back from despair to a point of simple mediocrity in the past only to tank once again. Suggestion, maybe they should bolt the Staples Center and play in the Forum. Faithful Central Baptist Church bought the Lakers' old digs, using the building for services on Sunday and renting it out the other six days. The church might be able to help pray off three decades of bad mojo, but it will require a lot of prayer.

Reprobation- I see that word and think about my mom's referring to some sleazebag as an "old reprobate," but the question Veritas raised (and got some answers to) was on whether those not predestined to Heaven are thus predestined to Hell. That's a good question that spins back into how much if any free will we have. My basic mental framework of God's interaction with the universe is that God allows the universe to operate by standard natural interactions except where He decides to intervene. At the end of the first of his posts, Burgwald suggest that "the damned are reprobated not 'before' their response to God's grace, but in view of them." In this view, God accepted the person's rejection. Are there people who He refused to accepted their refusal? I can see Him using the Holy Spirit to convince them of their folly and tweak their environment until they did come around. We don't know how much God is yanking those strings and we'd like to think that the majority of our actions are our own, but there's no good way to tell. He could have created a bunch of robots who were hard-wired to worship Him, but He didn't. He created us with the capacity to reject Him. If we accept the idea of an omnipotent, omnitemporal God, then anything that happens is happening because God hasn't stepped in to change it. I don't know why He doesn't except that He might desire an fairly unfettered love rather than one that was coerced. He may enjoy the spontaneity of a free-flowing world, choosing to have a "slow whistle" and allowing the universe to take its course more naturally. All this is putting me in the spot of trying to put God on the shrink's couch, which is dangerous terrain. There's too much evidence that God exists to ignore him. The evidence though the written word (both in and out of scripture) of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, as well as two millennia of living witness to God's hands-on power, point towards a God that is more than a create-and-sit-back deist construct. However, it also appears that miracles are the exception to the rule and that the world largely goes on in a naturalistic manner until such moments and places where God intervenes. My Bapticostal nature points me to the believe that God isn't out of the miracle business, but it also points me to the idea that He wants us to want to do the right thing without having Him to correct us every moment. He's willing to and wants us to ask for advice and correction. He has made himself approachable. However, he will not stoop down and drag everyone to himself. Having created a world where He can be rejected, He allows some to keep rejecting him rather than go back on His initial design. He does grieve those who reject Him, but that is the price He pays for creating a world where love is not automatic.

Balkenendezation of Dutch Politics-All the talk about List Pim Fortuyn has gotten the guy who's most likely to be the new Dutch PM, Jan Peter Balkenende, pushed off center-stage. He looks to be an interesting character. He's a former theology prof and head of a Christian broadcasting network who looks like Harry Potter's older brother. He doesn't like the liberal drug and euthanasia laws that have been enacted in the last decade, but is also pessimistic about getting them overturned. He also wants to see more culturalization of immigrants, which puts him on the side of LPF. I got a hunch that the new coalition will be with Balkenende's Christian Democrats, LPF and the classic liberal VVD (analogs to the German Free Democrats?).

Homilies For a Dynamist Revival-Part II-Educating the Public-Despite having some time off, I've got a bad case of blogger's block on the topic of Kevin's call for ways to aid dynamist politicians. A key feature should be trying to explain a few key concepts to the public
(1) Wealth redistribution destroys part of the wealth in the process
The taxes needed to give money to the needy reduce the rewards to work and invest. This will, all else being equal, reduce work and investment, thus slowing the economy and making us all poorer on average.
(2) Cutting government will increase overall well-being
A valid liberal though is that we should be maximizing well-being rather than wealth. A government that is truly trying to give its citizens an abundant life will try to maximize the joytron (the quantum particle of happiness) count the nation. A dynamist counter-thought is that there comes a point that additional government spending may create more bogons (anti-joytrons) due to a slowing economy and from taxpayers having less money than will be gained by the recipient of the government largess. The fiscal policy trick is to find the point where we max out the joyometer, and a strong case can be made that it will found in the direction of smaller government.
(3) Government is frequently wasteful
We need to educate people on what percentage of programs go to administration rather than actually helping the people the program is designed to help. When you see the administrative cost of a program, its benefits are often questionable.
(4) Not everything has a government-based solution
We need to note that there are some things that are bad that can't be easily fixed by governments. Some things need to be done in the commercial or non-profit sphere.
(5) Decentralization-Not everything that has a government solution needs to be done in Washington
Point out that things are better run with flexibility at the local level. The closer decisions are to the taxpayer, the more accountable the decision-makers are. Pushing decisions down to the local level will lead to more scrutiny and ultimately less expenditures. There are a truckload of money being spend by advocates of government programs as to why they are important, often using government money to ask for more government money. We need to start educating people on the downsides of government; these five points listed about could be the start of a (dare I use a good ol' commie phrase) reeducation campaign.

Edifier du jour-Philipians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I'm praying over Kevin's grandma as I type this. His recent post noted that she appears to be near death and Kevin's sorrow pours through his prose. Our sophisticated medical system is able to do what would be seen as miraculous a half-century ago, but the healing knowledge of man has its limits. Pulling your own plug by cutting off needed treatment is hard to do; being in a position to have to do so for a comatose loved one is equally hard. Last year, I saw a friend's mom painfully dying from cancer; 24-7 oxygen and kidney dialysis were needed to keep her going. Our Bible-study group was there for Michael in those last weeks as they first made the decision to put her into hospice care, were the emphasis is for pain-relief rather than condition-treatment for the clearly terminally ill. I remember when Michael told us they had made the decision to take her off dialysis. I knew from my work at Hurley that this was the "death sentence." One of the reports I was working on was keeping track of renal dialysis inpatients; they typically needed to have treatments three times a week or die from the toxicity of unfiltered blood. Michael had quit his job to be a full-time caregiver for his mom; he had to find substitute nursing care when he came to Bible study. It was painful to see him have to help make that decision, but there is a time and a place where our physical existence has to end. I knew she had less than a week to live-it turned out to be only a day. Michael was a new believer, having come to the Lord less than a year before this. One tell-tale sign of his recent conversion was his dog's name- Molson. His new faith helped him cope with the loss of his Mom. The believer has the Holy Spirit as a comforter, allowing us a early glimpse of Heaven in our spirit. That comfort is here 24-7, just a prayer away. My reading in Philippians 4 reminded me of the Wayne Watson song, Peace That Passes Understanding, that evokes verse 7. The chorus goes thusly-
The peace that passes understanding is a blessing that will never fade away. The peace that passes understanding is here to stay. The peace that passes understanding never passes away.
I pray that peace cover the Holtsberry household as they deal with the prospect of losing his grandma.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Right Does Well in Netherlands-It looks like a center-right coalition of the Christian Democrats and List Pim Fortuyn will head up the next goverment. Early returns have the CDs holding 43 of the 150 seats, much better than the polls suggested. The LPF is slated to get 26 seats. This combination is only seven votes shy of a majority. CD leader Jan Peter Balkenende is cagey about whether he'll look for a center-right coalition with LPF or a center-left coalition with Labor and/or the centrist VVD. The BBC coverage loves to point out that it takes weeks to set up a coalition government after an election.

Homilies for a Dynamist Revival-part I-Kevin Holtsberry had an interesting post calling for ideas to spark a dynamist revival.
My question is this: Libertarians and conservatives who want to reduce the size and scope of government must have a strategy to succeed. What should that strategy be? The argument for limiting government seems to have been thrown off by the media and the public as uncaring, unthinking, cruel, etc. I would love to hear a pragmatic strategy and process whereby government can be limited or even slowed down. If you have an idea send me an email, post a comment, post it in your blog and send me a link etc.
A few early suggestions have been posted; I'll talk about them first. Kathy Kinsley goes one-for-two here
Those of us who have been screaming about this for ages do something very simple. We vote for those people who do not favor big government, no matter what party they are from. Most religious conservatives vote reflexively for whoever screams loudest against abortion and for school prayer. They don't seem concerned much with other issues.
The first is easier said than done. The way to vote would be to select the candidate that would be most conducive to our goals. Often, the dilemma is between holding our nose and voting for a near-RINO or voting for one of the free-market-oriented third parties. I think the trick will be to run good free-market candidates in Republican primaries and get our small-l libertarian friends to join us in that endeavor. Kathy has slipped in a bit of a straw man, as most religious conservatives are fairly free-market oriented once prurient media, drugs and embryos are taken out of the mix. I'll restate the question I have posed previously- Is prudish dynamism worse than morally-tolerant statism? Libertarians tend to treat economic liberals and religious conservatives as equally flawed, but the liberal will affect their lives more with their higher taxes and bigger economic regulations than would a conservative platform of reduced availability of abortion, pro-abstinence sex-ed, vouchers and a heterosexist view of marriage. True, she might have to refrain from grabbing a doobie or have to adjust her family planning, but the greater take-home-pay and flexibility to run her life in other areas would make a conservative platform more attractive once we get past the Salem Witch Trials/Taliban false metaphors that the amoralists want to trot out. Next Right's Sean McCray has this thought
This issue is one that has really had me stumped lately. People have accepted the idea that government is good and actually better than individualism. I think it will take radical re-education of the electorate. I think only a Constitutional amendment passed by the states will ever restore the balance of powers. I fear we may be too far down the road, to turn back. the slow steps to socialism are still winning the battle.
I think the momentum of the statists is waning and it is time for the re-education process to begin. Such a constitutional amendment would require a 2/3 dynamist majorities of both houses of Congress and 38 states-heavy sledding. The other way to solve the balance of powers is to get five Supreme Court members to actually enforce the Constitution as written. I'll borrow from the quip on gun laws; we don't need new constitutional amendments, we need to enforce the ones on the books. Thus, a better tack would be to shoot for 60 dynamist senators that can get good Supreme Court nominees who will do just that. This is a long term process that will need the forces of good pick off a few statist (there are a handfull of good Democrats like Zell Miller) senators each election, so that the GOP can have 56-58 seats after the 2006 elections, prying loose a few friendly Democrats to break a filibuster. We can start with showing Wellstone and Johnson the door in November, and getting Cleland, Harkin and Carnahan out would be nice as well. Within the next 6.5 years of Dubya's stay in the White House, we'll likely see Stevens and Rehnquist retire, and possibly see either O'Connor or Ginsburg pack it in as well. Having a Senate that is friendly to strict constructionists is the key to achieving McCray's goal, but the real battles will lie when either someone other than Rehnquist retires and adding a constructionist would tip the balance of power.

The Dynamist Confessional-I'm a recovering neoliberal, and I noticed some backsliding on my posts on bioprospecting and the farm bill. I agree with James Miller's reply to my bioprospecting piece more that I do my original take. I don't think naturally-occuring genetics should be able to be patented. Ways of using those genetics, maybe, but not the genetic code itself. I think my inner liberal came out, wanting to look after the campesinos at the expense of the multinationals. Get back in there and stay there! James Haney wondered via e-mail (tongue in cheek) if I was going Paul Erlich on y'all based on my farm bill post. WHAP! Thanks, I needed that, but boy, did that sting. Don't worry, I'm returning to my senses; I'm going to have a second farming post in the near future which is more (but not fully) dynamist than the first came across. I still stand by the intent of the first post, but it makes my views sound more statist than they are.

Clueless Music Director Alert-Amy Welborn has a good post on lame liturgical music, stuff that truly has no reason being in a church service. Read the thing and cringe. One caveat- Lean on Me was on her list. While I don’t see that as a good congregational song either, DC Talk does have an edifying cover of it, taking the Club Nouveau arrangement as a base and adding some Christ-centered lyrics.

Ben’s Boffo Buffet-“Great Taste, Less Filling”-Ben Domenech had quite a few good items on this intellectual buffet yesterday. Remember, Mark, All-you-can-eat is an invitation, not a challenge. (1) Ben asks how many Blue States there will be in a Hillary-Condi (yes, time to add Condi to the spell-checker) 2008 race. My quick-‘n-dirty guess: Connecticut, DC, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island. 86 electoral votes for Hillary, 452 for Condi. No recount needed. (2) Rendell vs-Casey- The Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary has state auditor-general Bob Casey Jr., son of the late pro-life governor, going up against former Philly mayor (and Patrick Ruffini prof) Ed Rendell on the Democratic side. Casey is playing to blue-collar conservatives away from Philly. How many Reagan Democrats are still Democrats? Not as many as there used to be. Getting out your base will be key here, and if a good NRA campaign can put a bug in the bonnet of the blue-collar hunting crowd, it might carry the day for Casey. However, Casey’s ten points back in the polls, so he’s drawing to an inside straight to make that up by next Tuesday’s primary. (3) Jim Jeffords as a secret weapon? Only in fundraising, as he will draw out the NPR crowd to the rubber-chicken events to scratch their goo-goo itches. At the polls, this will help conservatives (by reminding them of the take-over) about as much as it will help liberals.

Edifier du jour-Philippians 3:7-9
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Paul described himself earlier in the chaper as a Jew's Jew, but that and $0.75 can get him a cup of coffee when it comes to the bigger picture. We may say that knowing Him is the most important thing in our lives, but do we back it up? I spent more time dwelling on basketball than God yesterday and that isn't too edifying, although it would have more so if Stack hadn't gone 3-18 :-). Our relationship with God comes through Jesus; all the other trappings of life are nice, but a distant second behind knowing Him.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Putin the Cold War to Bed-It's worth a second look that we're looking at a two-thirds reduction in nukes and a proposed NATO-Russia anti-terrorism network in the same news cycle. Is Russia an ally now? Russia may be more an ally than the French at this point, but France has danced to its own drummer for decades. Russia definitely isn't a presently-hostile power and their oil and other natural resources are a good counterweight to the gulf oil dictatorships. This is a different world that we grew up with. Will a nuke-reduction treaty get through the Senate? The WaTi piece on the nuke treaty implies that Democrats would shoot down the treaty, but it more likely to be Republicans who'd be opposed to arms reduction.

Questions on the Farm Bill-There's been a bit of blogfire directed at the latest Farm Bill. I haven't digested the bill as of yet, but it appears to have reinstituted price supports for most basic crops. If done right, that might not be a bad thing. This runs counter to my general dynamist instincts, but agricultural price supports might be in the long-term best interests of the country. If left to free-market constraints, the ag market might underproduce and create famine conditions in bad production years. If price supports are sufficiently high, the market will lean towards over-production, as the government will by the crop for at least $X/bushel, thus minimizing the famine risk. In addition, some grain left over in government-sponsored silos from past years will help provide extra food for the bad years. This isn't the most economically efficient way to do things, but it will lessen the risk of famine. An inefficient surplus is better than an efficient famine and thus can be seen as national food insurance. There are very few other (if any) industries that would require such support. If the auto industry went down for the count, we could survive for a while with the existing stock of cars and trucks. If Intel and AMD went belly-up at once, we would find a way to make do with the existing stock of computers. We can cannibalize auto parts and computer parts, but I don't think we're ready for Ag Secretary Lecter.

Miniputt Masterpiece -Here's the score-card for my bad-boy 26. Let's see how my new table-generating macro works
Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 In
Par 3 3 2 3 2 3 2 4 2 24
Score 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 11
Hole 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Out Total
Par 3 3 2 3 2 3 2 4 2 24 48
Score 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 3 2 15 26
The tablemaker macro seems to work just fine.

Signs of a World Turned Upside-Down- The US and the Russians have agreed on a nuclear-arms reduction treaty and it barely makes a ripple in the Blogosphere. I think the key reason is that Russia is a loose ally at this point. 9/11 turned them from something of a chilly rival to a loose ally. As long as we have enough nukes to turn any coalition into crispy critters, we can afford to look into trimming our nuclear stockpile. If they exist, they can be stolen or used by a rogue leader in years to come. As long as the decommissioning is verifiable and fairly transparent, it seems like a good idea.

Morning Musings Got the official word that I will be starting down at Warner Southern on June 4th, teaching a Business Writing class. I've never taught a writing class before, but having been blogging with some sucess for four months (and straight As in the writing classes I had as an undergrad) gives me some confidence that I can teach such a class well. Eileen would be better suited to teach it as a once-and-future English instructor, but she'll be in Michigan finishing up her current position. I will be picking her brain on how to go about teaching the class for the next two weeks. I'm planning on heading down there on May 31st, so I have only 17 more days before heading south. This is an interesting WaPo piece on Palestianian discontent over Arafat. The take of the piece is that Arafat's untouchable but corrupt and unuseful. Where have we heard this before? I'm tempeted to check the claudometer (OK, it's reading 0.8, not quite) but the Beltwayistas need to see this before they mourn the Likud vote of the weekend too hard. Fox leads its website coverage with a modest (5.2 Richter) Bay-Area earthquake, while the WaPo buries it in the "More Headlines" section. Is Fox sensationalist or is the WaPo too Beltway-centric or a bit of both? Methinks a bit of both. Hey, it didn't stop a hockey or baseball game, so it isn't that much news. Happy to see Colorado get past the earthquake and San Jose last night to force a Game 7. The winner will be tired while the the Red Wings will be rested and ready. I'd add tanned, but the weather here's been lousy for May, more like mid-April than mid-May. 17 days, Mark. 17 days. Game 5 of Boston-Detroit's this evening. Watching the Piston's been painful this series, as Boston has figured out how to rotate and stop the Pistons ball-movement game. I might be put out of my misery tonight. Carlisie has to do something about floor spacing and movement on offence if there is to be a game 6.

Blue Grit-Here's your daily dose of political wonkdom. There were seven by-elections in Canada, and the ruling Liberals lost two seats they had previously held. The Conservatives (RINOesque) won a seat from the Liberals in Gander, Newfoundland. Thanks to Gander for your hospitality after 9/11 for all the planes you looked after and for sending a slightly-better MP to Ottawa. The New Democrats (Labor-Socialist) won a long-time Liberal seat (Herb Gray held it for four decades before retiring) in the blue-collar Detroit suburb of Windsor. You don't want to read too much into by-elections, but there seems to be dissatisfaction on both the left and center with the Liberals. Your big-government fans are unhappy with the neolib tendancies of the Liberals, while almost everyone is tired of the endemic quid-pro-quoing that seems to be a weekly feature in the news. Alliance (American-style conservative) leader Stephen Harper got into parliament by winning a safe seat in Alberta; the Liberals and Conservatives followed the unwritten rule of giving a new party leader who's not an MP an uncontested by-election. The NDP bucked the rule, holding Harper to 71.6%

Edifier du jour-Phillipians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
A good boss tries not to order people to do something he hasn't done himself. I'm still thinking about a response to Hokie Pundit's psuedo-universalist thoughts, but this verse is a good start, as it brings out the uniqueness of Jesus as a servant-king. Many religious will have "great" leaders, but few if any that stoop to conquer like Jesus. He gives us the role model of a servant-teacher for us to follow. This isn't the aloof mystic on a mountaintop or the conquistador, but something different and unique. In addition, Jesus isn't a was, he's an is. His birth, unique as it was, isn't the cornerstone of the faith. His death, while inspiring (and the root of our salvation), isn't the key. It's the resurrection that is the truly unique part. Mohammed, Siddhartha, Moses are all dead; all wases. Jesus is! [update-5/15 Thanks to Kevin Gowen-I had Galatians 2:5-11 instead of Philipians at first. Not my best day yesterday]

Monday, May 13, 2002

Autogoogle Fun- I've been the top "Mark Byron" for a while, but I surprsingly show up as 9th for just "Byron."I was suprised the other day when I got linked to by a Google search on "Byron." I was edged out by three sites related to Byron Bay, Australia, Senator Byron Dorgan's web site, three sites on Lord Byron (I'm not crude, rude and dangerous to know) and one from a Twin Cities law firm of Fredrickson and Byron. I beat out anything on Byron White(not in top 100), Byron Scott(68) and Byron Nelson(24), or Canadian senator Byron Sher (28) or even NRO contributor Byron York(93). I beat out the towns of Byron, GA(11), Byron, IL(20) and Byron, MN (46). Now that tells me that Google is ultra-sensitive to blogs, when I'm trumping NBA coaches and Canadian senators (yes, I may have more power than a Canadian senator) and city web sites.

Fortuyn's List a Close Second in Poll-In the first poll out after the assisination, Pim Fortuyn's List is pulling 18.5%, second only to the Christian Democrats at 20.5%. The election is Wednesday. Those two parties might be the cornerstone of a new government, as they are slated to have 59 of the 76 seats needed to form a new government.

Castro Convertible?**-This is an interesting shot of Carter and Castro yesterday. Somehow, Castro looks like some 1880s politico time-warped to the present and given a red power tie. I'm not used to seeing him in anything but fatigues. Carter's fallen a bit in my eyes in the last few years. His move out of the Southern Baptists to the liberal/moderate breakaway Cooperative Baptists was disturbing, as his faith was a key componant of his election a quarter-century ago (was it that long ago?). To see him siding against the theological conservatives was disturbing, even if the SBC was going a bit over the top at times. Also, his rather harsh and bitter comments of the 2000 election results pointed to him as a less than a fair broker. Carter's key failing is a classic liberal one-he's too optomistic about the state of human nature and seeks to find the good in every man. This causes liberals to assume that the bad guys of the world would play nice if you were able to address and meet their needs. There are quite a few bad guys that would be close to the attitude of the alien in Independence Day, who responds to the president's question of "What do you want us to do?" with "Die." Such people need to be defeated, not negotiated with. Many liberals go down to Cuba, see all the nice things that Castro has lined up for them to see, and come back talking all gushy about the education and health care system, missing the poverty and lack of free speech and movement and human rights in general. Those are the people who are useful idiots for Castro when they come back to the States. Carter's smart, and hopefully will give Castro both barrels over the lack of human rights in Cuba. However, smarter liberals than he have become Castro Convertibles and return home as yet another useful idiot. **I remember reading the Spy-vs-Spy piece in Mad as a kid; the author was described as being a Cuban ex-pat who refused to be a "Castro Convertible." I didn't get the joke until about a decade ago, when I heard an New York radio ad for Castro Convertible hide-a-beds. If I recall correctly, Ms. Castro (forget her first name [Bernadette, sayeth Fritz Schranck]) ran against Pat Moynahan as the Republican nominee in 1994.

Edifier du jour-Philipians 1:4-6
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
When things aren't going so good and you feel like your slipping away from God, remember that you're a work-in-progress and God's not finished with you yet. If you have Him in your life, He will bring you closer to Him eventually.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Universalist Soldier-Louder Fenn pointed to Hokie Pundit as meandering into Unitarianism in this post. No, he's flirting with Universalism.
I've always been receptive to the idea that Christianity as an establishment (rather than a means) isn't the only True Way.
Louder rightly points to John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." To get around that, you have to be able to point to another religion that points to Jesus as the only way to God. Do all the churches in the world have a monopoly on bringing people to God? No, but they come close. However, you'd be hard pressed to find an alternative establishment outside of the various churches that will be a depository of such saving knowledge. It is possible to have an ad-hoc, disorganized band of believers passing along the knowledge of God and his Son without having an "establishment." However, at some point, there will likely be some loose structure to this adhocracy that will start to look something like a church. If we take the Bible at face value, we are instructed to gather together. Hebrews 10:25 makes that case- "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." This makes some kind of church, at least on a local, ad-hoc basis, an intrigal part of the Christian faith. It need not take on the structure of a big world-wide denomination, but some structure is needed.
Before I go any further, I'd better do some heavy clarification. I believe that there is one God, and that this God created us and everything in the universe. I believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life (after his baptism, at the absolute, no-questions-possible, latest). I believe that Christ's teachings on love and attaining the Kingdom of God were correct. However, I don't know (in the same sense as above) that he was the one and only Son of God in a way distinct from what every person potentially is.
OK. How do we know that Jesus is THE Son of God?
I'm not sure how important that part is, either. If what he said is true, it could've come from a Ouija board and still be as correct. Having the proponent of an idea also be a follower lends some credence to it (I suspect that atheists/agnostics reading this will disagree and demand an explanation, and while I'll do so if asked, I also think it's self-evident if you stop and think for a bit). Thus, move from concentrating on the man to concentrating on the message.
Problem is, Robert, McLuhan's right here; the medium is the message. John 1:1-"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Follow that with verse 14-"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." To duck the issue of Jesus' divinity, the Jehovah's Witnesses change the end of John 1:1 to "and the Word was a god." Jesus in His incarnation was both the messenger and the message; his life and death was an example of God's Word put into flesh and blood in an unique manner. If you've got another equally valid exemplar of God's Word, let me know.
Looking at the message rather than the messenger is helpful in that it removes outside influences. It's true that you can learn a lot about a book by its cover, but many false ideas have charismatic proponents (just as truths may be espoused by either the attractive or the lowly). It also means that squabbles over the virginity of Mary or the possible sexuality of Jesus are nullified, and so a stumbling block between Catholics and Protestants is removed.
The stumbling block between Protestants and Catholics isn't over the virginity of Mary as much as the sinlessness of Mary. There is a disagreement on whether Mary had other kids by conventional means with Joseph after Jesus' virgin birth and whether Mary was concieved without sin, but Jesus' virgin birth isn't a bone of contention between the two. As far as the sexuality of Jesus, there isn't any debate on that issue between orthodox Protestants and Catholics; both parties assume that he was chaste.
When looking at any claim, we want independent attestation. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, but having several witnesses improves the reliability of a claim.
There are numerous written accounts, outside of Christian writings, of the life and death of Christ. Jesus' life is better documented than any other figure of his era. A historian who wanted to declare that Julius Cesaer was a myth would be laughed out of the academe, but there is more evidence pointing to Jesus' life than there is to that other JC.
The major philosophies of life currently existing are Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Stoicism and Confucianism also tend to influence these belief systems, but rarely act on their own. I think that the persistence and size of these schools of thought lends them some credibility. I don't say that the bigger a following something has, the truer it is. However, if something has survived hundreds or thousands of years of questions and still has a sizeable following, the likelihood that it has some hold on the truth is far higher than if it is extinct or only has a few followers. If we are to assume that all major religions have at least some part of the truth, the best thing to do is to compare similarities, as these are probably true.
No, we're better off looking at the differences. There are some universal truths that can exist in more than one religion, but you are hard pressed to find too many areas of agreement between all five of the big religions listed. The first three may have monotheism in common, but disagree on the nature of God and man. Hinduism and Buddhism think that mankind is perfectible on his own, while the others do not. The Buddhist Eight-Fold Path might be a viable guide for day-to-day living with one's fellow man and be a viable version of the Golden Rule, but it ignores the issue of how to deal with God.
What comes to light first is a sense of order and duty. The creator is above the created.
Not in Hinduism and Buddhism. In their pantheistic worldview, the creation essentially is the creator.
Goodness is portrayed as sky and air and evil is the ground and underworld, a physical representation of good over evil. We also find that we've separated from our former union with God and fallen (a physical representation, again). Our goal is to reunite with God (or as Buddhism portrays it, an eternal energy; I'll refer to this as God for my purposes here) by following certain laws and codes of conduct. By achieving harmony with God, we are able to join him (her, it, whatever).
Robert, that's what Jesus died to end! Following laws and codes of conduct ain't gonna get it done. It's God's grace delivered through the sacrifice of his Son that rendered the Law fulfilled through His blood.
There are two primary manifestations of this duty and order that we see. The first is the responsibility to know one's place. If one having authority is over you, you are to obey them. This may be God, a king, a governor, a parent, etc. For those under your own authority, you are to discipline them when they fall out of line in order that they may learn their place. However, the other side is that of love. We are always encouraged to treat others as we ourselves would be treated. A master may order an underling to do something, but he should not order them to do something that is wrong. If someone needs our help, we should give it. This also applies to oneself. We're to abstain from certain practices because they're ultimately hurtful to ourselves or others, not because they violate some abstract rule. If our ultimate goal is to achieve union with God, then sins are those things which delay or prevent that from occurring. Now, there are some parts that need more explanation. A reasonable question at this point would be to point out that Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, and to say that a just, loving God wouldn't damn us (in other words, prevent us from joining him) and so we'll all eventually achieve union.
If I remember correctly, Theravada Buddhism doesn't believe in reincarnation but other forms do. A loving God that allows some level of free will allows some people to not choose to be with Him. Why would he spend so much time talking about Hell if it winds up empty.
If there is infinite reincarnation and we're destined to eventually become one with God, then why should we do anything? Eventually, we'll just stumble upon the right answer or God will get fed up with our absence or figure that, in the words of Sgt. Hartman, "if God wanted you up there, he woulda miracled your [donkey] up there by now, wouldn't he?" I think this is a very risky way of thinking.
Good. He's steering clear of universalism after putting his tootsies on the edge.
There is also a claim that we only get one shot. In the absence of full information, it's safer to assume that we need to try and save ourselves in this life, and then be pleasantly surprised if we're proven wrong by being reincarnated (sort of like Pascal's Wager). As for being miracled up to heaven, this is essentially stating the Problem of Evil. I don't have a full explanation, but it seems to me that if this were a viable option, it would've occurred by now. Since it hasn't, it's reasonable to assume that it won't happen, even though we don't know why (just like how scientists know the universe exists, but can't prove why).
Good. If we get a second shot, great, but don't count on it, dude.
In order to be reunited with God, we must fit in. Jesus said rightly that no one mends shrunk clothes with an unshrunk patch (unless they're ignorant, of course), since they'll tear after being washed. As such, to be successfully reincorporated, we must match God. Life is our chance to change our soul's composition.
Not its composition but its destination.
If we let life by and don't use our chance to change ourselves, we may never again get the chance. Thus, we'll endure the hell after we die of knowing that we're separate from God but not having the opportunity to change. We would only be able to hope that God could put us out of our misery by causing us to cease to be.
Which isn't scriptual. There are plenty of verses that point to an eternal torment, and anhialation of the non-Heaven-bound is a common but heretical thought.
That is what Christianity is. It's a clarification of Judaism. When Jesus says that he is the only way to God, he means that only through love and duty can we change ourselves to be in God's image.
However, it's God who enables the change through the Holy Spirit, not us.
Hindus who walk in love and duty will also be saved.
But those would be the ones who find Jesus, as Hinduism doesn't feed the bulldog when it comes to having our sins removed.
The difference is that Christianity is the simplest of the ways to achieve this.
Try only. If you have a more complex way to do the job with certainty, let me know.
Any belief that has part of the truth can lead to all of it, but the more extraneous material there is, the more opportunites there are for straying from the True Path.
James 2:19 "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder." If Jesus isn't the one and only Son of God, he was a liar and should be condemmed. If He was the one and only Son of God, He then is the One and only Son of God and needs to be worshiped. If Jesus says "I am the Way" and Mr. Universalist says "he is a way," one of them is wrong. If the Universalist is right, all dogs go to Heaven and I've wasted my time. If the orthodox Christian is right, the Universalist is finding out that Hell doesn't have a non-smoking section. Pick your theology with care-eternity is at stake.

Will the Real King Canute Please Stand Up-Funny; Orrin Judd and I went after the Likud-anti-independent-Palestine-vote piece a minute apart. It's intriguing that I called Arafat King Canute for tying to stem the tide of Hamas autoboomers and Orrin calls Bibi King Canute for trying to stem the tide of a Palestinian state. The only way we're both right is if Israel ceases to exist, for Israel can't live with a steady stream of autoboomers sponsored directly or indirectly by a Palestinian state. Can Arafat or someone like him contain the irredentist elements that want to drive the Jews out of the Middle East? It appears unlikely, for they themselves have that goal and cannot bring themselves to declare war upon Hamas and al Asqa. Israel can't live with the current PA leadership overseeing the West Bank and Gaza. A Palestinian state that can coexist with Israel will require a different set of leaders. Whether this can happen in five years of five hundred years remains to be seen. Until a Palestinian leadership emerges that can deal with the irredentists, Israel will need to keep at least partial control of Palestinian areas. I think the combination of a large irredentist movement in the West Bank and Gaza combined with the current PA's disinterest in quashing it will make stemming the tide of a Palestinian state very desirable to the Israeli government. This then begs the question: is that tide as irreversible as Judd implies? It may be irreversible by Arafat, but Sharon or Netanyahu might be able to hamper the terrorist apparatus sufficiently enough to ensure Israeli survival. It will take a very nasty war, but it appears increasingly likely that this is the route that Israel will take. I'm heading into dangerous territory, but I don't see God letting Israel be destroyed, and neither do the Israelis. Israeli Jews have no other place to go, so they will fight with everything they have. The Arabs in the region have plenty of places to live where they can be themselves ethnically and spiritually. The Jews don't. Israel has the intellectual and military-industrial know-how to make up for a lack of numbers and the motive to put everything they have into the effort. Its this back-to-the-wall mentality that makes the IDF man-for-man the toughest fighting force in the world, including the US. I'm not in the mood for shorting Israel. It won't be pretty, but Israel will survive. The same might not be said for Arafat and anyone else who wishes ill to the Jewish people.

Hawks and Falcons-The Likud Central Committee voted against recognizing any Palestinian state west of the Jordan. Netanyahu's just kicked any nascent peace process in the short-and-curlies. This puts the party to the right of Sharon, its titular leader, and shows that Netanyahu might be in position to stage a take-over of the party. Would this be a good move for Israel? It seems to commit Likud and any government it's a part of to a rather militant footing. If the two viable long-term options are ethnic cleansing and an autonomous state on the West Bank, Likud seems to prefer the former. I was hoping for a short but nasty rooting out of the current PA leadership followed by the development of a moderate Palestinian leadership that had grown so weary of the beating that they would sue for peace. It doesn't look like that's going to happen now. If the Likud is firmly committed to controlling the West Bank and Gaza, this will make a pro-concessions government hard to achieve. If the nationalist right and the Arab left are taken out of the mix, you have about 55-60% of the electorate left to work with, assuming that Likud doesn't pick up a lot of swing voters that have seen that the "peace process" is a misnomer. There doesn't appear to be a stable coalition that can exclude the Arab parties and the nationalist parties. It seems more likely that more hawkish parties will gain ground in any new elections and a center-right coalition would be much more likely than a center-left one. Sharon now seems to have two choices; to veer to the side of the hawk and keep his Likud party happy or to look at some form of peace process and risk a vote of no confidence. You could the ultimate strange bedfellows of a bunch of leftists voting to keep Sharon in power in fear of an even harsher Bibi-led government. Whether the leftists would hold their nose for long enough to vote for Sharon will be interesting, for the peace parties know that they'll lose ground if an election is called now. We're at a point in Israeli politics where the choice is not between hawks and doves but between hawks and falcons. Both are birds of prey, but the falcon’s a bit prettier. Netanyahu gives a better persona to the outside world, as his smoother delivery and near-native grasp of English (he spend a good chunk of his youth in the US) makes him a much better spokesman for Israel than the blunt and heavily-accented Sharon. A Kennedy-Johnson contrast comes to mind in speaking style. Netanyahu was blasted for being too hawkish in his PM stint, but now his time may have come. While it may be is premature to compare Netanyahu to Churchill, I'm reminded of Churchill's ability to stick to his guns and be out of power when the public was wrong and he was right, only to have the public come to its senses later on. This might be Israel's 1939 (no, Sharon's not Neville Chamberlain) and that Israel might rediscover Bibi's talents.

Basketball Overview-It's interesting how the playoffs have gone to form so far. Detroit's the only team that is behind in the series, and that's primarily due to the excellent defense of the Celtics. The Pistons thrive on ball movement and finding the open man; Stackhouse and Williamson are about the only guys who can create their own shot. The Celtics are rotating well on defense, thus allowing few of those open shots. During Friday night's broadcast (well, for me Saturday morning, I watched it on tape) Hubie Brown (IIRC) kept chiding Detroit for not taking open shots. What open shots, Hubie? Stackhouse doesn't do that well when he forces the game, but he may have to go back to his ball-hog days of last if the Celtics continue their good defense. The other option might be for the wingers to set up a few feet behind the three-point line. If the Boston guards have a couple extra feet to rotate out to, they'll be less able to contest the three. Stackhouse, Barry and Williamson have the stroke to knock down 25 footers, so that's something I'd expect to see today. Looks like Jason Kidd may have to sit out game 4 with a swollen eye. This wouldn't be the worst game to do so, as it's at Charlotte. A Hornet win would set up a best-of-three. A Hornet loss might be the last non-exhibition NBA game in Charlotte in a while.

Edifier du jour-Ephesians 6:1-3
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

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