Saturday, June 28, 2008

Constitutional Documents -- Online and Indexed!

Great resource: The Constitutional Sources Project

Capacity for Inconsistency

Human beings have an amazing capacity for inconsistent thinking. We are capable of enormous outrage over something wrong, but not its equivalent in another setting.

Here's a nice example, by Tony Woodlief:

"In an emotion-laden account, NPR's Terry Gross exposed the brutality of partial-birth abortion today. She interviewed photojournalist Brent Stirton, who "took a photograph that shocked the world," as NPR explains, the victims "murdered, execution-style...simply slaughtered."
Just kidding. They're up in arms about some gorillas that got killed in the Congo. Not to belittle the atrocity. I mean, they're sentient beings, and in many ways they resemble humans. The gorillas, I mean. Not those fetus thingys."

You can find the same kind of problem among any group of people, on many subjects. (Everyone except me, of course, since I'm perfectly consistent in every way :-)

Because it is common, it's an excellent debating tool, and a constructive tool for dialogue. For example, I was recently challenged to think consistently about my views on government support for an in-prison program by Christians. We can help one another think more clearly, more carefully, more humbly. No worries, I got the guy back on his demands for windfall profit taxes on Big Oil profits but not on his relatives' corn and soybean profits.

At the core we overestimate our wisdom and maturity. We ooze pride and hubris. Let us marvel at our Lord Jesus, looking to His examples for perfectly balancing grace and truth, toughness and tenderness.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Spiritual Directors

Eugene Peterson writes about the importance of spiritual directors.

This is not something I hear about commonly pursued today. I wonder if that is a reflection of our general shallow maturity -- there simply aren't many people qualified!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pew Forum Results Don't Surprise Me -- Here's Why

The Pew Forum recently released a study of religious views in the United States -- and it's getting a fair amount of media exposure. Don't depend on this blog post or sound bites in the media if you're really interested. Check out the actual report for yourself.

The analysis is based on a survey of 35,000 people. This sounds like a big number, but given the breadth of religious groups identified, some of the groups might have 50-200 people, and are those numbers representative? Maybe. I'm not a statistician, but it's likely they've done some reasonable analysis.

Survey results are often skewed by the way questions are asked. When 21% of self-categorized athiests say they believe in God (yes, it's in the report), you have to wonder if it's the questions, or is that genuinely true for the group? Also, respondents are grouped as politically liberal, moderate, or conservative -- how was that determined?

Having written a few surveys over the years, and looked at the results, I know how difficult it is to do them well. And this makes me very suspicious, by experience, of political polls and politicians who would steer by them!

Let's assume that all the results are accurate, all the labels are legitimate, and large numbers of Christians believe there is more than one way to heaven, that God is an impersonal force, or that the Bible is not the authoritative Word of God.

I'm not surprised by this. It shows up in the way American Christians live. The biblical knowledge of many -- including those who have been in church services regularly for many years -- is shallow, and they have a weak doctrinal foundation. There is an incredible syncretism between secular and non-Christian religious ideas and orthodox Christian teaching. These things are evident to Bible teachers and pastors everywhere.

But rather than being discouraged, I am encouraged. Our Lord has granted us a wonderul ministry opportunity, a MASSIVE opportunity! Let us keep teaching the Bible to change lives!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Observations on Feedback Response and Legislative Perspectives

Brian Wesbury, an economist, gives some useful perspective on the speed of feedback responses today (much, much faster than in the past) and the fix-it-through legislation perspective of both Obama and McCain:
Americans have had it so good, for so long, that they seem to have
forgotten what government's heavy hand does to living standards and economic
growth. But the same technological innovation that is causing all this
dislocation and anxiety has also created an information network that is as near
to real-time as the world has ever experienced.
For example, President Bush
put steel tariffs in place in March 2002. Less than two years later, in December
2003, he rescinded them. This is something most politicians don't do. But
because the tariffs caused such a sharp rise in the price of steel, small and
mid-size businesses complained loudly. The unintended consequences became
visible to most Americans very quickly.
Decades ago the feedback mechanism was slow. The unintended consequences of the New Deal took too long to show up in the economy. As a result, by the time the pain was publicized, the connection to misguided government policy could not be made. Today, in the midst of Internet Time, this is no longer a problem. So, despite protestations from staff at the White House, most people understand that food riots in foreign lands and higher prices at U.S. grocery stores are linked to ethanol subsidies in the U.S., which have sent shock waves through the global system.
This is the good news. Policy mistakes will be ferreted out very quickly. As a result, any politician who attempts to change things will be blamed for the unintended
consequences right away.
Both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama view the world from a legislative
perspective. Like the populists before them, they seem to believe that
government can fix problems in the economy. They seem to believe that what the
world needs is a change in the way government attacks problems and fixes the
anxiety of voters. This command-and-control approach, however, forces a
misallocation of resources. And in Internet Time this will become visible in
almost real-time, creating real political pain for the new president.
In contrast to what some people seem to believe, having the government take over
the health-care system is not change. It's just a culmination of previous moves
by government. And the areas with the worst problems today are areas that have
the most government interference – education, health care and energy.

John Adams

I received a delightful Father's Day gift -- the DVD set of the HBO film series, John Adams, based on the David McCullough book.

The film series is excellent. I would think it would be appropriate for older teens through adults. There are some scenes that I would not recommend for younger children, and frankly the pacing and plot are not likely to hold the attention of a younger child.

The texture, detail, and difficulty of living in colonial America is brought to your eyes and ears. That generation would rightly call us soft.

The film is even better than the book at bringing out the decadence of Paris as an assault on John Adams' sensibilities.

The special features show how many special effects were used, but they're transparent and so good that you don't realize you're watching a post-processing effect at all. So there is no distraction from the plot.

I have a few wishes, though. The film focuses more on some of the darker elements of Adams' life, and makes him seem much more douer than other accounts. (It's difficult to imagine such a uniformly grumpy man being successful if public life.) Also, there is very little religious aspect brought out in the film, though it's clear that the Adams were deeply religious.

Still, I hope the film series piques more interest in our history, and more appreciation for the hand of Providence in the lives of men and women. On this last point, if you'll also read McCullough's excellent 1776, it will be hard to believe that God was not protecting people and steering events.

My advice would be to watch the film series, then read the book for the fuller story.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights

Gene Veith writes about the legal battles between gay rights and religious rights.

"In a remarkable cultural and moral inversion, homosexuals now occupy the moral high ground, and religious people who oppose homosexuality are now perceived as the bad guys."

I realize that not all religious people believe homosexual behavior is wrong. Many do. The legal issue is how to reconcile freedoms of religious belief and practice (1st Amendment) with changing cultural norms.

Granting Constitutional Rights to Non-Citizens

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Boumediene v. Bush to grant non-citizens the right to petition citizen courts challenging the legality of their detentions.

Personally I'm with Justice Scalia on this decision: it's a bad decision that does not square with the U.S. Constitution or consistent legal precedence from the Civil War forward. While there can be innocent people imprisoned by the military as enemy combatants, this "solution" creates serious problems in the future.

Several people I've spoken with have swallowed the sound bite that this will force the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the immediate release of all the prisoners. Not so. It says that the prisoners have the right to a hearing in a civil court of law. (In practice, I would speculate some prisoners might be released more quickly than others.)

John Piper points out something important to remember: I'm blessed to live in a country where the president follows the rule of law, even if he doesn't agree with it. There are restraints on power.

And I am grateful for our sovereign Lord.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dad's -- Stay the Course!

I'm always glad to see Father's Day come around, if only because it's the one time of year in the U.S. when the dominant cultural themes are not working to portray dad as a dweeb. (For example, how many strong father figures show up in television shows vs. an idiot or cruel father figure?)

And it's also a time when journalists publish numbers like these:
The extent of the problem is clear. The nation's out-of-wedlock birth rate is 38%. Among white children, 28% are now born to a single mother; among Hispanic children it is 50% and reaches a chilling, disorienting peak of 71% for black children. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly a quarter of America's white children (22%) do not have any male in their homes; nearly a third (31%) of Hispanic children and over half of black children (56%) are fatherless.
This represents a dramatic shift in American life. In the early 1960s, only 2.3% of white children and 24% of black children were born to a single mom. Having a dad, in short, is now a privilege, a ticket to middle-class status on par with getting into a good college.
The odds increase for a child's success with the psychological and financial stability rooted in having two parents. Having two parents means there is a greater likelihood that someone will read to a child as a preschooler, support him through school, and prevent him from dropping out, as well as teaching him how to compete, win and lose and get up to try again, in academics, athletics and the arts. Maybe most important of all is that having a dad at home is almost a certain ticket out of poverty; because about 40% of single-mother families are in poverty.
"If you are concerned about reducing child poverty then you have to focus on missing fathers," says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, based in Gaithersburg, Md. This organization works to encourage more men to be involved fathers.
The odds are higher that a child without a dad will have more contact with the drug culture, the police and jail. Even in kindergarten, children living with single parents are more likely to trail children with two parents when it comes to health, cognitive skills and their emotional maturity. They are in the back of the bus before the bus – their life – even gets going.

What about you, Dad? Not feeling appreciated? Not getting much support for being the spiritual leader of your family? Weary of the drill?

Stay the course. No matter how you feel, fathering is more important than we realize in the moment.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Who Can You Encourage Today?

Men, who can you encourage today?

Please note I didn't ask "Who will you encourage today?" That's the second question :-)

Who CAN you encourage? Start there. Who comes to mind? And who comes to mind next? And after that?

The truth is that there are dozens if not hundreds of people around you that you can encourage. It requires only a small amount of others-first thinking to see them.

What can you do to encourage them? A brief word is all that's needed. Email, instant message, phone call, note left for them. You'd be surprised how much encouaragement an appropriate hug or handgrip will deliver. Point them back to the Lord. Remind them that they are not alone, or forgotten.

Now for that second question: Who will you encourage today? That's your follow-through.

Be bold, be gentle.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Flooding in Iowa

Several of you have written notes of concern, asking if we're ok. (Thank you!)

The flooding across Iowa is severe, and may surpass the 1993 flooding. Watering is pouring over the emergency spillway dam at Saylorville Lake -- doubling the Des Moines river flow heading into the city of Des Moines. Our family is fine, and our home is dry. There's more rain coming today and tomorrow.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Naming Names

Lawrence Solomon draws attention to the many scientists who are concerned about the problems with the models and data analysis used to support global warming, and also claims that Wikipedia is censoring articles related to global warming.

From the book jacket of The Deniers:

Al Gore says any scientist who disagrees with him on Global Warming is a kook,
or a crook. Guess he never met these guys:

Dr. Edward Wegman--former chairman of the Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics of the National Academy of Sciences--demolishes the famous "hockey stick" graph that launched the global warming panic.

Dr. David Bromwich--president of the International Commission on Polar Meteorology--says "it's hard to see a global warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now."

Prof. Paul Reiter--Chief of Insects and Infectious Diseases at the famed Pasteur
Institute--says "no major scientist with any long record in this field" accepts
Al Gore's claim that global warming spreads mosquito-borne diseases.

Prof. Hendrik Tennekes--director of research, Royal Netherlands
Meteorological Institute--states "there exists no sound theoretical framework
for climate predictability studies" used for global warming forecasts.

Dr. Christopher Landsea--past chairman of the American Meteorological
Society's Committee on Tropical Meteorology and Tropical Cyclones--says "there
are no known scientific studies that show a conclusive physical link between
global warming and observed hurricane frequency and intensity."

Dr. Antonino Zichichi--one of the world's foremost physicists, former president of
the European Physical Society, who discovered nuclear antimatter--calls global
warming models "incoherent and invalid."

Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski--world-renowned expert on the ancient ice cores used in climate research--says the U.N. "based its global-warming hypothesis on arbitrary
assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false."

Prof. Tom V. Segalstad--head of the Geological Museum, University of Oslo--says "most leading geologists" know the U.N.'s views "of Earth processes are implausible."

Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu--founding director of the International Arctic
Research Center, twice named one of the "1,000 Most Cited Scientists," says much
"Arctic warming during the last half of the last century is due to natural

Dr. Claude Allegre--member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences and French Academy of Science, he was among the first to sound the alarm on the dangers of global warming. His view now: "The cause of this climate change is unknown."

Dr. Richard Lindzen--Professor of Meteorology at M.I.T., member, the National Research Council Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, says global warming alarmists "are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right."

Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov--head of the
space research laboratory of the Russian Academy of Science's Pulkovo
Observatory and of the International Space Station's Astrometria project says
"the common view that man's industrial activity is a deciding factor in global
warming has emerged from a misinterpretation of cause and effect relations."

Dr. Richard Tol--Principal researcher at the Institute for Environmental
Studies at Vrije Universiteit, and Adjunct Professor at the Center for
Integrated Study of the Human Dimensions of Global Change, at Carnegie Mellon
University, calls the most influential global warming report of all time
"preposterous . . . alarmist and incompetent."

Dr. Sami Solanki--director and scientific member at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, who argues that changes in the Sun's state, not
human activity, may be the principal cause of global warming: "The sun has been
at its strongest over the past 60 years and may now be affecting global temperatures."

Prof. Freeman Dyson--one of the world's most eminent physicists says the models used to justify global warming alarmism are "full of fudge factors" and "do not begin to describe the real world."

Dr. Eigils Friis-Christensen--director of the Danish National Space Centre, vice-president of the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy, who argues that changes in the Sun's behavior could account for most of the warming attributed by the UN to man-made CO2.

It is curious that many of the same people who demand scientific critical analysis for the theory of evolution, appreciating that the data is complex and requires interpretation, and are concerned about "agenda-driven" evolution education, do not have the same standards for analysis of climate change. The proposed political solutions to reduce CO2 emissions are not economically neutral, nor will the increased regulatory power of government be inconsequential. Let us therefore be clear thinkers.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Books for Guys

Relatively few adult men read books for pleasure. Albert Mohler suggests this may be because no one has steered them to fascinating books that trip their trigger! Here are some of his recommendations.

Of course we need to read the Book of books, the Bible, for life.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Uniqueness of God's Grace

Most Christians fail to understand the uniqueness of God's grace as portrayed through the Bible (not just the NT, mind you, the whole Bible).

Robert M. Horn wrote:

"It is not found in any of the world's cults or religions, nor in much of what poses for Christianity. From the Pharisee's stress on deeds to the mystic's focus on meditation, all religions emphasize human achievement. They are all bilateral agreements: God does part, we do part.... But the God of Christianity is a God of unilateral action....God acted on his own, making a unilateral declaration of grace."