Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year's Wishes

Bill and I wish all of our readers here at Viewpoint a great 2005! We thank you for spending time with us in 2004, and we hope that you include visiting with us on a regular basis among your New Year's resolutions.

God Bless you and your loved ones,

Where Was God?

The death toll is at 120,000 and still rising. It is, as far as we know, the greatest natural disaster ever to befall humanity in a single day. A friend, Steve M., directs us to Andrew Sullivan's blog which has a short piece linking the reader to Martin Kettle at the Guardian and Stephen Bainbridge at Mirror of Justice who raise the inevitable and vexing question: How could a good and all-powerful God allow this incomprehensible tragedy to happen? It's the same question with which Voltaire skewered the believers of his day after an earthquake killed fifty thousand residents of the city of Lisbon in 1755.

Kettle closes his column with these words:

A non-scientific belief system, especially one that is based on any kind of notion of a divine order, has some explaining to do, however. What God sanctions an earthquake? What God protects against it? Why does the quake strike these places and these peoples and not others? What kind of order is it that decrees that a person who went to sleep by the edge of the ocean on Christmas night should wake up the next morning engulfed by the waves, struggling for life?

From at least the time of Aristotle, intelligent people have struggled to make some sense of earthquakes. Earthquakes do not merely kill and destroy. They challenge human beings to explain the world order in which such apparently indiscriminate acts can occur. Europe in the 18th century had the intellectual curiosity and independence to ask and answer such questions. But can we say the same of 21st-century Europe? Or are we too cowed now to even ask if the God can exist that can do such things?

Mirror of Justice writes this:

The tsunamis that have spawned mind-boggling human suffering across Asia represent perhaps the most difficult challenge to the anthropological presumptions driving the project that we've undertaken on Mirror of Justice. How can we insist on the theologically grounded dignity of the human person when the natural order itself appears to defy such dignity? Nature's challenge is especially poignant during this Christmas season, as the divine concern for humanity promised by the Incarnation seems relatively meaningless given the utter absence of concern embodied in the shifting of the earth's plates deep under the ocean.

Clinging to a belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good deity appears hopeless in the wake of these deadly waves. Invoking human free will offers little help, as the earthquake (unlike all war, much famine, and many diseases) is not causally related to any human act or omission. Chalking it up to the mystery of God is understandably seen as a cop-out. Another common response is to insist that creation fell along with humanity, and this world is obviously not as God desired. But why would God have wired the earth itself to unleash death and destruction once humanity rejected Him? Murder is a human creation; plate tectonics are not. Is not God culpable for earthquakes? And if God is culpable, is not the entire Christian worldview proved to be the illogical relic portrayed by critics?

It seems to me that if we want a moral anthropology rooted in the Incarnation to be taken seriously, we must try to offer an explanation of a world in which tsunamis rip children from their mothers' arms. This is an age-old question, but it must lie at the heart of any effort to engage a culture made skeptical of our "Catholic legal theory" project, at least in part, by pervasive human suffering seemingly caused by the God we embrace.

It would take astonishing chutzpah to think that one can offer a convincing answer to these challenges, and so close to the catastrophe one is loath to even discuss it for fear that it may seem as though the pain and grief hundreds of thousands are experiencing are something abstract and unreal. Even so, the questions are being raised and to refrain from attempting an answer might seem like ducking the issue. So we offer the following, fully aware that no argument, no matter how successful, does anything to console the grieving or to alleviate their pain. Arguments and explanations are for the observers of suffering, not those who are immersed in it.

Nor are we presumptuous enough to think that the answer we suggest resolves all the questions, but we do think that it lies in the direction any theist who seeks an answer to these enormously difficult matters needs to tread.

We start by noting that much evil in the world is the result of human volition, and ever since Augustine the free-will defense of God's goodness has been, if not trouble free, at least serviceable. One problem with it, however, is that it only addresses the problem of moral evil. It does not help us answer those who ask how a good God could allow suffering caused by natural calamities such as storms, accidents, famine, and disease. Or earthquakes. Whatever the reason God may have for permitting moral evil, wouldn't a perfectly good and all-powerful creator have designed a world in which there was no natural evil?

Before going further, we should stipulate that although we hold that God is powerful enough to create universes, we do not hold that His power is unbounded. God's capabilities are constrained by, inter alia, His own nature, and one aspect of that nature is that it is rational and logical. God cannot act irrationally or illogically since to do so would be to put Himself in conflict with Himself. Thus God's power is such that He can do anything that is logically possible to do, i.e. God can do anything that does not entail a contradiction or a logically inconceivable state of affairs. For example, it is not within God's power to create a world in which it would be true to say that God did not create it. Nor is it within God's power today to create a state of affairs in which it would be true to say that the reader of these words never existed.

Perhaps one way to answer the question, then, is to suggest that it may not be possible, even for God, to create a world governed by physical laws in which there is no potential for harm. For example, any world governed by gravity and the law of momentum is going to contain within it the potential for people to fall and suffer injury. Thus the laws of gravity and momentum are not compossible with a world free of the potential for injury. Once God decided to create a world governed by laws, those laws entailed the possibility of harm.

For instance, as Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee explain in their wonderful book Rare Earth, it appears that a planet suitable for life must have plate tectonics, and so, if God is going to create a habitable planet it must have the potential for earthquakes and thus injury and death.

It might be objected, of course, that many theists hold that God creates heaven and that heaven is a world in which there is no natural evil, so it must be possible for a world governed by laws of some kind to exist without there being any human suffering. If God could create heaven, why wouldn't He, if He was perfectly good, create this world like that one?

Perhaps the answer is that God did create this world like that. Maybe the reason that there is no natural evil in heaven is that God's presence suffuses that world, fills every nook and cranny, and acts as a governor, an override, on the laws which might otherwise result in harm to beings which exist there. The skeptic might rejoin that even were he to grant that God's presence in heaven is superordinate to the laws which govern that world, that doesn't help the theist because there's no reason why God couldn't do something similar here in this world as well. Since He obviously doesn't, He must not be perfectly good.

This is, however, exactly what Christian theology says that God did, in fact, do. The account goes something like this: God created a world regulated by the laws of physics and indwelt that world with man, his presence suppressing or negating any harmful effects the expression of those laws may have had. Although the potential for harm existed, there was no disease, suffering, accident, or even death.

At some point, however, man betrayed the idyllic relationship that existed between himself and God. In an act of cosmic infidelity, man chose to use his freedom in a way, the only way, apparently, that God had forbidden in order to assert his autonomy and independence from God.

It was as if a good and faithful husband returned home to discover the love of his life in bed with his worst enemy. If, as "open theists" suggest, God did not foresee this crushing blow coming, it must have broken his heart, metaphorically speaking. Man had made a choice to treat with contempt the wishes of his Creator. He had implicitly demanded that he be completely free to do as he pleased, and God would not force him to do otherwise. Grief-stricken at the rejection He suffered at the hands of His beloved, God withdrew his presence from the world, leaving man, in his self-imposed, self-chosen alienation and estrangement, to fend for himself against the laws and forces which govern the universe.

From time to time that estrangement has terrible consequences. Usually those consequences are drawn out over months or years, like famines or epidemics of influenza or plague. Once in a while, though, they are compressed into relatively brief intervals of time, and it is human to wonder at such moments, where is God? Perhaps God is right at hand, weeping for a world which rejects and excludes Him one moment while blaming Him for not intervening to prevent our suffering the next.

Maybe someone has a better answer. Maybe there is no answer. But this, at least, is our answer.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Stinginess Watch

This site has a list of the contributions of all donor nations and organizations on record as having pledged disaster relief to nations hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami. Two things are noteworthy: All the oil-besotted Muslim nations combined (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, and U.A.E.)will send to their Islamic brethren a little more than half of what Australia, England, or the United States have pledged individually, and France's contribution is not much more than the value of my house.

Indian Ocean Tsunami Animation

Go here for animation of the propagation of the tsunami across the Indian Ocean and other information on the catastrophe. Thanks to Belmont Club for the tip.

Meanwhile Keith Olberman at MSNBC is determined to find some way to make the administration look bad in this terrible event. The man is obsessed with blaming someone, preferably Republicans, for every bad thing, whether great or small, that happens in the world. We expect him to announce soon that there is evidence that the earthquake was most certainly a result of Bush's environmental indifference, and that there is no reason not to think that Halliburton played some nefarious role.

Barna's Year-End Review

The Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, has compiled a summary of their findings for the year 2004. Their results are very interesting:

After a year of interviewing thousands of adults, ministers, and young people, many insights into the spiritual contours of Americans emerged from the studies conducted by The Barna Group. In his annual yearend summary of some of the highlights and lowlights from his company's research, cultural analyst George Barna noted that there is reason to be encouraged - and concerned.

Reflecting on the more than 10,000 interviews his firm completed during 2004, Barna identified some of the outcomes he felt were most noteworthy. Those facts were divided into four types: the most encouraging outcomes, the most surprising findings, the most disappointing revelations, and the most significant challenges.

Here are just a few of their findings. Explanations of these and the rest of their results can be found at the link:

America's youngest pastors are more aware of, and responsive to, the battle for the minds and hearts of children than are the older pastors.

Half of all born again adults have endeavored to share their faith in Christ with a non-believer in the past year. Although a large share of those efforts are indirect - such as "lifestyle evangelism" - and few believers are aware of anyone accepting Christ as a result of their efforts, there is a veritable army of Christians who understand and accept the importance of bringing the good news to the world.

For many years, the long-term commitment to Christ by people who were saved as children has been questioned. A national survey revealed, however, that people who embrace Christ before the age of 13 are more likely to remain absolutely committed to Christ in their adult years than are people who accept Christ in their teenage or adult years.

Faith has had a limited affect on people's behavior, whether related to moral convictions and practices, relational activities, lifestyle choices or economic practices. Evangelical Christians, who are just 7% of the national population and less than 10% of those who consider themselves to be Christian, are the exception.

Just half of all Protestant Senior Pastors (51%) meet the criteria for having a biblical worldview. The criteria are believing that God is the all-knowing and all-powerful creator of the universe who still rules it today; that Jesus Christ never sinned; that Satan is real; that salvation is received through faith in Christ, not by good deeds; that every follower of Christ has a responsibility to share their faith with non-believers; that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; that absolute moral truth exists; and that absolute moral truth is described in the Bible.

Only 8% of teenagers consider music piracy - defined as copying their CDs for friends and making unauthorized downloads of music from the Internet - to be morally wrong.

There seems to be a consistent degree of attrition of men from the Christian faith. The numbers of men who are unchurched is rising, while the numbers of men who are "deeply spiritual" and those who possess an active faith (attend church, pray and read the Bible during the week) is declining.

People who accept Christ as their savior when they are adults are less likely to embrace biblical theology than are those who accept Christ when they are children.

Female pastors are substantially different in their theological beliefs than are male pastors. They tend to be much more liberal in their views, are less likely to have a biblical worldview, are less likely to be born again, and more likely to have been divorced.

Four out of ten adults have seen a movie in the past two years that has caused them to think more seriously about their faith. As the mass media and customized media capture an increasing share of people's attention, Christians are challenged to figure out how to harness or address the power of such communication vehicles for the advancement of Christianity.

Read the whole report, especially if you're interested in the state of the Christian church and faith in America.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Donations For Tsunami Victims

Evangelical Outpost offers links to some sites where readers can contribute to relief for tsunami victims. "Stingy" Americans may disregard this post.

Saddam's Lawyer

If you knew that an American was going to help defend a murderous tyrant in a court of law who would you guess the American lawyer to be? You would probably try to think of someone who has spent much of his life defending murderous thugs of one sort or another and you would probably think of someone who has spent his life working to undo whatever good the United States has accomplished in the world, a sort of lawyerly Noam Chomsky.

William Kunstler would be a good guess, but he's dead. Did we hear you say Ramsey Clark? Congratulations! That's the correct answer. We admit that it was a little obvious, though, once we said that the mystery lawyer had spent his life defending tyrants and opposing American efforts to neutralize them.

Quake Animation

Go here for animation and information on the Sumatra quake. Thanks to Belmont Club for the tip.

Meanwhile Keith Olberman at MSNBC is determined to find some way to make the administration look bad in this terrible event. The man is obsessed with blaming someone, preferably Republicans, for every bad thing that happens in the world. We expect him to announce soon that there is evidence that the earthquake was a result of Bush policies, and that there is no reason not to think that Halliburton played a role.

Abortion Confusion

Adam Nagourney has a column in the New York Times (free subscription) in which he quotes a number of leading Democrats offering thoughts on where the Party needs to go on the issue of abortion. Some of the quotes are revealing. Others are amusing, and some are just incoherent.

"All these issues that put us into the extreme and not the mainstream really hurt us with the heartland of the country," said Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party leader who managed Al Gore's campaign in 2000. "Even I have trouble explaining to my family that we are not about killing babies."

So, a liberal Democrat is acknowledging that being pro-choice on abortion and in favor of gay marriage are extremist positions. And here we had been given to believe during the campaign that the traditionalists were the extremists.

"If somebody is willing to stick with us who is pro-life, that means they are the right kind of pro-life person," said Dr. Dean, the former governor of Vermont. "What I don't want to do is to have a national message that makes it impossible for you to be a conservative, or to be a progressive who can't win."

The right kind of pro-life person for Dr. Dean is one who goes along with the Democrats' position that there should be no restrictions on a woman's right to have an abortion. In other words, the right kind of pro-lifer is really a pro-choicer.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said Republicans had "been successful at painting the view of the pro-choice movement as abortion on demand - and nothing can be farther from the truth."

This is a simply breathtaking statement. If the signature conviction of the pro-choice movement is no longer that abortion should be available to anyone who wants one at any time in a woman's pregnancy, then when did they change? Pro-choicers are unshakably committed to Roe v. Wade which protects exactly this legal right. Why are they?

"I think it's a big mistake for Democrats to think they can win politically by moving away from a pro-choice stand," said Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America. "It's time for Democrats to stop playing the defensive role on this issue and of doing a better job of showing how extreme the other side really is."

Ms Keenan needs to check with Ms Brazille about who the extremists are on this issue.

Gloria Feldt, the president of Planned Parenthood, said Democrats "need to stop allowing the extreme, anti-choice right wing of the Republican Party to paint them into a corner where all they talk about is abortion. We have the high ground here if we focus our policy and our discussion on the prevention of unintended pregnancies."

In other words, let's change the subject so that no one sees how incoherent we are on the issue of abortion.

"We let the Republicans define us as the abortion any time, anywhere party," said Gordon Fischer, the departing Democratic chairman of Iowa, a state where Mr. Kerry suffered one of his more frustrating losses to President Bush. "The Republicans get by as targeting us as the doctrinaire party, when they are the doctrinaire party."

So there! You are! No, you are!

Mr. Wolfson said that if Mr. Bush tried to replace a justice who supports Roe v. Wade with one who opposes it, than an all-out battle would begin. But he and other Democrats said that would not necessarily be the case if the president sought to replace one justice who opposes Roe v. Wade with another.

Mr. Wolfson needs to confer with Sen. Feinstein. Repeat ten times: Democrats are not the party of abortion on demand and to say that they are couldn't be further from the truth.

This emerging debate is the latest fallout from Mr. Kerry's loss as Democrats argue the reasons for his defeat. In doing so, the party is struggling to balance the views of its most loyal members with the need to block Republicans from broadening their appeal through cultural issues.

Or, more simply, if the rank and file Democrats really knew where both parties stood on the main cultural issues of our time they would abandon the Democratic party in droves.

Bush/Blair : Roosevelt/Churchill

The Churchill historian and biographer Sir Martin Gilbert writes a column in The Observer guaranteed to ruin the Liberals' day:

People often ask how history will remember our generation of leaders in comparison with Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Many comment that today's leaders look small compared with the giants of the past. This is, I believe, a misconception. In their day, both Churchill and Roosevelt were frequently criticised, often savagely, by their countrymen, including legislators who had little knowledge of the behind-the-scenes reality of the war.

The passage of time both elevates and reduces reputations. Today there is a cult of Churchill, particularly in the United States, but also far greater scholarly criticism, which regards him, increasingly, as a flawed war leader. The same is true of Roosevelt: his recent biographers are constantly revealing - to their satisfaction, at least - feet of clay.

Although it can easily be argued that George W Bush and Tony Blair face a far lesser challenge than Roosevelt and Churchill did - that the war on terror is not a third world war - they may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill. Their societies are too divided today to deliver a calm judgment, and many of their achievements may be in the future: when Iraq has a stable democracy, with al-Qaeda neutralised, and when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are independent democracies, living side by side in constructive economic cooperation.

If they can move this latter aim, to which Bush and Blair pledged themselves on 12 November, it will be a leadership achievement of historic proportions.

Read the rest of Gilbert's rationale for ranking Bush/Blair with Roosevelt/Churchill here.

Stingy? <i>Stingy?</i>

One of the most ridiculous aspects of the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami calamity is the criticism which has been levelled at President Bush by United Nations officials and the Washington Post for a) Not coming forward immediately with a public statement and b) Not committing more immediate relief aid to the region.

The carping is typical of people like Washington Post columnists and U.N. types who think that rushing to the cameras to say how much we feel other peoples' pain makes a horrible situation somehow better. It's also typical of people who are complete ingrates.

The aid we render is what matters, not who was first out of the gate to offer condolences to the suffering. The contributions of the American government will, we predict, exceed those of the entire EU combined. They are also only a fraction of the total contribution that will be made by Americans through private charities and corporations. We suspect that the U.N. knows this but they felt they couldn't pass up the chance to slap the U.S. when they thought they had a good opportunity.

We recommend, by the way, that Sri Lanka, which declined an offer of assistance from the Israeli government, get none of our aid. If they are so disdainful of the Israelis that they will not accept help from that is accompanied by military personnel then let them get their aid from the beneficent and humanitarian Islamic world, or from those magnanimous philanthropists, the French, or from the exceedingly generous and compassionate Communist Chinese.

The Washington Post reports that the United Nations' Jan Egeland complained on Monday that each of the richest nations gives less than 1 percent of its gross national product for foreign assistance, and many give 0.1 percent. "It is beyond me why we are so stingy, really," he told reporters.

The Post went on to say that among the world's two dozen wealthiest countries, the United States often is among the lowest in donors per capita for official development assistance worldwide, even though the totals are larger. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of 30 wealthy nations, the United States gives the least -- at 0.14 percent of its gross national product, compared with Norway, which gives the most at 0.92 percent.

In other words, the U.S. is reluctant to give much development assistance through perhaps the most corrupt organization in the world, the U.N., and we're supposed to think this is "stingy"? We think that assistance should go to the people who need it and not to line the pockets of petty tyrants, thugs, and Kojo Annan, and we're criticized for this? How much development assistance has the rest of the world poured into Afghanistan and Iraq compared to what the U.S. has contributed? How much assistance has the rest of the world contributed to fighting AIDS or hunger in Africa?

Where do world wide charities like World Vision, Save the Children, the International Red Cross, and the smaller Christian charities get their major support? Norway?

Maybe we would give as much aid as the noble Norwegians if we hadn't had to pay for defending their sorry selves against the Soviet Union for forty of the last fifty five years and for protecting them against Islamo-fascism for the next forty.

In her novel Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand asks us to imagine a world in which those who produce the world's wealth get fed up with the carping, criticism, corruption, and parasitism of those who benefit from it and decide to just quit. Maybe that's what the U.S. ought to do. Perhaps we should follow the recommendations of Pat Buchanan and others and just withdraw from the world, seal our borders to keep out those who wish to avail themselves of the advantages of living here and those who wish to destroy us here, and tell the rest of the world to fend for themselves.

Within a year the globe would be engulfed in war and economic chaos. It's only the United States, after all, that keeps it from happening now, but low-amperage cogitators such as Mr. Egeland think that no matter what America does, it's never enough.

It's past time to have some tugboats pull the U.N. building out to the mid-Atlantic and sink it.

We Demand a Re-Recount

Ohio has completed the recount demanded by the Green and the Libertarian parties who were determined to prove that Republicans had stolen, or attempted to steal, the November Presidential election. Left-wing web sites like and television talking heads like MSNBC's Keith Olberman repeatedly hinted at nefarious doings among Ohio Republicans that whose machinations would be exposed by the recount. Well, they were right. The recount showed that Bush's 118,775 vote victory margin was actually 328 votes too high. Bush only defeated Kerry in Ohio by 118, 457 votes.

No doubt the Greens and Libertarians are celebrating their spectacular political achievement this morning, but unfortunately uncovering this massive fraud cost the taxpayers of Ohio $1.5 million of which the Greens and the Libertarians ponied up only $113 thousand.

Some are still not satisfied, of course. According to an AP article by John Seewer:

A group of voters citing fraud have challenged the election results with the Ohio Supreme Court. The voters, supported by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have cited irregularities including long lines, a shortage of voting machines in minority precincts and problems with computer equipment.

Attorney General Jim Petro has called the challenge frivolous and argued that the state Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over a federal election.

Cliff Arnebeck, an attorney representing the voters in the challenge, wasn't taking much stock in the recount effort. He questioned why there was no independent investigation into the accuracy of counting machines to determine whether the machines had been tampered with.

"You're allowing the original error to be repeated a second time, so it's not a meaningful recount," he said.

Viewpoint says, Let's count 'em again and get it right. Who cares how much it'll cost the good people of Ohio. We're not paying for it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


A couple of amateur videos taken of the Indian Ocean tsunami can be found here. The one taken at Patong Beach is especially tragic since it shows the crowd of bathers on the beach just before the waves hit. We don't know if anyone on that beach survived, but we don't see how they could have.

Compassionate Conservatism

Even Nicholas Kristoff, the New York Times southpaw, is starting to "get" a phenomenon which is at least thirty five years old. The phenomenon of which we speak is the transformation of each of the political parties into what had been the stereotype of the other. Kristoff notes in so many words that if you want to find people concerned about the poor, oppressed, and abused today you should look among those on the political Right.

Kristoff finds this unsettling, but it's been fairly obvious to anyone immune to being snookered by Democratic rhetoric that it has been largely true for decades now. We would go further than Kristoff and add that if you want to find people in bed with fat cat corporate and other exploiters and corrupters of our culture, look on the Left. Here's Kristoff's essay from the Times which is otherwise available by free subscription at the link:

One of the most conservative, religious, fascinating - and, in many ways, admirable - politicians in America today is Sam Brownback, the senator from Kansas who is a leader of the Christian right.

Sure, Mr. Brownback is to the right of Attila the Hun, and I disagree with him on just about every major issue. But 'tis the season for brotherly love, so let me point to reasons for hope. Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback, are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad - thus creating opportunities for common ground between left and right on issues we all care about.

So Democrats should clamber down from the window ledges, roll up their sleeves and get to work on some of these issues. Because I'm embarrassed to say that Democrats have been so suspicious of Republicans that they haven't contributed much on those human rights issues where the Christian right has already staked out its ground.

Take sex trafficking. Paul Wellstone, the liberal from Minnesota, led an effort with Mr. Brownback and others to pass landmark legislation in 2000 to battle sex slavery around the world. But since Mr. Wellstone's death in 2002, the leadership on the issue has passed to the Christian right and to the Bush administration.

Or Darfur. Conservative Christians have been jumping up and down about Sudan for years because of its repression of Christians. So when Sudan's government launched its genocide in the Darfur region, Democrats were slow to speak out, perhaps perceiving it as a conservative issue.

Then there's North Korea. Democrats have properly lambasted Mr. Bush for his disastrous approach toward North Korea, which has reacted to his policy by turning into a nuclear arms assembly line. But it has been Mr. Brownback and other conservative Christians who have turned the heat on North Korea's human rights record and laid the groundwork for more radio broadcasts to undermine the regime there.

So, all in all, I find Mr. Brownback perhaps the most intriguing man in Washington - so wrong on so much, and yet such a leader on humanitarian issues. He is also working with liberals like Ted Kennedy to press for immigration reform, prison reform, increased funds for AIDS and malaria, construction of an African-American history museum and even an apology to American Indians.

The other day, Mr. Brownback told me enthusiastically about his trip to northern Uganda and urged me to write about brutalities there. I was disoriented - I thought I was the one who tried to get people to pay attention to remote places.

So why is a conservative Kansas senator traveling to the wilds of Uganda? "I had a health issue a few years back, and it really made my faith real," he said, referring to a bout with cancer. "It made me think, the things that the Lord would want done, let's do. His heart is with the downtrodden, so let's help them."

Yet a larger shift is also under way. Liberals traditionally were the bleeding hearts, while conservatives regarded foreign aid, in the words of Jesse Helms, as "money down a rat hole." That's changing. "One cannot understand international relations today without comprehending the new faith-based movement," Allen Hertzke writes in "Freeing God's Children," a book about evangelicals leaping into human rights causes.

Sure enough, looking at the most important national issues - Iraq, terrorism, budget deficits - I can see why liberals feel suicidal. Moreover, the Christian right's ventures abroad strike me as deeply misguided in some areas: "pro-life" policies lead to women dying in botched abortions, and squeamishness about condoms leads to teenagers dying of AIDS. The conservatives' cutoff of money for the U.N. Population Fund has meant less contraception, more abortions and more mothers dying in childbirth.

But the biggest obstacle to American engagement on international issues has been a lack of constituency for them, and that may be changing - if both sides can hold their noses and cooperate. Frankly, Democrats aren't going to accomplish much on their own over the next four years, but by working with the likes of Mr. Brownback they might register real progress on sex trafficking, an African-American history museum, malaria and immigration reform. That would be a much better use of the next four years than sulking.

Mr. Kristoff seems surprised that Evangelical Christians and conservative Republicans care for the poor and downtrodden, but of course he shouldn't be unless he's just woken up from a decades long nap. To be sure there is much in this, as in any essay by Mr. Kristoff, that is regrettable, but his main point is important. Now that Kristoff has called attention to a fact that the entire Left has been at pains to ignore since the Reagan era, it will be interesting to see how those who would have been perfectly content to have left fifty million Afghans and Iraqis in chains and who are still stifling yawns over the Sudanese genocide will respond. Doubtless there will be high dudgeon across the land.

Susan Sontag, R.I.P.

Susan Sontag, the writer who once proclaimed that "the white race is the cancer of human history", is dead at the age of 71. Sontag was much better known for her various far-Left political causes and criticism of all things American than she was for her writing, and acquired a fame for the former disproportionate to either their merits or her perspicacity. A brief retrospective of her life can be found here.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Don Feder on Christianity

Don Feder, a Jew, catalogues the evidence of a contemporary assault on Christianity and declares his solidarity with Christians in this outstanding essay. Here are a few excerpts:

My support for Christian America is in part based on gratitude. I am exceedingly grateful for Christian support for Israel, especially from the evangelical community.

A generation ago, the term Christian Zionist was an oxymoron. Today, American Christians are a mainstay of public support for Israel. Without their help, U.S. Middle East policy would be far less sympathetic to the Jewish state - a fact recognized by every Israeli prime minister for the past 20 years, all of whom have assiduously courted the Christian Right.

I'm also grateful to Christians for America. I love this country and can't even begin to imagine what my life would be like if I wasn't an American.

It's a truth seldom acknowledged: Christians created America.

Finally, I believe the safety of American Jews lies with Christian America.

In secular Europe, Jews are beaten in the streets. Our college campuses - dogmatically liberal - have turned into snake pits of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The news media, which are so hostile to Christianity, are equally antagonistic toward Israel. (Christians aren't the only ones in desperate need of allies.)

There is a dark force spreading across the globe, rivaling the march of fascism in the '30s and '40s, and of communism is the postwar era. Call it Islamic fundamentalism, militant Islam, Jihadism, or what you will, it is animated by a burning hatred of Christians and Jews. The same toxic creed that murders Jews in Israel and attacks Jews in Europe, kills Christians in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Asia - and members of both faiths (and others, including their own) in America.

Feder is, we think, correct when he discerns an arrant contempt in the West, even in America, for Christianity. Signs of it have appeared throughout the last two decades in the disdain with which Christianity has been treated by the entertainment industry and particularly in the recent astonishing hostility toward Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. It bubbled briefly to the surface in the weeks following the election, subsiding briefly only to reemerge in this year's controversies over Christmas displays and celebrations.

We fear the antagonism of non-believers will become especially bitter in the following three cultural/social battlegrounds: Confirmation hearings for President Bush's judicial nominations, Christian opposition to gay marriage and abortion on demand, and increasing attempts by believers to roll back the secular monopoly on public education, particularly in the areas of prayer in schools, holiday celebrations, sex education, and intelligent design versus metaphysical naturalism.

We also suspect that one tactic secularists will employ is to attempt to conflate in peoples' minds the horrors of Islamo-fascism with any and all monotheistic belief systems, particularly conservative Christianity. In other words, there will be an effort to convince people that the only reason Christians don't behave like the Taliban is that they lack the power to do so and that America will do well to see that they are never permitted to exert significant influence in the culture again.

Here is a Viewpoint prediction for 2005 which we hope proves wrong: Anti-Christians will become increasingly more vocal, virulent, and intolerant as clashes in the aforementioned arenas become more frequent, more prominent, and more intense.

The Shroud of Turin

Most readers will have heard of the Shroud of Turin. It is a sheet of fabric which had traditionally been believed to have been the burial shroud of Jesus. It has impressed upon its surface a scorched image, the details of which are uncannily congruent with the image made by a man who had been scourged and crucified. The amazing thing about the shroud was that there was believed to be no way that a medieval fabricator could have created such an image.

However, in 1988 the shroud was subjected to a C-14 analysis which dated it to the 13th or 14th century, and that seemed to end the controversy over its authenticity. The radiocarbon tests were regarded by most experts as dispositive. A cloth produced over a thousand years after Jesus' death obviously couldn't have been used to bury him, but lately more questions have been raised.

So much about the shroud indicated a Middle Eastern provenience and a much earlier date of manufacture that some scholars refused to submit to the conclusions of the carbon dating analysis. The image on the shroud was just too difficult to explain in terms of a late medieval forgery and there is now some reason to think that the sample from which the radiocarbon was taken was obtained from a piece of fabric which had been used to patch or repair the shroud about six centuries ago.

Whatever the case, the debate over the shroud's authenticity seems to have been (ahem) resurrected. You can read more about it here.

G.W. as "Dirty Harry"

President Bush has refused to give up the fight to seat qualified jurists on the Bench despite the Democrats' strenuous efforts to keep them off. Daring the Democrats to employ their obstructionist tactics in this session as they have in the past, the president has resubmitted the names of twenty of thirty four candidates who were filibustered by the Democrats in recent sessions of Congress:

The Democrats' ability to stall certain White House picks for the federal bench was one of the most contentious issues of Bush's first term. During the past two years, despite the GOP majority in the Senate, Democrats used filibusters to prevent final votes from occurring on 10 of 34 of Bush's nominees to federal appeals courts.

"The president nominated highly qualified individuals to the federal courts during his first term, but the Senate failed to vote on many nominations," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement the White House issued Thursday. "Unfortunately, this only exacerbates the issue of judicial vacancies, compounds the backlog of cases and delays timely justice for the American people."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called for quick action and issued a statement that pressured Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to support the president's nominees. Specter, a moderate Republican, recently won the backing of Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to be their new chairman despite his statement that judges who oppose abortion would have a difficult time gaining Senate confirmation, given the opposition from Democrats.

"The president has decided to re-nominate many highly qualified and capable individuals to serve as federal judges," Frist said. "I look forward to working with Sen. Specter, other Judiciary Committee members and my colleagues to ensure quick action and up and down votes on these judicial nominees."

Democrats reacted with irritation. "I was extremely disappointed to learn today that the president intends to begin the new Congress by resubmitting extremist judicial nominees," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement. "Last Congress, Senate Democrats worked with the president to approve 204 judicial nominees, rejecting only 10 of the most extreme."

By "extreme", Senator Reid means that these judges would likely not rule as he would want them to. They may be squarely in the mainstream of public opinion but since their decisions may offend Senate liberals they are placed out on the "fringe" of our political culture.

In fact, however, these are men and women committed to interpreting the constitution and the law according to what it says and not according to the political fashion of the times, and that's what the Left finds so troublesome. Unable to get their agenda enacted through the legislature, the Left has over the last four decades resorted more and more frequently to the courts to impose their ideological preferences on the rest of society. A conservative court would jeopardize this strategy, which has worked so effectively for the Left, and must, in their view, be prevented at all costs.

Tom Daschle led the filibuster of judical nominees over the last four years and paid for it on November 2nd. There are a number of Senate Democrats from states that went strongly for Bush upon whom the lesson was not lost. They will be torn between their own political futures and blocking the president's appointments. George Bush, like "Dirty Harry", is telling the obstructionists to "Go ahead. Make my day."

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Secular Religion

Is secularism a religion? David Klinghoffer thinks so:

For each element in the Judeo-Christian family of faiths, secularism has its counterpart: a strict ethical code, albeit focusing on health issues ("Thou shalt not smoke," etc.); the use of shame when individuals disregard ethical rules (e.g. fat people); a related promise of eternal life through medical advances; a creation story (Darwinian evolution); and so forth. All that's missing is a deity, but not every religion has one, as the case of Zen Buddhism attests.

All this would be fine-after all, America is a big country with plenty of room for every spiritual predilection-but for the tendency of secularists to use aggressive means in advancing their political agenda and spreading their faith.

Consider state education, where the secular church has ensured that its creation account alone be taught. According to the Discovery Institute, Ohio, Minnesota, and New Mexico are exceptions to this rule, now requiring students to know about scientific evidence critical of Darwinian evolution. Everywhere else, evangelism for this secular doctrine is a staple of 10th-grade biology class.

The prejudice on behalf of the secular faith emanating from the media is likewise hard to ignore. HBO's Bill Maher, raised Catholic but later converted to a harsh secularism, is among the frankest of news and entertainment industry figures in his contempt for competing religions, notably Christianity. The host of Real Time with Bill Maher speaks of himself as "spreading the anti-gospel."

There's more at the link. Klinghoffer might also have mentioned that secularism has a de facto clergy comprised of university scientists, a dogmatic adherence to faith in naturalism and Reason, and a creed (e.g. The Secular Humanist Statement of Principles).

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Prophesied Messiah

Earlier this month, posted an article entitled Fighting Back in which he lamented what has become of Christmas.

I was so taken by his post that I thought it worthwhile to make a further contribution to the subject. To me, it's no exaggeration to state that the birth of Christ is the single most important event in the history of the world yet the celebration of it has deteriorated into something much, much less that what it should be. It seems that it has become more of a time where the true meaning has been displaced by a time of frenzy and greed and commercialism that inclines people to believe that the significance of the event is in the gifts they get or give and somehow this will make them whole. The true meaning of Christmas has been displaced with a sleight of hand that would make David Copperfield look like an amateur.

Sure, we can blame the liberals, the ACLU and their ilk for protesting a Nativity scene in front of a town hall, and all those with commercial interests that see only an opportunity for massive profits during the Christmas season, but the problem is actually much closer to home.

The problem is that too many people today simply don't understand, or appreciate, or believe what has actually occurred. I can't help but think that if they fully grasped the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ, things would be very much different. To acknowledge that Christmas celebrates the birth of the historical Jesus is one thing. Even atheists could accept that. To believe in all that the birth of Christ implies is a very different thing. This passage from chapter 2 of the book of Philippians sums it up for me:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is substantial material presented in the Bible regarding the birth of Christ that should give any thinking person cause to pause and contemplate, especially during the Christmas season. I'd like to share some information that presents this special event from a different perspective - the first fulfillment of prophecy from the Old Testament that appears in the New Testament.

The prophecy is regarding the birth of Jesus Christ as given in the book of Isaiah chapter 7. Note that this was probably written about 650 BC.

Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

And now, the fulfillment of this prophecy in Matthew chapter 1:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

So the take home message is: God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.(John 3:16).

And it appears this was all prophesied 650 years before it happened!

Merry Christmas,

P.S.If you're inclined to delve further into the subject of the fulfillment of the first prophecy in the New Testament, check out E.W. Bullenger's The Companion Bible, especially Appendix 103, page 147.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Here's an article by Steve Milloy at Fox News with some hopeful news for those who find the quality of their lives much improved by anti-inflammatory drugs but who are concerned about recent reports of increased incidence of heart attack and stroke among those who use them:

The questions recently raised about whether Vioxx, Celebrex, Aleve and other anti-inflammatory medications pose some small heart attack or stroke risk to certain individuals should be answered as soon as possible.

In the meantime, however, it would seem that the great weight of data - gathered over years and even decades - evidencing the undisputed benefits and general safety of these drugs should have prevented any panic caused by the relative novelty, paucity and inconclusive nature of the data underlying the ongoing scare.

The clinical trials triggering the controversy are contradicted by many other studies which haven't reported any increased risk of heart attack and stroke; nor are the trials particularly impressive from a statistical viewpoint. The reported correlations are small and may, in fact, be artifacts caused by inappropriate study design.

None of the clinical trials giving rise to the questions about Vioxx, Celebrex and Aleve were, after all, specifically designed to test whether the drugs posed a heart attack or stroke risk. The data on Vioxx came from a study of gastrointestinal effects; the Celebrex data came from a cancer prevention study; and the Alleve data came from an Alzheimer's prevention study.

If weak statistical correlations are to raise legitimate concerns about drugs that have been widely used for years without noticeable problems, those correlations should at least be produced by studies specifically designed to examine the precise health endpoints of concern. Results from well-designed studies would allow physicians and arthritis sufferers to choose whether to manage any clearly identified risks of effective drugs, rather than be told to be happy with "safe", but ineffective treatments such as acupuncture.

Those who have not yet reached the stage in life where arthritis makes even the simplest tasks a painful endurance test may find it hard to imagine how much of a difference these drugs can make in one's life. Let's hope that further tests show their risks to be minimal.

Dunderhead Watch

The task of keeping up with the stupefying stupidity of school administrators has become daunting this Christmas season, but we're still at it. Our latest exhibit is a Mr. Muscara, a principal at Hampton Junior High School (location unknown). Mr. Muscara distinguishes himself in a crowded field of dunderheads this season by making not only one ridiculous judgment but by following it up in quick succession with two or three more:

HAMPTON - A parent of a Hampton Academy Junior High School student says the principal of the school told his son to leave the school's holiday dance on Friday night because the boy was dressed in a Santa Claus costume, which was politically incorrect.

Michael Lafond said his son, Bryan, went to the dance dressed as Santa because it was a holiday party. "He asked if he could dress like Santa and we said yes," said Lafond. "We went to Brooks and purchased the outfit and everything."

Lafond said his wife dropped off Bryan at the school. "I went to the dance with my friend," said Bryan Lafond, who is in seventh grade. "He had an elf hat on and we thought it was pretty cool. Everyone loved the suit, but when I went by the principal, he asked why I was dressed like that."

Principal Fred Muscara said he told the boy he couldn't get into the dance because he was wearing the costume. "It was a holiday party," said Muscara. "It was not a Christmas party. There is a separation of church and state. We have a lot of students that go to Hampton Academy Junior High that have different religions. We have to be sensitive to that."

Viewpoint pauses to try to control our mirth and to wonder if this is the sort of man the Hampton school board really wants setting the academic tone at their school. Somone needs to instruct Mr. Muscara in the basics of Christian theology and how to distinguish religious symbols from cultural icons. The story continues:

Bryan said while Muscara didn't say he had to leave, he told Bryan if he wanted to go the dance he would have to change out of the suit and put on proper attire for the dance. Having nothing to change into, Bryan left the dance to try and find his mother.

"My wife was leaving the parking lot when she saw Bryan running out of the building," said Lafond. "He told her that the principal said it was politically incorrect to wear the Santa outfit."

"I saw him running out of the building crying," said Leslie Lafond, Bryan's mother. Lafond said while he disagrees with their reasoning he could almost understand it.

Perhaps Mr. Lafond is himself a graduate of Hampton Junior High. We can think of no other explanation for how one could almost understand Mr. Muscara's decision to turn away a 7th grade boy in a Santa suit. But it gets worse, or better, depending upon your point of view:

What [Mr. Lafond] couldn't understand was why his son was able to leave the dance. "One of reasons why we are so angry is that the school has a policy that says once you go to the dance you can't leave until it's over," said Lafond. "You can't leave school grounds unless they call a parent. If my wife wasn't there, my son would have been out roaming the streets."

Bryan's mother picked up her son and drove him home to change. Lafond said his wife had to persuade Bryan to go back to the dance.

"He was so embarrassed," said Lafond. "It wasn't like he was trying to pull a prank. He is just a good-natured kid getting into the holiday spirit who just happened to walk right by Scrooge."

Mr. Lafond is here erring on the side of kindness. Scrooge is not the character who comes immediately to our minds. Scrooge, despite his faults, was no dunce.

Muscara said he was unaware that Bryan left the dance. "I asked if he had something he could change into and he said he did," said Muscara.

Lafond said when his wife drove Bryan back to the dance, she complained to school officials. She said she also complained to several School Board members and Muscara. On Monday, Bryan's parents went before the School Board to voice their concerns.

"I don't want this to happen again," said Leslie. "It is unacceptable. When Bryan returned to the school, the principal said, 'What are you doing, trying to get me fired.' That is not a proper comment to make to a student."

Indeed. This man needs to spend some in-service time at a refresher course on professional ethics. The concern he expresses, however, should not be ill-founded given his maladroit handling of this situation from beginning to end and what it tells us about his competence to supervise children.

Superintendent James Gaylord told the School Board it would discuss the matter in non-public session because it involved a student and personnel. When contacted at her house Monday afternoon, Hampton School Board Chairman Nancy Serpis said she was concerned with what she heard. "We need to look at the whole situation," said Serpis.

This can be translated from school-board speak to "Mr. Muscara has demonstrated extremely poor judgment, and we're not yet sure how we're going to be able to pull his fat out of the fire."

Lafond said political correctness is getting out of control. "I don't get it," said Lafond, citing a PTA breakfast with Santa at the school a couple of weeks ago. "What's next? Are they going to get rid of Halloween because of paganism?" he asked. "The last time I checked, Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Christ and not Santa Claus," Leslie said. "I want them to make an apology to my son. My son was humiliated."

The story can be found here. It'd be a hoot if it weren't so sad.

Two Candid Admissions

Last week Viewpoint discussed the book by philosopher Victor Reppert titled C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. Reppert examines the corrosive effect that metaphysical naturalism, if true, has on the status of Reason. Reppert's basic argument is an elaboration of an argument employed by C.S.Lewis, but Reppert expands it and addresses several objections raised by critics.

His contention is that if matter, energy, and physical forces like gravity are all there is then everything is ultimately reducible to material, non-rational particles. If so, our beliefs are just brain states that can be completely explained in terms of non-rational physical forces. But any belief that is fully explicable in terms of non-rational causes cannot itself be rationally grounded. Therefore, if materialism is true, none of our beliefs are rationally grounded, Reason itself is a non-rational illusion, and both truth and the reliability of scientific invetsigation are chimerical. Thus the materialist has no rational grounds for believing that materialism is true or that anything is true.

Whatever the eventual verdict on this argument and its several derivatives is, one of the things the author does which is hard to gainsay is show that the atheists' claim to intellectual superiority based upon the rationality of their beliefs is something of a self-delusion. It intimidates the unsophisticated and unsuspecting perhaps, like suddenly encountering a bloated puffer fish, but there's nothing there to be particularly fearful of.

Reppert quotes two well-known intellectuals, one a leading materialist scientist and the other a philosopher, who inadvertantly reveal that whatever role reason plays in their professional lives, it has little to do with their ultimate commitments and that some of Reason's most eminent proponents are perfectly willing to abandon it when it suits their purpose. The first passage is from Richard Lewontin:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community of unsubstantiated just-so stories [in evolutionary biology] because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material causes, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who believes in God can believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen. (1997)

This is an extraordinary expression of dogmatic faith in naturalism, and it's not just non-rational, it's anti-rational. To see how, Reppert asks us to imagine the reaction of a materialist to a similar claim made by a Biblical theist:

Our willingness to accept biblical teachings that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between faith and unbelief. We take the side of Scripture in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the existence of unsubstantiated just so stories in Scripture, because we have a prior commitment to Scripture's inerrancy. It is not that the methods and institutions of biblical study somehow compel us to accept only interpretations which are in accordance with the Bible's inerrancy, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to biblical inerrancy to create a method of biblical study that [produces explanations that are consistent with inerrancy, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, our commitment to inerrancy is absolute, for we cannot allow doubt to get its foot in the door. For anyone doubting the Word of God in any respect will end up doubting it in all respects.

Any Christian who wrote something like this would be laughed to scorn by skeptics, including, no doubt, Lewontin himself, yet a scientist of his stature writes almost exactly this, and his colleagues merely nod sagely and think nothing of it.

The second quote is from philosopher Thomas Nagel and his book The Last Word:

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper - namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. (1997)

And Freudians accuse believers of engaging in irrational wish-fulfillment. Nagel's atheism is based upon a hope that there is no God, which is itself based upon a subjective preference for a Godless universe. The point here is that neither Lewontin nor Nagel is ultimately basing his anti-theism on anything rational. Even if the evidence went against them they would not yield in their adamantine refusal to accept the existence of God. Their ultimate commitments are founded primarily upon an aesthetic predilection for one kind of reality as opposed to another. The much vaunted role of Reason in the rejection by atheists of belief in God is shown, in these two men at least, to be quite irrelevant.

Suspicious Minds

There's a good retrospective on Rwanda at The Fourth Rail. It examines the failure of the U.N. and the Clinton administration to do anything at all to stop the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and draws a parallel or two with our situation in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Belmont Club raises some pointed questions about how an AP photographer who captured the execution of Iraqi election workers in Baghdad found himself in just the right spot to catch it all on film:

It was the surely the most amazing of coincidences that placed an Associated Press photographer in a position to openly photograph an execution, where we are reliably informed, no less than 30 armed men were firing guns and hurling hand grenades....

There may be a perfectly plausible explanation for everything, but for the record let me wonder:

How the Associated Press photographer happened to be at the attack site at the time. Was it on his route to home or work?

How he photographed the execution sequence in the midst of an attack by 30 persons from the middle of the major road.

It is astonishing, now that Wretchard calls our attention to the matter, that this intrepid photographer was in just the right place, at the right time, with camera ready for action. It's also remarkable that he evidently stood tall amidst the gunfire to get the angle he did, when the normal human tendency would've been to call as little attention to oneself as possible. How did the photographer know that the killers weren't just grabbing people at random to be murdered? Why did he think that he would not be a target? He's either very brave and lucky, or he was tipped off. We wonder if anyone is questioning him about this.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Chrenkoff's Good News From Iraq

Don't miss the 16th installment of Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News From Iraq. The scale of ungoing work in Iraq is staggering and Chrenkoff's summaries of what we have accomplished there are extremely gratifying. Yet none of this ever makes it's way onto our evening news. All we ever hear about is the violence, and even that is amplified by the media megaphone to seem far more consequential than it really is. The MSM tunnel vision about developments in Iraq irritates this clergyman:

It takes a lot to get a man of God annoyed and Louis Sako, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, is a very frustrated man these days: "It is not all death and destruction," says the Archbishop. "Much is positive in Iraq today... Universities are operating, schools are open, people go out onto the streets normally... Where there's a kidnapping or a homicide the news gets out immediately, and this causes fear among the people... Those who commit such violence are resisting against Iraqis who want to build their country."

It's not just the terrorists who, according to His Eminence, are creating problems for Iraq: "[January] will be a starting point for a new Iraq... [Yet] Western newspapers and broadcasters are simply peddling propaganda and misinformation... Iraqis are happy to be having elections and are looking forward to them because they will be useful for national unity... Perhaps not everything will go exactly to plan, but, with time, things will improve. Finally Iraqis will be given the chance to choose. Why is there so much noise and debate coming out from the West when before, under Saddam, there were no free elections, but no one said a thing?"

The good news encompasses every aspect of Iraqi life: economic, social, political, and military. Here are just a couple of items related to the security situation:

A recent internet posting, apparently authored by an insurgent commander Abu Ahmed al-Baghdadi, while boasting of recent attacks throughout Iraq, paints a worrying picture of the insurgency:

"The new message opens with a plea for advice from Palestinian and Chechen militants as well as Osama bin Laden supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 'We face many problems,' it reads in Arabic, 'and need your military guidance since you have more experience.'"

"The problems, the message says, are the result of losing the insurgent safe haven of Fallujah to U.S. troops. It says the insurgency was hampered as checkpoints and raids spread 'to every city and road.' Communications broke down as insurgents were forced to spread out through the country."

"The arrest of some of their military experts, more 'spies willing to help the enemy,' and a dwindling supply of arms also added to the organizational breakdown, it reads." According to military analyst Tony Cordesman, "This particular memo asks for strategic advice, but it makes it very clear in the text that what they really want are volunteers, money and more munitions."

In other recent security successes: the arrest of over 100 suspected insurgents in Baghdad ("Among the 104 detainees, most were Iraqis but some were from Syria and other Arab countries... Nine of the total had escaped from Fallujah"); a seizure of a senior insurgency commander in the Anbar province; detaining 38 insurgent suspects in a raid near Kirkuk; the arrest of one of Al Zarqawi's top commanders in Mosul; the capture of five foreign fighters who escaped from Fallujah and were preparing attacks around Basra; the arrest of 116 suspects in a sweep southwest of Baghdad; the arrest of 57 suspects throughout Mosul and Ad Dawr, the town where Saddam was captured last year; rounding up 32 suspects and uncovering a stockpile of more than 500 artillery rounds by Iraqi and Coalition troops south of Baghdad; rounding up another 24 suspected insurgents in an operation around Tal Afar; and the arrest of 210 suspects in a week-long sweep through the so called "triangle of death".

There is so much more at Chrenkoff's site, and it's an excellent antidote to the incessant pessimism, negativism, and defeatism of the MSM. We say this not to minimize tragedies like the recent suicide bombing of the mess hall in Mosul, but to bring perspective to the overall trajectory of the task we have undertaken in the Middle East. That trajectory is leading to success and the horrors of Mosul will not deflect it, any more than the enormous losses at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge altered the outcome of that conflict. The only thing that can prevent us from achieving the democratization of Iraq and radically altering the political landscape of the Middle East is a lack of will.

The Mosul Attack

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit directs us to this site maintained by a chaplain named Lewis who was involved in the recent attack on the dining hall and hospital in Mosul. His account is as riveting as it is heart-breaking. Our hearts go out to the victims of these criminal attacks. Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Ilena" (a made up name. She spoke very softly and had a thick accent so I couldn't really hear her) had been hit by a piece of shrapnel just above her left breast causing a classic sucking chest wound. The doctors said she had a hemothorax (I think that's what they called it) which basically meant her left lung was filling with blood and she was having a very hard time breathing. For the next 20 minutes I held her hand while a doctor made an incision in her left side, inserted most of his hand and some kind of medical instrument and then a tube to alleviate the pressure caused by the pooling blood. It was probably the most medieval procedure I have ever been privy to. In the end she was taken to ICU and will be OK.

"Mark" was put on a stretcher and laid along a wall. A small monitor on his hand would tell the nurses when he was dead. Even a cursory glance said it was inevitable. Mark had a head wound that left brain matter caked in his ear and all over the stretcher he was lying on. I knelt next to Mark and placed a hand on is chest. His heart was barely beating but it was beating so I put my face close to his ear to pray with him. If you've never smelled human brain matter it is something unforgettable. I had something of an internal struggle. He's practically dead so why stay? He probably can't hear anything! A prayer at that point seemed of little value. But I couldn't risk it. I prayed for Mark and led him in the sinners prayer as best I could. There are few things in this life that will make you feel more helpless.

Regardless of what some may say, these [the insurgents] are not stupid people. Any attack with casualties will naturally mean that eventually a very large number of care givers will be concentrated in one location. They took full advantage of that. In the middle of the mayhem the first mortar round hit about 100 to 200 meters away. Everyone started shouting to get the wounded into the hospital which is solid concrete and much safer than being in the open. Soon, the next mortar hit quite a bit closer than the first as they "walked" their rounds toward their intended Everyone began to rush toward the building. I stood at the door shoving as many people inside as I could. Just before heading in myself, the last one hit directly on top of the hospital. I was standing next to the building so was shielded from any flying shrapnel. In fact, the building, being built as a bunker took the hit with little effect. However, I couldn't have been more than 10 to 15 meters from the point of impact and brother did I feel the shock. That'll wake you up! I rushed inside to find doctors and nurses draped over patients, others on the floor or under something. I ducked low and quickly moved as far inside as I could.

As my assistant and I walked away at the end of the day I saw another chaplain and a soldier standing among the silent rows of black body bags. The soldier wanted to see his friend one more time. We slowly and as respectfully as possible unzipped the bag to reveal the face of a very young Private First Class. His friend stared for a few seconds then turned away and began to cry.

The last count was 25 dead, and around 45 wounded. Nevertheless, our cause is just and God is in control even when the crap is a yard deep. I'm where God wants me and wouldn't change that for anything, even if it means death. After all, "to die is gain".

A deliberate attack on a hospital, after having planned it for maximum casualties, is heinous. These are the sort of people whose "rights" the Left has been so concerned about protecting. When a young Marine, scared for his life, shot one he believed was feigning death in order to draw the Marine closer so as to kill him, the Left wanted to hang the kid from the nearest tree. Their reaction to attacks like the one in Mosul is essentially to demand that we pull out of Iraq and let the orcs butcher the entire population. God help the Iraqi people if the Left ever gets its way, and thank God for men in the service like Chaplain Lewis.

Low Wattage in High Places

In our Feedback Forum D.S. asks:

I wonder why it is OK for a Jewish superintendent to allow Hanukkah music at the Christmas pageants, but not for the majority of Christian staff and faculty to be allowed to listen to Christmas music with a Christian theme?

One answer to this question we came across in the news is that Hanukkah celebrates an historical event whereas Christmas is religious, and thus taboo. This answer speaks volumes about how school administrators view Christianity. It assumes that the birth of Jesus is ahistorical, i.e. that Jesus is really a figure of myth and legend and had no objective existence. How else is the reply to be understood? Christians don't celebrate "religion" on Christmas, they celebrate a birth, a religiously significant birth to be sure, but an historical event nonetheless.

Perhaps the superintendent in the news report meant to justify permitting Hanukkah music, but not traditional Christmas music in school assemblies, by reasoning that historical events can be celebrated but only if they have no religious significance. The difficulty with this interpretation is that, if it is indeed what the superintendent was thinking, it makes him look a little uninformed. Hanukkah is laden with religious significance. It is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the miraculous victory God granted the Macabees over the Syrians several centuries before Christ and is characterized by lighting the Menorah, a candelabrum used in Synagogues around the world during religious services.

One can only conclude that the people making these decisions and employing these justifications are exceptionally dim-witted or that they are deliberately privileging some religious observances over others. Or perhaps both.

The irony in allowing Hanukkah songs while excluding Christmas music, if considered dispassionately, is as much to be savored as is the dopiness of the rationale being offered for it. It seems that, deliberately or not, some public school administrators are turning Christmas into a Jewish holiday.

The AutoPen

Powerline posts this note from the father of a Marine in Iraq writing about the Don Rumsfeld/Autopen tempest in the MSM teapot:

If [our son] had been killed, we would have been first informed by a visit - in dress blues - from a condolence team typically consisting of two Marines and one Navy Chaplain. We know many families who've received that knock on the door. No letter is required. No words are required. A simple peek thru the view hole in the door and the sight of dress blue blouses, white covers and white gloves tells you all you ever need to know. A letter of condolence from the SecDef is, honestly, not even worth opening. Families are much more interested in hearing from the men who served with their son and from their families.

We share the constant knowledge and fear that it could be our door bell being rung. Sec. Rumsfeld doesn't know our son. He's a Lance Corporal. He directs a machine gun team. He is a vital link in the line that protects our way of life. He doesn't fight for his country, he doesn't fight for the SecDef, he doesn't even fight for his mom and dad. He fights for the guys on either side of him and for his team. He fights to secure his objective of the moment, which he may or may not understand or agree with. Sec Rumsfeld doesn't need to take time from his day to sign a form letter of condolence and he certainly doesn't need to take time to figure out what the LCpl was doing when he was killed or what kind of a man he was. His job is to make sure the LCpl didn't die in vain and that only as few LCpl's as possible will have to die to end this war in a successful manner.

Don't get me wrong, we would appreciate the condolence letter from the SecDef, as well as one from the White House and from our Senator and Representative, from the Mayor and Governor. But none would bring back our son. And they are all form letters, signatures be damned. A letter from his 1stSgt, from the men we know in his unit would be a treasure and a comfort.

I don't know what happens in other branches, or even other units. But in 2/4, I know the 1stSgt's personally contact the surviving family with letters, emails and phone calls of condolence.

By the way, we know families of fallen Marines who've been flown to sites where President Bush was speaking. He met with them privately after his event, never any press coverage, and the families have said that - after being given an agenda for their time with the President and being told that he's on a very tight schedule - Mr. Bush talked to every family member as long as they wanted to talk, never hurried anyone, cried with family, hugged everyone and they all felt like he had nothing else to do for the rest of the day but bring comfort to them. For that, George W. Bush has my eternal respect and gratitude. And there was NEVER one word of publicity surrounding any of these meetings with families. (I have pictures to dissuade doubters.)

Bottom line, we support Sec Rumsfeld. The people who are making a big deal about this have their heads up their collective a****. They need to have a serious priority check on what people in positions of responsibility should be doing with their time. They should also chat with some military families if they could figure out how to contact them.

Part of what's going on with Rumsfeld is this: The media knows they can't get Bush, as much as they'd like to, so they're trying to wound him by tearing to pieces anyone associated with the administration whom they think is vulnerable, whether the victim really deserves it or not. The media circles Rumsfeld like hyenas working a wounded bull, every so often sallying forth to take a nip at a haunch, hoping to bleed him until they can safely pounce. It's a manifestation of human depravity, we suppose, but they are liberal journalists, after all.

The other thing that's happening is that some in the Congress see Rumsfeld's problems with the media as an opportunity to promote themselves with the public. Nothing makes a man feel as self-important as denouncing someone of even greater importance than himself. To sucker punch a big guy publicly, especially when you know that he won't fight back, is cost-free for a politician. It allows him to preen and strut around the ring as if he's done something noble, and it requires neither courage nor wit.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Credit Card Craziness

Brother Bill passes along a link to this site which lists the following fascinating facts about the debt incurred by individual Americans:

It is estimated that, on average, 20% of Americans have "maxed out" their credit cards.

About 25% of adults in the United States have a history of credit problems.

Americans' average credit card debt is $8400 per household.

Roughly 24% of personal expenditures in the United States are made using bank credit cards, retail cards, and debit cards.

In the first quarter of 2002, total credit debt was $660 billion. Total credit card debt was approximately $60 billion.

Approximately 185 million American consumers have at least one credit card.

Of those 185 million consumers with credit cards, 1.3 million credit card holders declared bankruptcy in 2002.

Americans pay, on average, an 18.9% interest rate on credit cards.

The average household pays $83.33 in credit card interest per month.

On average, the typical credit card purchase is 112% higher than if using cash.

More than 40% of American families spend more than they earn. (Federal Reserve).

As of 1995, 92% of American family disposable income is spent on paying debts, up from 65% in 1975.

An $8,000 debt, at a rate of 18% interest, will take over 25 years to pay off and cost more than $24,000 in the long run.

The first step on the road to recovery from credit card addiction is to hold one's credit cards in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other....

Bull Market

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the recovering stock market and gives several reasons for being bullish on 2005 in this column:

After collapsing and floundering for about three years, the stock market is finishing 2004 with a solid 8 or 9 percent gain, following a gain of more than 25 percent last year. Some commentators are also optimistic that the elements are falling into place to make 2005 a positive year as well.

Since the market hit bottom on Oct. 9, 2002, it's added by some estimates about $3 trillion in value to investors' net worth. For example, an investment of $10,000 in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index on Oct. 10, 2002, would be worth $15,406 today.

1. There has been a new spurt of mergers and acquisitions, including a takeover battle for the wireless company Sprint. And software giant Oracle has swallowed People Soft for $10.3 billion. "The mergers are a favorable sign for stocks," says David Kotok, chief investment officer for Cumberland Advisors Inc. in Vineland, N.J. "It's also a sign that very low interest rates create terrific deals, and financing costs are low."

2. Investors seemed to be enthusiastic about President Bush's reelection. Since the end of October, when it became clearer Mr. Bush would win, the market has perked up. "I think it's because they view him as relatively light-handed as far as regulatory matters are concerned. He'll be retaining the tax cuts and pressing for tort reform and trying to privatize part of Social Security," says Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. "All of that is considered pro-market."

3. There may be some changes in the economy that will benefit the market, including lower oil prices and a weaker US dollar, which permit US companies to compete better with foreign companies.

The article also cautions against excessive optimism, however, and gives several reasons why the rebound is still a little weaker than has historically been the case with recoveries. Nevertheless, the overall prognosis is good.

The Banality of Evil

The Fourth Rail offers an interesting picture of the defendants in the criminal trials of Saddam's henchmen taking place in Iraq:

The men were questioned in front of Iraqi judges, and the months in prison have not been kind to them. Aziz has been described as frail and thin; Chemical Ali "looked haggard and leaned on a cane." Even Saddam has not been immune to the rigors of prison. Saddam has become an ordinary man, with ordinary illnesses and pursuits....Saddam's henchmen, in a futile attempt to gain sympathy for their imprisonment, have gone on a faux hunger strike, and it was rumored that Saddam himself participated.

Prison does interesting things to those fallen from power, as Albert Speer, the Nazi Germany's Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production, expertly describes in his memoirs from Spandau prison. Men used to wielding power and influence in their nations are reduced to petty squabbles amongst themselves over latrine duty and other chores, status in the prison hierarchy, visitation rights, and other concerns. They also bear witness against each other in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

Tareq Aziz has turned on his former masters, and has given testimony on Saddam ordering murders, the payoffs to foreign governments, including France, to vote against Iraq war, and bribes to United Nations officials. Coupled with the audiotapes of Chemical Ali, this should make for an interesting and revealing trial, as former regime members scramble for their lives. Chemical Ali had much to say about his crimes.

"As soon as we complete the deportations we will start attacking them everywhere according to a systematic military plan," he says. "I will not attack them with chemicals just one day but I will continue to attack them with chemicals for 15 days."

Al-Majid even criticises his master for being too lenient when he orders that the families of Kurdish resistance leaders should not be harmed. "A message reaches me from that great man, the father [Saddam], saying 'Take good care of the families of the saboteurs...' Take good care of them? No, I will bury them with bulldozers."

Saddam's regime is compared to the Nazi Third Reich because it mirrored the Nazis in every aspect except for scale: Saddam's cult of personality; Sunni superiority; the Ba'athist party, whose members were above the law; a brutal police state; the mass murder of peoples via gassings, mass shootings and other means; ethnic cleansing; wars of conquests.

These are truly evil men, and their utter banality in their present condition, as Hannah Arendt reminded us about the Nazis, should not diminish our assessment of their evil. They deserve far worse than they are likely to get, a fact for which they should be exceedingly grateful.

More On the Christmas Wars

Here's a contrarian take on the cultural Christmas wars by Jeff Jarvis. He makes several interesting points, but he's stirred up a bit of reaction in the blogosphere. He writes, for instance, that:

Here in America, some people think a fight over a creche in the town square is a fight over religion. No, it's a fight for the sake of a fight. On the one hand, we do enforce separation of church and state -- to guarantee freedom of religion from government -- and so there is no divine right to put a creche in front of the city hall; I want to tell those folks, put it anywhere else. On the other hand, the bureaucrats who stop it as if they are standing between America and jihad are being just as ridiculous; a creche or a Christmas tree next to a menorah is harmless and is part of the diverse culture of America. Similarly, it's right for a school to prohibit proselytizing but it's silly to disallow an instrumental version of a Christmas ditty, as recently occurred in New Jersey. You want to slap both sides in these annual squabbles and just tell them to grow up and count their blessings.

Then there are those in the so-called Parents Television Council who argue that any joke that mentions God is an attack on religion. That's just crap. Freedom of speech goes hand-in-hand with freedom of religion -- that's why they are both protected in the First Amendment -- and there's nothing with a joke about God. It's not a sign of a war on God.

And then there are those who say that America has been taken over by a red-state religious jihad because the other side won the election and because a bogus made the insulting presumption that some of us don't have moral values and because the afore-dismissed PTC manufactured complaints about pop culture the way Tootsie makes Rolls. The truth, as I proved, it that it is a phantom army of the few on the fringe.

I want to slap them all back to their senses. But I also want to slap the media who act as if all these alleged religious wars are real news, worthwhile stories, true trends. No, the truth is that once a year, we get the fake stories about wars over Christmas carols; whenever the PTC puts out another press release or the FCC another fine, we get the fake stories about religious outrage at indecency; whenever the right wins an election, we get the fake stories about the revolt of the religious conservatives. All these stories act as if America -- you, me, and your neighbors -- changed overnight into suburban Sunnis vs. Shiites.

There is no religious war in America. That ended more than two centuries ago. And now we enjoy the benefits of that struggle. We should be grateful for that and stop squandering it with squabbles.

If Jarvis is correct we wonder why it is that in many schools students get in more trouble for wearing a shirt with the words Jesus Loves You emblazoned across it than they do for using Jesus Christ as a profane exclamation.

For a much different point of view from Jarvis' see this column by Ralph Hallow in the Washington Times. Hallow starts off talking about how a Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey is going to lead a hymn sing at a New Jersey public school which has scrubbed all sacred music from its "Holiday" concert.

Mr. Lonegan has asked local residents of all religions to join him at 5 p.m. tomorrow "to sing and listen to" songs such as George Frederick Handel's "Messiah" and "Silent Night," which have been banned from schools, even in instrumental form, by the South Orange/Maplewood School District.

In a Dec. 6 statement, school board President Brian O'Leary said the ban [against sacred music] is intended "to balance the important roles that religion and music can and do play in our curriculum with a desire to avoid celebrating or appearing to celebrate a religious holiday."

Indeed. So the religious content of the music isn't the problem. It is joining the music to the holiday that we must be vigilant against. We may assume, then, that it would be alright with Mr. O'Leary for the orchestra to perform Handel's Messiah or Silent Night for the student body as long as it was at, say, the Homecoming dance.

The rest of the article discusses some other attempts to bleach any genuine significance out of the season. It's very much worth reading in toto.

Here in our little corner of the world our district superintendent has decreed that there will be no Santa Claus at the Christmas (oops, holiday) assembly nor any music which celebrates anything other than winter (Jingle Bells, Let it Snow). Hanukah music, we're told, is permitted, but nothing even faintly redolent of Christianity will be allowed. If this is true it certainly smacks of religious bigotry, but that is only bad, we are left to suppose, when bigotry is directed by a majority against a minority. Otherwise it's perfectly acceptable.