Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Much Power?

A little humor from Michael Ramirez to cap off the month:

I wonder how far President Obama is going to go with this exercise of his power. Is everyone who manages an institution which takes federal money going to be subject to being fired by the White House? What about schools and colleges? Are their administrators under Obama's thumb? What about employees of towns and cities that are recipients of federal largesse?

How much power will the President arrogate to himself before the people stand up and say "that's enough?"


The Basic Difference

Here's a quick quiz: How would you describe the fundamental difference between modern liberals (progressives) and modern conservatives?

Perhaps one way to answer this is to note how each group would answer another question:

Should government be empowered to regulate our lives to maximize the common good or should it be limited to protecting citizens from encroachments upon their basic freedoms?

Which of these two views did you think our Founders had in mind?

Progressives believe the role of government is to use its power to ensure that the greatest good is done for the greatest number of people. They hold that the greatest benefit is realized when everyone has a roughly equal share of the world's resources and that it is the role of government to bring this about, even if that means taking from those who have and giving to those who don't. To progressives, opposition to this view is a sign of greed and selfishness.

Conservatives maintain that that is not at all what our Founders intended. The men who established this nation, and most of those who followed them, believed that the purpose of the government they established was to guarantee the freedoms articulated in the Declaration of Independence and especially the Bill of Rights, and to protect these from the encroachments of all who would take them away, both foreign and domestic. The progressive view, most conservatives would argue, leads ultimately to tyranny.

Chances are if you hold to the first view you're a Democrat and if you hold to the second you're a Republican.

Right now, the first view is prevailing.


One in Ten Chinese

The British TimesOnline has a story about the amazing struggle and growth of the Chinese church:

A murmur of "Amen" echoes softly down a corridor in a luxury Beijing hotel. Dozens of young Chinese are gathered in a beige-carpeted conference room to listen to the word of God. After helping themselves to hot water or tea at the back of the room, they find a seat and chatter with friends. They tuck Louis Vuitton and Prada handbags under their seats, switch their mobile phones to silent and turn to listen to a young woman who takes the microphone to ask for silence and recite a prayer.

A casually dressed, grey-haired Chinese man takes to the podium. "Let us begin with a look at the Gospel of Saint John." There is a rustling of pages as converts and curious open their Bibles. Almost everyone in the room is scarcely a day over 30. Most look as if they are in their early twenties. They are fashionably dressed - girls with high-heeled boots, men sporting trendy knitted hats. This is Friday night Bible class in Beijing. And it is a weekend venue of choice for growing numbers of well-off middle-class city sophisticates.

The fact that this class is technically illegal, run by pastors lacking approval from the state-sanctioned Protestant church, is not the attraction. These are not young people seeking a frisson of excitement from some underground activity. They are at the forefront of a movement sweeping China - the search for spiritual satisfaction now that Marx is démodé.

No attempt is made to conceal what is, in effect, an underground religious gathering. A sign in Chinese outside the conference room reads: "Hill of Golgotha Church meeting". A board outside the hotel lift directs visitors to Hall 5. There is not a nod towards secrecy or even discretion. There is no sense of anxiety, let alone fear, that officials could burst in to break up this illegal assembly even though police do still frequently raid house churches run by underground Protestant pastors.

In fact, across China religion is undergoing a defiant and extraordinary revival. Millions of Chinese are turning to familiar traditional faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism - a mystical belief with about 400 million adherents that is China's only indigenous creed. Taoist believers, like Buddhists, visit temples across the country to burn incense, present offerings and request readings from fortune tellers. Others are finding comfort in Confucius, but it is Christianity that is leading the battle for China's 1.3 billion souls.

Recent surveys calculate the number of Christians worshipping independently of the State churches in China to be as high as 100 million. That means that almost one in every ten Chinese may now be a Christian, making Christianity bigger than the 74 million-member Communist Party.

These one in ten are not, presumably, tepid about their faith like, say, many mainline protestants and Catholics in America. These are people who realize they could very well pay a terrible price for attending a worship service. Yet they come.

There's an interesting irony in this. While Christianity seems to be flickering out in those regions of the globe where it held sway for almost 2000 years and where there's been no real social or political cost for affiliating with a church, it's exploding in places like China, where the faithful could be imprisoned, beaten, or otherwise sanctioned. It's also burgeoning in Africa and elsewhere in the third world countries that girdle the southern hemisphere.

Such news doubtless moves people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to reach for the Maalox.