Saturday, March 4, 2006

I Am the Way ....

This very interesting article by Robert Wuthnow in Christianity Today seems to suggest that Christian exclusivity is a fading belief even among some conservative Christians. Exclusivity is the word used to describe the belief, widely held among Christian conservatives, that only those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour will be granted eternal life. In other words, only Christians will go to heaven. Wuthnow writes:

Consider Jim and Nancy Parsons, co-pastors of a four hundred member Assemblies of God church in a large city on the East Coast.

Although they do not aggressively evangelize non Christians, the Parsons are quite clear that these people do not know God. Their interpretation of Jesus' saying about being the way, the truth, and the life is that this statement leaves open only two options: either Jesus was telling the truth or Jesus was a liar and, since the latter option strikes most people as unattractive, they argue that Jesus really meant it when he said that he was the only way to come to God. Thus, they have little interest in trying to understand the teachings of other religious traditions. They acknowledge that there are well meaning people who follow these traditions, but these people will not have eternal life unless they believe that Jesus died for their sins.

Wuthnow goes on to talk about the Reverend Jim Jimson and what he says about presenting the gospel to Jews or Muslims or Hindus. He is the pastor of a four hundred member Southern Baptist Church in a southern city.

...Mr. Jimson's exact words are worth considering ... carefully. After acknowledging that he would like his church to be doing more to reach out to people of other faiths, he says, "This is where we kind of get into the difficulties. There's a verse in the Bible where Jesus says, `I'm the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father, but by me,' which very much narrows things down, [especially] if you take it that he said those words and meant them just as straight as he said them. There's another one in Acts, and the reason I quote these verses is because like I said, I feel constrained if this really is the Word of God, then I'm constrained to take that perspective, if you will. Peter told some folks, `There's no other name given under heaven by which men might be saved.' Now if that's the case, if Jesus is the only way to God, then we need to reach out to people of other religious beliefs. I know this sounds ... " He trails off somewhat apologetically, saying to the interviewer, "I don't want to make you angry, I hope I'm not doing that."

When the interviewer reassures him that she really wants to know what he thinks, he continues, "I'm not apologizing, but at the same time I want to be ..." He searches for the right words: "Yes, then I'm constrained to say there's one way to God and, boy, this sounds ... " Again he breaks off. She reassures him again. "Okay," he says. "I just don't want to sound arrogant, because it's not me who's come up with this. If I'm going to be faithful, then I'm constrained to say, then other folks have missed it. I don't want to make it sound like I've come up with this, or I found the way or something."

Mr. Jimson, like an awful lot of other Christian leaders, sounds very much like he doesn't really believe this, but he's caught in a bind. Either he endorses it or he has to reject the authority of the Bible.

The Christian church seems to be experiencing a crisis of faith. Many, if not most, Christians find it very difficult to comprehend how a loving God could be an exclusionary God, and so they either don't think about it, or they say things like "no one knows how God will handle unbelievers," or they struggle to reconcile their inclusive yearnings with what the Bible teaches about salvation, particularly the verse quoted above (John 14:6).

It may indeed be that there is no salvation outside the Christian faith, but to use Jn.14:6 to support that view seems a weak strategy. On the face of it there's no compelling exegetical reason to assume that that verse can carry the weight that exclusivist Christians lay on its shoulders. It could be, in fact, that these folks are interpreting Jesus words in light of their a priori commitment to exclusivism. It could be that the verse has nothing at all to do with declaring Christianity the only way to God, but should rather be seen as a declaration by Jesus that it is only through what He is about to do on the cross that eternal life is possible for anyone who receives it.

Perhaps the verse doesn't mean that one must know and appropriate the significance of Jesus' sacrifice, but rather that it is that sacrifice that paid the debt incurred by our sin. If this is so, then there's no logical impediment, based on this verse alone, to believing that at least some of those who never heard the gospel or who heard it but didn't appreciate its truth might nevertheless be granted eternal life.

There may be other passages which preclude this interpretation, but John 14:6 is too ambiguous to be among them. The anguish apparent in the pastors' response to Wuthnow's interviewer seems unnecessary.

Avoiding Auto Abuse

For those of you who don't have AOL (which is probably most of you) the folks there ran an article last week which may be of some interest to those interested in the care and nurture of their automobiles. It's titled Five Things to Never Do to Your Car. In short the five no-nos are:

1. Never wash your car in the sun.

2. Never pressure wash the car's engine.

3. Never overload the charging system with heavy duty audio systems.

4. Never use "universal fit" tires.

5. Never tow a car w/automatic transmission with the drive wheels on the ground.

To find out why these are bad for your vehicle check out the link.

Payback For What?!

Mohammed Reza Taheriazar, the driver of an SUV that plowed into a group of pedestrians at UNC-Chapel Hill on Friday, told police it was retribution for the treatment of Muslims around the world, according to ABC News.

Well, let's see. Which Muslims might these be on whose behalf Mr. Taheriazar sought retribution? Were these the millions of Indonesian tsunami victims that are alive today because Americans, at great cost to themselves, came to their aid? Perhaps he had in mind the victims of the recent earthquake in Pakistan whose misery has been mitigated through American aid. Maybe he wished to avenge the treatment of the Kuwaitis rescued by Americans in Operation Desert Storm or Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo who owe their lives to American intervention. Maybe Mr. Taheriazar is distraught over the 25 million Muslims liberated by Americans from Taliban oppression in Afghanistan or the 25 million more who were liberated from the most demonic killer since Stalin in Iraq, despite the steep price in American blood and treasure. Or it could be the millions of Muslims languishing in places like Syria and Iran who despise their leaders both secular and religious, and who look to America as their hope and ideal, whose plight has so touched Mr. Taheriazar's heart. Maybe it's the suffering of the Palestinians, whom the Israelis would have probably long ago exterminated were it not for the restraining hand of the United States upon their shoulder, that compelled him to attempt murder on the UNC campus. Maybe Mr. Taheriazar is angry at America because the millions of dollars we give to the Palestinian people each year keeps going to maintain the corrupt lifestyles of their leaders.

Who knows? It's really hard to say precisely what Mr. Taheriazar's grievance with America might be, of course, because he's both a lunatic and a Muslim and for neither do grievances need be grounded in any objective reality. Unfortunately, too many Muslims seem determined to do all they can to convince a world eager to believe that the majority of Muslims really are non-violent that, in fact, to be a Muslim is to be a lunatic.

UPDATE: The Muslim Students' Association at UNC has disavowed and condemned Taheriazar's act. We are glad to see Muslims in this country rejecting violence. It's reassuring.

A Primer on the Dollar

Brother Bill offers us an excellent tutorial in some basic facts about the American dollar:

Item: The U.S. dollar is the world reserve currency because it is essentially backed by oil as well as the U.S. military machine.

Item: Iran is currently scheduled to go on line with their oil exchange priced in Euros as of March 20. This means they will offer contracts to deliver oil paid for in Euros rather than U.S. dollars. As bad as this is for the U.S. dollar, it also cuts out the NYMEX exchange in New York which would lose enormous profits through lost opportunity.

Item: Other oil producing countries including Norway and Venezuela are on the verge of switching from payment for their oil in U.S. dollars to payment in Euros as well.

Item: The Federal Reserve has indicated that as of March 23, it will discontinue publishing the M3 which is the main statistic that represents the degree of inflation that is currently taking place in the U.S..

For a dry but informative explanation of the different measures of money in our economy go here.

For a must-read article on the implications of discontinuing the M3 report go here.

One can only wonder what all of this means and what the implications are. For background information go here.

Prior to 1971, U.S. dollars were redeemable in gold. Foreign countries could exchange dollars received by the U.S. through trade for gold. When they began to realize that the U.S. had begun a printing spree, rather than hold their dollars in reserve, they quickly realized that the U.S. dollar was worth little and began to cash them in for the gold.

From the Ron Paul link above...

It all ended on August 15, 1971, when Nixon closed the gold window and refused to pay out any of our remaining 280 million ounces of gold. In essence, we declared our insolvency and everyone recognized some other monetary system had to be devised in order to bring stability to the markets.

Amazingly, a new system was devised which allowed the U.S. to operate the printing presses for the world reserve currency with no restraints placed on it-- not even a pretense of gold convertibility, none whatsoever! Though the new policy was even more deeply flawed, it nevertheless opened the door for dollar hegemony to spread.

Realizing the world was embarking on something new and mind boggling, elite money managers, with especially strong support from U.S. authorities, struck an agreement with OPEC to price oil in U.S. dollars exclusively for all worldwide transactions. This gave the dollar a special place among world currencies and in essence "backed" the dollar with oil. In return, the U.S. promised to protect the various oil-rich kingdoms in the Persian Gulf against threat of invasion or domestic coup. This arrangement helped ignite the radical Islamic movement among those who resented our influence in the region. The arrangement gave the dollar artificial strength, with tremendous financial benefits for the United States. It allowed us to export our monetary inflation by buying oil and other goods at a great discount as dollar influence flourished.

To say that we "closed the gold window" is political-speak that translates into "the United States has declared bankruptcy to the world" and instead of getting anything of real value in repayment for our obligations we would issue paper dollars that we would print as needed. The Secretary of Treasury under Nixon, John Connally, told the rest of the world "It's our currency but it's your problem".

I, for one, am not proud of this history. It's obvious that these decisions weren't made by people who cared about America but rather people who controlled phenomenal wealth that wanted even more.

This brings us to today and our present situation. There are numerous countries that have an attitude because of the U.S. dollar hegemony and they're not happy about it. They are taking the words of John Connally at face value and appear determined to deal with "their problem".

In addition, the dollar is reaching the end of it's time line as all fiat currencies do. That means that a fiat currency is perpetuated by debt, i.e. dollars only enter into the economy as they are borrowed. The fact of the matter is that it is apparent to foreign countries that there is so much debt behind the U.S. dollar that it is never going to be paid back simply because there are trillions of dollars. The debt might be able to be paid back if the U.S. gross domestic product was proportional to the outstanding dollars, but the M3 has literally doubled in less that 9 years while the economy has grown at a much slower rate.

So it appears that the rest of the world would prefer an orderly transition to another currency that offers more "faith and credit" than the U.S. dollar, and understandably so. Enter the Euro.

I say "orderly" because if the dollar were to undergo a dramatic decline, all countries holding U.S. dollar reserves would suffer in terms of those reserves. After all, now that countries are holding billions of U.S. dollars as a reserve asset, they wouldn't want to see the value of those reserves plummet over night ... unless they realized that it would be an expedient solution to a greater problem.

All of the above was to provide the background for the situation in which we find ourselves today.

It seems that much of the world has grown weary of the U.S.'s ability to print dollars at our whim to pay for real assets like oil, as well as other products that we voraciously import. They also seem to be increasingly concerned about our perceived over-reaching military.

For the first time in over sixty years there is a new kid on the block to challenge the U.S. dollar for world domination ... the Euro. As I have stated here before, the U.S. dollar and the Euro are two road kills whose relative value is established by financial markets daily. Yes, the Euro is only another fiat currency, and as such it has a limited life expectancy, but it is young and is only getting started whereas the dollar is old and reaching the end of it's timeline. The amount of debt behind a currency determines where it is in its timeline and there is an enormous amount of debt behind the dollar (so much so that it could never be repaid) and that debt is growing exponentially. Historically, all fiat currencies revert to their intrinsic value ... zero.

Given all of this, is it any wonder that the Federal Reserve would declare that they will discontinue publishing the very measure of the growth of our currency?

Is it just a coincidence that this is going to happen in the same week that Iran is to introduce an oil exchange that accepts Euros for oil?

It seems that the writing is on the wall. The Federal Reserve realizes that it's going to have to run the printing presses around the clock because there will be much less flow of dollars from foreign countries to finance our current standard of living. Presently, we get close to $3 billion dollars every day from foreign countries that support our economy and our way of life. If and when that slows down, the gap will have to be filled somehow. Enter the Federal Reserve.

The last declaration of Saddam Hussein was to demand Euros for his country's oil. Look what happened to him. The powers that be in this country understand that such a threat to the U.S. dollar hegemony cannot and will not be tolerated. It is perceived as a declaration of war. For right or for wrong, the U.S. dollar must maintain its status as the world reserve currency at all costs.

Unfortunately, this is a losing battle. The U.S. dollar is in the death throws of its timeline and is going to diminish in status around the world. The only thing propping it up now is our military might. Conduct business in dollars or you will be bombed, invaded, and undergo a change of regime. But the war being waged is political and economic. Our military will not be able to ensure the viability of the U.S. dollar much longer.

To summarize:

  • The U.S. dollar currently maintains world reserve status because all purchases of oil must be made in U.S. dollars.
  • This means the rest of the world must purchase dollars with their currency to acquire oil.
  • This creates a demand for U.S. dollars which increases the dollar's value while decreasing the value of the foreign currency.
  • The rest of the world has concerns as to the viability and sustainability of the U.S. dollar, not to mention our over-reaching military involvement.
  • Since the Euro has entered the scene, it offers a double play opportunity: transition out of dollars as well as protest against perceived and unwanted U.S. involvement around the world.
  • The impact would be devastating to the U.S. economy as a switch to Euros would reduce demand for dollars globally causing them to devalue significantly.
  • A devalued dollar would make goods and services purchased and imported into the U.S. much more expensive.
  • The Federal Reserve would step in by raising interest rates to make the U.S. dollar more attractive to foreign investors who presently inject almost $3 billion into the U.S. daily.
  • The Federal Reserve would make up the shortfall by running the printing presses around the clock in an effort to maintain the liquidity of dollars for our economy.
  • All of this would result in high inflation and skyrocketing oil and gasoline prices which would devastate our economy.
  • Our ability to extend our military power and influence beyond our borders would be greatly inhibited simply because we wouldn't be able to fund it.
  • That would be exactly what the Euro proponents want to accomplish.

The bottom line:

America was once a self-sufficient country second to none but it has literally been sold out. Our manufacturing sector was the envy of the world and now it declines daily as jobs are exported overseas. Service jobs are being outsourced as well. Call Dell technical support and you will be connected to someone with a heavy Indian accent with a fictitious western name.

Today we are the greatest debtor nation in the world. We can't blame it all on the Bush administration because it has been administrations for the last sixty years that have each done their part to allow this to happen.

We are a nation reduced to debates over which foreign country should maintain our sea ports. As a result of our policies there are millions of unemployed people in this country who have no hope while we spend hundreds of billions overseas supposedly to make life better for others. If and when the global transition from the U.S. dollar to the Euro occurs, life will get much, much more difficult here at home.

Please take your seats folks, the curtain opens on March 20.