Wednesday, September 26, 2012

quotes from (and a few thoughts on) Hayek's Road to Serfdom

Hayek dedicates The Road to Serfdom to "the socialists of all parties". Gotta love that start, noting that socialism and crony capitalism (a later topic) are common among the politicians and partisans of the major political parties.

Hayek (xiii; page references from the original/1944 version) uses this deTocqueville quote in the preface about the slow removal of freedom in a "new kind of servitude" [to government]: "It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

Hayek quotes FDR (once) and it's a doozy: "not that the system of free enterprise for profit has failed in this generation, but that it has not yet been tried..."

Hayek on "individualism" (14, 59): “Individualism has a bad name today and the term has come to be connected with egotism and selfishness. But the individualism of which we speak in contrast to socialism and all other forms of collectivism has no necessary connection with these... It does not assume, as is often asserted, that man is egoistic or selfish or ought to be. It merely starts from the indisputable fact that the limits of our powers of imagination make it impossible to include in our scale of values more than a sector of the needs of the whole society...From this the individualist concludes that the individuals should be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values..." 

Hayek is not a hard-core Libertarian, easily finding a role for government in areas beyond "institutions" (p. 38-39; establishing an environment that encourages productivity-- e.g., by protecting property rights)-- into areas such as regulation of poisonous substances, to limit working hours, to regulate sanitation and safety (as long as it promotes the general welfare, rather than targeting specific actors; p. 37). See: Walter Block's article in the Journal of Libertarian Studies for more detail on this.

Hayek on the "inevitability" and slippery slope of central planning and socialism (43): "It is a revealing fact that few planners are content to say that central planning is desirable. Most of them affirm that we can no longer choose but are compelled by circumstances beyond our control to substitute planning for competition. The myth is deliberately cultivated that we are embarking on the new course not out of free will but because competition is spontaneously eliminated by technological changes which we neither can reverse nor should wish to prevent. This argument is rarely developed at any length—it is one of the assertions taken over by one writer from another until, by mere iteration, it has come to be accepted as an established fact."

Hayek (56) quotes Adam Smith on the troubles of central planning: "The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with most unnecessary attention but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of man who have folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."

I love this poke by Hayek on supposed advocates and the fetish of democracy (70-71): “It may well be true that our generation talks and thinks too much of democracy, and too little of the values which it serves...Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safe-guarding internal peace and individual freedom. As such it is by no means infallible or certain... Democratic control may prevent power from becoming arbitrary, but it does not do so by its mere existence. If democracy resolves on a task which necessarily involves the use of power which cannot be guided by fixed rules, it must become arbitrary power."

Hayek on crony capitalism (194): "the impetus of the movement toward totalitarianism comes mainly from the two great vested interests: organized capital and organized labor. Probably the greatest menace of all is the fact that the policies of these two most powerful groups point in the same direction." Continuing (196-197): "Unless the argument of this book has been completely misunderstood, the author will not be suspected of any tenderness toward the capitalists if he stresses here that it would nevertheless be a mistake to put the blame for the modern movement toward monopoly exclusively or mainly on that class. Their propensity in this direction is neither new nor would it by itself be likely to become a formidable power. The fatal development was that they have succeeded in enlisting the support of an ever increasing number of other groups and, with their help, in obtaining the support of the state...Private monopoly is scarcely ever complete and even more rarely of long duration or able to disregard potential competition. But a state monopoly is always a state-protected monopoly—protected against both potential competition and effective criticism...The machinery of monopoly becomes identical with the machinery of the state, and the state itself becomes more and more identified with the interests of those who run things than with the interests of the people in general."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dreisbach on "Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State"

Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State, written by Daniel Dreisbach, professor at American University. (I heard Dreisbach speak on "the vine and the fig tree"; good stuff!)

The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...."

The first reference to “the wall [of separation between church and state]” by the SCOTUS shows up nearly 100 years later—through Chief Justice Morrison Waite in Reynolds vs. U.S. (1879): Jefferson's reply to the Danbury Baptists "may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment.”

The SCOTUS “rediscovered” the phrase through Justice Hugo Black’s use of it in Everson v. Board of Education (1947): "In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state…That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach."

Dreisbach opens by observing that “The pervasive influence of the ‘wall’ in law, policy and discourse raises some important questions” (5)—most notably, is the wall metaphor accurate to the 1st Amendment and is the contemporary use of “the wall” faithful to Jefferson’s meaning (to the extent this matters)? Similar questions arise later (55): “What does ‘the wall’ separate? What is meant by ‘church’? What is meant by ‘state’? Does ‘state’ include civil government in all its forms?”

Dreisbach notes that “The Amendment differs in significant respects from Jefferson’s felicitous phrase…imposes explicit restrictions on Congress only. A wall, by contrast, is a bilateral barrier.” (2)

Moreover, Dreisbach argues from the context that Jefferson was speaking of the federal government—and the President not asserting powers not afforded to him or the Congress, through the Constitution (66). “In short, the wall Jefferson erected in the Danbury letter was between the federal government on the one side and church authorities and state government on the other…Accordingly, Jefferson saw no contradiction in authoring a religious proclamation as a state official and refusing to issue a similar proclamation as the federal chief executive.” (68) [See also: any policy differences between execution at the state and federal levels—most notably, these days, as seen with health care “reform”. It’s amazing that smart people can’t draw this distinction!]

As Dreisbach concludes: “This controverts the conventional notion that Jefferson’s metaphor encapsulated a general constitutional, prudential, and libertarian doctrine of church-state relationships and religious liberty.” (69) One other irony I caught: people who are fond of a larger version of ‘the wall’ here aren’t nearly as fond of the clear wall erected by the 10th Amendment.

Dreisbach opens chapter 7 on the use of the wall in discourse—with a wonderful quote from Judge Benjamin Cardozo in a 1926 court case: “Metaphors in law are to be narrowly watched, for starting as devices to liberate thought, they end often by enslaving it.” From there, he traces the evolution of thought on—and use of—the wall.

In terms of substance, Dreisbach (25) also provides context for the exchange of the six letters (all of which he reproduces), including the idea that private letters often became (very) public communication (27). Chapter 5 lays out pre-Jeffersonian references to the wall, including the probable source(s) for Jefferson’s use of the phrase. And chapter 6 lists other wall-like references from earlier writers and Jefferson’s contemporaries. These two chapters were both unexpected and really interesting.

For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, Dreisbach’s work is accessible and useful for discerning what was meant by the Constitution and by Jefferson in his famous phrase. Unfortunately, fundamentalists (esp. those who agree with Hugo Black’s take) on both sides are the least likely to read a work like this.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

the key to Israel's history: the rejection of Babylon and Egypt

I love the observation in Peterson's "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" (p. 31) that "The whole history of Israel is set in motion by two...acts of 'world rejection', which freed the people for an affirmation of God: the rejection of Mesopotamia in the days of Abraham and the rejection of Egypt in the days of Moses. All the wisdom and strength of the ancient world were in Mesopotamia and Egypt."

The Bible indicates that we are to cast off "the world" (defined as the world "system" in opposition to God; I Jn 2:15-17) without casting off all aspects of the world. Look at the work of God in Israel's history-- e.g., with respect to the re-casting of pagan myths and pagan practices such as circumcision. Look at the lives of other Biblical heroes-- most notably, Daniel in chapter 1 (as he famously rejects some but certainly not all that Babylon has to offer) and in later chapters as he works within pagan administrations. Look at the call to Jesus' disciples-- that they be "of the world", but not "in the world" (e.g., Jn 9:5). Look at Paul, quoting pagan poets three times and being able to speak to all sorts of non-believer and non-disciple audiences.And so on.

As you look deeper, it becomes obvious that applying these principles is not simple. Look at Israel post-Egypt and the money they're given on the way out the door-- a chunk of which builds the Tabernacle and a chunk of which builds the Golden Calf. We use money but we're not to worship Mammon. We eat but we're not to be gluttons. We can drink alcohol, but not unto drunkenness. We are commanded to enjoy God's good gifts, but to the extent of idolatry. And so on.

It's easy to absorb and be absorbed by the world. It's easy to avoid the world and its influences. But neither is Biblical. Salvation starts with an admission and rejection and payment for our sin. Discipleship begins with a general rejection of Babylon and Egypt-- and then wrestles with how to be "in the world" but not "of the world".

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prothero's "Religious Literacy"

Stephen Prothero is a professor of religious studies and prolific writer/thinker at the intersection of religion, history, modern times, and education. He seems like a relatively dispassionate observer—more of a tame, cultural Christian than any sort of fervent disciple of Jesus—and so, he is well-suited to speak in objective terms on contentious questions.  

Prothero’s thesis in Religious Literacy is the importance of religious literacy—with a historical review of literacy in America and a call to promoting literacy in the future. In the opening, he contrasts his effort with E.D. Hirsch’s work on cultural literacy. Prothero sees religious literacy as a means to educate (5), whereas Hirsch seems to see cultural literacy as a primary end of education. 
Prothero sees religious illiteracy as equally pervasive but more dangerous, given its importance in making sense of the world—in both an historical and contemporary sense. He is “committed to seeing the study of religion as an indispensable part of a liberal education.” (11) To that end, he provides a 107-page “Dictionary of Religious Literacy” in chapter 6 and a six-page “Religious Literacy Quiz” in an appendix. 

Prothero describes a period of “Eden” in America in this regard—and then “the Fall”. He attributes the Fall primarily to the 2nd Great Awakening in the early-mid 19th C and to post-WWII “revival”. (He argues against the 1960s’s cultural shifts and the famous Supreme Court decisions as primary.) The latter comports with my own sense of the 1950s as the highpoint of American Civil Religion—a deistic, moralistic faith that opposed communism. One clear sign of the limits of 1950s religion: its adherents produced the children of the 60s.

Striving to explain the balance between religious and secular interests throughout America’s history, he observes that today, “Both the RR and the SL feel besieged…The emotions on both sides of this question are understandable, though the irony of the situation—in which each side sees itself as a victim and believes that the other is seizing control of the country—seems lost on everyone concerned…neither faith nor faithlessness is close to either bankruptcy or monopoly.” (27) And he argues it has always been this way—“secular by law…[and] religious by choice”—from the Founding Fathers to the three most recent presidents (28b-30). 

Today, K-12 texts treat religion as “an afterthought or an embarrassment” with a “jack-in-the-box approach: religious characters pop up here and there, typically with all of the color and substance of a circus clown.” (55) This is understandable in part, particularly with younger students, given the desire to make history more interesting. But it’s hardly a method to brag about. Instead, Prothero notes that “none of the classic events in American history…can be understood without knowledge of the religious motivations of [those] who made them happen.” From there, he gives a 10,000-foot view with six pages of examples (56-62). 

Why did schools take a “steer clear” approach (68-69)? To play it safe; confusion about the relevant Supreme Court decisions; ignorance about the establishment clause of the Constitution; conflation of “the crucial distinction between theology and religious studies”; and the secular biases of textbook writers. 

Why did religious literacy fade in the churches? Between churches, believers were looking for common ground among denominations. (Ironically, tolerance among Protestants usually combined with intolerance toward Catholics.) “More than the forces of secularism, it was this sort of religion that would do religious literacy in.” (107, 118-119). 

Within churches, sermons emphasized storytelling over the Bible and doctrine. There was a growing emphasis on passion and experience over knowledge and doctrine—even to the point that knowledge was seen as an opponent of piety: “What for generations had been shameful—religious illiteracy—would become a badge of honor in a nation besotted with the self-made man and the spirit-filled preacher.” (109-111) 

In the schools, it “became nearly impossible to discuss religion in most public schools” (even as early as the 19th C.). There was a shift toward morals over doctrine; textbooks became secularized; tame religious rites became civil more than religious; morality substituted for religion. “The lowest common-denominator Protestantism once preached in public schools morphed into general Christianity, then into generic moralism…not so much salvation as prosperity” (124-127, 135-138)

The famous “revival” of the 1950s was largely of civil religion and “the American way of life”, with passing references to “Judeo-Christian” religion, Eisenhower’s “a deeply felt religious faith and I don’t care what it is”, and Will Herberg’s “faith in faith”. (141-143) “In conforming themselves to American culture, Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism had become little more than parallel paths up the mountain of the American dream.” (9)

Dallas Willard makes similar observations in The Divine Conspiracy, but distinguishes between the Religious Left’s social gospel (often at the expense of a full-blooded Gospel and discipleship) and the Religious Right’s focus on ascension to minimal doctrinal beliefs (what he labels a “bar-code faith”—getting a sticker slapped on you so you can get scanned into heaven). 

As for solutions, Prothero (160) notes that the SCOTUS gave constitutional permission for the academic story of religion in Abington v. Schempp (1963). And he cites William Brennan in the majority opinion: “plainly does not foreclose teaching about the Holy Scriptures or about the differences between religious sects…impossible to teach meaningfully many subjects in the social sciences or the humanities without some mention of religion.” (160).

As for specifics, first, Prothero (165-167) proposes one required course on the Bible in high school—neither to be preached nor debunked; to include (but not be limited to) teaching it as literature; to discuss its influence on economics, politics, art, music, history, etc.; and to familiarize students with it in a religious literacy sort of way. In particular, he recommends the reading of at least Genesis (Leon Kass would agree with this!) and Matthew. 

Second, Prothero (168-171) recommends a required course in world religions in high school—generally, “the seven great religious traditions” with the occasional tailoring to local circumstances (e.g., native American religions). He cites a public school in Modesto, CA that has a course like this one.

Prothero notes that teachers would need to be trained to execute these two courses well and argues that parents should be given an opt-out. Here, I think he’s optimistic about how this would play out in local politics—and misses the larger, underlying economic picture: the real problem here is that monopoly power of the government’s K-12 education (172).

For Christians who are excited about harnessing these ideas to Christian ends, I’d warn you to be (really) careful what you ask for. Imagine who will teach these courses. And even if you get good teaching, would it promote a Christian worldview and encourage discipleship with Jesus or inoculate people with a safe version of pluralistic religion? Prothero makes a similarly sobering observation to open the book—that the countries where church participation is mandated are places where the Church has been emasculated (1). If you’re an opponent of religion in general or Christianity in particular, ironically, the best way to harm it might be to mandate it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

excerpts from Marilynne Robinson's "Absence of Mind"

A number of fun little quotes from Absence of Mind

"The old, confident distinction between materiality and non-materiality is not a thing modern science can endorse...modern physics and cosmology are conspicuous by their absence from the arguments of these self-declared champions of science, reason and enlightenment." (p. 112-113, ix-x)

"Religion is a point of entry for certain anthropological methods and assumptions whose tendencies are distinctly invidious. It is treated as a proof of persisting primitivity...a hermeneutics of condescension." (p. 14)

"If the Christianity [Bertrand] Russell loathes is the Christianity he encountered, then that is a form in which the religion has lived in the world. Others have encountered other Christianities. This is one more instance of the universe of difficulties that surrounds a definition of one religion, not to mention religion as a whole." (p. 12)

"There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all." (p. 12)
--Bertrand Russell, 1927

She has a nice little section on Noah's Ark and the Gilgamesh epic (p. 25-26). She neuters Steven Pinker on the mind (p. 111-112). And she has a wonderful chapter on "The Strange History of Altruism", including a focus on E.O. Wilson's arguments (p. 56-57), Dawkins' memes (p. 65-71), and what turns out ironically to be "parascientific reasoning" (p. 72-73).

She introduces this last idea early-on-- and I'll close with a quote on that angle (p. 2): 

"I have no opinion about the likelihood that science, at the top of its bent, will ultimately arrive at accounts of consciousness, identity, memory, and imagination that are sufficient in the terms of scientific inquiry. Nor do I object, in our present very limited state of knowledge, to hypotheses being offered in the awareness that, in the honorable tradition of science, they are liable to being proved grossly wrong. What I wish to question are not the methods of science, but the methods of a kind of argument that claims the authority of science or highly specialized knowledge, that assumes a protective coloration that allows it to pass for science yet does not practice the self-discipline or self-criticism for which science is distinguished."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rob Bell's Love Wins

I'm late to the “Love Wins” debate/discussion, but better late than never! (I should also note that-- for better/worse-- I have no other significant experience with Bell's work.)

Probably the most famous portion of the book—and the moment at the heart of attempts to market the book—is its opening on Gandhi (1-2). Bell relays the story of someone responding to the inclusion of a Gandhi quote on a piece of art. Someone attached a note on/near the art which said “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

Bell’s reply: “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?”

A few thoughts. As in the rest of the book, Bell asks a ton of questions here. I didn’t count, but there may be more questions than statements—and there are certainly more questions than answers.

From one angle, this is a good sort of frustration for Bell to offer his readers. Asking questions is in line with God’s approach (whose first recorded words post-Fall are questions). Questions are also frequent in the ministry of Jesus. They promote thought on complex topics. They’re helpful for people to take ownership of what they believe. And so on.

But questions can come from a bad place. To note, the Devil’s first recorded words are also questions—and Satan uses questions to mess with Jesus in the Wilderness! In sum, questions stir the soul—for good and sometimes for ill.

Combining the two points: Questions make it difficult to infer the motives from which the questions emanate. Are the questions to stir thought, to play defense, to offer a temptation, and so on? And thus, questions also make it easier to map our own concerns and supposition onto those offering the questions. Not surprisingly, then, Bell’s book has been addressed with everything from serious wrestling to simplistic attacks.

So, what is Bell trying to say with the Gandhi example and the questions that follow? There are a few likely possibilities. First, Bell may want to subtly promote a doctrinal position (or at least promote thought about it) that is outside Christian “conventional wisdom” (or even outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy)—some form of “inclusivism”, “annihilationism”, or “universalism”. (I don't think that's his primary goal, but more on that later.) Bell speaks directly to inclusivism, perhaps alludes to annihilationism and seems to flirt with universalism.

“Annihilationism” is the belief that those who do not want to be with God in Heaven will be “annihilated”—their souls will be destroyed. (Various views on annihilationism speculate on when that will take place.) In a nutshell, instead of receiving eternal punishing (punishing throughout eternity), one will receive an eternal punishment (in the sense of finality). Although not the conventional view on Hell, etc., it is within the pale of orthodoxy since there is strong Scriptural support for the position. (Bell doesn’t address this directly—which is really surprising-- unless his primary point is not "doctrinal".)

Universalism is the belief that (most) all will be saved through Jesus, whether they accept Jesus or God’s grace on Earth or not. There are a variety of approaches here, but they range from a God who isn’t all that Holy or a God who is Holy but provides a second chance in the afterlife (that is rarely if ever refused). Neither is acceptable.

Inclusivism is the belief that all are saved through Jesus (John 14:6)—but behind that, by God’s grace. So, one could be saved by embracing the grace of God—through the saving work of Christ Jesus—without knowing anything about the bearded man from Galilee. This view allows for a smoother transition from the OT and provides a compelling answer to some difficult questions, such as how God deals with “those who have never heard the Gospel”.

Here’s how C.S. Lewis expressed it (Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 5): "Here is another thing which used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ [see: John 14:6]; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him."

Here’s how Bell puts it (154-155): “What [Jesus] doesn’t say [about Jn 14:6] is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions…He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him.”

Bell continues by recognizing that an open door here can lead to many different inferences: “As soon as [this] door is opened…many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so on. Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.”

Such a statement is clear enough, but especially in the context of an approach where Bell is reticent to make (strong) statements. When he makes a strong statement in that context, the statement seems that much stronger. The upshot:  Bell seems like an inclusivist (or at least, wants that to be on the table), rather than a universalist.

So, beyond doctrine, where might Bell be going with his Gandhi opening? I think he’s clearly concerned about one point. (I think he would add a second point; if not, it’s worth adding anyway.)

For that, let’s go back to the preface:

“The plot [of Christianity] has been lost…hijacked…” (vii-viii) Is there any doubt here? Yes, often—throughout history and from a variety of angles. There are the squeaky wheels who advertise falsely or poorly for Christianity. There’s hypocrisy in the Church. There’s an over-emphasis on religious doctrine and social issues—or at least a misperception, in the public’s eye. And so on. In particular, Bell is concerned (presumably through what he sees in everyday ministry) with those who see or sell Christianity as Pharisaical, hateful, narrow, joyless, etc.

He opens the preface with “Jesus’ story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.” (vii) I think I know what he means—and I’m ok with that; if I had to reduce “the story” to one thing, then yes. But such an exercise leads to all sorts of misconceptions and heresies. So fortunately, we don’t have to reduce God or His story or Jesus’ ministry to one thing!

Bell also reassures us that “doubts are ok”. (ix) Absolutely, yes; they are the flip side of faith. All of us have doubts and varying degrees of faith—about all sorts of things. That’s the nature of living in a world with (highly) imperfect information. But this is an uncomfortable point for many people, especially in the realm of religion and theology. And so, this is an important point for Bell to make.

So, I think Bell wants a different voice and less of a tin-ear when it comes to living out and speaking about our faith—to those who have not yet embraced the Good News. In other words, what bothered Bell about the Gandhi comment was its sanctimonious tone. That's why the inclusion of "And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?" seems like a key to understanding Bell's primary goal.)

Here’s another thing that’s ridiculous about the Gandhi comment: the idea that, even if Gandhi did not embrace the grace of God, he offered nothing of value to the world—that a work of art would necessarily be diminished by one of his quotes. This is a conflation of the idea that we have no good works before God with the idea that the works of all people can have value in day-to-day living. In fact, everything is wheat/chaff—and the questions are the extent of the wheat and the wisdom to discern and apply that wheat. Paul quoted pagan poets. God spoke through donkeys. God used Samson mightily. And so on. If it was good enough for Paul, it might be good enough for an artist.

Two other things worthy of note:

I enjoyed his perspective on the rich man and Lazarus (75): “The rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now in hell, the rich man still sees himself above Lazarus. It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed. The chasm is the rich man’s heart! It hasn’t changed, even in death and torment and agony.”

I appreciate Bell’s emphasis on a broader definition of “saved” (26-27, 41, 45, 48-50). In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard talks about how the Christian Right tends to reduce the Gospel to adherence to a few important doctrinal beliefs, getting into a wonderful heaven down the road. Our views of the Gospel are usually attenuated—and focused on a future heaven instead of life now, on earth. Instead, eternal life has already begun for the Christian. It is both the now and the “not yet”.

As for reviews, I found these most helpful-- from sources that are generally quite thoughtful.

Here’s Stan Guthrie in B&C with a charitable take on Bell, focused on two books that handle Bell’s book relatively well (“charitably and forcefully” in Guthrie’s estimation)—one by Mark Galli and another by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle.

Guthrie cites Chan making an important point—that can lead to good questions coming from a bad place: “It’s time for us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself.” If Bell or others ask from a posture of embarrassment about God, they are in error. Hopefully, they’re coming from a posture about embarrassment toward some Christians and the resulting damage to the Gospel.

N.D. Wilson in B&C is much rougher:

“It is obvious that Bell has spent a great deal of time with a great number of sinners. It is obvious that he cares for them, that he wants them to find the love and peace that only Christ can bring…That said, and with a desire to see Bell do a great deal of good for the kingdom he hopes to advance, Love Wins is a pitiful piece of coffee-shop thinking and foggy communication. It reads like an extended blog post, and feels like one too…a pile of wandering wondering without a clear destination…In the end, Love Wins does raise questions that should be discussed. But it raises them breathily and from a strange place, a place where cultural loyalties are too much in play, and God has been told to watch where He treads or we might have to find another one.”

Funny and arguably accurate, but critiquing style is a slippery slope. I don't think this applies to Wilson, but e.g., if most of your church members wear suits/dresses and you have a choir with robes, you should be ok with critiques of your subjective choices-- if you're willing to throw rocks about such things.

In any case, Wilson makes a funny observation about Bell on matters of style: “Bizarrely, Bell is at his most concrete and most confident when making aesthetic claims—and not only when he's talking about a surreal painting on his grandmother's wall. He puts on his critic's cap and passes incredible judgment on the history of the whole stinking world.”

On Bell’s style: “Bell doesn’t really argue his case. Rather, he hurls a set of disjointed statements to see what sticks…he clearly knows how to reach people untrained in the art of reading extended arguments filled with nuance…”

Oakes also connects Bell to Lewis: “Generous views of salvation do not, of course, necessarily entail the conclusion that hell is empty, and Bell never goes that far. Like C. S. Lewis, though, he would insist that a person has to choose hell: ‘God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free’.”

And then this on the incentives of having Hell and God not revealing the details clearly: “So if hell exists—has to exist—then how many are saved and how many damned? Revelation wisely withholds that information. Avery Cardinal Dulles said in these pages several years ago that if we antecedently knew that hell was filled with the massa damnata and heaven not much more populated than your typical Shriners’ convention, despair would result. Correlatively, if we knew that only a few—those notorious applicants for the role of Antichrist, like Hitler and Stalin—were in hell, lassitude would set in.”

Doug Groothuis reviewed Love Wins for CRJ, but unfortunately, it is not available on-line: 

Groothuis connects Love Wins to Bell’s other book, Velvet Elvis (a book with which I am unfamiliar), explaining that he was not surprised by either the style or substance of Love Wins. He is generally unimpressed with both, although he has commendation for Bell on his discussion of the fullness of “salvation”. He also expresses appreciation for Bell raising certain passages and questions that have not been “taken seriously enough”. 

All in all, Love Wins is an easy read and probably worth a look, especially for those who have been burned by or are in close proximity to Pharisees or Pharisee-lites. The fruit of reading Bell's book should be more humility and more passion for the souls of men and the works of God. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

who pays for what most people call "health insurance" (employees, employers, taxpayers)

An interesting article from the AP's Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar (h/t: C-J)-- with some bad and missing econ...

The bad: "Premiums averaged $15,745, with employees paying more than $4,300 of that..."

Bro, employees "pay for" all of it-- some directly and the rest indirectly (through lower compensation in other forms). It's not helpful to write such things in such ways.

The missing: "Employees at companies with many low-wage workers pay more money for skimpier insurance than what their counterparts at upscale firms get."

All things equal, low-wage workers will want to devote less money (although perhaps a higher percentage) to "health insurance"-- similar to their willingness to devote less money to many other things, compared to higher-wage workers.

And given the progressivity of the tax code, lower-wage workers do not have as strong of an incentive to hide their compensation from taxes (compared to higher-wage workers). The progressivity of the tax code means that a broad subsidy for health care will necessarily be regressive. This is what most people in the old political parties consider to be "good policy choices".

Friday, September 7, 2012

the video of the DNC's voter fraud...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the jacked-up federal budget: thank you Bush, Obama and Congress

Interesting video (h/t: Kurt S.) based on the table on p. 210 in the Obama Budget

Some really messed-up factoids about the federal government's budget in 2012:

-spending exceeds revenues by more than 50%
-spending on mandatory ("entitlement") programs and interest exceed all revenues
-compared to 2012, the Obama budget for 2013 predicts a 47% increase in corporate taxes and a 17% increase in income/payroll taxes
-compared to 2012, the Obama budget predicts an 81% increase in corporate taxes and a 26% increase in income/payroll taxes

With those increases in taxes, I wonder what they're predicting about the impact on prices, spending, jobs and the economy?