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Are conservative Christian theology and liberal politics compatible?
Thursday, 28 May 2009
An election to pray for
Topic: Positive prayers and posi

On June 12, there will be a presidential election in Iran.  The two main contenders are current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Prime Minister (during the 1980s) Mir Hossein Mousavi.  Both are fully committed to the Islamic Revolution (as is anyone who is allowed a voice in Iran today).  Nevertheless, I believe Christians here should be praying for God's will in that election.  Why?  Let me give four reasons:

1.  In spite of centuries of Islamic rule, culminating in the Islamic Revolution, there is still a fairly sizeable  native Christian community there.  Their lives and witness will be affected, perhaps very substantially, by the outcome of the election and the policies of the resulting government.

2.  God still loves all of the Iranian people (even those committed to Islam)!

3.  We are commanded to pray for "kings and all who are in authority" that we may "live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."  I Timothy 2:1-2.  This command is not limited to the "king" of our on country; instead, we are to pray for "kings," plural.  If the matter is considered carefully, it is easy tounderstand that our ability to live peaceful lives doesn't depend only on our own government, it also depends on all of the other governments that could attack our country.  Moreover, our ability collectively, as the Body of Christ, to live peaceful and quiet lives, depends on the actions of every king, every government on earth, because there are believers everywhere (including Iran).

4.  The chances for peace in the entire region depend heavily on how militant the Iranian government chooses to be.  If Iran becomes more conciliatory, the chances of peace in the region improve greatly.  This depends, in part, on the mindset of the leader to be elected next month.  

Our role in this election is to pray for God's will to be done in the election and for God to draw the winner to Himself.  It is NOT to pray against any human being.

Posted by ian_j_site2 at 10:17 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 28 May 2009 10:20 PM EDT
Saturday, 23 May 2009
Why I support the President's health care proposal, despite misgivings
Topic: Political and economic

As those who have read much of this blog know, I have long supported national, single-payer health care.  Nevertheless, I support the president's proposal for two reasons:

1) I have committed myself to support the President personally, as far as good conscience allows, for the good of the country, as explained  in earlier posts on this blog. 

2) I remember what happened to Hillary Clinton's health care reform proposal, during Bill Clinton's first term as President.  At the beginning of the Clinton administration, there was a fairly strong national consensus in favor of health care reform.  Mrs. Clinton proposed, with her husband's support, a plan that would have been a great improvement over the status quo, though it stopped well short of single-payer national health care (although the enemies of the plan accused her of proposing this).  But several other proposals also had strong support in Congress. During the year or so that the supporters of reform were arguing among themselves about which plan to follow, the health insurance industry was able to mount a successful public relations campaign that completely derailed any reform.  So, because the supporters of health care reform could not agree quickly on the details, we ended up with NOTHING.

I've explained my misgivings about the direction the President plans to take--mandatory private health coverage--in previous blog entries.  Greatly summarized, they are:

1)  If individual payment of health insurance premiums is to be mandatory, what is to be the penalty for failure to pay?  A fine (wholly unrealistic if the problem is self-perceived inability to pay)?  Prison time (which appears to be a self-defeating penalty, as it destroys the ability to pay)? Commitment to a mental institution?  Seizure of property to pay past-due premiums? Random capitol punishment by death in a medical emergency?

2)  Are insurers to be left free to rate policies as they do now?  Do self-employed individuals and individuals whose employers escape the requirement to provide coverage still get the highest premium rates--only now compulsory rather than discretionary?  Will individuals with pre-existing medical problems now simply be required by law to pay whatever premiums the industry demands of them?  Do small employer groups remain small employer groups?  Or are we to move toward community or national rating (which seems much more fair if payment of premiums is to be required by law)?

3)  Will the formulas for premium subsidies be realistic?  Government income formulas never are.  Will the formulas take into account other types of debt that the law highly favors for payment, such as child support and student loans (both of which have strong enforcement mechanisms and virtual nondischargeability in bankruptcy), mortgages, and credit card debt.  I recognize that, if a person cannot simultaneously make all legally favored payments and eat, he or she must stop eating and make the payments.  But if a person truly cannot simultaneously make all of his or her legally-protected debt payments and the mandatory health insurance premium payment, which debt must yield?     

I trust that Congress will be able to address these problems before the final markup of the bill, and that it will act quickly to make the reform a reality.

Posted by ian_j_site2 at 11:01 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 23 May 2009 11:17 AM EDT
Sunday, 12 April 2009
New Facebook group on debt relief and credit reform
Topic: Political and economic
Several past posts have dealt with debt relief and credit reform as necessary parts of economic recovery.  I have now started a Facebook group to promote these concepts.  It is called Debt Relief and Real Credit Reform to Stimulate the Economy (click on the line to go there).  I will also continue to discuss the same issue here, from time to time, though likely in a more philosophical or theoretical way than in the Facebook group.

Posted by ian_j_site2 at 3:55 PM EDT
Sunday, 5 April 2009
Economic recovery and the Church: The bigger picture
Topic: Political and economic

I'm beginning to see a picture that is bigger than the one I set forth eight and a half years ago in my Warning Against Idolatry. 

It is clear now that we have walked off the edge of the cliff economically, just as I predicted in 2000, and are now falling.

It is also clear that we have an activist President who wants to do some pretty radical things politically about the economic crash.  It is also obvious, for reasons I've explained in earlier blog posts, that for reasons of justice the President should be allowed to do many of the radical things he is attampting.

However, the bigger picture is this: The government's best efforts will not solve our economic collapse.  The government's best efforts will not prevent massive homelessness and privation.  Social unrest and violence will occur.  The only solution to the problem is found in the Church, the Body of Christ, which brings God's power to earth.

The government will do its best, but ultimately God must provide, through His Church.  It will be the Church thatshows sacrificial love and demonstrates the solution.

The problem is that the Church will not be able to do this in its present, divided state.  I'm not talking now about denominational divisions, or about the need for oranizational mergers.  I'm talking about divisiveness in the Church.  I'm talking about partisanship--the habits of building our own personal or organizational following by attacking someone else and of building the loyalty of our followers by preaching fear of identified human enemies.  This  is expected in the world.  It should not be found in the Church.

If we want to see the solution to our current problems developed by the Church, we need to abandon these traditional methods of building a loyal following and work together.  We are, as Paul reminded us several times, followers of Christ, not of human leaders.  Our loyalty is to be to Him.

I am now going to suggest something quite radical.  Our abandonment of the traditional divisive methods must be complete.  We must not limit ourselves to merely not seeking to demonize other Christians as often.  Instead, we must cease to demonize any human--Christian or unbeliever--in order to build our following.  This includes political leaders.  It also includes militant unbelievers and radical followers of other faiths who lash out against Christ, or against Christians, in their ignorance.  We must consistently resist the urge to make these humans (for whom Christ died!) into the enemy.  Though they attack, we must not.  Christ has called us to live differently, trusting Him.  This is the only way to unity in the Church, and hence the only solution to our current problems.

One application of this involves the political focus of this blog:  I've heard many of my Christian friends demonizing the President.  They tell each other he is leading us into disaster, and urge me to join them in fighting against him.  Because of his political and economic ideas, he is to them the enemy. But he is also our duly elected national leader.  If the Church is to find the unity necessary to provide the solution to our national problem, it needs to get behind the President.  As I have written on this blog before, we need to support him.  We need to support him, not demonize him and wast effort and create division fighting him as if he were the enemy.  He is not the enemy, and if the Church were to solidly get behind him, first in prayer and then in action (remember that he is calling for volunteer action on a large scale!), he could be a large part of the solution.  But it won't happen while we are putting so much effort into fighting him!    



Posted by ian_j_site2 at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 5 April 2009 10:38 PM EDT
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Topic: F unAQs

All of our lives, we ordinary people are expected to be loyal followers, who tamely do as we're told and don't entertain our own ideas, and nothing more.  We are expected to leave the real decisions to a few recognized "leaders," and to instinctively recognize that we will never be "leaders." Yet we pay good money for courses on "leadership,"  and promotion within the ranks of the followers often depends on how much we know about being a leader, even though we will never be one.

What I have never seen is a course on "followership!" 

April fools!


Posted by ian_j_site2 at 8:13 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 1 April 2009 8:14 AM EDT
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Why the Presdient's recovery approach makes better sense
Topic: Political and economic

I hosted an official event supporting the President's budget today, but nobody else came.  I'm not going to be very effective canvassing on my own.  So, instead I'll do something I do better--I'll write about it.

President Obama's recovery approach, which includes his very large budget, may not be perfect, but it makes much better sense in terms of economic theory than his predecessor's approach did.

When faced with the imminent collapse of the finanacial markets--which should have come as no surprise (I predicted collapse eight and a half years ago, while Bill Clinton was still President, and others have made similar predictions in the interim)--former President Bush responded by hastily pushing through a "bailout" plan.  He simply created a huge amount of money, mostly out of nothing, and gave it to the very financial firms that had created the mess in the first place, with very few strings attached.  He assumed that, once these firms had averted disaster, they would promptly use the funds to make credit available to support capital investment and job creation in the United States.

President Bush's bailout plan contained some rather obvious and serious flaws.  It assumed that the firms were interested in supporting Capital investiment in the United States, where the last 40 years of U.S. history show that they are mostly interested in capital investment in Mexico, China, India or some other place where labor is cheap.  It assumed that the firms were interested in job creation anywhere, when they are only interested in their own profits.  Jobs will be created, or destroyed, based on where a good labor pool is most easily and cheaply exploited.  It assumed that the firms would show some restraint in using the funds to line the pockets of their control groups (when, as we all know now, they do not know how to show any restraint in this area).  And, finally, it assumed that the firms bailed out would start to realease the funds to U.S. industry relatively promptly, rather than sit on them to use them as a weapon against us later.

This final point is important.  Most of the Bush bailout funds seem simply to have disappeared.  This doesn't mean that they no longer exist.  It means that they are being held unused.  Since they were created out of nothing, if the funds were released all at once, they could create a disastrous inflation.    More particularly, if they were released suddenly through foreign or multinational firms to buy critical commodities--e.g., food or oil--away from the U.S. for foreign use, hyperinflation with shortages and even famine could be produced artificially in the U.S. very suddenly.  The threat to our government is, in fact, starkly clear.  If the U.S. government now departs too far from doing exactly what our multinational owners want done, former President Bush's bailout money will be dumped suddenly, destroying the U.S. economy, starving millions of Americans just to make the point that we are all now foreign property, and then buying outright whatever is left at fire sale prices.  

President Obama's recovery plan and budget represent a theoretically more sane approach.  Yes, he is also creating a lot of new money to fund the first few years.  But he is not just giving that money to the rich and trusting that they will use it for the country's benefit.  Instead, he is spending it on a lot of specific things, many of which represent capital investment in the traditional sense (building infrastructure) and most of which directly create jobs.  The fact that the money is being spent on goods and services, most of them not in direct competition with consumer goods, will lessen the short-term inflationary impact of the new spending. The capital investments in infrastructure will increase productivity, again reducing the inflationary impact of adding a lot of new money to the system.   The President is also right to be focusing a major part of his effort on infrastructure changes to increase productivity in the healthcare sector, which has become a major weight on the economy, and on education.  

Will the President's efforts succeed?  It's hard to tell.  The problems are really very severe.  He also has the continuing threat of ambush by President Bush's vanishing bailout funds to contend with--a mtter which is, unfortunately, mostly out of his control.  

But his plan makes sense, and he deserves a chance to make it work, for all our sakes.

I support what he is doing.     


Posted by ian_j_site2 at 4:11 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 21 March 2009 4:19 PM EDT
Friday, 13 March 2009
The genaeology of the stubborn mule
Topic: F unAQs

If you're as stubborn as an old mule, remember:

The mule is half ass. 

Posted by ian_j_site2 at 10:46 PM EDT
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Up or Out as a slogan for national healthcare policy
Topic: Pure Satire

The military, law firms, and other competitive organizations have long had as a slogan describing one of their key personnel policies the phrase "Up or Out."  This means, of course, that for people at the bottom and middle ranks of the organization, it isn't enough to simply be competent at the job you're doing.  You have to be more than competent, make the right political connections, and GET THAT NEXT PROMOTION.  Those who don't move UP the organization fast enough--to the next rank, to the next management level, or to partner--are OUT, even though they do their current job very well.

 However, as an aging baby boomer who is stuck in a job I do very well, but with no way to move UP, I'm beginning to believe that UP OR OUT has been made the slogan of the healthcare delivery system for my generation.  Since I haven't been ablen to move UP in my profession (for reasons described elsewhere), I am being priced out of the healthcare delivery system.  If I had made all of the moves UP that others in my law school class of 27 years ago have made, I'd be able to afford the extortionate health insurance premiums I must pay (since I'm now an older worker with health problems), and I'd be able to save the amount of my $2,500/$5,000 annual deductible on top of paying premiums.  (Or, possibly, I'd be in a larger firm, corporate law office or government agency that has cheaper coverage with lower deductibles?)  But because I have failed to move UP as I was supposed to, I am now expected to tamely move OUT--out of this life, that is.  Economic "responsibility" is going to force me to ration myself out of some necessary appointments and prescriptions within the next few months, so that I'll have income to pay for some deductibles I already owe, so obviously I'm supposed to get OUT of this life, since I can no longer afford it!

"UP OR OUT," appears to be the slogan of the current employment-based health care delivery system.  It looks like the President's reforms may not get here in time to help me.



Posted by ian_j_site2 at 11:42 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 12 March 2009 11:44 PM EDT
Monday, 9 March 2009
Adam Smith, the invisible hand, and the deification of greed
Topic: Political and economic

Modern free market economic theory places the collective greed of the people in the place of God.  This can be demonstrated by the development of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" metaphor, from his original use of it to its use by modern economic and political theorists.

In his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argued that free trade among nations, unhindered by protective duties, in the long run promotes the wealth of all of the trading parners.  In explaining why it is better for society to leave goods and capital free to flow wherever the profits are greatest, Smith explained that, although each individual trader will bargain with only his own profit in view, in the aggregate such trade will flow as if "led by an invisible hand" to increase the common wealth:

As every individual, therefore, endeavors as much he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.

Smith was raised in the Church of Scotland.  Indeed, Smith almost entered the clergy before rejecting Christian doctrine in favor of Deism.  In Smith's day, the Church of Scotland was strictly Calvinistic. The Calvinist form of Christianity incorporates a strongly deterministic philosophy. Smith's upbringing, thus, taught the existence of an "invisible hand" that keeps all the forces of nature and of history in motion and determines their course--the Hand of God.  I note that this is not unique to Christianity.  Islam and historical Judaism also teach that the hand of God moves the events of the world; these three religions simply disagree over the nature of that God, how he interacts with humans, and whether he has a Son.  But, returning to my subject, at least with regard to international trade, Smith kept his Calvinistic determinism while discarding the notion of a personal God.  He retained an "invisible hand" moving economic events.  He simply identified that "invisible hand" as the impersonal force of the collective greed of those engaging in trade rather than the Hand of a personal God.  This is exactly the kind of substitution that would be expected of a Deist.

Theorists subsequent to Smith have extended his concept, and his metaphor, to encompas all economic activity.  The modern version of the theory of the "invisible hand" might be stated something like this:  "if each consumer is allowed to choose freely what to buy and each producer is allowed to choose freely what to sell and how to produce it, the market will settle on a product distribution and prices that are beneficial to all the individual members of a community, and hence to the community as a whole, guided as if by an invisible hand."  Or, stated in the terms of utilitarian ethics, the effect of collective greed, of the need to make a profit off of each other, if left to itself will result in the greatest possible social good.   Thus, theories building on Smith also deify greed, by making it both the impersonal force that determines all economic outcomes and the true source of all good (at least in economic terms).  

There is, however, one large problem with this theory.  It replaces a good God with an impersonal force that is the collectivization of a motive that is a moral evil.  We may think that it is morally good, or at least okay, for us and our friends to be greedy.  But nearly everyone condemns strangers when they greedily exploit others.  And everyone we know, I think, condemns people who greedily exploit us. When greed is turned against us, we instinctively recognize it to be evil.    Thus, those who adhere to the "invisible hand" concept believe that a large enough aggregation of evil motives usually has a good result.  Colect enough evil together and it becomes good (and a suitable replacement for God, at that).

This is simply inconsistent. 


I would also point out that it is unscriptural.  The Bible contains many reproofs for nations that could be applied to the modern United States and the modern western world.  (None of them were actually originally spoken about the U.S.A.; I said only that, based on their subject matter, they could have appropriately been spoken about us).  The intereting thing is that they all have as one of their primary concerns the way we treat each other.  They condemn both greed and oppression; they do not praise either one.  See my lengthy collection of these passages at Prophecies for America (I posted it 5 years ago).  Paul actually called greed "idolatry."  (Colossians 3:5).  It sounds like he had Adam Smith in mind!

Posted by ian_j_site2 at 11:16 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 9 March 2009 11:19 PM EDT
Saturday, 7 March 2009
Where in the Bible is a corporate "free market" commanded
Topic: Where in the Bible

My next fundamental disturbing question of political economics is where does the Bible prescribe a corporate "free market?"

That is, where does the Bible teach that government must leave corporations free to do whatever the market allows?

This question must be raised because, whenever someone in government proposes any major restrictions on what a class of corporations may do, or talks of changing to a method of providing or distributing anything that doesn't depend on corporations competing in a market to make the largest possible profit for their shareholders, Christian conservatives tend to scream about improperly interfering with the "free market."  They tend to imply that any such interference is ungodly and blasphemous.  The best current examples of this are health care reform and the President's plan to keep some control over what corporate recipients of economic stimulus money do with that money (instead of simply giving them money to do whatever they want to do with it, the "free market" approach to a subsidy!).  

 Now I have been an utra-conservative in the past, and I am well aware that, among conservatives, the term "free market" is a buzzword--an emotionally charged term that has been carefully conditioned to draw a knee-jerk response and has largely lost its original denotational meaning.  (Thus, it is somewhat similar to the term "freedom of choice" among liberals, a term which no longer refers to freedom to choose careers, or friends, or food, or clothing styles... I explain the use of buzzwords much more fully in my entry on the Buzzword Fallacy, elsewhere).  Any attempt to limit corporate greed is immediately labeled as a threat to the American "free market" system, a system which it is usully implied God Himself endorses.  Therefore, for the government to enact, or for me to support, the anathematized change (whatever it is) would be a grave sin.

Leaving aside for a later entry the question whether any of the "free markets" we are urged to protect at all costs are really free (I don't see any evidence that they are, they are simply regulated for the benefit of those corporations that presently dominate them), I now raise the question where God has said that corporations must be left free.

I suspect that some one will attempt to answer this question by directing my attention to Jesus' parable of the workers in Matthew 20:1-16.  In attempting to explain his statement that "the last will be first, and the first last" in the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus told a story about a rich landowner who needed workers for his vineyard.  So he went to the marketplace, and hired workers throughout the day.  Each of the workers agreed with him individually to work that day for a denarius.  At the end of the day, the landowner brought the workers who had been hired last, and had worked only one hour, in first and paid them each a denarius.  He then brought in those who had been hired just before them, and paid each a denarius.  When those who had been hired first, and had worked the whole day, came in, he also paid them a denarius, as agreed.  These workers who had worked the whole day expected to be paid more, and grumbled about it.  I have heard preachers use the fictional landowner's answer to these workers' complaint as an argument that all markets must be left free.  The landowner said:  "Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"  Matthew 20:13-15.  The italicized language is taken as a statement that the rich must always be left free to do whatever they want with their own money.

However, that is not what Jesus was saying at all.  He was saying that, because God  is generous, he will ultimately richly reward all who labor in his Kingdom--those who came to him with only a little time left equally with those who have walked with Him a long time.  For all who walk with Him, His reward will be exactly what he promised. Our eternal rewards depend on His generosity.   The passage has nothing to do with the prerogatives of wealth in the world--it simply assumed the existence of one of those prerogatives, with which Jesus' listeners would have been very familiar, to make a point about God's generosity and fidelity to His promise, and our equality before Him.

Two other things need to be noted about the Matthew 20 passage.  First, Jesus' never answered the fictional landowner's rhetorical question, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?"  He left the listener to answer it the way any wealthy person of that day would have answered it ("yes").   That unstated, rhetorical answer can't be taken as God's command for all time.

Second, the fictional landowner in the parable was a real human being--and a real human being who had decided to be generous, at that.  He was not a corporation, a fictional person who exists only for legal purposes on paper.  In fact, corporate executives generally would not understand themselves to be free to perform the act of generosity that Jesus' fictional landowner did.  If a corporation had agreed with the first set of workers that they were to work a 12-hour day for a denarius, it would undoubtedly have paid the last set of workers, who worked only one hour, only one-twelfth of a denarius.  Any other approach would overvalue the labor used, reduce the corporation's profits, and therefore be a breach of the corporation's fiduciary duty to its stockholders!

As I have written previously, I do post responses.  If you can point to anyplace the Bible supports the corporate "free market" concept, send a comment and I will post it.




Posted by ian_j_site2 at 4:51 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 7 March 2009 5:02 PM EST

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